Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Esrever Doom


Esrever Doom (2013)
Kody wakes up in hospital. He has been in an accident, and they need to operate. They are going to put him into an induced coma.  There may be some mood reversal.

The next thing Kody knows is that he is somewhere else.  He sees an ogre throw a creature towards a shimmering wall.  Kody catches the creature before the collision.  It seems to be part cat and part bird.  It flies off.

Where is he?  Some strange fantasy land that has ogres and catbirds.  Is this the mood reversal?  Kody mentally reverses “Mood Reverse” to get “Esrever Doom”.  (At times during this adventure he wonders whether he is destined for “doom”.)  He decides this must all be a dream.

Another creature flies towards him out of the sky, and lands near him.  It is a large winged centaur.  The catbird is perched on his back.  The creature introduces himself as Griff the Hipporoc; he is the son of a male centaur and a female roc bird.  Griff tells Kody he is in the Land of Xanth.  Griff is a friend of the catbird; he thanks Kody for saving the catbird from being thrown into the Void, from which there is no return.  The shimmering wall is its event horizon.

Griff wants to repay the favour.  He gives Kody a checkerboard.  It can be used to play checkers or chess. Each square is also a scene. If he refocuses his eyes (like looking at a 3D picture), he can see the scene, and if he touches the square, he’ll be transported to that location.  Then Griff flies away

Kody sees that one of the squares shows a castle.  He touches it, and discovers that he is now standing near a castle.  There is a woman at the gate.  She tells him she is Princess Dawn and this is Caprice Castle.  Her talent is to know everything about any living creature she touches.  She touches Kody and immediately knows who he is and everything about him, including that he comes from Mundania, and thinks this is all a dream.

Dawn tells him that the residents of Caprice Castle have the job of collecting excess puns and storing them in the castle dungeon.

She invites him into the castle.  She introduces him to her husband, Picka Bone, who is a walking skeleton, and their two children, Piton, a male walking skeleton, and Data, a human girl.  Kody comments that Data is lovely like her mother.  Dawn is surprised and touches Kody again.

Dawn explains.  A week before, the Land of Xanth was affected by a curse of reversal: beautiful people are now perceived as ugly, and vice versa. Dawn is beautiful, but everyone perceives her as ugly.  But it seems that Kody is immune to the Curse.  (Actually Kody has been reversed in a different way which is not so obvious.)  Good Magician Humfrey (the Magician of Information) has said that only a person unaffected by the Curse can nullify it.  So it may be Kody’s role to cancel the Curse.

Dawn invites Kody to stay in the castle a few days, to acclimatise to Xanth, before going to see the Good Magician.  A bird called Tweeter shows Kody to his room, and later leads him to the dining room for lunch.

Afterwards, Tweeter takes Kody to meet Bryce, a resident of the castle, where he is collecting puns, outside the castle.   Bryce’s story is in “Luck of the Draw”.  A year ago he had come from Mundania and been youthened from 80 to 21.  He had competed as one of a group of suitors for Princess Harmony.  She had selected him, but he still thought of himself as 80, and could not accept the idea of marrying a girl the age of his granddaughters.

Princess Harmony arrives. She is now 17 years old.  She has been visiting Bryce every day, joining in the pun-collecting, and trying to get him to change his mind.  She is keen for the Curse to be abolished so that Bryce will see her as beautiful again.

With Harmony are Wolfe and Rowena, pups of Woofer and Rachel from “Luck of the Draw”. (In that book there were three unnamed pups. Evidently Wolfe and Rowena are two of those pups, but the story doesn’t tell us what happened to the third.)  They reside at Castle Caprice and help with the pun-collecting.  They continue to appear in the story, usually in the company of Piton and Data.

Kody joins in the pun-collecting.  Harmony says she will mark a path for him to go to the Good Magician’s Castle, and arrange for a steed and a guardian.

The next day Kody prepares to head out on the marked path.  He is surprised to see that the scenery has changed.  Dawn tells him that the castle moves around, by fading out at one location and fading in at another.  She tells him that his steed and guardian would meet him along the way.  She touches Kody’s hand and discovers that Kody has a magic talent: he can summon chips of reverse wood.  Reverse wood reverses things in unpredictable ways.  He can flip one at an attacking creature, and it will suffer an awkward reversal of some sort.

Kody sets off.  The reverse wood comes in handy when a demon and a dragon try to attack him.  Eventually he meets up with the steed and the guardian.

