Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Demons Don’t Dream

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Demons Don’t Dream (1992)
In Mundania, a teenage boy Dug is given a computer game “Companions of Xanth”.  He is not familiar with the Xanth series of books, but he has played various fantasy computer games.  He runs the game, and discovers he must choose one of several Companions to guide him through the game.  He chooses Nada Naga.  (Nada has been in a few previous stories. Notably she was engaged to Prince Dolph from “Heaven Cent” to “Isle of View”. Her race, the naga, are a human/snake crossbreed race; they can transform into either human or snake forms.)

Nada tells him they will have to go to Good Magician Humfrey’s Castle to get advice on how to find the prize.  Dug wants to first go to the Isthmus Village, where he can get weapons and supplies.

The game is actually an interface between Mundania and Xanth, although the Players do not initially realise that.  The possible Companions and other characters are actually real characters within the land of Xanth.  To the characters in Xanth, a Player appears on a screen which floats in the air.

The game is being organised by the demons. Demon Professor Grossclout is in charge.  It is actually part of wager between the Senior Demons, X(A/N)th and E(A/R)th.  E(A/R)th is trying to take over the land of Xanth, which would result in the magic disappearing from the land.  The wager will be settled according to which of the Players wins the game.  (Demons don’t dream, they just get mortals to act out fantasies for them.)

Jenny Elf, accompanied by Sammy Cat, is another potential Companion.  (Jenny and Sammy appeared previously in “Isle of View” and “The Color of her Panties”.)  Another Player arrives, a teenage girl called Kim, who chooses Jenny as her Companion.  Kim is familiar with the Xanth series, and is keen to explore the land she has read about.  Against Jenny’s advice, Kim asks to go to see an ogre.  Sammy (whose talent is to be able to find anything except home) leads the way to Ogre-Fen-Ogre Fen, and they find a community of ogres.  But an ogre hears Kim talking and captures Jenny.  But then Kim engages the ogre in a word game, and persuades him to release Jenny.

Dug and Nada arrive in the Isthmus Village.  The people there are a bad-tempered lot.  Their problem is the censor-ship:  a ship sails into port each day, and its censers send out incense smoke, which ruins the people’s dialogue (preventing them from using bad words), making them bad tempered.  To prevent this, Dug and Nada must get a solution, a magic fluid, and pour it into the censers.  This involves a complicated side trip, but eventually they get the solution.  But seeing Nada on the screen, struggling onto the ship to pour the solution, Dug feels he must help her, and suddenly finds himself physically transferred into Xanth.

Kim and Jenny are wandering near the Regions of the Elements.  Kim’s screen almost falls into the Void, but Jenny grabs hold of the screen and prevents this from happening.  Then a storm cloud appears.  This is Cumulo Fracto Nimbus (or Fracto for short), the meanest of clouds.  Kim starts insulting him, but the cloud retaliates by producing a horrific storm.  The water sweeps Jenny away; she is about to go over a waterfall.  Kim feels she must save Jenny, and suddenly she is physically present in Xanth, being swept over the waterfall too.  But then they are both rescued by a merman.  This is Cyrus Merman, the son of Morris Merman and the Siren. (The Siren has appeared in several stories previously.  She met Morris in “Ogre, Ogre”.)  Cyrus invites them to his home, where they meet his parents.  Cyrus asks Kim and Jenny if he can travel with them, as he wants to find a mermaid to marry.

Dug and Nada come to a sign that says “Shortcut to Success”.   Following this path is probably a riskier option, but they will presumably get to the Magician’s Castle quicker.  Dug chooses to take the shortcut.  They find themselves in the cave of Com-Pewter.  Com-Pewter had been reprogrammed from evil to nice at the end of “Question Quest”, but for the purposes of the game he is evil again, and quite pleased to play that part.  The machine engages Dug in a riddle game.  But Dug loses, and he is out of the game.

Nada is back in the pool of potential Companions. Before each Player arrives, one of the potential Companions is selected as a False Companion, whose goal is to make their Player lose.  Previously Nada and Jenny had been lucky not to be chosen as a False Companion.  But now Nada is selected as the False Companion.  And Dug re-enters the game and chooses Nada again.  Nada is ashamed of the fact that she must betray him, but she is not permitted to let him know that, and this means behaving like a Fair Companion until late in the game.

Dug and Nada intend to go to Isthmus village again, but instead they find a village of black people who have migrated from Mundania. (This migration becomes known as the Black Wave.) The black community want to move to somewhere where they will be welcomed.  In exchange for providing Dug with weapons and supplies, one of them, a man called Sherlock, will travel with Dug and Nada to find a suitable location for the black community.

Kim, Jenny and Cyrus are travelling by boat.  Kim sees a series of bubbles floating through the air. She sees a dog in one of them and reaches up and bursts the bubble and catches the dog, falling out of the boat in the process. Cyrus rescues her and the dog.  It is a female dog and Kim calls her Bubbles.  They continue on through various hazards.  Then a monster attacks their boat, and they get stranded on an island.

