Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Currant Events


Currant Events (2004)
Clio, the Muse of History, discovers a book she has apparently written, but which is unreadable because the writing is blurred.  She decides to go to Good Magician Humfrey, to ask him about it.

She goes to a nearby brook and asks it to take her there.  The brook forms into a water horse and carries her to the Good Magician’s Castle.  Clio notices on the way that there is an abundance of fish, rabbits and crows, whose numbers are normally kept down by dragons.

At the Castle, she has to go through the Challenges, which makes her indignant, as she considers herself the Good Magician’s friend, rather than an ordinary querent.  She takes this up with the Good Magician, who says he has an important Service for her, that only she can perform, so please could she take the role of a querent?  Clio complies and asks her Question about the unreadable volume.  Humfrey tells her she needs the Currant, a magical red berry.

Humfrey tells her that the dragons of Xanth are becoming extinct.  But they are essential to the Xanth ecology.  Clio’s Service is to bring more dragons from Dragon World, one of Ida’s Moons.  She must bring five breeding pairs of each type.  Humfrey makes a design appear on her left wrist. It is a compass: the blue arrow points to where she must go; the red one shows how much time she has left.

After leaving Humfrey’s study, Clio discusses the situation with Dara Demoness, Humfrey’s current Designated Wife.  Dara suggests getting help from Becka Dragongirl, and contacts Becka on the magic mirror. (Becka can transform between human and dragon forms; currently she is in human form.) Then Dara takes Clio (travelling instantly, demon-style) to Castle MaiDragon, where Becka lives.  They all discuss the situation, and Becka suggests they get Che Centaur involved as well.  Dara disappears then reappears with Che.  (Che had flicked himself light enough for Dara to transport.)

Che says the problem with the dragons is a sickness which affects dragons without souls.  So Becka is immune, but her father Draco isn’t; but he could be saved by an infusion of a soul from a souled dragon.

He goes on to say that the dragons of Dragon World are mere fragments of souls; they will need bodies when they come to Xanth.  He will organise the gathering of organic material, such as swamp peat or topsoil, to be converted into bodies when inhabited by the dragon souls.

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 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.  Dragon World is one of these moons, a long way along the series.

Becka transforms into a dragon and flies Clio to Castle Roogna.  They enter the castle to meet Princess Ida.  Ida gets them to sniff a potion, Clio concentrates on Dragon World, and she and Becka zip along rapidly from world to world until they reach Dragon World. (The movement between worlds has become even more streamlined than in previous stories.)  The world is shaped like a huge dragon, curling round with its tail in its mouth.

Following the direction of the blue arrow on Clio’s wrist, they land on a beach.  They follow the arrow until they reach a glade.  But the red arrow indicates they have reached the deadline.  They hear the telepathic conversation of two creatures in love.  But then a small dragon arrives and devours the creatures.  Apparently it was those creatures whom Clio and Becka were supposed to meet.

Clio exerts her talent, which is the windback.  She winds back time to the point when they landed, then tells Becka to turn dragon and carry her quickly to the spot.  Becka scares off the small dragon, so the creatures – who are tiny dragons – are still alive.

They talk to the dragons – they are Drew, a blue male, and Drusie, a pink female.  The dragons are telepathic, and can read minds.  They can also fly.  They quickly realise that Clio and Becka have saved them, and commit themselves to staying with and helping Clio and Becka until they have saved their lives in return.

The dragons explain about their world.  There are 5 categories of dragons, each of which have 5 aspects.  The categories are: environment, weapon, size, nature and mental nature.  There are therefore 3,125 types of dragons.  This means Clio will have to recruit 31,250 dragons to migrate to Xanth. Drew and Drusie belong to different types, which means their love is illicit; they have different weapon types: Drew is a fire breather and Drusie is a steamer.  They are willing to migrate to Xanth, where there will be no rule against them associating with each other.

They decide that Clio should meet with groups of dragons based on the environment category.  She will need to get the dragons to listen to her by having a pun challenge: if she wins she can put her case, if she loses she and Becka will get eaten.

