They had spent two whole DAYS wandering around in the Forest Maze. Without Geno around to be their guide, that was a VERY STUPID idea to go in there. Not a shortcut at all. Bowsette very nearly felt remorse for burning down that doll several months ago, but he was also really powerful and trying to kill her, so she felt justified about it. Yep. Definitely.
But now they were finally near the western edge of the continent, and had reached the Quiver Cliffs after all.
Everyone was very tired. Aside from eternally-peppy Goombella, all seven of them looked like the energy had been completely drained from their bodies.
“Princess... I can’t walk any further...” toadette whined. “Too much adventure... for me...”
“We’re almost there,” said Peach. “Almost there...” She carried such a big pack on her back that it was pretty conceivable that she was the strongest one of the bunch; that bag carried a full five changes of clothing and was probably heavier on her back than Bowsette’s own shell. How did she do it?
Captain Toad pulled out a map, trying to pinpoint exactly where they were in relation to the spot where Merlon’s hut most likely laid. “Hmm... this thing is hard to read,” he said. “Are you SURE we’re in the right place?”
“Umm...” Toadette tapped him on the shoulder and pointed straight ahead, up a hill where there was a small hut, shrouded in an aura of magic.
“Oh. Yeah. I guess we are sure.”
Luigi began to shake and shiver, living up to this place's name as he quivered.
They ventured onwards, up the hill and as they approached, the area around them got darker and darker, more and more hazy, almost like they were entering an alternate dimension. Spooky stuff.
Suddenly, Merlon appeared in front of them as a large disembodied head glaring down at them. “INTRUDERS. STATE YOUR BUSINESS."
“It’s-a me, Mario,” said Mario.
“And it is I, Princess Peach, Royal Monarch of the Mushroom Kingdom, the Great Priestess of the Toadstool Way.” Now THAT was a royal title Bowsette could approve of. “We have come to seek your help, to call you back--”
“ENOUGH. I HAVE HEARD ENOUGH. I DO NOT WISH TO CONTINUE THIS CONVERSATION.”
“Please!” Toadette shouted. “We’ve travelled for four days to reach you, and we need a place to rest! Will you please... let us... stay with you for just a bit?”
Luigi got down on his hands and knees bowing. Apparently that piqued Merlon’s perverse interest, because he seemed to change his tune somewhat. “YOU KNOW WHAT? FINE. I’LL LET YOU ENTER MY RESIDENCE... IF YOU CAN PASS MY TESTS. THE THREE TRIALS OF THE MAGICMANCER.”
“We’ll be up for anything you can throw at us,” said Captain Toad.
“OH, BUT WILL YOU BE UP FOR THIS?” Before them appeared a large lion with the face of a Koopa and colored in metallic blue, green, and red. “OR THIS?” A large pit of spikes formed. “OR HOW ABOUT THIS ONE?” A giant book thudded onto the ground. Its title read “A Thousand and One Bad Jokes: Unabridged and Uncut.”
“IF YOU SURVIVE MY TRIALS OF STRENGTH, SKILL, AND ENDURANCE... YOU WILL BE WELCOME. BUT IT MAY COME AT A GREAT COST. HEED CAUTION BEFORE--”
Bowsette stuck her fist at the air and screamed, “C’mon Merlon! Bowsette’s here to see you and if you don’t let us in right now I’m gonna personally walk over and clobber you!”
“OH. OH MY. UM, YES. PLEASE DO COME IN.”
“See? I’m learning a whole lot about peaceful negotiations from my girl Peach over here,” Bowsette said. Peach blushed and laughed, but the others were a little bit put off.
The dark aura around the hut dissipated, and the seven of them were allowed to walk to the door and knock on it.
A head popped out. Merlon, again. “Who is it?” he asked.
“Me and them,” said Bowsette.
“Oh, uh... Yes, come right on in!”