10 weeks, 5 authors, 1 story. In To Be Continued… I asked 5 authors (self-published and traditionally published alike) to write a story together based on my prompts, without knowing about each other. 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 – 1000 words long. So, are you ready to continue the story?
If you didn’t read yet, I recommend starting your journey with the butcher queen by reading Part 1 by Cameron Johnston, followed by Part 2 by Phil Williams unless you want to be spoiled below. I warned you.
Part 1: Queen Endellion, also known as the butcher queen celebrates her fortieth birthday starting with a mass execution. Meanwhile the mysterious Mosaic sneaks into her quarters to find out her secret. She opens the huge steel wardrobe standing in the room.
Part 2: Mosaic finds an abomination chained inside the wardrobe. It has several extra limbs sewed on its body, its head wrapped, out of view. Until Mosaic frees it and looks in the face of none other than Queen Endellion.
The story is To Be Continued by:
Craig Schaefer writes about witches, outlaws, and outsiders. Whether he’s weaving tales of an occult-shrouded New York in Ghosts of Gotham or the gritty streets of Boston in the Charlie McCabe series, his protagonists are damaged survivors searching for answers, redemption, or maybe just that one big score.
The Butcher Queen – Part 3
This is going to be bad.
The thing with the queen’s face let out a steam-whistle screech from lips that peeled back like rotting petals. Loud enough to push Mosaic back a step, shoved on a gust of fetid wind. Loud enough to be heard as far as the crowded courtyard, over the cheers of the peasants.
The cheers died out as every face looked upward, to the queen’s window.
This is going to be bad for me in particular.
The plan was simple. Burgle her way in, unlock the queen’s hidden treasures, grab her jewels and abscond. Absconding was Mosaic’s favorite part. She was good at absconding. But this tortured creature wasn’t a pouch of stolen riches, and slipping out like a porcelain-masked shadow was no longer an option. It was time for plan B.
Mosaic didn’t actually have a plan B.
She worked fast, popping the rest of the chains from their moorings, freeing the cabinet’s victim. The creature took one hobbling step forward. A rotten leg, stripped of bone and wobbling like it was filled with jelly, held firm against the iron rod of a splint. Her foot, wrapped in dirty linen, sported bulges the size of babies’ hands that moved and writhed on their own.
“Right,” Mosaic said, “this way, follow me, please don’t scream again—”
She screamed again. Mosaic darted out into the hallway, the tail of her black velvet coat flaring at her back as she wheeled to face trouble head-on. A trio of the queen’s men pounded up the flagstone corridor. Caked in grime, half toothless, their calloused hands reached for ready weapons: a spear, a chipped and rusty falchion, a headsman’s ax.
Queen Endellion (if that woman in the courtyard really is the queen, Mosaic thought, looking to the face of the mutilated victim behind her) recruited her guards from the dregs of the castle dungeons. Stealing an apple could cost a peasant his hands, eyes and tongue; cold-blooded murder could earn a promotion. These men were born and bred for mayhem, and relished any opportunity for pain.
When had things gotten so grim? Old Aaroth hadn’t always been like this. Mosaic remembered days of daring and wonder. Cresting the Summersgard Mountains at dawn, wreathed in golden mist as she sought out a lost temple. Leaping across chandeliers to escape after robbing a wicked baron blind, and bringing his coffers of gold to the village-folk. Hells below, the last two times she tried to rob from the rich and give to the poor, she’d almost paid with her life: one village turned out to be a cult of demon-worshipers, and the other was ruled by a twelve-year-old serial killer.
Adventuring used to be fun, filled with wonder and excitement. But something changed – and it happened long before she’d suffered the burns beneath her porcelain mask, and all the nightmares that came with them. It began in the third or fourth year of Queen Endellion’s rule. In hindsight, Mosaic could see it all so clearly; the slide into darkness was slow but steady, embroiling them all like a lobster in a heated pot.
No use weeping about it now. She flung her velvet coat open and drew her rapier. It caught the light from the tall, arched windows overlooking the royal stables, and gleamed.
“My name,” she said, “is Mosaic Boucher Deschamps Legrand, of the Alder Dale. Though in truth, I have had many names. A name, after all, tells you who a person is. And I have had more names than anyone has a right to. Which is one. One name.”
The guard with the ax tilted his head in confusion. “We…didn’t ask.”
“I have been known as ‘The Magpie,’ because I steal things. And also because I do a very good impression of a magpie. When I slew the Red Beast of the Bitter Gorge, I earned the name ‘the Harp’ for reasons that should be obvious.”
“Not remotely,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s a real place.”
“I am known as ‘D’cli’ in Solstice Wood, which means something very clever. Some call me the Reckoner, or the Lonely Blade. The High Bishop of Carrowood calls me ‘mommy,’ for reasons we won’t get into.”
She turned her hand, making the rapier twirl, and slid into a fighting stance.
“But for our purposes,” she said, “my name is Mosaic. You may have heard of me.”
The killer with the ax scratched his lice-infested hair with a grubby, broken fingernail.
“Gotta be honest,” he said. “I got no fuckin’ idea who you are. But I’m gonna split you in half from stern to stem. And I’m gonna do it slow.”
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to fight me one at a time?” she asked.
They were not. The three men charged as one, thundering toward her. Mosaic darted to one side, her free hand clamping down on a spear as it thrust toward her. She leaped off her feet and kicked, driving her bootheel into the spearman’s gut. He staggered back and she landed in a crouch, pivoting, bringing up her rapier as the rusted edge of a falchion came down like a guillotine. Their blades clashed.
The ax-man charged her from the side, chopping at her hip. Mosaic fell back, waging a fighting retreat. She chanced a half-second glance over her shoulder. The queen – the tortured creature that Mosaic had declared the true queen, though she had no evidence beyond her gut instinct – was gone.
Priorities, she thought, her blade dancing as she drove the ax-man back with a quick thrust, then parried another swing of the rusty falchion. Find the true queen, get her out of this castle, find someone who can sort this out.
Her blade cut a lightning-fast M. The guard with the falchion blinked as his rope belt split, his ragged trousers falling down around his ankles. Then she spun on her heel and fired off another kick. The ax-man staggered back, hit the edge of the high window and lost his balance, arms pinwheeling as he tumbled over the sill and down to the roof of the stable below.
The spearman was back on his feet. Two against one were better odds, though. Not great odds. Manageable. Mosaic caught her breath and squared her stance.
Boots thundered in a stampede. Behind the two guards, a dozen more men boiled up from the bowels of the castle. A dozen armed killers ready to die for their blood-thirsty mistress. The pack formed ragged ranks, filling the corridor.
Priorities, Mosaic thought. Find the true queen, get her out of this castle, find someone who can sort this out. Also, survive.
To Be Continued…
If you’d like to get in contact with Craig Schaefer, you can find him on social media:
Grab a copy of his latest book, Black Tie Required, which is the 6th book in the Harmony Black series. Though I highly recommend checking it out his Wisdom’s Grave trilogy (read my review of book 1, book 2 and book 3), his Daniel Faust series or Ghosts of Gotham (read my review) among other things.