Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Air Apparent


Air Apparent (2007)
Wira, the daughter-in-law of Good Magician Humfrey is waiting for her husband Hugo to come to bed with her.  He had gone down to the cellar to get a bottle of Rhed Whine but had not come back after half an hour.

Wira has been blind from birth.  But since she married Hugo and came to live in the Good Magician’s Castle, she has got to know the castle thoroughly, and can find her way around with no problem.  It is she who normally escorts querents in to see the Good Magician.

She gets up and goes down to the cellar.  She calls Hugo, but there is no answer.  She snaps her fingers to produce echoes.  And she discovers what seems to a dead body on the floor.  It is not Hugo.  She screams.

The Gorgon, who is Humfrey’s Designated Wife of the Month, comes to investigate, and Wira tells her what she had found.  The Gorgon goes to get Humfrey.

Humfrey arrives and examines the body.  He doesn’t think it is a dead body, but something else: a mock-up or a transformation of a body.

He goes to look in his Book of Answers and discovers to his alarm that the entries are scrambled.  It will take him months to sort this out.

The Gorgon tells Wira they need to treat this as a detective mystery.  Someone must have murdered the man in the cellar, and then taken Hugo somewhere to prevent him revealing the murderer’s identity.   Wira will have to be the detective and search for clues.

The Gorgon distracts Humfrey while Wira attempts to examine the Book of Answers.  Demoness Metria appears and Wira tells her what she is doing.

As Wira runs her hands over the pages, she feels a fruit stain on the page.  Hugo’s talent is conjuring fruit, so this may be relevant.  She asks Metria to read the entry.  It is “Cumulo Fracto Nimbus” (usually referred to as “Fracto”), which is the name of a badly behaved storm cloud.  They repeat the process and manage to get several entries before Humfrey returns.  Metria departs.

The Gorgon tells Wira she will need to go and talk to Fracto.  Because she is blind she will need a Companion and an animal to ride on.  And she will have to conceal the reason for the quest, or the murderer might kill Hugo.  The Gorgon suggests that Wira tell people she is on a quest to find her lost vision.

There is another problem: there is a querent expected tomorrow, but Humfrey won’t be able to answer her Question with the Book scrambled.

The Gorgon suggests they tell the querent she must perform her Service before getting the Answer.  The Service will be to be Wira’s Companion on the quest.  She can be transformed into a flying centaur and serve as Wira’s steed.

Debra is a 13-year-old girl from Mundania.  She arrives at the Good Magician’s Castle and meets Wira, who takes her to see the Gorgon.  The Gorgon explains the situation and asks Debra what her Question is.

Debra has a curse which has affected her since she arrived in Xanth.  Every time a man hears her name, he takes it literally – he attempts to “de-bra” her, that is, to remove her bra.  It is quite embarrassing.

The Gorgon asks if Debra is willing to become a flying centaur and be Wira’s Companion on the quest.  It will possibly solve Debra’s problem temporarily: centaurs don’t wear clothes, which means female centaurs don’t wear bras; they are bare-breasted.  Debra is reluctant, but agrees.

The Gorgon gives her a potion which transforms her into a flying centaur.  Over the next day she has to get used to this body, and to learn to fly, to use her tail to flick herself and her passenger light, and to use a bow and arrow.  (This is the magic of winged centaurs: they flick themselves with their tails, to make themselves light enough to fly.)  Finally she is ready to go on the quest.

Debra and Wira
Debra, with Wira on her back, flies to the Region of Air, where they expect to find Fracto.  She lands at the Plaza of Winds where they see a 9-year-old girl.  This turns out to be Fray Cloud, in solidified form.  She is the daughter of Fracto and Happy Bottom.  (Happy Bottom, formerly Hurricane Gladys, arrived in Xanth from Mundania in “Yon Ill Wind”.)  Fray tells them her father has gone missing and her mother is out looking for him.  He must have disappeared near the Good Magician’s Castle.

Wira explains her situation, and suggests that the two mysteries are connected.  She asks Fray to call her mother.

Fray lets off a smoke bomb and a storm develops as Happy Bottom arrives.  Then she condenses into the form of a woman.  She says she has searched the air throughout Xanth but hasn’t found Fracto.

