Excerpt: Shattered Destiny



“What are these useless appendages?” Seelyr frowned in confusion as she stared down at her bare chest. She pushed her breasts from side to side. Her normal reptilian form on planet Volgon did not possess such appendages. “I understand the others.” She gestured vaguely at the junction between her thighs, also indicating the males of the group. “But these seem to be completely useless! How am I supposed to fight with these things flopping about?” She glared at the four Astran Chosen, who were doubled over, snickering and laughing, and for the moment, completely forgetting to be embarrassed to be in the nude.

“They are called breasts, Seelyr. They are for feeding our young. Among other things,” Keera said the last as an aside to Kaelin, who blushed as red as Keera’s fiery hair.

Kaelin giggled, enjoying a moment of laughter with Keera, one of her fellow Astran Chosen. “Do Volgons not have similar organs?”

Moylir snorted, as perplexed and annoyed as Seelyr. “We certainly do not! Our young eat the same synthesized gruel as the adults of our planet.” Moylir pushed her ample breasts up, letting them fall back down. “How are these used for feeding?” She shared an irritated look with Seelyr. We will never be agile with these things flopping about. She hoped there wouldn’t be a need to fight on this planet.

“When a woman has a baby, her breasts produce milk that will sustain the infant until it is able to eat solid food,” Master Brok explained. “Dress quickly, children, we need to be about our business.” He gazed pointedly at the clothing his Chosen had left behind when they had made the trip to Gentra through the portal.

The portal was still surrounded by fiery orange symbols that, when activated, would take anyone entering to the world represented by that hieroglyph. Brok hoped that meant Gwen was on her way. She had been scared to enter the portal, so he agreed to let her go last. If she doesn’t appear soon, I’ll go back for her.

Brok glared at Saemus and Jon, who seemed capable of nothing more than staring open-mouthed at the two Volgon women. Brok could not blame them. The pair made quite the impression. They were tall and muscular, with curves in all the right places. Kyron, Voilor, and Feeror, the male Volgons, were also quite impressive, well-muscled and standing a few inches taller than the statuesque females. Kaelin and Keera both tried to look everywhere but at the handsome Volgon males, wanting to sneak a peek at their most private areas and yet completely embarrassed by the thought.

“What is the other use you spoke of?” Seelyr asked.

Further discussion was interrupted by the arrival of Gwen through the portal. She fell to the ground, retching and shuddering. Keera knelt beside her friend, handing Gwen her clothing. Gwen stood and turned at the sounds of disgust coming from the Volgons.

“What is the meaning of this?” Feeror’s face contorted in repulsion.

“What is the meaning of what?” Keera faced the large Volgon, arms akimbo, face tight with fury.

“That!” Feeror pointed at Gwen. “She is no warrior! How can this be?”

“She is Chosen, like the rest of us. She bears the mark of our planet.” Jon shielded Gwen from Feeror and the other Volgons who had now come to stand with their comrade.

“She is no warrior. On my world, she would have been killed at birth. Those who are deformed and weak cannot fight. Everyone knows this. Why would your world waste precious resources on someone so worthless?” Kyron sneered at Gwen.

“We have to fight an enemy more powerful than anything even we warriors have ever seen. She cannot fight. Bah!” Voilor spat to one side. He could not imagine having to interact with someone so obviously weak.

Brok pushed between the Astran Chosen and the Volgon Chosen, face filled with fury. His power welled within, ready to be unleashed. “Now see here—”

“This is folly! Everyone needs to calm down so I can explain!” Gerok’s voice was lost in the commotion. Even with all the time he had spent on Volgon training his Chosen, he had no idea of the depth of their repulsion for those they considered weak.

Gwen struggled into her clothes and tried to ignore the shouting. The tears fell down her face, hot streaks of humiliation falling to the dirt. Her hands shook as she fumbled into her clothing. She bit her cheek hard to keep from sobbing aloud. She did not want to give the Volgons the satisfaction. Gwen peered around from behind Keera’s legs. Her friends and classmates faced the imposing Volgons, who were still shouting. At each “weak”, and “useless”, and “deformed” her humiliation grew. While on the watery world of Gentra, her dwarfism hadn’t been noticed by the Volgons. She had been smaller than the rest but the gelatinous body of the Gentrans hadn’t given away her deformity.

A whole lifetime of being taunted, teased, pushed and shoved, and made to feel less than everyone around her filled her with a rage that she had never allowed herself to feel until now. As her anger grew, so did the power raging through her. She looked to Feeror, who backed away from the Astrans and refused to proceed as long as Gwen was around.

