Cube Route (2003)
Cube is a young woman of 20, who is plain in appearance. Men tend not to notice her. She wishes she was beautiful. Demoness Metria appears to her and suggests she go to Good Magician Humfrey.
The demoness gives her a rear-view mirror. This is a mirror that shows a person their posterior rather than their face. But Cube doesn’t want it. She tries to get rid of it, but it always returns to her.
Cube takes the demoness’s advice and heads off towards the Good Magician’s Castle.
Cube’s magic talent is the ability to summon and control nickelpedes. (Nickelpedes are one of the common hazards of the Xanth series. They are five times as bad as centipedes; they gouge nickel-sized pieces of flesh from their victims. They are often found in caves and crevices.) Cube doesn’t like to use this talent, as it doesn’t seem very feminine. But she will need to summon nickelpedes quite a few times during this adventure, to protect herself against dangerous creatures.
Cube follows the enchanted path until she reaches a campsite at the end of the day. A handsome young man called Ryver joins her there.
Ryver is 23 years old. He is the son of Lacuna and Vernon. Lacuna had married Vernon “retroactively”. (At the end of “Question Quest”, Lacuna performed certain actions that altered her own personal past, and she found that she was married to Vernon, whom she’d wished she’d married in her original timeline. Ryver had existed as an orphan in the original timeline; he became their son in the amended timeline.) Ryver’s talent is to manipulate water; when he is immersed in water, he turns into water.
Cube is attracted to Ryver, but realises that he is not attracted to her. She suggests that if she gets her wish of becoming beautiful, they might have a relationship. He agrees. In the morning they part.
Cube continues on and comes to another campsite at the end of the day. There she meets a female winged centaur called Karia. Karia had gone to see the Good Magician, but had not got past the first Challenge; this involved puns, which she hates. Her Question had been how she could get rid of a side-effect to her talent. Like all winged centaurs, she can flick herself with her tail, to make herself light, which enables her to fly. But when someone says her name, she goes into a daze, and drifts off into the air – she gets “carried away”, which is a pun on her name.
Karia has been travelling on the enchanted path rather than flying, because there is a dragon nearby who knows her name and her curse; if she flies, it will say her name, and she will become its prey. Cube says she will help her; she will ride Karia, and when the dragon says Karia’s name, Cube will wake Karia from her daze and throw nickelpedes at the dragon. So they do this, and escape from the dragon; in the process, Karia brings Cube closer to her destination. Then Karia leaves Cube and flies away home.
When Cube gets to the Good Magician, she asks how she can be beautiful. Humfrey tells her, “You must travel the Cube Route. Complete the Cube Route and you will be beautiful.” This is both her Answer and her Service. Humfrey explains: Xanth had acquired some additional contra-terrene territory (now referred to as Counter Xanth) as a result of the Demon Bet between Demon Xanth and Demoness Fornax, in “Up in a Heaval”. Cube is to gather companions and find the route to this territory, so that others may follow. She is to limit her party to nine. All her companions will be rewarded.
When she leaves Humfrey’s study, she meets Sofia Socksorter, Humfrey’s current Designated Wife. Sofia gives Cube a pouch. It has been made from one of Humfrey’s old socks, and has absorbed his magic. Cube’s mission needs to be secret, so her companions will be concealed within the pouch, and only brought out when necessary. When someone puts their foot into it, they will slip into it and disappear. She can bring someone out by reaching in and saying their name.
Leaving the castle, she considers Ryver and Karia as companions. But how will she find them? Then she remembers Metria. She says Metria’s name and the demoness appears. Cube persuades Metria to join her quest by making her curious about the reward she would receive. And she asks Metria to take a message to Karia asking if she would like to join her in an adventure. Metria goes, and returns with the message that Karia would meet her at the rest stop nearest the castle. Cube asks Metria to take the same message to Ryver. Metria does so and returns. Ryver is not willing to join her until she becomes beautiful.
Cube and Karia meet at the rest stop, and Karia agrees to join the quest. Karia suggests that Ryver might be willing to join them if it is pointed out that he would be present when Cube becomes beautiful.
