The following is a short story that preludes a series of novels entitled HIGHSIX:
The sun was coming up and Master Grabe had yet to sleep. He’d replaced the candles once and they were already melted through. He moved to the window, thankful for the new light, and sat on the sill to continue reading.
‘By this time, I lost my ability to control my tongue so I stopped using it. My mates eventually let me be, though I’d hear them talking. It mattered none. I could see the logical conclusion to this curse and knew that biting my tongue was only biding my time. Soon, I will be found out for what I have chosen. Each day that passes I can feel the growth of anxiety looming over me ever more. It is all I think about. I know it will come and it will be terrible, but I will laugh through all of it. One can not be caught if they do not allow themselves to fall. The terror that comes from doubt is absolutely necessary. Terror is hilarious. SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES.’
Master Grabe didn’t hear the knock on his door, the sound of it creaking open and shut or the sound of his name being called. His eyes rose from the page only once out of his peripheral vision he noticed his page standing there.
He whipped his neck and was surprised at the bitterness in his voice. “What?”
“Are you ill?” asked Bo.
The kid looked hurt. “No, no, I’m sorry, I’m just…studying. What is it?”
“The bells have rung. Your robes are ready.”
Master Grabe looked out the window. The sun was not coming up, but had already come. It was free of the trees of The Hanging Jungle and well passed the point of his usual waking.
“You seem ill. Do you need tea? I can bring you breakfast if you wish.”
“No,” said Master Grabe. “I mean…no tea, but yes. I am ill. Leave me for the day, but bring me lunch after you eat. Cancel my classes.”
“But Master, it’s the seventh day. You are due to speak at-”
“Ill,” said Master Grabe. “Tell them. Go.”
Bo bowed and left him to his scroll. The paper was so long and he had been careless in rerolling it as he read. The top hung from his fingers and was snaked along the floor. He blinked his eyes to return them to focus and continued reading.
‘Our world is a lie. The histories teach the character of my blessed Fourth God as chaotic and evil, but in truth, Jokkol is the only consistent God of The High SIX. Realism is not evil no matter how harsh that reality may be. What separates The God of Teeth from the others is His or Her indifference to self. Each of the other is selfish and it is due to this distinction that they have shunned Jokkol. They refuse to recognize truth outside of what supports them as most deserving and just to hold the first place of birth order and power. They refuse to acknowledge their inconsistencies, refuse to respond to or acknowledge any question that would challenge their supremacy. It is not possible to worship all of The High SIX and any combination of the gods is equally impossible. It is taught that if you do not give yourself to a God than you are sent to The Void for all eternity to exist in nothing, becoming nothing yourself. If this is your only concern in this world then you are just as selfish as any of the other five gods. Those that give themselves to Jokkol are promised nothing in life after this. Is not that the most selfless way to live? To abandon your hopes of salvation and instead embrace the ambiguous? I have found my savior and I have rejected the silly presumptions of gods that can’t back what they promise. Sarora is a slut. Ethaum is a coward. Nithya is a prude, Mamoth is a tyrant and Xzicxy is the worst of all. The God of Tongue is a liar. I have never felt Xzicxy’s presence. I have been forced to worship the silly Green God my entire life and it was not until I learned of the great Orange God that I felt my spirit was touched. I know I will be excommunicated, but I have no fear. I laugh at fear. Fear is hilarious. I know I will be tortured. Torture too is hilarious and each act of revolt will bring me closer to my God. With every attempt to return me to Xzicxy, with every lash or beat or bruise, with every undue injury and refused kindness, I will worship Jokkol, my God of Teeth, my Orange God, The Fourth God, the Only God, and I will close my eyes and imagine Him, imagine Her, smiling, grinning their beautiful teeth. I will revel in their laughter. I will be saved! SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES, SEVILLIVES.’
Master Grabe looked out over The Hanging Jungle after he read the signature at the end of the scroll.
The word ‘Vonx’ looped in his mind and he couldn’t remember his ex-student’s actual name. He watched the sun rise until he could see it no longer and then fell asleep on the window sill not realizing he hadn’t prayed to The God of Tongue in days.
* * * * * *
On the southwest side of SIX where the Desert of Nails ends and the Orange Lands begin, Vonx awoke because the backs of his hands were throbbing. He opened his eyes to see the earth moving below him and was confused. Instead of sand, it was dirt. He moved his hands from sliding against the ground to see their backs black with dirt and scabbed blood, but he forgot about them once he saw the live bed of scales he laid on.
“Are you afraid?” he heard and looked up to see a black silhouette floating ahead, moving backward as if leading the bobbing head of the giant desert lizard.
Vonx tried to move his mouth, but it was so dry that the skin of his lips tore away.
“You are afraid,” said the shadowy figure.
It was light out, but there was shade. Above the clouds covered the sun and a crack of lightning answered for him. Rain fell and stung his raw back.
“I have saved you. Go back to sleep. You will be treated soon.”
Vonx tried to open his mouth again, but the fatigue from his raised neck was too much and so he let his head fall back to the scales.
He came to inside a hut with the heat now burning his front instead of back. Thunder rumbled and rain clashed above him.
“Sevil lives,” he heard and noticed then that he was suspended in a net, lying on his chest with his arms dangling. Smoke entered his lungs and the voice continued the chant. “Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives, Sevil lives.”
Below him, a circle of orange skinned men and women kneeled, naked except for the animal bones and teeth that hung from them. Together, they all took up the chant.
“SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES!”
The smoke became thick and suffocating. His torso became hot and with the swaying of the net he turned his neck to see a fire burning below him.
“Sevil lives,” said the first voice. He turned his neck to see the Master of Teeth. The man too was covered completely with the traditional orange pollen of the virral flower, but unlike the others, his face was covered with a mask composed all of teeth. There were hundreds of them that connected into a rotting mosaic of yellow, brown and black.
“SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES, SEVIL LIVES!”
The net lowered and Vonx’s body jolted toward the flame, stopping hardly above the reaching tip. “No! No!” he yelled and laughter filled the hut.
“NO, NO, NO, NO!” the Orange people chanted before falling back in to laughter.
The Master of Teeth silenced them by waving his skull mounted staff over the fire beneath Vonx who recognized the skull and noticed then the bloody lizard skin to the side. Below him in a circle around the fire, the Orange people held up their dripping meat.
Vonx’s heart beat furiously. “No!” he screamed again. The fire burned intensely and he tried to move his arms, but his body didn’t respond. He tried his legs and then his back and shoulders, but nothing happened. His fingers and toes, hands and feet, all played dead. He rolled his neck around desperately.
“No scream,” said The Master of Teeth. “Laugh.”