One fine late-summer day, Lovely Mari decided to pay a visit on a friend. She dressed up in her very best riding frocks and selected a large backpack for any books she might like to borrow. She skipped down the forest trail until she found the domicile of her acquaintance, and as they happened to be out of town on a vacation, she jimmied open a window and piled herself inside. By some coincidence, surely, she ended up in this person’s private library, and at that point there was nothing else for it but to scan the shelves for any likely reading material.
Busy at her task, she overheard people walking down the trail outside this particular location, so she paused for a moment to listen for anything interesting.
What she heard was interesting, indeed, for two young women were talking about matters directly relevant to Mari’s interests.
“Sometimes, I can’t believe it myself,” said one woman loudly. “So much natural talent! Such mastery of witchcraft! Like, how can someone be so powerful? Have you ever seen such raw, creative energy in one witch before?” The two women chuckled.
Mari beamed with pride, for surely they were talking about her! She crept to the windowsill to steal-… to borrow a better glance at the visitors. Without wanting to give away her position, she was able to peek up enough to spot a tall, thin woman with long, red hair and a shorter woman with pale blonde hair in a tousled bob, striding along in white frocks, a broad blue skirt and stylish granny boots.
The blonde was the one speaking: “Yes, I must truly be the single-most powerful witch in the entire realm. Perhaps in all known worlds!” She grinned at her friend winningly.
The tall redhead spoke quietly, too quietly for Mari to make out at her distance.
The brassy blonde cackled. “Don’t be ridiculous! Her? I could mop up the floor with her! And do you know,” she leaned in intimately to her friend, “she’s not even a natural-born magician! She has to work twice, no, four times as hard… just to be a fifth, no, a twentieth as good as me!”
Mari’s eyes bugged in their sockets, and her jaw hung slack.
“And what’s more,” she went on, momentum building, “she thinks she’s so big? Ooh, one mile high! Ten miles high! Pff! Pff!” The blonde puffed out her chest. “I’ve been practicing so well at enlarging myself, I could squeeze this entire planet between my boobs! That nincompoop would just stand there, barely visible on a continent, watching my cleavage consume her and her pathetic height!”
The two women continued on their way, chatting and laughing in the sunshine. Mari, however, was absolutely livid. She needed a few moments to recover from this shock at the audacity of this unknown upstart. As she packed up a few more books to borrow, for good measure, and fled out the window like a rocket, there was only one question on her mind.
* * *
“Who’s that horrible woman?!” Mari stormed back and forth across the library floor of Scarlet Devil Mansion. “That nerve! Who th’ hell does she think she is? She’s lucky I didn’t just tear her idiot tongue out of her head and shove it up her-”
Patchouli Knowledge gave a very slight cough to cut her friend off. Hovering a few feet above the Turkish rugs covering the ancient hardwood floor, the slight young woman in a purple nightgown drifted over to where Lovely Mari stalked and stomped. “These rugs are quite delicate, my friend, and if you were to march a rut into them…” She adjusted her large eyeglasses and sighed.
Mari exploded. “Are you even listening to me?!”
“I am, my lovely friend,” insisted Patchy, “but you need to explain exactly what’s going on here. I’ve been watching you pace for half an hour and I haven’t gotten one single reasonable word out of you. Now,” she said, candlelight glinting off the large crescent moon on her bonnet, “what seems to be the matter?”
“I’ll tell you what’s the matter!” Mari’s red eyes glowed with dark hearts at their centers. “So, I’m over at… never mind where… and I’m borrowing… never mind what I’m doing there…”
Patchy sighed gently and raised an eyebrow at the excitable young witchy.
“Well, just listen to this! Some blonde piece of fluff comes strutting down the road, shootin’ her mouth off to her friend about how she’s the most powerful witch, and how she’s the tallest giantess! She don’t know nothin’ from nothin’! Who the hell does she think she is? I’ve never heard such outrageous nonsense, and such out-and-out bullshit!” Mari clenched her fists and growled. “I shoulda clocked her one, right then and there.”
