As Aesriphos Valiant, Valis needs all the support he can get. Oh, and he needs a husband, too.
Valis advanced in ranks in the holy warrior order of Aesriphos on accident. If he doesn’t find a husband soon, it could undermine the entire order because an aspirant must marry before advancing.
He knows who he wants, he’s just too afraid to act on it. But as they go on a quest to help a friend, being so close to Tavros is filled with temptation Valis isn’t sure he can resist.
As they fight for their lives, Valis learns more about himself as a person and as a leader, but the challenges only keep coming, and some of them have a price that just might be too high to pay.
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.
Yesterday’s feeling of lethargy from his early morning chat with Aryn stayed with Valis as he and his friends began their journey. So did the feeling of dread from Thyran’s last words before Valis, Tavros, Seza, and Zhasina retired to bed. The feeling stayed with Valis until they left Cadoras Dock and passed through the long fronds of the surrounding weeping whiptails and made it harder to ignore the tug on his soul from Cadoras that would eventually guide him home.
The tall walls of the holy city of Cadoras disappeared behind them. Even the peak of Avristin that housed the beacon vanished on the horizon before Valis felt the morning heat. He turned his eyes forward, flicked his blond hair over his shoulder, and forced himself to loosen his grip on the reins.
Tavros glanced at him and urged his mount closer, and Valis couldn’t help but rake his eyes over his mentor. Thick, shaggy, black hair cut short and wild, piercing, clear gray eyes, slightly crooked teeth, and the way his eyes always softened when he looked at him always took Valis’ breath away. “You okay, kid? Your blue eyes get any farther away, you may as well be back in the monastery.”
Valis ducked his head and blushed. “Yeah. I’m okay now. Aryn was a leech from the moment you left to get ready until I had to force him to let go so I could mount up. I don’t know what to do with him, Tav. I really don’t.” Didn’t know what to do with Aryn, or his intense feelings for the boy’s brother who stared at him from his right.
He glanced over at Zhasina with her long, tight curly hair, golden eyes, and dark skin. She contrasted nicely with Seza’s fair skin, fierce brown eyes, and shiny, straight brown hair in her customary braids that she kept coiled about her head. He studied them, how they huddled as close together as their horses would allow, thick as thieves, just so Valis wouldn’t have to meet his mentor’s eyes.
“Forget about him for now,” Tavros said, completely and blissfully unaware of the thoughts raging in Valis’ head. “We have several weeks before we have to deal with him again. Keep your focus broad and your eyes and ears sharp. We need you here, not back in Avristin.”
With Valis’ nod, Tavros smiled and urged his mount back into formation. He and Zhasina kept the lead with Valis and Seza flanking. They rode like that until around midday, then grouped together to pass out lunch rations. While they ate in the saddle, Valis turned his mind to Roba. His birth father had committed suicide, pouring his life essence and black magic into Valis before his body hollowed out into a grotesque husk. Now, his consciousness took residence in Valis’ mind, and Valis still tried to wrap his mind about that fact. He only half payed attention to the vast open meadows they rode through with the grasses tall enough to caress the bellies of their mounts, and the wall of green that signaled a forest in the far distance.
Why was his sire being so nice? Why hadn’t he spoken since yesterday when he’d laughed about Aryn’s lovesick tactics to stay as close to Valis as humanly possible? Why is Roba’s presence temporary?
Your mind is full of stupidity, Roba drawled. I could always have you doing drills.
Why don’t you teach me another language, instead? Valis offered. I only know Evaki and Arlvorian. I know you speak others.
If that is your wish…
Valis perked up in his saddle. Really?
And with that, Valis began learning Urkorian, as they would pass through that country on their way to Lyvea. By sundown, his head swam with their conversations and Roba’s stories. He recited as much of the grammar exercises as he could while unburdening the horses and brushing them down.
He shooed Seza away from her mount. “We need to divvy up chores. Someone needs to get dinner on, someone tends the horses, another erects the tents, and the fourth erects the shield over the campsite.”
