Trust is more terrifying than any weapon.
Valis’ father wants to sacrifice him to the evil God, Qos. His uncle wants to use him as a magical battery and sex slave. All Valis wants is to live in peace, without fear of constant abuse. When he escapes his father’s sacrificial knife and runs away, he lands in the camp of his two saviors, Kerac and Darolen, holy Aesriphos warriors powerful enough to put his family in their place.
But trusting anyone could be fatal, and the warriors ask the impossible: to sell his father’s farmstead and abandon his old life to join their monastery.
They’re his only hope and when he learns to trust them, they’re the father figures he always wanted, but Valis isn’t sure he’s strong enough to put aside his fear and start over.
The God Jars Saga has a slow burn romance that starts in the next book. It is intended for mature audiences of over 18 years of age due to depictions of graphic violence, abuse, and M/M sexual encounters.
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.
The hounds bayed. They crashed through the underbrush as they gave chase. Valis panted hard. He pushed for more speed, vaulted over a fallen tree. They loomed so close that their fetid breath sickened him with each puff.
Farm work didn’t teach you how to run. It taught you how to be strong. It taught you how to adhere to duty and accept responsibility. Terror taught you how to run. Terrified, Valis lengthened his stride. He forced all he had into putting one foot in front of the other.
Howls echoed close behind him as the hounds scented his fear. They put an extra burst of speed into their gait and leaped ahead. One of them caught the tails of Valis’ tunic and jerked back, nearly forcing Valis off his feet. He lunged forward at the last moment. As the shirt tore, he prayed to his Patron God to give him more speed. Please, Sovras, help me. I can’t do this alone.
Light flickered ahead. It glinted between the trees. How far was it? There wasn’t another farmstead for half a league in this direction. Strangers. He shuddered, but his run didn’t flag. Anything and anyone was better than his father—better than ending up a smear on his blade.
“Help!” he cried. “Please, help me!”
“You get your pathetic ass back here, boy!” his father bellowed from behind the hounds. His heavy footsteps thundered behind him. They trampled the thick underbrush and ate the ground. “I own you!”
Valis’ vivid imagination told him that his father’s face grew purple with rage and exertion from the mad chase through the forest. He knew from memory that spittle flecked the man’s lips, and his fists habitually clenched and flexed. If those hands reached him, they’d snap his neck like a brittle twig. He may appear stately, but in a rage, he was nothing but a beast, no better than the hounds that snapped at Valis’ heels.
Sovras, please… I beg your mercy! Shouts arose from ahead. The light flickered nearer. The whispers of steel against leather came unnaturally loud, shivered the air as if by magic. Just as he broke the tree line and entered the clearing, brilliant shining armor nearly blinded him. A wall of two large bodies surged in his direction.
Without thinking, Valis dropped into a skid feet-first. He laid flat as he slid between the legs of the two men and came to a stop a few feet behind them near their surprised horses. The yelps of his father’s hounds sounded their demise. His heart hammered in his chest as Valis looked up at the warriors, too scared they would remand him to his father’s custody to do more than whimper, “He’ll kill me.”
“Quiet,” the brown haired man on the left ordered.
Valis shrank back and huddled in a ball on the ground, trying to make himself as small as possible. Unseen. Unheard. He wasn’t weak, nor was he a coward, but at the moment he wheezed every breath and shook with the adrenaline that flooded his system. For all his almost eighteen years, Valis had never run that hard, that far, or that fast. He knew he’d never survive running from these men, not with horses at hand.
His father entered the field, a smug smile on his face that belied his earlier rage. He barely glanced at Valis as he spread his arms wide in welcome. But Valis knew all too well that his father knew exactly where he was, what state he was in, and was already calculating ways of making him pay for chasing him three quarters of the way across their property. “Thank you, gentlemen, for detaining my errant son. I am Roba Bakor, Mage Lord of Vau Taun. You are camping on my territory.”
“Your son is afraid of you, Lord Bakor,” the raven-haired warrior on the right said. “He says you will kill him.”
