So the third exercise was just like the second. Pull a word and you have 45 minutes to come up with a short story. I like what came out, but I feel like there's more story to tell in this version; it's not a complete entity in and of itself. Still, I told myself I'd post 'as is' with no editing. So here ya go. The word I pulled was 'sanctuary'.
His breath burned like fire with every inhale and ice with each exhale. His muscles were knives stabbing into his bones with every stride. Sweat stung his eyes. But he did not stop running.
He could hear the footsteps of many men behind him, the clomp of their boots echoing on the paved streets so much it sounded like the gallop of hooves. He couldn't be sure, but it sounded like they were further away than before. He wasn't going to stop to check.
Jareth turned suddenly down an alley, his momentum causing him to bounce a shoulder off one brick wall before he could fully adjust to the change in direction.
The ladder was still there.
He skidded to a halt in front of the ladder. He grabbed the sides of the ladder and shook it once to make sure it was still stable, then he began to climb.
Jareth was moving on pure adrenalin now, but even with the burst of energy that only terror can bring, by the time he scaled the last rung of the ladder to heave himself onto the roof it felt like he was dragging boulders up the wall. He turned and started pulling the ladder up to the roof behind him, groaning with the effort.
The ladder had only just clattered to the roof when he felt the ice-cool blade of a knife at his throat. He tried to speak but his mouth was bone dry.
“Is it done?” a voice whispered in his ear harshly.
“Yeah,” Jareth gasped out. The knife pulled away from his throat and he collapsed to the roof, his adrenalin finally unable to support him any longer.
A water bag dropped next to him. Jareth grabbed the bag and raised the nozzle to his lips, drinking gratefully. He watched the figure move quietly to the edge of the roof and look down. If I pushed, he thought, I'd be a hero.
Jareth knew he was only kidding himself. He'd done the right thing – the necessary thing – but he knew he'd forever be cast as a villain on the pages of history, no matter what he did now. He wondered how she'd be portrayed.
Sabine turned back from the edge of the roof and moved back to Jareth. “How are you doing?” she asked quietly.
“Better,” Jareth whispered. The fire in his breath had died down, though his limbs still felt like there were lead weights attached to them. He rubbed a spot on his throat where the knife had nicked him. “Did you have to use a knife?”
Sabine looked at him stone-faced. “If you had come back without doing it, I'd have killed you.” Her features softened then into the face he'd fallen in love with. “I'm very glad I didn't have to.”
Jareth nodded. “Me too.” He pulled himself wearily to his feet. The steps of the soldiers were further away now, the clomp of their boots merging now more closely with other sounds of night. He turned to her. “We've got to get out of the Capitol. There's no place we can be safe here.”
Sabine kissed him then. It was short – and mostly chaste – but he could feel her gratitude in it. She pulled back and nodded. “I know. We should leave now while we still have the cover of night.”
Jared reached down to grab the water bag with a groan. His muscles were still begging for a break. If we survive the night, I won't be able to move for a week. “I know a place. It'll take most of the night, but if we get there we'll be safe.”
Sabine was already shaking her head. “No. Not after this. There's no shelter we could find on land where we'd ever truly be safe.” She turned to look at the mountains. “Any place that took us in would know who were are, and what we did. Eventually, that knowledge would betray us.” She turned back to him. “The only way we'll ever be safe is to be forgotten.”
“Then where can we go?” His voice was trembling. “If there's truly no place we can go...”
“On land,” she said. “But we don't have to stay on land.”
“The sea,” he realized. “That's your idea? We drift with currents for the rest of our lives, belonging to nowhere?”
Sabine cocked her hip and tilted her head at him. “Would that really be so bad? Spend the rest of your life free, reborn in the ocean.” She moved closer to him. “With me?”
Jareth nodded. He'd never be able to resist her, he knew. But he also knew she'd always take care of him. And they'd both be safe. Forever.