Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
“So, for the moment, Byram doesn’t know the ondaen he’s looking for is Wesley?” Wen’s mum asked.
“That’s right. And, as I told Wes, even if the soldier had gotten a decent glance at him last fall, he doesn’t look anything like he did back then.”
“Still not really agreeing with that,” Wesley said under his breath
“It’s true, sweetheart,” Sarah said, smiling fondly at Wesley.
Wen’s mum nodded. “It is true.”
“See, I told you,” Wen said softly, fighting back a smile as he looked at his mate.
Wesley shook his head, but his eyes sparked with amusement. “Okay, fine. You win. I’m different. They wouldn’t recognize me.”
“Damn right they wouldn’t.”
“And that’s a positive thing,” Wen’s mum told him. “For now, I would recommend we keep the truth of your origins between us and not share it with anyone else. The fewer people who know you’re an ondaen, the safer.”
“I’m used to keeping it a secret,” Wesley responded, glancing at Sarah, who looked back sympathetically. “So, that won’t be difficult.”
“Good man. I suspect Ph— I mean Malcolm’s correct in that we probably don’t have any other spies in the castle or else we would have already been found. But…if we do, your heritage is one bit of information we absolutely cannot let the sorcerer get his hands on. I will not see anyone else I care about end up in the sorcerer’s dungeons,” Wen’s mum said fiercely.
Wen knew she was thinking of the time Lord Rizik had spent there and how horribly the sorcerer had tortured him.
“I told you earlier and I meant it…I would never let that happen, never let him get his hands on you,” Wen told Wesley. “Never.”
“You won’t have to worry about it because I have no intention of ever getting anywhere near his dungeons. I just wish we knew what in hel he wants with me. What was he doing with Kai? Using his blood for something, but what?”
“Could he have wanted it to heal injured soldiers?” Sarah asked.
Sarah had taken the news of Wesley’s ability to heal surprisingly well but hadn’t asked a lot of questions about what happened to Wesley afterward. Wen’s mum had implied she knew, but Wen had to wonder if she knew specifically or had just heard stories in general. Wesley hadn’t been inclined to go into detail, so Wen didn’t either. And neither of them had told their mums how Wesley knew his blood healed. It wasn’t that Wen felt it was a secret they had to keep. It was more that he knew how much it would upset his mum to learn how close he’d come to dying. And right now, she had so much else to worry about, he just couldn’t bear to add to her troubles. Wesley seemed to understand because he hadn’t breathed a word of it either, and, thankfully, neither Sarah nor Wen’s own mum had asked for any specifics.
“Maybe,” Wesley responded, addressing Sarah’s question. “But, honestly, this is Byram we’re talking about. And if Malcolm’s right, and Byram is so desperate for an ondaen, it seems likely there’s some bigger, far more vile purpose for it. Maybe there’s something else about my blood that we don’t yet know.”
“I just can’t even bear to think of that evil old bastard wanting you,” Sarah said, her voice trembling with what Wen suspected was probably part fear, part anger.
“Then don’t think about it,” Wesley told her in a soothing tone. “Byram doesn’t know who I am, which means it’s not something we need to worry about at the moment.”
Wen’s mum was obviously sensitive to Sarah’s concern because she reached over and squeezed Sarah’s hand atop the table. “He’s right,” she said. “With only a trusted handful of people here who know the truth, there’s very little chance the sorcerer will ever find out. It’s going to be okay.”
Hearing her say that reminded Wen how many times he’d told Wesley the same thing…It’s going to be okay.
“So…” his mum said, moving on in her practical way, “let’s talk about Phee. Who’s actually Malcolm. And who’s a spy for the sorcerer. I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming.”
“None of us did,” Wen told her. “But in spite of the sorcerer’s threats and torture, he’s been doing his damnedest to protect us.”
“Because he feels safe here,” Sarah said, shaking her head. “Bless his heart.”
“We’ve got to find a way to get him out from under the sorcerer’s thumb,” Wesley said. “He can’t go on like this, living in constant fear that Byram’s going to snap his neck or gods only know what else at any moment.”
“And we’ve got less than a week to figure it out,” Wen agreed. “Because if Byram doesn’t get either the location of Kellesborne or Wesley, he’s said he’ll kill Malcolm, and Malcolm fully believes he’ll do it.”
