8 weeks, 4 authors, 1 story. In this SPFBO Special Edition of To Be Continued… I asked the Finalists to write a story together based on my prompt, without knowing who takes part. 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 – 1500 words long. So, are you ready to explore The Blade of the Gods?
It’s no secret that To Be Continued… is one of my favorite features I ever created for the blog. After three fun editions (The New Sound, The Butcher Queen and The Enchanted Forest) I thought I would ask the SPFBO 6 Finalists if they’d like to play. 8 of them said yes and I decided to run not one, but two stories, 4-4 authors each. They don’t know who takes part in which story or who takes part at all so this will be as much fun for them as for the rest of you!
Story 1, titled Sanctuary of Arrows was a success and a good fun to follow along. It was also the first ever TBC…. story written in first person. If you missed it, I would recommend starting here.
For Story 2 my prompt was: competition (if you followed Story 1, I had the same prompt just to see where the two groups of different authors would go with the same prompt). And then I let the first person to their own devices. As expected, the second story couldn’t be any more different than the first one, and you know, that’s the great thing about writing and books in general. You can just never know where the same idea leads different people.
I’d like to thank each author for taking part and I wish you all the best in the competition! And without further ado, let’s take a dive into the story of The Blade of the Gods, shall we?
Patrick Samphire started writing when he was fourteen years old and thought it would be a good way of getting out of English lessons. It didn’t work, but he kept on writing anyway.
He has lived in Zambia, Guyana, Austria and England. He has been charged at by a buffalo and, once, when he sat on a camel, he cried. He was only a kid. Don’t make this weird.
Patrick has worked as a teacher, an editor and publisher of physics journals, a marketing minion, and a pen pusher (real job!). Now, when he’s not writing, he designs websites and book covers. He has a PhD in theoretical physics, which means that all the unlikely science in his books is actually true. Well, most of it. Well, some of it. Maybe.
Patrick now lives in Wales, U.K. with his wife, the awesome writer Stephanie Burgis, their two sons, and their cat, Pebbles. Right now, in Wales, it is almost certainly raining.
He has published almost twenty short stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Interzone, Strange Horizons, and The Year’s Best Fantasy, as well as one fantasy novel for adults, SHADOW OF A DEAD GOD, and two novels for children, SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS.
It was hard, Marten thought, to guess who felt more miserable, her or her horse. The rain had started at dawn, as it often did out here, a thick, persistent downpour that soaked her through no matter how well she covered up. It had cleared by midday, but now, under the hot, tropical sun, the earth steamed, the forest canopy steamed, and pretty much everything in between steamed too. Marten tugged the hood of her cloak further forward and hunched over her horse. She stank, and she knew it, but at least she didn’t stink any worse than her companions.
Some comfort. She felt like shit.
How many patrols had it been now? A thousand? More? Trudging the same route every few days, like a stick caught under a weir, churning around and around, never changing, trapped.
Of course there was one person who was feeling worse than her or the horse right now.
“We need to move on,” she called towards the bushes.
Predictably, Rayston didn’t let it pass. “Ah, give the kid a break. It’s not his fault his Nessani stomach can’t handle the drink.”
Marten had been patrolling with Rayston for ten years, and she didn’t like the man any better now than she had when they’d first met. Never met a scab he wouldn’t pick at.
The kid – Guithirt was his name, although she doubted she would remember it by tomorrow – appeared from around the bushes. His white skin looked paler than ever.
“Wasn’t the beer,” he muttered. “The meat was bad.”
He was too serious and too easily embarrassed. It made him an easy target for Rayston’s needling. “The meat was bad! How about you, Marten? Was your meat bad?”
Marten just grunted. The truth was, her stomach felt tight and raw, too, and every few minutes it twisted like a snake made of hot coals. It took all her willpower not to grimace. She should never have stayed up drinking with the recruits. Her guts couldn’t take it any longer, but her pride had let her down again. Want to prove you’re not getting old. Her fortieth year wasn’t far off. She’d spent half her life patrolling Keeper’s Reach, and what did she have to show for it? Guts that were eating themselves from the inside out and a purse that was several coins lighter than it had been this time yesterday. Every year she told herself this would be her last season as a soldier, and every year she found she’d saved up nothing. They make it too easy to spend your wages on beer. Old resentments stirred within her, churning the acid in her stomach. She’d never meant to stay in the army this long. Five years she’d signed up for. She’d calculated it perfectly. Five years would be long enough to buy that little bakery on the Street of Sighs, near Blackgate Market. Keep your head down, she’d told herself. Don’t be a hero. Well, she’d done that. Didn’t speak out. Didn’t volunteer. Did what she was told.
The last time she’d been in Carstow, the bakery was gone. Burned down, they’d told her, taking half the street with it. It didn’t matter. She’d been no closer to being able to afford it than when she’d first taken the Senate’s shilling.
