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 and Part 3 by Craig Schaefer, 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.
Part 3: Mosaic frees the creature dwelling in Queen Endellion’s wardrobe, but their flee is cut short when the guards show up. Mosaic stands her ground but the creature gets lost in the chaos and there are more guards surrounding her than it would be healthy.
The story is To Be Continued by:
Justin Call graduated from Harvard University in 2012 with a Master’s in Literature and Creative Writing. He has studied fantasy literature for almost two decades and is the author of Master of Sorrows, Book 1 of The Silent Gods tetralogy. Justin is also the CEO of Broomstick Monkey Games and co-designer of the games Imperial Harvest, Royal Strawberries, Royal Scum, and 8 Kingdoms. He currently lives in Park City, Utah with his wife, his two sons, his Great Dane (Pippa) and his St. Bernard-Mastiff (Herbie).
The Butcher Queen – Part 4
Mosaic leaned out the window where she’d sent the plummeting ax-man, debating whether she could make the same jump. The angle and composition of the thatch roof made her hesitate though, and when she also saw the fallen guard had crashed and crumpled against an obscured beam, she drew back. A dozen onlookers looked up at her window, their attention momentarily drawn away from the queen’s bloody antics, and Mosaic took a second step back. Behind her, the guard with the falchion was near enough he could now engage, though he waited for his companion to support his attack. That hesitation was all Mosaic needed.
While the swordsman’s head was turned, Mosaic dashed forward, her rapier redirecting the heavy-bladed falchion as her second hand slipped a poinard from her belt and plunged it between the rings of the soldier’s chainmail vest. The man jerked backward, unaware he was already dead, and Mosaic used his disorientation to pivot a second time and place him between herself and the rushing spearman. Barely a second later, a speartip crashed through the man’s back and pierced Mosaic’s right breast. She gasped, letting her dagger clatter to the floor, then probed the injury with her free hand. When she saw it wasn’t fatal, Mosaic breathed a sigh of relief and casually slash her rapier across the third soldier’s throat. The spearman toppled backward, his weapon still pinned by his comrade’s body, and Mosaic took another moment to gather her thoughts.
Got to find the true queen, she reminded herself, or is the monster just Endellion’s doppelganger? Mosaic didn’t know, but she felt certain the creature in the cabinet had been very important. And those hands, she thought, shuddering. When Mosaic had first seen them, she thought the grotesque appendages had been sewn there by some mad tailor. Now though, Mosaic realised the truth of the squirming pustules, weeping sores, and infantile limbs: there were one and the same; the child-like hands had somehow grown from the woman’s flesh, though that didn’t explain the reason for Endellion’s missing teeth or rotten leg. Mosaic tried to push the image from her mind but her bloodied hand rose, as if of its own accord, and traced the surface of her mask, red streaks marking where the porcelain hid her scars.
No, Mosaic told herself. There would be time enough for questions after she had recovered the creature wearing Endellion’s face. They would escape and Mosaic would have ample time to get her answers.
At the opposite end of the corridor, the dozen other men had formed into a hedge bristling with spears, swords, and axes. No bowmen, though. That was a small mercy.
Mosaic glanced back at the window, wondering for a second time whether she should chance a leap into the courtyard below.
The shout was all the warning Mosaic had before the soldiers charged. She had wanted to delay – to warn these men as she had done with the others – but they weren’t giving her that chance … and that meant she couldn’t give them theirs.
It was time her enemies learned the meaning of her name.
As the net of killers rushed to encircle her, Mosaic swung the mask from her face and allowed the dark energy to surge, its curse bursting her flesh asunder and setting the ragged lines of her face afire; the magic hurt like damnation itself – like all the demons of hell were gorging themselves on her bloodied, blistered skin – but with the curse came a blessing: Mosaic’s eyes widened, her glowing pupils shattered into fiery fragments, and her mind gained the acuity of a hundred eyes studying the world for a single minute. Not a long time, perhaps, but with that enhanced awareness, Mosaic also gained the preternatural reflexes that had earned her at least two of her names.
