Loyalty and War: Anchors

The God Jars Saga Book 8

Anchors_Cover

The choice between love and duty has never been harder.

Valis is on his way to free his father from the enemy compound, but it seems like everything is working against him.

The team sent to eliminate the last Anchor of Qos needs his help. Tavros falls ill after an accident, and if he doesn’t get help quickly he’s going to die. And the constant blizzards mean they are moving so slowly Valis is afraid they may be too late to save anyone.

With so much at stake—lives, family, his heart—one wrong move may cost Valis a price he’s not willing to pay.

His army needs him. His husband needs him more. Valis can’t afford to fail either. The race to save his family is on.

Published: July 16, 2019
Publisher: Magelight Press
Cover Artist: Devon Vesper
Genres: FantasyFantasy RomanceM/M Gay Romance

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Kindle: $4.99
Paperback: $12.99

Part of the God Jars Saga:

No amount of hard work and dedication could ever prepare Valis for becoming the world’s only hope of survival, but after finding love and true family he’s determined to give that destiny his all.

The God Jars Saga by Devon Vesper is a raw epic tale of strength and love in the face of adversity. If you’re looking for sword & sorcery fantasy with rich character development, intensity, uniqueness, and an unforgettable love story, look no further!

Over two-thousand years ago, one of the ten God Jars went missing.

In the wake of that ancient theft, the god attached to that Jar has become evil and wrought havoc and despair across the world. Brave souls of the Aesriphos order that’s comprised of same-sex mated pairs of noble men and women battle the resulting scourge with magic and might while continuing the endless search to bring the missing god jar home and end the devastation.

But soon may not be soon enough.

In this nine-book epic saga of medieval-esque sword and sorcery, the weight of the world rests in the hands of a single man, but only if he can find the strength within himself to overcome his trauma and face the world as he truly is.

Chapter 1

Two weeks of travel had Valis Bakor and his army of Aesriphos and laymen warriors almost to the edge of Arlvor. They moved at a quick and steady pace for as large as their numbers were. Valis glanced behind him. As autumn wore on, the days became shorter, colder, and they traveled well past dark, using the stars as their guide. Valis turned in his saddle and lifted his voice to be heard as far as possible. “Make camp!”

The order echoed down the line of soldiers as one person passed it on to those farther back. Valis swung down off his horse as everyone gathered around. They kept their tents in tight quarters each night so that Valis wouldn’t be too taxed by making the giant shield over their camp.

Once everyone was situated and the men and women started moving their horses to herd formation and relieving them of their burdens and tack, Valis scanned the area using mage lights to see in the darkness. He had to give them and their horses enough room to move, but still keep it tight enough that he wouldn’t expend too much energy. Though, he smirked at himself. He had so much power swirling within him that he doubted it would matter. His mentor and friend, Thyran, had seen to that and every priest and Aesriphos not on this mission with him had poured every bit of magic they could spare into his shield, expanding his personal reserves exponentially until Valis felt invincible.

Still, Valis wanted to use his magic sparingly, keep himself fresh for the trials to come. And when he found the edge of where the shield should rest, Valis strode toward it and touched the ground, focusing his intent on creating an invisible sphere around their camp. He added permanence, invisibility, and soundproofing in a way that they could hear what happened outside, but none could hear them, and impermeability before breaking the spell off from himself so it wouldn’t continue draining him.

When he went back to his horse, Rasera, he patted the black beast’s neck and spoke softly to him as he removed his burdens. Tavros had already started setting up their tent. With most of their forces being Aesriphos, bringing their husbands and wives in the Order with them, most people shared tents. It made camp half as big as it would normally have to be. It also made it easier on their horses. Tavros’ horse carried the tent while Rasera carried both their bedrolls.

Everything went along with military precision. Soon the camp filled with the scents of cooking food, and Valis ducked into his tent to scry as he did nightly. With a lamp hung from the support beam in the tent, Valis had just enough light to see by, but it was dim enough to not cast glaring reflections on the smooth, shiny metal of the gold pocket watch Thyran had given him for his twenty-first birth anniversary.

With a deep breath to calm his aching heart, Valis pressed the knob on the pocket watch to release the cover and turned it so he could stare at the smooth golden surface inside instead of the watch, itself. He focused his intent on his father. This rescue mission was for nothing if Darolen wasn’t still alive.

He had to be alive. Otherwise, Valis had fought his friend, bested the Grand Master Aesriphos, and became the new one for nothing.