Metria leads the way, as Karia flies with Cube on her back, to Ryver’s home. Cube persuades Ryver to join the quest. Ryver suggests they go to Castle Roogna. The companions enter the pouch, and Cube follows the enchanted path to Castle Roogna.
As she arrives at the Castle, she is met by the three 7-year-old princesses, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm. (The three princesses are all powerful Sorceresses – able to perform practically any magic.) They excitedly show her around. She meets their mother, Princess Ivy. Then the little princesses use their magic to transport Cube and themselves to Castle MaiDragon. The castle belongs to them; it was created by their older selves from Ptero in “The Dastard”. Becka Dragongirl is the caretaker; her boyfriend Brusque Brassy lives there with her.
But Brusque had, not long before, opened the door to the Forbidden Chamber, and disappeared. When someone opens that door, an entity inside the room, called the Random Factor, casts a spell which does something unpredictable to that person.
The princesses conjure the Magic Tapestry from Castle Roogna to Castle MaiDragon, and view what had happened to Brusque. (The Magic Tapestry shows the present or past of any location in Xanth.) Brusque had been heading for the broom closet when he entered the wrong corridor, and ended up at the Forbidden Chamber. It appears that someone had cast an illusion to lead Brusque astray.
They go to the door of the Forbidden Chamber. Cube finds a pen on the floor; maybe Brusque had dropped it when he disappeared. She puts it in her pocket. The princesses cast a spell to point the way to Brusque. Rhythm spins and points to the pen in Cube’s pocket. Brusque had been transformed into the pen! The princesses cast another spell to transform him back into his normal form.
The princesses say they want to join Cube’s quest. Their mother will insist on an adult companion; Karia will be suitable for this purpose. Cube brings Karia out of the pouch.
Becka suggests another companion for the quest: Drek Dragon. Unlike other dragons, his breath smells of perfume when he’s happy, and is an awful stench when he’s angry or upset. His nasty breath could provide protection by driving enemies away.
Cube slips into the pouch, and Karia takes it, and flies back to Castle Roogna with the princesses riding. Cube emerges from the pouch, and the princesses get permission from their mother to go on the quest.
The princesses cast another direction spell to point to Drek Dragon’s location, then slip into the pouch.
Karia, with Cube riding, heads in the appropriate direction. They come to a book fair, but can’t see a dragon. They notice a book called “Phaze”, with a picture of a man and two women on the cover. [Phaze is the fantasy world of Piers Anthony’s “Apprentice Adept” series.] The picture looks as if you could step into it, and when they try to do this, it works, and they find themselves in the world of Phaze. The three people from the book’s cover are there. Cube brings out the princesses to get a new direction to Drek Dragon.
The man introduces himself as Stu Wolf (a werewolf; he can transform between human and wolf forms), and the two women as Viola Corn (a unicorn; she can transform between human and unicorn forms), and Forili Vamp (a vampire; she can transform between human and bat forms). They will act as guides for Cube’s party. In exchange, the princesses will create a castle for them.
Cube brings out the remaining members of her party and they all introduce themselves.
Stu leads the way in wolf form. Forili (in human form) rides Viola (in unicorn form). Cube returns the others to the pouch, except for Karia, whom she rides.
They come to the troll region. Trolls are nasty; they kill and eat other creatures. But they can be stunned if a member of the opposite sex kisses them. However it is necessary to get close to them quickly to do this. The trolls attack, but the group’s strategy of kissing works.
They come to the dragon region and find Drek’s den. Cube calls, and he emerges; she invites him to join their quest. He cannot speak the human language, but he can wiggle his right ear for yes, and his left ear for no. He agrees to join them. The princesses conjure up a copy of Castle MaiDragon (it is an exhausting process); it is within Drek’s territory, so the castle belongs to Drek, but Stu, Viola and Forili can occupy it in his absence, and share it if he returns.