The steed seems to be a cross between a deer and a bull, with legs on one side shorter than the other.  He is Guy Guyascutus, a sidehill hoofer.  He can only walk along the sides of mountains.  The marked route was designed with him in mind.  When he changes from one mountain to another, he can swap so that the opposite legs are shorter.

The guardian is Hadi the Alicenagon; she is a strange creature – a combination of centaur and dragon, with wings.  She is the daughter of Drek Dragon and Karia Centaur (from “Cube Route” and “Currant Events”).

They set off, with Kody riding Guy.  Hadi travels by half flying and half walking.

They have various adventures along the way.  Then they meet a giant called Intella-Giant, who is a huge repository of knowledge.  He collects data from everyone he meets.  He informs Kody that he is indeed visiting Xanth via a dream, but that Xanth is real, and anything he does in Xanth has an effect.  And if he dies in Xanth, he will die in Mundania too.

Guy and Hadi deliver Kody to the Good Magician’s Castle, and depart.

As usual, Kody must pass the Challenges in order to enter the castle.  (In one of these Challenges he must identify the talent of Ione, the 2-year-old daughter of Princess Ida and Prince Hilarion.  Ida and Hilarion’s story is in “Knot Gneiss”.  Ida has appeared in many stories previously.)

Then Kody meets Wira, the Good Magician’s daughter-in-law, whose job it is to conduct querents in to see the Good Magician.  But on the way they meet Dara Demoness, the Good Magician’s current Designated Wife.  Dara says there is a scheduling conflict.  Two querents have been scheduled to meet the Good Magician at the same time.

Wira goes to check with the Good Magician while Dara escorts Kody into the night room.  There is a woman there, who is rather pretty; her name is Zosi; she is the other querent.  But Kody is surprised when Zosi tells him she is a zombie; she appears to be an attractive living woman.  Zosi tells him that she has been transformed into a living woman for the time being, but she is not happy being alive.  She has come, on behalf of the zombie community, to ask the Good Magician how to solve the problem of the dwindling numbers of zombies since the Zombie Master retired.  Zombies perform an important role in Xanth: appearing in bad dreams, and protecting Castle Roogna (the King’s castle) from harm.

Wira returns and says there had been no scheduling conflict: both Kody and Zosi are to go in to see the Good Magician together.  She takes them in.

The Good Magician tells them they are to work together to achieve both their missions.  The Curse is caused by a Mood Reverse Bomb, which someone had activated.  Its effect is more intense closer to the location of the bomb.  They need to locate it and deactivate it.  Since Kody is immune and Zosi is not, the difference between their perceptions should indicate how close they are to it.

They return to Dara and discuss ways to go about their quest, including avoiding dangers such as attacking dragons.  Kody can use his reverse wood chips.  Zosi’s talent is to conjure peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  But they discover she can also conjure a sandwich with jellied gasoline.  She does this now, and Dara ignites it and it explodes.  And they can use Kody’s chessboard to travel to different locations.  They will use a rating system to classify how attractive people appear to both of them, to work out how close they are to the Bomb.

They spend the night in the castle and set off the next day.

They hear a scream and some squawking.  A young woman is floundering in a bog, and a winged monster is flying towards her.  Kody thinks the creature is about to attack the woman, but instead it rescues her.

The woman, who is quite attractive, is called Maiden Yukay.  She is the daughter of Maiden Japan (who appeared in “Currant Events” and “Knot Gneiss”).  Her talent is Precise Harmony with the Physical Universe, otherwise known as Zen.  She can perform any feat effortlessly, as long as she has not tried it before, and her mind is unfocused, or in a Zen state.  But subsequent times she can’t do it so easily.  She had been going to the Good Magician to ask how she can become more effective.

The winged monster is a female griffin called Zap.  She can understand the human language, but she can only speak in squawks.  But she can communicate with them by painting words on her side with her tail, although she can only do single words (such as yes or no) or short phrases.  Through a series of questions and answers they learn that she was cursed by a demon to have a soul, so she is now a pacifist, and can no longer kill animals for food.  She is reduced to eating vegetable swampmeat.  She had been going to ask the Good Magician about her problem.

Kody invites them both to join his and Zosi’s quest, and they agree.  They might find their answers during the quest, and it might save them the confusion of the Good Magician’s cryptic Answers and the Services they would have to do for him.

