Loyalty and War: Incursion

The God Jars Saga Book 9

Incursion_Cover

It has all come down to this…

The final battles are upon him. Every decision, every step Valis has taken has led him to this moment. All the heartache, pain, and training have driven him halfway across the continent to rescue his father and the final god jar.

Valis and his friends rush toward their destiny, bound together in their quest. But avoiding dangers on their journey taxes Valis’s magical abilities and stamina, forcing him to continue draining everything he can from their enemies. And as they reach their destination, Valis’s worries about his reserves only grow.

The priests in the enemy monastery are more powerful than any Valis has dealt with before. They are even able to separate him from his husband. Their Sovereign Priest, Kaphir, is an enigma, and learning his secrets leaves Valis with more questions than answers. The only thing that is certain is that if Valis fails now, the entire world will pay an unthinkable price.

This is the final book in the God Jars Saga. It is complete, and includes a bonus chapter at the end.

Published: May 5, 2020
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

“I suppose you’re too riled up to do anything but constantly move.” Tavros gave Valis an exasperated look. “You’re fidgeting, and have been ever since your scry.”

Valis snorted and gave his husband a gentle pat on the shoulder as he passed in his pacing. It was one of the constant activities he had adopted ever since he dismissed the scry that showed him the enemy monastery and the route he needed to take to get to it. “I can’t help it. It’s not just a monastery, Tav. It’s an exact copy of Avristin. But…” He sighed. “You know me well.”

“I do,” Tavros said fondly. “So, instead of you pacing, I want to go ahead and teach you how to meditate. If nothing else, it should calm you down. You also seem more awake now than you were when you finished scrying with Thyran.”

Valis’s sigh turned into a groan. He turned around and walked straight into Tavros’s chest, relaxing when his husband wrapped him up tight in his arms. “Yeah. And I need to contact him again to let him know what I found in that scry. But it can wait until after the meditation lesson, I suppose.” He let himself take a moment to bask in Tavros’s warmth and strong arms, then squeezed him and backed away. “All right. Let’s get this done.”

Tavros laughed as he grabbed Valis’s hand and led him from the office. “It will be relaxing, you silly shit. You said that like you were facing a death sentence.”

For once, or perhaps all too often, Valis wished he didn’t have to adhere to duty. But hopefully, learning to meditate would be less fraught with obstacles than when he learned how to scry. Either way, he trusted Tavros when it came to his need to learn things that his husband could teach. No matter how much they didn’t get along in the early days of their relationship, Tavros had always been fair when it came to lessons in both scholastic aims and physical training. He had little doubt that now, after they had married, Tavros would be this enthusiastic about a lesson if it would be exceedingly hard to learn or teach.

To Valis’s surprise, Tavros didn’t take him to their chosen room. Instead, they ended up in a warm conservatory where three of the walls consisted of glass panels. The muted sunlight made the fresh snow glitter and sparkle. The fires in the two hearths kept the space warm. Still, there were luxurious blankets in royal blue on the two white sofas and three intricately woven wicker chairs, and pristine white cushions lay strategically placed around the area on the floor, their size just right to lie down and watch the fat snowflakes drift in lazy swirls to the small drifts that seemed never to build up. Valis briefly wondered if it was magic. Then he felt the magic hum across his skin and consciousness, confirming his suspicions.

“Take a seat on one of the cushions,” Tavros instructed. “Get comfortable with your legs in the knot position.”

Valis chose one that had the best view of the splendor outside. Once he sat down, he arranged himself to Tavros’s specifications and relaxed into the plush luxury. He pulled the blanket over his legs to ward off the slight chill that the two hearths couldn’t chase away and gave his husband his full attention.

“Comfy?”

Valis grinned and nodded. “Now what?”

“Keep your posture straight and rest your hands on your knees, palms up.” When Valis complied, Tavros sat across from him. “Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. In for the count of eight, out for the count of eight. Clear and calm your mind, focusing on only the numbers and of the feeling of filling your lungs until you’re completely relaxed. Then once you reach a level of consciousness where you can feel and hear everything around you more crisply, turn your focus inward and into wherever you feel your power manifesting.” He grimaced. “Unfortunately, that’s as much as I know. Anything after that, you have to figure out on your own, because that’s not an exercise I was ever taught. They never taught us to find where our power comes from, only how to draw upon it and put it to use.”

Nodding, Valis closed his eyes and worked to relax his body further. “If I can clear my head enough to scry, I can clear my head for meditation. Good thing it took me forever to learn to scry, otherwise this might be harder than it sounds.”