Sighing, Valis refocused his thoughts and intent, clearing his mind of everything else and stared into the reflective watch cover. Images started to swirl immediately. The image went black as Valis had anticipated since Darolen was kept in a cell without a lamp or windows. His heart almost stopped when he heard nothing. Then, after a few tense moments, he heard Darolen’s hacking cough. He pulled in a rattling, wheezed breath and let out another cough that sounded wetter than before, and Valis cringed. It sounded like Darolen’s chest infection was getting worse, probably from the fact that his cell was cleaned of his refuse so rarely, and he was forced to sit in his own waste. There was probably mold and fungi everywhere, and Valis felt sick for him.

Valis watched the blackness for a long moment before refocusing to a two-way scry, using Darolen’s refuse as the medium on his side, since it was the only reflective surface Valis knew about. “Father,” he whispered. “I’m coming.”

“Valis?”

“Yes. We’re on our way. Take heart.”

“My son…”

“Listen,” Valis stressed. “I won’t contact you again until I get there. But I wanted to assure you that Papa is doing well. Getting stronger. And I am coming. Tavros and I have an entire army of six-hundred and sixteen souls at our command, and we’re coming to bring you home.”

“So many…” Darolen’s voice was barely a ghost of a whisper. “Valis…”

“It may be months before I contact you again,” Valis said. “Just don’t lose hope. We are coming. Do what you must to survive.”

“I will.”

“I love you. And I will be with you as soon as I can.”

“I love you, too, my son.”

Before Valis could abort the scry, the darkness swirled away. Valis’ heart lurched. Had they been discovered? Had someone caught their scry and tampered with it somehow? Would they punish Darolen for it?

His queasy stomach turned to ice in the next breath. When the swirling stopped, Valis gasped and nearly dropped the pocket watch. Blood and bone showed through the golden reflection. Then he recognized the voices of Aesriphos.

“Secure the area. Contact Thyran to let him know that Ortima has been defeated and we’re coming home.”

How did they get to Evakis so fast? Did they ride that hard? It had only been weeks! Then he remembered that each team had a person in it who had the translocation trait, and Valis grinned. That’s rather ingenious. They could have phased to a town nearby that they had been to before. Interesting. Would that actually work? Or is this scry showing a future event?

The image flashed again, and it looked like the second team had also succeeded, having killed Carnis Doveran. When the image flashed, Valis’ stomach pitted so hard he gagged. It showed four of the six Aesriphos who went after Angas Braywar dead in a heap of armor and hair. The two still alive were tied to a pole, their heads hanging down as if they both had been knocked unconscious, blood dripping from their temples.

Then it flashed again, showing all six alive and healthy, riding at a steady pace toward their destination in Ges.

Valis barely dismissed the scry before he snapped the pocket watch closed and bolted from the tent.

“Valis, what’s wrong?” Tavros strode toward him, worry in his clear gray eyes, his shaggy black hair ruffling in the cold breeze. “Is everything okay?”

“We need to call a meeting of the reliquary guards and the leaders.”

“On it.”

Tavros strode away, calling orders while Valis went to get the map of Peralea that Thyran had given him before he left. He took it over to one of the mage lights and carefully unrolled it, checking their position outside one of the nearby cities and where he knew the Braywar Estate to be on the southern border of Ges and Tonemor. It wouldn’t take them too far out of their way. But he sighed. It would add precious time to their journey, heading more southeast than their current course.

He went back to his tent for his saddlebags and dug around until he found a pencil. He had to get everything right in his mind, and that meant getting it right on paper. If they headed to Setira city, near the edge of Arlvor and the juncture of Chytan and Aspar, they could refresh their supplies, then head to Venoz City in Ges. It followed the river, which was a necessity, but would take more time than going directly.

Glancing over his shoulder at the neat rows of tents, he grimaced. With this many men and women to feed, they needed a constant supply of fresh water more than they needed a direct route. With that in mind, he turned back around and penciled in their route changes.

“The leaders and reliquary guards are assembled,” Tavros said from behind him. “Everyone is waiting.”

“Thanks.”

He rolled the map back up and tucked the pencil behind his ear as he headed toward the fire, pausing to steal a kiss from his husband. “Really. Thanks, Tav. I mean it.” Tavros had been nothing but supportive since the incident with Aryn, always by Valis’ side, and always willing to do whatever Valis asked if it would make their lives or their mission easier.