Gwen snarled and moved toward Feeror as fast as her stunted legs could carry her.

Feeror laughed. “I think we made it angry!” He stood nonchalantly and waited for the dwarf girl to come closer.

Gwen moved her arms forward lightening quick. Feeror’s eyes widened as he found himself thrown backward. He hit the wall hard and crumpled to the ground. Gwen grinned maniacally and used her power to pull the dazed Volgon to his feet. His comrades tried to stop her and were baffled to find that they could not get near her. The air had turned into an impenetrable barrier that they could not pass. Brok and Gerok yelled at Gwen to stop. Their words fell on deaf ears.

Gwen held Feeror against the wall, his feet a full meter off the ground. His face turned an alarming shade of purple. The big warrior dug at the vice-like grip of air encircling his throat but could find no purchase. Helashed out, hoping to land a kick to the dwarf girl, but her shield of air protected her.

“Oh, such a tough man! Can’t even fight a little air,” Gwen said mockingly as she moved closer still. “Well, come on then! Let’s see if you can get out of this!” She screamed, “What are you, weak and useless? HEY! I’m talking to you!” She let the Volgon drop to the ground but she still held his throat with air. She kicked Feeror as hard as she could. His movements were becoming feeble and his dark brown eyes rolled back in his head.

She continued to kick at the Volgon as he lay on the ground. She was so focused on the Feeror that she didn’t notice Jon move up behind her, didn’t see the black film that covered his blue eyes. Gwen felt a new power like a deep bass rumble in her chest. Her shield shattered, and Brok moved in to protect her from the Volgons, who looked ready to tear her limb from limb.

“Stop this at once! We have too much to do to waste time on such nonsense! This is why the Masters of Gentra wanted the Chosen to spend time with one another. You must work together. The fate of the galaxy rests on your shoulders!” Brok shook Gwen, who still held Feeror in bonds of air. The Volgon had ceased to move. She turned away in horror, the full impact of her actions hitting her. She let the man go and collapsed in Brok’s arms, sobbing. Brok’s eyes filled with tears as he held the tiny, twisted girl. He had never before realized how much Gwen had suffered at the hands of others. His heart broke for her. But she is so much more than this deformed body. She is strong in magic and in spirit. She will need both before the end.

“The girl must die! The attack on our comrade was unprovoked.” Seelyr squatted next to Feeror, who coughed and gasped for air. The man struggled to speak.

“No one touches the girl. No one!” Feeror croaked. He looked at Gwen, his face a stony mask. He stood on shaky legs, brushing off the attempts of his comrades to help. “We have work to do. We should be about it.”

Brok nodded and fixed a stern eye on Jon. He motioned the boy to follow him.

“What were you thinking?”

Jon crossed his arms over his chest. “I got through her shield.”

Brok pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes, but you drew on the forbidden magic to do it. Did you even try to use your own power?”

Jon nudged a rock with his toe, refusing to meet Brok’s eyes.

Brok put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Did you not read the book I gave you? The one about Lord Lucian?”

Jon nodded sullenly.

“The dark power is seductive, powerful. Everyone who uses it thinks they can handle it, can control it. It’s an illusion. Just as it was with Mystic Anali and Fa’ Vel, the dark magic will consume you.” Brok squeezed Jon’s shoulder. “Remember the story of Anali and Lucian. We need you Jon. We can’t afford to lose you to the grip of the dark power.”

Jon met Brok’s eyes and he swallowed hard. “I’m sorry. I acted without thinking.”

“It’s alright, boy. The situation was quite precarious. But you have strong power within you. You don’t need the dark magic.”

Jon followed Brok as he made his way back to the group, his brows drawn in anger. I can handle the dark power.

“We will stay here for the night. Saemus, you and Jon go get some firewood. I will see about getting something to eat,” Brok said, weary from the fight between Gwen and Feeror. He grabbed his pack from against the wall where he had left it before the trip to Gentra with his Chosen. It all seems so long ago. I wonder how long we have been gone. He knew, as did the other Guardians, that time did not pass at the same rate on each planet. While a few weeks may have passed on Gentra, months, even years may have passed on Astra.

“Will you hunt?” Kyron’s grey eyes lit up. “I would very much like to accompany you.”

“I go to hunt, but not with weapons that you are familiar with, or could even use.” Brok gave the large man a sidelong glance. “Besides, a naked man hunting would raise more than a few eyebrows.”

“There isn’t a weapon that I cannot master, old man,” Kyron said, his temper flaring.