“Children say many things of their strict parents,” Roba said with a light chuckle. He lifted a shoulder in a nonchalant shrug. With as hard as he ran, Valis’ father looked fresh. His breath came slow and even as if he ran all day every day for sport. Rather than a sweaty, matted mess, his golden hair fell in glossy waves behind him, his skin clear and radiant as if he sat before the hearth in his office with a warm brandy in one hand, and Valis’ mother’s hair in the other. The sight of him, how perfect he looked, how he appeared to be a benevolent man to these strangers, made Valis want to rip his father’s face off. The Mage Lord went on, his brief smirk brighter as if he knew Valis’ every hateful thought. “He shirked his duties, and must pay the consequences.”
A lifetime of pain and rage flooded Valis’ system until he shook with it and clenched his fists. “He lies! He killed my mother. He plans to sacrifice me to Qos next!”
“Qos?” Both warriors tensed and regarded Roba for a long moment. Valis didn’t dare hold out hope, didn’t dare believe the satisfaction in his guts. His father, the Mage Lord, gave nothing away. He kept a serene, confident smile in place and remained in a relaxed pose. This was when his father was the most dangerous—these times when he appeared the most beneficent.
The raven-head lifted his chin defiantly. “You are an adherent of Qos, Lord Bakor?”
“He has the tattoo!” Valis cried. “It’s behind his left ear!” And then his guts twisted and churned, because he’d just lost any hope of their mercy, if they had any to begin with. But his father wasn’t done yet. The man would never be done until he was dead.
A black haze burst to life around his father as he keyed into the power of Qos. His voice held a hard edge, even as he whispered most of the words, “Traitorous little whoreson! I will teach you to keep your tongue!”
Black mist swirled about him. He pushed his hand out, and a bolt of black lightning streaked toward Valis. He cringed, expecting to die, but forced himself to watch. If he was to die, he wanted to see it coming, not hide behind a false wall of darkness and cowardice.
When it struck a golden sphere just inches from his head, Valis blinked. He’d never seen magic of this color before. Only black. The gold almost made him want to hope. Made him want to believe the difference in the colors meant they were nothing like his father, nothing like the rest of their family. That difference briefly made Valis forget he should have just died.
“This boy is under our protection,” the raven haired warrior growled. “You are under arrest for wielding forbidden magic.”
Roba paled at the golden glow and reinforced his shields. The warrior on the right murmured what sounded like a prayer. The one on the left spoke a single word, and Roba’s translucent black shield shattered. His eyes went wild, too much of the whites showing, as if his magic had all but fled him. Another word, and golden bands encircled his arms, legs and mouth. He tottered and fell onto his back. Valis had only a moment to wonder if his father was so easily dispatched, or if these men were better—or worse—than Roba.
Now unconcerned, the Paladins turned their gazes on Valis. The raven-head knelt next to him. “What is your name, boy?”
“Valis Bakor, my Lord,” he replied, head down and shoulders hunched. He didn’t dare look either in the eye, as that always got him a boot to the face, or whatever was lying at hand.
“Do you have the tattoo, as well?” he asked, his voice hard, but level.
“Y—yes, sir.” His stomach pitted. It always did that when he was about to get into trouble. But maybe if he cooperated, his punishment wouldn’t be severe. Maybe, if he cooperated, they would have mercy. One look up at the one with the hard brown eyes, craggy face, and short, brown hair, and Valis doubted he’d get anything less than a heavy hand. But, he turned his head and pulled his left ear toward his face to show the red insignia of Qos on his neck hidden behind it and explained hastily, “Father did it when I was an infant. I swear!” He hated the tremor in his voice, but pushed on, his words water weak, and trembling. He couldn’t seem to keep the wobble out of his lower lip, which made him hate himself almost as much as he hated his father. “I didn’t want it. I want Sovras.”
The man with the long raven hair quirked a brow when Valis whispered his god’s name, but nodded and patted his shoulder, then frowned when Valis flinched away. “I believe you.” His voice turned kind as he said, “We must return you to your holding. If you spoke true, your mother deserves a proper pyre.”