Young Mistress Knowledge hummed to herself, her large eyes picking out line after line in the oversized tome spread across her folded legs.
Mari glared at her friend. “Well? Aincha got nothin’ to say about that? What’re we gonna do? She can’t go stompin’ around like some jackass, smack-talkin’ about me! Ooh! Ooh!”
“What did you say she looked like,” asked Patchy quietly, turning a page.
Mari described the white lace shawl about her shoulders, the broad sky-blue skirt trimmed in red ribbons, “an’ this stupid just-woke-up mop o’ hair!”
“Blonde, you said?”
“Yeah, blonde! Why”
Patchy said nothing, but only turned another page, then another. “And can you recall anything she said, word for word?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?!” Mari shrieked. Was the whole world going insane?
But the sleepy young woman in the purple nightgown only sighed. “Humor me, my friend.”
Mari blew out a long stream of hot air, then focused. She was able to remember a couple lines quite clearly, it turned out, and even repeat them with an inflection pretty close to that of the arrogant blonde hussy. Patchouli thanked her and closed her eyes for a moment, then turned several pages to a particular passage in her book. “Yes… I think I have it,” she murmured enigmatically. Drifting higher to a tall shelf, she replaced her oversized tome and floated to where the scrolls were stored.
Mari stared at her, shifting from foot to foot and frowning. “So what’s that all about, huh? What’re you doing with all this knowledge, Knowledge?” This was one of her favorite little jokes.
Withdrawing a long scroll in a boar hide case, Patchouli explained the importance of how people express themselves. “Whether through their outfits or their verbal patterns, most people will give away their distinct identification, unmistakable with anyone else in the world.” She coughed once into her sleeve before unsnapping the case and magicking the scroll to unfurl itself before her eyes.
“So you think you know who she is?” Mari cried. “Can we go hunt her down?”
Patchouli peeked around the scroll, smiling gently. “We can do even better than that, my lovely friend.”
* * *
The brazen blonde witch swept a few unruly locks out of her eyes and squinted at the heavy card in her hand. The print read:
THE PLEASURE OF YOUR COMPANY IS REQUESTED
BY THE ELEGANT AND LOVELY MARISA KIRISAME
PLEASE PACK SUCH PROVISIONS AS YOU REQUIRE
FOR A WEEKLONG JOURNEY THROUGH ROUGH TERRAIN
AND MAKE SUCH PREPARATIONS AS NECESSARY
FOR A DEMONSTRATION OF YOUR MAGICAL MIGHT
She turned the card over and over again in her hand. What the freak was this supposed to represent? The cardstock was an iridescent indigo with exciting gold illumination around the edges. The witch’s name, Marisa Kirisame, stood out proudly embossed in the header, while the rest of the invitation was deeply impressed into the thick paper. There were further instructions as well, a common ritual that used this card to transport the bearer to a pocket dimension. Doubtlessly this was where this Marisa-person kept her secret fortress, or something equally as risible.
“Very well.” She smirked, tugging her hair out of her eyes for the umpteenth time this day. “If this little rabble-rouser wants a demonstration of arcane prowess… so mote it be!” And she set to packing up for the short trip, already forming in her mind an impressive display.
* * *
At the day and hour designated on the card, the saucy witch with tousled blonde hair cast the teleportation ritual and whisked herself and her provisions to the isolated dimension she’d been directed to.
It didn’t look like much, honestly. She stood there with her cumbersome baggage and ample kitchen stores heaped around her, all packed upon sorely exerted large and powerful dolls she’d animated for the heavy lifting, in a very plain and incomprehensible environment. Her granny boots rested upon packed soil, and she stood in the shadow of a large, slightly curved land form she couldn’t quite identify. It was tremendous, and it swept up from the ground far before her, arcing very gently as it rose toward the heavens.
The brassy blonde witch smirked. “Is this meant to impress me? Child’s play,” she muttered, opening a large trunk beside her. It held a leather-bound tome, painted in multiple hues, with her own name tooled into its cover. Grinning, she flipped through its pages until she found an appropriate spell. “I was hoping to save this for later, but I guess it won’t hurt to spoil the surprise.”
