The glistening bulk of the slime monster reared so that it blocked the entire alleyway, and its groping tentacles of slime all formed hungry mouths that opened and closed, as if in anticipation of a feast. The bulk of slime split, forming a huge, gaping maw.
"The foul thing's looking to eat us," grumbled Gloom. "Can't either of you do something?"
Tira reached into a pocket of her robes and pulled out a tuft of green fur and put it on her head over her blond hair. It definitely clashed with her bright green skin, but then, a wig can be removed whereas a witch's green skin cannot change.
The witch made weird intricate gestures with her green fingers and then opened her mouth as if to talk. But what came out was not Tira's voice. It was a strange roaring – the language of the slime monsters!
"Ah! I can understand this, even though I can't make that awful racket. She wants to say, 'I come in friendship,' but hasn't considered that the creature has a limited language. The nearest translation is "I am slime.' The creature's roaring back the words 'slime eats slime.'"
Tira frowned, her smooth green brow creasing. She made further roaring sounds.
"Don't know what she meant to say, but now she says 'slime for all,'" said Gloom. "That seems to have soothed the slimy beast."
The slime monster retreated, slipping back down the manhole, leaving a trail of slime in its wake. They picked their way through the slime until the road joined another. On the roadside, they came across a young girl in rags with unkempt, dark hair.
"Spare a coin?" She said, holding up a begging bowl.
"Of course," said Larissa, reaching for her pouch.
"Sure," said Tira, fumbling to find her money.
"I don't give handouts," grumbled Gloom.
Tira and Larissa chucked silver coins into the girl's bowl.
"Are you OK?" asked Tira anxiously.
"I'm sure she just begs for the fun of it," said Gloom sniggering.
Tira sat beside the girl. "I'm Tira. What's your name?"
"Beth," said the girl. "I like your makeup, by the way. Very different."
Tira touched her green cheek. "I'm not wearing makeup. This is what I look like. I'm a witch."
Beth narrowed her eyes. "Are you being funny?"
Tira smiled and shook her head. She held up her green hands and drew a circle in the air. Rainbow lights sparkled from her fingertips and coalesced to form a rainbow. She plucked it from the air and gave it to Beth who gazed at it wide eyed.
"Where'd you learn to do that?"
"I dedicated myself to Shekka, the Dark Moon Goddess," said Tira with a wry smile. "She agreed to transform me into a magical being. She transforms any girl or woman it seems, and we're free to be whatever type of witch we choose. Then I found a good witch to train me. I will only ever be a good witch."
Beth held up a set of gambling dice. "I was going to challenge you to a game. I'm saving up to go to the Gambling Halls. But now I gotta know. How exactly do you get Shekka to change you?"
"You're going to the Gambling Halls," said Tira, her blue eyes wide. "Freaking… Don't! You'll lose your money!"
"I must agree," said Larissa. "Gambling is only for those who have money to burn."
"I just changed my mind about the gambling," said Beth. "Now I gotta know… how'd you be a witch? I wanna be able to help myself."
"Becoming a witch is a recourse for hopeless cases," said Gloom. "Take the Mistress."
Tira bit her lip. "We were going to Shekka's temple. It'll take magic to get in, but that's not a problem for me. We can ask the Goddess."
Tira took out an enchanted compass from her magic kit. It led the four of them down a weather-beaten track that led off the main road and into a forest. Eventually they came to a clearing where they found a towering Ziggurat, apparently carved of white marble. The steps of the Ziggurat led upwards to an entrance high above.
The sun was setting.
"Nothing for it, but to climb," said Tira.
"Your broomstick would actually be useful now," said Gloom.
"Does look like a mountain or something," said Beth. "Dunno if I have the energy after trekking through the forest all day."
"I can carry you three," said Tira. "You can save your energy."