The kinder tone forced Valis to relax. It seemed strange to have that tone directed at him when he thought there was no reason. He scrubbed a hand over his face and pushed back his long blond hair, wincing as his hand encountered leaves and errant twigs from his frantic run. Now if only he could get his voice to work. Perhaps if he was polite, the man’s voice would retain that kindness. At the very least, it might keep them from hitting him or putting him in those magical bands as they had his father. His voice cracked, but he prided himself that it otherwise remained steady. “Thank you for saving me, my Lords. May I have the pleasure of your names?”
“Your father does not seem the type to give you such formality.” The Paladin let out a huff of subdued laughter. “Your mother has reared you well.” He squeezed Valis’ shoulder with a kind smile that made his handsome face more striking with the way his golden eyes shone in the firelight. “I am Kerac Vihn, and this is Darolen Jaund. We are Holy Warriors, or Aesriphos. Your people call us Paladins.”
Valis nodded and did his best not to shrug off that hand. Must remain polite. Kindness can be a lie. “You serve Phaerith, the Faceless One.”
Kerac chuckled but shook his head. “Phaerith is correct, though he is not faceless. That is the wrong translation.” His accent was barely there, but as he spoke more, it grew just a little thicker. “Idai Sos does not mean Faceless One, it means Many Aspects, or Many Faces.”
“I don’t understand,” Valis said. His curiosity got the best of him, and he shifted so that he sat on his rump. Open curiosity often earned him a tentative respect with the seasonal farm workers. Perhaps it would work here. “How can he have many faces?”
“Would you pack our things, Darolen? This discussion should be made on horseback so that his mother can find peace.”
Mild panic settled into Valis’ gut and clenched his heart and lungs. They wanted to go with him? They’d said so before, but he hadn’t believed them. Now, faced with riding with one of them, his mind spun with all the possibilities. No one would hear him scream. No one would come even if they could.
Kerac must have sensed his panic, or seen it on his face. As Darolen saddled the calmed horses and attached bundles that never had the chance to get unpacked, Kerac smiled and held out a hand to help Valis to his feet. “You have heard of our pantheon, yes?” Valis nodded, still skeptical, still with that crawling anxiety, but took the man’s hand and stood as Kerac went on. “It is a hierarchy. Phaerith is the head. Karei and Vorik are the left and right shoulders. Sotec and Xysoz are the left and right arms. Asenth and Delys are the chest and abdomen. Dapen and Racal are the left and right legs.”
“What about Sovras?” he asked. “Sovras is my patron.” Was my god always a figment of my imagination? He’d always seemed like my friend. A bitter taste flooded his mouth with that thought, and he fought the urge to grimace. Friends are a lie. Father took great pains to teach me that.
“Sovras, I believe, is one of Phaerith’s many faces,” Kerac said patiently. He guided Valis toward his horse and hefted himself into the saddle. “He is called the God of Many Faces, because each land calls him by a different name.”
Kerac reached down to help Valis onto his horse behind him. Before Valis could protest, he sat on the mount’s rump and Kerac held onto his hands as they settled about the Paladin’s waist. Valis marveled that even with the plate gauntlets he wore, Kerac was still being deceptively gentle.
They waited for Darolen to secure Roba to the back of his own horse, and once he mounted, Valis guided them along the trail that he had crashed through only moments ago.
Every step of Kerac’s horse brought Valis closer to losing his entire mind. They were headed back to that place. The place where he’d never been permitted to leave. The place where every beating and threat and shouted curses had pummeled him into submission.
His stomach curdled. The place where he slit mother’s throat and drank in the resulting power like a man starved for months. The look on his face…
Roba had been exultant. He had thrown back his head and breathed deeply. Licked a stripe of Valis’ mother’s blood from the dagger he had used to end her with a sick shudder. How he hadn’t a drop of blood on him from the spray that coated nearly every other surface seemed otherworldly. His father glowed for long moments, the black haze almost as grotesque as the congealing blood.
And then he had opened his eyes and pinned Valis where he stood, mouth agape and breaths coming too quick. He’d grinned at Valis’ open horror, seemed to revel in it.