She cast the spell, which cost more energy than she liked to admit, and immediately she and all her possessions and mystically animated entourage escalated to tremendous dimensions. This was her latest spell, the one that made the planets in the heavens look like mere baubles about her. She had been hoping to unleash its might at the last moment, perhaps during dinner or the evening’s entertainment she was anticipating, if Marisa Kirisame was any kind of suitable hostess, but necessity called for it right now.
As a reward for her efforts, however, not much was made clearer. The rosy, arching structure before her was only slightly reduced, though now it looked like it ran up to a cliff face. That was something, at least. Whipping her huge and powerful dolls into activity, she guided her team straight up the side of the leathery, peach-hued cliff, two of the largest dolls cradling her up to the top.
The ascent took quite a long time. When they reached the summit, however, not much was made clearer. She saw that she now stood upon a massive peak, the first of a row of five that stretched off into the distance. Through the haze of the atmosphere, she could dimly perceive another five mounds far, far off to the side.
“What the hell is this stupid place?” she exclaimed. “There’s no trees, no rivers, no buildings, nothing! If they think they’ve trapped me in some kind of wasteland, boy-oh-boy, I’ll make ‘em regret their stupidity!” But the only thing to do was to scale down the other side of the tremendous mound, which looked for all the world like a vast, glossy plate of carmine. This was harder to navigate, as it was so slick and smooth. One moaning doll lost its footing and skidded all the way down, luggage and food tumbling through space to the bottom, wherever that was.
The audacious little blonde witch was outraged. “That was my dessert selection! That was supposed to last me for two days!” And hours later, when they finally crawled down the ridge from the carmine plate to the tough, pinkish landscape, they found the shattered doll lying among the wreckage of leather cases, wicker baskets, and a countless supply of cakes and pastries. The witch brushed the hair out of her eyes and kicked the carcass with the sharp toes of her granny boots, then ushered everyone along to the next stage of the journey.
This appeared to be a curving ridge that stretched interminably off into the distance. The air was clear, but the humidity made everything hazy after a quarter mile or so. “What the flippin’-flip kinda landscape is this?” the witch wondered. None of this was making any sense: no signposts, no trails, just this tough, spongy landscape that went up, down, then off into the horizon. “This must be some kind of surreal wizard’s test.” She nodded, heartening. “Yes, I’ve seen this before! The challenger sticks the hero in a sequence of bizarre tests that are meant to scare off the weaker, lesser contestants. Well, I’m not scared at all. I can maintain this tremendous size for a whole week, I’m sure, and when this loser sees me striding across the horizon for her…” She chuckled, then kicked her brutish dolls into marching order, heading off the only apparent way. Slowly, the rising monolith of strange terrain disappeared behind her, with its crowning ridge of five mounds, tipped in carmine for no apparent reason.
On and on they traveled. If one of the tests was how outrageously long it took to get anywhere, it was a very good one. It was only at the end of the first day (she sensed, in this parallel realm with an invisible sun) that they stopped to camp. They had come upon a tremendous hillock, matching the rest of the terrain but a little more wrinkled, slightly rosier than the rest of the landscape. It seemed like a reasonable rise upon which to set up a base, in case anything would sneak up upon them in the middle of the night. The brassy little witch’s concerns were for naught, however: absolutely nothing came upon them in the darkness, exactly as there was nothing to see in the daylight. No, she was just on this rosy little hill, as an empty and slate-gray sky encompassed the landscape from tremendous distance. As the light from the sun they couldn’t see crested their hill, the witch ordered her dolls to strike camp and move on promptly, for she intended to make some good distance today.
“If I show up late for this event,” she mused, “I’ll be mortified. It wouldn’t do for someone of my stature to come trudging in after the fact.”