Drew organises the first meeting, with the land dragons, and Becka flies Clio, Drew and Drusie there.  Normally Drew travels in Clio’s pocket and Drusie travels in Becka’s pocket, or on her head or shoulder when Becka is in dragon form.

The pun contest is conducted as follows:  The contestants, Clio and the leader of the land dragons, take turns presenting an animated scene, which represents a punnish expression.  Telepathic dragons on each side (Drew in Clio’s case) communicate the scene visually.  The opponent must guess the pun.  When a candidate’s score reaches 5, they have won.

The contest proceeds, and luckily Clio wins.  She presents her case for migration from Dragon World to Xanth, and there are sufficient dragons who wish to migrate to Xanth.  (6,250 dragons are required from each environmental category.)

But now Clio realises that she doesn’t know how to transport the dragons.  Drusie suggests they consult the Ida of this world, so Becka flies them to Ida’s home; this version of Ida turns out to be a dragon.  When Ida hears the story, she gives Clio a dragon net – it appears small, but is able to magically expand to enclose all the dragons.

They then proceed to meet with the water dragons, and follow the same procedure, with the pun contest, and presenting the case.  As before, there are sufficent dragons who wish to migrate.  This process is repeated with the air dragons, the tunnelling dragons and the jumping dragons.  (This last category of dragons move by teleporting through a series of short distances.)

So the next day they go to transport the land dragons.  Clio throws the net over the huge crowd of dragons: it expands to enclose them all, and then shrinks back to its original size with the dragons appearing small inside.  Drusie assures her that the dragons are unharmed.

Clio and Becka, with Drew and Drusie in their pockets, expand and return to Xanth.  Becka takes Clio back to Castle MaiDragon, where Che has gathered the organic material for the dragons’ bodies.  Drew and Drusie form bodies for themselves first, then Clio releases the dragons from the net; they proceed to form bodies for themselves, and then to spread throughout the land of Xanth.

Clio and Becka repeat the process for the other environmental categories.

Clio returns home to Mount Parnassus.  Drew and Drusie come with her; they have decided to stay with Clio until they save her life, and then they will go to Becka and do the same for her.

The two dragons want to know about Clio’s life history, so she tells them.

Clio was born 184 years ago.  She was a princess, the daughter of King Ebnez and Queen Mnem.  The King and Queen had 8 daughters before her, who were interested in various kinds of poetry, song and dance, comedy and tragedy and astronomy.  Clio’s interest would be in history. (Their names and fields of interest are the same as those of the classical Greek Muses.)

But the King and Queen decided not to have a ninth child, as there was a curse going around, and besides, the Lastwave was in progress (a wave of invaders from Mundania).

But somehow the signal went out to the stork, and Clio was delivered.  And was affected by the curse in three ways:  her body had no feminine curves, she would be in deadly danger every day, and she would die young.

Ebnez’s talent was to adapt magical inanimate objects for other purposes. He used his magic to counteract the curse (treating the curse as an inanimate object):  She might have no curves of her own, but she would find some.  She would have a way of nullifying the daily danger.  And she would be young a long time.

The 9 sisters were sent away, for their protection, to live at Castle Roogna, which was hidden at the time, where they were supervised by Rose of Roogna (see her story in “Question Quest”).

King Roogna, who had originally had the castle built (refer the story “Castle Roogna”) had tried to form one of the trees in the grounds into the shape of a nymph, but this had failed and the tree had died.  But now Clio took the bark of the tree, and fitted it around herself, so she appeared to have a curvaceous body.  She wore it from then on. Thus the first part of the curse was nullified.

One day a flying dragon attacked, and was carrying Clio away.  She wished this had not happened, and discovered her talent of the windback; she undid the attack, and dodged behind a tree before the dragon could get her.  Thus the second part of the curse was nullified.

After this, when she was 15, she got a babysitting job, looking after the 4-year-old Humfrey.  Humfrey was smart and guessed her talent.  He worked out that when she did the windback, this added to her age: if she wound back 5 minutes, then lived through those 5 minutes again, this added 10 minutes to her age.  (Thus, using the windback brings her closer to her expected death at a young age, so Clio is reluctant to use this talent.)  Humfrey had also heard of the Muses at Mount Parnassus, who were ageless.  Maybe Clio could go to them and learn their secret.

