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, Part 2 by Alexander Darwin, and Part 3 by Suzannah Rowntree, 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.
Part 2: We learn a bit about Marten’s background, and when she catches up with Guithart, she makes a decision that will set unexpected events into motion. Marten, Guithart, and Rayston finally step up to the tower.
Part 3: Once in the tower, some secrets get revealed through visions: Marten finds out what happened with her long lost brother, Rayston receives a vision about his lover and Guithart real identity comes to light as well which makes Rayston think that Marten is a traitor.
The story is To Be Continued by:
Justin spent 15 years as a professional writer and editor before his debut novel, Carpet Diem, was published in 2015. It became a best-seller and won a 2018 Audie award. His second book, The Lost War, was shortlisted in the 2019 Booknest Awards and is a finalist in the 2020 SPFBO competition.
Since 2018 he has been writing full time, alongside working on scripts with his wife, Juliet, who he met through a BBC scriptwriting contest.
Marten reacted instinctively, throwing her shoulder into Rayston’s side. They landed hard against barrels inexplicably stacked along the wall. Rayston grunted angrily as the air was beaten from his chest on impact.
Marten’s sight went black as she cracked her head against the wall. Her ears whined like a mewling babe, but she needed to focus. Had she done enough? Had she saved Guithirt?
With a burst of panic, Marten pushed onto her haunches and looked around blearily. It took a moment to understand what she was seeing. Rayston’s sabre had missed the boy’s head, just about, but it had taken a chunk of ear and carved into his shoulder instead. Against the vivid crimson of his blood, the boy’s face was even paler. He was on the verge of passing out, by the look of his wide, blank stare.
“Bloody bitch!” Rayston found his breath. Pulling himself up, he scrambled to reclaim the blade that had clattered free from his grip. Marten had to decide. Stem the boy’s bleeding or deal with Rayston.
It was no choice at all.
She raised her own sabre defensively. “Rayston, stop! You’re being a fool!” Marten regretted the words as soon as they left her lips. She’d known this man a decade and he’d never once backed down from a challenge. It wasn’t in him. “No, I mean … Destroyer, just listen, will you?”
Back on his feet, blade in hand – there was no stopping this. Rayston was consumed by fury. He believed them traitors, for all the sense that made, and that they’d got Ashunti killed – would get her killed. Either way, reason had abandoned him.
He lunged for her, swinging wildly. The man’s anger gave him strength, but it sapped his precision. Marten’s bad hip stabbed at her as she pushed off her left leg, spinning away from Rayston’s assault, allowing him to stumble past her. She left a foot in, though, catching his ankle and sending him sprawling again. “Please, Rayston! Just listen, for fear of the goddess!”
“He’s going to kill us!” Guithirt’s voice was shrill. No wonder the boy was such a useless soldier. He was no soldier at all. A terrified, pampered prince was worthless in a fight. But he might be the only thing preventing a war.
Rayston found his feet again. Would he be calm? Had she bought enough time for him to reclaim his senses?
As soon as she saw his eyes, the answer was no. Calmer, maybe, but just as mad. Maybe it was something about the tower? Perhaps it called to him, urged him on. If this tower was truly the ‘Blade of the Gods’, maybe it had a purpose for them. Maybe this was it.
Blood and iron. Destroying Goddess.
Rayston stalked at her this time, sabre levelled. He wouldn’t be caught in another rash lunge. Marten put herself between him and the boy. “Think, Rayston! Why would I try to stop a war I wanted to start?”
“Protecting the prince you started it for,” he growled. “Why else draw your blade?”
Why had she drawn her sabre? Had that really been the only way to stop Guithirt? All her training, all her instincts were to keep that blade sheathed unless… goddess, unless death itself was coming for her. In truth, she’d had the hilt in her hand before she’d even thought of it. Was that the tower, too? Was it manipulating them? Drawing them to this – to battle? To slaughter?