“You erect the shield, Valis,” Tavros said. He glanced up from his bundle as he unburdened his own horse and untied the two bedrolls from his saddle. Valis’ bundle held a tent, as did Zhasina’s. Seza’s held the other two bedrolls. “Yours are stronger than ours, and you need to become familiar with keeping a spell up overnight and through sleep. Let Seza finish up with the horses.”
Tavros turned to Zhasina, and she shooed him away. “I will get food cooking. You erect the tents.”
While they laughed and joked with one another, all eager to stretch their legs after their first full day in the saddle, Valis left Seza with their horses and scouted the area to judge how large the campsite should be. Once he reached what he deemed to be a suitable edge to their camp, he crouched down and pooled golden magic into his right hand.
Rather than thinking, since Roba would chastise him about it, Valis pictured a dome in his mind and pushed on his magic. He gasped as his power exploded from his hand and encased him and the camp in golden splendor. Just as he was about to go help Tavros with the tents, Roba cleared his ghostly throat in Valis’ mind.
You do realize people can dig under what you just erected, yes?
Yes, “oh,” indeed. Remedy it. You created a dome. Turn it into a sphere.
While he was grateful for Roba’s help, the tone he used drew a deep sigh from Valis. At least his abusive tendencies had mostly died soon after his body, or this would be unbearable. Would his waspish, haughty attitude ever follow? Would he ever be kind?
Either way, it wouldn’t happen today, probably not even this year, so Valis shoved those thoughts to the back of his mind. He instead forced his focus onto the task at hand and touched the side of the dome. The energy of it tingled against his fingers, a warm pulse of magic that felt familiar and steady. He pushed more power into it as he imagined the dome delving deep underground and completing the sphere. When he felt the nauseating loop in his magic, he shuddered and pulled his hand away. Thinking himself done, he went to step away, but Roba yet again cleared his ghostly throat and urged Valis back to the shield’s edge.
You did well, but you are far from finished, boy. If only he was corporeal, and not in his head, so Valis could knock the smugness out of his voice. His sire continued as if Valis was completely calm and rational. Add permanence and render it invisible so you do not draw attention to your camp. Then break the magic off from you so that it can continue without draining you throughout the night.
Invisible? He could do that? Father and Papa never made theirs invisible…
They probably do not know how. You do.
Part of him didn’t believe any of that was possible, but Roba was how much older than he was? Over four-hundred years? He knew so much more than Valis, and apparently more than any Aesriphos if what he said was possible. Trying would hurt nothing, would it? …Roba had been the enemy for so long, that it was almost impossible to trust him, but Valis found himself doing what he said, anyway. With hope rising in his chest, Valis struggled for a moment. He had pictured the dome and then imagined the full sphere. How did he imagine permanence? How did he—
Stalling would get nothing done. Valis knew how to focus, how to direct his magic. Roba seemed to believe Valis could do it, so he touched the side of the shield again, put an extra zap of power to the sphere with the focused thought of permanence, and hoped that would work. Then, with a bare thought, the shield winked out of sight.
Apparently it surprised more than just himself. “You alright, kid?” Tavros called. “Your shield dropped.”
“I made it invisible,” Valis said. “It should still be up.”
His mentor jogged over, a frown marring his face. “That’s not possible, Valis. You can’t make magic invisible.”
Valis should have known better. He’d made the black magic invisible in his eyes when he read one of Roba’s books to prove he had the capability.
Ridiculous boy! Roba growled and ranted for a moment about how every Qos adherent is trained to look for golden shimmers in the distance to find Aesriphos to kill. When he stopped, he huffed. Tell him to walk ten feet behind you.
Valis relayed the message, and with a confused expression, Tavros started walking. After three feet, he bounced off the shield, fell on his ass and laughed as he rubbed his abused nose. The way his gray eyes twinkled when he laughed, almost like clear water today, made him even more handsome than usual. His black hair fell over his forehead and shaded his eyes as he turned over to right himself. “Kid… Never stop surprising me.”