So after Clio reached the age of 17, she set off on foot and travelled to Mount Parnassus.  She ran into trouble with the Python (a huge snake) and the Maenads (the wild women of wine), but managed to escape them.  She came to the northern peak and ate a leaf from the Tree of Life.  Then she walked to the southern peak and met the Simurgh at the Tree of Seeds. (The Simurgh is a huge bird that lives on Mount Parnassus; she is the wisest creature in the universe.)  The Simurgh told her that since she had eaten of the Tree of Life, she was now immortal, as long as she remained on Mount Parnassus.  This therefore nullified the third part of the curse; she would only age when she spent time away from Mount Parnassus.

When Clio asked about the Muses, the Simurgh said that the original Muses had departed for Mundania, but that she should bring her sisters, and they would all become the new Muses; her sisters could also eat of the Tree of Life and become immortal.  So she brought her sisters to Mount Parnassus.

Now Clio has her quest to find the Currant.  The two dragons say they will come with her and help her.  They notice that the compass on Clio’s wrist is active.  Clio had expected it to fade after delivering the dragons to Xanth.  Maybe it is now directing her in her quest for the Currant.  She follows the compass and it brings her to a garden maintained by an ogre.  She sees the ogre hitting a man, who goes flying through the air.  She performs the windback, so that the ogre doesn’t hit the man.  She asks the ogre what is wrong; he tells her the man has messed up his garden of puns.  She performs the windback again, and undoes the man’s arrival at the garden (so the puns are restored), and tells the man to stay clear.

The man turns out to be Sherlock of the Black Wave, whose main previous appearance was in “Demons Don’t Dream”.  He is about 45.  He tells her that a lot of things have been going wrong with him lately; things he touches seem to change their nature.  The Black Wave community thought he was doing it deliberately, and sent him away from their village.

Clio wonders if this has been caused by reverse wood, and as she mentions this, Sherlock unconsciously conjures a chip of reverse wood.  This must be his magic talent.  Sherlock is surprised; he thought people from Mundania did not have magic talents, but Clio points out that when they have been in Xanth for a while, they do develop magic talents.

Clio’s compass is pointing to Sherlock, so she concludes Sherlock should travel with her on her quest.  Drew travels in Clio’s pocket and Drusie in Sherlock’s.  They come to a campsite on the enchanted path.

Sherlock unconsciously shapes a piece of reverse wood into a sphere; it seems his talent is not just conjuring reverse wood, but manipulating it generally.  Then he shapes it into a figurine of a little man.

To their surprise, the figurine comes alive.  It is a golem; he is generally rude and mischevous, and he runs away.  Sherlock conjures him back; he calls the golem Getaway.  He wonders whether he should abolish the golem, but Clio begs him not to.  They get Getaway to behave by promising that Sherlock will create a female companion for him in a month’s time.

The next day, Clio and Sherlock continue on the quest, with Getaway sitting on Clio’s shoulder.  The compass points them in a direction which involves difficult travel through rough scrub.  They come at last to a chasm; the compass points down the side.  At the bottom they come face-to-face with a group of aggressive demons – their leader is Demon Zaster (D. Zaster = disaster).  There is a demoness amongst them, Demoness Lirious (D. Lirious = delirious).

The demons are not like Xanthian demons; they have arrived as part of a Demon Wave. [Presumably they have come from somewhere other than Mundania, as demons can’t survive in Mundania, as Metria’s experience in “Roc and a Hard Place” shows. Or are there demons in Mundania, who can survive despite the limited amount of magic?]  They want to steal Clio’s and Sherlock’s souls, and are willing to torture and kill them to do it.

Sherlock produces a chip of reverse wood to fight back, but freaks out (goes into a trance) at the sight of the scantily clad demoness.  The dragons attack, but are captured by the demons.  Clio is considering using the windback.  But then Getaway makes rude comments to the demons, and when they try to attack him, their bodies turn to smoke, due to the effect of the reverse wood.  Getaway has saved them.