They plan to coordinate their search.  Wira and Debra will search the ground and Happy Bottom and Fray will search underground.  They divide the clues from the Book of Answers between them.

Hugo has been locked in a dank dark cell for what seems like days.  He had gone down to the cellar in the Good Magician’s Castle, and then suddenly found himself here; he doesn’t know where he is, how he got here or why.

Hugo’s talent is to conjure fruit, but it is not very good fruit, usually overripe or rotten.  But he conjures some to feed himself.  Then he discovers bread and water that has appeared in an alcove in his cell, and eats and drinks and washes himself.

There is a crack in the wall, and he hears a mental voice coming from outside.  It is a fruit bat called Bathos; he is hungry and wants fruit.  Hugo holds some of his conjured fruit up to the crevice and Bathos eats it; he doesn’t mind that it is overripe.

Bathos is in a cave next to a castle.  But he doesn’t know what castle it is.  He has the talent of identity exchange; he swaps their consciousness so that now Hugo is in a bat body, while Bathos is now in Hugo’s body conjuring all the fruit he wants.

Hugo flies out of the cave and sees the castle, but it is not one he recognises.  He flies around looking for landmarks but he doesn’t see any he recognises.

He returns to the cave, but the sentry bat won’t let him in; the cave is closed for the night.  A female bat called Brunhilda invites him into her niche.  Hugo explains his situation.  Brunhilda persuades the sentry to let them into the cave and they return to the crevice.  But Bathos has passed out from eating all that fruit.  Brunhilda and Hugo return to Brunhilda’s niche to spend the night there.

In the morning they return to the crevice and Hugo swaps back with Bathos.  Hugo is surrounded by fruit and his body is a mess.  He feeds some of his fruit to Brunhilda, and discovers it is now perfect and ripe.  Bathos tells him that, while in Hugo’s body, he had vomited, and a seed had been dislodged from his ear; it was the seed of the mediocritree; this was the cause of the substandard fruit Hugo has conjured all his life.  From now on Hugo will be able to conjure perfect fruit.

What Hugo doesn’t realise is that he is in the cell normally occupied by the Random Factor, in Castle Maidragon.

The Random Factor
After years of casting random spells on other people, the Random Factor had discovered how to perform random magic on himself.  He could transport himself to a random location – exchanging places with a person or object in that location, or he could transform himself to a random form.  So he has been transporting himself from place to place and transforming himself to various forms.  Where he goes and what he transforms into is outside his control.  But he can always return to his normal human form.

He was originally from the Factory, where factors were produced for export to mathematicians in Mundania.  Most of the factors were boring and dull.  But the Random Factor had imagination, creativeness and unpredictability.  This didn’t suit the Factory and they confined him in the Forbidden Room in Castle Maidragon.  But now that he had escaped, the Factory would send out an agent to recapture him.  The Random Factor decides he’d better find out who the Factory Agent is.

He walks along asking people questions.  He comes to two young men, twins, with the ability to summon and banish demons.  He asks them to summon a demon of information.  One twin summons a demon and the Factor asks him who the Factory Agent is.  The demon says it is a teen girl called Debra.  But he will give no more information.  The other twin banishes the demon.

Wira and Debra
The next clue from the Book is “Air Plain”.  Wira and Debra don’t know what that means.  Debra flies around the area.

She says she gets an occasional tinge and she knows what direction it is coming from.  But it’s irregular.  (This eventually turns out to be her sense of the Random Factor exercising his talent.)

But now Wira, whose talent is Sensitivity, senses a child in trouble.  They find an 11-year-old girl in a tree.  But Wira says it was a boy she had sensed.

They go to help the girl.  Debra flicks her light with her tail, and she floats to the ground.  She introduces herself as Ilene, the daughter of Magician Trent and Sorceress Iris.  Wira remembers her; she had come to ask the Good Magician a Question.  But, the girl says, the Magician refused to help her.

Wira offers her a ride on Debra’s back.  Ilene enjoys the experience and tells her story.

Ilene was delivered to Trent and Iris after they were rejuvenated.  (Trent was rejuvenated in “Harpy Thyme”.  Iris was rejuvenated in “Geis of the Gargoyle”.)  So she is sister of their other daughter, Irene, and is 52 years younger.