Tavros chuckled. “This is a completely different animal. Now hush and do as I told you.”

Valis opened his eyes and winked at his husband. “Yes, master.”

“Cheeky shit.”

Grinning, Valis closed his eyes again and let himself relax. Clearing his mind took a few minutes. Every time a new thought entered his head, he acknowledged it and let it drift away into one of those little rooms in his mind that he used for splitting his focus. Aenali had taught him that useful trick, and now he used it to let himself just be.

With the way his consciousness settled, he could feel his birth father, Roba, as a warm, glowing light in his mind, a ghost who had somehow lodged in his consciousness for an unknown amount of time. Now that Roba had been purified and was no longer abusive, Valis took comfort in that warm feeling and let himself drift even deeper into his mind.

That’s when he heard it. His hearing sharpened, Valis could hear the whisper of snowflakes as they fell onto the curved glass roof, and could track their descent down the slope that kept the snow from accumulating into a weight that the glass couldn’t bear. The shushing sound the flakes made as they hit the snowdrifts below calmed Valis even further until he could hear sounds of others walking throughout the manse. Tavros’s quiet breaths sounded like he was breathing directly into Valis’s ear. When he compartmentalized the sounds that filtered their way into his mind, his shoulders sagged, and he fell even deeper until all he could do was feel.

“That’s it,” Tavros whispered. “Let everything go and turn your focus inward. Follow your magic to where it originates, and find a way to expand it.”

How Tavros could tell he had reached such a heightened consciousness, Valis couldn’t tell. Was it due to their bond? How much had it grown? He pushed the thought aside with a soft smile and did as his lover instructed, calling upon his magic and following it within himself to its origin.

It seemed too easy. He mentally followed the trail of what looked like braided light and darkness toward his solar plexus, then followed tendrils that wrapped around his guts like the way the Kalutakeni and mercenaries lashed down their supplies into the wagons. At least now he could see why his stomach pitted so hard.

In the center, he saw what looked like what he imagined to be a shared barrel, half with roiling black magic and half with intensely bright but gentle light. But rather than staying in the “barrel,” they both pulsed and sloshed over the sides, splashing around inside Valis in unconstrained waves that kept growing and receding like rolling tides that Valis had no power over… yet.

It almost seemed like liquid storm clouds, and Valis felt the storm surge throughout his entire body, like lightning shooting through his core and limbs, lighting up his brain like a funeral pyre. The barely controlled chaos seemed to grow wilder with every slow, deep breath Valis took.

Shouldn’t it be tamer with as deep into relaxation as he had gone? Why was it surging so violently? More importantly, how did he expand that container so that his magic wouldn’t slosh and spray everywhere like miniature geysers?

After a few moments of watching the epic mess that lived inside him, someone tapped him on the shoulder.

Valis whipped around, his hands balling into fists automatically. He pulled his right arm back, ready to swing. But the moment he saw who had touched him, all the fight left him and had Valis gasping. “Dad?”

Roba seemed stunned. He reached out a shaking hand to touch Valis’s face. “My son…”

“Am I still meditating?” Valis asked. “Because I’m pretty sure this is impossible on so many levels.”

Roba tilted his head, his eyes going distant for only a moment. “I believe your meditation slipped into dreamwalking. However, it is highly irregular. You are dreamwalking inside your body, which is not how dreamwalks are supposed to happen. They simply do not work that way.”

Valis snorted. “Apparently it does. Or this is something else that we’ve never encountered before.”

“Possibly,” Roba said. He rolled his wrist, motioning to the wellspring of Valis’s power. “This isn’t supposed to happen, either, but it is. This is why your eyes were turning colors, not just because you forced your power into your eyes. You either need an outlet, or you need to make this damnable well larger.”

While Valis took a moment to ponder that, he studied his father. Roba looked exactly as he had in life, but instead of his face infused with rage and hatred, he looked… free. A slight sincere smile lit up his relaxed face as he studied the anomaly that lived inside Valis while he organized his thoughts.

Roba was about to say something when Valis spontaneously pulled his father into a tight hug, startling Roba into returning it without thinking.

“Are you all right, Valis?”

Valis smiled. “I am now.”

Roba tutted. “You are a strange child.” But he held Valis just a little tighter. His hands fisted in Valis’s shirt. He rested his forehead against Valis’s ear, let out a soft sigh, and whispered, “I thought I would never have this.”