Clio realises the compass is pointing back to where they had come from.  It was Getaway’s proximity that made the compass point in the wrong direction.  Getaway will have to sit on Sherlock’s shoulder from now on.  They head back.

They are all exhausted.  The compass leads them to an elf elm, with a female elf called Nissa.  She takes them into her residence in the tree, making use of an accommodation spell to make Clio and Sherlock small enough.

They wonder why Nissa is the only elf in the tree.  She says the tree has Dusty Elm disease; all the other elves have left, and she may have to as well.  Another problem is Paul Bunyan, a giant lumberjack with a blue ox.  He is likely to come and chop down the tree. If the other elves were here, they could stop him.

They spend the night in the tree.

In the morning they work out that the disease is caused by a fungus brought by bugs.  With his reverse wood nature, Getaway can clear out the bugs and the fungus, but this would take one or two months.  Sherlock rewards him by creating a female companion from reverse wood.  They call her Comealong.  She runs off, with Getaway chasing her, but they soon come to an agreement and they both return.  They will stay to cure the tree.

But then Paul Bunyan comes to chop down the tree.  But the dragons create an illusion which causes him to leave.  Some of the elves will be coming back next day, so they can keep Paul Bunyan away in future.

Clio and Sherlock travel on.  They encounter a strange dragon with three heads, different from the dragons of Xanth or of Dragon World.  Drew tries to communicate with it, but it thinks in a different language.  It attacks, and Clio and Sherlock retreat into the forest.  But after a while, Drew works out how to communicate with the strange dragon: it tells him it is from the Russian peninsula of Kamkatka. (People typically cross from Mundania into Xanth at peninsulas.)  Sherlock comments that there are dragons in Asian mythology.  Clio suggests that the dragon should go to Castle MaiDragon, so Becka and Che can find a hunting ground for it, but it will need a guide.

A man walks by; he is also from Kamkatka.  He says his name is Mikhail, and he is looking for his true love.  He has never met her, but he is aware that he is someone’s dream man.  They introduce him to the dragon; he is pleased to encounter something familiar.

A young woman arrives; she is Noi from Thailand; she is the one who dreamed about Mikhail.  But they discover that Mikhail exists only when Noi is asleep; he fades away when she awakes.  But Sherlock solves this by giving Mikhail a chip of reverse wood; now Mikhail remains in existence when Noi is awake.

A little girl called Malinee arrives; she is also from Thailand. She is eating a piece of ripe duran, and it smells terrible.  Clio takes it and puts it in a sealed bag.

Clio gives the group directions, and Mikhail, Noi, Malinee and the dragon go off together.

Clio had forgotten to return the duran to Malinee.  But now her compass points to it.  It seems she was meant to obtain it.

Night falls, and Clio and Sherlock camp by the river.  Clio suggests to Sherlock that when the mission is over, he could come and live with her at Mount Parnassus, and that their relationship could be more than travelling companions.  Sherlock says he has liabilities: he is unprepossessing, middle-aged and black.  But Clio is not concerned about these qualities.  She says she has liabilities too, and reveals that her curves are artificial; since it is dark, she removes her clothes and the nymph bark, and shows him that she has no natural curves.

In the morning, Clio and Sherlock travel on, following the compass.  They encounter a series of creatures from the gourd (the dream realm): a group of sinister-looking skeletons, a ghost, a group of ghastlies and some brassies.  When the ghastlies touch them they become filthy; Clio, Sherlock, Drew and Drusie all have to wash off in a stream.  But the stream washes their clothes away, including Clio’s nymph bark.  They harvest new clothes from clothing trees.

The presence of the gourd creatures indicates that there is a leak in the dream realm, but it will take a while to find it.  Clio mentally calls Mare Imbri, and she appears.  When Imbri hears the story, she says it must be an individual gourd which is bad.  Now that Imbri has her body again (this happened in “Swell Foop”), and can take solid form, she can carry Clio.

Imbri calls Mare Juana to carry Sherlock. Imbri tells them that Mare Juana wanted to be a day mare, and had marvellous dreams, but her territory was Mundania. She was unfairly banned. [I find this explanation confusing, but whatever it means, Juana has an ambiguous nature, and is physically solid, so can serve as a steed.]