Ilene has the talent of making illusions real.  Iris is the Sorceress of Illusion, and Ilene can make Iris’s illusions real.  But she can’t do it on her own; away from her mother she is effectively talentless.  She had gone to the Good Magician to ask him how she could make something of herself.  The Good Magician’s Answer was: “You have perspective.  Use it.”  This Answer seemed useless and she had been ashamed to go home.

Then she had heard a child crying.  She had seen what had appeared to be a plain in the hot air, angling up from the ground to the distant mountain, and started running up it.  But then she had seen a tree below her feet and had fallen.

But now they figure it out.  The plain had been an illusion – some kind of mirage.  She had made it real, but then she had doubted, and fallen.  Ilene has the ability to make mirages real.

They hear a small boy crying.  Ilene makes the illusory plain real again, and Debra runs up it.  Now they come to a full mirage, like an oasis.  There is a 7-year-old boy, sitting under a palm tree, looking lost.  He is glowing.

He doesn’t want to tell them his name or where he lives.  Apparently his parents have told him not to give this information to strangers.  He tells them his talent is to make mixed metaphors real, and this had led to him getting lost.

Ilene invites him to ride with them and he agrees.

And Wira realises who this is.  It is Nimbus, the son of Demon Xanth (also called Nimby) and Chlorine.  But she doesn’t tell the others, and since they don’t know his name, they call him Glow.

Ilene detects that there is more to this air plain than she had created.  And Wira becomes aware that there are invisible people living here.  She communicates with them mentally and suddenly they all become visible, as well as the landscape, with trees, lakes and houses.  But it must be by mental projection rather than visual, because Wira can see them too.

Higgs, the bosun, takes them across the lake in his boat to the Air Castle, where they meet the King and Queen of the Air.  There is a feast and a ball, and they stay there overnight.

Fray and Happy Bottom
The first of the clues assigned to Fray and Happy Bottom is “Peeve”.  Happy tells her daughter about the pet peeve, a rude bird who lives at the Golem house.

The wind is in the right direction, so they diffuse into their cloud forms and float through the sky to the Golem house.

They condense back into their solid forms and knock on the door.  A voice tells them to come in. They enter and see the pet peeve on a perch.  It says that Grundy Golem and his wife Rapunzel are away visiting their daughter Surprise and their granddaughter Prize.

They tell the peeve their story, but the peeve doesn’t know why it would have been a clue.

Then Rapunzel arrives home, and they explain to her.  She asks what the second clue is: it is “Gwenny Goblin”.  The peeve must be meant to take them to Goblin Mountain and introduce them to Gwenny, the Chiefess of that goblin mound.

So they set off, Fray and Happy floating in cloud form and the peeve flying with them.

The peeve tells Fray about the Simurgh, the wisest bird in the world, and her son, Sim, who is 12.  Fray says she would like to meet Sim.  The peeve tells her to do a Sim-ulation – to shape herself into a giant bird.  She does, and Sim Bird comes to investigate.  The peeve introduces them and they talk for a while before Sim departs.

They arrive at Goblin Mountain and are met by a goblin guard called Gatling.  But Gatling and his men are cruel and drag them to the interrogation chamber, threatening to bake the bird and do unmentionable things to the two females.  Fray and Happy vaporise.  Then Goody Goblin, Gwenny’s husband, enters and interrupts the goblin men, who run off.  Goody takes Happy, Fray and the peeve to Gwenny.  Gwenny says Gatling and his men will be punished.

Fray tells Gwenny their story.  Gwenny doesn’t know why she would be a clue.  But she invites them to dinner.

While they are at dinner, Gatling and his men enter and try to stage a revolution.  Those on Gwenny’s side, which includes all the women, oppose them.  A general fight ensues.  Fray and Happy join in: Fray attacks one goblin with lightning, and Happy causes it to snow. But soon Gatling and his men are defeated and taken to the dungeon.

Fray had heard how Goody had become a polite male goblin due to an overdose of reverse wood (Refer the book “Pet Peeve”), and suggests they do the same with the goblin rebels.  The peeve knows where there is a grove of reverse wood nearby.  The two clouds and the peeve volunteer to go and get the reverse wood.  They stay the night at Goblin Mountain and fetch the reverse wood the next day.