But even as they increased the tempo of their march, the load-bearing dolls didn’t seem to make tremendous progress. The terrain had widened and lost a little of its curve, heading away from the hillock and into the hazy distance. After a few hours of forced march, however, the landscape flattened out even more and features began to take shape on her left. There, landscape rose up and spread out before them, and the proud blonde witch realized that there was another long, flat ridge over there, mirroring the same one she’d been crossing all morning. It seemed that these two broad stretches rose up together and met at the start of a vast plain. Were they entering a desert now?
Frowning, the witch scoped the land spreading out around her for any noteworthy features. There seemed to be another hill where the two broad ridges met. It wasn’t nearly as large as the one they’d camped out on, but it was still higher than anything else in the area, so they made for it and settled down for an early lunch.
Now the brassy witch studied the ground a little more closely. It didn’t make any sense: if it was this pale orange or light tan color, it should’ve been sand or some other type of soil. But it wasn’t. It was only this soft, smooth material running off in all directions. That is, it was soft to the touch, but neither their tent stakes nor the hands of her dolls could pierce it in the least way. It only stretched and gave beneath their touch, until its toughness halted their exertion. And just as the light of this realm came from an invisible source, somewhere up above, the whole landscape seemed to radiate with a gentle heat. Was it absorbing the heat of the unknown light source? Was it some kind of trap? She pouted her fat bottom lip out and checked herself for radiation poisoning.
Suddenly there was a loud braying cry. Startled, the witch spun around just in time to see a dim-witted doll sliding down the slope of their little hill. He must have wandered too far over the edge, and gravity began working against him. He clawed the tough, smooth terrain with useless claws as his massive, muscular body slowly disappeared down the hillside, into the murky valley between the two broad ridges. The witch only frowned at him disapprovingly, making no move to help… until he happened to grab a cargo rope, which was lashed around a small stack of spell casting materials.
“No, you idiot!” she shrieked at him, running over to yank the rope back. The spongy nature of the landscape made it very difficult for her to stay upright in her granny boots. “Not that! Let go of the rope, you dolt from another world!”
But it was too late. The hapless doll dropped into the empty space between the massy ridges, its howls echoing as it went, and it never released the rope that dragged her supplies, sliding over the edge and into the blackness. Before the witch could do anything, they were all gone, leaving nothing but the quiet echo of materials being destroyed against the valley walls.
Furious, the witch took up another rope, one lashed to a larger, more secure pile of crates, and slowly lowered herself down the far side of the hill. If there was any chance of salvaging anything, she figured, she’d better take it, especially if these oafish dolls insisted on destroying themselves and diminishing her supplies. But the excursion provided nothing useful: the bottom of the valley was plunged into shadows too dark to penetrate. The hill itself sloped down into a wall that split with a deep cleft. Picking her granny boots down one leathery side, she lowered herself as far as her rope permitted. Deep in the cleft she could just catch the glint of moisture, as if some subterranean stream was exposed briefly in the small chasm. Bafflingly, the cleft emitted a scent that somehow reminded her of the ocean: was the moisture here coming from a thin channel of seawater? This theory made no sense, as there didn’t seem to be any sign of bodies of water anywhere. The air was a little more hot and humid, sure, down in this valley, but up above on the surface everything was uniformly warm and dry.
She grumbled to herself very darkly as she climbed back up and ordered the dolls of burden to pack everything up again and head off, better than double-speed, across the spreading desert before them. They made no complaint but only followed their orders promptly and efficiently, though not enough to their mistress’s liking.
Heading in the direction the smarmy witch called “north”, for sake of argument, they trudged across the featureless, flat terrain of this unlikely world. After some time, however, they encountered a strange divot in the land. Without sand or dirt or anything, a large round pit appeared before them, just a dent that pressed down into the ground.
Expecting something to go wrong, somehow, the witch combed her mussy hair aside and ordered her pack-dolls to give it wide berth. They wound around the hole in the ground and made their way up to much less interesting landscape. It was nearing nightfall, in fact, when they finally encountered the mountains.
They spotted these massive peaks long, long before they got anywhere near them. They rose up from the ground in nearly perfect spheres, as though two small planets had fallen from orbit and drifted daintily to the landscape, resting perfectly intact. Yet these also were made of, or at least coated with, the same tough, spongy, leathery material as the rest of this world seemed composed of.