They all return to the point where Cube’s party entered Phaze. They are not sure how to return, but eventually the princesses conjure up a picture of Castle Roogna; they all say goodbye to the people of Phaze, enter the picture and return to Xanth.
The princesses do another Find spell for the next companion; this brings them to a cave with a human residence within it, but there is no one at home. The princesses detect strong bad magic; it must be the magic of a Senior Demon. Metria suggests that Demoness Fornax is trying to prevent them getting to Counter Xanth, so it will remain empty, and therefore easier for her to win it back in another Demon Contest.
They enter the cave and find a tunnel at the back; they follow the tunnel until they come to a large underground cavern with a lake. The lake is filled with boot rear, so they wouldn’t want to swim in it. (This beverage occurs commonly in the Xanth series; when you drink it, you feel a kick in the posterior.) But Karia carries Cube across the lake; they see two women and a dog stranded onan island. Cube transfers them into the pouch, and they return to the shore.
The women are Cory, an unusually tall woman, and Tessa, an unusually short woman. (Cory and Tessa previously appeared in “Up in a Heaval”.) They had found the dog, a female, whom they call Diamond, on the island when they had become stranded there. The residential chamber belongs to them. Cube tells them that her party had been led by magic to the two women, and hopes they will join her quest. The women tell her about their combined talent of sidestepping: they can step into an adjacent realm, and travel in it. This talent could be useful to navigate through hazards in Xanth on their quest.
They all return to the women’s residence. Cory and Tessa tell how they both originate in Mundania; they had both been rejected because of their height, and through different means had ended up in Xanth, where they had met. But for fear of being rejected by the people of Xanth they have been living in a secluded place. They discovered their combined talent by accident. (It was assumed at the beginning of the series that people from Mundania who migrate to Xanth do not have a magic talent. But for several books now, it has been stated that eventually people from Mundania do develop a magic talent; however since they don’t expect to have one, they don’t usually try to discover what it is.)
So Cory and Tessa join the quest. Cube now has her complement of nine companions. But Tessa points out that the party now consists of ten people including Cube herself. The Good Magician had said to limit the party to nine. But Cube decides they can’t do without any of the party, so they will stay with the current number.
The princesses do another Find, to determine the way to Counter Xanth, but they can’t find the direction. Is Demoness Fornax interfering? Drek wants to say something, but it is difficult for him to communicate with them. Metria suggests creating an illusion of him that speaks, and the princesses perform magic to do this. The illusory image is separate from the real Drek, and can speak Drek’s thoughts. Drek suggests that because of the wrong number in the party, maybe the route is a winding route. The princesses perform their magic, and a silver thread appears, showing the way. The companions slip into the pouch; Cube follows the thread, and Diamond walks along with her. Diamond would travel with the group until a home can be found for her.
They come to the Gap Chasm. The thread goes down the side. Cube and Diamond discover they can walk down the side as long as they stay with the thread. But at the bottom the Gap Dragon attacks them. Cube summons nickelpedes, but the dragon cooks them with his steam. Cube brings out Drek, whose nasty breath drives the Gap Dragon away. They continue up the other side of the chasm. Drek returns to the pouch.
Cube and Diamond stop to rest. But then they are awoken by three girls. This is the Peace Forest, where, if people sleep, they might never wake up! It is possible they have been sleeping for days!
Cube and Diamond continue on with the girls until their paths diverge.
They meet a woman called Polly Graff, coming the other way; she can detect when people lie. She had been at an inn south of the North Village. The room she had stayed in had a ghost: a beautiful woman who had either just killed herself, or was about to.
Cube and Diamond continue on; the thread leads to the inn; the only room available is the one with the ghost.
Cube enters the room. There is the ghost: it is a beautiful woman. The woman tells her her name is Silhouette; her body is in Mundania, but her soul is free to roam. She had taken poison and is in a coma. Since her father had died, the “vultures” had closed in: her aunt, her accountant and her boyfriend, keen to access her wealth. She had found life unbearable. She envies Cube in her fantasy world; Cube envies her beauty. Silhouette wishes they could change places.
