The Time Capsule

Short story for the r/fantasywriters December challenge: limit of 300 words.

Everyone was drunk. Villagers lit candles, traded hats, and beat spoons against wooden bowls. They gathered around the giant spruce that towered over their houses, taking shelter from the rain under its canopy. Its needles had gone a rosy purple, and knife-blade feathers were caught in its bark.

A priestess in fox fur robes reached into the spruce’s hollow and pried out a pearly black egg the size of a man’s head. Her lord stood beside her. Between sips of beer, he waved a ceremonial sword.

“Behold,” said the priestess. “Our goddess spreads her wings over us.”

In the year of the sparrow, the egg had contained a broken stalk of wheat, and their lord had stored provisions in time for the dry summer that followed. In the year of the gull, they found blood-soaked velvet ribbons, and the king’s tax collectors turned up a fortnight later with a list of names. In the year of the crane, the egg had been filled with fireflies. No one knew what they meant.

The lord tottered as the priestess bowed low, offering the egg to him to open. His fingers slipped over its smooth shell, so he smashed it against the lip of his tanker.

The egg was empty.

The lord turned his sword on the priestess. “What have you done?”

Villagers hooted. A crone threw her spoon at the lord, and a dozen others copied her. A drunkard overturned a table, spilling beer and lamp-oil against the giant spruce. The priestess gave the tree a knowing glance, and then threw a candle against it.

Flames whooshed up the spruce’s trunk, leaping from the oil-soaked bark to its needles. They curled like fingers, crackled, and released a shower of violet sparks.

The villagers stood, red-faced and silent, as their future burned.

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