“What is it, Grand Master?” Shyvus looked at Valis expectantly. While Valis was relieved that some of the reliquary guards delegated to his mission were his closer friends, Shyvus was a handful and a half.

“If I have to tell you one more time,” Valis growled. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Shyvus, if we’re overheard, they’re going to hear ‘Grand Master,’ and immediately go after me. And right now, I’m our only element of surprise, because it’s going to be hard to miss us coming.”

The man laughed, his blond hair falling in his eyes. He brushed it back. “I know. And, you can tell me until you’re blue in the face, Valis. But I’m going to rib you about it until the day we die when we’re safe like this. And we can see for leagues in each direction with this moon, so you know we’re not going to be overheard, even if you didn’t soundproof the shield around the camp.”

Valis let out a sigh and shook his head. The man was insufferable, but he was genuine and knew what he was doing out here better than Valis did. But he wasn’t infallible. And Valis had never tested the soundproofing of his shield, so he wanted to be as careful as possible.

“You know I can create a shield to make myself invisible, and you also know that Qos adherents know how to do the same thing.” He gave his friend a hard stare. “They could be anywhere, and we would never know because we wouldn’t see them until we were already in their trap.”

Shyvus gave him a shit-eating grin. “Not true. You would know. Or have you thought we didn’t realize you can feel the magic around you, and that that’s how you beat us so soundly most of the time? You know what spells we’re casting before we do.”

He couldn’t help but huff a tired laugh. Shyvus was right. Valis could feel the spells they were casting. That’s partly how he managed to beat the two Grand Master Aesriphos and relieve them of their titles.

Letting the matter drop, Valis straightened his spine and glanced around at everyone present. “I scried after my father, as I do every night, but this time, my scry was interrupted. Whether it was from Thyran, or directly from Sovras, himself, I received news that two of the anchor teams were or will be successful—”

Cheers erupted from the ranks, and Valis cringed, nearly deafened by the clamor. He lifted a hand to shut them up, and when they all settled down, he went on. “They were or will be successful, but the team going after Angas Braywar are not going to be. We’re changing course to meet them, hopefully before the slaughter I saw.”

“How do you know they aren’t already dead?” Phalin asked. “They—”

Valis shook his head. “I saw the future first, the most likely outcome if they go in alone. Then I saw them as they are now, still traveling toward their target.”

Phalin relaxed, shoving a hand through his black hair with a deep sigh. “Thank the Nine.”

Valis pitched his voice to carry. “This means we have to split up. I need a team to go with me at a faster pace to make it there in time while the bulk of our army moves at a normal pace with the carts and pack horses. We’ll meet up at the Braywar estate and resume our original mission from there.”

“How many do you think we’ll need?” Venabi asked. She scratched at the pink scar that ran down her dark cheek and stared at him with intent.

“I want ten reliquary guards with me and Tavros, as well as twenty Aesriphos and thirty laymen.” He glanced at Jintas. “I’d also like a few scouts and assassins with us. Whoever you can spare.” Then he met Venabi’s eyes again and nodded to her. “As for the Kalutakeni, whoever wants to go, whoever you can spare, leaving at least Vodis behind in case of wagon break-downs or the need for an extra leader.”

“Done.” She turned and started calling orders to her tribe in their native language. Valis assumed it was so others could start calling orders without everyone getting confused. Jintas did the same while Valis started issuing orders for his own men and women.

“Shyvus and Phalin, I want you two with me. Seza and Zhasina, are you going or staying with the—”

“That’s a dumb question,” Seza said. She raised a brow at him. “We’re going with you.”

“So are we,” Maphias said, hooking a thumb toward Jedai who stood beside him. “Might as well get used to our faces, Valis. We go where you go.”

“Then that’s settled,” Valis said with a grin. Their support warmed him, even though the deep chill of the night threatened to turn him to ice.

He turned to Shyvus and handed him the map. “Check the route. I have it penciled in.”

When Shyvus accepted the map, he immediately unrolled it and started scanning. “You’re taking us to Setira City first.” He nodded. “Good choice.”

“We’ll need to get more supplies. We’ll travel to Setira as a unified army, then split off from the group once we’ve restocked and rested. Then those of us heading to help the Braywar anchor team will secure the estate and we’ll use it as our camp until the main bulk of the army reaches us. After, we head out directly to our main objective.”