“Rayston – the tower is doing something to us. I think it’s affecting us. Affecting our minds. Please…” Rayston stabbed towards her, testing her defense. She parried the blow away. If he wasn’t going to stop, she would have to end this. He was an ass, but an ass she’d known for a quarter of her life. They’d never been friends, but they’d have died together in battle. That’s how it was between soldiers. Hate them in peace; kill for them in war.
Marten had no intention of living through war. She had a chance to get her brother back. To reclaim the life they’d always wanted. A quiet life she’d believed lost to them forever. The faint waft of cinnamon returned to her, with a hint of sweet orange.
The next time Rayston swung, Marten parried hard, knocking his arm wide and stepping inside his reach. Again, she rammed her shoulder into his chest and felt his nose crunch under her headbutt. The man stumbled backward, dazed, and Marten took the opening, kicking him hard in the gut, knocking him to the floor.
She was on him before he could think, one knee on his chest, a foot pinning his sword arm to the ground. Blood leaked from his mashed nose.
“Yield!” Marten held the blade above his head. She could truly hear it now. The blade’s scream was a song, a lament, begging her to feed it. Wailing for blood.
Rayston’s sword hand twitched and he squirmed beneath her, thrashing to be free.
“Rayston!” she bellowed. His dark eyes were almost pure black as he screamed rage and frustration up at her. With a whimper, Marten drove the blade into his chest. It cut through him, leathers and all, like fresh dough, stopping only when it crunched against the stone beneath.
The hilt trembled in her hands as the glowing blade consumed Rayston’s soul, sucking him dry, leaving only a black husk. The speed, the devastation of it was shocking, and Marten threw herself backwards, scrambling away across the floor.
What had she done? Destroyer, she’d had no choice. He’d given her no choice.
Steeling herself, Marten lifted herself to her feet and crept back to her comrade. Both blades were silent. Hadn’t they been silent since she entered the tower? When did she start hearing it again?
It didn’t matter. They needed to be sheathed. Rayston’s blackened fingers snapped like spent firewood as she pried his blade from his grip and slid it back into its scabbard. Removing her own was more difficult. It still trembled gently as she levered it from Rayston’s withered chest.
A stab of pain; a rush of heat in her back. What in hell? Marten’s stomach flipped, threatening to expel last night’s beer.
Instinctively, she swung her arm round, spinning away from the pain. Guithirt was short. The blade lodged in the side of his head, just above his wounded ear. Again the weapon trembled like a climaxing lover, sucking the life from him, turning his alabaster skin to dark ruin.
Damn it all!
Marten dropped to her knees, reaching around to find the knife lodged in her back. It was barely a blade at all. A carving knife. The idiot had thought to kill her with it. A wave of nausea washed over her as she pulled it free, and her stomach finally surrendered its contents.
The wound wasn’t serious, but it bled. She needed to stem it. Now.
“Well, that was interesting, wasn’t it?” A woman’s voice. From where? Marten grasped her blade again, holding it high, but with no idea what she was defending against. She had little left to give. Energy drained from her like water. Like blood.
“That’s not going to work against me, child. I crafted it.”
The stairs – there was someone on the stairs. A figure, blurry, but clearly feminine. The dark woman descended elegantly, a queen addressing her admirers. “Let’s see to that wound, shall we?”
Marten trusted her. Completely. She was tired. She needed rest. Lowering the blade, Marten dropped to her hands and knees, offering her wounded back. A touch, a bite of fire, and it was done. The pain was gone. Marten sagged with relief.
“Take a moment, child. We have much to discuss.”
Marten breathed in the smell of the scone. Felt the warmth rise across her lips. Wait. What? How was she there again? The table in the back of the Sugarloaf. Heat from the ovens toasting her to the bones.
“You have a choice to make.”
The dropped scone caught the edge of the table and rolled away across the floor. She’d been alone. But there, across from her, a striking, terrifying woman; ebony skin and eyes the warm orange of papaya flesh. She was impossibly beautiful and heartbreakingly terrible. She was everything and nothing. The end and the beginning.
“Destroying Goddess,” Marten whispered.