Brok simply raised a hand, and the man stopped in his tracks, eying Brok’s out-stretched arm as though it was a fearsome beast. “Have you forgotten the lesson the little one demonstrated to your comrade already? The Chosen of Astra have no need of hand-held weapons. I can find food more quickly if I go alone and do not have to worry about who might see you wandering about in naught but your skin.” With that, he exited the cave.

The evening air was pleasantly cool. He took a deep breath and gazed for a moment at the twin moons of Astra, now devoid of their ghostly rings. I have missed this place. He felt shocked and a little guilty at that thought, but he could not hide from the truth of the feelings rising in his breast. He had missed this planet.

Although he had told Kyron he feared an encounter, the chance of that was slim. The Stroh Hills were fairly remote. In truth, he had wanted some time alone. Gwen’s wrath had shaken him. He knew the girl wielded great power, but he had never seen her use it to harm another. The idea of being able to take another life without ever having to lay a hand on them or having to look them in the eye seemed somehow cowardly. The Volgon warriors would certainly think it cowardly. Brok wondered what life was like on Volgon that drove the creatures there to kill those that were in less than perfect physical health. I must talk further with Gerok. I must know more about the Volgon Chosen.

His musings were cut short as he sighted some fresh antlered horse tracks. Brok sent his magic outward, seeking his target. It was about two miles to the northwest and moving slowly, grazing on the grasses of the plains. Brok crept forward, moving silently through the waist-tall grass. He stuck out his hand and let them brush the purple tufts. A gentle breeze rippled across the rolling hills, making the prairie look like a great green and purple ocean. Brok used his magic as well as his eyes to traverse the rough patches of dirt, rocks, depressions in the soil, anything that might cause him to lose his footing and perhaps fall. These old bones are too brittle to withstand a bad fall.

His quarry moved in his direction. Brok stopped where he was, thankful that he was upwind. He gathered his power and used a tiny portion to reach out and touch the antlered horse. He could feel the heat of the animal’s large body, the rough texture of the long hair that covered it from head to toe, the weight of the enormous rack that adorned his massive head, and finally the beating of its heart. Brok said a silent prayer to the good spirits as he unleashed the full force of his power into the animal’s heart, stopping it in an instant. The antlered horse gave a low bellow and fell to the ground, legs thrashing in its death throes.

Brok approached carefully. A wayward kick or a toss of the animal’s head could kill him. He used his knife to slit the animal’s throat. After field dressing the beast, Brok used his powers to slice the carcass into quarters. He fashioned a travois using branches from trees and smaller branches for the platform. He worked quickly and efficiently by the light if the twin moons.

“Navi in aer.” He used his power to float the large quarters of meat onto the travois, easing them into place so that they would not topple over. He furrowed his brow as he contemplated dragging the meat back to the portal cave. The grumbling of his stomach made the decision for him. He used his power to lighten the load such that it felt as if he carried nothing more than his knapsack.

Brok made good time back to the others and found a cheerful fire burning. The tension in the cave was a palpable thing. The Astran and Volgon Chosen sat as far from each other as they could and still remain in the cave. Gerok sat between them, looking miserable and frustrated.

They all stood as Brok entered the cave, glad to have a distraction from their strained silence. The Volgons watched Brok unload the antlered horse with greedy eyes. The Astrans pushed up their sleeves and began skinning the animal. The Volgons, reluctant and yet curious, asked the Astrans if they could lend a hand. Saemus showed them how to use the small knives to cut the skin from the meat. Soon, the Volgons and Astrans were chatting about the different kinds of animals that lived on their planet, which were the most dangerous, how large they were, what environments they inhabited. The Volgons were eager to try their hands at hunting some of Astra’s more dangerous animals, like shadowcats and prairie cats

“We will not have time during this trip to hunt for sport. Perhaps when the fighting is done, you can return and test your skill against the shadowcats.” Brok had a long stick and pushed the burning wood toward the periphery of the stone ring that enclosed the fire. Soon, the stones had absorbed the intense heat from the burning wood. Brok reached into his knapsack and took out several pouches. He took a pinch here, a leaf there and crushed them together, sprinkling it onto the meat.

“I found some wild onions and a bit of garlic as well,” Gwen said softly. She kept her eyes to the ground.

Brok found himself getting angry. He took her chin and forced her to look up. “You will never do this again, do you hear me? You are not less than anyone in this cave, nor less than anyone on this planet, nor less than anyone in this galaxy. You will cease this scuttling about like some lowly creature, afraid to look anyone in the eyes! I won’t stand for it! You are Gwen Heath, one of the Chosen. You are someone, someone special and strong and necessary.”

Gwen was taken aback by Master Brok’s ferocity. His anger upset her. She opened her mouth to retort but then shut it and waddled off, mumbling to herself. She sat down in a huff next to Keera, still fuming.

