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?
If you didn’t read yet, I recommend starting your journey by reading Part 1 by Patrick Samphire, unless you want to be spoiled below. I warned you.
Part 1: While patrolling, Marten and her company come upon a mysterious tower, also known as the blade of the gods, that is rumored that anyone who reaches the top can change the fate of the world. And so the race begins.
The story is To Be Continued by:
Alexander Darwin is a second generation Vietnamese-Jewish-American author living in Boston with his wife and two daughters. Outside of writing, he teaches and trains martial arts (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). He’s inspired by old-school Hong Kong action flicks, jRPGs, underdog stories and bibimbap bowls.
Marten smelled cinnamon-spiced scones.
She could taste the oaky hint of nutmeg and cardamom and the warm, buttery crumble within.
Sometimes Uncle would drizzle sweet pear sauce on top the scones. He’d send Marten to Barlow’s orchard to retrieve a sack of the D’vore-variety. She’d munch one of the sweet fruits down to the core on the path back to Sugarloaf Bakery.
Marten could see the interior of Uncle’s bakery; the way Cartstow’s morning light painted the glazed breads and butter muffins and almond cakes through the wide storefront windows. She could see the golden wafers lined up in neat rows on the counter every morning, like soldiers ready to be deployed.
Uncle had always been scrupulous with the Sugarloaf’s upkeep. Despite the constant stream of customers, he’d made sure not a single stray crumb dotted the floors.
Much of the bakery’s maintenance had fallen on Marten and Tarik. Even as little raven-haired colts, her brother and she had worked the Sugarloaf from sunup til the painted ladies took to the streets of Blackgate Market.
Though it was dull work for youngsters, sneaking treats through the day had made it worthwhile. And, Marten had always enjoyed watching the Carstownians come through; crusty-eyed bricklayers stopping in for their breakfast loafs, uniformed brats piling in after-school for cream tarts and even soldiers on the back end of patrol scrounging for leftover pork pies.
It was one such solider, stopping by the Sugarloaf at closing-time, who had changed Marten and Tarik’s lives forever.
She remembered the man smelling of the road and stale beer, the Sabre strapped to his hip, the way his eyebrow crept up with the corner of his grin.
It had only taken a few choice words from the solider to send her brother to conscription camp the next morning.
“You got what it takes to be a hero?”
Tarik had always dreamed of tales of valor; rambled on of Natolian Knights battling hordes of the Nessani to save the Empire. Marten had been tempered in her trust of such tales though, clever enough to know propaganda when she saw it.
Her brother had enlisted within the week, looking down at the floor to tell Uncle he’d no longer be helping at the Sugarloaf.
Marten had tried to convince herself Tarik would be safe on patrol alongside hard men like Falcar Surresh. She’d told herself her brother was crafty and wiry strong even though she could pin him in a Lökh match. Marten had assured herself Tarik would say his nightly prayers so that their parents might smile down on them.
But, when Marten had watched her brother trotting off towards Keeper’s Reach on his chestnut mare, all her reassurances had fled like fearful spirits. She’d joined up by rainy season’s end and gone after Tarik, her twin, her only true friend.
By the time Marten had reached the towering Blackwood standing over Tarris Ridge though, word had spread of another soldier’s disappearance, this time a raven-haired conscript riding a red-brown Segwali. Tarik had been the fifth solider to disappear from Martstow’s roads that month.
Perhaps the Nessani kid reminded Marten of Tarik; the way he gazed up at the sky and rambled on about legends of old. Or perhaps it was how her brother had never been able to take his drink either. He’d be red-faced after just a swig of Uncle’s amber.
Guithirt was fast like Tarik too; Marten felt the familiar twinge in her hip as she sprinted after the kid across the rain-soaked bluff.
“Guithirt!” Marten let her cloak fall behind her as the kid closed in on the emerald tower. He heard her but didn’t look back. Rayston’s words of kings and gods had done their work already.
Guithirt scampered into the tower’s long shadow and Marten knew she wouldn’t be able to catch him in time. Her shouts would fall on deaf ears.
Marten could make out piles of white crumbled stone surrounding the base of the tower. But the tall structure was built of some otherworldly element, certainly not sandstone or granite. Marten squinted at the fragmented base again and saw two empty eye sockets peering back at her.