Dug, Nada and Sherlock come across a group of female rocs dancing: the roc-ettes.  But the rocs are annoyed at being interrupted, and the travellers have to run for their lives, with the rocs chasing them.  They come to a river.  There is a bridge, but it is controlled by a troll.  There is a diggle nearby. (A diggle is a large digging creature that can phase through rock.)  Dug sees a piece of fluff, and discovers it is the Germ of an Idea: this would come in useful several times in the future.  He realises they can escape the rocs by riding on the back of the diggle.  Dug has to sing to the diggle to make it go.  It delivers them to the With-a-Cookee River.  But now they have to cross the river. They use cold cream to freeze the water. A pack of werewolves attacks, following them onto the ice. Dug chops off the ice floe they are on, with his knife.  There are loan sharks in the water.  The ice floe is starting to melt. Then they hear Jenny calling from the island.

Cyrus (on the island) throws a rope to the people on the ice floe. Then the ice floe capsizes. While Jenny holds the rope, Cyrus and Kim swim out to rescue the others. They finally all make it to shore.

The combined group travel on together.  They encounter some centaurs who let them stay the night in their village.  The next day the centaurs carry them to the Gap Chasm.

They wonder how they are going to get down into the chasm. Then Fracto arrives and it snows heavily.  Maybe they can travel down on sleds.  Sammy leads them to a shed containing two bobsleds.  Dug, Nada and Sherlock take one; Kim, Jenny and Cyrus take the other; there are two clearly shaped trails down into the chasm. They start sliding down.

Kim’s sled comes to a stop on a ledge.  But Dug’s sled has hit a dead-end and jammed, and is no longer usable.  Kim, Cyrus and Nada do not want to continue.  So the Players swap Companions; Kim (with Bubbles), Nada and Cyrus climb back up out of the chasm, and Dug, Jenny (with Sammy) and Sherlock continue down on the remaining sled. It is a horrific ride, but they land in a pillow bush.  But now the Gap Dragon is coming.  Dug starts insulting Fracto, who gets enraged and snow starts falling again. This hides them from the dragon, so they can start climbing the opposite wall of the chasm. Even so, Dug is left running around and dodging the dragon for a while. Then Sammy leads them on the path out of the chasm.

Kim, Nada and Cyrus walk east alongside the Gap Chasm, and reach the sea. They see a merwoman in the sea; she introduces herself as Merci, the daughter of Mela Merwoman and her former husband Merwin.  (Mela appeared previously in “Heaven Cent” and “The Color of Her Panties”.)  Merci emerges from the water, changing her tail to legs. Cyrus and Merci are attracted to each other; however Cyrus can’t stand salt water and Merci can’t stand fresh water.

Merci shows them a tunnel under the Gap. It is a goblin tunnel, but they decide to risk it.  Merci comes with them.  But once they are in the tunnel, goblins do attack.  But the group notice a portal in the ceiling for seawater and another in the floor for fresh water, and open them both, flushing the goblins out.  And Cyrus and Merci realise they can stand brackish water, salt water and fresh water mixed. So they can get together at a freshwater spring near the shore.  Once they are through the tunnel, Cyrus and Merci leave the others.

Dug knows that he now has to face Com-Pewter again.  He spends some time preparing, collecting samples in a field of weird plants.  One of the things he collects is a New Monia flower.  This makes him quite ill.  The others don’t know the cause, and have to help him continue. The next day they enter Com-Pewter’s cave. Com-Pewter is taken by surprise, seeing Dug with an unexpected Companion. And Dug infects him with the Germ of an Idea, a bugflower, and the New Monia flower. Com-Pewter has a system failure, so Dug has won the challenge against him.

Thinking back to Nada’s behaviour since he re-entered the game, Dug realises she is the False Companion.  He must warn Kim; it isn’t fair that Kim get the False Companion who was meant for him.  He asks Sammy to find the best way to meet up with her.

After various further adventures, Kim and Nada arrive at the Good Magician’s Castle.  Kim asks the Magician her Question: “How can I get what I most desire?” (Maybe Kim has some other desire than winning the prize?)  Humfrey’s Answer is: “Go to the realm of the gourd. You will find it there.”  There are three gourds ready for Kim, Nada and Bubbles in the Castle guest room.  They enter the gourd realm (that is, the dream realm) in spirit form.

Dug, Jenny and Sherlock arrive at Castle Roogna.  Jenny introduces the others to Princess Ida.

There is a man called Curtis in the castle; he is one of the curse fiends (or as they prefer to call themselves, the curse friends). They are a community of humans who all have the same talent of casting magical curses. They generally keep to themselves, and they live in Gateway Castle, under Lake Ogre-Chobee. They perform plays.

Curtis has come to Castle Roogna, hoping to recruit a community of people to settle around Lake Ogre-Chobee, to keep the place civilised, as the curse fiends are too busy performing their plays. This fits in with Sherlock’s quest for the Black Community.

Ida brings a magic mirror, which tells Dug that Kim is in the gourd. Dug, Jenny and Sammy can use gourds from the Castle’s garden to enter the gourd realm.

Within the gourd, Kim and Nada come to a scary-looking castle made of bone.  Presumably this is where the prize is.  But what traps lie in wait for Kim?  What treachery does Nada, the False Companion, plan?  Will Dug catch up with Kim to warn her?  And what about the Demons’ wager?

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