“Promise,” Valis said. He grinned, forcing himself out of his stupor as he admired his mentor, and helped him back onto his feet. “Need help with the tents? The shield isn’t going anywhere.”
Tavros blushed, which caught Valis by surprise. It brought out a visceral reaction that made him supremely glad he still wore his armor. “Would you? I haven’t figured them out yet.”
“You’ve never erected a tent before?” Good, his voice didn’t crack. What would Tavros do if it had? Ugh. Get yourself together, Valis!
The blush deepened, spreading over Tavros’ entire face, and Valis ached to feel the heat of it against his fingers. “No.”
How was he supposed to get through this excursion with the way Tavros was affecting him? Everything made him want to touch, taste. It was getting ridiculous. But, he valiantly shoved those thoughts and feelings aside. Tavros needed him to be calm, and to teach him as much as he taught Valis. So, over the next hour before dinner, Valis showed Tavros how to pitch their tents. Dinner ended up amazing with Zhasina’s cooking. Then, after their dinners settled, Valis got up, and every eye turned toward him. He had to do something to get Tavros out of his head and get his own libido under control before they went to remove their armor.
“Where are you going?” Tavros asked.
“Sword forms,” Valis said. “Then physical training. Just because we’re traveling, doesn’t mean we get to laze about. I expect a sparring partner after I’m done.”
Every face fell, and in the next breath, they all stood and followed Valis out to the bare patch of grass.
You are a natural leader, Roba mused. They follow you without question, even when your suggestions do not come as orders. And it is highly amusing that they haven’t caught on to your secret little crush. Your face is rather a beacon in the night. I can almost see the red glow every time your mind turns to prurient thoughts.
If he thought Roba would be kind, Valis had been sorely mistaken. He took a deep breath. It’s common sense. They’re probably just being kind. Or at least Valis hoped so.
Time to clear his mind before he exploded. He pulled his sword free of its scabbard, surprised his hands didn’t shake with the strain of strangling his errant thoughts. As he began sword forms, however, he managed to clear his mind and let his movements flow. Just as when he traveled for Avristin, the night sky and the familiar movements calmed him and made his mind empty of everything, every thought and even Roba’s constant presence. It almost surprised him that his birth father remained silent.
Through sword forms, physicals, and into sparring with Seza, Valis’ mind remained blank. His focus remained only on what his muscles were doing and anticipating their next flex and release. It only broke when Seza made a shot for his face, and Valis caught her hand.
“No face shots,” he said. He pitched his voice to carry to the others. “No injuries, accident or not. We have no healer with us, and we can’t afford to be weak while we’re in the open.”
“Sorry,” she murmured. Then she huffed a laugh and rested her plated fists on her hips. “Damn, Valis. You turned into another person entirely. What’s wrong?”
He turned a smile on her, his sister in spirit, if not in blood, and shook his head. “I’ve traveled before, Seza. This is familiar for me, more familiar and comfortable than Avristin. We’re in the open, exposed and if we aren’t vigilant, we’re vulnerable. I’m just trying to make sure we stay safe.”
“He is wise in this,” Zhasina said. She’d pulled her tight black curls into a loose braid for the sparring. With the darkness, all Valis could see clearly of her due to her ebony skin, other than her armor, were the whites of her eyes and snippets of her glistening teeth. It almost made her appear ghostly, like an animated suit of armor with only a mouth and eyes, and a dim golden halo around her from the fire behind her and on the other side of the tents. It made Valis shiver, but he listened to her as she sheathed her sword and motioned to Valis.
“You should listen to him. Even I haven’t traveled like this,” she said. She stepped closer to him and Seza with Tavros close behind her. “I cannot count being chased, as I never had time to make camp. I shielded myself and my horse and slept beneath Zorar with an extra shield present to make sure I didn’t have an unexpected warm shower. I am learning just as much as the both of you, and Valis is our best teacher.”