The two mares carry them along in the direction indicated by the compass.  They stop at gourds along the way, and Clio and Sherlock take turns looking in the peepholes and visiting the dream realm.  But then they come to a gourd that a harpy is squeezing out of.  This is the bad one.  At Imbri’s direction, Sherlock stomps on it; a splotch of its goo flies out and lands on Clio’s wrist.  The compass points to the goo, so she must be meant to keep it; she puts it in a bag.  (Imbri and Juana depart.)

Clio and Sherlock continue on and come to the cave of Com Passion.  (Com Passion is a lovable machine of the same type as Com Pewter.)  Com Passion gives them a task, to take Com Passion’s and Com Pewter’s daughter, Com Panion (a small machine), to a location where she can set up her own site.  Com Passion assumes this will be in Counter Xanth.  So Clio puts Com Panion in her pocket, and they continue on, following the compass.  This leads them across the invisible bridge over the Gap Chasm, then down the side where they come to a building in the chasm wall.

There they meet Cube, Ryver, Cory and Tessa.  (These are members of the group who located the way to Counter Xanth in “Cube Route”.)  Cory and Tessa lead Clio and Sherlock, via a sidestepping aisle, into Counter Xanth.

Counter Xanth has various regions where characters’ attributes are reversed.

Two centaurs come to meet them, Kay and Drek (also from the group who located Counter Xanth).  Kay is actually Karia, but if someones says her real name, there is an unfortunate side-effect, so she is not telling people her real name.  Drek is actually a dragon, but there is a region within Counter Xanth where a character’s species can be swapped.  This is convenient, as Kay and Drek are in a relationship.

But to transport the group, Drek changes back into a dragon.  Clio rides Kay, while Sherlock, Cory and Tessa ride Drek.  Clio gives Kay directions according to the compass.

They arrive at a funnel-shaped depression in the ground, with a bubbling pool of lava at the bottom.  Kay calls it Mount Pinafore, a female volcano.  It is not a mountain, but it is in the corresponding position to where Mount Pinatuba is in Xanth.  (Pinatuba has appeared in previous stories; like many inanimate things in Xanth, he is sentient, and Pinafore turns out to be as well.)  This must be where they must set up Com Panion’s site.  Clio tells Pinafore they plan to set up communications between Counter Xanth and the Xanth Outernet; this will enable Pinafore to correspond with Pinatuba.  The lava pool becomes calm, which Clio takes as agreement.

A cave appears in the funnel wall – Com Panion is using her ability to change reality in her vicinity – and Clio places her within it.   But they will have to get the conversion code from Com Pewter, to establish the communications.

Now Clio and Sherlock are given a tour of Counter Xanth, and they are shown the various regions where people’s attributes are reversed.  In the final region Sherlock becomes very handsome, and Clio gains natural curves.  The others set up a campsite for them and then depart.  Drew and Drusie go off with Drek, so Clio and Sherlock are alone together.

Sherlock says he thinks he is in love with Clio. But he is cautious about having a relationship with her.  He also believes he is unworthy of her; she is a princess and a Muse, and should marry a prince.  He challenges her to say she loves him, and she realises she can’t.  And so they don’t make love that night; but afterwards they wish they had.

In the morning the others come and conduct them back to Xanth.

Now they wish they could ride rather than walking.  Soon they meet a female centaur called Chele, and Danielle Girl/Unicorn, who can transform between girl and unicorn forms.  Chele and Danielle agree to take them to Com Pewter’s cave, and then to Mount Pinatuba.

So they travel to Com Pewter’s cave.  But when they get there, Tristan Troll (who serves as Com Pewter’s mouse) shows them that Com Pewter is frozen.  He must have picked up a bug.  Clio uses a vacuum cleaner to blow the bug out, and Drusie crunches it in her jaws.  Com Pewter recovers.

Clio tells Com Pewter they need the conversion code.  Com Pewter transfers the code to Com Pound, Com Pewter’s and Com Passion’s son.  Com Pound is also a small machine, like his sister. Now Clio must take Com Pound to Mount Pinatuba, to set up a site for him.

