Rain Riddles (Flood Thieves Chapter 9)

Chax requires two to six players, as there are only six bead colors. The players gather around a circle drawn in a tablet of moist sticking-clay. The object of the game is to form a bridge of a single color to the exact opposite side of the circle. Each player may only form a valid bridge with their own color.

Each player is randomly assigned a color role. This is often done by placing all six bead colors into the Chax cup and having each player pull a random color from the cup. The colors and their respective role order are as follows: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. The red player goes first, the orange second, and so forth. Each turn, a player fills the Chax cup with six beads of random color and rolls them onto their edge of the circle, or onto the edge of whatever bridge they have begun. Each bead is charged with small amounts of color magic, and will dye the area where they land in a small circle. Chax beads may roll over spots already marked to change their color, but players are not allowed to roll their beads over areas formed by other players, merely their own bridge.

The most important aspect of the color order is not assigning the players a cycle in which to play, but rather determining how often each player may choose any other player to change the color of a spot on the circle to any other color. The red player may choose someone to change a spot of color every time that it is their turn to play, the orange player only every other time, the yellow player only every third time, and so forth. A spot may be changed to any color; the person changing the color is not limited to his own color. While this is imbalanced in games with only two players—since each time each player only has one option of who to let change a color—it is an interesting factor in games with many players; players often form deals and alliances with the warm-colored players to receive the opportunity to change colors more often.

Θ                                             Θ                                             Θ

“You really should take a day to rest,” Hiyee insisted as they started out on the road leading to the capital. Koosee squawked in accord from his shoulder.

Mawnco said nothing: it was imperative to train this fool to not use his tongue when no one else wanted him to. He made an effort to relax and cool his blood, as his pulse was throbbing against his bandaged eye. His head had pained him ever since he had confided in Patcha and Kooteeck about his dream. Maybe he was losing his sanity, but he would not let Patcha’s talents go to waste by letting her be kidnapped on her way to the Ore Capital. He had to prove himself somehow.

I won’t let Illa down, he thought. He was Illa’s only Chosen Child. The other Chosen Children derided him for choosing a Qhilla as his spirit companion.

The clouds had thickened by the time they reached the base of the Ore Volcano. They were on the East end of the Ore Path, which snaked around the mountain’s base and eventually guided visitors up the only accessible road into the Capital. They would need to partially circumvent the mountain. The Ore Path was well paved, and between the stones that facilitated their way laid glittering red octagons of clay infused with red magic beads, secured well with clay and mortar, to light the way for red-lensed travelers at night.

“Has no one tried to steal these?” Kooteeck exclaimed as she paused to crouch and examine the road.

“Not this close to the Capital!” Hiyee chuckled deeply. “Besides, these have passwords.”

“The earthen wealth of the Ore King,” Patcha murmured, almost to herself, at Mawnco’s shoulder. “It’s impressive, although hollow gilds can hold more than solid castings, as they say.”

“Are you kidding?” Kooteeck’s laugh was almost hysterical with awe when she noticed that the posts marking off distances along the Ore Path were capped with silver bands. “I know you’re resourceful, Patcha, but you can’t disagree: this much wealth must make all the other Kings jealous!”

“Other Kings? There’s the Sun King, who owns everything, and the Creature King, who conquers everything. Every other Herd is headed by a Council or a Queen. The Ore King controls the gems and gold,” Patcha corrected dryly, “but the people need to be fed, jobs need to be administered, and improvements need to be built. The other Kings, Counsels, and Queens control those and don’t often share them.”

“The Sun King and Queen allocate all resources,” Mawnco pointed out to end the argument.

“But not evenly, my boy,” Hiyee squawked. Koosee sneezed in agreement. “And you’d be surprised what can be hidden from the nobility!”

Mawnco was nearly dazed by Hiyee’s suggestion that a Chosen Child was ignorant and the aristocracy was corrupt. Who was he to question their authority, when they had fed him and clothed him from the moment he was born? Suspicions began to creep into Mawnco’s mind as the sky darkened further. Here was a twinless singer with no talent who had been allowed to romp about the Empire as he pleased. It didn’t sit well with him.

Mawnco shook his head. I can’t let myself lose face. Illa is counting on me to set a good example. That, at least, he could do without fear of failure.

The sky grew more inclement, and Mawnco had them take a break in the next traveling shack, though this one was grand enough that it could hardly be called a “shack.” Mawnco held the gilded door open for the others as they filed inside, and watched as a wave of sparkling rain and thick-as-stone shadows approached moments behind them. The torrent gained toward the shack with Peeskoo-like speed, and a moment before it caught them, Mawnco stepped inside and shut the door. Fast storms fade as quickly as they come, he reminded himself.