“Indeed,” the goddess gave an ambiguous smile. “Shall we begin?”
“I… I don’t…”
“You have a choice to make, little baker. Will you take your prize and wear the crown of the Carstownian Empire, or will you leave as you came, in quiet anonymity?”
“There is no Carstownian Empire. No crown. Carstow is a free state, run by the
“For now,” the goddess purred. “Things change.”
Things change? What did that mean? “I don’t want a crown. I don’t want to be queen.”
“The best queens don’t, my child. They do not seek; they are called.”
Is that what this was? A calling? Had the tower really called to her? To make her a queen? It didn’t matter. This wasn’t what Marten wanted. She never had. All she had desired her whole life was a quiet little bakery. All she wanted now was her brother to run it with her.
“Tarik. Is he really alive? In Nessana?”
“He is.” Another feline growl. She was a panther, basking in the midday sun. Her shoulders rolled like slow boiling tar. “You can have him back. If you take him.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means war is coming, child, whether you want it or not. You have broken a peace that cannot be unbroken.”
“I..?” Could it be? Had she really doomed two peoples to war?
“The truth, my love, is war has been coming for an age. The Nessani have been kidnapping and enslaving your people for decades, but the senate has been afraid to act – fearing a war they could not win. With no consequences, the Nessani were emboldened. They’ve been waiting for an excuse. Now they have it. A justified invasion. A broken truce.”
Goddess, she had. “Did the tower…?” What was her question? Did the tower make her do it? Was it that simple?
“The tower asked you to reveal yourself. And you did. The man was all lust and rage; the boy, greedy and jealous. And you… you are made of love and regret, little baker. Pain and peace. Everything I would want in my Empress.”
Empress? “If you want peace, why start a war?”
“Peace is forged in war, my love. There is no other way to craft it. Creation is born of destruction. The Nessani have been corrupted by people like the prince. Avaricious, violent souls who would see their kingdom become an empire. This, I do not want. It is time for the Nessani to fall.”
The Nessani would lose? How? Marten could not dream it. Carstow was outnumbered. She understood why the senate had not acted. The Nessani were brutal, merciless warriors. They had every advantage. Except, maybe…
“How would I become empress? How do I win?”
Another smile. “The future is not for your ears, my dear. Your choice is simple. Go up…” They were back in the tower, the goddess gesturing to the rising staircase, “… and accept your destiny. You leave here with my blessing, and my power.” She nodded to the blade now held safely in Marten’s scabbard. “Or go down, return to your mundane life and let someone else take the glory.”
Marten’s heart raced, as if it would trip over itself in its rush to escape her chest. Could this be real? “I… I have questions.” Could she abandon the role, once it was accomplished? Would her brother be safe until she reached him? How many had to die for the birth of a new empire?
“Only one question matters, my love. Do you have what it takes to be a hero?”
A shiver of ice ran through Marten. The soldier. The man who’d recruited Tarik all those years ago. His words. Had she planned this from then? Had the Destroying Goddess manipulated Marten’s life – and Tarik’s – to bring her to this moment? She looked up, hands shaking. With a light breeze, the goddess was gone and Marten sat alone. The bodies were gone. The blood, the vomit, all gone. Just a plain, round room, glowing faintly green.
What was she to do? Marten was no leader. She was no queen, no empress. She was a baker. A reluctant soldier. A drunk.
But maybe she didn’t have to be. Marten didn’t understand what had happened to her. Didn’t know if she’d been chosen or lucky. Or unlucky. But she was here. The last one standing in the Blade of the Gods. She’d won a competition she’d never dreamed to enter. Could she really walk away from the prize?
And after all, who was Marten to question the will of a goddess?
With a deep breath, she looked up the stairs and rubbed her aching hip.
In the end, it was no choice at all.
“Hold on, Tarik. I’m coming.”
If you’d like to get in contact with Justin Lee Anderson, you can find him on social media:
Justin Lee Anderson‘s SPFBO 6 Finalist novel is The Lost War, advanced to the Finals by Kitty G. Make sure to check it out!