“Aw, Dad…” Valis stroked Roba’s hair back. Even as his power roiled around them, it seemed to calm the longer they clung to each other. “If meditation can give us this, I may do it more often when this war is over. I promise, okay?”

Roba shivered and whispered so softly that Valis had to strain to hear, “If I don’t disappear. This could still be temporary.”

“Don’t do that to yourself, Dad.” He backed away just enough to look Roba in the eye. “What have you taught me?” When Roba didn’t answer, Valis continued. “Don’t waste your time worrying about something that may never come to pass.”

Valis poked Roba in the side and turned back toward the well of power that pulsed within him. “Now. What do we do with this mess?”

“Unfortunately,” Roba hedged, “I only know of one way, and you don’t have time for that.”

“What is it?”

Roba wrinkled his nose and went back to staring at their current glowing problem. “Let it grow naturally as you gain power. But you are gaining power at an alarming rate by draining Qos adherents, and getting blasted with holy magic before you departed Avristin… I’m surprised it has taken this long for problems to arise.”

Valis groaned and stared forlornly at the font of his power, wracking his brain to find a solution. He sighed. “I don’t suppose grabbing the edges of the well and pulling will work, would it?”

His father choked on a snort. “I doubt it would hurt to try. And if it does, we can stop immediately.”

“Then grab an edge, and let’s get our hands dirty.” Valis stalked over to the edge of the well and grabbed the side, squinting hard as the light from his holy magic nearly blinded him up close. It was so bright that when Roba rounded to the other side, he could no longer see his father.

“I am ready when you are, my son.”

Valis took a deep breath and let it out, closing his eyes. He concentrated on expanding the well exponentially, silently willing his font to heed his orders. “Now.” Valis pulled with all his strength. He heard Roba’s labored grunts and pulled harder. It strained against him, but he felt it give, just enough for him to have to take a step back.

It seemed to take forever. Valis started to fatigue, but he kept pulling, taking another step back, then another, and another. Then, without any warning, as Valis envisioned it blowing up into a walled-in lake, he and Roba went flying backward.

“Valis?” Tavros’s worried voice filtered into his meditation. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” Valis whispered for his husband. “Just a few more moments.”

The moment he descended back down into the pit of his magic, he saw the lake he had envisioned. His magic coiled and undulated gently, lapping at the edges with much room to spare. He called out to Roba and heard him groan before muttering, “Warn a man next time.”

With a chuckle, Valis rounded the expanse until he found his father and helped him up before tugging him into a tight hug. “I would, but I didn’t realize it would work. I should have remembered my own training, and that which you gave me. It reacted to my will, surprising me, and we both went flying when it obeyed.”

“I’d rather not fly again,” Roba groaned. “The landing isn’t pleasant.”

Valis smirked, but refrained from teasing his father. “All right. We won’t go flying again.”

He paused and glanced at the lake. “Do you think that’s big enough?”

Roba glanced over at him with a blond brow raised. “You cannot be serious.”

Shrugging, Valis bumped shoulders with him. “I’m very serious. But I’ll keep an eye on it. I’ll be meditating every morning if I can get up early enough.”

“Just don’t tire yourself out,” Roba warned. “Make sure you get enough sleep.”

Valis smiled and ducked his head. “Promise.”

“Good. Now, go back to your husband,” Roba said gently. “You have much to do yet.”

“Yeah.” He gave Roba another tight, warm hug. He lingered a little too long but wasn’t willing to let go. Roba pulled back and squeezed Valis’s biceps. “Go now. I will still be here when you next meditate.”

Nodding, Valis took a few steps away, drinking in the sight of his dad, then opened his eyes to the real world. Tavros sat staring at him and grinned when he realized Valis had come out of his trance. “Did it work?” Then he tilted his head. “It must’ve. Your eyes are blue again.” Valis had pushed black magic into his eyes to read a few of Braywar’s documents that had literary wards on them, and his eyes had turned black. When Thyran complained, Valis had shoved golden magic into them. Thankfully, only his irises had turned gold, or he would be a little more upset than he was. Now, he was relieved. If they were blue again, Thyran would hopefully stop worrying.

Valis stretched his back, groaning when a series of pops and cracks sounded in the hushed quiet of the conservatory. “It worked,” he said once he relaxed again. “Now, let’s—”

The world went black. The sensation of falling made Valis cry out. And the last thing he heard was Tavros calling his name.