So they continue on, riding Chele and Danielle, until they come to Mount Pinatuba.  Clio explains to the volcano, who is happy with the arrangement, and they set Com Pound up in a cave in the mountain.  A piece of volcanic rock is thrown from the cave.  Clio’s compass points to it, so she puts it in her pocket.

Clio says goodbye to the centaur and the unicorn, and Clio and Sherlock continue on foot.  They eventually come to the trollway and get on a trolley.  They get off at a truck stop; this is place where trucks from Mundania stop, the drivers not realising they are passing through the land of Xanth.

Clio and Sherlock rent a room for the night.  This gives them another opportunity to sleep together. But then a truck crashes through the wall; Clio performs the windback, and tells Sherlock they must leave the room quickly, which they do.  The trolls who run the place give them another room; but now the mood has left them.

In the morning they travel on, following the compass, and come to the Region of Water.  They hire a boat and come to an island; there are three people stranded there: they are Surprise Golem (now 16) and her fiancé Umlaut, and a 5-year-old girl called Ciriana.  (Umlaut and Surprise’s story is in “Up in a Heaval”.)  Ciriana had been abandoned here by her parents because she had the unfortunate talent of being immune to the Adult Conspiracy, and she had learnt all the forbidden words (swear words), and uses them freely.  Surprise and Umlaut had arrived in a boat, but when the boatsman heard Ciriana, he had fled in alarm.

Sherlock tries giving Ciriana a chip of reverse wood, but as well as reversing her language it reverses her disposition from smiling to sneering.  This is not the answer.

Surprise has all possible talents, but each one can only be used once.  She has been trying to conserve her talents, so she doesn’t run out.  Now Sherlock points out that for each magical action there are an infinite number of ways of doing it; her supply of talents is only limited by her imagination.  Surprise is elated at this discovery; it means she now has full use of her talent.

Clio asks Surprise to create a bell of partial silence for Ciriana.  This appears as a transparent hat on Ciriana’s head, and blanks out any of the forbidden words she says.  But this is only a temporary solution.

Clio takes Ciriana to a nearby lethe spring, to get her to forget the forbidden words.  Lethe water is powerful: one drop makes you forget a word; a deep drink makes you forget your identity.

But then a clumsy man with a cup full of lethe water bumps into Clio, soaking her.  She forgets everything.  But then she gets her memory back; Sherlock had done it.  But Clio is puzzled: reverse wood shouldn’t be that powerful.  And Ciriana has forgotten the forbidden words, and is no longer immune to the Adult Conspiracy, although Clio hadn’t applied the lethe water to her.  Sherlock must also be responsible for this.  But they soon find out that Ciriana’s immunity returns if she is not with Sherlock.

They all return to the shore.  But what will they do with Ciriana?  Sherlock doesn’t want to return her to the family who abandoned her.  Surprise uses her talent to point the direction to an adoptive family.  Clio’s compass points in the same direction, so Clio says she and Sherlock will take her there.  Surprise and Umlaut depart.

Continuing on, Clio, Sherlock and Ciriana meet a man called Mister E.  He is depressed, and doesn’t know where he is going or what his talent is. (It’s a mystery.)  Clio invites him to come with them.  Then a man called Darron converts a carnation plant into a car for their use: they get in, and it takes them to a ferry boat on the Fanta Sea. (Clio remembers writing about the Fanta Sea in one of her history volumes – “Xone of Contention” – but the sea is now in a different location.)

The ferry boat turns out to be a fairy boat; it magically turns into a cruise ship – the Acquaintance Ship – and their car turns into a cabin.  On board they meet Maidens China, Japan and Mexico, sisters to Maiden Taiwan (one of the Good Magician’s wives).  But they must be 170 years old!

They learn that people who stay on the ship do not age.  But there is a price: passengers lose one percent of their soul for each year they stay.  After that they have to work for the ship; they gain part of their soul back for each passenger they persuade to stay.

They see a cloud in the sky; it is Wynde Tchill, daughter of Fracto and Happy Bottom. (This would make her Fray’s sister. Fray appears in a few other books, but Wynde Tchill only appears in this book.)

