In a dark, dark, forest stands a dark, dark, cottage. In this dark, dark, cottage is a dark, dark, hallway that leads to a dark, dark, room. In a dark, dark, corner of this dark, dark, room stands a dark, dark trunk.
As you might imagine, given where this trunk could be found, it was a magic trunk. On the surface, it looked ordinary. The kind of place where one might keep spare blankets. To all appearances it seemed like just an empty trunk, and yet, if one knew how to look and the right words to say, you would find a staircase.
And this dark, dark staircase, led to a world of magic: Czarnoksięstwo
The sun had barely risen over the horizon, let alone the trees of the forest, when the silence was broken by the shrill cry of a baby. The head of what looked like a beautiful red haired woman broken the water, and swam to the edge towards a small bundle on the shore. Another woman, also with bright red hair, surface behind her.
“What’s that racket?” asked the second sleepily.
“I think it’s a baby” replied the first.
“Can we eat it?”
The first woman picked up the little bundle and pulled back the blanket.
“It’s a little girl”
“Another one for Baba Yaga then.”
Baba Yaga’s home could be found in the deepest part of the enchanted forest, in a clearing surrounded by a fence made of bones and bramble bushes. The posts were each topped with a skull, and as one approached, the eye sockets would light up.
The cottage was not too big, but neither was is small, and it stood atop a pair of large chicken legs. The house liked to face away from the gate, facing away from any visitors and displaying a hanging sign with the words “go away” painted in red.
The path to the house was lined with all sorts of poisonous looking mushrooms.
A river ran past the house, and it was from there that the red haired women emerged, carrying the abandoned baby girl.
At first the house turned its back on them, but after a few seconds, it turned around and lowered itself to the ground. They knocked and the door opened with a whine. Inside was the kitchen, with a wooden table at which sat a woman that looked as old as time itself. Her white hair was long, and messy in a way that looked like lightning had struck a broom. Her nose was long and curved towards the floor. Her rather pointed chin stuck out, and the lines around her mouth looked as though she spent the majority of her life sucking lemons. On the end of her chin was a rather large mole from which sprouted three impressive black hairs.
She sat at her kitchen table with a pipe, the smoke of which smelled like it had been on the losing end of an encounter with a skunk.
The two women entered the house warily. The witch took a long drag of her pipe, considering them with one squinted eye.
“Now what would two Rusalka such as yourself be doing so far from their lake?”
The kitchen looked exactly what you would expect of a witch as famous as Baba Yaga herself. There was a large cauldron bubbling in the fireplace. There were assorted jars full of strange ingredients on shelves on the wall, and books and quills everywhere. One of the Rusalka was bending over a terrarium with a large apathetic toad, when she registered the questions.
“Oh! We found a baby girl so we brought her here.”
The other Rusalka handed over the cloth bundle and watched with trepidation as Baba Yaga lifted a bony finger with a long sharp nail and pulled down the cloth to see the little one’s face. She chewed on the mouthpiece of her pipe as she considered the babe.
“You did well ladies. You have my thanks.”
“Can I have this toad?” Said the other Rusalka, poking at the toad and trying to get a reaction.
“Careful, he bites”
The Rusalka pulled her hand back quickly and stepped back.
Baba Yaga pull her hand down in the empty air suddenly holding two delicate necklaces. The pendant at the end of each of them looked like a tiny solidified drop of water.
“Take these with my thanks. They will lead you to what you seek.”
The two Rusalka took the pendants and disappeared out the door. Once they were gone, Baba Yaga picked up the bundle once more. The ancient hands rocked the baby gently, singing a spell softly under her breath.
When Kasia came into the Kitchen, she found the old witch packing a hunk of black bread and some hard cheese in a cloth, and there was a baby in one of the cupboards. She was preceded seconds earlier by a skinny black cat, who immediately rubbed up against the old which, while an owl flew to the cupboard to examine the baby.
“Planning a trip?” she asked.
“I have to go visit my younger sister. Where are your eyes right now?” asked the old woman looking back and forth from the cat to the owl. The owl flew over from the cupboard and landed on the tall young lady’s shoulder. “Ah there we go.”
“Do we have a new student?”
“No. That’s what I have to visit my sister about. It’s another one of hers. The Rusalka who found the little mite got confused and thought they were a girl.”
“I’m just here trying to find Anna’s history notebook. She lost it again.”