As the initial gout of flames subsided, Mosaic’s eyes, cheeks, and brow glowed with the fire of dying embers, their broken lines still burning with unnatural light. Upon seeing her demonic visage, the guards at the front tried to slow their advance only to tangle with those still pressing from behind.
It was a brief pause, but that was all Mosaic needed; the woman sprang forward, heedless of the odds, her attention fragmented into shards that dealt with each man and each moment. A flick of the rapier sent one soldier’s mace crashing into the chest of his companion. A kick of her boot sent her fallen poinard flying into the eye of a guard attempting to close with her.
Punch. Kick. Spin. Twist. Mosaic moved with the grace of a dancing flame and attacked with the speed of burning gunpowder. She ducked low, her flicking rapier moved faster than any eye could follow – any but her own – and the lonely blade seemed to sing as it plucked both hamstrings and heel strings. In the space of a heartbeat, half the men were falling with their legs cut from beneath them.
Mosaic stood in the midst of them now, her long rapier ineffective amidst the tight quarters, but she didn’t slow as she rose and pivoted, her elbows and forearms redirecting the wild swings of the stumbling guardsmen. A shortsword slid over her bracers, its edge tearing through the velvet cloak as it missed Mosaic’s hip and slid into the gut of a fat man wearing an open vest of boiled leather. That didn’t make sense, Mosaic thought. Why wear armor then not use it to protect you? She spent a full heartbeat marveling at the sheer stupidity of some people, though in her current state it felt like a lifetime. Once she’d shaken herself from her torpor, Mosaic stabbed the nearest man in the temple, having stolen the dagger from his belt two heartbeats earlier.
Something brushed the back of Mosaic’s head – a spiked hammer, if she didn’t miss her guess – and she leaned away from the blow as another broken facet of her mind steered her towards the exit the guardsmen had just vacated. Mosaic hoped she wouldn’t find more guards on the other side. She could feel her magic dwindling, and she hated to think she was dashing from the cook pot and into the proverbial fire.
As she neared, a cloaked figure lurched past the shadowed arch of the open door, its unsteady gait and putrid stench immediately revealing the doppelganger’s ill-concealed identity. Mosaic’s eyes widened as she lunged to follow, her minute of superhuman speed nearly spent as the pain of her burning face began to cool and crack, its broken fissures fusing into a mosaic of scarred flesh and dull pain. Within a few hours, her skin would heal – though not completely – and the dark hatch marks of old stitches would begin to show beneath the seams of charred flesh. Again, Mosaic thought of the creature in the cabinet, unable to stop herself from musing whether its scars and her own shared some perverse origin. Perhaps if she caught the doppelganger, she would find out. As her magic finally disippated, Mosaic lifted the porcelain mask hanging around her neck and used her final seconds to settle its white face over her own.
“Find the queen,” she whispered, her breath ragged. “Get her out … survive.” As she entered the corridor, Mosaic spun to follow the the shambling figure dodging around the corner and out of sight. Mosaic moved to follow then stopped when she heard the stamp of boots following close behind her. With barely a thought, she spun and slammed the door shut, her eyes searching for a drop bar. Instead, she saw some helpful guard had left his keys in the lock and she turned them with a satisfying click.
Screams and shouts rose up from the courtyard below and Mosaic raced down the steps in pursuit of her quarry. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she saw the crowd of commoners had merged and bled into the ranks of the cloaked and masked nobility. At the center of it all was the shrouded doppelganger, the queen’s disfigured face hidden beneath the stolen cowl of black velvet. The garment was small, though, and it could not hide the full truth of the monstrosity beneath the folds of thin cloth: tiny grey hands protruded from garment, their twitching fingers struggling to pull the fabric aside and unmask what lay beneath.
“What is this?” the Butcher Queen shouted from the eave of an overhanging balcony. “What delightful spectactle have you brought me now, Chancellor?”
The bald man scratched his pate, his fingers trembling. “I’m … I don’t …” He shook his head, his lips pursed so tight he could give no other answer.
“Bah. Useless! I should put you down there instead of that pathetic creature.” She sniffed, not recognizing the hunched figure of the doppelganger below. “Tear the cloak from its skin,” she bellowed at the surging mob, “then tear the skin from its bones!”
To Be Continued…
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