The following is a short story that preludes a series of novels entitled HIGHSIX:
Master Grabe never cared for Tinn. The boy paid his lectures no attention, instead using the course book to conceal alternate study. Grabe would let him, though. His students weren’t slaves. If they wanted to learn, they would. If they didn’t it was between them and The God of Tongue. As the youngest Master in the Hall of Tongue, he was alone in this practice.
Tinn’s hair was orange and over the school year it grew until it hung over his face and around his head like a mushroom. The boy’s hygiene was bad, which Grabe was able to perceive from the empty seats around him.
While Tinn paid no attention, he did pass his oral exams flawlessly and his lecture on the similarities between ‘The Secondary Gods’ was inspired, though it infuriated the more devout students who called him blasphemous for comparing Mamoth and Jokkol to Xzicxy.
Grabe never pictured Tinn becoming an excommunicate, but it made sense.
Supposedly, Tinn was worshipping The God of Teeth. Acknowledgement of the other gods of The High SIX was not forbidden, but actual worship was dangerous, especially worship to arguably the most dangerous of the SIX.
Any books that documented or mapped the dangerous Orange Lands were mysteriously absent from the library shelves. Other books not completely dedicated to the Orange God, but with at least sections dedicated to him were missing those pages. Every copy of ‘The Short Lives of Jokkol’ was gone as well as field journals documenting the mostly ruined country to the southwest of Center City. Other books that depicted illustrations of Jokkol were defaced with crowns atop his head. Most damning though was the phrase ‘SEVILLIVES’ he had scratched in to the margins.
That same phrase was what Tinn’s bunking mates claimed he spoke in his sleep. Over and again they woke Tinn from muttering unintelligibly. Each time he sat up and spoke the words, eyes still closed, saying, “SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES.”
The worship of The God of Teeth could not be tolerated. Master Grabe knew already the boy would lose an eye and undergo deprogramming with Master Tyliss. Grabe didn’t like to even look at Tyliss let alone hear the beast speak. If it were Grabe in Tinn’s position, he would have kept the eye and embraced excommunication. No one came back from the desert. Whatever was there though, he would have preferred to meet with both eyes functional. Besides, another offense he’d be blind and after that he’d be blind in the desert.
Master Grabe entered the Sanctuary of Tongue just as Master Tyliss was putting the knife to Tinn’s back. The Sanctuary made his stomach turn with vertigo. The ceiling was so high that his poor vision blurred it, obstructing the view of how high it truly went, though it made him sick none the less.
Surrounding the altar was the rest of the masters. They wore the traditional green cloaks, hood up, and Grabe made sure to pull his own hood up before he joined them.
Master Tyliss held a strip of Tinn’s skin high in the air as he pulled it back, slicing with the knife under to pull more. Grabe had seen this before, but it was the first time the excommunicate had ever been silent for the process.
Not only did this mean that Tinn had passed on removing an eye for penance to The God of Tongue, but it meant that the boy would be meeting The Desert of Nails soon. First Master Tyliss would have to finish flaying the X off his ex-student’s back. Then, Tinn would be paraded through the Budded Isles and Meral City where he would be whipped, beat and stoned. If he made it to The Desert of Nails alive, his feet wouldn’t get him very far.
Master Grabe turned around. Whether it was the vertigo of the endless ceiling or Tinn’s silence that was making him dizzy he didn’t know, but he was sure now that losing an eye would have been the smarter choice.
Back in his quarters, Grabe’s mind was a drought. He chose sleep over prayer though the sun was still up.
* * * * * *
No matter how many times he insisted they called him Vonx they wouldn’t.
“Out the boat, Tinny,” demanded the shirtless enforcer. “Time to see how little mercy your God of Teeth has.”
Vonx didn’t respond and so he got another crack to the head. The stick had been used on him so many times that this time it broke and Vonx laughed. “Sevil lives,” he said, but was shut up from repeating it all four times with a fist to the temple. His vision was fuzzy before, but this time blood obstructed him.
The enforcer pulled him off the boat to the sandy beach and Vonx found his footing only after disregarding his vision. They walked through the brush until the sun was in the sky behind them. The vegetation dissipated until there was only sandy wind and then the enforcer stopped them.
His hands were bound with rope to another excommunicate’s neck behind him. Vonx was the only one out of the three with eyes. He hadn’t spoken to either of them though they spoke plenty. One was excommunicated for his third rape, the other for his third murder and he imagined them doing this blind, laughing as they spoke. Bound and blind, they could only curse him.
They stopped once there was no shade and the sun stung his back.
“The three of you are now free,” said Master Ohm. “Before you is The Desert of Nails. The God of Tongue is forgiving to an extent, but you have each proven yourselves unwilling to reform. I will bless you with water and I will pray for you that The God of Hands may find mercy on your damaged souls.”
Master Ohm poured water in to each of the blind men’s mouths, but Vonx kept his mouth shut and head down.
“Is your faith so strong in The Fourth God that you refuse drink from The Third?”
Vonx raised his head. “The God of Tongue can tongue my ass.”
The enforcer raised his hand, but Master Ohm stopped him by waving his own. “What is it about The God of Teeth that has sealed your faith? Has not The God of Tongue spoken to you?”
Vonx craned his neck and tried to collect saliva to spit, but only the sand on his lips sputtered off.
“You are damned. May your death be slow and merciless.”
Vonx laughed, but it turned in to a cough bringing blood in to his mouth. “Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives,” he said weakly before splattering Master Ohm’s face with blood.
The enforcer’s fist punched through his jaw easily and Vonx hit the sand.
When he opened his eyes, his hands were no longer bound. He raised himself from the sand and after a moment of wobbling managed to stay on his feet. The wind had erased the footprints and the sun was high in the sky. His back stung terribly from his lost skin, but his mouth was so dry he couldn’t swallow. He took a step, then another, and then broke in to a jog to avoid falling which ended with his face in the sand.
“I renounce the first,” said Vonx as he clawed the desert sand and used it to slide himself forward. “I renounce the second and the third.” He swung his other arm out and dug his fingers in to the sand. “I renounce the fifth and the sixth.” He pulled himself forward again, the desert cutting his bare chest. “My life for You Jokkol. My life for You, The Fourth God, The Laughing God, The Orange God. Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives!”
The sun was bright and blinding and everything hurt, but the darkness came easily and Vonx let it take him, praying to Teeth and laughing himself into unconsciousness.