The cloud expands and a big storm arises.  Everyone rushes to their cabins.  But Clio realises this must be her danger of the day; she decides she must give herself up to save everyone else.  She goes back on deck, and is swept over the side.  She winds back, bringing herself back on deck, and the ship upright.  But now her talent is exhausted.  But then Sherlock uses his talent: he coats the hull with reverse wood, and the ship is protected from the storm.  Again Clio is surprised at how powerful Sherlock’s talent is.

After this the passengers suggest that Clio leave the ship so as not to endanger them again.  The ship comes to shore, the cabin turns back into a car, and Clio, Sherlock, Ciriana and Mr E depart.

They continue on in the car until they get to Castle Zombie. (The car turns back into a carnation plant.)  They enter and meet Breanna of the Black Wave.  (Breanna and her husband Justin are in charge of Castle Zombie since the Zombie Master and Millie retired.  Breanna remembers Sherlock from the Black Community, but Sherlock initially doesn’t remember her, as she was a child when he last saw her.)

The compass leads them to the room of a zombie woman called Sis – she became a zombie when she died, rather than being made a zombie by the Zombie Master.  She is holding something that looks like a snakeskin, which she calls a spancel; Mr E trips and falls through a loop of the spancel.  And suddenly Sis is turned back into a fully alive woman.

Sis says her name is actually Thesis.  She had been investigating the origin of the spancel.  It is actually the continuous strip of skin from a man who was skinned alive.  When it is passed around a person, that person falls in love with the one holding the spancel.  So as a consequence of Mr E’s trip, he has now fallen in love with Thesis.  And he realises his real name is Zaven.

But now they discover that Thesis only remains a live woman when close to Zaven.  Zaven must have the talent of restoring zombies, but only temporarily, while they remain close to him.  Thesis gets Zaven to hold the spancel and pass it around her.  Now she is in love with him.  Now that they don’t need the spancel they give it to Clio.  Clio discovers that her compass is pointing to it, so she puts it in her pocket.

Zaven and Thesis are married by a zombie chaplain.  They all stay the night at Castle Zombie.

In the morning Clio and Sherlock (with Drew and Drusie in their pockets) and Ciriana, and Zaven and Thesis continue on their journey, riding a zombie sphynx and following the compass.  Thesis believes they are heading for Ida’s moon Ptero, where Morgan le Fay is located.

Thesis had found the spancel (her talent is detection of non-Xanth magic) and was researching it.  But the spancel had belonged to Morgan le Fay, a Sorceress from Mundania from the time of King Arthur, 1,000 years ago, when Mundania still had magic.  Now Morgan was in hiding on Ptero. But she thought that Thesis would find her.  So she had arranged for a demon to disguise himself as a pillow and smother her.  So Thesis had died, but her determination to complete her research resulted in her becoming a zombie.

Now it is necessary to return the spancel to Morgan, because she can track whoever has it.

They come to Castle Roogna and meet with Ida, and are transported (in soul form) to Ptero.  They follow the compass to Morgan’s cottage, and Clio gives her the spancel.

But Morgan wants to be in Xanth, and for that she wants to take over the body of a young woman.  Or she could take control of a man, so that he would act as her agent to find a suitable body in Xanth.  Thesis and Zaven are not suitable because they are magically in love with each other.  Ciriana is not suitable because she is a child.  Morgan considers Clio, but Clio points out she can undo any attempted possession with the windback.

Morgan puts Clio in danger, and when Sherlock tries to rescue her, he passes through the spancel.  It seems Sherlock is now in love with Morgan, and will act as her agent.  Morgan tells Sherlock to continue the journey with Clio; they will soon meet Litho, who will dispose of Clio.

They leave Morgan’s cottage.  Thesis and Zaven return to Xanth, while Clio, Sherlock and Ciriana remain in Ptero.  The compass is now pointing west.  A local guide tells them that that is the way to Ptero’s counterpart of Castle Roogna; it is 15 years distant.  (In Ptero, geography is time; you age when you go west, and you get younger if you go east.)