Chapter 2

Valis groaned inwardly as his vision came back in waves. Did he faint? When he tried to look around to see what happened, he groaned again. The place reeked of power and sex. His host had a manic smile in place, spreading his arms wide as he basked in the magic that flooded the cramped room. The man’s erection pressed against his rough robes, and the friction and a sudden surge of overwhelming power made Valis’s host’s back arch with his powerful orgasm.

“It is done, Master,” he called once his brain returned to its normal functioning. The man’s voice echoed through the room though there was no logical way for it to do so with how cramped the space was. Valis cringed inwardly as his host stepped forward, lifting a woman’s head by jerking her hair back. The woman wore a simple black robe, and it looked like she wore nothing beneath. She barely flinched at the abuse, but an erotic groan left her as the power rolled over everyone present.

“We must prepare for the other three anchors,” a man said from the back of the room. Valis’s host tried to see the speaker, but there were too many in the room, and Valis’s host was too short to see over anyone’s head. All he could see was the top of what appeared to be a gilded, high-backed throne. “If we are fortunate, we will have the first of them in place before the first thaw of spring.”

Valis’s stomach swooped. Nausea bubbled up in his throat, and his heart started racing. Could he and his army make it before first thaw? First thaw could be anywhere between the months of Protection and Ambition, depending on the year. Hopefully, with the frequent blizzards this year, first thaw would be delayed. But even so, they weren’t planning on creating a new anchor on the day of the first thaw. They just wanted to make sure it was done before then.

Valis let out a string of curses in his mind. This complicated things too much, and turned Valis’s brain to mush as he tried to figure out a way of first, seeing if this vision was past, present, or future, and second, finding an exact date for the second anchor’s induction other than “before the first thaw of spring.”

He expected to wake up from his vision at any moment, but as bodies milled about the room, reveling in the power that still had yet to dissipate, Valis started to worry. Why wasn’t he waking up?

“Kesin,” the one called “Master” said with a rolling purr.

Valis’s host went rigid. “Yes, Master?”

“Take the ritual items to the vault.”

“Yes, Master.”

Kesin glanced around, then headed into a bloody circle and picked up a few items, carefully stashing them in the many pockets his robes possessed. Valis looked eagerly, but there was nothing he could find of interest. Still, he memorized the contents, and soon they were on their through what would be the Hall of Communion if this were Avristin. The guards at the doors to the reliquary scowled at him but reluctantly opened the doors to let Kesin pass on the orders of their Master.

After a few brief interludes where scholars stopped Kesin for quick, somewhat friendly chats, he went straight through the reliquary and then used his own power to open the magical door that led into the vault.

When he raised his eyes from the floor and started rooting through his pockets, Kesin’s gaze fell upon a single clay jar with an aged patina that said it was exceedingly old. Valis gasped internally as he recognized it from when Thyran had allowed him to touch the god jars. Qos’s jar sat on a pedestal against the back wall. He finally had a location.

Kesin drew his eyes toward a display case and started cleaning and putting the ritual artifacts away, and as soon as he cleaned a dagger and put it in the case, the world went black again, and again Valis felt like he was falling through a vast abyss.

“He’s waking up,” Tavros said. “Brogan, get the door.”

“On it,” Brogan said. A moment later, Valis heard a door open. He shivered until he remembered to magically adjust his internal temperature.

“Watch his head,” Tavros ordered. “Help me get him onto the bed.”

“It would have been easier to let him wake in the conservatory rather than carting him across the manse to your room,” Shyvus complained. “It was just as plush.”

“That may be, but we needed to get to a scrying bowl, anyway,” Tavros mumbled as he stroked Valis’s hair from his forehead. “He’ll want to contact Thyran as soon as he’s fully out of it.”

“Ah, yes. I forgot. My apologies, Grand Master.” And for once, Shyvus didn’t tease when he used the honorific.

Valis groaned as they laid him on the bed and reached blindly for his husband. “How long was I out?”

“About half an hour,” Tavros said. He caught Valis’s hand and kissed his palm. “You bumped your head on the settee on the way down.”

“I don’t feel it,” Valis said. “Ugh. I need to sit up. Thyran needs to hear this.”

He peeked his eyes open and squinted in the low light of the room, thankful that they had lowered the lamp wicks and doused the mage lights to make the glow gentle and warm.

“Take your time,” Tavros murmured into his hair.

“I want four reliquary guards, Vodis and Venabi, as well as Jintas and his lieutenant, Sirvi, in the room while I scry. You all need to hear this, and the reliquary guards can tell whoever needs to know.” Valis focused on Shyvus when he said the last bit. “Go assemble them in the study so I can get this over with. I would seriously like to enjoy a few minutes of peace before we head out in the morning.

