10 weeks, 5 authors, 1 story. In To Be Continued… I asked 5 authors (self-published and traditionally published alike) to write a story together based on my prompts, without knowing about each other. They each had 2 weeks to write their part before I forwarded it to the next person to continue. Each part is somewhere between 500 – 1000 words long. So, are you ready to continue the story?
Part 1: Faye went up to the mountains to banish a discord. On her way back she accidentally dropped her ocarina which left her unprotected. We’ve left her facing a decision: to go back to the conductors, face her shame and get a replacement for her broken ocarina or do something else?
Part 2: Faye decides to go to the aqueduct where she spent a big part of her childhood, dreaming to be a harmoniser. But then suddenly another discord appeared and spoke.
The story is To Be Continued by:
Justin Lee Anderson
Born in Edinburgh, Justin spent a decade of his childhood bouncing around the US, following his dad’s professional football (soccer) career. He returned to the Scottish capital in his teens and, after a few brief sojourns to Dundee (for an English degree) and the South of France (for his family), settled back in the city that’s always been ‘home’, where he lives with his Brady Bunch family in a permanent state of happy chaos.In over 15 years of writing and editing for a living, he’s done everything from restaurant, theatre and comedy reviews to training manuals and magazines, including four years as the writer, editor and photographer for an Edinburgh guidebook.He has the same initials as the Justice League of America, and his favourite writers are Neil Gaiman, Aaron Sorkin, Joe Abercrombie and Joss Whedon, in no particular order.He misses Firefly.
The New Sound – Part 3
It was barely a voice, hardly language at all. Minor chords played off key; claws on cold slate. Faye winced as it grated against her teeth, but the words were clear as if she’d spoken them herself.
“Little bear. You do not belong.”
Faye rocked backwards, instinctively moving away from the writhing black chaos. Discords did not speak. Discords did not appear out of thin air.
Faye reached for her training. She had to suppress her shock, her fear, her curiosity, and focus. She couldn’t run. It was between her and the door. Though it grew slightly with every heartbeat, it was small, and a small discord should be easy to dissipate. She just needed an instrument. Her empty pouch hung heavily at her side. But this was why she’d come here.
Paws trembling, she scrabbled at the door of the storage cupboard. The rusted old lock fell open as it always had. Dank air breathed out, and despite herself, Faye felt a moment of familiarity, of comfort. She found the switch and filled the little space with light. Dark iron shelves down each side were sparsely filled. A few old tools, some cleaning equipment ironically coated in dust – little of import to anyone except her. She knew the real treasure kept here.
Faye glanced over her shoulder to confirm the discord hadn’t moved closer. It remained exactly where it was, blocking her exit. Trapping her here. Growing.
She dived into the back corner, to the little wooden box skulking in the shadows of the bottom shelf. Faye blew off the dust and carefully slid the lock open. It would be all right. She just needed…
A dark, cold terror gripped her. Instinctively, she’d realised it felt wrong: too light. But the sight of the empty box still hit her like a blade in the chest. The illegal, claw-carved wooden ocarina her mother had bought on the black market – the only chance she had of dispelling the strange, sentient discord – was gone.
And with it, the only chance she had to survive. Unaddressed, the discord would grow until it filled the room. Erin, the city’s harmonizer, wouldn’t even become aware of it until it burst from the confines of this dark little space, probably taking half the aquaduct with it. By then, Faye would be gone.
Fear took her. She slumped to the floor of the cupboard, trembling. How had this happened? Why now, when she was unarmed? Was this what the conductors meant when they said discords would find her when she was vulnerable?
Maybe. Maybe this was how harmonizers died. Alone and powerless.
Her doubts came rushing back. If she’d been human, or foxkin, maybe she would have a chance. But her voice was not enough. It could not carry the tune she needed to diffuse this little thing, which would be so easily dispelled with the right song.
Outside the cupboard, she watched it stretch and grow. If only she’d been more careful. If only she’d put the ocarina back in her pouch as soon as the song was done.
A dark, low hum caught the edge of Faye’s attention. It was hard to discern, at first, from the scratching and crackling of the discord, but it was there. It was definitely there. A deep, resonant hum. Was it mechanical? Some part of the aquaduct? No, she knew every sound this place made like she knew her mother’s scent. This was not normal. And it was getting louder.
