Below, please find my entry in Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge: writing the first 200 words of a story which other writers will finish.
House of Memory
by Courtney Cantrell, Renee Elizabeths, Simon B., and ?
“I was cleaning bean sprouts when I heard the news.”
As Feral’s voice wavered out into the silence of the crowd, Berien Ghantek squirmed in his seat. The new boots pinched, and the formal shirt’s stiff collar made his neck itch. He tightened his grip on the banner pole. Above his head, the bright red flag twitched. If he kept his hands on the pole and his mind on his duty, he wouldn’t give in to the urge to scratch.
“One remembers every detail of that moment.” Feral cleared her throat, but her ancient voice remained raspy. “The earthy scent of the sprouts. The tiny snapping sounds as they broke beneath my clumsy fingers. The cold splash of water at the pump. I was but a young girl then, but we Ghanteki have not forgotten. As every year, today we remember and raise our house standard to our queen, Alarena Bright-Eye. May her rest be peaceful, her rising soon, and her vengeance entire.”
“SHE SHALL RISE,” replied all of House Ghantek.
Trembling, Berien got to his feet. Although he forced his gaze to stay on Feral, he could feel the more than five hundred Ghanteki eyes shift to his face.
Story continued by Renee Elizabeths:
“H-house Ghantek remembers the F-f-fallen Queen!” he stammered.
Annoyance flashed in Feral’s eyes, but the crowd shouted their response anyway. As she’d said herself, they’d been doing this for decades now, and they only had the one line to remember anyway.
His throat got tight and Berien swallowed a cough as she began her second reading. Feral would have him scrubbed raw and purified every day for a month if she decided he hadn’t taken this seriously.
It was just too hot. Couldn’t Queen Alarena have waited a few weeks until autumn to die?
Of course, then it would probably be raining.
The crowd shouted again and Feral began her third reading, this one about the battle to come. Her words washed over him, filling Berien’s ears without bothering to catch his attention. It was almost over now.
“House Ghantek defen–” The third standard-bearer cut off with a squeak.
Berien followed his gaze to the prayer tower at the back of the crowd. The priest there, a new man fresh from the monastery, stood and threw off his ceremonial robes.
“SHE SHALL RISE!” shrieked his withered corpse.
Thunder boomed, shaking the world, and the altar burst into white-hot flame.
Simon B. continued with:
The crowd gasped and turned as one. Berien watched with them in disbelief as a dozen robed acolytes tore themselves away from the throng and joined the skeletal figure upon the tower. The bearer who’d been interrupted – a blade-sworn whose name he couldn’t remember – had fallen to his knees, repeating his pledge over and over.
Feral was going to go absolutely pastoral. Berien looked over his shoulder to her for guidance, grimacing at the collar digging harshly into his neck.
The old matriarch stared dumbly past him. Her usually stern expression was gone; she stood, transfixed by the flames, as horror and confusion fought for purchase on her face.
A scream snapped Berien’s attention back to the prayer tower. The group of priests were pushing back into the crowd. A flash of steel, another shriek – more urgent, this time.
They’d armed themselves.
Berien laid down the Ghanteki standard as respectfully as he could and felt an illicit flush of relief as he realised he wouldn’t be leading the parade later on. He pulled open his shirt, unfastened his rapier and stepped down from the stage, making his way deftly through the surging, pressing bodies of the crowd.
Decorum be damned.
Who’s next? : )