But Cube thinks they can. She notices that the thread leads up to Silhouette; maybe Cube is meant to do something about this. Silhouette knows what she ought to do about her situation, but doesn’t have the gumption; Cube has plenty of gumption.
They exchange life stories. They will exchange bodies for 24 hours from midnight. Silhouette will need a companion to guide her in Xanth, so Cube brings Metria out of the pouch.
Cube walks into the space occupied by the ghost, and finds herself in Silhouette’s body in Mundania. She is in a private hospital. She has all of Silhouette’s memories; this includes the knowledge of the Mundane language. She sleeps until morning, then checks out, and drives Silhouette’s car to Silhouette’s home.
She puts Silhouette’s aunt in her place. She meets the accountant, and tells him she knows he has been embezzling Silhouette’s money. He must put his paperwork in order, and make reparations, after which he is dismissed. She is bringing the auditor in. And she meets Silhouette’s fiancé, who has been abusing Silhouette physically and sexually. He is only interested in her money and her social status. She forcibly breaks off the engagement.
Silhouette will need friends, so Cube goes to Filip, the old loyal gardener, and renews her friendship. Filip’s son Phil had been a childhood friend of Silhouette, and Cube sets the groundwork for a romance between Silhouette and Phil.
Cube returns to the hospital in time to exchange back at midnight. She tells Silhouette to consult her memory of the past day’s events, and the ghost departs.
In the morning Cube departs the inn, in the company of Metria and Diamond. The thread now continues on from the inn. Metria tells her she is retracing the route Silhouette had taken while in Cube’s body.
They come to an old man who is extending the enchanted path. The thread leads up to the man, which suggests that Cube must solve some problem relating to him. (Cube starts to think that the thread is not just a path to her destination, but is also leading her, as part of her quest, to do certain things and learn from her experiences.)
Cube consults her memory of Silhouette’s day in Xanth, and discovers what the man had told Silhouette. This is the Magician Patxi. As a child he had discovered he had the talent of creating invisible and intangible barriers, which prevented people passing. He used this as pranks to stop people getting to essential locations. When the villagers found out who was causing this, they brought the curse fiends in to curse him. (The curse fiends are a community of humans who all have the same talent of casting magical curses.) The curse requires him to use his talent only for good, until someone thanks him formally. But after this no one wanted to make use of his talent. Finally he had gone to King Trent, who had given him the assignment of creating enchanted paths between all the important places in Xanth.
But now he’d like to retire, but the curse prevents him. Cube tries to thank him, but the curse prevents this. She brings the princesses out of the pouch, and asks if they can abolish the curse. They say it is a complex and powerful curse, which they don’t fully understand. An attempt to abolish it may have some adverse side-effect. The curse had been channelled through a secret name, “Unthank”, which had been applied to Patxi. Metria suggests a more devious strategy, erasing the letters “Un” from the name. Kim, who lives in Mundania, had been given the talent of erasure (this occurred at the end of “Demon’s Don’t Dream”). Cube realises that she must go and get Kim from Mundania. The thread now leads away from Patxi. Metria tells her she must go to the portal to Mundania at No Name Key.
So Cube brings Karia from the pouch and returns the others to the pouch. Karia flies her to No Name Key. (In “Yon Ill Wind”, the exit from the portal on the Xanth side was on Centaur Isle, with which No Name Key was combined. Not wanting continual travel through the portal on their island, the centaurs had separated No Name Key from Centaur Aisle.) There is a picture on an easel of the interior of a building; this is the portal entrance. Karia enters the pouch; Cube will not have access to her companions while in Mundania.
Cube steps through the picture, and finds herself in the building from the picture, in Mundania. She meets Turn Key, the gatekeeper of the portal. [Usually, people from Xanth have trouble communicating in Mundania. Cube has no trouble, and the story gives no reason for this, but it can be presumed that she retains her memory of the Mundane language from her time in Silhouette’s body.] After discussing her requirement, Turn Key phones Silhouette, and hands the phone to Cube. Silhouette says she will arrive by helicopter in an hour’s time.