“You know what,” said the witch wearily, “I don’t even care about a lookout tonight. Those mountains are too bloody huge to even think about climbing.” She cast a disparaging eye about her magical helpers. “And I don’t trust a single one of you to navigate them safely, without further ruining what was supposed to be a dramatic presentation for this stupid, upstart witch, whoever this Kirisame-gal is.”
And so they set up between the twin peaks, establishing themselves in the deep and profound valley they formed. As settlements go, it wasn’t that terrible: they could only be attacked from the north and south, in fact, in a narrow channel that gave them the advantage. It could’ve been much worse. The brassy blonde witch set out her sleeping pallet and drifted off to sleep in the intensified warmth of this strange valley, dreaming of amazing conquests and her astonishing apprehension of the mystic arts.
It was only the activity of her magical dolls that told her it was morning and time to move out. The invisible sun cast no light in the deep valley they’d embedded themselves within, but the cocky and immodest witch felt quite rested when they struck camp, loaded up, and continued north between the ungodly large mountains.
Progress was surely being made. There was another tall cliff before them, an angular peak with a flat rise facing them. After picking their way along a treacherous, narrow ridge (over the side of which yet another lunk-headed doll plummeted, with a small cache of spellbooks), they ascended the sheer cliff and reached its crest in well under an hour.
Before them, the landscape exploded in contours and features like never before. Far, far off in the distance was a vast spill of alien, golden foliage, a spiraling forest of thick vines and large whorls of gold-colored lashings. Closer were two more depressions below ridges of bristly undergrowth of a slightly darker golden hue; the depressions dropped down into slight mounds, fringed in dense, black bristles. Centered below these was a large cavern with two entrances, from which gusted hot and humid gases that didn’t smell like anything in particular… though it clearly wasn’t breathable, she learned. And before this, between the inky, symmetrical caverns and herself was a swollen split in the landscape, running east to west. This was one of the few times the landscape changed color, turning a very rosy red before curving down into another fissure from which the hot, moist gases blew.
“This must be a volcanic region,” the bold witch thought. “These channels are spewing exhaust from deep within the earth, and there’s more evidence of moisture…” She pulled the hair out of her eyes and scanned the new surroundings. “No lava, though, no fires, so that’s good. I’ve never seen such strange forests, though. This Kirisame-gal sure picked a weird place to set up her secret lair.”
They skirted the rosy fissure in the land. Despite her best efforts, one abysmally stupid doll managed to slip and fall inside, plaintively crying out as it rested in the fissure’s floor with one day’s change of wardrobe. The increasingly less-daring witch peered down at it, kneeling at one corner of the fissure: the opening was lined with gleaming, sharp ridges of ivory, and right behind these roiled some massive, florid beast. She might have thought it a dragon, but that it was much fatter and she couldn’t see it limbs. “Some kind of subterranean monster-slug, I suppose. Good luck with that, you useless heap!” Her voice echoed down to her mystical servant, at the bottom of this damp, steaming cavern.
The party picked their way down a sloping hill, where the terrain was even softer and spongier than normal. This made for a treacherous descent, but the remaining entourage navigated it successfully. They entered a small grove of the bizarre, spiraling golden forest, deep within which was the final cavern of their destination. The landscape spun and folded into great whorls of pale orange, pale rose, milky white or whatever, and in the center of these graceful curves lay the cave her directions led her to. Beyond this, of course, must lay the secret hideout of the inept witch she was supposed to confront.
The tousled witch smoothed out her broad, blue skirt and untangled the long, red ribbons trimming it. “Last leg, guys, try not to lose anything.” She cast a withering glance at the last few surviving members of her cargo team. They hefted their loads upon broad shoulders and followed her down to the cave.
Inside, they found a young woman dressed in a soft, purple nightgown. Glowing orbs around the cave illuminated the walls and floor here, and they shone off the gold crescent moon in her bonnet. “Welcome to the celebration,” she said, addressing her visitor by name. “My name is Patchouli Knowledge, and I greet you on behalf of Lovely Mari. I hope the journey wasn’t too hazardous for you?”