“We can lash down the carts more securely,” Venabi said when she returned from issuing orders. “Ride harder during the day to make better time as a group. Keep a team behind the carts at all times to shout ahead if anything breaks or falls. These carts are well made. It should work.”

Nodding, Valis glanced around and let out a breath. “That’s good. Let’s get settled in for the night, get our bellies full, and we’ll start a bit earlier in the morning.”

With that, everyone assumed they were dismissed and went to one of the six fires that dotted the camp to cook food for everyone. Valis took a seat next to Tavros at the nearest one and leaned against his husband’s side, their armor clanking.

“How was Darolen?” Tavros asked gently. He asked every night, and Valis wondered if it was because he was just as worried as Valis, or he was worried just because Valis was.

“His chest infection seems to be getting worse.” Valis paused to accept a bowl of stew with a quiet thanks for Maphias as he handed them out. Once Tavros had his, Valis turned to him again and sighed. “His cough is getting worse. I took a risk and let him know we’re coming. I hope that’s enough to keep him alive and fighting until we get there.”

“It will be.” And Tavros said that with such absolute certainty that Valis wanted to kiss him.

So, he did.

Then they tucked into their stew. Valis’ mind went back to those scrying scenes. Either the two teams already had succeeded, or it was a guarantee that they would. Since it had only been a short time since the anchor teams were dispatched, Valis gathered that the outcomes were guaranteed, but hadn’t yet happened. It made much more sense.

He also knew that neither Thyran nor Sovras—whoever had changed his scrying visions—would ever make him alter his course without giving him enough time to get there. That was only a small comfort, though.

“You seem lost in thought more than normal tonight,” Tavros murmured around a bite of stew. “What’s wrong?”

Valis gave his husband a tired smile and stared down into his half-full bowl as he set his spoon down against the rim. “Just pondering over the visions I saw tonight. At first, when I saw them, I thought it meant the teams for Ortima and Carnis had already succeeded. Just realized it was probably a vision of the future like the first one I had of the Braywar team. It means… I might be able to control when I have a vision. Or, it could mean that Thyran or Sovras decided to take advantage of the fact that I’m a creature of habit.”

Tavros laughed and nudged his shoulder. “You really are.”

Shrugging, Valis ate another bite of stew before saying, “It gets duty done.”

“You…” Tavros stopped to think about that for a moment, then snorted. “You’re not wrong.”

“Never am,” Valis teased.

They continued the teasing banter for a bit as they ate and stared into the fire. Then as some cleaned the pots and got ready to break down the cooking fires, Valis tugged Tavros to their tent. Alone time didn’t happen often when on journeys like this, and Valis took it whenever he could.

No one ever said a thing. When Valis had asked Shyvus about it, he and Phalin both had given Valis fond looks and Shyvus said, “We know how it was when we first bonded. We were as covetous of our alone time as you, and none of the Aesriphos here will ever say a thing, because it is the same for every one of them, too.”

So, when Valis and Tavros took their time shedding their armor, Valis cherished every second. He didn’t care how bad they smelled, or how cramped the tent was. He pulled Tavros down into their thick bedding, tossed their winter cloaks over top, and snuggled close.

“You’re adorable when you’re sentimental,” Tavros whispered against Valis’ lips.

“Just be glad I’m sentimental every night out here.”

Tavros laughed and kissed him again. “Go to sleep, love.”

But Valis stayed awake a few minutes longer to watch his husband drift off in the soft glow of the fading mage light because he didn’t know how many nights like this he would have. Their journey promised to be successful, but that was never a guarantee.

 

Chapter 2

Everyone had grown weary of the saddle. Glancing around, Valis was amazed at the control of those he rode with. The more advanced, older Aesriphos and laymen warriors all sat tall on their horses, all kept an attentive expression on their faces, their eyes constantly scanning the area for any signs of danger as they rode. It didn’t matter to them how long they had been in the saddle, or how far away from home they were. Their discipline kept them awake, alert, and focused.

Valis only wished he could be so disciplined. He kept his back straight, but his focus kept wandering. He stayed alert, but his eyes kept wanting to close. He had the army moving at a steady, fast pace. The wagons remained protected near the center, and they rode in formation of six lines. They varied their pace throughout the day so the horses wouldn’t suffer, but they made better time than when he and his friends journeyed from Cadoras to Lyvea and back.

But still, no matter how steady the pace, it was the meetings every evening that lasted well into the night that had Valis wanting to pass out on the neck of his horse. Rasera wouldn’t mind, but he had people to lead, and it would look bad if their leader suddenly took a nap in the saddle.