Kody tells the others about the chessboard and shows them how to focus on the images on the squares.  Zosi says she would like to return to Castle Roogna to tell the zombies she is working on their problem.  They all hold onto each other, so they will travel as a group, and Zap pecks the square showing Castle Roogna, with her beak.  They appear near Castle Roogna.

They are greeted by the Princesses Melody, Harmony and Rhythm, and the questers explain about their quest.  The princesses tell them that the zombies are currently being called to action.

And they see all the zombies defending the castle against an attack by chains.  Typical of things in Xanth, the chains are constantly changing form: in this case into different kinds of chains: chain smoking, chain letters, food chain, chain gang etc.  This makes the zombies’ defence difficult.  But Yukay solves the problem with her talent.  The princesses insist that the questers stay the night at the castle.

The next day they leave the castle.  They calculate the ratings, which are much the same as before.  To get the best base of triangulation, they should travel to the edge of Xanth.  They find a scene on the chessboard which is on the coast, and transport themselves there.  They are on the Silver Coast, which is adjacent to the Gold Coast.

They locate a scene on the chessboard which Zosi thinks looks nice, but Kody thinks looks like a mud puddle, and transport to it.  And Kody had been right: they have landed in a stinking swamp.  They get to the bank and look for somewhere to wash.  Not too far away is a mountain, with a river running down it.  There should be a pool at the base.  They set off towards the mountain.

Then Kody steps in a hole he didn’t see.  And he still can’t see it.  There is an illusion covering the landscape.  Such an illusion may have been created by Iris, the Sorceress of Illusion, and former Queen of Xanth.  Her husband Trent had been the King.  They hunt around and find some sticks to help them find their way.

They hear a man calling.  They call back and he finds his way to them.  His name is Ivan.  He had been going to explore the mountain, and found himself in the illusory landscape.  His talent is to make things fatter or thinner.  He locates a long straw and applies his talent to transform it into a stick.

They continue on to the mountain, and discover that the mountain and the river are illusion.  But now they can hear water splashing.  They make their way towards it and find an illusory palace surrounded by lovely gardens.  There is a fountain there, with a pool.  And there is a beautiful woman in the pool.  But when she sees them she disappears.  Zap tells them (by painting the words on her side) that the woman is a naga. (The naga are a snake/human crossbreed, able to take either snake or human forms.) She must have transformed into a snake and disappeared under the water.

The females of the group approach the pool, and Yukay calls out to the naga, explaining their quest.  The naga woman emerges and tells them her name is Naomi.  The questers all enter the water and wash themselves and their clothes.  Naomi tells them she has her own mission: someone is hunting and killing naga folk for their hides (nagahide).  Yukay and Naomi are both flirting with Kody: they appreciate that he sees them as they really are: beautiful, while everyone else sees them as ugly.

A middle-aged man appears on the scene.  Yukay recognises him as Trent, a former King of Xanth and husband to Iris.  He tells them they have intruded on a private setting; this is the Illusion Fields.  This is to be the location for a contest.  The questers explain about their quest.  Naomi says she is just as likely to identify the naga poachers if she travels with the quest group.  Ivan says he has nothing better to do, so he’d love to join the quest.

Trent explains about the contest.  It is a diversion during the Curse.  The winners will be king and queen of Illusion Fields for a month.  They and the landscape will be made beautiful by Iris’s illusion.

The group gather around a hot pepper bush while their clothes dry.

Trent returns from consulting with his wife, and suggests the group does a trial run of the contest, to ensure the correct level of difficulty.  They would be provided with food and a cabin for the night.

The contestants have to find two tokens in the illusory landscape.  One is a cardboard cutout of a man, to found by a man, and the other is a cardboard cutout of a woman, to be found by a woman.

The scene changes into a fantastic garden.  There are nymphs, ogres and dragons, who are all real in some sense, but are not dangerous.  They all search.  Eventually Kody comes up with an idea of where the tokens are hidden, and he proves to be right.  They report back to Trent.

The next day they follow a white line which shows them the way out of Illusion Fields.  They choose a location on the chessboard which shows a path leading to a castle, and they transport themselves to it.

Yukay recognises the place as Hades, the abode of the dead.  They realise the Curse doesn’t affect them here, because Hades is outside Xanth.  (In fact, we learned in “Knot Gneiss” that Hades is on the planet Pluto, since Demon Pluto rules Hades.)  They try to leave, but the chessboard doesn’t operate here, and taking the path away from the castle leads them to the River Styx, which they can’t cross.

