Sometime last week I made a joke on Twitter that because cozy fantasy was popular right now I was going to write a book about a witch’s cat who had to go on an adventure to find her witch… A number of people said they wanted to read that story… A large number of people. So I’ve decided to take a quick(ish) break from writing Death’s Beating Heart to pen such a tale.
Now this is obviously a 1st draft so a lot is subject to change as things go on, but as it’s a bit of a fun project I thought why not post chapters to my Patreon as I go. Hopefully it’s not a bunch of crap. I’ve honestly no real idea what I’m doing with cozy fantasy and nor have I ever thought about writing from the perspective of a cat before.
Anyways, enough preamble. Here’s chapter 1 as it currently stands.
Artwork has nothing to do with the actual story and is by the hugely talented Virginia McLain who has her own Patreon right over here…
The Curious Adventures of Ms. Mittens the Third
When choosing your familiar it is important to consider the soul and disposition of the animal. A familiar is a source of comfort as well as power, and a mutual respect is necessary for any true resonance of spirit.
Do not choose a cat.
-A Witch’s Guide to Familiars (page 1)
Ms. Mittens was hungry. This was an atrocity regularly visited on all feline kind, but not one any self respecting cat would suffer willingly. There was still last night’s left over salmon, but it had already grown cold and there was fat fly sucking on the flesh, faceted eyes glinting in the morning light as it repeated mine mine mine as if Ms. Mittens would have anything to do with putrefying leftovers.
No. There was nothing for it. Ms. Mittens did the only thing acceptable in such a situation, she turned away, head and tail held high and jumped up onto the bed to rouse her familiar.
Pokey was a competent familiar as far as humans went. Though for some reason the other humans called her Witch Fallstar. They were always doing that, Ms. Mittens had noticed, inventing foolish names for each other when they already had perfectly good names given to them by cats. Pokey was generous with the fish, smelled mostly pleasant, and had a wonderful ability to find just the right spot to scratch between Ms. Mittens shoulders. A reasonable familiar, though a little lazy at times.
Everyone knew the correct way to sleep was in short, regular bursts. These were often called cat naps as it was a cat who first pioneered the method of resting. Most leaps forward in healthy practice, magical ability, and technology were spearheaded by cats, though in a feat of ultimate generosity shown time and time again throughout the ages, feline kind was more than willing to share the fame for the achievement with their familiars. Generosity was one of the defining traits of cats, everyone knew it.
Pokey, like many humans, still preferred to get all her daily sleeping done at once. It was foolishness, of course, but humans were foolish. She was splayed out on the bed, legs twisted in the blankets, arms outflung, pale hair an exploding mess around her head, framing her dark skin. She snored softly. Humans always snored. Pokey liked to claim it was just her way of purring, but there was an art form to a good purr and a snore was not it. Might as well call a puddle a lake or a mouse a kobold.
Ms. Mittens informed Pokey she was hungry. Politely, at first, but when her familiar didn’t rouse, Ms. Mittens shouted it. Pokey stirred, groaned, rolled over, and continued snoring. This was, of course, entirely unacceptable. Ms. Mittens prodded pokey. Her familiar only groaned again and pulled the blankets up and over her head.
Ms. Mittens sighed and readjusted her previous assessment. Pokey was a lackadaisical familiar. But Ms. Mittens was a cat and not helpless without her familiar, unlike some lesser creatures. Dragons, for instance, were almost useless without a familiar to guide them. The smaller ones weren’t too, bad, but the larger ones just flew around burning everything without a witch to guide them. They did seem to find immolating things quite fun though. Lighting people on fire and sitting on piles of gold like they expected it to hatch. Dragons were living proof that bigger did not always mean brighter.
Ms. Mittens gave Pokey one last prodding with her dark paw, then turned away and looked about for her hat. It was over by the hearth, though she was certain that wasn’t where she left it. Capricious thing was always wondering off on its own if she let it. It was a good hat. Almost as dark as Ms. Mittens’ fur, it had a wide brim, a crooked point, and a number of colourful badges sewn into it. She jumped down from the bed, padded over to the hat, and ducked underneath the brim until it settled down atop her head. Ms. Mittens tilted her head until her ears found the correct holes and poked up through the fabric.