Or so he assumed. Valis didn’t have the audacity to ask.

“You know,” Seza muttered from behind, “I liked it better when we were after the Caravan. At least there was chatter to keep us awake.”

Valis snorted. She was right. Now, it was imperative to ride in silence for the most part so they could launch surprise attacks if they came upon Qos nests. It made for a boring ride, and that was a big part of the reason Valis wished he could nap.

“We’ve been riding for a month now,” her brother Maphias said. His amused tone made Valis grin. “You’d think you’d be used to it by now.”

“Shush, you.”

Valis heard a gauntlet clank against something hard and assumed she punched her brother. He assumed right. Not even a second later, Maphias groaned. “Not on the head.”

Chuckling, Valis turned to look back at them. “All right. Enough, you two.”

Quiet chuckles rose through the ranks from the more experienced Aesriphos nearby who were close enough to hear the exchange. Valis smiled. It was little things like this that kept the mood up, even when the days were boring. And with winter upon them, the days were both short and more boring than normal. They stopped late in the evening when the sun was long set and got up before the sun rose to start their day so they could make good time.

Now, Valis stared ahead, two mercenaries behind him in case he fell into a vision, and endless miles in front of them, waiting for them to cross. It almost seemed as if they had been riding for years instead of just a month.

He was about to ask Tavros something when he felt himself start to fall. His vision whited out, blocking everything except for sound and touch. Someone called for a halt. Someone else caught him before he tumbled out of the saddle. Then everything went dark.

A moment later, Valis gasped. Or, his host did. They glanced around, hiding behind a wagon in an alley as they watched men in black armor with red tabards, Qos’ symbol embroidered on the front and back in shiny black thread. The men and women herded the townsfolk like cattle, shouting obscenities and blasting those who opposed them with black magic, charring their bodies until they stopped twitching. Whoever Valis inhabited whimpered at the carnage, and when they looked down to hide their eyes, Valis’ stomach rolled. He looked through the eyes of a terrified child. This young person had somehow escaped notice, and now watched everyone he knew get herded into a large building or fried by dark magic.

A thick, meaty hand gripped the child’s neck, squeezing so painfully that the child yelped and stopped their thrashing almost as soon as it started. “Please, sir. I’m no trouble!”

“Damned right you’re not, boy. Get in line before something bad happens.”

The man threw the boy like a rag doll toward the herd of townsfolk so hard he bounced. Someone grabbed him up and hurried back in line, her arms trembling either from the boy’s weight or from terror.

The boy looked up into her eyes, tears streaking his own face. His voice shook as he asked, “We’re gonna die, aren’t we, Aunt Ella?”

She firmed her mouth into a tight line and gazed forward. Her face paled, but she kept a firm expression. The light of the sun caught the red and silver highlights in her brown hair, laced with gray from age. “No,” she finally whispered, her voice and eyes fierce. “No, Athar. We are not. The Aesriphos will come. They have to.”

“He’s coming around. Keep a steady pace.”

Valis shivered as the vision faded to darkness. He hated this part the most. Nothing could get him warm until he remembered to regulate his temperature. But he found that somehow, he had stayed ahorse, and as he warmed up, he relaxed into his recovery.

“Valis?”

Valis groaned and let his head loll toward Tavros’ voice. “Yeah.”

“Can you talk about your vision yet?”

Only now did Valis feel that someone was holding him up in the saddle and guessed it was his husband. When he let his head fall forward, he smelled Tavros’ skin and buried his face there. “Qos adherents have taken over a city.”

“Can you describe the city, lad?” Phalin asked.

When Valis gave him as much description as he could, he coughed to clear his throat. “I was in the body of a young boy, Athar. He was captured along with his Aunt Ella.”

Shyvus let out a string of curses. His voice was grim as he said, “Athar is my great grand-nephew. Ella is one of my grand-nieces.”

Valis frowned. His vision was starting to return, and he turned to look at his friend. “They were alive and mostly well. I’m unsure if it was a future scene, present, or past. Athar suffered a bit of mistreatment, but he seems fine.”

Shyvus gritted his teeth but nodded. “Thank you, lad.”

“Let’s get you back upright in your saddle,” Tavros said. He gave Valis a push and after a moment of adjustment, Valis sat tall again.

“The place you described is Setira City,” Shyvus said. “That you mentioned Ella and Athar confirms it.”

