ON DESTINY Sneak Peek
*** This is very much still a work in progress. On Destiny is still in edits and has yet to begin copy edits! It might change a little before July, but not much. I hope you enjoy this little sneak peek. xoxo, Aileen***
The scent of burning wood curled through the air. It was darker than night inside the geodesic dome. So dark that stepping into it was like stepping into a cave of blindness. Except I’d been here before. I knew that beyond the doorway were wood-planked floors that would be smooth and cool under my feet.
I stuck my head inside, and a ripple of energy ran from the doorway around the room, lighting candles along the walls as it flowed. Flickering light filled the space from what had to have been thousands of candles—tall, thin, short, fat, but all of them white with a bright orange flame. They gave the room a warm, homey feel.
“Come, children,” Jesmesha said from inside, and I peered closely inside again. Despite the candles, I still couldn’t see her.
I gripped Lorne’s hand tighter and looked up at him. He was the High King of the Aunare, but when I looked at him, all I saw was my husband. “I’m really glad we came.” I was excited and nervous, but also being here felt right. I wanted to pick at that feeling because it was weird to feel so many different things about seeing Jesmesha, but Lorne didn’t give me enough time to think about it.
He leaned down, pressing his lips to mine, cutting off all the confusing thoughts that were swirling in my head. “I’m glad we came, too.” He straightened and stepped through the door, tugging on my hand to go with him.
“Take off your shoes,” Jesmesha’s voice had me stopping.
I tugged Lorne back outside and let go of him to quickly unbuckle my sandals.
Lorne watched me, waiting until I had placed my sandals next to his shoes, and then motioned to the door.
“Fine. I’ll go first.” It wasn’t like I was walking into a battle. Jesmesha wasn’t dangerous, at least not to us. I felt nervous for a totally different reason.
“I’m one step behind you. Where you walk, I walk, my love.” Those words were part of the vows we shared when we got married, and he was totally using them to his advantage.
“Cheater.” He knew I was anxious about talking to Jesmesha. The last time I’d seen her, she’d changed everything I knew about myself. I wasn’t sure I could be prepared for something like that to happen again, but I also knew I wasn’t here for that. I was here because we were finally at war with SpaceTech.
I was here because there were too many endless roads to take on this path of war, and I had to find the right one or face losing everything.
And there was one more question I needed answered, but I wasn’t sure I’d be brave enough to ask it.
“Oh, you’ll ask it, but I’m not sure if you’re ready for my answer.” Jesmesha’s voice sounded far away, but as we stepped inside, I finally saw her off to my right on a tiny black poof. She was somehow shadowed, which gave her an air of mystery. She motioned up.
I glanced up and saw a galaxy of stars where the dome’s ceiling should’ve been. The stars flickered—seemingly alive—and as I recognized their perfect placement, I knew that they were alive. Each flickering spark was a star in the same galaxy that held Sel’Ani.
“Which question are you not wanting to ask?” Lorne whispered in my ear, although it was pointless to whisper here. Whispering when the Aunare High Priestess could listen to your thoughts? Totally pointless.
Aside from telepathy, I wasn’t exactly sure what Jesmesha was. All I knew was that she couldn’t possibly be Aunare, and yet she could unlock the truths of the Aunare.
But I did have a possibly off-topic question, and she was right—I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer. I was afraid of what it could mean, and yet because I was here, I’d likely find the answer. Whether I wanted to or not.
Jesmesha rose from her spot, and with that movement, the flame-lit candles brightened to erase most of the shadows in the room. She was wearing a pair of jean shorts with frayed edges and a flowing white blouse. Her gardening hat lay on the floor by her dirt-covered bare feet. Her red hair was thrown into one long, thick, messy braid. She looked about my age—twenty—but I knew from my last visit here that she was much, much older than that. Her eyes weren’t glowing yet—they were a plain, dull brown—but they didn’t need to glow. I knew they could and that was enough to freak me out a little.
In front of her, two mats were lying side by side on the floor. She motioned to them, and I knew what was coming. Thankfully, I was wearing a more Aunare appropriate shirt, which meant that my arms and back were bare. I didn’t have to worry about undressing this time.
Lorne tugged off his shirt and I let out a little sigh before I could stop myself.
He looked at me, as if to say really?
I gave him a small shrug. He was nice to look at and…and I had no excuse other than that this was the first stop before we finally took our honeymoon. I was really, truly ready to have some time alone with him. Or as alone as we could be with our guards hovering in the near distance.
Lorne gave me a small laugh and then spread out on his stomach on one of the mats. I moved to follow his position, and when he started to glow, I took a breath and forced myself to push all the anxiety aside.
When I took another breath, I was relaxed enough that my skin started to glow, too. Not as bright as Lorne’s—the lingering anxiety was there—but enough so that my fao’ana were on display.