She glanced across the clearing and caught Rayston smirking at her.
He knows what beer does to me these days. That’s why he’s taking those jabs at the Nessani boy. He’s aiming them at me.
Marten looked away. All she wanted was to get back to the garrison and hunt out some ginger tea to settle her stomach. Her horse, sensing her tension, moved restlessly under her. She stilled it with a hand.
“We’re late,” she ground out. “Lieutenant Yarrid was expecting us at Ellacott Bluff an hour after noon. The other patrols will be in.”
Marten had been riding this route for almost twenty years. She knew every bump and dip in the ground, every animal path, and every tree. At some point since her last patrol, the giant blackwood on Tarris Ridge had come down, ripping a gash through the forest. The sight had depressed Marten. That blackwood had marked the halfway point of the patrol. It was something she always looked out for, and now it was gone. Time passes. The only thing that hadn’t changed around here was her, and how long until she went the way of the blackwood?
The fall of the great tree had been a kind of omen: not half a mile further on, the Nessani boy had slid from his horse in a hurry and disappeared into the dripping bushes. Their pace had slowed to a crawl ever since. This was the third time he’d gone scrambling for the undergrowth. Marten was surprised there was anything left in his stomach.
Rayston sneered. “Are you scared of Lieutenant Yarrid? What do you think he’s going to do?”
Lieutenant Yarrid wouldn’t do anything, of course. The man had no idea of command. His father had bought him a commission, more to get him out of Carstow, Marten suspected, than because he thought the army was a good fit for his son.
“I’ve had enough of this rain. Saddle up. We’re moving out.” She didn’t wait for the others to follow.
Keeper’s Reach had once been the hunting preserve of the Natolian emperors, hundreds of square miles of forest in the foothills between the Karradayad Mountains and the river Nappan, where the emperors had hunted tigers and the giant black bears that came down from the mountains. The Natolian Empire had collapsed a hundred years ago, and Keeper’s Reach was now part of Carstow lands, but there was no one much up here except for the garrison at Forhythe and a few scattered villages.
The Nessani boy seemed to have finally rid himself of the beer, thank all the cursed gods, because despite his pallor he didn’t stop again, and Marten pushed on, setting a hard pace. The sooner they were all out of here, the better.
The path turned upwards, climbing the foothills towards Ellacott Bluff. Once they reached it, it would be an easy ride back to the barracks, an hour and half downhill all the way. Then some rest.
The Nessani boy was the first to come to a halt. He had spurred his horse ahead, recovering quickly from his sickness. But Marten wasn’t far back.
“Shit,” she heard Rayston say from behind.
The bluff was gone. Well, not so much gone as … occupied. Where once the shelf of rock had looked out over the river valley, now a vast tower stood. It was smooth – Marten couldn’t see where the blocks of stone merged, if it even was stone – and water-green, glowing in the sunlight. Marten couldn’t quite make out the top of it, but it must have reached over five hundred feet into the air. It seemed to call, soundlessly, to her.
“What’s that?” the Nessani boy breathed.
“Bad news,” Marten said, just as Rayston said, “Fate.”
A legend was what it truly was, hushed stories told around a fire. The tower, it was said, appeared at times of great change. It had been there at the rise of the Natolian Empire, and at its fall. It had heralded – or caused – tempests and earthquakes, times of glory and times of disaster, times when new dynasties emerged and when old ones collapsed. Sometimes it wouldn’t appear for a dozen generations, at others it would appear twice in a single generation. It had been over a hundred years since the last time.
Marten’s stomach tightened.
“It’s the blade of the gods, boy,” Rayston said. “Men who have entered it have come out kings, gods, even. They say that anyone who reaches the top can change the fate of the world.”
For once, Rayston wasn’t lying. They had both heard the same stories.
The boy’s eyes were fixed on the tower, as though it called to him, too. His tongue flicked across his lips.
“A king,” he whispered. Then he was off his horse and sprinting for the open entrance.
“Fucker!” Marten spat. “You didn’t tell him what happens to those who don’t reach the top.”
Rayston smirked. “Guess he’ll find out. Better him than us, right?”
Marten slid from her horse. She had heard stories about the terrible things that awaited in that tower. She had never believed them, but now she found she did. She also found she didn’t care.
The blackwood fell, the world changed, but she didn’t, right? That’s what she had told herself.
Here it might. The tower awaited. Fate awaited. If she could reach the top. “Hey!” she heard Rayston shout, but she was already running towards the entrance. His footsteps came after her, but she didn’t look back.
To Be Continued…
If you’d like to get in contact with Patrick Samphire, you can find him on social media:
Patrick Samphire‘s SPFBO 6 Finalist novel is Shadow of a Dead God, advanced to the Finals by The Fantasy Faction team. Make sure to check it out!