They head back the other way, toward the castle.  But then the path divides into three.  Kody suspects that whichever path they take will be the wrong one, and they would have difficulty getting back.  They should divide into three teams, each taking one of the paths.  The team that reaches the castle will wait for the others.  The other two teams, when they realise they have taken the wrong path will return to the fork and meet each other, and continue on the correct path.

Kody and Zosi take the path on the right, which turns out to lead them to the castle.  They wait for the others.  Zosi confesses to Kody she has a crush on him.  Kody says he likes her. But what future would they have together? When the quest is over, Kody will wake up in Mundania, and Zosi will return to being a zombie.  But maybe they should make the most of the present.  They embrace and kiss.  But they should keep their love secret, to avoid trouble from Yukay and Naomi, who are also attracted to Kody.

The others join them and they enter the castle and meet Princess Eve, Princess Dawn’s twin sister. They explain their quest to her. Eve is married to Demon Pluto and lives in this castle in Hades.  She has another castle in Xanth.  She tells them about her 3-year-old son Plato.  His talent is reanimating the dead (so far he only does this with small creatures), converting them to zombie creatures.  He hasn’t learnt to do it properly yet, and it is messy.  She doesn’t want him to do it in the house.  But outside the castle here in Hades, everything is dead and active.  But at her castle in Xanth, the maids refused to work there once they discovered Plato’s talent.

Kody has a solution.  Zosi can become Plato’s governess and take him out to practise his talent.  She will not be offended by him creating zombies.  And this fits her quest of discovering the solution to the diminishing zombies.  Plato can develop his talent and become the next Zombie Master.

But Zosi would have to remain a living woman.  Zosi can’t stand the thought of that.

Kody suggests they have a trial run of Zosi looking after Plato.  Eve agrees. So when they leave, Plato comes with them, with Zosi acting as his nursemaid.

They come to the Ferryman, the Demon Charon, at the River Styx.  Eve had given them a pass to cross.  They emerge back into Xanth.

Demoness Metria appears. (This mischievous demoness appears in most of the stories, seeking out interesting things.  She appears several times during this story.)  Seeing Plato, she transforms into her alter ego, a little girl called Woe Betide.  She shows him a dead frog, which Plato transforms into a zombie frog.  She takes him off to animate some other dead creatures.

Zosi is still not sure about remaining alive.  Kody tells her not to decide yet, and continue on with the quest.

They return Plato to the castle in Hades and spend the night there.

The next day they return to Xanth.  On the chessboard they find a picture of the Ever and Ever Glades. (This location previously featured in “Golem in the Gears”, where it was just called the Ever-Glades.) The Glades go on forever, and it can be difficult to get out of them.  But they should have no problem, with the chessboard.  They transport themselves there.

Zosi is depressed about her dilemma.  Kody takes her aside from the group to talk about it.  She tells him it is not just guilt about not wanting to stay alive, it is that she can’t bear to live without him.  But they both know he will be returning to Mundania.  They embrace and kiss, and are getting quite serious about it.

But then there is a shriek.  A dragon has swooped down and carried Naomi away.  Zap flies off to locate the dragon’s nest.  They discuss how they might defeat the dragon: could they use a jellied gasoline sandwich conjured by Zosi?  But Zap, being a pacifist, would not cooperate with an attempt to kill the dragon.  And the dragon is a smoker, not a fire breather, so the gasoline wouldn’t ignite.

Kody had seen a No Smoking sign nearby: maybe this would prevent the dragon smoking them.  And he could use his reverse wood chips against the dragon.

Zap returns; she has a piece of paper in her beak.  The dragon (whose name is Dread) will release Naomi if they bring a ransom of a bushel of diamonds.  Otherwise he will eat her.  They can get the diamonds at the nearby goblins’ mound.

It seems unlikely that the goblins would give them the diamonds.  But Kody thinks they should try and ask them.  He sets off towards the mound, with the others trailing reluctantly behind.

Zosi conjures some jellied gasoline sandwiches, and Kody puts some reverse wood chips in them and some sharp-edged pebbles to generate sparks to ignite them.

They come to the mound, which has a sign giving the tribe’s name: “Goddam Goblins”.  Male goblins are ugly and female goblins are beautiful, but the Curse causes them to have the opposite appearance.  The male goblins come out to meet them, but they just want to put the questers in the cooking pot.  Kody gives them the sandwiches, which they all swallow down: they like the taste of gasoline.  But there are no explosions.  But then the goblins change their appearance: they are ugly again.  Then there is a further change: the male goblins are changing into females.  The goblins flee.