“Something wrong?” Keera asked, smiling a sideways grin that said she knew the answer.

“He yelled at me! As if it was my fault what occurred between me and the…the…brute.” Gwen crossed her arms and glared at Feeror, who sat opposite from the pair, using a whet stone to hone a small knife.

“He was just trying to get you to stop moping.” Keera looked at Gwen from behind a curtain of red curls. “Seems to have worked.”

“Well, that’s hardly the point now, is it?” Gwen said.

“Well, what is it then? The Volgons have not even looked our way since the incident, and if I remember correctly, you almost killed him! So I would say you came out on top,” Keera retorted.

Gwen tried to come up with a response and found that she couldn’t. I guess I did win that particular fight. But it doesn’t make things better. She found herself wanting to try to explain to Keera how much Feeror’s words and disgusted looks had cut her to the quick, had opened many wounds she thought healed for good.

“I don’t pretend to know how his words made you feel, but I know they made me want to strangle him. It must have been a hundred times worse for you.” Keera held Gwen’s hands. “I know I have not known you very long, only a few short years. But in that time I have gotten to know you. And you are stronger than that.” She jerked her head in the direction of the big Volgon. “You are stronger than any of them! And if you let his words affect you, you are not half the person I know you to be.” Keera’s blue eyes met Gwen’s brown ones.

Gwen found her eyes filling with tears of gratitude. She understands more than I give her credit for. She hugged the girl, feeling better than she had since emerging from the portal.

The smell of cooking meat soon filled the cave with its savory aroma. The Volgons sat hunched over the fire. They would breathe deeply from time to time, their eyes closing in ecstasy.

“Do you not have meat where you come from?” Gwen’s voice was only a little shaky but she refused to look away when Seelyr’s blue eyes met her own.

“We have animals we consume, but they are a rare treat. We eat gruel that is designed to contain the correct amount of nutrients to sustain life,” Seelyr said.

“Why are animals such a rare treat? Can you not simply go and hunt them?” Gwen asked, confused.

Seelyr shook her head. “You do not understand little one…” She put up her hand at Gwen’s angry look. “I did not mean it a slight to you. I use it as a term of one who is young. Our world is very different from yours, I fear.” She turned to the fire.

“I would like to know of your world. You’ll get the chance to see mine first-hand on the morrow.” Gwen replied. She found herself drawn to these strong, fierce, angry, resolute people, despite their obvious discomfort in her presence.

None of the males would even look at her, and each time she spoke, they flinched and clenched their fists. Gwen gritted her teeth, determined to get them talking.

It was Moylir who spoke. “Our world was not always like it is now. Our race used to live on the surface of Volgon, in great stone cities that shone in the morning sun. We were a peaceful race, engrossed in art and music and sculpture. My sire once told me that our ancestors were sculptors who were given the great honor of creating the adornments that topped the tombs of our leaders.” Moylir stopped for a moment, lost in thought.

“I do not recall how the fighting started. There was some insult, some breach of protocol, some courtesy not met. No one even remembers the reason for it all.” Moylir stopped speaking and stared at Gwen, her brown eyes haunted. “Isn’t that the worst part? We have been fighting our enemies for over a thousand revolutions of our planet, and no one can even recall what started it all.” She shook her head ruefully and continued. “The Gorkons inhabit a planet close to ours. The attacks came slowly at first, then quickened to such intensity that the very air shook with the force of their weapons. Many of our people were killed in the initial onslaught. Our once great cities fell into ruin, smashed beyond recognition.

“The Volgons tried to flee to the depths of space, but the Gorkons destroyed every ship that made it off the planet. My people were losing hope. One of the Viceroys managed to forge a tentative peace with the Gorkons, but it did not last. Some of the most brilliant inventors turned their thoughts to creating weapons and shields. These helped my people fight back against the enemy.

“Then the Gorkons unleashed something terrible.” Moylir swallowed audibly. “They somehow created a weapon that stripped our planet of all plant life. Everything shriveled and died within a few seasons. It took a little longer for the animals to die off.

“Viceroy Vyr was instrumental in saving our race. He ordered the inventors and builders to begin excavating. Once our colonies had been dug, work began on the food generators, air generators, shield bunkers, everything that allowed my people to survive.

“Our people soon moved underground for good. We were protected from the attacks occurring above ground. The Gorkons continued their attacks, going so far as to send landing parties to seek us out. Their plan was to destroy us to the last child. We were safely hidden behind our invisibility shields. We attacked on the move, using the sweepers to search for signs of the enemy, and then sending Volgons out to kill them.”

