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?
It’s no secret that To Be Continued… is one of my favorite features I ever created for the blog. After three fun editions (The New Sound, The Butcher Queen and The Enchanted Forest) I thought I would ask the SPFBO 6 Finalists if they’d like to play. 8 of them said yes and I decided to run not one, but two stories, 4-4 authors each. They don’t know who takes part in which story or who takes part at all so this will be as much fun for them as for the rest of you!
For Story 1 my prompt was: competition. And then I let the first person to their own devices. It ended up being a special one as this is the first story in the short history of To Be Continued… that we have a story written in 1st person. To the absolute joy of those who wrote the later parts, I’m sure, lol.
I’d like to thank each author for taking part and I wish you all the best in the competition! And without further ado, let’s visit the Sanctuary of Arrows, shall we?
A neuroscientist by training, Rachel started writing to escape the rigors of reality, but has struggled increasingly ever since to remain grounded. She slips a little further each day into the worlds she makes up, fascinated by the creation of societies that hold a mirror to our own. Born in Manchester, England, she moved to London after university and living in Memphis, Tennessee, for a year, planting roots in a quaint part north of the city. Last Memoria is her first book. It was published in 2020 and became an SPFBO finalist in the same year. Its sequel is Scars of Cereba, which delve further into a world with memory thieves and the consequences of abusing of such a power. Her third novel Sacaran Nights is due for release in 2021 and continues her trend of exploring fantasy cultures so unlike our own, but this time in a society that lives for the dead.
Twelve left. There were thirteen of us this morning. There still was if you counted the body on the swords below.
The blades glinted red from the splatters. Apparently, nobody in the stadium was going to dispose of the dead woman. I had realised it after she had lain there slowly dying for five hours with a sword tip piercing clear through her stomach, and yet with nobody making any move to end her suffering. At least her groans didn’t fill the air anymore. No-one else had tried to climb out of the arena since the woman’s attempt to get away failed, which meant that we were all in this to the end now, one way or another.
The ropes beneath my feet wobbled. My stomach dropped and I swayed with the sagging motion, fighting to keep my balance even as I turned with the other ten to glare at the one who had moved. Had he done it on purpose? The scarred-face man had been shifting about more regularly over the last few hours, causing the rest of us to keep almost unbalancing on the criss-crossed ropes we stood on. Either he was tiring and would fall soon, or he was trying to dislodge us. The problem was that I wouldn’t blame him if he was. We weren’t all going to get out of there alive and thinning the numbers might be his best chance at surviving. Especially since there were already so few ropes left to hold us. All twelve of us had been forced to huddle up further as the day had worn on, but even so, there was hardly enough left to hold us up. What ropes there were sagged wearingly low, dropping a little further with each one removed by the attendants around the sides of the arena.
“If I’d realised this was how Garedath treated their criminals, then I probably wouldn’t have suggested we try our luck here,” Dela said as she cast her gaze about the crowd, still search. Always alert.
“I knew,” I said as I readjusted my stance on the ropes, trying to find the balance from before the man had shaken the ropes. “Just hoped it was a myth.”
The ropes vibrated again and I tracked the motion as I shifted to compensate for the change. It was the girl at the far side who had moved, her legs wobbling unsteadily beneath her as she struggled to regain her footing.
What had she done to get herself into this mess with the rest of us? She didn’t look old enough to have done anything worthy of being arrested, let alone consigned to the death ropes like us.
“Any ideas of how to get out of here yet?” I asked Dela under my breath, my eyes still on the girl.
“Yes, but it’s not so much a plan.”
“Then what is it? Because whatever it is, it’s better than what I’ve got.”
“Mostly blind luck. Though a little bit of skill might help,” Dela said, motioning down to the blades with her head when I frowned. “All I can think is that we might stand a chance once there is a bit more of a soft landing down there.”
Not understanding her meaning, I glanced down at the swords. “What exactly is soft about- Oh,” I said, realising what she meant. “The body.”
“Won’t take all the damage, but it’ll stop most of it. Especially if you don’t fall off onto the other blade afterwards.”
“And those nice men with the arrows pointing at us, you don’t think they’ll have something to say about this?”
“The rules were that the last one alive in the arena gets the pardon. They didn’t say anything about us having to stay up here.”
“We’ll need a couple more to drop. The woman landed wrong. Won’t provide enough pro-”
“They’re moving again.”
Loosing a low groan, I rotated my head slowly so as not to lose my balance as I followed the direction of Dela’s gaze to the edge of the arena. As I feared, the attendees were gathering about another point at the side where one rope was attached to the stadium’s wall.
“You stood on it?” I asked as I traced the rope along, trying not to lose it among the tangle of others where they connected in the complicated and fragile net we were all depending on to keep us aloft.
“No, but it connects to one of mine further back.”
“Can you move to another?”
“What about you?”
“Fine. For now. Look, take my hand. It’ll give you some stability when it goes.”
“And drag you down with me?”
“Got a better idea?” I asked, already holding my hand out to her as Dela’s dark eyes flicked up to meet mine. She scowled unhappily, glancing back over to where the people unravelling the rope around the spike had almost finished. The three men held the rope taught, mirroring the actions of the three men on the opposite side of the stadium.
“If we start working together so obviously-”
“Then we might survive this. Otherwise, you’ll be dead. Just take my hand.”
The chatter of the crowd watching quieted about us as they waited with baited breaths for the rope to be pulled free. Their anticipation was palpable as they watched the royal box, waiting for the signal.
“Here it comes,” I said, extending a little further to grab Dela’s hand in mine, squeezing her fingers back as she thanked me wordlessly.
The ropes beneath us bounced as the three men on one side of the arena let go. On the other side, the attendees hauled in the rope, wrenching it out from the net as they had already done so many times today.
One of the remaining twelve of us fell straight away, yelling out as he frantically tried to grab onto one of the ropes as he plummeted. He didn’t manage it. Instead, he hit the blade floor in a sickening crunch. The girl fell too, but she didn’t scream and I was too busy dealing with the sudden recoil of the ropes to listen to the sound of her death.
With the loss of both of their weights, the ropes holding the rest of us up rose, bouncing upwards in an unsettling jolt. My feet flew skywards, lifting off the ropes as I careened forwards, having to fight to get back to being level as I sank back down, trying to land on the junctions of the ropes that had kept me aloft. My feet hit with something solid again, but I was too busy adjusting to the sway to sigh with relief, though not to miss Dela’s grunt beside me as she dropped, her body twisting in the air and sinking as she fell.
To Be Continued…
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Rachel Emma Shaw‘s SPFBO 6 Finalist novel is Last Memoria, advanced to the Finals by The Weatherwax team. Make sure to check it out!