“We’re heading there, anyway,” Valis said with a nod. “Let’s stop for a moment of rest. I need to scry.”

Shyvus gritted his teeth again but nodded and turned to start issuing orders while Tavros helped Valis out of his saddle because his legs were still wobbly from the vision. By the time they had a fire set up to make lunch, Valis had his pocket watch out and was trying to find his focus so he could get more details. He needed to know if what he had seen was present or future. He doubted it was the past.

“You all right to do that in the open?” Shyvus asked. “Usually you only scry while in your tent.”

Valis shrugged and rubbed at his eyes. “It helps to have as few distractions as possible because the skill is still new to me.”

He nodded and went back to looking at his feet. Valis reached over and squeezed the back of his neck since they were both in armor. “We’ll save them, Shy. Sovras gave me that vision for you, I think. He wouldn’t torture you with it if we had no chance of saving them.”

With a nod, Shyvus reached over and squeezed Valis’ hand in thanks. Valis watched the knot in his friend’s throat bob as he swallowed hard. Watching him like this was almost as hard as listening to Darolen cough and hack when he couldn’t do anything about it. They were both painful feelings that twisted sharply in Valis’ chest.

“We’ll save them,” Valis whispered. “Don’t lose hope before we even set off.”

When Shyvus didn’t answer, Valis caught Phalin’s attention and motioned to Shyvus before beckoning him over. He took one look at his husband, paled, and rushed over. After briefing Phalin on what had happened, Valis watched as he led his lover away for what appeared to be a private, tender chat. And with them gone, Valis bent his head and focused on the shiny inside of his golden pocket watch again. The chatter around him droned on, but Valis found it easier to tune it out now that he didn’t have to worry about Shyvus any longer.

Just as Valis was focusing his intent, Tavros sat beside him now that he was done feeding their horses. His calm, quiet presence gave Valis a little boost to his confidence, and soon he saw Setira City. He was able to move the scry around to check inside buildings and look over people’s shoulders. But as he explored the city, he found no sign of even a single Qos adherent. Either they were well-hidden in disguise, or they had yet to infiltrate the city.

Lunch was ready by the time Valis finished his exploration. He snapped his pocket watch closed and ate slowly, trying to let his mind relax after the intense scry. When he finished, Tavros quietly plucked his bowl out of his hands and handed him a waterskin. Valis rewarded him with a kiss.

“You’ve been lost in your head for a while,” Tavros said against his neck as Valis took a healthy swig of tepid water. He pressed a lingering kiss there and rested his forehead against Valis’ temple. “Tell me what you need.”

Valis felt a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth and turned his head so that their foreheads rested together, and they brushed noses. “You’re doing it already. I have one more scrying session I need to do, then I need to have a meeting of the leaders and reliquary guards. Then we head out again.”

Tavros tilted his head and brushed a kiss across Valis’ lips. “Then I’ll let you scry. Tell me if you need anything, love.”

“I will.”

Another sweet, chaste kiss and Valis reluctantly pulled away to take out his pocket watch and start scanning the areas near Setira City to see if he could locate the Qos adherents.

“Your brows are furrowing,” Tavros whispered after a few minutes. “Everything going okay?”

“I’m seeing shimmers,” Valis muttered. “They’re cloaking themselves from scries. I’ve been doing that with our shields. But… I think they’re doing it while they’re moving. I wonder if I can do the same thing. Thyran believes I’m as powerful as, or more powerful than the Sovereign Priest of Qos after what the monastery blessed me with. So, I should be able to shroud our army from scries and view. It would help with the boredom issue we’ve been experiencing.”

“Can you try seeing the future?”

Nodding, Valis refocused his scry and went for an aerial view of the city. He forced the scry’s timeline to move ahead at an accelerated pace. After eight days, the city shimmered and disappeared, showing nothing but barren grass. Valis gasped and snapped his pocket watch shut. “They’re blocking my scry or something. When I got to the ninth day, the entire city disappeared. I couldn’t see how many there were, but they get there in nine days.”

“It will take us ten at a hard ride to get there,” Shyvus muttered. “No matter how we try, we’ll never make it in less.”

“My vision still stands.” Valis tucked away his pocket watch and stood. “Your relatives will still be alive. They were herding the townsfolk into a large building in my vision, so they weren’t killing anyone except those who fought back. Ella and Athar weren’t fighting. They made it into the building.”

Shyvus gave a curt nod and raked both hands through his blond hair. “Ten days.”