Silhouette arrives in the helicopter; she is very pleased to meet Cube in person. Phil is the pilot; Silhouette agrees that Cube was right; he is the man for her.
Turn Key gives Silhouette Kim’s address; Silhouette and Cube get into the helicopter and they fly to Kim’s address. Cube explains to Kim. She agrees to come, but she must bring her 3-year-old son Knut with her. They fly back to No Name Key.
Cube, Kim and Knut cross the portal to Xanth. Silhouette and Phil will wait for Kim and Knut to return. But then Silhouette follows them through the portal; she had touched the picture, and to her surprise it let her through. (Normally a person can only cross the portal if they have a permit, or have been in Xanth before. Apparently Silhouette’s presence as a ghost counted.)
Cube brings Karia from the pouch and they all ride her back to Patxi. Kim writes UNTHANK in the dirt, and then erases the letters UN. Nothing happens. Maybe she has to associate the word more closely with Patxi. She writes it on his back with dirt, and erases the first two letters. Still nothing happens. But then Knut walks up to Patxi and says, “You made this nice path? Thank you.” They all feel the curse depart. Patxi says he will complete the current path and then retire.
They return to No Name Key; Silhouette, Kim and Knut depart.
The thread shows the way back across the water. Cube enters the pouch to rest while Karia flies back across the water and continues over the land, following the thread. They arrive at a rest stop and Cube emerges. They stay there overnight.
In the morning, Karia, who is still tired from the previous day’s flight, reenters the pouch and Cube continues on foot.
She passes a cave labelled COM. A bat emerges from the cave and starts attacking her. She realises it is a Com-Bat. She keeps it at bay with a nickelpede. The bat mentions his friend Com-Pete, a huge snake, who also lives in the cave; they are guardians of Mount Pinatuba, the bad-tempered volcano.
Cube crosses a stream, but in the process drops the pouch into the water. It is carried downstream and then disappears underground. What will she do now? How can she recover her companions?
The thread continues on; would it have taken into account the loss of the pouch? She keeps following the thread, and meets a man and a woman who have lost their memory. They have wandered through a forget whorl. And the thread also leads through the forget whorl. Something has gone wrong; maybe this is more of Demoness Fornax’s interference.
She remembers Kim mentioning a couple called Nimby and Chlorine, who have powerful magic and sometimes do favours for people. They live in the Nameless Castle on a cloud. She sees the cloud, with the castle, approaching Mount Pinatuba.
In desperation, she returns to the COM cave, and asks for help from Com-Bat and Com-Pete. She will provide them with friendly nickelpedes to clear away Pete’s nits and lice, and to guard the cave for Com-Bat. In exchange can Pete carry her to the top of Mount Pinatuba so she can jump onto the cloud? They agree, and it is a mad dash as Pete carries her up the mountain, and she manages to jump onto the cloud before it drifts too far from the mountain.
A young woman, Chlorine, meets her, and conducts her into the Nameless Castle, where she meets Nimby, a donkey-headed dragon. Chlorine tells her that Nimby sometimes takes the appearance of a young human man; Chlorine and Nimby are married. Cube tells them her problem. Chlorine brings out their 3-year-old son, Nimbus (human in appearance), and they all get onto Nimby’s back. Nimby walks through the wall – it is apparent he can phase through solid matter – then spreads his wings (they seem to have just appeared) and flies them down to the ground below. But then they sink under the ground to an underground cavern. Nimbus finds the pouch and gives it to Cube. Nimby returns Cube to the place where she had lost the pouch, and departs with Chlorine and Nimbus.
Cube brings all her companions out of the pouch and tells them what happened. She asks whether they still want to continue with her. They all do. The princesses say that the thread has a feel of bad magic; Demoness Fornax must have interfered with it. They abolish the thread and regenerate it. All the companions return to the pouch except Metria and Diamond.
