The Four Herds are the four pillars which hold the Empire aloft, and in return the King and Queen, the Great Shepherds, guide their herds. The Herds are the Ore Kingdom to the East, the Water Nation to the West, the Sun Kingdom to the North, and the Creature Land to the South. The Sun Kingdom holds influence over the two smaller kingdoms of Lightning and Wind, to the Northeast and the Northwest. Though there are four tribes, each with its own energy patron, they are, for the most part, unrelated to the four nations: Island Dwellers and Beach Dwellers historically hold roots in the western Water Nation; Jungle Dwellers historically dwell in the forests beyond the Ore Kingdom to the East; Mountain Dwellers comprise the bulk of the Empire, both the citizens that dwell throughout all Four Herds and their rulers. It is to the tribes, and not the herds, kingdoms, and councils, that Patron Spirits grant their magic: to the Island Dwellers the blue power of water, to the Beach Dwellers the yellow power of sunlight, to the Jungle Dwellers the green power of flora, to the Mountain Dwellers the red power of fire. The tribes may rear mixed descendants, and every individual may attempt to master the magic of the other tribes. Chosen Children must master all four magics, which turns their lenses a deep brown color.
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Patcha woke at sunrise. She hadn’t expected to get up so early — at the usual waking hour for the harvest — after her late expedition the night before. She also hadn’t expected Mawnco to be missing.
Sunlight streamed in through the window. She was alone, but heard her mother and father’s voices from below. Her father would be starting on his pottery and dyeing, her mother weaving as a pot boiled. Kooteeck would be off doing whatever she had decided to entertain herself with. But Patcha was highly alarmed that Mawnco was nowhere in the house.
“Did he leave with Kooteeck?” Patcha wondered breathlessly to her mother after she had finished a thorough search of the house.
“No, he was gone before Kooteeck left,” Father called in from his workshop. “He’s a Chosen Child; he probably has duties to attend to.”
Patcha bit her lip, unable to protest but possessing a burning desire to contradict him. Though she knew that Chosen Children were notorious for doing something fantastic to impress the town and then leaving for the sake of a larger mission, she couldn’t help but feel possessive of this boy. After all, the Qhilla spirit had led her to him. Patcha told herself that nearly being devoured by Soikles was a poor show to put on for the community before leaving. But then again, she reminded herself, a tiny place such as Raua might not deserve the talent of a Chosen Child.
Upon setting foot outside, Patcha was immediately greeted by Mawnco, who was walking toward her from uphill. His face was expressionless, but his eyes were bright and his lips seemed to be trembling with the effort of holding back a grin. He now wore a particularly small, black hat that Patcha could have sworn used to belong to her. It balanced atop his head, too small to reach down to his ears.
“Patcha!” he addressed her eagerly, giving her a small bow. “I was wondering when you would wake. I returned and your family was all busy…” He paused. “Are you busy?”
Patcha shook her head. “No, sir.” It felt odd to address someone her age so formally, and this sentiment was reflected in Mawnco’s brief look of surprise.
Recovering quickly, Mawnco inquired, “What seems to be alive in this town? Even when I watch from the shadows, everyone seems excited and lively.” As he spoke, he began walking toward a potato field, his head whipping from side to side energetically. Patcha followed, only posing questions in her own mind.
“It’s nearly the North Season,” Patcha explained, her eyes fixed on Mawnco’s active, hairless head. “The harvest just ended. Now is the time for Rite of Ages, weddings, and celebrations before the Mita begins.”
“What is your main harvest?” he asked, eyes suddenly fixed on the field they were in. “And, if you don’t mind my asking, who in your family is scheduled for the Mita this time of year?” Then he stopped, eyes scanning Patcha’s arms feverishly. She knew he was inspecting her elbones.
Anticipating his question, Patcha told him, “I haven’t been through a Rite of Age. You won’t see any transformation on me.” Mawnco immediately set his attention to the plants once more, even crouching down with catlike fluidity to examine the earth. “My family harvests the fruit and dyes, but our main source of food is game and potatoes. As for the Mita…” She paused, wondering how to explain her family’s predicament. Sensing her hesitation, Mawnco’s hazel eyes and brown glasunes fixed on her from where he crouched, all other parts of his face expressionless.