Then Valis bolted, chased by the murderous bellow of Roba’s rage as he gave chase.
And now he was going back. Back to see his mother’s ruined corpse. Back to revisit the ghosts he wished he could leave behind. Why couldn’t he escape? Just once?
But the farmstead was all he had known. The farthest he had dared go was into the woods to hunt, a rare thing he was permitted. Or to gather forest herbs and vegetables that they didn’t grow on the farm because of the bounty the forest could provide. The one time he had tried to leave, his father found him within minutes as if he had been following Valis through the trees.
And Valis wouldn’t put it past the overbearing bastard.
Stomach twisting, Valis fought the urge to jump off Kerac’s cantering horse and bolt through the trees. He had not a single idea where to go, what to do other than to get away and never return. But his mother deserved peace. He could do that for her, even if he couldn’t save her.
Perhaps her death was a mercy. She can’t feel pain anymore.
And by Sovras, he wouldn’t cry. Not now. Not in front of these Aesriphos.
Kerac patted his thigh to get his attention and Valis jumped. He blinked and rubbed his eyes against the threat of tears, then peered around the man’s armored shoulder with a sick groan. The weight of the place bore down on him. “This is it. Mother is in the cellar.”
Kerac pressed his lips into a thin line and helped Valis off the horse. He dismounted soon after and looped the reins around the fence rail while Darolen did the same. They left Roba slung across Darolen’s horse’s rump as they made their way to the sprawling house. It stood three stories plus a gabled roof that housed a generous attic. The lower half was built up with various sizes and colors of obsidian boulders roughly the size of Valis’ head. Quarried from the nearby obsidian fields, the base of the house showcased Roba’s wealth with its splendor more than with its sheer size. The front had large bay windows, both on the lower story, and the upper where Roba’s office sat above the spacious informal parlor.
Valis stared up, almost as if the house itself could tell Roba every one of his secrets, as if his father would somehow materialize upstairs and twitch the delicate carmine curtains aside to see his treachery. Kerac touched his elbow and Valis fought not to snatch his arm away from that touch. He drew his eyes away from the whitewashed wood of the upper story to give the obsidian-red painted front door a jaundiced look. It stood ajar. Roba obviously cared more about catching Valis than he had about keeping the house secure.
“Are you up for this, Valis?” Kerac asked. He wrapped a plate-clad arm about his shoulders and squeezed as if Valis were kin. Something in Valis wanted to revel in that strength. To push into it like a cat wanting petted. But his body, so trained by his father had him shiver. He ducked under that arm, surprised that Kerac released him, and shied away a few steps back from the house.
That evil house seemed to reek of blood and death and foul magic, and he wanted nothing more than to leave. The feeling never abated that his father stared at him from the bay window above, and he had to turn to make sure his father’s body still lay strapped to Darolen’s horse. But when he turned back around, the pitying look Kerac gave him made Valis straighten his back.
“You don’t have to go forward,” he said. “We can do this for you.”
Valis’ back straightened further, and he took tentative steps toward the house. He trembled, but managed to keep his voice steady even as he continued to stare at that door. “No. I have to do this. Mother doesn’t deserve to be handled by only strangers. I need to see her off.”
“You are a good son.” That arm reached for him again, but Valis skittered away, half expecting it to be a blow. These men were strangers. They seemed nice, but his father taught him that “nice” was only an act to get what one wanted.
Kerac let out a soft sigh, his face fallen, and pushed the door open. It swung into the house on quiet, well-oiled hinges. “You be the Heart, and Darolen and I will be your Strength.”
“I will prepare the pyre, Brother,” Darolen said from the door. “Is there a particular place you would like it erected, Valis?”
Valis chewed on his lower lip as he stared at Darolen. The man’s eyes shadowed with sorrow, and his lips drew into a soft frown. His craggy face tipped down with the weight of his duty. Valis shook his head and offered a small smile that felt more like a grimace. “Just as long as it doesn’t frighten the livestock, or catch anything on fire.” He turned to head to the cellar, but winced as he remembered that these men had shown him nothing but kindness. He turned to murmur, “Thank you, Darolen.”
