Oetho rushed out the doorway at the base of the stone tower. His gray hair whipped in the wind and his black cassock snapped. He held his arm up to shield his face, but the wind still bit at his eyes and ears. Wincing, he forced his way across the small courtyard and out the house gate.
Amana stood in the center of a round grazing pen, her white hair tied in a tight bun and her linen overcoat billowing at the sleeves. She was partially bent over, yet looked into the sky at the tumult of clouds and listened to the roar of the wind. Around her huddled two adult goats and four kids. She held two of the young with her hands, gripping their fine coats. Oetho’s shouts were lost to her, but by chance she glanced toward the tower and caught his approach. Surprised, she stood up. Her husband had not moved so fast in years.
“The storm came up all of a sudden,” Amana shouted to him when he reached the fence. “Help me move the animals back inside the wall.”
Oetho doubled over and coughed.
Amana waded to the fence and took a hold of his arm. “You ought not to be out in this. You’ll have the fever back on you in no time.” She brushed his cassock, and helped him back up. “Your gills are green already.”
“Amana,” Oetho spoke. He paused to compose himself, yet his frantic expression betrayed him. His hands gripped the fence post, holding him steady.
Amana stared back at him, quizzically.
“Amana, we must hurry,” he said out of breath.
Amana glanced back at her small herd.
“No,” Oetho said, “there’s no time.” He reached out over the fence, grabbed her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. “This world is ending.”
Oetho was not senile, not yet. He knew that Amana trusted him with all her heart and would not take his words as idle rant. Her instinct would tell her that he was sincere. Yet, he could see that she had been caught off guard, a twitch in her eye and a lump in her throat; a look she reserved for when she grew short with him.
“What do you mean, Oetho?” She rubbed his shoulders as if to calm him. Oetho stared back, uncertain how to explain. Something in his eyes told her all she needed to know. Her own expression changed from concern to shock, and she spoke with dread. “You did something didn’t you? Rilla, have mercy on us. You did something.”
“No,” Oetho said. “I’ve kept my promise. I gave up those ways long ago. I love you more than life itself.”
“Juxin,” Oetho said. The name alone explained enough.
Everyone revered the name of Juxin. He was the Prime Hunter of the people. He was the slayer of the Ban-Tho. His position and authority were unchallenged in the halls of governance. As the leader of the people’s army, his reach was second only to the Emperor himself. Those that knew him well knew that Juxin was both a powerful politician and an accomplished Mystic.
Oetho knew him more than well, and through circumstance so did Amana. Both recalled how ruthlessly Juxin applied his talents, and how single-mindedly he searched to attain new powers to wield over his enemy. Neither would forget how suddenly their lives were upturned by a single act many years ago, a slaughter of innocents. Juxin was just mad enough to risk the entire world for certain victory, had he the means.