So this option hasn’t worked.  Maybe Kody could feed reverse wood chips to the dragon.

But Kody is too heavy for Zap to carry to the dragon’s nest.  But Yukay says they could use lighter knot to make Kody lighter.  (Obviously lighter knot has a different use in Xanth compared to Mundania.)  Zap finds some.  Kody puts the lighter knot in one pocket and the No Smoking sign in the other.  He gets on Zap’s back and Zap flies off.  As they fly, Kody finds that he is starting to understand Zap’s squawks.  He asks Zap to explain to the dragon that Kody doesn’t have the diamonds, but is challenging the dragon to a duel, in order to rescue Naomi.

They approach Dread Dragon’s nest.  Zap squawks to the dragon, who roars in response.  Zap deposits Kody in the nest and remains nearby.  Naomi greets Kody gladly.

The dragon starts inhaling, to suffocate Kody with his smoke, but Kody brings out the No Smoking sign, and the dragon chokes on his smoke.  The dragon then opens his mouth to chomp Kody, but Kody flips a reverse wood chip into the dragon’s mouth, and the dragon swallows it.  Then the dragon waves a white flag; he has been turned into a pacifist.

Naomi kisses Kody in gratitude.  Kody tells her to ride Zap out of there.  Zap can only carry one person, and that person has to be carrying the lighter knot.

Kody has to remain with the dragon until Zap returns.  Dread Dragon reveals that he can talk.  And he will only remain a pacifist until he digests the reverse wood chip.  Kody tells him about their mission to abolish the Curse.  Dread says he would not have targeted Kody’s group if he had known; the Curse has messed up his relationship with his dragoness.

Dread asks Kody to conjure a bagful of reverse wood chips for him.  In return he gives him a small object: it looks like a penknife, but expands into a fullsize sword when required.  It is feather light, but strikes with full force.

Zap returns.  Kody mounts and they return to the others.

The next morning they look at the chessboard again.  The pictures have changed, and they can’t identify a location they want to go to.  But Kody sees a scene with Mundane vintage cars and wants to go and see them.  Ivan has never seen one, and would like to go.  The girls agree as long as Kody gives each of them a kiss.  And so they transport themselves to that location.

They are surrounded by 1970s vintage cars in perfect condition.  A loudspeaker blares, “Welcome to Planet Demo Derby.  Drivers choose your cars for the big race.  It starts in one hour.”  Kody is shocked.  This is a demolition derby.  These fine vintage cars are going to be destroyed!

Yukay says this must be one of the Moons of Ida.  The Curse is not operating here.

(The Moons of Ida are a series of worlds associated with Princess Ida. For more detail see my webpage : Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Overview and Short Descriptions.)

They have a look around.  There is a list of prizes for the winner of the race.  These include:

  • a robot bomb sniffer. Kody could use this to sniff out the Curse Bomb.
  • an affair with Polly Ester: a poster shows a beautiful woman. Ivan is interested in that prize.
  • a pass to a Souled Winged Monster Annex. Zap would like that: she would no longer be excluded by her own kind.

They decide to enter three cars in the race.  They agree that whoever wins will get the prize they want.  Ivan would drive one car, with Naomi riding with him.  Yukay would drive another car, with Zap riding with her.  And Kody would drive a third car, with Zosi riding with him.

Kody gives them all driving lessons in a practice car, as none of the others had driven before.  Yukay’s talent enables her to be a perfect driver instantly: her skill will last until the end of the race.  And Ivan learns quickly too.

The race starts, and they all get going.  The three cars act as a team, helping each other with the route, and protecting each other from other cars which want to crash into them.  At times Zap flies ahead, to scout out the route and discover cars wanting to ambush them.

In the end it is Ivan who wins.  But he doesn’t choose Polly Ester; he chooses the robot bomb sniffer, for the sake of Xanth.  He says he would rather have a woman who wants him for himself, rather than as a prize.  Yukay is impressed and says that once the Curse is abated, she might satisfy that requirement.

The Demo Derby provides accommodation for contestants, so they stay the night on this world.

In the morning they have a look at the box containing the Bomb Sniffer.  On the side it says, “Some assembly required.”  This is going to be a hassle.

