Warm, red, liquid ran in rivulets through the hills and valleys of my laughter. Like a cell within plasma, I hung suspended beneath the eyes of Gods. They laughed with me, their child of the chosen, their prophet, their ultimate sacrifice. Gladly I died for the sins of my brothers, for the ancient sins birthed of Colony. Hundreds of yards above, huge insects, glowing with hues of crimson-streaked blue, swarmed in a hurricane of falling fire. Swirling with embers, they framed a clear patch of night sky like angelic sentinels, waiting to guide my spirit home.
I, Oliver the fourth, great grandson of Oliver the first, looked into the eyes of my killer, and though my soul slipped through cracks of flesh, my smile remained locked in eternity.
—One day prior outside of Portertown—
Startled, the large insect took wing faster than I would have thought possible. A shadow fell across my brow, and I turned with my hand still poised in midair. I had been so close to finally touching one of these elusive, ethereal insects.
“Oliver, it’s almost night.” Nellie my younger sister of six years, emerged from around the trail’s curve, unaware of the forbidden encounter.
She did not have the God’s gift of copper hair as I did, a sign of our divinity instead she was cursed with the dreadful glint of flaxen locks. Despite her sinful nature, she gave my raised hand an innocent, wondering stare. Long ago she learned to never look me in the eye.
“What’s wrong?” she said, her smile fading with my frustration.
I borrowed her smile, lowered my hand, and said, “Nothing. What are you doing out here?”
“You’re supposed to be giving tonight’s sermon.” She said it demurely, being careful to keep her eyes averted.
My mother still coddled her too much, made her feel a part of this family, much to my disapproval. And much to my annoyance, I realized that she was right; I had lost track of time because of the irisfly.
“Go back,” I commanded, waving her away. “Tell mother I’ll be there soon.”
She began to walk away faster than she had come.
“Wait,” I said. She stopped, but didn’t turn. “And don’t forget—”
“I know,” she interrupted. “I promise I won’t join the congregation.”
With a quick glance of her blue eyes, and a flash of tauntingly yellow hair, she departed.
“Gods be with you, little sister,” I whispered. “May they have mercy on your soul.”
Everyone was faithfully gathered near the fire ring under the waning light of dusk when I arrived, all wearing the tarp loincloths of the chosen.
“My brothers,” I said, opening my arms robed in roughly woven garb. “To the glory of the Gods, and the glory of Colony.”
“Glory of the Gods! To the glory of Colony,” all sixty of them repeated dutifully. Firelight made their features dance as if eternal flame burned beneath their skin.
I stepped up to our makeshift pulpit under the canopy of our temple, the enormous bombfruit trees. Their leaves spanned for miles above our heads, creating a rustling, undulating emerald sea that was slashed with sunlight by day, and melted into a deep, rhythmic, starless, darkness by night.
“We stand beneath the oceans of redemption.” I could see their eyes close and bodies quiver as the tone of my voice lowered with spiritual fervor. “Tonight we sacrifice to Taranis of the sacred triad, and to the Holy Trinity. Amen.”
On cue, the canopy of our temple groaned in wild air currents two thousand feet overhead. Giant leaves rolled like thunderous drums of Thor, and my voice rose to match it. “In the words of Isaiah, all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
More, “Amens,”and swaying half-naked bodies.
“Dukkha binds us all to the sufferings of life. Do not presume to question the authority of the Gods, for they held us in the womb of Colony to do unto as they pleased, and only the chosen survived the cleansing fires. But there are those among us who brand themselves dissenters, rebels, those that turned from their Gods, disobeyed the all mighty Colony, and have brought evil upon us!”
Everyone was really getting riled up now, all but my mother who stood silently, obediently, near the edge of the group, patient for her command. It was time.
“Brothers,” I yelled, “sisters! Do we worship the destructive vinnie that creates gold in its wake, and churns the fertile soil of our souls into a bleak landscape littered with the fragments of our morality?”
A chorus of, “No,” was hurled at me as if the word tasted of bile.
“Do we worship the golden gun, the enforcer of none and destroyer of all?”
Again, “No,” louder, more ferociously.
“Do we eat the vile flesh of the golden bombfruit?”
Not waiting for the obvious chant to follow, I shouted, “Bring forth the sacrifice!”
My mother disappeared for a few moments, someone threw more strips of bombfruit bark upon the fire, and then she reappeared, pushing a blindfolded, entirely naked, figure before her. The girl’s thin body trembled, her knees gave way, and she fell to the mossy ground. With dignity, I stepped off the stone pulpit and strode towards her quivering back. Silence began to ripple along with my cloak as I approached our saving grace.
“With your sacrifice,” I said to the weeping girl, “our sins will wash away. The Gods will once more bless Colony and bring about the change necessary to rid us of this plague of disbelievers.”
My hand snatched the scrap of hide from her eyes and with zealous conviction I stared into the infernal depths of my sister’s soul.