Immediately she felt a soft tickling atop her head. A moment later, Tickles scuttled out from under hat, climbed up onto the brim and spun a fine web until he dangled down infront of Ms. Mittens. Tickles was an odd spider with only seven legs, but he claimed it didn’t hamper him too much. He also couldn’t speak, which was quite frustrating, but he was already the previous resident of the hat before Ms. Mittens had claimed it, so they managed to get along.
Tickles danced about, hanging from the rim of the hat, weaving his web. It quickly took shape until Ms. Mittens was staring at a picture of a fish within the webbing. This was why she liked Tickles; he understood. Ms. Mittens quickly informed him food was the plan and that Pokey was belligerently asleep. Tickles restructured his web into a frowning face, agreeing that it was entirely unacceptable behaviour. Ms. Mittens nodded along and then assured Tickles he needn’t worry, because she had a plan. And everyone knew cats made the best plans.
Cats were primarily independent creatures when they were not taking pity on familiars who needed their help. As such, Ms. Mittens was more than capable of securing her own fish. She leapt up onto the windowsill and brushed aside the curtains. Outside, Crown City was already awake. Some humans, it seemed, were not so lazy as Pokey. Though there were more than just humans out and about.
Ms. Mittens saw two burly ogres, each carrying half a dozen stacked crates on their shoulders. A goblin skipped along behind them carrying a single, much smaller crate, but grinning past his green nose at helping. Old PoeDoe, the half-elf, was opening up her shop, a display of bags and hats racked outside her doors. She was a wrinkled, stooped old thing which meant that Doe, her human side, was awake today. When Poe was awake, she was a much younger creature and spry enough she chased Ms. Mittens away whenever Pokey wasn’t nearby. Ms. Mittens considered it just one more reason not to like elves. They were always chasing cats away. It was something to do with long lives versus multiple lives, but it had never really seemed important to Ms. Mittens.
Ms. Mittens twitched her nose and waved of her tale, casting a spell to open the window latch. Nothing happened, but then cat magic had a habit of working in its own time. She gave the latch a poke with her dark paw to help it along and the window swung open, letting the noise and the smells of Crown City inside. Baking bread, and roasting beef, and burning spices all reached Ms. Mittens and she sniffed gratefully. There were other smells too, but they weren’t food and therefor weren’t important.
Pokey groaned from the bed. Ms. Mittens quickly leapt from the windowsill onto the hanging plant pot on the room next door. A moment later, a puff of purple smoke drifted out from their room, and pulled the window shut, latching it again. Human magic, being far inferior to cat magic, was always so ostentatiously visible. Cat magic was invisible as they were much more subtle creatures. Cats had been trying to train human familiars to use invisible magic for many generations, but they just couldn’t seem to grasp the concept. Too reliant on their eyes, Ms. Mittens supposed.
She leapt from the hanging plant pot down to the drainage pipe and padded along its sloping length, then dropped onto the top of a half open door. The ground was still a distance below and Ms. Mittens gave a quick trajectory wiggle, then leapt. She hit the cobblestones without a sound, startling a young spriggan so much that an apple dropped from one of its upper branches. The spriggan’s leaves turned rose in embarrassment and it apologised, but Ms. Mittens paid it no mind, already strolling off in search of the cooking fish she smelled.
The city loomed high above her from the dusty streets, and the people all lumbered about like clumsy giants. Well, most of the people. The kobolds scuttled about, but they were barely bigger than Ms. Mittens and far less intelligent. And for some reason they loved to collect trash. You couldn’t pass one in the street without wondering why it was wearing an old shoe on its head, or if it even realised it was trying to pay for a load of bread with mouldy orange peels.
“Listen ya little prick. You pay me the rest of wot you owe me or I’ll redecorate ya face instead of ya shop.” Two humans stood arguing in the street ahead. One was big, with clothing stained in a rainbow of colours. He had one hand in a fist, and the other wrapped around a smaller man’s neck. The smaller man had grey hair and wore spectacles and sputtered at the aggression.
“I don’t have it, sir.” He winced and threw up his hands to protect his face. “Tomorrow. I’ll have it tomorrow.”
Ms. Mittens passed between them, winding through their legs as she chased the smell of fish on the air.