“We can make it.” Valis clapped the man gently on the neck and shoved him toward the fire. “Meeting of the leaders and reliquary guards. Let’s get this over with so we can get on our way.”

Within minutes, the reliquary guards, Jintas, Vodis, Venabi, and Valis’ friends had gathered around while the others cleaned up the lunch dishes and got everything repacked so they could get underway as soon as the meeting was over. Valis looked into as many eyes as he could before letting out a long breath.

“As far as I can determine, the Qos adherents are on their way to Cadoras but had the same idea as us to stop by Setira City and resupply. Only they don’t plan on buying their supplies and are hoping to use terror as currency.”

He rubbed the sash around his waist where he kept his pocket watch hidden. “I recognized a few faces.” When several people gasped, Valis held his hand up. “I recognized them from a previous vision I had back in Cadoras.”

“What was the vision?” Phalin asked. “You have had many.”

“It was one I had where I thought I saw my fathers fighting,” Valis replied, ensuring his voice was pitched to carry. “They had retreated to the circle of the way stones. In this vision, I saw many Qos adherent faces, and I saw some of those same faces in the vision where I saw the Qos adherents terrorizing Setira City through little Athar’s eyes.”

Valis spread his hands to the sides, palms up in a gesture to welcome them to see his point. “This means they are probably the remnants of the pocket of adherents who fought the army that had amassed around my fathers, Darolen and Kerac. If this is true, they may have at least some of the answers we need as to where my father was taken, and more importantly, how to get there. We will need to capture the highest ranked Qos adherents for interrogation.”

“How are we to know their ranks?” one of the reliquary guards asked. “None of us have ever been able to figure out their rankings during a fight.”

Grinning, Valis tapped his temple. “Dad might recognize some faces. But I can feel the difference in their power. So, I’ll be able to pinpoint who are high priests or greater and single them out for capture. When we fight, I want you to lay stasis on as many as possible. Try to kill as few as you can.”

Valis grimaced as he rested his hands on his hips. “I’m sorry to ask this of you. I know how much harder this will make the coming fight, but it is necessary. The more information we have, the more able we will be to meet our goal.”

“It is wise counsel, lad,” Shyvus said. It surprised Valis to hear him so calm now. “The more information we have, the sooner we can all get back home where we belong, with a mending Darolen in tow.”

Valis let a brief smile flit across his mouth and dipped his head in thanks. “That is the plan. Now, we need to think strategies. I had the idea of, as soon as we enter the city and get all our men and women inside and into position, setting an impermeable shield around the city so none can escape. This will make it easier to know we’ve fully eradicated the nest and won’t have any following us to report our location and direction to anyone higher in their ranks.”

Murmurs arose within the reliquary guards as well as the leaders present. Valis waited patiently for them to talk amongst themselves. They were more knowledgeable in war than he, and he didn’t mind. They would let their thoughts be known once they finalized them.

The one thing Valis was most thankful for was his time training most of these men and women, and the camaraderie they had. He trusted every man and woman who had accompanied him on this journey, both with his own life, as well as the lives of his mate, his friends, and his father. Giving them time to work out their own plans to present was little hardship, even if it did cost valuable time.

“What about the city folk?” Venabi asked. “Erecting such a shield could spur the Qos adherents to start killing innocents in order to force you to take it down.”

Valis nodded and let out a long sigh. “I had thought of that. But with the amount of Qos adherents I saw, coupled with our own numbers, if we were to put enough pressure on them, they would be too focused on us to do anything with the townsfolk. Or, that is my hope.

“Based on what I saw, we outnumber them by quite a bit. I would say it is a five-to-one ratio. Even if it is less, with the training I gave the reliquary guards in the months before we left the monastery, we should be able to put in enough force and pressure to break them with as few casualties as possible. It is completely possible none will even know there is a barrier up until it’s too late.”

“Are you willing to take that risk, lad?” one of the women asked.

Valis’ stomach squirmed, but he nodded. “We have to. For now, that’s our main plan. Go in, set up a shield over the entire city, and make it so people can go in, but no one can leave until I take it down. It may change once we get there, but I have a feeling this is what will be needed.”

“Then that is what will be needed,” Shyvus said. “We trust you, Valis.”

“And I thank each and every one of you for that trust,” Valis said with a small bow. “Now, let’s get the rest of this plan hashed out so we can get our asses back in our saddles and get underway.”

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