When they return to Goblin Mountain, Gwenny has news: the Random Factor has escaped from his cell in Castle Maidragon.  Maybe he had swapped with Fracto, which would mean that Fracto is now in the Factor’s cell.  Fray and Happy will go there, while the peeve stays a while at Goblin Mountain before returning home.

In the morning Hugo swaps minds with Bathos Bat again and heads out with Brunhilda to explore.  Brunhilda’s talent is to make a person desire her when she kisses him, and she thinks she will make Hugo her love-slave, thus getting access to fruit all the time.  Hugo keeps avoiding her kisses.

A dragon attacks, and Brunhilda kisses him, making the dragon her love-slave.

Brunhilda tells Hugo the castle is Castle Maidragon.

As Hugo dodges another kiss, he and Brunhilda find themselves in a forest glade, watching the wedding of Forrest Faun and Imbri Nymph-Mare, officiated by Magician Trent.  [This subplot doesn’t add much to the current plot, but provides a satisfactory sequel to Forrest and Imbri’s story in “Faun & Games”.]  Afterwards Hugo and Brunhilda return to the vicinity of Castle Maidragon.

Hugo enters the Castle and finds Becka Dragongirl (who can transform between human and dragon forms), her husband Brusk (spelled “Brusque” in previous stories) and their 2-year-old son Ben.  But Hugo can’t communicate with them while in bat form, and Brusk captures him and releases him outside.  He returns to Brunhilda and the dragon, whose name is Dragoman.

Dragoman roars and Becka comes to investigate.  Dragoman tells Becka Hugo’s situation in dragon language.  So Hugo returns to the cave and swaps back with Bathos, and Becka lets him out of the cell.  Bathos had made a mess of Hugo’s body and clothes, so Hugo takes a shower and changes his clothes.  He uses the magic mirror to contact his mother (the Gorgon) at the Good Magician’s Castle, and learns that Wira is out looking for him.  Becka offers to fly him home.

The Random Factor
The Factor has encountered Demoness Metria and discusses his situation with her.  He wants to meet Debra to see what kind of a threat she is to him.  Debra seems to have the ability to detect when he uses magic, so he wants Metria to transport him to her and pretend to be his wife.  But Metria’s confusion with words will give her away, so they decide that instead she will assume her child aspect, Woe Betide, and pretend to be his daughter.  He will use the name Fabian and she will use the name Trace.

They materialise near the group which includes Debra.  Trace listens from a copse and tells him that they had mentioned the Factor and the Nameless Castle.

The Factor and Trace approach the group.  He is confused about which one is Debra, until they are introduced, and he learns that Debra has been transformed into a winged centaur.  He tells them he had promised Trace a tour of the Nameless Castle.  Trace goes off, ostensibly for a call of nature, but actually to find out the Castle’s location.  She returns and whispers to him that it is over the eastern Gap Chasm.

Debra offers to fly him there, so he can show her the way.  Then she can bring the others.

As they fly, the Factor wonders why the Factory would send an underage girl to capture him.  Maybe she doesn’t know she is an agent.  He has an urge to see her bare front when she laughs; he tells her this, which embarrasses her, but impetuously she decides to show it to him, and they land.

They discover they are very much attracted to each other.  They embrace and kiss; and they realise they are in love.

But now the Factor tells Debra that she is an agent of the Factory sent to capture him.  Debra realises she has no real memory of her entry into Xanth from Mundania, so it is possible that she is a creation of the Factory, designed specifically to capture the Factor.  She tells him of her curse.  The Factor has the urge to remove her bra, so she gets it from her arrow quiver and puts it on.  But he suddenly realises that this is the trap: if he touches her bra – in fact any bra that she wears – he will be caught.  So he must leave her.  But he tells her she will feel compelled to keep following him, in order to capture him.  They can only hope that some time in the future the curse will be lifted and they can be together.

They take to the air again and locate the Nameless Castle.  Then the Factor uses his talent to randomly transport himself away.

Debra returns to the others and tells them what had happened.  When Trace hears this, she reveals her true identity and leaves.  Debra flies Wira, Ilene and Nimbus to the Nameless Castle.

