Chapter 1: Mournings and Mornings and Mournful Breakfasts
Lines of them marched yet again.
Once-dead, those whose physical bodies had failed them, experiencing the first death that many beings of Kigan encounter in their existence.
They were dead long before they were trapped here.
No flesh remained between their bones and their mail hauberks, nothing to stop the metal plates of their armour from clattering. No hair escaped between the angular plates of their helmets which jutted out past their unending grins, no lips remaining but thanks to the helmets, they still had rusted jaws of metal.
The foot soldiers were armed with spear and shield, the heraldry of the shield worn away, leaving a ghostly indistinct beast on each shield. Their side arms were maces once shaped in the form of a beast’s head, long eroded into something that looked like a clenched fist.
To the sides of these soldiers were more of their fellows but these once-dead were mounted on great skeletal lizards, though for all the rotted cloth and armour, you would have not known that only bones remained.
Thrashing behind them were crevice kraken. These were fall smaller than their nightmarishly huge water dwelling cousins, but the octopus-like monsters were still massive. These however, were but spirits, their heads caged in crumbling metal towers, their eight limbs bound in rings that skeletal mages and archers were affixed into. The physical and the ethereal, one binding the other in place.
The towers once had proudly displayed the craftsmanship of their owners. Long had been the day when those owners had lived to feel pride, to create wonders and see their wonders crush nations around them.
This army of the dead marched again to siege once more the sparkling city that lay crushed before them.
This city was what they opposed, what they fought against over and over and over. A bastion that looked as if some deity had hammered the night sky into castles, manors and spiralling maze-like walls, all arranged as the petals of a flower of people.
The city had not been taken, not once.
The city had long since fallen.
The lowing dirge of horns called out, announcing morning and the continuation of the once-dead’s siege.
Yet the light of morning, in all the frozen cycles, did not once reach this place, far beneath ice, deep in shattered stone.
Lines of them marched again, and would march again, for this is not our story, not their story.
Not the end, not the freedom from the loop that these soldiers were trapped in.
Our story is in this place, that so long ago fell.
It was a morning like any other.
Distant from the battle, amid trees long changed by the warping of the loop, the ice and darkness.
In this gnarled grove, where the leaves of the trees were frozen crows, there was a house.
A cottage in fact.
This cottage was made from the shattered soil, from the ominous trees.
It was however quite a homely little home, and smoke of varied unnaturally shifting colours flapped its way from it’s chimney, splitting apart and roosting in the trees, in time finding bodies in the frozen crow leaves.
This cottage had not been around when the land fell.
Though it was many years old, in this place, that counted as new.
Quite naturally living within this cottage were witches.
Three witches, sisters all.
With the sad call of the horns they began their day.
Qusheab yawned widely her tongue rolling out her mouth and her back arching, her tails swishing behind her, it was much like that actions of a cat.
Given that she and her sisters were of the Raskh, this should come as no surprise. Her ancestors were descended from the familiars of mages. Her kin, the raskhiir were the most cat-like of the raskh, once the slaves of mages, a race of mages themselves. Her ancestors had fled their masters in the hot lands of Erimael, not until they reached the wind-torn snows of Nortrieln did they feel easy in their hearts
Even then, it was long before their struggles against the hands of their masters ended.
With an agile leap, Qusheab escaped from her circular bed and rubbed her crusty green eyes.
It was quite a large bed, even when taking into account that all three sisters slept in it. This time, Qusheab was the last to leave the sable silken sheets and crowdown pillows behind. The bed was suspended in the air by chains and lining the walls of the bedroom were bookshelves upon bookshelves. The bed never rocked or shook.
Directly behind their bed was a mirror, plain in frame. It did however reach from ceiling to floor.
Qusheab busied herself with her morning ablutions, skipping into their bathroom, a wonderous place with a caged water spirit and furry eels that made for surprisingly good towels. The water spirit was a cleaning maniac so, it hadn’t been difficult to cage. The eels however, those had cost quite a bit of money and potions.
It was worth it, they’d even eat parasites, including many minor magical ones!
The bathroom was just a number of different wooden barrels and animate brushes. Animating brushes was a surprisingly easy spell to master.
Qusheab was quite small, not much larger than a housecat, and not too different in appearance.
She did however have long black hair flowing from her head to her tail, as no cat would. Her fur was white with black stripes. The brushes were mostly for this. She and her sisters weren’t nearly powerful enough or focused in the right direction for self cleaning spells.
When you are covered in fur, hygiene becomes a bigger thing.
Finishing up with being tickled by the eels, Qusheab put on her scarlet pointy boots, her brown soft-leather gloves, a surprisingly floral pale dress.
She did not need to put on her witch’s hat, because it had never really left her.
Magic in Kigan tends to work better and easier the more people that have done what you are attempting to do, and over time, two things became very common focuses of power for witches.