“And after this meeting, I’d like everyone assembled in the receiving room downstairs. Make it happen, please.”

As everyone but Tavros left, Valis rubbed his tired eyes and sighed.

My son, Roba said softly in his mind. You must find out when that vision happened. I can see it in your mind, and if they already have one anchor, they might have most of the provisions necessary to tether the remaining three to Qos.

How would I go about that? Valis asked. I could scry, but that’s too dangerous. If I get caught…

There is always dreamwalking, Roba hesitantly suggested. It is just as dangerous, but it is a viable option as much as scrying is.

Sighing, Valis headed for the door. Tavros took his hand and drew him back until Valis was tucked against his husband’s chest. “It will be all right,” he whispered.

“I know.” Valis pressed a gentle kiss to Tavros’s lips. What was supposed to be a chaste peck, Tavros turned it into a slow, sultry melding of mouths. Their tongues met in a wet slide that had Valis’s cock waking up even though they’d just made love a few hours before.

After several minutes of bliss wrapped in his husband’s strong arms and basking in his love, Valis chuckled and pulled away. He adjusted his dick and smirked. “Later, love. We have duty to attend.”

Tavros grinned. “Not even sorry, and I’ll hold you to that.”

Both of them had tented their uniform pants. Valis thought about the most disgusting and horrendous things he could imagine to get his cock to deflate. Once they both appeared more respectable, Valis led Tavros out of their room and headed for the study.

“Gods, Valis.” Shyvus chuckled, and it spread to the rest of the study’s occupants. “You both look totally debauched. Haven’t you both had enough when you had Tavros screaming the place down?”

Valis’s face flamed with a blush that felt hotter than the sun, but he pushed the embarrassment away to go sit down at the enormous desk and pulled the scrying bowl to himself. Someone had already filled it, and some of the water sloshed over the side. He brushed the water off the desk, wetting his tunic, and sighed.

“I summoned you all because you need to hear what transpired in the vision I had. And you all know that the moment I come out of a vision, I have to alert Thyran and give him all the details. So, I might as well kill two birds with one stone. And I trust you all to disseminate the information to those who need to know.”

Murmurs of agreement passed through the group, and Valis gave them a small smile before turning his entire focus to scrying, calling upon Thyran until his mentor’s face appeared in the gently rippling water.

“You have news for me,” Thyran stated from Valis’s scrying bowl. “And your eyes are no longer gold. Good.” Valis sat in the very posh and elegantly decorated office of the now-deceased Qos anchor, Angus Braywar.

“Meditation worked,” Valis said. “And I’ll be doing it often.” He ignored the splendor of the room, leaning his head in both hands, his elbows resting rudely on the giant redwood desk with its carved skirting and claw-shaped feet. The monstrosity, while beautiful, took up almost half the room, making Valis fight off feelings of claustrophobia.

Thyran must have picked up on it, because he said, “You look both ill and excited. Choose one, please. You are worrying a very old man.”

Valis huffed a sardonic laugh, putting the office out of his mind and focusing solely on his mentor, friend, and now his direct superior—the August Patriarch of Avristin. “You’ll outlive me.”

“Perhaps,” Thyran said. “Perhaps not.” Then he heaved a sigh, ran his hand through his short salt and pepper hair, pinned Valis in place with his piercing blue gaze, and pressed his lips into a tight line before muttering, “Do not get me off topic, young man. What do you have for me?”

“In Braywar’s things, he had a set of directions under a literary ward. They are directions to the enemy monastery. Thyran… the monastery is exactly the same in every way as Avristin. They built it to mimic Avristin, only it’s inside a fucking mountain. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“How far did you scry?” Thyran asked, suddenly sharp, stern, and serious. “Did you get any precognitive feelings during it?”

Valis shook his head. “No stomach pitting. And I made sure my scries were brief. I wasn’t discovered. But I did get a decent mental map of the interior. It’s… Thyran, it’s exactly the same. Libraries are in the same place. Common rooms, too. The temple up in the highest point has an amorphous blob of darkness where Avristin has the Light of Phaerith. That’s the only difference I could see during that scry other than the fact that it doesn’t have any of the relics in the reliquary that Avristin has.”

He took a deep breath and stretched the tension out of his neck. “I managed to get a mental map of the route from where we are to the cave entrance, and the correct passage from the cave entrance, through the underground cave labyrinth, and to the monastery.”

