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?
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?
Part 2: Dela and our MC are hanging on by a thread. Quite literally. Seeing the already fallen criminals under them, a plan is forming to soften their inevitable fall. Can they make the few feet across the ropes to risk a swing?
The story is To Be Continued by:
Robert is a writer of fantasy stories who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and daughter. He grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina before attending UNC-Chapel Hill to study Economics and Creative Writing.
Robert has always been drawn to certain authors and the worlds they create – from Harry Potter and Middle Earth as a child to discovering Westeros as a teenager. He has since fallen in love with the worlds of Rothfuss, Erikson, and Sapkowski (as well as many more).
Robert’s enjoyment of real-life military history has combined with his enthusiasm for creating fantasy worlds with the Falling Empires Saga.
When not reading and writing fantasy, Robert enjoys cheering on UNC Basketball and the Carolina Panthers, exploring the exquisite North Carolina craft beer scene, and feasting on his wife’s fine southern cooking.
The roar of the crowd finally reached my ears. The noise had been drowned out by fear before, but now adrenaline and determination focused the world onto only the things that mattered.
Refusal to give the crowd another part of the show they screamed out for.
I shifted to the side, neither looking up at the bleachers high above nor down at Dela dangling helplessly off my leg. There was only the rope and the distance I had to travel in my mind.
I released my back hand and inched it forward. My skin already felt raw from holding on so tightly. I repeated the motion with my other hand after the first had regained its grip and began inching along.
“Can you move a bit faster?” Dela’s voice called from below.
The words were almost lost in the crowd noise and the strain of my thoughts. I didn’t reply, choosing to remain focused on shifting my hands slowly along the rope and fighting to ignore the burning in my palms and fingers and shoulders and back.
The spectators roared again and out of the corner of my eye I saw the streak of another body falling. The rope that currently kept Dela and I from our deaths began wobbling again almost immediately.
I didn’t need to look behind us to confirm what my mind already knew to be true.
The scared-faced criminal had won his fight with our two protectors. He’d thrown the remaining man down to his death and now set about eliminating us, the current weakest links in our conglomerate of captured criminals.
This plan was going to work.
I gritted my teeth and shifted my hands, moving slightly faster now even with the shaking of our lifeline. Dela said something but I didn’t hear. Even the crowd had fallen away as I focused through my pain and fear and shifted the last bit of distance to place Dela over our chosen “soft” landing.
This wasn’t going to work.
I felt one of my hands slip as the skin on my palm tore. Blood dripped down my arm and I let out a yell and forced myself to press the searing hand back into the rope.
How had I gotten here? How had I fallen so far? How had I ended up in this situation, so far from home, so far from what I used to be?
In this moment, so close to my death, my life came rushing back to my mind, mistakes and failures and everything.
Dela didn’t know of my former life. No one did anymore, even back home. The Kingdom had forgotten its former rising star, its former future savior. Once I had failed I’d been tossed aside to fend for myself by the system that had constructed me.
Now my name was as forgotten as the dead and dying bodies impaled on swords below me.
We were criminals. We were outlaws. I was being executed for show. I was no longer honorable and just. By law, I didn’t have the right to live.
But Dela’s failing grip on my pantleg pushed me to keep myself and her alive. My other palm ripped but I grunted through the pain. Our rope gave a great heave upward but I held on. We were almost over the two bodies.
This was almost going to work.
The next shake of the rope came with a giant roar from the crowd. The noise rose like a wave that crashed down onto my head as our dangling bodies dropped low before being tossed back upward. I didn’t know what the scarred-faced man was doing, but his new technique was finally going to succeed in throwing us off our precarious perch.
Dela screamed. I looked down from the apex of our heave and the two bodies impaled on the sword floor still appeared infinitely far away.
But they were our only hope left. They were all we had.
I twisted my hips and kicked my free leg out. My body swung as our rope began to drop. I could only hope Dela would understand my intentions.
“Let go!” I yelled.
The tension in my throbbing shoulder lessoned and a sigh escaped my mouth. I went back to gritting my teeth almost immediately as our rope snapped downward and pulled taught underneath my hands.
I still held on, by body swinging backwards from tossing Dela over the landing spot. I couldn’t watch her fall. I didn’t hear a scream or the thud of impact.
I let my body swing like a pendulum of the great clock tower back in Greygar Squareand waited until I’d swung back in my original direction before finally releasing the rope.
My upper body dropped down and I tucked to make myself as small as possible. They’d taught us tumbling as younger students at the Academy. This was a version of that, only it involved sharp swords and death as a spectator activity at the end of my performance.
My eyes looked downward as my body tumbled. They found the girl who’d died first. That was my target. I blocked out all the shining points of blades gleaming around her.
I slammed down onto the unknown girl. My shoulder landed directly on the top of her back and I felt it snap even further out of place. I screamed and flung my arms out involuntarily, feeling the bite of blades slicing multiple places.
But the dead body provided the needed protection. It gave and pushed farther down the swords and I rolled off the side through a gap between weapons. My good shoulder hit a floor of sand and I rolled into the side of one of the swords. The blade cut into my flank, but I barely felt it.
I had survived.
I was somehow still alive.
But what about Dela?
The thought had me pushing myself upright instantly. I was dizzy, my head spinning from my fall, but I forced my eyes to focus as quickly as I could. I remembered my breathing exercises from so long ago. MasterCrask had always said the greatest Heroes of the Citadel could control their breathing in even the tensest of situations.
The Master had never visited the death pits of Garedath.
But I was able to live up to my training. My eyes focused. My head settled. And I found Dela bleeding profusely from multiple wounds on the other side of the dead girl’s hanging body.
There was a large cut across her thigh and another through her shoulder. She hadn’t been as lucky as I had and was losing a lot of blood. Despite this, she still turned and met my eye’s with a pain-filled smile.
“So soft,” she said. “Such a soft landing.”
I scrambled forward, moving to her on all fours through the forest of blades. We were safe. We’d made it down from the ropes. We were on solid ground.
I was almost to her when the first arrow thwacked into the sand by my head.
To Be Continued…
If you’d like to get in contact with Robert H. Fleming, you can find him on social media:
Robert H. Fleming‘s SPFBO 6 Finalist novel is The Fall of Erlon, advanced to the Finals by The Critiquing Chemist team. Make sure to check it out!