The journey to Lyvea went by without incident. Truly, the only thing that happened in the three weeks of travel was Valis teaching them all he could about traveling from his own limited knowledge, and learning Urkorian from his deceased sire. For all he was worth, he wished his fathers were with him so they could help teach his friends. Roba, to his surprise, proved helpful on occasion.
Now, however, they suffered the problem of how to actually find the caravan. Zhasina had a map of the route the caravan was supposed to take, but that did little. For all they knew, the caravan could have deviated from their course due to weather or any number of issues that may have arisen. Valis reached over for it and gazed along the scrawls of text over the hand-drawn image. “You know I’ve never read a map before,” he said. “I don’t think my fathers even carried one.”
Zhasina giggled, though sagged in her saddle. They were all tired, all hungry. Valis and Tavros ended up doing the hunting, but there were few things to hunt in the vast open plains of Lyvea, at least few they came across in their ventures. The only thing that saved them was Valis’ ability to forage for vegetables and edible vegetation. Growing up on a farm tending fields and foraging in the forest that surrounded his old farmstead had at least proved useful.
He tried to clear his head and continued to peruse the map, but after a moment his eyes started to cross.
Look around you, Roba said. Valis obliged and glanced around. There were few landmarks, and they hadn’t come across a road or trail in almost a week. Just because he felt Roba’s nudge, he also surveyed the sky, the area behind him, and when he felt another nudge, glanced back down at the map.
What you have is a map of the continent, Roba instructed. At the present time, you are several days into Lyvea judging purely on the fact that we are in plains. What you need is a map strictly of Lyvea with the proper landmarks and trails sketched in. However, notice the position of the sun.
Valis glanced up toward the position of the sun almost directly overhead and shaded his eyes. I don’t understand. How am I to judge anything when it’s near directly over us?
Have you not been paying attention to its course? When Valis ducked his head, Roba sighed. I have. It is slightly to the west, which is to your right. You are still heading south. You followed the main road from Cadoras through Urkori and into Lyvea before you had to veer more fully south, yes?
Valis nodded and wrinkled his nose. Yes.
And the caravan is coming from Plorvas, correct?
Then you want to head east as that is where you are more likely to find a town or village closer to your intended target. If you do not come in contact with your intended target, you can at least garner an appropriate map. East brings you closer to the sea, which is where most of the villages will centralize with fish merchants and trade fleets.
How will we find them once we have a map? Valis asked. The caravan won’t be on the map.
No, Roba said, however, caravans normally travel from one town to the next, staying in the open plain as little as possible. You, of course, should have been doing this from the beginning. I am quite amazed that you made it this far without such a tactic.
Valis ducked his head further and groaned. Father and Papa did that. I didn’t realize why.
Now you know. Head east, and when you come upon a town, we will continue this discussion. If you come upon a river, follow it, as it will usually lead to a town. They generally stay close to sources of fresh water, if you hadn’t noticed.
“What did he say?” Tavros asked. He urged his horse into a trot until he sat beside him. “You have this determined look on your face that says you have a plan.”
“We’re heading east to try to find the nearest village,” Valis said. “Keep an eye trained for dwellings of any sort and rivers, as well as the caravan. I have a feeling we’re almost on the far western edge of Lyvea.”
“I hope not.” Tavros sighed and rubbed his horse’s neck. “Lyvea isn’t half as large as Arlvor, but the plains are hard for hunting.”
“Agreed, but we’ll have to manage.” He urged his horse into a trot and motioned for the others to follow. “Let’s go, and hopefully our luck will change.”
Several hours later, Valis checked his watch. Roba had to keep reminding him to wind it every day so that it kept correct time. Though, when he saw that it was nearly six in the evening, his stomach growled. They had little rations to go around now, and none of them saw anything worth taking down for butchering. His stomach growling, though, was the least of his worries.