“I’d suggest getting a proper map made,” Thyran said, “but that might be risky. The cartographer could easily be a Qos adherent or sympathizer. I don’t want you risking yourself, so make sure you do that test you told me about. The one you did with the farmer and the rest of the town in Tigak.”

“I already have a map,” Valis said. “It’s in my head. If I could send you a copy, I would. But my translocation ability failed me in combat, and I’m not sure why. And sending a courier is too dangerous with the amount of snow that we have to melt just to keep moving.” Then he grinned sheepishly. “Though, that is assuming my drawings would be at all legible.”

“Hire a cartographer,” Thyran ordered. “And don’t worry about phasing, Valis.” Thyran went from stern to compassionate in a breath and gave Valis a supportive smile that had him warm to his toes. “You’ve done exceptionally well, and I am very proud of you. Your translocation ability may have been hampered by a security spell placed on the building or compound to keep translocators from phasing in or out. I sincerely doubt it was a fault with your ability.”

The historian—no, the August Patriarch—waved the subject away. “Do not worry on it. And do not worry about getting a map to me. When you can, find a cartographer to get a proper map made, so your army knows where to go in case you are incapacitated in any way. That is an order.”

“Oh, yeah. Damn. That’s a good idea.” Valis groaned. “I should have thought of that. With how Tavros got incapacitated so easily, it could very well be me or anyone else next.”

“Exactly.” Thyran sat back. He seemed pensive and ran a hand down his face in a rare show of worry. Or was it agitation? “I wish I could keep a better eye on you.”

“Don’t worry, Thyran.” Valis got a little closer to the bowl as if the nearness to the water would allow him to feel his friend’s presence. “I’m not stupid, and I’m as careful as I can be at all times.”

“It isn’t your stupidity I am worried about, child.” Thyran frowned and looked off to the side, giving Valis a good look at his stately profile. “Anyway…” He turned back to Valis and stared him in the eye. “Head to Neri City in Endyer. They have a master cartographer you can hire.”

“Or I could go to the town we just left,” Valis said. “They have a master cartographer who showed us the way to this estate.”

Thyran smirked. “He most likely apprenticed to the master in Neri City. There is no sense in backtracking, my boy. Just remember to test them for their allegiance. You must complete your objective and return home where you and your army belong.”

Valis shivered. His army. He didn’t truly realize it before, but it was true. As the new Grand Master Aesriphos, he and Tavros held the army in their hands. The entire order reported directly to him now, as his rank was just under Thyran when it came to the Aesriphos Order, and directly under the Sovereign Priest, Kyris Yavih, otherwise. It was a heady feeling, but it also brought with it a measure of anxiety. Thankfully, though, the heady feeling overwhelmed the anxiety and let Valis function.

Catching himself staring into nothing, Valis nodded and stopped playing with the rim of the bowl. “We’ll head to Neri City.”

Then he shook himself and refocused on his friend’s face. “I almost forgot. That’s not all.”

“You had a vision,” Thyran guessed. He shuffled around. The sound of rustling paper obscured his mentor’s breathing. “Proceed. I am ready.”

Valis wasted no time. The story of what he saw flowed out of him like water through a broken dam. Near the end, Valis was breathless, and he groaned. “I just realized that it’s past the sixth of Peace. I can’t fail again.”

“You did not fail, Valis,” Thyran said earnestly. “You are trekking through rough lands with constant blizzards to accompany you. You are doing the best you can, and I know you will continue to do so. There was no way for you to get to your target that early.” Thyran gave him a gentle, fatherly smile. “You are exactly where you need to be. Trust in that.”

“Yes, sir.” Valis wiped his damp palms on his pants and stared into the reflection of his mentor’s eyes. “We just need to strategize in case we have to deal with four anchors when we reach our destination.”

“That would be wise,” Thyran said, a touch of pride in his voice. It shone from his eyes, as well, telling Valis better than any words could convey that his friend was more than proud of how far Valis had come, and how he had taken to his new leadership role.

“Now,” Thyran’s voice became somewhat stern, “how do you plan on telling whether this vision is past, present, or future?”

Valis glanced up, his eyes darting from one person to the next before he blew out a breath in frustration. “I’m not sure, to be completely honest. I just know that I received the vision because we’ll be going up against an anchor—a woman with black hair streaked with white—and none of us have a choice in the matter. And if they manage to create more, we’re going to have a massive battle on our hands the likes of which I’ve never seen and hope to never see. I’d rather not lose any more of my men and women.”