This, of course, is Nimbus’s home.  He calls his parents Chlorine and Nimby, who is in his form as the donkey-headed dragon.  Wira and Ilene know that Nimby is really the Demon Xanth, but Debra only learns afterwards.  Nimby normally doesn’t talk, and Chlorine speaks on his behalf.

Chlorine tells them that they will be rewarded for finding and returning Nimbus.  Ilene asks to be able to visit Nimbus, and Nimby gives her a free pass to visit anytime.

Wira says all she wants is to find Hugo.  Chlorine tells her that Hugo has already been found, and connects her by magic mirror to the Gorgon at the Good Magician’s Castle.  The Gorgon tells her that Becka will be bringing Hugo home the next day.  So Chlorine offers her another reward – her lost sight.  And suddenly Wira receives her sight.  It is too much for her at first; Chlorine puts a cloth over her head, so she can gradually get used to it.

Then Debra tells her story.  Chlorine says they don’t normally like to interfere in the ongoing history of Xanth, but Nimby can make her real.  That way the Factory can’t abolish her when she is no further use to them.  Debra feels a sudden change: not only has she become real, but now she is 18 years old.

Debra, Wira and Ilene leave the castle.  Debra takes Ilene to her home, then returns to the Good Magician’s Castle.  Debra takes the antidote and returns to her human form.

The next morning Happy Bottom and Fray arrive.  They had been heading for Castle Maidragon, but the wind had blown them in this direction.

The Gorgon takes them down to the cellar, so that Happy and Fray might be able to identify the body.  And it turns out to be Fracto, in solidified form and in stasis.  Happy kisses him and he revives.  The three clouds depart.

The Gorgon works it out.  The Random Factor must have swapped with Hugo, which resulted in the Factor being transported to the cellar and Hugo to the Factor’s cell.  Then the Factor had swapped with Fracto.  Some of the randomness must have caused other effects, such as scrambling the Book of Answers, putting Fracto in stasis and getting Nimbus lost.

Then Becka Dragongirl arrives.  But Hugo is not with her!

The Random Factor
After transporting away from Debra, the Factor finds himself in a private home.  He sees a woman asleep in a bed.  Then he sees a closet labelled “Imagination”.  He enters and sees various miscellaneous objects.  Then he sees a Dream Dictionary.  Maybe this will provide a suitable setting for him to meet Debra in a dream.

He turns and sees the woman at the door.  She says he can take one thing, use it and return it.  He looks in the book and finds pictures of the Honeymoon – the far side of the moon where lovers meet.  He returns the book.

The woman introduces herself as Venus Vila.  The vily are alluring magical females who live in the forests and on the heights, who hate men.  He has to be careful.  He introduces himself.

She decides she wants to marry him.  She will give him pleasure for a while and then discard him.  But he refuses.  He confesses that he is in love with someone else.  She allows him to stay the night.

He dreams of the Honeymoon.  And then he realises he should dream of Debra, and she appears in his dream.  She is in her centaur form as he remembers her. She tells him that she is actually in the Good Magician’s Castle, but is daydreaming, which had enabled her to appear in his dream.

Then suddenly they are in bed together, and she is in her human form.  She must have passed from daydreaming to sleep.  He goes to touch her and they both realise she is wearing a bra.  She exclaims in shock and disappears from the dream.

He wakes to find himself in Venus Vila’s home.  But when he mentions that Debra is 13, she accuses him of being a child molester.  She transforms into a series of forms to attack him: a snake, a bear and a dragon.  He uses his talent to transport himself away.

And he finds himself in midair with a man on his back.  They crash to the ground.  He had changed places with Becka Dragongirl, who had been in dragon form, flying Hugo home.

They see a strange bird flying towards them. The bird is a jinx: they bring bad luck.  Hugo conjures a cherry bomb and throws it at the bird, but misses.  The Factor applies his talent to transport himself – and ends up exchanging bodies with Hugo!  He can’t exchange back; his changes are random.

Becka (who of course had ended up in Venus Vila’s home) flies back to Hugo and the Factor and they explain to her what had happened.  They discover that their talents have swapped, remaining with their original bodies.  Now the Factor can conjure fruit, and presumably Hugo can perform random transfers.  They will have to stay together until they can work out how to change back.