“I told you I didn’t lose it, that mutt of Iskra’s stole it again.” Another girl joined them in the kitchen. This one was much shorter than the other, though both had dark brown hair. Kasia’s had hints of waves which had a tendency to make her hair poof out a little, while Anna’s had a sleeker look to it.
Baba Yaga wheezed with laughter, “are you saying the dog ate your homework? That excuse was old when I was a young girl.” As she spoke a series of yellow letters appeared
R you saying the God ate your home? That excuse when I was a young girl.
“Just this this once though she might have a point” said Kasia, her face screwed up in disgust as she lifted a leather notebook completely covered in drool.
A series of white letters appeared this time.
Just this Ounce though she might have a pont.
“What is wrong with your spell?” The old witch asked as the yellow words managed to accurately write out what she had said this time.
Anna winced, “The scribe spirit I was using went on vacation. I have a temp spirit for a few days.”
With a nod, Baba Yaga went out the door and hopped into a giant mortar and pestle. Despite its size, the old witch’s bony knees were tucked in tight just below her nose as she sat with the pestle in front of her and used it like a rudder on a ship. Up the magical mortar flew up into the air and within moments was far out of sight above the treetops.
The magic of the moment was broken by the sound of a deep bark, followed by a cat’s scream and the sound of breaking pottery. Kasia lay a hand on Anna’s shoulder to get her attention and pointed inside. As soon as they walked across the threshold to the kitchen, a wet black cat jumped into Kasia’s arms, startling the owl on her shoulder. The grey bird flapped its wings angrily at the sodden cat, who hissed and swatted back. Meanwhile what looked like a large black dog except for the burning red eyes and razor sharp teeth, was running around the room in circles howling pitifully and running into cupboards causing dishes and jars and books to fall to the floor. In its rampage, the hellhound ran into Kasia’s legs knocking her to the floor. Anna just stood staring in dumbstruck horror at the pandemonium in the room.
With all the panic, the kitchen chairs, which moments earlier had seemed like regular chairs had woken up. What had seemed like carved legs turned out to be actual chicken legs which were now blindly running around the room like panicked hens. One almost ran into the fire place, at the last moment slipping on something wet on the floor which sent it spinning sideways into an empty bucket instead.
“Everybody stop!” yelled a redheaded girl across the room. Her voice carried a current of power and everything and everyone froze in place. Things still in the process of falling froze and hovered in mid-air. Even the house seemed to be holding stiller. Only Anna seemed immune, as she took in the sudden stillness before reaching out and shaking Kasia awake.
“Iskra? Is that you” asked the taller girl, her eyes closed and her head tilting back and forth as though to catch a sound in a dark room.
“Yes it’s me. Sorry Kasia, I didn’t mean to break your seeing spell.” Replied the spell caster, floating into the room on the most curious looking chair. Her hair was a dark red with carrot and blond highlights, suggesting the source of her name. She had a spattering of dark brown freckles across the bridge of her upturned nose.
“It’s okay, it pretty much stopped working when Soot scared Archimedes.” The blind girl stood up with Anna’s help, who then guided her over to a chair that was still standing. “What happened?”
The chair on which Iskra floated along was a thing of beauty. It was carved out of ebony wood and very dark. The sides which made up the arm rests were carved in the shape of beautiful stallions, while the main body of the chair looked like a strange humpbacked horse. The seated part was carved into the space between the humps and was cushioned with soft looking pillows. For all that it was elaborate, it still managed to be slender enough to navigate around. It floated gently about a meter or so off the floor.
“One of the younger girls lost control of her wand. Her spell hit Kleks in the face and he ran off. I guess he must have stepped on Soot’s tail, then she ran into the bucket which tipped and got her wet. Kleks was running around in pain which woke the chairs up.”
Kasia rubbed her head to smooth away the beginnings of a headache. Anna got to work picking jars up from midair and putting them back on the shelves.
Iskra was moving herself forward using one of two canes that she had with her. She retrieve the black cat from the air and handed her over to Kasia. The cat, awake now began grooming herself, surreptitiously watching the fire-haired girl.
Kleks, the large black hellhound was frozen hilariously mid run and slide. He was just beginning his slip, tilted hilariously sideways with his jowls mid-flap and his ears in the air. Frozen still as he was, you could see the big green lump growing where his nose should be. Iskra whispered a few words over the scared hound and the lump was replaced with a shiny black nose. She righted him before releasing him from the spell.