Kody checks the chessboard and finds a square with Caprice Castle. (Kody has been there already, but the others haven’t.)  They all agree to go there, so they transport to it.  Princess Dawn invites them in.  As she touches each of them, she discovers everything about them.

And she discovers something distressing about Naomi.

Naomi is unknowingly a spy for their enemy.  She is not a real person; she is a construct that will disintegrate within a month. She is being used to betray Kody.  She is a kind of twin, an alter ego of the person who set off the Bomb.  That person is a woman called NoAmi, which means no friend.  Naomi is the opposite of NoAmi: lovely, nice and well-meaning, whereas NoAmi is ugly, nasty and full of malice.  Naomi is animated by NoAmi’s life force. They share a soul.  Naomi had been sent to prevent Kody from locating the Bomb, to ensure that it can’t be turned off.

And Naomi is falling in love with Kody.  She had been designed to seduce Kody away from the quest.  Everything that Naomi sees and hears is being relayed to NoAmi.  However the magic of Caprice Castle prevents this while she is in the castle.  But Naomi won’t be able to resist her mission, or stay away from Kody.

Naomi is devastated with this information.  She doesn’t want to betray Kody.  She realises it is true that she loves him.

Dawn suggests that Kody and Naomi share a room.  This will give her the opportunity to seduce him, which would be preferable to the alternative: she may be forced to kill him.

So it is agreed: Kody and Naomi share a room.  Naomi tells Kody he ought to kill her with his magic sword, but he can’t do that.

They sleep together in the same bed, but without making love.

Kody wakes up during the night.  Naomi is not beside him.  There is some kind of creature in the room.  It is a huge serpent, about to attack him.  He attacks it with his sword, and slices into its neck.  It transforms into Naomi, and he remembers she is a naga, a serpent woman.  She dies.

The others arrive in the room.  They realise that Naomi had forced Kody to kill her.  Kody is not to blame.

In the morning they have a funeral service for Naomi.  But when Naomi’s body is removed from the castle, it disintegrates into dust.

Now they turn their attention to the Bomb Sniffer.  The box contains many parts, and detailed instructions which are impossible to understand.  Dawn suggests that Cyrus Cyborg can help.  Cyrus Cyborg appeared in “Two to the Fifth”.  His romance with the 12-year-old Princess Rhythm was quite scandalous.  At the end of that story he was exiled to Counter Xanth. (Counter Xanth is an antimatter annex won by Demon Xanth from Demoness Fornax in “Up in a Heaval”.  In its various regions, different characteristics are reversed.)  However, secretly, the now 17-year-old Princess Rhythm continues to visit him there.

Princess Rhythm arrives in Caprice Castle; she uses her magic to enable the castle to transport itself to Counter Xanth.  She goes out and fetches Cyrus to the castle.  Cyrus proceeds to build the Robot Bomb Sniffer.  The assembled robot looks like a dog.  It can’t talk, but it can understand human language.  As with other robots in Xanth, it burns wood as fuel. Cyrus tells it that Kody is its master.

Kody tells the sniffer to point to the Bomb.  It points to various kinds of bomb: Dawn (a bombshell beauty), Cyrus – he is a playwright whose last play had bombed, and an aerosol bomb.  Yukay gets out her lip bomb and applies it to her lips, and the robot points to her.  (She kisses Kody and the effect is explosive.)  Since Cyrus’s task is done, he and Rhythm depart.

The questers’ calculations had led them to the conclusion that the Bomb is in Panhandle Xanth.  Caprice Castle transports them there and they leave the castle.

It is now established that Kody and Zosi are a couple, and that leaves Yukay and Ivan together as another couple.  But Ivan still sees Yukay as ugly.  Kody experiments with his reverse wood chips and eventually finds one which reverses Yukay’s appearance – she becomes objectively ugly, but Ivan sees her as beautiful, because of the Curse.  Kody finds another chip which alters Ivan’s perception, so although he normally sees Yukay as ugly, this chip makes him see her as beautiful.  They can use one or the other, but not both at the same time.  (Yukay still sees Ivan as ugly, but this is not so important for women – and at night, it will be dark anyway.)

They need a place to spend the night.  They figure out they can ask Sniffer (they are now using that as its name) to find a safe place for several bombed-out people to find shelter.  It leads them to a sleeping cat.  As darkness falls, the cat transforms into a house.  It is a house cat!

Kody and Zosi share one room, and make love together for the first time.  Yukay and Ivan take the other room.

In the morning they leave the house and it turns back into a cat.