She stopped and let her boots sink into the mud, breathing hard. Marten stared at the alien structure on the bluff as Guithart closed in on it. The tower had no doors or gates or even windows; no visible entrance at all, just a glistening green finish that stretched to the sky.
But evil spirts needed no mouths to suck out souls.
Marten reached to her hip and did the one thing she knew might stop Guithart. She stripped the safety from her scabbard and drew her Sabre.
Marten’s blade screamed as it slid from its sheath: a piercing vibration that cut the thick humidity and stopped Guithart in his tracks.
“Are you crazy, woman?” Rayston shouted from behind. The grizzled soldier had stopped twenty paces back. He looked down at his waist and touched the hilt of his own Sabre, which was now shivering in its sheath as if trying to escape.
“It needed to be done,” Marten said, staring up with wide eyes at her naked steel.
“So you decided to save the kid’s life and forsake ours instead?” Rayston growled. “The Nessani will come by nightfall. They’ll fucking burn Carstow to the ground!”
Marten shook her head, though she knew Rayston was right. She’d broken the pact. Her Sabre vibrated in her hand, still shrieking its alarm.
“Guithart,” Marten sought the kid’s eyes. “We need to go into the tower together. If the legends are true, the second you try and enter on your own you’ll be bones and ash like those others.”
Guithart turned back to the tower and saw the white remains piled as high as a horse’s crest. He trembled.
The kid dreamed of being a hero, a king, but now he was scared. Marten wondered if Tarik had been scared too before he’d vanished.
“I always wanted to know what this thing looked like,” Rayston had drawn his Sabre and was staring at it. He smiled as he touched a finger to the blade and drew blood. “Fucking sharp, it is.”
The first horn blared, turning their heads from the tower to the looming Karradayad mountains beyond the forest. Another deep blast joined in, and then a third, and soon a cacophony of horns echoed from on top the mountain’s highest peaks.
“Guess you’ve made the decision easier for us, Marten,” Rayston sighed as he trotted towards her, swinging his blade to test the balance.
“Why did you do it?” Guithart stepped forward. “My kin… they will come now.”
Why had Marten drawn her Sabre, broken the pact?
She’d only wanted to stop Guithart from ending up dead.
Marten still felt the guilt sitting in her gut, letting Tarik go off on patrol by himself two decades ago. She could’ve gone with him right then, talked him into coming back to Carstow. Together, they’d have learned the trade from Uncle, opened their own bakery, if not the shop on the Street of Sighs than somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Everything could have been different. Instead, she’d wasted her life patrolling this forsaken forest for the Senate’s foolish games.
“Go into the tower, maybe end up dead or maybe become a god,” Rayston broke the silence. “Or, head north to Forhythe Garrison, where they’re likely fortifying to the teeth right now.”
“They will die,” Guithart whispered. “They will be swept away by my kin like insects in a monsoon.”
“From what I’ve heard about the Nessani, I tend to believe you,” Rayston nodded. “So the tower it is then.”
“It’s the only way we’ll be able to stop the invasion,” Marten said. “Whatever power the tower holds, we need it now, more than ever.”
“And whose fault is that?” Rayston shook his head as he started to walk towards the giant monolith.
“We need to enter together!” Marten followed Rayston, taking Guithart’s hand as she passed.
The kid looked up at her with his pale Nessani face. “Do you know how to use that?”
He nodded to the Sabre in Marten’s hand. She realized she was clenching the hilt, her knuckles white.
“I hope so,” she said, relaxing her grip. The tower loomed before them, the sun eclipsed behind its rounded crown and the bones piled at its foot.
Marten held her breath, as if the ancient corpses would somehow still stink of rot. Rayston wordlessly took Guithart’s other hand and the three stalked up the hill of bones towards the luminous façade.
The mountain horns blared and their Sabres hummed, but Marten only heard the crackle of bones beneath her boots. Strangely, the crunching reminded her of a different place, a different time; that first crumbly bite of golden-brown crust.
Marten breathed and felt a sudden warmth swell in her stomach. She didn’t smell the rot of corpses or her own moldy clothes, but the unforgettable scent of cinnamon spiced scones.
To Be Continued…
If you’d like to get in contact with Alexander Darwin, you can find him on social media:
Alexander Darwin‘s SPFBO 6 Finalist novel is The Combat Codes, advanced to the Finals by the Fantasy Book Critc team. Make sure to check it out!