Moylir met Gwen’s eyes. “Life on my world is harsh, little one. There are barely enough resources to keep the healthy ones alive. The only animals that survived are the melgor. If not for the food generators, we would all have starved long ago. Resources are precious on my world. This is why they cannot be wasted on the weak or the sick.” Moylir looked to Seelyr.

Gwen did not miss the look. “Someone was taken and killed, someone close to you.” She looked at Seelyr.

“My pup was born sick. He…he was….” She looked to Feeror, pain evident on her face.

“The pup was sacrificed so that we could perfect a weapon that would allow us to kill our enemy and leave our own people unharmed. The pup was going to be incinerated anyway. His death helped Feeror to figure out the final modification on the sound weapon,” Kyron stated.

Seelyr turned back to the fire.

“Is that true? You killed a baby on purpose? Used it in some experiment?” Kaelin glared at the Volgons, her hands shaking.

“We have no choice. Food and water can only be given to those that can fight, that can contribute to the safety and continuity of the colony. These rules have allowed the strong to survive and pass on that strength to the next generation. If we wasted resources on the weak, the Gorkons would find us easy prey. We cannot allow that to happen,” Voilor spoke softly, yet with conviction. “And the pup was not used just in some experiment. The sound weapon had to be tested on a Volgon. It was better to test it on one who was slated to die anyway than on someone strong.”

Gwen was saddened at the idea that these people had suffered so much. It was hard to imagine Astra being torn apart, towns and cities destroyed, nothing to eat except what came out of some machine, being forced to choose between feeding those that were strong or those that were weak.

“My world has abundant food. We don’t need to destroy those that are not born perfect,” Gwen said. “There are many things that those that are of less-than-perfect physical stature can do. If they have power, like we do, they can become the Mystic of a village or perhaps even serve one of the Patriarchs. Many dwarfs travel with menageries and the like, performing for the public to earn their way. On my world, people can become merchants, captains of vessels that sail the open ocean, or buy a homestead and settle down to raise a family.”

The Volgons stared at Gwen, their faces immovable masks of stone. Feeror nodded grudgingly. “Perhaps you are right. We come from different worlds, each of which has shaped who we are. But it is hard to change overnight. Physical perfection and the need to stay strong to fight is who we are.”

Brok, announcing that the steaks were done, interrupted any more talk. Since they had no plates or silverware, they had to make do with their hands. The Volgons picked up the steaks and began to devour the meat, barely noticing their singed fingers. The juices dripped down their chins, and they made animalistic noises of pleasure. The Astrans were less vocal, but no less messy. By the time each had eaten two steaks, except for the Volgons who managed to eat three, all were covered in steak juice. The only sound was the slurping of fingers being sucked clean.

With their bellies full and their bodies warmed by the fire, the Chosen found it difficult to keep their eyes open. Jon stared into the coals, watching them change colors as the air hit, seeming almost to breathe.

“I don’t understand the need for this fire. We could have eaten the meat raw and the temperature is not cold enough to warrant its use for heat,” Kyron said. He absently brushed long brown hair out of his face.

Jon made a face. “We don’t eat raw meat. We always cook it. And a fire is just something you make when you are out-of-doors. It’s comforting. It helps to keep animals at bay as well.”

“It seems such a waste. There are plenty of us to keep watch, so there is no need to use it for protection,” Kyron insisted.

“Do you not use fire on Volgon?” Saemus could not imagine sleeping outside without the comfort and heat of a campfire.

“We use a few torches but only in the hallways that lead down into the colony. Volgons have good eyesight, and we do not need a lot of light to see by. Once inside the Colony, we have artificial light.”

Gwen looked at Kyron baffled. “Is that like an oil lamp?”

“No. We do not use oil. I am not sure I have the words to explain it to you. But we have devices that make light,” Kyron said.

“I think that is enough talk for one night. We make for Enisae at sun-up,” Master Brok said.

“Will we go home after that?” Kaelin asked quietly.

“I don’t think so child.”

“Why not?” Kaelin sat up, visibly distraught.

Brok sighed. “Because, child, we do not know how long we have been gone. It might have been years. We do not have a good excuse for why we have been gone. And what of them?” He indicated the Volgons, still sitting in the nude. “How do we explain the strangers? If someone questions them too closely, it will be hard to deny that they are not from this world. It is a risk we cannot take.”

Kaelin lay back down, fuming. How can he expect us to simply travel to Enisae and not go home? I want to see my family. Kaelin fell into a troubled sleep with tears drying on her cheeks.

One Comment on “Excerpt: Shattered Destiny”

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