Footsteps. On the stairs? Oh, thank the Composer, someone was coming! They could fetch Erin and maybe, maybe she would have time to dispel the discord. Even if she couldn’t save Faye, maybe she could save the aquaduct.
She heard the maintenance room door swing open, and the hum grew louder still.
“Get help!” Faye called. “Get Erin, the harmonizer! Hurry!”
But there was no response. No sound at all, beyond the rising hum, which, as it grew, Faye felt in her guts, like the vibration of her soul. The hum opened up and became a note. Not a tune, not a song, just one resonant note. A moan, a howl of resistance.
Faye’s fur stood on end as her skin coursed with lightning. She’d never heard such a sound. It was pain and hunger and despair and… life. Her heart pounded in her chest as she crept toward the cupboard door to see what was making such an impossible sound. It paused for a moment, a breath, then began again – a little higher, a little louder, a little more resolute.
The discord flinched. It stopped growing and rattled in what Faye might have called pain. She’d never seen a discord react like this. The songs were written to calm them. To distract and destroy them. But this note, this cry was somehow shackling it, holding it still and forcing it to heel.
Another breath, another moment of silence as deep as a well, and the voice returned. This time even stronger, wilder. Now it spoke of love, and strength and passion.
The discord shook like rattling glass. Its slick black centre trembled and its smoking tendrils retracted, like a dying insect’s limbs. It hovered there, static, for a terrible moment.
Then it broke.
A shattering wave of sparks and smoke pulsed out from the heart of the discord, and it was gone, as if it had never been.
Faye leapt to her feet as the note subsided and scampered into the room. Before her stood an elderly pandakin, breathing heavily. She did not recognise him, which was odd. There were so few pandakin here, she thought she knew them all.
“Hello child,” the old bear smiled. His voice was rusty and cracked at the edges.
Faye’s mind raced with questions, but one above all others demanded to be asked.
“How did you do that?” she asked breathlessly.
He smiled back at her. “You’re the harmonizer, aren’t you? From the mountain?”
Faye nodded urgently. He gestured to her pouch.
“Lost your weapon?”
She shrunk back, ashamed to have to admit her failing.
“Hmph,” he nodded, shuffling over to the bench. “And I suppose they’re still teaching that you can’t harmonize without it.”
Faye didn’t know how to answer. Of course that’s what they taught. If you couldn’t sing or play, you had nothing. And no pandakin had ever had the voice to sing the songs. But that was no song. And the discord was destroyed. How?
The old bear sat down, hands on his knees and sighed. “Let me ask you something. How do you feel when you play the songs?”
How did she feel? She hadn’t really thought about it. Playing, to her, was like breathing clearly. It was freedom and joy. It was happiness. When she played the songs she felt powerful.
“Strong,” she answered.
“Indeed,” he grunted. “Because that’s how the songs make you feel. Like you could do anything?”
She nodded again.
“Let me tell you a secret you won’t learn in that old dome,” he said, gesturing dismissively in the direction of the Conservatoire. “The songs do nothing. Except…” he paused dramatically and leaned forward, “make you feel.”
Faye sat back on the edge of the trough as her legs suddenly wouldn’t hold her. This was madness. Everyone knew the songs were what protected them from the discords. And yet, he’d banished the discord with one raw note.
“Your power ain’t from here,” the old bear stabbed at his throat with a claw, “it’s right here,” he thumped a paw against his chest. “Music is the voice of the heart. It ain’t the tune that matters, it’s the passion.”
“No,” Faye heard herself say. “No, it can’t be.” Music was the fabric of the universe; a gift from the Great Composer, who sang the world into life.
“Ha!” the old bear laughed, lifting a pipe from his pocket. “If you think that’s hard to swallow, wait’ll I tell you what these ‘discords’ really are.”
To Be Continued…
If you’d like to get in contact with Justin Lee Anderson, you can find him on social media:
Justin Lee Anderson‘s latest novel is The Lost War, first book of the Eidyn series! Go and grab it on Amazon by clicking on the cover