Their hats and, a bit less commonly, their brooms.
Qusheab’s hat was passed down to her from her mother. The youngest daughter in her family always got it. The hat was made of dark red fish-like scales the brim ringed with some unknown crimson bone. A ruby-like gem replaced the usual pointed tip, supposedly it was actually the heart of some creature or another.
The hat had many functions, most of which Qusheab had not the power or ability to use. Nevermind Qusheab, her sisters could fare no better. The Dauftima pride was not what had once been.
She happily strode into the brewing hall of the cottage, a room filled with tables cauldrons, jars, reagents of all kinds, stoves and fireplaces. She and her sisters were the most traditional of witches, brew witches.
With the rise of alchemists there were less of their kind, but, in spite of similarities it was a different art.
“Morn’ Jadah!” Qusheab chirped.
Jadah was stirring the centre cauldron of the room, below which was a pit with no less than three salamander spirits burning merrily. The cauldron had been forged in the shape of a laughing cat’s head.
Jadah lifted the long bone ladle from the cauldron checking the shimmering brew. It was as if she had not heard her sister. Finally she turned her gaze to Qusheab, revealing her pure white eyes.
“Ah, finally you grace us with your presence sister, be a dear and check the other cauldrons, whip up some breakfast too. Koolah and I have been too busy with the rituals.”
Jadah was the second eldest, and the most plump. She wore black pointy boots, a green dress with a disagreeable number of frills, a white scaly apron and gloves of the same material. Her hat was brown and had a small bush growing out of it. The bush was a soft golden and little flakes spiralled away from it.
She had won the hat from another witch, partly due to the fact that she had two sisters and a pride while the unfortunate witch had just been a lone crazed hag.
Qusheab bounced from pot to cauldron to stove, beating down ingredients that were trying to escape when she could.
“How about breakfast soup?” She asked, glancing at Jadah.
Jadah was stirring the cauldron with a uneasy expression, this became more uneasy at the mention of Qusheab’s ill-fated breakfast soup.
“I think… that I couldn’t ask that much of you” Jadah said diplomatically.
“Oh it’s no bother at all!” She said, liberally pouring some powder into a random pot.
The contents gave a small wail, as did Jadah’s heart.
“U-uuoh, EGGS! Yes, eggs! I think Koolah said she’d like a poached egg!”
“Oh lovely idea”
Jadah gave a sigh of relief, but somehow, she didn’t feel relieved. Was there something off with the brew?
“We can have poached eggs and my breakfast soup” Qusheab said.
Jadah almost cried, but in a lightning strike of inspiration, the escape came to her.
“Don’t worry about it dear, it’s late enough already, just do a few poached eggs”
“Okay!” Qusheab sang.
She darted over to the main cauldron and stared intently at the salamanders below, the salamanders stopped their revelry, knowing what would come next they hissed unpleasantly. She took out a small bottle with icy blue liquid inside. Putting a drop on each glove she thrust her paws into the flames and grabbed at the eggs she had spotted.
The salamanders coiled their fiery little bodies around her hand but with a flick they were thrown off and Qusheab triumphantly held the eggs she had snatched into the air. The salamanders hissed inconsolably.
“Well done dear” Jadah said idly.
Qusheab pulled an empty pot out from a pile of herbs and filled it with water from the bathroom.
“Jadah, where is Koolah? I’ve not seen her”
Jadah continued stirring, whispering into the brew, carefully guiding the flow within.
“She’s gone into the storeroom, wanted to check something.”
“Oh, something the matter?”
“I don’t know, something feels off today”
“Well, this is a loop, bound to feel a bit off since we aren’t trapped by it”
Jadah went silent, turning her white eyes to the main brew, as if the bubbles of it could tell her what the source of the uneasiness in her heart was.
Qusheab had quite quickly poached the eggs, and following that directed the ire of the salamanders onto a few bits of creeping bread. Creeping bread is actually a kind of fungus, one that is barely edible, but it grows tenaciously in magic rich environs and is barely acceptable when toasted.
Jadah just ate hers there and then, while Qusheab went into the storeroom with Koolah’s.
The brew swirled.
“Hmm, isn’t it usually about now?” Jadah wondered.
There was a knock on the door of the cottage.
Jadah ignored it, thinking Qusheab would get it.
There was a second knock.
“Qusheab dear, can’t you get that?” She shouted.
“Sorry, I’ve gotten a bit entangled here!” Qusheab shouted back.
Jadah sighed and stoked the bone ladle, hissing at it, calling it to remember when it was alive and then she left it to stir in a pattern that would be safe for the brew for a few minutes.
She would have to greet their repeating guest herself.
A man half-consumed by the loop.
[Hmm, last thursday vanished. Well, update tomorrow then I guess]