“Ahh,” shouted the big human. He leapt back out of the way of Ms. Mittens, letting go of the other man. “You blighter. Watch where you’re going.”
Humans always said the strangest things. Ms. Mittens was watching where she was going. This was why they were made to be familiars. They had no sense until a cat gave it to them. She said as much to Tickles and the little spider quickly weaved a laughing face into his web.
“Tomorrow then…” the bigger man said as he recovered and turned back to his companion. Ms. Mittens stopped listening, though she kept one ear swivelled around in case of trouble.
Up ahead, an elf with golden hair and piercings in her ears was talking to a human as they strode hand in hand. Ms. Mittens fell in behind them, content to listen for a few moments while she tried to snuff out the direction of the fish.
“I’m telling you, the king is dying,” the elf said. She leaned against the man’s shoulder. “I heard it from Belter down at the docks.”
“No chance, love” the man said. “Kings don’t just die. Not unless there’s a battle or a plague or one of those, uh, what do you call its… When the people get angry and…”
“Revolution?” the elf asked.
“Sure. And I ain’t heard about any of those. It’s just dock talk is all.”
“Well…” the elf said conspiratorially. She looked around, spotted Ms. Mittens walking behind them and hissed.
It was incredibly rude, but what was to be expected of an elf? Ms. Mittens leapt away even as the elf kicked out at her. Then suddenly there was a horse pulling a cart heading right for her. She darted in between clattering hooves and yelled an insult at the horse for being so lumbering. Of course the horse didn’t understand her, it was a horse. But it snorted and stamped at her. Then she was under the cart and wheels thundered by on each side. Ms. Mittens cowered, tucked her tail close, and darted out from under the cart. Right into the path of a large kobold. The scaly runt reared up on its back legs and brandished an dirty mop head at Ms. Mittens. Heart hammering in her chest and hackles raised, Ms. Mittens spun in a circle looking for an escape route. Tickles held on to the brim of her hat intrepidly. Ms. Mittens leapt at the nearest building, not waiting to see whether it was shop, home, tavern or anything else. She dug claws into the wood and scrabbled up the side until she reached a windowsill. There, a good enough distance from the street only a troll would be able to reach her, she crouched and waited until the panic had passed.
The elf was still watching her from across the street. The human was trying to pull the elf away, but she stood her ground and glared up at Ms. Mittens. While elven dislike of cats was something approaching legend, cats took a much higher road (as they always did) and most often simply ignored the animosity of elves. But Ms. Mittens was not feeling in a charitable mood so she stood, stretched, twitched her nose and waved her tail, casting a spell of ill luck on the elf. Nothing happened.
Tickles spun a question mark into his web.
Well, magic sometimes took time to take effect and she told the spider as much. Then she leapt up the side of the building onto the roof. Rooftops were much easier travel most of the time, even if this one was infested with sleeping rime moths. Ms. Mittens picked her way in between the moths, careful not to touch any in case they awoke and showered her in frosty crystals, and followed the faint scent of fish. She had already all but forgotten her encounter with the nasty elf.
It was somewhere between not long and forever before Ms. Mittens leapt across one rooftop to another and found herself staring down at the immense thronging mass that Pokey called the bazar. Cats didn’t really bother with the concept of time. They didn’t need to. Ms. Mittens understood it of course. The continuing, inexorable pulse of the world and the way people, animals, water, rock, magic all flowed through it. She understood it, but it simply made no sense when Pokey wasn’t around to need to refer to it. You were either here or there, and there was no point accounting for the in between because you were still somewhere. You either had food or you did not, in which case you were getting food. It was simple. Pokey seemed to require the concept of time though as it helped her schedule her meetings with others. That was part of life as a cat’s familiar. Meetings and magic and coins with which to pay for things. Money was another concept Ms. Mittens both understood but took no part in. Cats were above the idea of money because ownership was not nearly as static a concept as humans, and most other peoples, seemed to believe. Regardless, she had arrived at the bazar and the smell of fish was strong.
Tickles wove an arrow point down to the bazar and Ms. Mittens agreed they had no choice if they wanted the fish. She leapt down from the rooftop onto a canvas awning set up over one of the stalls. It bowed and wobbled beneath her feet. Treacherous footing, but some minor clawing helped her stick in place. Ms. Mittens sat on the awning and watched the crowded mass mill about before her.
