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 enter the Sanctuary of Arrows?
If you didn’t read yet, I recommend starting your journey by reading Part 1 by Emma Rachel Shaw, unless you want to be spoiled below. I warned you.
Part 1: In Garedath, criminals are dealt with a deadly competition. A net of ropes hanging over a pit full of sharp blades. Only one can survive. Will it be our MC? And will they be able to help their fellow criminal, Dela?
The story is To Be Continued by:
Zack Argyle was raised with a wonderful family motto: don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. What better way than to write fiction? He spends his days writing code and his nights writing epic stories about family, love, loss, friendship, and pain all intermixed with a heavy dose of the fantastical.
Her hand pulled against my own and time seemed to slow. I looked down into Dela’s eyes and, rather than being filled with fear or worry, a bright rage erupted within me. Not at her—she was the only thing in the world I had left. At the possibility of her death. Even there, in an arena where only one would walk away, I refused to accept that we couldn’t leave together. So instead of letting go of her hand, I held it even more tightly.
I lost balance immediately, her weight dragging me head over heel, careening over the side of the rope. I looked down and saw the sea of swords staring up at me with glistening smiles. My free hand flailed overhead until it slapped the side of the rope. I latched on with every ounce of strength I had, one hand gripping the rope and the other holding fast to Dela’s hand. My arms stretched in their sockets and my chest felt ready to burst. We swung back and forth from the rope like a broken tree branch dangling in a windstorm.
“Hold on!” I shouted.
“What else am I going to do, dumb ass.”
I’d never seen her scared before, but, as our eyes met and I saw her furrowed brow, her fear washed over me.
“Can you climb up?” I asked, scrambling for something, anything, for us to do.
She swung her other hand up to grab my wrist, and the pressure nearly caused me to lose my grip. My hand shifted on the rope, and I felt the skin tear on my palm. Blood drooled down my wrist. She continued to pull herself up toward my torso, but the added weight was too much.
“Stop!” I shouted. “I can’t…it’s too much.”
She stopped climbing, one hand still gripping onto my wrist. I closed my eyes for a moment, relishing in the relief that came as she halted her climb. But then my eyes bolted open as I felt a tremor pass through my hand.
The rope swayed up and down just the slightest and, with each trough in the wave, the muscles in my forearm burned like a raging fire. Our combined weight bounced with the motion. My fingers clutched with every ounce of strength they had left, barely able to hold. I looked up and saw the scarred-face man smiling from a distance.
He looked into my eyes as he carefully jumped up and down again, sending another wave surging through the rope. Again, it bounced up and down, and I screamed out in pain as I held on with everything I had.
“Don’t you dare let go!” Dela shouted beneath me.
“I can’t hold on much long,” I said, grimacing.
“Let go, and I’ll kill you myself!”
Jet-black ravens circled high overhead, eyeing them with equal parts hunger and curiosity. I clenched my teeth as another wave of motion surged through the rope. When I looked down the line, I saw a brawl had begun on the other end. The scarred-face man was being attacked by two of the other criminals, awkwardly, as they all fought to maintain their balance on the remaining ropes while lashing out to knock their enemy off. Their attacks were slow and fearful. They weren’t willing to risk their own fall to displace the others.
Just then, I remembered Dela’s words. A soft landing.
The corpse of the man and woman who’d most recently fallen lay impaled on the floor of swords. But it was too far. Even if we swung, we couldn’t make it. If only we were ten feet further down the rope.
“Dela,” I said, looking down to her. “I need you to let go of my hand and grab hold of my ankle.”
“Are you out of your mind?” she shouted.
“If I can grab the rope with both hands, I might be able to climb along far enough to where we can drop on their bodies.” I gestured with my eyes.
She turned and took in the sprawled-out corpses, then shifted her gaze up the line of the rope. “Dammit. On three.”
I nodded, loosening my grip on her hand in preparation, waiting for her count.
A wave of regret washed over me. This was a selfish plan. If it failed, it was Dela that would die, not me. It was good for me if it worked, and likely even better for me if it failed and she fell. At least in the short term. I’d have to live with the regret of knowing that she’d died because of me.
I took quick breaths, readying my lower arm for a quick ascent.
This was going to work.
It had to.
“Three!” she shouted, releasing my hand.
I swung my hand up toward the rope, the muscles in my stomach and back flexing tight as I reached high overhead. I felt her hands grip my ankle just as my fingers touched the rope, the weight of her slender body ripping down at me from her slight descent. My fingers slipped over the top of the rope, and my thumb wrapped around just as the weight settled. My arms stretched in their sockets and a “pop” cracked.
Pain flared in my shoulder like a sleeping dragon come alive, thrashing its claws against sinew and spewing its fire over tendons. I screamed out in pain, not caring whether or not it would draw unwanted attention. There are moments in life so damned painful that a scream is the only proper response.
Still, I held.
I looked back over toward the other criminals just as a large man with a beard went careening over the side of the ropes and fell face-first into a half dozen polished steel blades. Seeing the horrendous end to that man’s life gave me an odd sense of motivation, and I ended up staring longer than any man ought to stare at a corpse.
When I finally turned away, blood on my hand and a throbbing in my shoulder, I smiled.
This was going to work.
To Be Continued…
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Zack Argyle‘s SPFBO 6 Finalist novel is Voice of War, advanced to the Finals by Lynn. Make sure to check it out!