“There has to be a way to cut the tie between them,” Sarah said. “Maybe get the poppet and destroy it?”
Wen’s mum shook her head. “Sadly, that won’t work. If Byram used a part of Malcolm to make it, that means the poppet and Malcolm are magickally bound together by blood. It’s as if they’re one and the same. That’s why whatever he does to the doll happens to Malcolm.”
“Which means if the poppet’s destroyed, it kills the young man. Dear heavenly gods,” Sarah murmured. “I know little of magick, but surely there must be something that can help him.”
“Maybe we can put Thomas on it,” Wen suggested. “There’s got to be some source in the library that might describe how the binding spell can be broken. We don’t have to tell Thomas who it’s for, or anything about Malcolm that would put him in jeopardy…just see if Thomas can find a way to break such a spell.”
“That’s a good thought,” his mum said. “I’ll speak to Thomas first thing this morning. We have a week, which gives us a little time…as long as the sorcerer doesn’t lose patience sooner, and we’re going to pray hard that doesn’t happen. Meanwhile…” She rubbed a hand tiredly over her eyes. “We need to deal with the situation with Lochlann. Tell me again what Malcolm saw and overheard.”
“He said Lochlann pretended to be human when the soldiers caught him. Which was smart. Byram would be able to tell the difference, but it’s doubtful his human soldiers would unless they tested Lochlann with glargak slime, which they didn’t. Not there anyway. But instead of letting him go, which is probably what Lochlann hoped, they tied him up. Malcolm said that’s when Lochlann started screaming at them that he had information. They told him to shut up and that he could tell the wraith about it when they got him there. Then they knocked him out, threw him into a wagon, and—”
“Stop there,” Marta said. “The wraith. I’ve been trying to figure it out since you mentioned it earlier, in your first telling. Who or what is this wraith?”
Wen shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“I’ve been thinking about it, too,” Wesley said. “Could they mean Moh’dredion? Wraith makes me think of death, and you’ve said the name Moh’dredion in the common tongue means death.”
“I hope the hel it’s not that,” Wen said.
His mum’s face had grown pale. “Because that might mean Moh’dredion’s regained enough power to come and go from Ballian as he pleases. And in order to do that, he’d have needed to…” She drew in and let out a shaky breath. “Oh gods. Keiran and Gaige.”
“No, don’t think that, Mum. Don’t even think it. If the wraith they’re talking about is Moh’dredion, it could mean the opposite. That he’s not strong enough yet to leave Ballian, so they’re taking him stragglers they find along to road to appease him. Which would mean—” He stopped and looked between his mother and Sarah.
“She knows, love. I’ve told her where Gaige has really gone.”
Wen nodded. He’d assumed as much, as freely as his mum was speaking, but just wanted to be sure. “If they are taking people to Moh’dredion, it would likely mean the lords haven’t been compromised.”
“I want to believe that. But Gaige has been gone for so long…”
“I know. I would think, though, that if Moh’dredion had gotten the lords’ magick, we’d know it somehow. He’d be appearing all over the land, terrifying people and decimating towns to continue feeding. We’ve heard no reports of anything like that from our scouts. We can’t lose hope that the lords are safely out of his clutches.”
“If it is Moh’dredion…then the direction Malcolm said they were going might kind of make sense,” Wesley mused.
“How so?” Marta asked.
“Yes. Right,” Wen said, picking up on what Wesley was thinking. “Malcolm followed them partway into the helys ganhedig.” Then, realizing he’d used the Draega words, he translated for Wesley and Sarah. “The demon’s maw. It’s what the draegans have always called the sharp crags and dark passes in the depths of the Dormere Mountains.”
“Demon’s maw. That’s fitting,” Wesley said. “From what I’ve heard, that area is filled with caves. If Moh’dredion’s world, Ballian, is underground, perhaps there’s a portal between there and one of those caves?”
“It’s a good guess. Byram’s been getting draegan children to Moh’dredion somehow all these years.”
“At this point, anything is possible,” Wen’s mum said. “But I can’t quite fathom why they’d be abducting people from the road for him. According to Thomas’s research, and from what we’ve learned through Gaige’s visit with Keiran in Ballian, it’s magick folk Moh’dredion is seeking. It’s why he wanted Keiran, and presumably why he came for Gaige. It’s why he prefers the draegan younglings. So, it seems odd he’d settle for humans now.”
