Xern, Forn of Augla: 23 Xiven
Just outside of a relatively old city of stone and wood stood a stout hut made of scrappy planks. Tall trees hid the hut from view, kept it in the shadows and out of the sun. The only light came from glowing, purple mushrooms, which rose nearly as tall as the canopy and wrapped themselves like vines among the trunks. There weren’t any trodden roads to this hut; whoever lived there knew to take a different route every time they returned to avoid making any discernible paths.
Today, a woman with long, white hair and russet-brown skin walked the path with such a pace that would have drawn onlookers, had she been anywhere other than in the middle of a thriving forest. She looked out-of-place with a pristine, blue cloak, though she approached the tiny hut and opened the door as if she lived there.
“Liriata,” she called immediately. The woman from the back of the hut twisted around from her woodwork toward the voice. “I saw.”
“Tidesa,” the woman called with a warm smile. She set her hunk of wood and knife on the end table in front of her. A shape barely took place on the block, but Tidesa knew she was making more bowls. They never seemed to have enough. How did they even lose so many? Liriata and her husband went through them as if they were disposable. “Come in. Shut the door behind you. Dhekk is out right now.” He was the least of Tidesa’s worries. This wasn’t some gossip call to complain about their husbands; this was more important.
“Did you hear me?” Tidesa still stood in the doorway. Her knuckles blanched against the door handle. “Did you hear me?” Her eyes, wide and wild, stared.
“You said you saw,” she replied with a furrowed brow. “What are you talking about?” Tidesa grew frustrated at Liriata’s lack of excitement.
“I mean it’s the vision I was waiting for. That we were.”
“I was waiting for you to have a vision?” Liriata echoed with a short laugh. She smoothed her patchy trousers clear of sediment, to no avail. She lived in a hut with a dirt floor; what good would wiping off dust do? Tidesa always said that her friends looked as if they were born from the ground; they were coarse and dirty but never wore it like anything other than a part of themselves. Dhekk and Liriata were both so calm and patient, like a tree slowly growing. Today wasn’t a day that she appreciated this.
“If you knew about this vision, you would have said so,” Tidesa said sharply as she shut the door behind her.
“Tidesa, come in, get away from the door. Sit with me. Dhekk will be gone all day, so we have plenty of time to talk without him grumbling about like a caged animal.” She gestured to a chair near the window, which sat right next to a large and dustless bookshelf. Trails of drawn books kept the shelves neat and clean, a sign that Liriata had been idle lately.
“You’re so calm today,” Tidesa noted awkwardly. More than usual. Why wasn’t Dhekk asking for help around the hut? It certainly wasn’t he who read all those books. He hated reading.
“I’m contented, is all. Tell me what you saw.” Liriata gestured once more to the chair, and Tidesa finally obeyed. The chair creaked when she crouched into it, but her striking purple gaze didn’t falter from her friend.
“I saw an alternative to my previous visions. The ones contrary to...that rather unpleasant turn of the world.”
“Good alternatives?” her friend asked with a cocked brow.
“Amazing alternatives, Liriata. I was in the city today, reading fortunes per the King’s request, and there was our hope, right there.” She gestured wildly, as if she could still see the scene right in the middle of the floor.
“King?” Liriata clarified with confusion. “Oh, you mean you were in Yatora, then?” Yatora was the only place for hundreds of miles with a king. Tidesa earned her keep in the nearest city, Wakino, and its adversary, Yatora, by telling the potential futures of the various paying citizens. A rare gift like hers provided a great opportunity for some niche authority, which she used for all its worth. For the past decade or so, Tidesa took it upon herself to filter what the Queen of Wakino and King of Yatora heard of what the future might hold. This…tiny, minuscule attempt to control fate so far worked for the past decade. So long as she never told anyone else, even her husband, everything worked fine.
Tidesa nodded to her friend. “Yes, yes, I was in Yatora. That’s not the point. I saw our hope there.” The smile returned, her energy bright like fire. Liriata attempted to mirror her.
“What was it?” she asked.
“Who, you mean. Who!”
“Alright, who, then?” Liriata let another laugh escape at the expense of her friend.
