The next morning dawned sunny though still damp from the downpour the night before. The four witches packed up their poorly constructed camp, sharing out bits of bread, cheese, and some dried berries for breakfast, before starting down the path they had been following the night before. In the light of morning, the forest of fungi looked no less strange than it had the previous day.
As they traveled down the road, they watched for signs of the knight’s passing. With the rain from the night before, footprints were washed away, but from time to time they came across horse droppings, a tail hair, and once a scrap of cloth caught in a branch. The various clues helped them choose the right forks in the road, when they came up.
Come midday, they took a break in what almost looked like a clearing, with mushrooms that would have seemed enormous if not for the tree-sized mushrooms around them. They sat at about the height of a chair, which served them well as seats while they shared out some of their food for lunch.
The road led them through various interesting groves. In one, the mushrooms were transparent like glass, but in various bright colours. The sun filtered through the stained-glass mushrooms as through a window, creating rainbows wherever they looked. In another, the large waxy and red-capped fungus dripped a kind of oily substance that made a strange clanging noise when it hit the ground. They crowded close together on the path through that grove, not certain what would happen if any of that dripped onto them.
The most incredible one however, was also made up of otherwise some of the most common mushrooms. Like regular oyster mushrooms, these grew in circular steps around an inner core. Where in most forests, however, that inner core was made up of some tree or another, here there was only air. The impossibly large fungal steps rose up above them seemingly unsupported, just floating gently. That they were solidly rooted in place however, was confirmed when Kasia’s cat jumped up onto one, and then another, following the mystical staircase up a few flights before becoming bored and coming back to join them.
So enthralled were they by these floating wonders, that they failed to notice that the path they had been following held no evidence of anyone else’s passing since they had entered the grove. The path led right outside the forest itself, and they found themselves suddenly blinking in the sunlight. After the relative gloom of the forest, the valley they found themselves in seemed positively blinding.
Once their eyes adjusted, they could see that the path led straight past several small farmsteads before entering a small village. In the fields were various people were working the soil and plants. Here and there you could see the early spring shoots starting up.
The farmers all paused in their work and turned to watch the four of them warily as they approached.
“Hello there!” called out Iskra, ever the outgoing one. Their wariness, if anything, deepened in response, and at least one of them made a sign against the evil eye. Feeling a bit more cautious themselves, they waited at the first gate for one of the workers from the field to approach them.
Finally, the eldest among them, a weathered old man who nonetheless was doing his own share of hard labour, put down his tools and came to talk to them.
They explained that they were following a man who had stolen something very dear to them, and asked if anyone had seen a man on horseback leaving the forest.
To their disappointment no one had seen a thing. With the fields being always occupied at this time, and the pounding of hoofbeats sure to wake any vigilant farmer, it boded ill for them having found the right path out of the forest. After confirming this with a few more people down the road, they concluded that they had better return to the mushroom forest and try to find where they had lost the trail.
They followed the road back through the fantastical Oyster grove only to find that once they stepped out of the grouping of floating fungi, there was a fork in the road that hadn’t been there before.
Concerned, they followed what should have been the same path, only to find that none of their surroundings looked the same. At some point, the grove had moved.
They spent the next few hours desperately looking for something that looked familiar where they could take up their trail, but finally they had to admit that they were well and truly lost. Not only did they not know where the knight that had kidnapped their Baba Yaga had gone, they had no clue as to how to get home either. With the impeccable timing that only weather could truly achieve, it started to rain again.
Within moments, they and everything around them was thouroughly drenched. Completely dispirited at this point, they decided to call it a night. A nearby mushroom that stood shorter than the others, but still tall enough for them to stand under, provided them with a bit of shelter under which to set up camp.
They took the time to divide the tasks this time around, and the result was much smoother. Their fire fuel in the form of woody fungus logs and branches and sticks from nearby bushes was so saturated with water that each of them took a turn just trying to get them to light. When it was Iskra’s turn, however, the fire seemed to leap from her flint and with just a few breaths it was roaring along merrily.
“Well, the sirens did say you were a fire witch” remarked Kasia.
The fire and the shelter warmed them, but not as much as the tea and hot meals that they prepared. With their bellies warm, the coals banked down to provide heat through the night, and the gentle sound of rain on their canvas tent, they soon drifted off to sleep.
Anna woke up first and rolled over to make her way outside, mechanically going through her morning chores. She muttered her scribe spell as she walked over to where the sink should be. Instead of a sink, however, she found herself facing the largest ant she had ever seen in her life. He was bent over picking up what looked like a rooster, but even so she could tell he reached at least to her knees. Even more curiously, he walked on his hind two legs.
The two regarded each other for a few seconds before the ant turned around and ran quickly towards a group of mushrooms the size of houses. As he ran, her almost forgotten scribe spell showed the words “Moooooooooooooooooooom!”
She was still staring after the weird apparition a few minutes later, when someone tapped her on her shoulder causing her to jump.
“Woah! Sorry Anna, didn’t mean to startle you,” apologized Kasia.
Woe! Sorry Anna. Didn’t mean to start el you
“That’s fine. You…would not believe what I just saw,” replied Anna, somewhat out of breath.
“Giant ants?” yawned Iskra, as she joined them.
“How did you…” Iskra was already pointing before Anna even finished the question.
The scene wouldn’t have been out of place in front of any other village if the group approaching them had been people instead of ants. They wore the same sort of outfits you could find anywhere else around them, right down to the kerchiefs some of them wore on their heads. Some of them carried farming implements, much as you would expect any other group of wary villagers to do.
Clutching at the skirt of one of the women approaching them was the same child who had run off screaming.
“Are we in trouble?” asked Iskra uncertainly.
The group of villager-ants stopped all at once at the sound, while a few of them waved the arms they weren’t currently walking on in front of them.
“What do we do?” asked Kasia, bemused.
All three girls jumped at the new voice coming from behind them, only to realize that it was just Lidiya finally joining them.
“Oh. I see.”
“What do you think they want?-”
“- how are we supposed to figure out what they want”
“Well I have no idea, it’s not like I speak ant”
“SHUT UP AND LOOK!” yelled Anna exasperated, interrupting the argument between Kasia and Lidiya before it got completely started by grabbing Kasia’s arm and pointing at the floating subtitles. The sudden movement startled the owl perched on the blind girl’s shoulder, flying up as it’s perch jostled. Both it and Kasia turned their faces at Anna, before turning their attention to the floating words. Although for once none of them was speaking, the words continued to appear.
I don’t think they can understand us…
– wait they’re all looking this way. I think they’ve figured out we’re talking to them.
– well say something!
– Not that!
-Let me do the talking.
Presumably, this last was said by the ant that now stepped forward. Her face was framed by a pretty green kerchief, which matched the green skirt she wore. Although unable to tell with ants, the girls got the sense that she was older than many of the others.
– Welcome Strangers, to our little village. May we ask why witches such as yourselves are sleeping in our fields? We mean no offense oh dread ladies.
“Oh geez, sorry, we had no idea these were your fields” offered Iskra.
The spokesant turned to the group,
-Does anyone understand the language they’re speaking?
-Not a clue.
-Great idea! We’ll take them to the queen.
With an exaggerated movement, the ant indicated that they should follow.