Becka flies off to tell the people at the Good Magician’s Castle that Hugo is not coming.

Then the two men see a cockatrice.  Its gaze will turn them to stone.  The Factor grabs Hugo’s arm and Hugo transports them away.

Wira and Debra
Becka tells Wira and Debra what had happened with Hugo and the Factor.  Debra transforms back into a winged centaur and, with Wira riding her, follows Becka back to where Hugo and the Factor had been.  But they are not there; they must have transported away.  They return to the Good Magician’s Castle.

Wira decides to look for them via a shared dream.  She takes a potion, and soon Wira and Debra’s dream selves are hovering over the castle.  Debra uses her ability to orient on the Factor’s magic to locate the men, and they find their way to Venus Vila’s house.  They enter, and find the dream selves of the two men tied up.  Venus had captured them with a dream catcher, and is about to punish them for their perceived child molestation.  The women intervene and release them; the men’s dream selves disappear.

Now the women have to find the men where they are physically located.  They find them in a hidey-hole in a hollow beerbarrel tree.  They each kiss their partner, and the dream selves of the two men appear.

Now they experiment to determine whether the curse of the bra affects Hugo or the Factor.  And learn that it affects Hugo because he is in the Factor’s body.  However, since they are all in a dream, touching Debra’s bra just throws him out of the dream.

Then Demoness Metria arrives; the hidey-hole belongs to her.  She gets so angry she erupts in flames and sets fire to the place.  Hugo and the Factor transport away.

Debra senses that Hugo and the Factor are now in the direction of Castle Roogna.  She and Wira exit from the shared dream.

Hugo and the Random Factor
The transfer had not taken them far; just to the cellar below.  But the fire is still burning around them, so they transfer again.

They discover a whole series of orange cones flying at them, which they have to dodge.  Hugo looks around and concludes they are on the world of Cone, one of Ida’s moons.

Princess Ida has a tiny moon, Ptero, orbiting her head. It is possible for people from Xanth to travel to this world in soul form, by releasing their souls from their bodies and leaving their bodies behind.  On the moon, their spirit takes the form of their body, and the moon appears to be a full-size world. Ptero also contains a Princess Ida, who has another moon orbiting her head, and so on.

But if they are on Cone, this means they have left their bodies behind in Xanth and have arrived here in soul form.  They are not sure they can return safely to Xanth, and decide to consult the Ida of this world.  Cone is a world which is shaped like a cone, and has two different habitats; the outer surface has an atmosphere of air; the interior is filled with water.  Ida lives at the apex of the cone, at the bottom of the sea, inside the cone. Hugo and the Factor are on the outer surface.  They will need a guide to get to Ida.

They come to a cardboard castle, labelled Castle Nametag.  They enter and search inside.  They find a winged snake tied up and confined in a cage.  It communicates with them telepathically; its name is Era.  Hugo releases it.  It says it will guide them, in repayment for its release.  As they head for the exit, they encounter the nametaggers: these are human except that they have nametags for heads.  And they are not happy with the intruders.  In the conflict that follows the castle burns down.  The nametaggers cast a spell on Hugo, the Factor and the snake: they will only be able to travel upworld – that is, further along in the sequence of Ida’s moons, away from Xanth.

They eventually come to the brink of the sea that fills the cone.  Era leaves them and the two men enter the water; as visitors to the world they can breathe underwater.  They make their way to the apex and to Ida’s house.  But Ida can’t help them.

They stay at a nearby guest house.  And then they have a shared dream with the two women, who have used more of the potion.  The women have come to Cone, but had come to the apex on the outside.  They agree to meet at the sea’s brink.

But then a whole lot of monsters attack the guest house.  Hugo and the Factor transfer out again.

Debra and Wira
[The narrative jumps back to before the two women left Xanth.]

Debra and Wira fly to Castle Roogna.  They meet the three 11-year-old princesses, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm.  The princesses tell them the two men are not there.  But then it occurs to the princesses that the men may be on one of Ida’s moons.  The two women go to see Ida.