She made a series of complicated motions with her green fingers and closed her eyes, murmuring a garble of syllables. Her green face gleamed with sweat as she exerted her magic powers and then she began to grow until she was a girl three times her usual height, as broad and wide as a girl that size should be. The unfortunate side effect was that her musty body odour increased proportionately as well, to about ten times its normal pungency. Oh well.
Gloom was still perched on Tira's huge shoulder, and the giant witch scooped Larissa and Beth up in her arms. Beth wrinkled her nose at Tira's body odour, but made no comment. Tira strode easily up the steps until they reached the entrance. Then Tira began to shrink until she was back to her usual size. She was panting with exhaustion from the magic. Larissa caught her as she swayed. The four of them went into the temple.
The inside of the temple was dominated by a towering green statue of a woman with four faces and arms.
There was a circle at the foot of the statue.
"There is the magical nexus point," said Tira. "This is where you can beg Shekka to change you into a witch, but only if you're sure."
"It is irreversible," said Gloom. "It will mean Jemmy has a green magical wife from now on."
"I'll test it out," said Larissa. "We'll need all the magic we can get if we're going to rescue Jemmy."
"Ooh!" Tira put her hand to her mouth. "I – It's a big deal, but nothing could be more important than this quest, so…"
"I'm sure," said Larissa.
"It's quite painful, girls," said Tira. "Be prepared."
Tira told Larissa the oath to Shekka and the warrior stood before the statue and recited:
"I dedicate myself to Shekka, Dark Moon Goddess. I let her power flow through me so that I will be transformed. In her embrace, I am reborn as her creature."
Larissa was dazzled by green lights and her arms were pinned to her sides. She felt herself spin round and round. Her skin was bubbling and her very bones felt on fire. She could barely stop herself from crying out. And then she fell to the floor. Immediately she noticed her hands were bright green.
"You look good," said Beth. "With your bald head, green skin suits you better."
Larissa got to her feet and Tira embraced her. "I'm really happy that you're a witch like me now. We need more good witches."
"My turn," said Beth.
Beth stood in the circle and recited the oath. Eldritch green lights glowed around her and she spun around and around and then fell to the floor. The girl was now bright green.
"Congratulations. You're a witch now," said Tira.
"A cool green witch like you," said Beth.
"You totally are!" said Tira. "Now let's beseech Shekka together."
The three witches held hands and recited: "We beseech you Shekka, Dark Moon Goddess, hear our prayers. Come visit us! Be with us!"
The eyes of the idol of Shekka glowed. The mouth of the idol moved and the goddess spoke to the witches.
"Daughters of my light, you have summoned me because you are on a quest against another witch. I stand impartial as to who is wrong and who is right. I will not complete your quest for you I will only give a small hint and no more. Consider your question carefully."
"Small hint? Very well… how can we find Xanthas the blind beggar?" asked Larissa.
"In the wastelands to the sound. He is now a blind beggar dressed in rags. Look for him sheltering in the walls of the ruined chapel. That is all the help I will give."
The idol ceased to move and glow.
"Now we know where to look for Xanthas and find the next part of the riddle," said Larissa.
In the lair of Millie the mad witch, Jemmy woke up on Millie's bed feeling very strange. He sat up. His abdomen felt very heavy and his back was aching. He looked down and was shocked to find that his belly was now huge and green. His hands were green as well. He stood and waddled to the mirror and saw Millie's face staring back at him. A bright green witch's face with a long nose, framed by dirty blond hair. At that moment, someone who looked just like him came in.
"We've switched bodies Jemmy my love," said his double.
"You look just like me!" said Jemmy. He now had a strident woman's voice!
"Oh, try to keep up," said his double. "Didn't I warn you? I'm Millie and I'm in your body. You're in mine. I did say I wanted to switch bodies so you would be the one pregnant with our kid and you would have to live with my green skin and overall ugliness. I think I like being super handsome. I might want to stay like this even after you go through all the pain of giving birth to our baby."
"This is just a dream!" said Jemmy.
"Is it a dream?" said Millie. "You do remember that magic can do pretty much anything, don't you?"