The shack was identical to the previous ones in organization: one half dedicated to plants, food, and magic refreshments—which had been nearly depleted by everyone fleeing the Flood—and the other half to bedding. But the pots that contained the plants were studded with undeniably bright beads of power, and the bedding had the finest, softest blankets and wool traced with labyrinth designs. While Kooteeck leapt head-forwards into the generous bedding, Hiyee began browsing the disproportionally repleted yellow-beaded bowl for Beach Dwellers. Patcha, however, immediately pulled a couple of thinly-sliced roots from her pouch. Mawnco expected her to eat them, but to his surprise, she began to carve more symbols onto them. She occasionally glanced at Hiyee with guarded brows, but he paid her no mind. She motioned for Mawnco to join her as soon as he caught her eye.

He sat in front of her, his feet thankful for the rest. He was familiar with the girls and Hiyee was ill-mannered anyway, so he took off his sandals and let himself stretch out in the plentiful space.

The symbols on Patcha’s roots were only faintly visible, so she asked them to fetch her a bit of dye. She had her twin saturate the lines with an artisan’s care while she explained her plans to them. Mawnco wondered how often Kooteeck had covered for Patcha by dyeing clay pots for her.

“I’ve been trying to think of a way we could play our game on foot,” she began.

“You mean train?” Mawnco reminded her playfully. Their method for learning symbols certainly felt more like a game, but it was training nonetheless.

“Sure,” Kooteeck snorted. “Train. It’s a game of Chax with vegetables, for Ore’s sake.”

CHAX!” confirmed Koosee.

“Don’t be silly, dear Peeskoo,” Hiyee corrected him. “If we can afford to waste magic on Chax in a time like this, then I have wings and you have scales.”

CHAX!” Koosee insisted repeatedly. Mawnco did his best to ignore it.

“I don’t have enough strips to make fifty-four,” Patcha whispered hastily, “but we can find more later. Do you remember how we added on the rule of challenging color switches? Well, what if the entire game was just that? We could hold these strips in our hands and reorient them when one should or shouldn’t see their symbols, and then we wouldn’t have to mark them off for color switches at all!”

“I’m impressed,” Mawnco congratulated her. Then he eyed the strips skeptically. “But their different-colored dyes will make it too easy to tell them apart. And if we find more leaves along the way, then those would look even less similar.”

Crestfallen, Patcha stared at the strips until Kooteeck suggested that they dye all of them a slightly darker color. With this task, they all set to work dying the strips around their already-designated script. Hiyee watched them incredulously for a while until he grew bored.

“How about a few Rain Riddles[1]!” he proposed. “Nothing like riddles, tales, jokes, and stories on a rainy day!”

Patcha and Mawnco groaned. Kooteeck squealed in delight and beat her palms against the solid earthen floor.

“I’ve heard all of them,” Patcha voiced Mawnco’s own thoughts.

“Oh, I doubt you have,” Hiyee teased. “I’ve been all the way to the newly-conquered South and all the way up the shore to the Sun Capital! I have Rain Riddles from many a day of tedious traveling—not that my escorts didn’t have any tales to tell.”

You’ve hinted at many of them, Mawnco thought. Then he noticed that, despite her ardent support of sharing Rain Riddles, Kooteeck was drawing a Peeskoo with an oversized head and tongue sticking out of its beak on the floor.

“I’ll start,” Hiyee said quickly.

“Of course you will,” Patcha muttered under her breath.

“I once met an astounding quintet of upstanding councilwomen in the South,” he began. Mawnco felt his facial muscles relax with interest as he realized that Hiyee may have actually gathered untold Rain Riddles in his travels. “Each had a single pet, and no two councilwomen had the same type of pet. You’ve seen all these pets before. Each of the five pets was a single solid color: white, green, yellow, red, and violet. They are not dyed, and they are always seen together except for the red one, which only appears when all but the green one disappear. The yellow one cannot be seen at night. The councilwomen must revive this pet from the old one every year in the South Season.”

“What!” Patcha protested. “You’re making this up; there are no such creatures, and I was raised in the most colorful place in the Empire.”

“I fib you not,” Hiyee teased. “This is a real story. Now come on, make me questions!”

“Do the females look different from the males?” Mawnco asked.

“No.”

“Do their babies look different from the adults?” Kooteeck asked.

“No.”

“Were the ones you described adults?”

“Yes.”

 Mawnco traced his finger through the sand, listening intently and prompting questions whenever he saw fit. Eventually Patcha wailed, “Are they even animals?”

“No.”

Kooteeck gasped, “No fair! Animals are pets, not…”

“Plants?” Mawnco finished. Hiyee nodded, obviously holding back a smile.

“It’s a Morning Flower,” Patcha sighed, leaning back onto the ground and slowly applauding the man. “Yellow pollen in the middle, green leaves that close at night, and red fruit borne in the South Season, which has the seeds for next year’s flower.”

“Hmm!” Kooteeck grunted. “My turn.”


[1] Culture: “Rain Riddles” are any jokes, tales, riddles, puzzles, or stories used for entertainment whenever people are forced to spend some time inside on rainy days.


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