“Good boy, it’s ok. Good boy. The spells all gone” she comforted the whining fire-eyed hound. After a few soothing pats, he licked her face in excitement. He stood perfectly still and straight in response to her command to attend, and she slipped on a red and black harness and vest that connected to her chair. Having done that she was able to put away her cane and lean back wincing.
While she had been working with her hound, Anna had finished righting all of the falling items and Kasia had magicked all of the broken glass and other broken items into a bin. “Lidiya should be able to fix at least some of this”
It was safe to release the spell and all that was frozen entered time again. The three girls sat around the kitchen table while the ingredients for tea gathered themselves in the background.
“Is she with the other girls right now?”
“Her and Clara, Lidiya was demonstrating how to infuse magic into a wand.”
So that’s how Kleks got his nose turned into a green lump” remarked Anna.
Iskra winced and laughed at the same time, “It seems Gabrisia picked it up really quickly and in excitement she flapped her hands, but she was still holding the wand.”
“Oh no! Poor Gabby.”
“It’s ok, Lidiya was talking to her as I scuttled off after him. If anyone knows what to say it’s her.”
“That’s true. When she started she turned Baba Yaga into a pumpkin! It took us three days to figure out how to change her back.”
“That’s only because Kasia and Iskra refused to help us.” Said a new voice, joining them. The new girl was about Anna’s age, younger than both of the others. She wore a worn leather apron over a long shirt and thick hose. Her dark brown hair was pulled into two braids and held back with a faded red kerchief. She wore at her belt a hammer, a chisel, and a carving knife. Lidiya pulled out a chair and joined the others at the table.
“Baba Yaga made us promise not to. She says her time as assorted vegetables and fruit is the only time she gets any peace and quiet anymore.”
“Though I think it was more about getting you to use your powers again right away so you wouldn’t freeze up,” cut in Kasia.
“It worked” laughed Lidiya. The quiet scrape of a chisel on wood joined the sound of tea being made, as she worked on what looked like a wand.
“Speaking of our fair matriarch, where did she fly off to just now?” asked Iskra looking over at Anna and Kasia. She laughed and used hand signals to sign “I saw you on the porch.”
“She went to see her sister” replied Kasia at the same time that Anna stuck her tongue out at Iskra.
“She has a sister?’ asked Lidiya, “I didn’t know that.”
“She has two actually” clarified Kasia.
“And they’re all named Baba Yaga.” Laughed Iskra.
“You’re kidding me.”
“Nope. All three of them are named Baba Yaga. Ours is the eldest, the Bone-Legged.”
“Wait cause of her skinny calves?” asked Anna, giggling.
“Yup!” Iskra could barely contain her giggles either.
“Alright, alright” scolded Kasia.
The tea was finally done and each of them took a moment to hold a steaming mug. The evenings were still cool, even though most of the snow had melted. In the quiet you could hear the slight creak of wood that betrayed the moving chicken legs on which the house stood. Otherwise it was completely still, as though the house outside was somehow different than the house inside. This was supported by the fact that it was significantly bigger on the inside.
While the kitchen looked exactly as you would expect based on the outside of the cottage, down the hall you reached a door leading to the outside, and two connecting hallways that led in opposite directions before turning sharply and continuing down. The hallways framed a garden that was walled on three sides, the fourth side being mostly blocked by a dairy building with a small herd of goats, and a path that led to a little fenced orchard with a gate at the end, and a long path leading outwards through a valley and into a forest.
From the garden and even outside the gate, there was no evidence that the same house stood on chicken legs in the middle of a forest. Although outside the gate the seasons were the same, in the garden it was always summer. Though it was called a garden, the little interior was big enough to include a little smithy and different garden patches, some with herbs, some with edible plants, and some with all sorts of scary poisonous and magical plants as well. One of the trees in the orchard grew silver and gold apples, though the girls discovered that they didn’t taste quite as good as the regular apples. Vaguely metallic.
The clack of a cup being put down on the table brought everyone’s thoughts back to the present.
“Are their names really also Baba Yaga?” asked Anna.
“They really are”
“So why did she decide to go visit them all of a sudden?”
“Apparently some Rusalka brought a baby for the school, but it wasn’t one of ours. Baba Yaga’s middle sister runs a school for abandoned non-binary children.” Explained Kasia.
“Oh cool! Let me guess the youngest runs a school for boys?”
“Actually no, she runs a restaurant.” Clarified Kasia, completely blank-faced.
(Continued in Part 2)