Tucking the watch back into his sash, he glanced over at his friends. Seza spoke with Zhasina behind him and Tavros. Tavros fidgeted with a pack of their jerky rations as if deciding whether or not it was wise to eat this early. Sighing, he turned his eyes forward and let out a gasp.
“Come!” Valis shouted. He urged Chath into a fast gallop and hearing the cries of his friends, he knew they followed. Once Tavros and his horse came astride him on the right, and Zhasina and Seza on his left, he pointed toward a spot in the distance.
As they raced, that spot grew larger until he was able to make out the canopied wagons of a caravan. The dark-skinned people defending it told Valis two things: They were Zhasina’s people, and he was about to get bloody. Great.
So sarcastic, my son.
I learned from the best, Valis groused.
Think of it as practice, my son, Roba purred. Truly, you do need to hone your skills, and holding back with Tavros is not going to get you the proper practice you desperately need for true combat. The only place to learn such things is in true combat.
Valis sighed into his mind. You seem to be enjoying the thought of me killing people.
Not necessarily, Roba said. It is more a desire to see your true abilities than it is a desire to see heads roll along the plain in an unending river of crimson.
Valis didn’t have time to roll his eyes as in the next moment he vaulted off Chath’s back. Just as his legs swung down, he gripped the saddle, and his boots planted squarely into the back of a man wearing black chain mail. The kick hit him so hard, as Chath was still running, that the man’s back bowed and snapped where Valis’ feet hit.
Still hanging onto the saddle, Valis called to his horse, “Whoa, Chath!”
The beast responded by slowing down as he would if he were plowing fields so that Valis could jump down without injury. His legs already ached from kicking the one man in the back. They burned with the force of his run as he went to help a woman wielding daggers almost as wicked as Zhasina’s. His hand went to his blade, and in one move, he drew it out of his scabbard and sliced it through another man’s neck. The woman grinned at him and whirled about to help one of her companions.
They enjoy killing, Valis realized. He shivered.
They do not so much enjoy killing, as they enjoy winning, Roba corrected. Focus.
Focus came easy. As with his sword forms, Valis’ mind went blank as he cut through one after another of the men in the black chain mail. Hair of varying shades of flax and russet flashed through the air as bodies and heads fell. The more he and his friends cut down, it seemed like five took their place.
Something pulled at Valis’ instincts. He whirled around, his sword arcing through the air. Just as he made it half a circle, his blade lodged into the head of an enemy about to attack him from behind. His grip tightened on the hilt as he kicked the corpse to dislodge his blade. Zhasina screamed, and when he looked, she favored her arm, and Seza fended her attacker off with the zeal of a mother protecting her child… or a lover protecting her mate.
With a breath, Valis turned around again and went to help a man over a foot taller than he, and broader by half. Six men and women surrounded him as he wielded twin hammers, each larger than Valis’ thigh. Twin fears raced through him as he advanced: getting hit with one or both of those hammers, and not making it in time. The hammer-wielder, however, seemed a terror with those weapons. He whirled around with the grace of a dancer and swung his hammers with the strength Valis could only attribute to a god.
Just as he made it to the midnight-skinned hammer-wielding god, he ducked one of those hammers. It barely missed his head. He felt the wash of air as it swung over, and as it passed, he skewered one of their enemies. She, too, had dodged his hammers. The mountain of a man nodded his assent and turned his back to Valis.
At least that meant he wouldn’t have to dodge another hammer.
Four more opponents came at him. Two from the front, and one on each side strafed toward his periphery. He tried to keep the two at his sides in his sight, but when his back met the mountain man, he groaned. Hopefully one or both would become a smear on those hammers. He focused on the two in front as they raced forward.
The men went after both of his sides. It was a tactic that Jedai and Maphias used when trying to get him down in training. He knew it. He practiced it. However, when both men lunged at the same time, panic flared in his chest. He could almost feel the two outside his periphery lunge, too.