“That gives us no usable information.”

Nodding, Valis sighed. He needed to propose his solution, but knew at least half the people in the study would object, especially Thyran and Tavros.

Thyran tutted. “You are thinking too hard, child.”

His mentor sighed when Valis shrugged. “I have an idea, but everyone is going to hate it.”

“Spit it out,” Thyran said. “We might be more accepting than you realize.”

“I could dreamwalk to the enemy monastery and nose around.”

It seemed as if a silencing spell had descended as everyone stopped breathing at once. Then they all talked over each other, all starting with a vehement “No!”

Valis lifted his voice, “That’s enough! Quiet.”

To his surprise, everyone obeyed. A moment later, Tavros stepped to his side and glared down at him. “Absolutely not, Valis. If your soul is injured while you are dreamwalking, you can die. And we don’t know if they have any traps that could harm you in your astral state.” Then he whispered, “What if you can’t find your way back? What if you want to stay in that state? People have died, love, and your body is so vulnerable when you vacate it, especially with as long as you may be gone.”

Reaching for his husband’s hand, Valis gave it a reassuring squeeze and focused on Thyran, who, instead of looking angry and protective, looked like he was calculating the risks against the possible rewards. “What do you hope to find during this dreamwalk?”

“I have no idea, to be honest,” Valis muttered. “I just… feel like it needs to be done.”

“A precognitive feeling?”

Valis nodded hesitantly. “I believe so, yes. It feels right.”

“Love, no…”

“I have to, Tav.” Valis squeezed Tavros’s hand and looked up at him. His husband had a deep-set frown marring his features, his brows drawn together and worry in his eyes. “We’ll discuss this later, okay?”

Tavros hesitated a moment, but after careful consideration, nodded and squeezed Valis’s hand back.

“You can’t be serious!” Shyvus cried. “It’s a suicide mission! And no one in history has dreamwalked anywhere near the distance you plan to travel. What if the tether to your body breaks? You will never find your way back. Think about this, Valis. There must be another way.”

Again, everyone tried to talk over each other. The sound made Valis’s head pound with a sudden headache. He thudded his elbows on the table and rubbed his temples. “Guys.” When no one shut their mouths, Valis raised his voice in a stern order, “Guys! Shut up.”

A deathly silence descended as everyone looked at him with wide eyes. Venabi stepped forward and stared at him. She absently scratched the livid pink scar that traveled down her cheek, contrasting with her light brown complexion. “You believe in your ability.”

Valis nodded. “I do.”

“You have dreamwalked before, yes?”

“Yes.”

“But never that far!” Shyvus argued. “And didn’t you only do it once, Valis?”

Sighing, Valis went back to rubbing his temples. “Yes. Because I only needed to do it once.”

Jintas, the leader of the mercenaries, peered at Valis from between Shyvus and Phalin. “Is there no way to pull you back if you’re gone too long, or are in any kind of apparent danger?”

Valis flicked his gaze toward Tavros, then down into his scrying bowl. He’d almost forgotten that he had a scry open with Thyran. “I have no idea.”

Thyran smirked. “Simply wake him up. His consciousness—his soul—will snap back to his body within seconds, if not immediately.”

“Then, I support Valis’s suggestion of a dreamwalk.”

“Thank you, Jintas,” Valis said. He looked around at the others. “Well?”

“I assume you mean to have Tavros keep watch over your body while you are gone,” Thyran said. “If this is the case, I approve of your suggestion. Though my approval comes with one condition. If at any time, you encounter another dreamwalker, or if you feel a sudden wash of revulsion—of evil—I want you to abort the dreamwalk and return to your body immediately.”

“Thyran, you can’t be serious!” Tavros roared. “I had thought at least you would make him see reason!”

Valis caught Thyran’s gentle smile in the scrying bowl. “Tavros… How many times must we discuss—”

“No, Thyran,” Tavros said. “No. There is no discussion. I don’t care if you have precognition. It can always be wrong. You could always see the wrong path.”

“Tav—”

“No, Valis.” Tavros lowered his voice. “I can’t lose you. Please…”

“You won’t lose me,” Valis promised. “You will be looking over my body, and you all can do it in shifts if it will make you feel better about the situation. But I’m not backing down. I will be as careful as I’m able.” He squeezed Tavros’s hand and gave him an earnest look. “I don’t want to leave you, so trust that I won’t put myself in unnecessary danger while I’m there, and at the first sign of danger, I will return immediately.”