Yukay says they should calibrate their two kinds of Bomb locators: their ratings of how attractive or ugly people look, and the direction given by Sniffer.  Apart from Kody, they all look quite ugly to each other, so they must be fairly close.  Kody explains how they can use perspective and triangulation to work out how far away the Bomb is.  Sniffer is pointing due west.  They move further north, but Sniffer still points due west, so it still must be some distance.

Kody is seeing some clouding at the edge of his vision.  Then he recognises the shape: it looks like Naomi!  It must be her ghost.

They move further north.  Sniffer is now pointing a little south of west.  So the Bomb must be at least a day’s walk away.

Now Kody can hear Naomi speaking.  She becomes clearer and now they all can see and hear her.  Kody confesses to Naomi that he is sorry he killed her.  She says it is not his fault; she tricked him into it.

Naomi says they will need her help to deal with NoAmi.  Naomi can scout for dangers, and tell them what NoAmi is doing, so she can’t ambush them.  Naomi is in contact with a community of ghosts, who can also help.  But in exchange they want a house to live in.

Zosi thinks of the Haunted House in the dream realm.  But they would have to get permission from Trojan, the Night Stallion, ruler of the dream realm.

They hunt around to find the required number of hypnogourds.  Ivan would stay behind to break their connection after an hour.  Kody, Zap, Zosi, Yukay and Naomi’s ghost lie down, touching each other to ensure they arrive in the same place, and look into the peepholes of the gourds.

They arrive in front of the Haunted House.  Naomi appears more real and is tangible in the dream realm.  They enter the house.  A pair of body-less shoes walks towards them.  Kody puts them on and tells them to take him to their master.  The shoes take him to the graveyard at the back of the house, and then over a stile.  The others follow.

They have arrived at a sea of oil.  There is a rowboat nearby.  It reminds Kody of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Some goblins arrive and order Kody into the boat, and the shoes take him there.  A goblin pushes the boat out into the sea.  It soon becomes apparent that the goblins are filming a bad dream, and had taken Kody to be an actor.  There is a big storm and the waves become huge.  Kody screams.  A goblin yells, “Cut!”, and the sea disappears.  Kody is back on dry land.  It is a successful take.  The dream is destined for one of the executives responsible for the oil spill in Mundania.

And the Night Stallion appears.  He agrees that the ghosts can live in the Haunted House.  But Kody must do a favour in exchange.  Night mares can only carry bad dreams at night.  But some miscreants have taken to sleeping during the day to avoid receiving bad dreams.  The night mares need a shield to protect them from sunlight.  There is a shield in the form of a cape which was mistaken for a pun and stored in the dungeon of Caprice Castle.  Kody must deliver it to the Stallion’s stall in Cape Can.  The Stallion can then make copies for all the night mares.  Kody agrees.

The Stallion is pleased with Kody and gives him an additional gift.  A piece of paper appears in the Stallion’s mouth, and he blows it across to Kody’s forehead, where it disappears.  Trojan tells him it is a dream pass: Kody will be able to return here for a few hours whenever he goes to sleep in Mundania.  (Privately Kody is not all that impressed; why would he want to visit the dream realm again?)

The Stallion blows on them and they return to Xanth.

Ivan tells them Caprice Castle had arrived nearby while they were in the dream realm.  So they enter the castle and tell Dawn about the cape they need to find.

Kody tells Sniffer to find the magic cape, so the night mares don’t get bombed during the day.  Sniffer goes to the dungeon, finds a box and then finds the cape within the box.

In the meantime the castle had transported to Cape Can: it is a town consisting of buildings that look like cans.  There is a sign, “Cape Can Averal”.  Dawn points out the Night Stallion’s stall.  Kody places the cape there.  A cloud covers the cape and when it dissipates, the cape is gone; it has been delivered to the Night Stallion.

They spend the night in the castle, and in the morning the castle takes them back to where it picked them up.

They follow Sniffer as it leads them toward the Bomb.  They travel through rough vegetation, through a golf course and come to a pavilion, with a sign which says, “Is your life dull?  Enter for a cure.”  Kody is curious and walks toward it.  But Zosi recognises it as a trap and flings herself in front of him.  There is a flash and a whiff of brimstone, and she disappears.  Kody thinks she has been killed.  But Naomi and the ghosts explore the area, and find her in an ancient sacrificial dragon-feeding station.  There is a fire-breathing dragon heading for Zosi.  One of NoAmi’s agents had set up the trap, intended to catch Kody.