There was a tiny intake of breath, and I knew she’d seen it.
My heart pounded twice in my chest, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to focus on the war without asking the scary question first. “It’s bad, right? It’s a bad sign. I ruined something.” Life had been good for the last couple of weeks, but this had been bothering me. I was worried I’d done something wrong.
She made a little hmmm noise. Not a good hmm. Or a bad hmmm. But it felt like she was thinking in her head that’s interesting. But interesting didn’t mean good. Did it?
“It is interesting, but I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing. And yes, you did really talk to me when you were dying in the here-yet-not-here sense. But now I know why you’ve kept coming to me in your dreams since your trauma on Telnon. If you stayed instead of popping in and out, I would’ve—” She winced. “Stop. You have so many questions that you’re pushing at me all at once—and though this isn’t what you came here to ask, this is the first question I will answer as it is weighing the heaviest on you.”
Fine. I could play along. “What does it mean?”
“What are you two talking about? What does what mean?” Lorne asked. The mat squeaked under him as he shifted, but I couldn’t look away from Jesmesha.
She dropped down on her knees beside me, and suddenly her eyes were glowing like swirling pools of fire. I hated it when they did that.
I did my best not to flinch when her fingertips brushed against my neck. She moved the hair out of the way that was covering that fao’ana . I forced myself to stay still. Flinching away from her would’ve been rude. But I wasn’t sure I wanted her to touch that particular fao’ana .
I wasn’t sure why I didn’t, but I knew I was protective of whatever had changed.
Or maybe I was afraid of it.
Or maybe both.
I’d had a lot of change in my life. For thirteen years, I went along with every change because if I didn’t adjust, I would’ve died. But now that I was okay, I was finding it hard to bear anything else changing in my life. I was happy with how things were.
Yes, my life was dangerous—it’d been that way for as long as I could remember—but I had so many good things in it that I didn’t have before. Losing even one of those things up would be devastating.
But something had changed. There was a sign on my neck, just below my hairline. A new marking. A new fao’ana —the glowing tattoos that appeared on the Aunare’s skin told a story of our lives—past and future—on our backs. Our skills—or talents—ran down both forearms. I knew in theory that the signs on our backs shifted and changed throughout our lives as choices were made and new paths appeared—but I’d been so shut off from my Aunare side that it was only recently that I’d seen my fao’ana for the first time. Right here, on a mat just like this—maybe even this exact mat—with Jesmesha’s help.
Except I didn’t want to have a new mark. I’d only seen a glimpse of it in the mirror and then pretended it didn’t exist. It’d been easy enough to hide with my hair, and I never looked at it again. A quick peek over at Lorne told me I wouldn’t be able to get away with hiding it anymore. Terrific.
Any new marking would be an upcoming pivotal moment in my life. It was a decision I was going to need to make. I wasn’t sure why one had appeared so high—I’d never seen anyone with one there before—but who knew what fao’ana other Aunare hid behind well-placed clothing or one of their intricate braids.
This fao’ana —sun with swirling beams of light radiating from it—was no bigger than an inch in diameter. I had no clue what it meant, but when Lorne said he wanted to see Jesmesha and hear her guidance on the war, I knew my time for hiding my new fao’ana was over.
I could feel a change coming.
I’d been through enough to know when something big was going to happen. This was more than a battle. This was big, and I needed to know what it meant because I couldn’t lose Lorne. That was a massive fear, and I couldn’t let it hold me back. That’s why I’d hidden it. I’d been too happy to ruin my life with whatever this meant, but now, I had to know. I had to have some clue. Because we were going to war, and a wrong choice could be devastating to Lorne. To the Aunare. To the Earthers we needed to save.
“It is interesting.”
“What?” Lorne and I said at the same time.
I turned my head to look at him, and his eyes were wide, his skin was flashing, and from the frequencies I felt coming off of him, I knew he was as anxious about what came next as I was.
He was usually so much better at hiding it from me, but not today. Not now.
Jesmesha said the symbol between my shoulder blades—the one of a ring, bisected with lines—would move once I chose to stay with Lorne. Now that choice was made, it should’ve moved down my spine three inches, making room for another one to take its place.
But it didn’t. That mark stayed as it was, and instead, the one on my neck appeared.
It felt wrong. I must’ve made some kind of mistake, but I had no idea what I’d done wrong.
Why hadn’t the ring changed?
Why was this new one here?
How could I fix whatever I’d done?
Jesmesha stayed silent, and I wanted to scream.
“What does it mean?” My voice was shaking, and it was a little humiliating, even if hiding my feelings from Lorne or Jesmesha was impossible. “Please,” I asked when she still said nothing.
I needed that answer so that I could fix whatever it was.