“Unless we’ve managed to stop enough of the flow of draegan children he’s become desperate. Especially if he still hasn’t been able to access the draegan lords’ magick.”
“Another possibility,” Wesley added, “is that even though Lochlann told the soldiers he was human, and we assumed they believed him otherwise they would have killed him on the spot…what if that’s not the case? What if they’re not killing draegans on sight, but instead are taking them to Moh’dredion.”
“Bloody hel,” Wen murmured.
“That’s possible as well,” Marta said with a sigh. “But until we find out for ourselves what’s going on in the helys ganhedig, anything we come up with is purely speculation. We need to go there. We need answers.”
“Agreed,” Wen said. “Which is why I propose that Wes, Jarrad, Malcolm, and I retrace Malcolm’s route and pick up the soldiers’ trail where Malcolm turned back two days ago.”
“Out of curiosity, did he say why he turned back?”
“I had told him if he ever felt scared, he should return to Kellesborne.”
“And he was truly scared,” Wesley added. “I sensed it when he was talking about it.”
Wen nodded. “It wasn’t just the soldiers, either. He said it felt like something evil lurked there.”
“Well, that’s not comforting at all,” Sarah murmured.
“What in seven hels is the sorcerer up to out there?” Wen’s mum said. “All right, go get a few hours of sleep if you can, then the four of you head out to retrace Malcolm’s path. Reconnaissance only. Whatever you find, don’t engage unless you have no other choice.”
“Do you want us to try to get Lochlann back?” Wen asked. “For Risa’s sake.”
She took a deep breath, looking troubled. “Lochlann made the choice not to work with us and he accepted his banishment. Plus, we can’t assume anything’s changed about his attitude and behavior. For Risa’s and Neric’s safety, we still cannot accept him back here as a free citizen.”
“That said,” his mum continued, “if he’s still alive and you feel there might some benefit in hearing any inside information he might be able to provide, then I’ll leave that decision up to you. But…” She looked seriously at both Wen and Wesley. “You are not to risk your lives for him. Understood?”
“Understood,” Wen told her, and Wesley nodded his agreement.
“Okay. Meanwhile, I’ll put Thomas to work on finding a way to break the spell that’s keeping Malcolm linked to the sorcerer. As you said, surely to goodness there must be something in the library that will give us some leads. I’ll also let Allend know he’s in charge of training until you’re back, Wesley.”
They all rose from the table.
“Watch each other’s backs,” his mother said. He knew she was trying not to show it, but she was truly worried about them going on this mission.
“We always do,” he assured her, reaching for Wesley’s hand.
“Always,” Wesley echoed, giving Wen one of those sweet smiles that filled his chest with warmth.
“And, please, watch Jarrad’s and Malcolm’s, too. As much as I love that boy, gods know sometimes Jarrad thinks and reacts with everything but his head.”
“They’ll be okay,” Wen said. “It’s pretty obvious Jarrad’s fallen hard and he just wants to protect the person he loves. I know what that feels like.”
His mum smiled and tousled his hair, as she’d done since he was a kid. “I know.” Then she did the same to Wesley, who smiled in return.
“Be safe, sweethearts,” Sarah said, pulling first Wesley, then Wen into a hug.
“We will be. And we’ll be back for you know it,” Wesley told her, kissing her on the cheek.
“Safe travels,” Wen’s mum said, walking with them to the door, “and good hunting.”
The corridors were deserted as Wen and Wesley traversed them, and no wonder since it was only a couple of hours before dawn.
When they entered their rooms, they found Malcolm curled onto his side on the rug in front of the fire, facing Jarrad, and Jarrad’s bigger, taller body was wrapped protectively around him.
“Are they both asleep?” Wen whispered to Wesley after they’d stripped off their clothes and climbed into bed.
Wesley closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and nodded. “Why?” he whispered, a hint of a smile curving his lips.
“If you have to ask, then nevermind.”
“You’re such an ass.” Wesley threaded his fingers through Wen’s hair and pulled him into a breath-stealing kiss.
“Yeah, but I’m your ass,” Wen murmured a moment later, quietly laughing before taking his mate’s warm, pliant mouth again. And again. Then he eased down the length of Wesley’s hard, willing body and took him another way.
At some point later, Wen jolted awake and sat up.
Next to him, Wesley had just done the same thing, looking sleep rumpled and confused, but alert.