[Here, Wira refers to Ida as Queen Ivy’s sister.  This is a mistake by the author: Ivy is a Princess, not the Queen.  Ivy and Ida’s mother, Irene, is the Queen. This confused me at first; I thought it meant that Ivy had ascended to the throne, but in this case she should be called King, not Queen, for constitutional reasons.  But she still has the title of Princess in “Two to the Fifth” and ascends to the throne in “Knot Gneiss”.]

They discuss travelling to Ida’s moons.  Wira says there was one more clue from the Book of Answers: “Air Apparent”.  This may refer to one of the Clouds, who are airy entities who can take solidified forms.  Or it may be a pun on “heir apparent” in which case it could refer to Sim Bird, heir to the knowledge of the universe, or Nimbus, heir to Demon Xanth.  Maybe one or more of these people should come with them.

Debra and Wira fly to the Region of Air.  They find Fray.  She says her parents are busy, but she would like to come.  They tell her to check with her parents and meet them at Castle Roogna.

They fly to Mount Parnassus to ask the Simurgh whether Sim can come with them.  The Simurgh agrees; she thinks a tour of worlds will be a good experience for him; he will meet them at Castle Roogna.

They fly to the Nameless Castle.  Nimbus and Ilene are waiting for them.  Chlorine had said that Nimbus could go as long as Ilene went with him.  Nimbus and Ilene climb onto Debra’s back.

But then it occurs to them that the men must have left their bodies behind when they transported to Ida’s moons.  They return to the beerbarrel tree and discover the trapdoor to the cellar.  And they find the men’s bodies there, alive; they would be safe there until their souls are returned to them.  They also find some orange cones; this suggests the men are on Cone.

They return to Castle Roogna; Fray and Sim are waiting for them.  All 6 of them go to Ida; she gets them to lie down and sniff a vial.  Their souls separate from the bodies: they travel to the moons Ptero, Pyramid, Torus and then Cone.

At Sim’s suggestion, Nimbus uses his talent of making mixed metaphors real.  He combines “Time’s Arrow” and “factoring a human equation” and comes up with “Factor’s Arrow”.  An arrow appears in the air which points the way to where the Factor is, at the apex of the cone.  And they finally arrive there – but the men are not there!

That night the women use the shared dream potion and discover the men are on the inside of the cone.  They arrange to meet at the brink of the sea.  But then Debra senses that the men have moved again.

The Random Factor and Hugo
The two men discover that they are on the world of Motes, which consists of a whole lot of islands in the sky.  They can jump from one to another.

Since they are cursed not to be able to return to Xanth, maybe they should establish their homes here.  They find a suitable place to start building.

But then they get a feeling of foreboding, as if some monster is approaching.  They ask the locals, but they keep evading the subject.  The two men decide they should consult the Ida of this world.  They find their way to Ida’s home.

Ida tells them there is a creature called the Mote Monster.  It swallows up anything, including whole mote islands, but it prefers new things, such as new arrivals to the world of Motes.  The locals move around to avoid it, but by unspoken agreement don’t tell any newcomers about it.

The two men decide they will have to move on, but first they will have to wait for the women to arrive.

They see the Mote Monster approaching; it is a huge black nebulous creature.  The Factor conjures up explosive fruit – cherries and pineapples – and throws them at the monster, but they don’t have much impact.  Hugo tells him of another fruit he has heard of – a huge mushroom.  The Factor conjures it and throws it at the creature.  It blows the creature to bits.

They continue back to their arrival point.  Then they start seeing mini-Mote Monsters.  The pieces of the monster had become tiny monsters!  And they are combining to gradually become bigger.  The men have to keep fighting them off with explosive fruit.

Then a group of people appear.  They are Wira, Debra, Fray, Sim, Ilene and Nimbus.  Hugo makes sure they are all in contact with him and transports away.

Wira, Debra, Hugo, the Factor and their companions
After this they land on a series of different worlds, but none of them are suitable for them to stay permanently.  The curse which prevents them travelling downworld has now spread to the whole group, so that none of them can return to Xanth.

What other adventures are in store for them? Where will they end up?  Will they ever return to Xanth?  Will Hugo and the Factor return to their own bodies?  Will Debra’s curse be lifted?

At the end of this story there is a significant change to Xanth’s status and its relationship to Earth/Mundania.