“He’s a young boy now. I didn’t see much, but the bits I did….”
“I’ll be dead of old age before you get to your point, at this rate! And you were frustrated with my temperament?” Liriata joked.
“I apologize, I’m just—oh, Liriata…. Could you imagine a world…a world without...Emperor Xiven? A world where someone took him down?” All smiles left the hut. If another wood chip dropped on the floor, both women would hear it louder than a tree falling in the distance.
“Are you insane? Be quiet! If anyone heard—” Liriata’s hushed voice grew silent when Tidesa continued despite her warnings.
“This vision was the clearest of any vision I’ve ever had. I saw…. I saw Dhekk, Liriata—I saw him giving advice to this boy. Advice that would otherwise have him killed. You would never believe me if you didn’t know me.”
“Advice? What sort of advice?” Curiosity overrode her Liriata’s caution.
“Tactical advice,” Tidesa recalled shallowly, as if she didn’t anticipate the question.
“Not a fight, no. The two stood in a home—I think in Tornah—and they plotted….” Tidesa leaned forward in her chair and hushed her voice so that Liriata could barely hear. “They plotted to catch sight of Emperor Xiven.” The idea seemed so far-fetched to Liriata, she let the words slip past her. Emperor Xiven had never been actually, physically seen in all of his twenty-three years of ruling. Besides, what would anyone be doing in Tornah if it had to do with ridding the world of Emperor Xiven once and for all? She decided to relay other questions.
“Tornah? How far along was this in our futures?” Liriata asked, attempting to mask her skepticism. Even if Tidesa had a good reason, she could see no reason why she’d be in a house in Tornah with her husband.
“I can’t be exact. I’d say at least ten years.”
“Ten years!” Liriata exploded. “How reliable is this vision?”
“Clearer than I see you in front of me, I swear. Dhekk was old and tired, and this boy was at least an adult.”
“And how old is this boy now?”
“Well…five, the oldest,” Tidesa admitted weakly. Liriata let out an audible sigh. “Don’t be skeptical. Have I ever been wrong?”
“Yes,” her friend said, though with a smile. She sounded as if she’d been holding this revelation in for a long time.
“What! No, I haven’t!” Tidesa’s seriousness fell, and she sat straight up in her chair.
“Yes, you have! Just once,” Liriata admitted, excitement boiling.
“When?” Liriata’s grin only grew.
“When you said I’d never bear a child.” Tidesa shook her head.
“But you—wait.” She gasped and rose from her chair, nearly knocking it back. “Do you mean…?”
“Dhekk and I are having a child, Tidesa!” No time took place between when Liriata said this and when Tidesa pulled her out of her workstation to give her a long, tight hug.
“Nycaid has blessed you! I’ve never been so happy to be wrong,” Tidesa admitted into her friend’s ear. “This is so good to hear. When did you find out?” She drew away, but still held her friend’s arms. She positively glowed. How did she not notice before? All the reasons Liriata’s future seemed blurry to her, now she knew why—because another person she hadn’t yet physically touched affected her best friend’s world. There was the missing piece she now held. Although the sight didn’t grow any clearer, her feeling about it warmed.
“Just yesterday. That’s why Dhekk is in town. He’s gathering supplies.”
“The timing couldn’t be more perfect.” The two sighed together. “Your child will grow up in a more just world. A happy one.” Tidesa lowered her voice and added, “One without Emperor Xiven.” Liriata sobered and withdrew to sit again, offering her friend to do the same. The two lowered themselves in unison.
“Tell me more about this boy. You say you saw him—did you just meet him?”
“Today, yes. The moment I touched him I saw it all. He travels with Dhekk, gathering allies for the revolution.”
“This is a bit larger than simply catching a glance….”
“Yes, but listen,” Tidesa continued. “That’s just the start. Can you imagine how the empire would crumble at Emperor Xiven’s feet if anyone ever saw him? Half the mystery and fear would be gone. A simple boy catching a glance, what a joke! That’s the spark, you see. When Kayin shows everyone what a bit of determination and solidarity can do—”
“Oh, yes. That’s his name: Kayin.”