Darolen gave a solemn nod and headed out. Once the Paladin shut the door, Kerac aborted another move to touch Valis and stepped aside. With a nod and heavy heart, Valis turned for the east wing toward the kitchen and led him through the house to the cellar door, and down the spiral steps to the large room that spanned the entirety of the house beneath the main level.
The rough-hewn walls cut directly out of the bedrock made Valis shiver with claustrophobia, but he headed to what his father used as a casting room. Inside lay his wooden altar to Qos. The raised circle cut into the bedrock surrounded it and glowed softly with the raw power from his mother’s blood. Crimson streaks and spatters covered the nearest walls and floor from the sprays of her final moments. His mother’s naked body sprawled on the floor inside the circle amid a pool of it.
Kerac hissed as he entered the casting room. When Valis looked over, the Paladin wore a deep-set frown that creased his brow and lined his face. He said nothing as he unsheathed his sword. The sight of that sword had Valis cowering in the farthest corner, well away from the madman who hacked the hemlock altar to splinters, careful not to catch Valis or his mother in the hail of shattered wood.
While Kerac dismantled the altar, Valis crept away from his corner and knelt next to his mother’s body. He stroked his trembling hand over her tacky, blood-soaked hair. She looked only to be asleep in a pool of gore, though her body appeared deathly pale from blood loss and the slit in her throat gaped at him like an obscene, toothless grin.
Tears pricked his eyes. He sniffled, but blinked back the tears and wiped his nose on the collar of his shirt. Crying could come later. Crying had always earned his father’s greater wrath. But he couldn’t help the few tears that squeezed from between his clenched lids, or the wetness that dripped from his nose. He had to force himself to open his eyes, to show no weakness in the face of the Aesriphos who continued his assault on that evil altar just feet away.
“It’s okay now, Mom.” The tears clogged his throat so he could only manage a soft, cracked murmur. “Father can’t hurt either of us anymore. These Aesriphos, Kerac and Darolen, are going to help me send you to a place where you won’t feel pain ever again, and where you’ll be able to watch over me until I can be with you again.”
The noise from splintering wood ceased, and a golden light shined down on Valis so that his shadow covered his mother’s face. He looked up into the light to find Kerac stood over him. He held his sword point up in both hands with the flat of the blade against his forehead. The blade glowed with golden magic as he uttered a solemn prayer in a beautiful language he didn’t recognize. Valis leaned back to let that comforting light bathe his mother in its full glory and closed his eyes as the unfamiliar words comforted him in a way he never thought possible.
For a moment, he forgot to be afraid. For a bare moment, it almost felt like Sovras’ arms had flowed around him, rocking him side to side and murmuring soft, cooed words into his ear as he often did in Valis’ dreams. It made it that much harder to keep the tears in, to show no weakness in front of this man who, for all he could have caused harm, had only shown kindness. But kindness was a lie.
When the prayer ended, Kerac knelt next to him and cupped Valis’ cheek, his eyes warm and wet, enough emotion to arrest Valis into not flinching away. “I can see your mother in you. She will never be far from your heart. Let us send her home.”
The metal that covered Kerac’s fingers felt warm against his skin and he pressed his cheek into it. Never in his life had Valis known this level of gentleness from anyone other than his mother. Just that one touch and the kind words broke his resolve and made tears flow down Valis’ face where earlier he tried to be strong and keep them in.
After a moment, he nodded. He drew strength from Kerac’s presence as he carefully situated his mother’s sticky body on his left arm and hooked his right under her knees. He shifted back until he had his feet under him and stood on legs that wobbled like jelly after his frantic run. Kerac placed a hand on his lower back until he quit tottering, then stepped back to let Valis lead the way.
By the time they got outside, Darolen had the pyre ready. He made good use of the firewood piled next to the shed as well as hay from the barn. It wasn’t ornate or pretty, but it would serve its purpose, and Valis was grateful that he didn’t have to do it himself.