He drew his parrying dagger from its scabbard in his sash at the last possible moment to deflect the sword from the one on the left. His sword deflected that from the right. Something shined in the evening light from his left, and he ducked. The mountain man behind him growled in pain, and the next thing he saw was a spray of gore from one of his hammers as it connected with the woman’s skull. A near matching spray came from his right. The two attackers in front of him blanched, and using that moment of hesitation, Valis swept his leg out and felled the man on the right. His legs went out from under him and he toppled over with a shout of surprise. The one on the left lunged. His sword rang as it ran the length of Valis’ dagger. Valis shoved it away and came in with his fist. His sword arced, but he knew the man would dodge. He felt it. His instincts kicked into overdrive as all his training focused on this one moment.
As the man dodged the blade, Valis caught him in the temple with his fist. He crashed to the side. Leave him alive? The man he swept the legs out from under came at him again. With his right, he caught the man’s sword with his own and leaned in. With his left, he swung. His dagger missed the artery by a hair’s breadth, but the man’s throat opened like an obscene, toothless grin. He dropped his blade and clutched at his throat with both hands.
Killing that one would be a mercy. Valis swung in a backhanded slash, and the man’s head thudded to the ground and rolled away along with half of his hands. With him dead, and the other struggling to regain his wits, Valis scanned the battlefield. Where was Tavros? Unable to find him, Valis kicked the supine figure that rolled around in the grass. His boot rocked the man’s head to the side, and he stopped struggling.
The mountain man at his back turned his head, and he grinned, “Go. I got these.”
With a nod, Valis jogged away now that there was a break, and started searching. Seza and Zhasina took on three of the enemy band. Kalutakeni bandsmen and women faced off with others. Tavros. Where was Tavros?
A surge of men came toward him. Swords and daggers glinted in the evening sun until it seemed the rays from the metal were all he could see. As with training, Valis emptied his mind. He whirled around as they tried to surround him. The faster he swung, the tighter they crowded him. All he cared about was surviving. One head flew. Another lost an arm.
Valis had only a moment of thought as he sliced through the chain mail at how the woven rings parted so easily. Then he saw the glow in his sword and nearly laughed. Where at first the chain mail seemed so poorly made that it split like it was insubstantial, he realized that, somehow, he had tapped into his magic without conscious thought. The gold magic allowed him to part the metal links as if they were tissue paper.
His thought cost him. One of his attacker’s swords grazed his cheek as Valis reared back, opening up a gash that stung. He caught her in the eye with his dagger, while his sword gutted the man behind her, plunging through the chain mail like butter. He drew both blades out at once from the falling corpses and parried attacks from either side. The man in front saw an opportunity. Rather than letting him get the shot, Valis jerked to the side, and the sword dented his pauldron, rather than cleaving his head in two.
Two more down, and Valis whirled around as he felt someone coming toward his back. At the last moment, Valis jerked his sword to a stop. He nearly crumpled to the ground, but firmed his knees as a white rage flowed through him. He reached out and grasped the neck of Tavros’ chest plate, jerked him forward until they were nose-to-nose, and screamed, “Protect your neck!”
He shoved his mentor away and went after Zhasina and Seza as they were surrounded. As he took in the battlefield, he winced. Dark and fair bodies littered the ground like scattered coins. The living fought on, ragged and bleeding. Rage welled in Valis’ gut, and before he thought about it, he held out his left hand. In the next instant, the seven men and women surrounding Zhasina and Seza dropped to the ground from the black streaks of magic that shot from him like bolts of lightning.
Their bodies twitched and writhed from the attack until smoke rose. An almost giddy sense of power welled within Valis. With them down, he turned to help the caravan band now that he remembered he could fight with both magic and weapons. Magic wasn’t only a shield. Magic could kill.
Stop, my son! Roba shouted in his mind. Valis, you must stop!
Why? Valis growled. They won’t stop until they’re dead.
There are other ways of making them dead than depleting yourself, Roba cried. Please, my son. Shield yourself with the gold, but keep it close to you. Only use the black in emergencies like with your friends. You must control it, or it will control you!
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