The people came in all shapes, sizes, races, and genders. Humans were obviously in attendance. They were so numerous they took over any city they were allowed to. There were elves, too, though not many of them thankfully. Elves could only breed with other races, and then the offspring had to spend many years gestating as a half elf before the other, more mortal side of them died, leaving a full elf. There were a few dwarves huddled together in a pack. Dwarves never went anywhere alone. It was a height issue, as Ms. Mittens understood it. Being so much shorter than the other races, dwarves often found themselves swamped by crowds just such as these. At those times, they started clambering on top of each other so one of them could see out over the throng. It was as if they didn’t realise that they could just climb a building and gain some perspective from there. But then cats were, of course, ever ahead of other people in terms of logical assessment.
There were a few ogres hauling about goods. A couple of a orcs wearing the skins of animals they had killed and bragging far too loudly about their conquests. It was a classic case of overcompensation. There was no need to brag about your kills. If you wanted someone to take notice of your prowess, you simply left the slaughtered foe somewhere your familiar would either see or step on it.
There was even a troll standing in the middle of the bazar, towering over everyone else. It was the only place in the entire mess that there was any space, and that was because no one wanted to go within reaching distance of a troll. The smell aside, they had a habit of grabbing at things when startled. And when a troll grabbed something, it didn’t let go until the something was inside its mouth. From there it was a short, probably unpleasant trip from mouth to stomach.
It was all far too busy. Ms. Mittens could still just about smell the fish, though the troll was doing a fair job overpowering the scent, but no matter how many times she snuffed the air, she couldn’t get a good fix on the position. She kneaded the canvas below her in frustration. Tickles wove a new pattern into his webbing, a flame. It made sense. The fish would need fire to cook, so all Ms. Mittens had to do was find the stall on fire.
The canvas beside Ms. Mittens shifted, something pushing up from below. She immediately slapped at it with her dark paw.
“Get out of here, ya vermin!” a man shouted from below. The canvas shifted again, right underneath Ms. Mittens and she danced away, then leapt across to the next canvas roof.
“And don’t come back, plague touched!” the man waved a broom in the air as if he had vanquished a hydra. Ms. Mittens flicked her tail at him, casting a rain spell. Nothing happened. But then it was a clear day, so it would probably take time for clouds to form. He would be rained on eventually, she was sure. Cat magic was subtle.
She picked her way across the canvas rooftops until she found one hotter than all the others. Heat blasted up from below and made it uncomfortable enough that Tickles crawled inside the hat to nestle atop Ms. Mittens head. She crept closer to the edge of the canvas, set her sights on a clear patch of ground before the stall, and leapt.
The woman cooking the fish was a gnome. She had not a hair anywhere on her head, wrinkles enough that put her as timeless, and watery eyes. She glared down at Ms. Mittens even as Ms. Mittens demanded fish. She’d prefer salmon, which she could smell was being cooked, but would also take a trout. She most certainly did not want any of the thorny eel because eel was ogre food and no cat worth her whiskers would eat ogre food.
The gnome stared down at her, frowning. “Go on! Get out of here. Plague bearing, vermin. I’ll not have you scaring away my customers.” She threw a small stick at Ms. Mittens. It missed.
This was the problem with gnomes, they were as ignorant as most humans and never took the time to learn to speak cat. This was precisely why she usually let Pokey do all the fish procurement.
Ms. Mittens looked around for a translator and met the gaze of a passing orc. Perfect. The orc was large, even for one of its kind, and had tusks that jutted out from its mouth and curled around its substantial lower lip. Ms. Mittens summoned him over and repeated her desire for fish.
“Uhhh,” the orc lisped. “I think the cat wants some fish.” He had a slow way of speaking, as most orcs did, that was entirely forced. Orcs were not stupid or ignorant. They just liked to pretend they were so no one asked them to do any more strenuous thinking. Ms. Mittens knew better. She knew it was, in fact, an orc who had invented magical tapping, those devices that drained magic and stored it for later use. Of course, there had been a cat involved, directing the orc, as was only proper.
“Well no shit!” The gnome said. “The cat wants a fish. Aren’t you the smartest slime ever to crawl out the sewer.”