Numb legs carried him across the lawn. With Kerac’s help, he got his mother situated on the pyre in a comfortable pose. It took long moments for him to let go of his mother’s hands, but when he arranged them neatly on her chest and stepped away, Darolen surprised him. The craggy warrior tilted his chin up and lifted his voice in song that rumbled with his beautiful bass. The words were foreign, but the meaning came through and made Valis’ heart clench.
After a few breaths, Kerac passed him a torch that Darolen left stuck in the ground. “Send her home, Son. She has earned her release.”
Valis’ hands trembled as he stared at the torch. The tears from the cellar scalded his eyes again and blurred the world to turn the torch into a quivering liquid sea of orange and yellow. He blinked twice to get them gone long enough to see the hay and caressed the pile with the flickering flames. Once it burned bright, he stuffed the whole torch into the pile and stepped back.
Kerac pulled him farther back to shield him from the heat as his mother’s skin blistered. When she started to blacken, he let out a soft cry and spun around to get away from the sight and smell. He found himself wrapped against Kerac’s chest. The Aesriphos stroked his hair and kissed his temple. He rocked with him in silence, letting Darolen’s voice in song do the soothing.
Unable to stop, Valis wrenched away and ran around the other side of the pyre. He didn’t dare look at either man as he wrapped his arms about himself. He didn’t deserve comfort. He didn’t trust these men. For all he was worth, Valis cried hard for the first time since he was a child. For once, he didn’t care if he was beaten for his tears. For once, he didn’t care if punishment would come when these men decided to drop their disguises and show that their kindness was a ruse to get him to do as they wished. Before, his father always promised that if he cried, he would give him something to cry about, and he always kept his promises. Now, he just couldn’t care. Only when the flames burned themselves out did Kerac move to his side. He kept a blessed distance between them as he guided Valis back toward the house.
“Thank you,” Valis whispered.
Kerac gave him a tender smile. “It is our duty, and our pleasure to help send a sister into Peace.”
“Y—you can rest here tonight. There is room.” Valis pulled the door open and led them into the short hallway between the formal parlor and the cloak room, keeping his back toward the Aesriphos so he could bolt forward to the stairs leading to the upper floors if they tried to grab him. “Are you hungry? I can cook something light before bed.”
Kerac only shook his head. “We will stay, but we can wait until breakfast. You are exhausted. We will secure the house and find our room, Valis. Go on to bed.”
Too physically and emotionally tired to argue, Valis nodded and took the stairs to the second floor. He bathed quickly to rid himself of the gore and dirt before making his way to his narrow bed in his small, sparse room. For the first time in a very long time, sleep claimed him almost the same instant his head hit the pillow.
This, I have a feeling is going to turn out to be one hell of a series. It’s off to a very good start. An abused child, trying to hide from his abusive father and perv of an uncle, has nowhere to turn, especially when his father murders his mother for power. Now he’s on the run and is saved just in time.
Valis may have been saved my Kerac and Darolen, but he doesn’t know how to trust. Being abused as he has been, has left him trying no one and in fear of being hurt at every turn. But they are determined to protect Valis, no matter what. Valis fights at every turn. Every turn. Just when he thinks he can settle and trust them, memories surface or something happens and all the old comes forward and it’s back to square one. But he finally gets it. Or starts to. And he is ready to move forward into the new life waiting for him. If they can just make it there alive.
I hate how bad Kerac’s heart got hurt so bad in this story. He’s such a soft hearted man, but Valis had dealt with so much abuse, he only knew how to cower and finally after too much, lash out. It was a long tough journey for all of them. Kerac and Darolen knew they had to handle Valis with kid gloves, but even that can be wearing after a while. Tempers frayed, feeling hurt. Valis usually realized what he did and apologized, but it was a long battle. He had so much to overcome in such a short time. And added to the fact that people were trying to kill them or his nasty uncle was trying to kidnap him to use him as his boytoy.
But the three of them finally find a rhythm. I had honestly thought as the three of them got closer it would become an intimate relationship, but it turned out really different and I like the way it’s going. Kerac and Darolen seem to as well.
—Love Bytes LGBTQ Book Reviews, Reviewed by Becca