They continue following the thread and come to a campsite at the end of the day. They are joined by three women. One of these is called Seren; she had been a foundling, but had had a pacifier with her, labelled “Seren Dip Ity”. She has an associated talent: she finds things she doesn’t expect to. Cube wonders whether, if they exchanged possessions, they might exchange talents. So Cube and Seren exchange the pacifier for the rear-view mirror. (After this, the rear-view mirror no longer returns to Cube.) Seren decides to call herself Mirror.
In the morning, the travellers all continue on their way. But then Cube discovers she can only introduce herself as Seren, and other people address her as Seren, and she can no longer summon nickelpedes. She ties the pacifier onto Diamond’s collar, and that corrects the situation, except that now she can only refer to Diamond as Seren.
They continue to follow the thread and come to Castle Roogna again. Metria returns to the pouch; she is not especially welcome at the castle. Cube meets Ivy, and explains how she had lost the pouch, but Ivy accepts that it wasn’t her fault. Now the thread continues upstairs to Princess Ida’s room. The thread continues to Ida’s moon Ptero.
Ptero is a tiny moon that orbits Princess Ida’s head. It is possible for people from Xanth to travel to it, usually by having their soul separate from their body and travelling there in spirit form. On the moon, their spirit takes the form of their body, and the moon appears to be a full-size world. Ptero has counterparts of all Xanth’s characters, and also others who could potentially exist in Xanth. Ptero also contains a Princess Ida, who has another moon orbiting her head, and so on.
Ida gets Cube and Diamond to lie down, and prepares to get them to sniff a potion which will put them to sleep and separate their souls to travel to Ptero. But Diamond doesn’t fall asleep; Ida discovers that Diamond is already a soul; her hand passes through her. Cube is surprised; lots of people have patted the dog; they must have just thought they felt what they expected. The pacifier, which is attached to Diamond’s collar, is intangible too. So Ida administers the potion to Cube, and her soul separates. Cube (in soul form) and Diamond (who is already a soul) travel to the moon Ptero.
[I find this explanation about Diamond already being a soul unsatisfactory. There are other occasions when Diamond had physical interactions, and the pacifier is obviously physical in other circumstances. It appears to me that the author has made this change late in the piece, to solve some problem – maybe to avoid Diamond leaving her body behind permanently in Xanth. But then the author has not fixed up all the previous references to Diamond to be consistent.]
They arrive, and discover they are both much older; they must have arrived in a time when they are older. [This apparently is an effect of the “Time is geography” rule – see below. But this seems to be inconsistent with previous books. Other travellers from Xanth to Ptero do not change their age on arrival, no matter where they land. But hey – magical effects in a fantasy land are often unpredictable.]
They follow the thread and come to Ptero’s counterpart of Castle Roogna. A 22-year-old version of Melody comes out to meet them. Cube figures out she herself must be 35. (That is, she is 15 years older than she had been in Xanth, just as the Ptero characters in Castle Roogna are 15 years older than their Xanth counterparts.) Melody remembers the adventure she had had with Cube. (Inhabitants of Ptero “remember” events in the lives of their Xanth counterparts. In some sense they are the same people. Melody is remembering the adventure that her 7-year-old counterpart is currently on.) She says Cube and Diamond will have to travel quickly to the east, as Diamond will not last long at her present age. (Travelling east in Ptero makes a person younger, and travelling west makes them older. “Time is geography.”) But first Cube must meet Melody’s mother Ivy, who is King in this world.
(Ptero’s version of Ivy became King of Ptero in “Faun & Games” for the reason given in that story, and has remained in that position.) (For constitutional reasons, the ruler of Xanth – and therefore of its derivative world Ptero – is referred to as King, whether male or female.)
So Cube enters the castle and meets King Ivy, who is 15 years older than her Xanth counterpart. Ivy says she appreciates how the princesses had had their adventure with Cube; it had helped them to grow up, and to appreciate the limits of their magic.