The orc hung its head and looked hurt by the insult. Ms. Mittens couldn’t understand being hurt by words. Unless they contained magic, they were nothing but air. Cats did not bother wasting time being insulted by air.
“I thought we killed all these plague bearing things,” the gnome continued. “Where’s the guard? They’ll squash it.” She turned her glare on the orc. “And you. Don’t think they won’t just cos you’re big.”
The orc’s eyes went wide. It was carrying a sword at its hip, but didn’t draw it. Peaceful creatures, orcs, until they weren’t. Ms. Mittens ignored the argument and focused on the fish she wanted. A smallish trout just off the fire, spitted on a little stick. She twitched her nose and waved her tail and cast a spell to bring the fish to her. Nothing happened.
“It’s a witch’s cat,” the orc said. “Look at the hat.”
“So?” the gnome growled, waving another of the little sticks in the air, trying to summon a guard. “Still probably carrying the plague.”
Ms. Mittens stared at the fish, wondering why it was coming to her.
“You don’t want to mess with a witch’s cat. What if the witch finds out?”
The gnome stopped waving her stick in the air and fell silent.
“Here,” the orc stepped forward slowly, holding out a hand. It placed something on the stall counter. “I’ll take that one.” The gnome glared a moment longer, then plucked the trout from the cooling rack and handed it to the orc. The orc stepped back, and Ms. Mittens followed, eyes on the fish..
The orc crouched down, pulled the little stick out of the trout and held the fish out. “There you go.”
Ms. Mittens eagerly bit into the fish, wound her way between the orcs legs once, then leapt up onto the canvas roof of the fish stall again. The gnome shrieked, but Ms. Mittens was already away, scaling the nearby building to eat her fish in peace on the rooftop. It was the exact fish she had cast a spell on. Cat magic was subtle.
Some time later between a moment and forever, Ms. Mittens leapt from the hanging plant pot onto the windowsill and stared into the room she shared with her familiar. Even from outside, she could see it was an utter mess. Blankets thrown aside, pots knocked from shelves, a satchel of reagents on the floor, the flap left open. That meant Pokey was finally awake. She was very messy. It probably came with having so much stuff. Humans were always collecting things and the problem with having things is you needed somewhere to put all the things. There was so much stuff underneath the bed these days that Ms. Mittens couldn’t even crawl underneath it anymore.
The window was still closed and latched from the inside. Ms. Mittens twitched her nose at it. Nothing happened. She yawned and turned aside, waiting for the magic to take effect and open the latch. Tickles dangled down from the brim of their hat and crawled along the floor to the window. He moved very slowly with one of his legs missing.
A flight of gryphons passed overhead, heading toward the palace. Pokey said they were used as message bearers. Below, the street was bustling with unusual activity. Ms. Mittens half listened as she yawned again and stretched. With her belly full, she was getting very sleepy.
“… pulling back the house guard…” said old PoeDoe.
“It’s an ill omen, I says,” said a passing dwarf.
“It’ll be a laughing moon tonight, mark my words,” another dwarf agreed.
“… here, I’m sure of it. Six of the house guard all in their red uniforms…” that from Korn the local drunk in his usual spot outside the tavern.
The latch popped open and the window yawned. Cat magic often took time. It worked on its own schedule. Ms. Mittens stood, stretched, and plodded inside. Tickles grabbed onto her paw, one of the white ones, and climbed up to the hat.
Pokey had made such a mess of the room. Ms. Mittens picked her way through the spilled pans and herbs, towards the dying fireplace. There was nothing left but embers, the vague ghost of heat, but the hearthstone was still pleasantly warm. There was a strange scent on the air. Sweat. Pokey never smelled of sweat. Lazy, the familiar might be, but she was always clean.
Putting it from her mind, Ms. Mittens curled up on the hearthstone and closed her eyes. She dreamed a strange dream. Her hands were bound, her mouth gagged. There was something metal and heavy and cold snapped around her neck, it fizzed where it touched her skin. Then there was a man, a human. He was tall and dressed in a fine red cloak. His hair was shaggy, but his beard was neatly trimmed. He said something she couldn’t make out, reached out towards Ms. Mittens, plucked a gemstone from the thing around her neck, then slotted it into a ring on his finger. Then he waved a dismissive hand and Ms. Mittens was dragged away.