Jesmesha closed her eyes, and when they opened again, the glowing orbs of fire were gone. They were back to an ordinary brown.
I lay there and waited for Jesmesha to answer, but she wasn’t saying anything.
“When did you get a new fao’ana ?” Lorne asked. “Why didn’t you tell me?” His anxiety had shifted to anger. Which sucked.
“It showed up after Telnon.”
“You should’ve told me.” His tone was soft but not so soft that I didn’t hear the hurt.
“I’m sorry. I…” How could I explain to him that I’d been a coward? “I’ve been ignoring it. Flat-out pretending it doesn’t exist, but when you said you wanted to come here and check what Jesmesha might say about the war, I knew I’d have to face it. I just wanted some time to be us before…”
Before the war started.
Before we risked our lives to save everyone else.
Before I had to let go of the life I loved.
I’d been happy. I’d been truly happy for the first time in my life. At least as far as I could remember. I was prepared to fight, but I wasn’t prepared to lose.
I had so much to lose now.
Jesmesha was staring at my back, and I felt Lorne’s tension ratcheting up with every passing second, echoing my own fears.
Well, this had gone south quickly.
“No. No.” Jesmesha sighed. “This sign isn’t any of the things you’re thinking. It is not about the war or losing any loved ones.”
I pressed my forehead to the mat and let out a breath. I wanted to cry from relief, but I—
Wait. What did that leave?
“Try not to worry so much.”
Okay. Sure. I guessed I’d try to work on that, except what did it mean? Maybe nothing?
“Of course, it doesn’t mean nothing,” Jesmesha said like I’d said something insane.
Right. If it was a fao’ana , then it meant something. Except she wasn’t going to tell me?
“Jesmesha,” Lorne’s voice had more than a hint of warning. “Stop answering whatever Amihanna is thinking and speak to both of us. What does the mark mean? It’s not in any traditional spot. If—”
I lifted up enough off the mat to see Jesmesha wave a hand at Lorne, but her eyes never left my back. “Some knowledge is too much. This possibility here—” She placed her fingertip on the marking on my neck. “—could lead to your death. To his death. To the loss of the war and many, many more deaths and so much suffering.”
I thumped my forehead on the mat. It wasn’t about the war or losing loved ones but it was about exactly that? Jesmesha wasn’t making any sense.
She knew what it meant, and she wasn’t going to tell me even though it could mean I would lose everything?
She sighed. “Sometimes my job is to not answer questions, and this is one of those times. Instead I will remind you what I said just a moment ago. By not answering, I minimize the risk during the immediate dangers you face. You make it through that, then we will deal with this fao’ana and what it means.” She made a small noise. “No. I will give you no more on this.” Her tone was final.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to press her for more. Not when her eyes were glowing like that.
“The other questions I can answer,” she said after a moment. “I already answered the first one a little about your visit to this dome when you were dying. You want to know if you really were here?”
“Then, yes. You did come to me in a manner of some sort. And you were able to heal yourself. There’s so much more to your power, and…” She drifted off and tilted her head up, staring off into the glittering stars above us for a moment. “No. No, I think it’s more important to skip ahead a bit to the questions you have with the war.”
Was Jesmesha this frustrating the last time I’d been here?
Probably. But that didn’t make this any easier.
She rose from her spot beside me in one fluid motion. The lights dimmed again, and then we were staring at so many scans of our backs. I counted ten, twenty, more than that. Each scan of Lorne next to one of me.
I sat up on my mat.
“Are any of my symbols different?” Lorne rose to sit, looking at each of the holographic representations of us in turn.
“Not yet,” Jesmesha motioned to the scans and then swiped a hand. Only five remained.
I tried to find something—anything—that I could discern from them, but there was nothing. Only that there were five possibilities. Five. That didn’t give us any wiggle room.
In how many of those five possible futures did we win the war?
“I hear so many questions in your minds, so many different paths to take, and I understand why you’ve come. But you didn’t need to. You know what’s to come.”
“Earth,” Lorne and I said at the same time.
“Yes. In all but one of those you go to Earth.”
“What happens if we don’t go to Earth?” Lorne asked.
That was it. That was what we’d come for. That was what I’d been dreading and yet what I felt ready for.
That was so contradictory it should’ve been impossible, but it was exactly how I felt about going back to Earth—good and bad. Excited and terrified. Ready to leave tomorrow and like I didn’t had even a fraction of the time I needed to get ready, let alone be prepared to go.
I looked at Lorne and saw my fears echo in him. He reached across the floor to me, and I took his hand.
I wasn’t sure what would happen once we got to Earth. There were so many ways it could go wrong.
There were so many ways it could go right.
But as I looked at the holos in front of me, I knew that there was only one way to win the war.
God, please help us. There could be no mistakes.