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The Seventh Rule
A short story by Cheeseburger Brown
CHAPTERS 1|2|3|4|5|6|7
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The Seventh Rule, a short story by Cheeseburger Brown; illustration by Matthew Hemming

PLEASE NOTE: This story contains scenes of violence. Reader discretion is advised.

I.

They say there is a spot so high that above a man's head would be a ceiling of blue emptiness no ladder can touch.

They say that hanging there, beyond reach, is an unblinking ball of flames.

They say also that there are great bodies of smoke up there, and when the bodies of smoke gather up together they weep droplets of water, and the tops of exposed things become wet in this way.

I doubt it. I believe any serious man would doubt it. And I have been a man for more than ten sleeps; even now my member is nearly healed. I have been on many hunts, and I have wandered far. Allow me to assure you: there is no such thing as sky.

I believed it as a boy. Elders tell such stories around the vents. Fantastic stories -- wonders witnessed, demons slain, heroes dispatched on quests to the overworld and dying in noble ways...

I too aspire to die in a noble way.

The overworld is real, certainly, but it is not so wild or ridiculous as they say. I have seen it. There is no ball of flames or blue emptiness, but there are many, many clans there composed of many, many families. Their ways are strange and wrong. They have lost their senses because they live too high up.

We, on the other hand, remain true. The roots beneath the overworld are our country. Our lives are hard but they are good. We fight and love and die in these tunnels the overworlders abandoned long ago. They turned their back on nature, but my people embrace it. In the roots we live according to the old ways, the ways long forsaken in the bright and busy above.

The roots are very beautiful. They are straight and they are keen in a way that men and animals are not. Their angles are true, their direction sure. Divine, they are, and rectilinear beyond all craft.

Some are marked by sacred arrows. Others have holy caution stripes.

It is true that some of the root clans paint images for their own purposes on the walls, but this disgusts my people. The roots are not for men to alter. The roots are older and stronger than men, and I believe they punish image-makers by caving in on them or playing shadow tricks on them.

The waters paint, too. They bleed through the walls and draw whorls of black stink or gay blossoms of orange burn or chalky white dots. The spirits communicate with my people in this way. By reading the marks, we learn about the future -- about births and traffic conditions, or evil.




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