“What is it? What just woke us?” Wesley asked.
“I don’t know.” Wen’s heart began to pound in his chest as a sense of…it wasn’t danger exactly, but his sixth sense felt something. Or maybe he was picking up on what Wes was feeling?
Almost as if he could read Wen’s mind, Wesley said, “I feel it, too. Like something’s…off. Like…”
“Why did I just suddenly wake up?” Jarrad’s hoarse voice came from the floor.
Jarrad and Malcolm had been sleeping on the floor at the foot of the bed, so, from where he sat, Wen could see Jarrad from his shoulders up, which meant he, too, had sat up.
“You as well?” Wen asked his brother.
Jarrad nodded, then looked down. “What the fuck?”
“What?” Wesley asked, rising from the bed, taking the sheet with him. Wen felt Wesley’s heart suddenly racing, which meant, he assumed, Wes was picking up some strong emotion from Jarrad.
“What is it?” Wen asked.
Jarrad turned to look at them, his face drawn, his eyes grown wide and accusing. “Where in bloody fucking hel is Malcolm?”
“He’s not here?” Wen asked, standing to join Wesley.
“No, he’s not here. What did you do with him?” Jarrad growled.
“Nothing,” Wesley said. “We did nothing.”
“When we came back from talking to Mum a couple of hours before dawn, the two of you were asleep on the floor right there where you’re sitting,” Wen told him. “I swear.”
“We would never harm him,” Wesley assured Jarrad.
Jarrad’s face fell. “So, where is he?”
“Well, we never did get any real food last night, so maybe he was hungry when he woke up and went down to the kitchens for some breakfast,” Wesley said calmly.
It was possible, but the explanation bothered Wen. Because the idea that anyone, even Malcom, as slight as he was, could sneak past all three of them, especially Jarrad and Wen with their enhanced draegan hearing, open and close the heavy chamber door, and not wake them disturbed the hel out of him. Because he knew in his gut the door was not what had just awoken them. That had been something else. Something…else, damn it, that he couldn’t place.
He glanced out the window and saw that not only had they slept well past dawn—which was highly unusual for Wesley and him no matter how little sleep they’d gotten the night before—based on the pale winter sunlight streaming through the window and across the stone floor, it looked to be nearly midmorning.
“Look at what time it is.” He gestured toward the window.
Wesley’s brows rose and Wen felt his shock. His gaze turned on Wen. “There’s no way…”
“That we’d sleep this late? I know.”
“It feels like I say this all the time now, but what…the…fuck…is going on?” Jarrad stood, dragging his hands over his head. His clothes, which he’d slept in, were as disheveled as his hair. Now he didn’t so much look angry as panicked.
“Don’t worry just yet. Malcolm’s probably somewhere in the castle,” Wesley soothed, once again seeking to reassure Jarrad. But beneath his words, Wen felt his mate’s worry. “Let me see if I can sense him.”
Wesley had been pulling on his pants as he spoke. While he dragged a shirt over his head, Jarrad asked, “You can do that?”
“I can. As long as I know the person, I can usually sense their emotional aura.” He closed his eyes.
Jarrad looked questioningly at Wen as Wen dressed.
“Give him a moment. Like Wes said, Malcolm probably went to find something to eat.”
Jarrad nodded, but he took a hard swallow and Wen knew his brother was likely putting together the same pieces he already had…that it would have been nearly impossible for Malcolm to sneak past all of them without one of them realizing it. And the fact it was so late in the morning and they all woke up at exactly the same time…something about this was not normal.
“Anything yet?” Jarrad asked Wesley.
“Just give me a second,” Wesley responded. Jarrad probably didn’t notice it, but Wen recognized an edge to Wesley’s voice, which didn’t bode well for the search. Shit.
Jarrad began to pace.
A few minutes later, just as he was turning, presumably to pester Wesley again, Wesley opened his eyes.
And those warm brown eyes, that Wen knew and loved and could read so well, told him the news before Wesley ever said a word.
“He’s not here.”
“What do you mean?” Jarrad asked, a slight tremor in his voice.
“I’ve searched the whole castle. I can’t find him anywhere. Malcolm’s not here. He’s gone.”
Wen had a sudden thought. He crossed over to the table, picked up the silver mug Wesley had upended last night, and swore softly.
“So is the sorcerer’s seeing stone.”