The frizzy blonde witch gestured for her hard-working dolls to rest their cargo. “It seemed needlessly arduous, to me,” she sniffed. “Why wouldn’t your teleportation invite just take me right here?”
Patchy grinned softly. “Of course, one might rush to the end of a good novel. But then what’s learned? We found it more important for you to be impressed by the landscape, for the purposes of this contest. What did you think?”
“Think?!” The visiting witch spluttered. “Think of what? Nothing but this strange pale landscape stretching off in all directions, without anything to look at! And what celebration are you talking about? Where’s the castle where this so-called celebration is supposed to happen? I thought this was going to be a witches contest!”
Patchy tastefully covered her slight laughter with her fingertips. “A contest! Really? Whatever gave you that idea?”
“Your card! That card you sent me, the, uh…” She racked her brain. “The demonstration of magical might, something like that. What was that supposed to mean?” A nagging doubt had only begun to form in the witch’s mind, and if given a few quiet moments it would finally occur to her to ask how this Knowledge chick was as large as she was.
“Oh, nothing much. Just some kind of performance that shows us what it is you’re capable of. After all, you did have some kind of opinions about your advanced prowess, did you not, in contrast with Lovely Mari’s capabilities?”
The brassy witch narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about? Were you spying on me? How did she hear about that?”
Patchouli Knowledge smiled and raised one thin, pale arm overhead. The orbs of light flew to her palm like eager pets. “My dear, I assure you Lovely Mari can hear everything we’re saying. In fact,” she said, tilting her head to the side, “you’re standing in her ear.”
The intrusive witch’s eyes widened. Her tousled mane swung side to side, as she stared at the cavern, which was harder to make out now that the woman in the purple nightgown had reclaimed the light sources.
“I only hope we haven’t… irritated her,” said Patchy quietly, before she faded into the darkness.
The witch’s voice came out as a dry rasp. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she coughed out, before slowly turning to look behind her. The remaining light in the cavern dimmed, blocked out by the end of the most tremendous cotton swab she had ever seen in her life. It turned ponderously through space, its thick, white fibers sweeping over then picking up her cargo, snagging her massive dolls, then finally catching on her own dress and snatching her up, shrieking, in its cleansing sweep.
* * *
Lovely Mari nonchalantly tossed the Q-Tip in a trash bin. “Did I miss anything during my nap?”
Patchy giggled behind her hand. “It really wasn’t much of a contest, was it? I’m sorry, my dear.”
Mari shrugged and sipped at her tea, in the living room of her own cabin in the Forest of Magic. Her friend hovered above the couch, legs crossed. “So, you think she knows who’s the best at magic now?”
“I’m sure she’s overwhelmed with your ability, at this point.” Patchy dunked a ginger snap in her own cup of tea, floating nearby.
“And you think she knows who’s the biggest giantess of all?”
Patchy only raised her eyebrow and smirked.
Mari’s fair brow furrowed briefly. “We didn’t really… you know, hurt her? Did we? I don’t mind kicking her ass, but I didn’t really want anything terrible to happen to her.”
“She’s perfectly fine, not a hair on her silly head was injured.” Patchy bit the corner of her lip. “Although it will be several weeks before she can wash the odor of earwax out of her clothes. Oh, I got you something!”
The lovely and playful witchy sat up in her chair. “Ooh! What is it? Somethin’ to eat?”
Ms. Knowledge laughed and extended her pale hand; Mari reached out and caught what she dropped in it. It looked like a single earring, a French hook that led to a fine chain, at the end of which hung what looked like a small spellbook. The rainbow-colored cover opened and everything, though the words were far too small to read. Grinning, Mari excitedly lanced it through her left ear, the one that needed cleaning.
“Just a little something to commemorate the occasion.” Patchouli’s eyes beamed at her lovely friend.
Mari smiled broadly and toasted her with a pretty teacup. The sun shone in through the window, the birds were singing, and everything felt quite cozy. These were good times to be a powerful witch.