“You see, we might be leaving once the North Season begins…” Patcha started, averting her eyes out of respect for the Chosen Child.
“If it’s a sensitive discussion, then don’t mind my curiosity,” Mawnco excused himself. “Where do you harvest the fruit?”
“Why, the forest of course!” Patcha was relieved that Mawnco’s tide of curiosity had not swept her away. She indicated to the jungle downhill. The sun directly beyond it bathed the canopy in shadow.
Mawnco’s eyes darted away from the sun and toward Patcha’s elbows again. “Are you of mixed ancestry, or are you adopted?” He indicated to her red glasunes, marking her as a child of the Mountain Dweller tribe instead of the Jungle Dwellers.
“My grandmother was a Jungle Dweller,” Patcha confirmed. “My father, of course, had his elbones taken off for his Rite of Age.” She refrained from telling him what her sister had prematurely tried to do to her elbones.
“And that will be your Rite of Age?”
Patcha nodded. “And Kooteeck’s. It’s the same for all people of mixed heritage around here. There aren’t any pureblooded Jungle Dwellers in Raua. They keep to the forest. It’s their job to guard it from destruction.”
She paused, staring beyond Mawnco at the road through town. There was the Qhilla again. Mawnco followed her perplexed gaze and spotted it, as well. He grinned, confidently approaching it. Patcha followed eagerly. The Qhilla disappeared up ahead.
Somehow, Mawnco was able to follow it downhill, even though it routinely disappeared and reappeared in different spots along the road. They did not take the path to the jungle, but instead one that led to an open field where smaller plants grew more sparsely.
Even long after Patcha could no longer see the Qhilla, Mawnco continued on in the field. Patcha did not mind the rough terrain, as she was used to the hilly fields around town. Mawnco, on the other hand, had extreme difficulty keeping upright. He constantly waved his arms around to keep his balance, and he once sank knee-deep into an abandoned burrow. Patcha steadied him several times, incredulous at the Chosen Child’s clumsiness.
Before the road was even out of sight, they came across a small stream that ran off into the forest from the fields uphill. She heard the gentle trickle of water against earth before they saw the tiny stream. Patcha was surprised to find it nearly dry.
“It shouldn’t be this low,” Patcha commented uncertainly. “The harvest just ended yesterday. All the excess water should be —”
Before she could finish, Mawnco was heading upstream. She followed him, easily able to keep up. They soon found what was blocking the flow of water.
A plain, beige, woven net was caught in the streambed, held in place on either end by rocks that had been placed over it. Leaves and mud had gotten stuck among the threads of the rope, and much water was accumulating behind the blockage, flooding the nearby grasses.
“A simple job,” Mawnco declared proudly, though somewhat suspiciously. He removed a rock on one side and indicated for Patcha to take the one across the stream. Together, they placed hands on the still-cool, dew-coated rocks and rolled them away. The net immediately collapsed under the weight of its own trapped debris, and a huge surge charged downhill toward the forest. At the same time, the tiny black hat atop Mawnco’s head flew off and was swept away by the current. The Chosen Child made a small choking sound and watched in melodramatic horror as it washed out of sight. The net itself was still attached to something in the streambed, and lay at the bottom of the current like a paving stone. Mawnco kept his eyes on it a moment longer, as if waiting for something to happen, and then headed back toward the road.
Mawnco’s moment of hesitation was sufficient for Patcha to notice something very odd about the net. All sediment had been washed off the rope itself by the power of the flowing water, but there were still marks across three particularly large knots near the center of the net. Though distorted by the flowing water, Patcha’s eyes grew wide when she saw that they were the same characters of the system she had invented. It couldn’t be something she had put script on, could it? Mawnco was still moving slowly away, and Patcha crouched to examine the net more closely. She read the symbols, and pronounced, “Past, Protection, Change.”
Patcha did not recall ever needing to remember such a combination for any reason or quiz. She wanted to stay with the net and gauge the meaning of the three words, but Mawnco tripped in the grass up ahead, and she went to assist him.
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 Culture: It is disrespectful to make eye contact with a Chosen Child.