This week’s challenge from Mr. Wendig over at TerribleMinds was a good one:
Use the sentence “A novice revenges the rhythm” in a 1000 word story. At the beginning, at the end, somewhere in between… It doesn’t matter.
Well, I did it. And I enjoyed it. So let me know what you think.
Revenging the Rhythm
There was a group of children playing a skipping game in front of the Temple. Alix watched them with a smile, until he heard their song. Then he shuddered. He was probably the only man alive who knew what the words meant.
No, there was at least one more. “Hello, Bale.”
The other man fell into step, and they started toward the door at the rear of the Temple. “How much longer do you think we’ll have to do this?” he asked.
“You ask me that every year.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s not valid. I’m not getting any younger, you know.” Bale shot a glance at his friend. “And neither are you. You look ancient.”
“So? How much longer?”
“I don’t know, Bale. As long as it takes for the debt to be paid.”
Alix rounded on his friend. Every year, they’d had this discussion. Every year for sixty years. “I don’t know, alright?”
Bale looked hurt. “Alright,” he said. “Just trying to make conversation.”
They reached the door in silence and Alix pulled an iron key from his pocket. He took a deep breath and slid it into the lock. It turned smoothly. “Ready?”
The men went inside, and passed through the kitchens and servants areas before coming to the Temple Proper. It was brighter there, illuminated by the Eternal Flame.
It was said that if the Eternal Flame was extinguished, all life in the city would cease. Back when he was an Initiate of the Temple, Alix had questioned Master Vidas about it. “What if it goes out accidentally? What if there’s a gust a wind? What if someone lights it again straight away?” He didn’t get any answers, but he was forbidden to work in the Ritual Space without supervision.
Elder Ceren had tried to reassure him, told him it wouldn’t be forever. The old man was right about that, at least. Four years later, he’d been stripped of his Novice rank and told he wasn’t welcome to return.
Well, what they don’t know hasn’t hurt them yet.
Both men paused to bow their heads to the Flame. Then they looked around the Ritual Space. Drums and cymbals lay in a Circle, and a large basin of water sat in the centre. In a dozen hours, the Temple Priests would conduct the Ritual of Healing, a Ritual designed to improve Sun’s health and bring Her warmth back to the world. But first, Alix and Bale had their own Ritual to perform.
Bale sat in front of a drum at the top of the Circle. Alix stood in the centre and rested his hands on the edges of the pool of water.
They waited until their bones stopped aching and their muscles grew strong, until their spines straightened and their vision grew sharp. They waited until they heard screaming.
Elder Ceren knelt at the foot of the Circle. His head was thrown back and his chest was bare and bloody. On the stone floor in front of him was his still beating heart.
Alix started to dance.
Bale’s drumbeat was fast and furious, loud enough to drown out the Elder’s screams. Alix matched the rhythm with his body. He danced like he was young, his Novice robes whipping about him as he turned and twisted, leapt and spun.
Once, he’d been the Novice chosen to dance the Ritual of Healing. Now, he danced that day in reverse. Now, he danced the Ritual of Undoing.
The screaming stopped. Elder Ceren’s heart fell into his chest, and his flesh and robes were made whole. Ghostly figures appeared around the Circle. Initiates and Novices, Masters and Elders. All the Priests Alix remembered from his youth were watching.
At the foot of the Circle knelt a boy in Initiate robes. Like the, his heart beat a rhythm on the cold stone floor. Alix danced toward the boy, a knife in his hand. He thrust the bloody blade into the boy’s wound. Once. Twice. The heart fell back to its place. A final thrust and Alix danced away, his knife clean and new.
The drumbeats stuttered.
Something was wrong with Bale’s drum. The rhythm was broken. The rhythm was wrong. And if the rhythm was wrong, the dance was wrong. If the dance was wrong, the Sun wouldn’t Heal.
The rhythm must be revenged.
A sacrifice must be offered.
The drum slowed. Alix danced to the sluggish beat. The Ritual was drawing to its beginning.
The drum stopped.
Alix stopped, his hands on the edge of the pool.
His thoughts turned to Master Vidas. It was Master Vidas who gave Bale the faulty drum, Master Vidas who failed to bless the Initiate Sacrifice in case something went wrong, and Master Vidas who made amends by exiling Alix and Bale.
But it was Elder Ceren who had been taken as Her punishment.
Sixty years. For sixty years, Alix and Bale had danced the Ritual of Undoing on Bane Night, doing penance for the wrong that had been done to Sun and to the Elder. But now they were old.
How much penance did She need?
“Did it work?”
Alix looked over to answer him, but the words froze on his tongue. Standing behind Bale was the ghost of Elder Ceren.
“Thank you,” the Elder said. His body filled with golden light, shimmered, and disappeared.
“Yes,” Alix whispered. “It worked.”
The sun was up when they left the Temple. They said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.
The children were back at their game when Alix reached the main road. For a moment he considered telling them to change the last line of their rhyme. Then he laughed, the first laugh he’d had in a long, long time, and kept walking. Behind him, their song went on.
An Initiate gets what he’s given
A Novice revenges the rhythm
A Master pretends
That he’s made amends
But an Elder is never forgiven