A woman called Annie Mae provides Sherlock with a step ladder.  This enables them to get to the Castle quickly.  But now they are 15 years older: Ciriana is now 20, and is part of the Adult Conspiracy, so her curse no longer has effect.  Sherlock is in older middle age.  Clio is not much different [presumably because she is immortal].

They enter Castle Roogna and meet with Ptero’s version of Ida; they are soon travelling rapidly from world to world, until they get to Plane World.  This is a flat world like a sheet of glass; on the other side of the plane each person has another version of themself who is their polar opposite, although they don’t interact with them.  Opposite Clio, Sherlock and Ciriana they see mean-looking versions of themselves.

Then they meet Demon Litho: he is huge and stony in appearance.  He attempts to attack Clio; Morgan had arranged that Litho would kill Clio because Clio is an obstacle to Morgan’s purposes, and Litho wants Morgan’s help to be transported to Xanth.  But Sherlock stands in between to protect Clio.  And it is now revealed: Sherlock had reversed the magic of the spancel, so he hadn’t fallen in love with Morgan.  In fact Sherlock’s talent has developed to the extent that now he is the Magician of Reversal.

Litho tells his life story.  He is a Minor Demon – one of the Senior Demons, although of lower rank than Demon Earth.  Demon Earth had given him the job of gathering the lands of Earth together into the supercontinent of Pangaea, and then guarding it.  But Litho had fallen asleep and the continents had drifted apart.  Demon Earth had punished Litho by disintegrating him; fragments of his body had landed in Xanth, some of which had become the voles (reference to this is made in “Vale of the Vole”) and his soul had ended up on Plane World.

Now Litho attacks Sherlock, but his fist fragments.  A fragment, the size of a pebble, comes in Clio’s direction.  The compass points to it, so she puts it in her pocket.  This must be what they had come here for.

Litho tries to crush Sherlock with a boulder, but under the influence of Sherlock’s magic, the boulder and Litho himself disintegrate.

They return to Xanth.  They have reverted to their original ages; Ciriana is a child of 5 again.  Demoness Metria appears with the news that the Good Magician had lost his Book of Answers. (Metria is a mischievous demoness who appears in most stories.) It had been replaced by a sappy love story.

The compass is pointing towards Mount Parnassus.  Sherlock uses his magic to change their position from Here to There, transporting them instantly to the mountain.  They arrive at the Garden of Events; a garden Clio knew about but had never visited.  The keeper of the garden is a man called Emell.

Clio asks him to take her to the currant section of the garden.  There are various kinds of currant plants.  But there is one straggly plant that hasn’t prospered; Emell has tried various fertilisers, with no effect.

Clio gets the various objects she has collected from her pockets: the duran, the goo from the hypnogourd, the volcanic rock and the rock fragment from Litho. She places them round the plant and pours water over them.  The plant comes to life and produces a large currant.  Clio takes the currant.

They return to Clio’s home, and Clio gets the book which she couldn’t read.  But it is still blurry.  Sherlock suggests they should squeeze the juice from the berry, and brush it on the book.  But that doesn’t work.  Ciriana asks if she can drink some of the juice and she does.  But now Ciriana can see words in the book.  Clio and Sherlock drink the juice and now they can read the book.

But it is the wrong book!  It is the Good Magician’s Book of Answers.  Some rogue demon must have swapped them.  Sherlock uses his magic to swap them back.

They now have the correct book, which is “Currant Events”, the story of Clio’s current adventure.  It is incomplete; it stops shortly before the present.  Clio’s quest is complete.

Clio wants to marry Sherlock and to have him stay with her in Mount Parnassus.  But Sherlock asks if she loves him, and she still can’t say that she does.

But a crisis follows, which ends with Clio confessing her love for him.  They will marry and adopt Ciriana and live happily ever after.

But then Clio has second thoughts.  Life on Mount Parnassus is boring.  She would rather be out in Xanth, adventuring with Sherlock and Ciriana, even if she will not live long.  She can return to Mount Parnassus from time to time to write her history volumes.

And Sherlock uses his magic to reverse her curse: she now has natural curves, she will face a special joy every day of her life, and instead of dying young, she will live old.