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, Part 2 by Zack Argyle, and Part 3 by Robert H. Fleming, 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?
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?
Part 3: With difficulties, our MC and Dela somehow make it close enough to the body of the death girl to risk a “soft” landing when they have no other choice left. Though they make the drop alive with serious injuries, they are not safe yet. Will they survive until the end?
The story is To Be Continued by:
Born in London in 1972, Shaun spent his formative years in the shadows of the dreaming spires of Oxford, before moving to Nottingham where he graduated with a degree in English and Media.
Shaun lives in Brighton, on the south coast of England, where he splits his time between fiction, geekdom, and garlic bread.
Find out more at shaunpaulstevens.com
“Let’s go,” I urged, grabbing Dela’s arm.
“Just get out of here,” she rasped.
“Not happening, lady.” I dragged harder, and moaning at the agony she pulled herself along behind me the best she could with her one good leg. Damn Garedath’s idea of justice. When I got out of here, it would be the duke facing the sword. And there was no doubt I would get out. We’d both get out. We’d find a way.
Arrows still flying, we wove through the maze of steel, somehow finding a path through the jagged blades like accursed limbo dancers. Up above, the scarred-faced man shouted a curse down. Why couldn’t the archers target him? Oh yeah, their stupid rules! They liked to get as much entertainment out of justice as possible in these parts. To that extent, we played our roles as well as mice in some twisted, grotesque experiment—mice got a little more compassion though. We passed the young girl, skewered in place. The scream still held on her face. This place was grim.
“I can’t go any further,” Dela complained a moment later. I noticed the arrows had stopped. But why? I squinted up at the archers. Just visible through the gaps in the swords, they scrabbled around the outside of the arena for a clear shot. We’d found a sanctuary, the way the swords and their mounts were angled around us blocking our would-be dispatchers’ line of sight. Well, it was a refuge of sorts—if you enjoyed relaxing in hell…
I checked Dela’s wounds. Shit. They were bad, oozing blood. I ripped my shirt, making a tourniquet.
“It’s pointless,” she moaned.
“Don’t say that.”
A roar sounded above. I looked up. The scarred-faced man gesticulated wildly at the attendants as they loosened another rope. Probably thought he was the lucky guy. Huh. Perhaps he was. He grinned down. I met his eyes, a maniacal look on his face, and he shouted at me in that strange language. His words were a mystery, but the meaning was clear—he wasn’t about to let either of us claim the freedom prize. He crouched, taking hold of the rope, maneuvering himself into a swinging position.
“What’s he doing?” I murmured. Dela didn’t reply, just stared upwards at his shadow. As the attendants loosed their rope, the bruiser, in an unlikely feat which impressed the crowd, began to swing from the taut one like a kid’s acrobat toy. Surely it would snap under his weight? His plan revealed—he aimed for another rope stretched across the arena several feet below him, sagging where it had been only half-released earlier.
Dang. He made it. The crowd roared with excitement at the daring jump, the arsehole now dangling only a few feet over the pit. He scanned the floor, looking for a gap to land in.
“Get a weapon,” Dela said weakly.
“What was that?”
“Weapon. Defend yourself, Hyem.”
The scarred-faced man dropped onto the sandy floor, disappearing behind the sword mounts. I saw Dela’s point. He was coming to fight. He would finish us off where the archers couldn’t.
“What weapon?” I demanded irately.
“Duh. Are you dumb as well as blind? There’s a thousand swords right in front of you.”
She was right. I tried releasing one from its mount. The welding was solid. I kicked at it, trying to loosen the blade. No good. It was stuck firm. I tried another. This one had some give. Might it work?
Brute strength, my friend.
I kicked at the hilt. The blade came loose, and using every ounce of strength, I hefted it away from the block. It was an unwieldy weapon, better suited to a giant than a man, but it was sharp—it was definitely that.
The brute approached, batting away the arrows of the reinvigorated archers like scattered twigs on a stormy day. He’d found a sword too. Twisted minds think alike. I readied myself, standing my ground. Better not to move out of the confines of our arrow sanctuary.
His manic face rounded the nearest block. I brought up my guard.
Tszang. I parried his blow.
But he was massive, my arm aching even after the first hit. I struck back. He roared—something unintelligible—but it didn’t matter, the lilt of death is the same in any language. We fought on, exchanging careful blows, neither of us claiming a clear hit in the tight confines. One misstep or stumble and the sea of death blades would claim their victim if neither of us could. The archers watched on with the crowd now, their blood-baying shouts filling my ears. No doubt they’d laid a good few bets on our fate today.
Then he made his mistake. Stepping into view of an archer, an arrow stuck him in the thigh. I seized the opportunity the split-second distraction gave, bringing my weapon to bear as Master Crask had taught.
I sliced his hand clean off. His sword thudded dully on the sand, his disembodied fist still clutching on tightly to the hilt.
I shook my head at him, a touch of melodrama as he stared in disbelief at his squirting stump.
I aimed a kick squarely at his chest.
He staggered backwards, straight into one of the mountings. A judging blade piercing him through the shoulder. I kicked again, forcing the blade home, and buried my sword in his heart.
And he hung there like a draining pheasant.
I turned back to Dela. Now, to get out of here.
“Sorry, Hyem,” she said, “it’s nothing personal.” She held an arrow, picked up from the sea of lost shafts washing over the arena floor. I couldn’t react, no time to process those eyes. She’d always been the quick one. Her hand jabbed like a snakebite, and the barb stuck me in the windpipe.
Of all my deaths, it was the worst, gurgling stupidly in front of her, breath not coming, while she looked down on me with those regretful, sad eyes. Her remorse was no consolation as the curtain fell.
I saw her once after that. She didn’t recognize me, of course, and I considered killing her back. But I’d moved on.
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Shaun Paul Steven‘s SPFBO 6 Finalist novel is Nether Light, advanced to the Finals by The Fantasy Inn team. Make sure to check it out!