The following is a short story that preludes a series of novels entitled HIGHSIX:
The mute felt no emotion and only bowed to his Elder as he accepted his duty and took the day’s worth of provisions in a pack. No words were exchanged between him and his fellow Demonks because no one in The Vessel Monastery had a tongue to speak with.
They wrapped him with skins all over, covering his face until his eyes were of no more use and so he closed them and began the prayer within his head to The First God.
‘Keep me in Your sight,’ he demanded internally. ‘Hold me within Your focus and do not let me stray from the favor of Your gaze.’
Despite his layers, he felt the rush of dead air envelop him and heard the thick doors of the monastery shut behind him. He began his walk, ridding himself of memories. They would not last him for more than a hundred steps. Only Mountain was always changing and at this altitude, the highest known point in The Land of SIX, memory would surely lead to a frozen death. Instead, he repeated the prayer, ‘Keep me in Your sight,’ and took each step in faith as he waited for The God of Eyes to show him what he needed to see.
There was much to fear on Only Mountain for those that were still capable of that emotion. Giant arctic eagles, called sampry, with a wingspan over six times the height of a man, nested here. They dug holes with their beaks into the hard rock above where the clouds would reach and uprooted whole trees to make their nests. They chewed their prey into a pulp before letting the remains dribble out and into the mouths of their young.
Often, this prey was people.
Hopefuls who wished to show themselves faithful to The God of Eyes would set out annually from the village towns at the base of Only Mountain for The Joyous Morn. As the sun rose, willing men and women, and often unwilling teens, were sent up the mountain all together in hopes that The First God would find them in her favor.
Their numbers were usually in the hundreds upon departure and only about half on average made it to The Tear Drop. From there, only a fraction continued on and then only a fraction of that fraction made it through the whiteout. The storm of snow was always running above and it was only from above the clouds and their constant flurries that the tip of Only Mountain could be seen.
Within the whiteout and around The Tear Drop, the travelers weren’t safe from the sampry, but above the clouds, death was considered certain. Unless The God of Eyes intervened.
The mute continued over the rocks without sight. The ground was becoming steeper as he went and he kept his pace as even as he could so as not to fall in to a run down the mountain. At any moment the ground could give out below him and he could find himself falling to his death, but he felt this wouldn’t happen. His god had yet to show him anything, but he thought the prayer again and again to push any thoughts from his mind.
When he was hardly a man, his father had pushed him out of his home, not caring whether he trekked up Only or made his way south into the Orange Lands or even if he stayed in The Lashes and begged for food. His father never liked him, but to be fair he never liked his father. His mother was shrewd and lost interest in him once he was taller than her.
He set off on The Joyous Morn with the rest of them. He saw a woman break her leg falling in between uneven rocks and disregarded her like the rest of them. He saw a cougar eat a man alive, even heard his bones crunching. He saw a boy slip off the edge and disappear between the evergreens below. By the time he reached The Tear Drop, he didn’t recognize anyone.
They were served tall glasses that steamed with warmth. He was hungry and thirsty and would have drunk the entire glass if he hadn’t closed his eyes to pray first.
‘Keep me in Your sight, my God,’ he thought. ‘Show me Your path so that I might follow You.’
Before he could open his eyes, he felt his skin rush with warmth and his stomach shrink out of discomfort. His eyes remained squeezed shut as the world formed around him. From above, he saw himself with his head bent over the steam of his drink. All around him, the others moved in a flurry of speed. They downed their drinks and filled their cups again and again with pitchers. They laughed maniacally, slapping each other, hugging each other, and eventually they were on top of the tables, dancing and shedding their clothes. All around him, they became naked and he watched as his body was still and all of the others thrashed their way in and out of each other, rolling on the ground, bent over tables and clumped together in piles with their mouths sucking each other.
They passed out one by one, laying atop each other and snoring away their drunkenness. It wasn’t until they were all immobile, though it lasted only seconds, that his mind shot back in to his body. He ran in to the cold rushing air, stepping over their bodies to get there.
He ran through the night, through the whiteout and up past the top of the clouds in frenzy. He didn’t know about the sampry then. He didn’t see one then and learned of their existence only after his exhausted and near dead body crawled to the doors of The Vessel Monastery.
Still no sight from his god, but he prayed none the less until he could mistake the beating of wings above him for wind no longer.
‘Do what You would,’ he thought, maintaining pace. ‘Nothing happens outside Your will.’
Just as before, his mind shot from himself and from above he saw his body walking just steps away from a drop off with a mile of empty air above where the whiteout began.
The undeniable screech of a sampry slit the air.
‘Your will alone,’ he thought as he lunged himself off the cliff. Against the wind, the mute soared and saw his skins shedding, flying up, away from him. The wind fought gravity as his body pushed and pulled simultaneously. He shot back in to his blinded self and as he entered the whiteout, his fingers touched feathers.