Cube and Diamond continue following the thread to the east, getting younger as they go. Finally, when Cube is 16, the thread leads them to a house; a 20-year-old woman called Lacky comes to the door. She is the daughter of Lacuna and Vernon from an alternative history, so does not have a counterpart in Xanth. (Lacky previously appeared in “The Dastard”.) Cube can’t immediately remember where she has heard those names before. Lacky’s talent is to write things and they become true. She had written the name “Diamond” as a dog’s name, for a companion for her dog Boss. So it seems that this is where Diamond is to find a home. Cube removes the pacifier from Diamond’s collar.
Lacky takes Cube to meet 8-year-old Prince Dolin (who also appeared in “The Dastard”) in his personal castle. Dolin is pleased to see Boss and Diamond. He thanks Cube for coming, and presents her with a magic whisk broom; it enables the possessor to travel long distances quickly.
Lacky asks Cube to take her regards to her brother Ryver, back in Xanth. At this realisation, Cube brings Ryver out of the pouch; Lacky and Ryver are pleased to meet each other. Ryver had never met his sister Lacky, but he had dreamed about her. Ryver returns to the pouch.
The thread leads west. Cube uses the whisk broom to travel the long distance quickly. She arrives back at Ptero’s version of Castle Roogna, where she is 35 again. The thread leads her to the room of Princess Ida, who is 15 years older than her Xanth counterpart. The thread leads to this Ida’s moon, Pyramid – a world consisting of four triangular sides. Ida lends her a dogsled for travelling: this is a combination dog and sled; Cube will be able to give it verbal directions. So Cube gets onto the sled and travels to Pyramid. (Her age reverts to 20.) She continues on until the sled arrives at the home of Pyramid’s counterpart of Ida, on Pyramid’s blue face.
Cube introduces herself to Ida, but since she still has the pacifier, she gives her name as Seren. She hands the pacifier to Ida, and then gives her true name. She explains that she is on a quest.
Ida wishes she could marry, but believes that any man who knew her talent would not be interested in her. She goes to the fireplace and places a knot of wood in it and sets fire to it.
There is a knock on the door. It is a handsome red-coloured man – from the red face of Pyramid. He is the Magician Jaycn. He wants to marry Ida. He is fated to marry a person who is burning a wood knot; the wood knot is a variety of reverse wood that changes reality. But she must not tell him what her talent is, as he is fated not to marry a person whose talent he knows. The pacifier had acted to enable Ida to find something she didn’t expect to.
Cube sees that the thread leads to this Ida’s moon, Torus. She takes back the pacifier, gets on the dogsled, and heads for Torus.
She continues on world after world, until finally the thread stops on the world of Tesseract.
The sled comes to a stop inside a huge hollow cube. The walls of the cube are covered with murals of landscapes. Then Cube realises that the thread continues on through a wall. But the walls are solid; there is no way through. There are people around, but they are frozen as statues. She brings out all the companions.
Karia explains that a tesseract is a hypercube – a four dimensional structure. The fourth dimension is time. The world of Tesseract has imploded, and become frozen at an instant of time. The apparent murals on the walls are actually real landscapes. Demoness Fornax must have caused the implosion.
Cory points out that Tessa’s name is actually Tesseract. Cory’s name is actually Corybant, which means a wild dancing spirit. Since there are already correspondences between this world and the names Cube and Tessa, maybe Cory’s name has a connection as well; maybe they should dance. But none of the group is good at dancing. But Karia describes a dance that is relatively simple: the square dance. They break into pairs, and Karia teaches them the dance, and then calls out the steps. Drek Dragon keeps a watch on the thread in the wall; when it becomes possible, Drek and all the dancers follow it through the wall. The world has been restored, and the people come to life.
The people of Tesseract throw a celebration party, and ask Cube’s group to teach them the square dance. Then Cube’s companions return to the pouch, and Cube continues travelling on the dogsled, following the thread to the Ida of this world, and then to a series of other moons.