“You’re not going to allow me to talk you out of this, are you?” Tavros accused, but he sounded defeated.

“No,” Valis murmured. “This is too important. And with you and others watching over my body, I’ll be as safe as I can be. We can come up with a plan. Perhaps a time limit. If I’m gone for more than an hour, you wake me up. If I’m unsuccessful but safe, I can always try again with another time limit.”

Tavros’s shoulders sagged, and he nodded. “Fine. We can handle that.” Tavros turned his attention to the leaders, and Valis hoped they sided with him now that his husband was on board.

Vodis, who had been mostly quiet this entire time, sighed. “You folks are crazy, but we need this information.”

Mumbles went through the four reliquary guards. Shyvus and Phalin spoke softly to each other, making plans of their own. Brogan and Rylas just stared at Valis a moment before Brogan groaned. “You’re going to give me gray hair, brat.”

Rylas snickered. “You’d look so distinguished!”

“Hush, you.”

Rylas snorted, but he dropped the subject and returned his attention to Valis. “I’m in, Valis. Brogan is, too, or I’ll guilt him into it.”

“That’s just mean,” Brogan groused as he poked his husband in the side.

“Guys,” Valis said, “can we focus, please?”

Everyone quieted down, and Valis turned back to his scry with Thyran. “Okay. I think we’re in for the night. Any special requests?”

“Try to find out who the Sovereign Priest of Qos is,” Thyran ordered.

Valis perked up with a gasp. “Oh, I didn’t tell you! I know the location of the missing god jar. It’s in the enemy monastery’s reliquary vault on a pedestal. I saw it in the vision.”

Thyran gave a sharp nod. “Good work. But I must insist you do not enter that room, or the temple, for that matter. Not during a dreamwalk, at any rate. It is too dangerous, and may be warded against such a trespass.”

“I promise.”

Now that everyone was quiet, Valis let himself relax in small increments as his muscles protested. “Now, I’d like to relax for a while before bed and this dreamwalk.”

“You do realize you’ll be practically useless come morning if you dreamwalk for more than an hour,” Thyran warned. “Make your journey as swift as possible.”

Tavros made a wounded sound beside Valis, and he squeezed Valis’s shoulder with almost bruising intensity. “How do you think to get to the monastery? This isn’t like traveling from your room to the prison in Avristin. You will be traveling leagues away.”

Valis finally stood up and faced his husband, drawing him into a loose, comforting hug. “I hate hearing the worry in your voice,” he murmured into Tavros’s neck. “When I dreamwalked back in Avristin, I just had to think of my destination. I have a feeling this will be much the same. If not, I’ll try following the directions we uncovered, which would be worth the try, anyway. And if I could catch someone entering or exiting the mountain entrance, that will help immensely when the army arrives. But trust that I will find a way, and if not, I’ll return within the hour, or I won’t fight you when you call me back.”

“I trust you.” Tavros breathed the words into Valis’s hair. “I’m still going to worry.”

Snorting a laugh, Valis hugged his husband tight and turned back around to address those in the room. “Go about your business. After, we need to get packed and ready for morning. Right now, I need to get rid of some tension, or I’ll never get to sleep, let alone be able to slip into a dreamwalk. Tavros or someone will fetch you when it’s time to assemble in the receiving room.”

“Yes, Grand Master,” came the unanimous response.

As they left, Valis sat back down to stare into the scrying bowl. To his surprise, Thyran was still there, waiting on him. “My boy,” he said, “please be careful. What you are undertaking is more dangerous than even the reliquary guards know since none of those who were present have ever dreamwalked, themselves. I kept my objections mild for their sakes, but you must know the danger you will be facing.”

Valis smiled down at his friend and mentor with a good measure of fondness. “I promise you I will be as careful as possible. I can’t rescue my father if I die in a dreamwalk before even making it to the mountain. Trust in me, Thyran. I won’t fail you. Not in this. I know I can do this.”

“I do not doubt your abilities,” Thyran said. “My only worry is that you are caught unawares and hurt or killed before you can get back.”

“Thyran…” Valis sighed and drew closer to the scrying bowl, wishing he could touch or hug his mentor to ease some of his distress. “Thyran, I promise you I’ll be careful, and I will contact you via scry as soon as I’m back no matter how tired I am. Okay?”

Some of the distress eased from Thyran’s eyes, and he glanced away before replying, “See that you do, Grand Master. I will be waiting.”

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