The thread finally stops on Zombie World, at that world’s version of Castle Zombie. Cube enters the castle and meets Millie. (The Zombie Master and his wife Millie had moved from Xanth to Zombie World when they had retired. Breanna and Justin had taken charge of Castle Zombie in Xanth.) Millie goes off and returns with a baby girl; she had assumed that was what Cube had come for. The stork had made a mistake and delivered the baby to Castle Zombie on Zombie World, when she should have gone to Breanna and Justin at Castle Zombie in Xanth. But now the thread leads to the baby, so Cube realises it is her job to take her to her rightful place.
They give the baby the name Amber Dawn, from her beautiful amber colour, and the time she was delivered. (It is necessary to give the baby a name, so Cube can say her name to bring her out of the pouch.) Cube puts the baby in the pouch, so no time will pass for her, so she won’t need to be fed or changed.
But then Millie realises: this is the baby’s soul. She must be joined with her body – which would have been delivered to Xanth’s Castle Zombie – within a day, or her soul will perish. Cube has until dawn the next day.
Cube tells the dogsled to return to its home on Ptero. Then she concentrates on expanding herself, and returns to Castle Roogna in Xanth.
Cube brings Karia out of the pouch. It is night, so Karia can’t fly, but she can take Cube rapidly along the enchanted path to Castle Zombie.
But how could the storks have made a mistake? This must be interference from Demoness Fornax again, but in this case it must be revenge against Breanna for her part in the “Swell Foop” adventure.
But Karia loses her way. They have been led astray by Demon Viate (D. Viate = deviate), who must be in league with Fornax. But they are helped by a demoness called Cent (D. Cent = decent), who tells them they have ended up on the Isle of Goles, which is only accessible to Xanth at midnight, and that time has already past. She persuades Demon Termined (D. Termined = determined) to help them.
But Termined will only help if Cube helps tame his horse Charles. Charles (Charlie Horse) has a talent of giving people muscle spasms, and keeps doing this to Termined. But Cube discovers Termined has been mistreating the horse, and refuses to try and tame him. Termined gives up and says she can have the horse, but he won’t help them get off the island. Since Cube is now riding Charles, Karia returns to the pouch.
But then Cube thinks of Cory and Tessa’s talent of sidestepping. She brings them out of the pouch. Cory and Tessa bring Cube and Charles into the other realm, which enables them to move across the water to the Xanth mainland. Cory and Tessa return to the pouch.
Cube and Charles manage to find the enchanted path again, and are able to reach Castle Zombie before dawn. Cube enters and finds a heart-broken Breanna grieving over an apparently dead baby. Cube brings the baby’s soul from the pouch, and the baby is restored to life. Breanna’s grief is turned to joy. All of the companions join the celebration.
The next day, with the companions back in the pouch, Cube continues on, riding Charles, following the thread. They eventually come to the Gap Chasm, where they start across on the invisible bridge. But Demoness Fornax appears as a cloud ahead of them, and blows Cube and Charles off the bridge. They are plunging to their death! But then they freeze in place and a magic light surrounds them. They see Nimby, the donkey-headed dragon, on the bridge (Cube had learned that he is actually Demon Xanth), then the cloud and dragon disappear, and Cube and Charles are back on the bridge. Demon Xanth had countered Fornax’s interference in his realm.
On the other side of the chasm, the thread leads down into the chasm. A man named Ray is there; he shows Cube a hidden ledge they can go down on. They come to an empty building; the thread ends here. Cube brings her companions out of the pouch.
Cory and Tessa form a sidestepping channel, which enables them to cross from Xanth to Counter Xanth. It is a land much like Xanth, but the landforms are reversed. In place of the Gap Chasm there is a high mountain range. There are no people, but the plants and animals are strange in appearance. And in the different regions, different characteristics of people are reversed: heights, gender, state of health etc.
As they move from region to region, the changes are cumulative. But they can revert to their normal characteristics by withdrawing into the sidestepping aisle.
They find a region where beauty and ugliness is reversed. Now Cube has got her wish: she is beautiful. But she realises that she will revert when she enters the sidestepping aisle. But Ryver had been coming to appreciate her during their journey, and now that he has seen her as a beautiful woman, he loves her, even when she is not beautiful.