Kody insists on rescuing Zosi.  Naomi tells him he will have to take a back route, otherwise the dragon will see him and rush to eat Zosi.  With Naomi leading, Zap flies him to the path, remaining low, so the dragons don’t see her.  Then Kody walks along the path, encountering nickelpedes and a tangle tree along the way, but with his reverse wood and his sword, he gets through.

He finds Zosi chained to a rock.  Before he can free her, the dragon arrives.  With his reverse wood chips and his sword, Kody kills the dragon.  But more dragons are on the way.

Kody applies his reverse wood chips to Zosi’s manacles and releases her.

Zap arrives to join the fight; she has decided that despite being a pacifist, it is acceptable to fight to protect her friends.  And Zosi can conjure her jellied gasoline sandwiches.  They defeat two more dragons.  Then Kody calls out to the other dragons that the maiden chained to the rock has got away.  The dragons depart.

They return to the others.  The group continues on and then sets up camp for the night.

The next day they meet a crying woman.  She asks for their help, as she has found a little boy captured by the Bogeyman.  Kody is reluctant to divert from their quest, but they all decide they must help.

The woman is Wenda Woodwife (or more formally Princess Wenda Charming).  (Wenda appeared in “Jumper Cable” and “Knot Gneiss”.)  Her friend, Demoness Eris, has given her the ability to hear the cries of lost children, and to travel rapidly to them.  She cannot have children herself, so she has adopted several children who were in need.

The Bogeyman captures and eats children, but is only permitted to do this if the child’s mother has “given” the child to the Bogeyman; usually the mother has just threatened the child with the Bogeyman, without meaning it.  But if the mother arrives after he has captured the child, she can buy back the child by giving herself to him so that he can do unspeakable acts to her.

Wenda had let the Bogeyman think that she was the mother, and then used another ability from Eris, to find the nearest source of help.

Kody resolves to fight and kill the Bogeyman.  But Yukay tells him the Bogeyman is immortal.

They come to a pit.  At the bottom are the boy and the Bogeyman.  The Bogeyman is a horrendous, vaguely manlike figure with a scaly body, a ratlike head, and soulless white eyes.

Then they recognise the boy: it is Plato, Princess Eve’s son.  He begs them to take him home.  Kody asks how he had got there.  Plato says he had followed a trail of dead animals, which he animated into zombies, and then fell in the pit.  Obviously the Bogeyman had lured him to the pit.

Kody asks the Bogeyman his price to let the boy go.  The Bogeyman replies that he must give up the quest.  But Kody refuses.

Wenda steps forward to exchange herself for the boy.

Demoness Eris appears.  She had detected that her friend Wenda was in distress.  The Bogeyman says Eris has no jurisdiction in Xanth.  Eris disappears, but soon returns with Eve and Demon Pluto, the boy’s parents.

Then Demon Xanth appears. Followed by Demon Earth.  There are now four Senior Demons present.  But now the Demons have to decide who has jurisdiction.

But the Bogeyman can’t wait.  He grabs Plato and Wenda.  Kody and his companions rush forward.

The scene freezes, while the Demons work out who has jurisdiction.  Eris’s claim is that she is Wenda’s friend.  Pluto’s is that he is the boy’s father.  Xanth’s is that this is his realm.  And Earth’s is that Kody is from his realm and is threatened.

The Demons ask Yukay, Ivan and Zap in turn, as independent persons, to decide which of the Demons has jurisdiction.  These individuals ask the Demons various questions to clarify the situation.

Demon Earth reveals that Demon Xanth had detected Demon-level interference in his domain, resulting in the Curse Bomb.  Demon Xanth requested Demon Earth to provide an external investigator who was immune to the Bomb.  But if Kody dies in Xanth, he will die in Mundania.

Pluto replays the scene which had occurred at Castle Windswept, Pluto and Eve’s residence in Xanth.  Eve had been hurrying to prepare for a royal visitor – Princess Wenda. Plato had dug a dead toad out of the garbage and animated it; Eve didn’t like Plato doing this in the house.  She had lost her temper and said, “If you don’t behave, the Bogeyman may get you.”  Plato had left the castle and found the trail of dead animals.

But the questers can’t decide which Demon has jurisdiction.  The Demons unfreeze the scene and allow the questers to deal with the matter themselves.

Kody, Ivan, Yukay, Zosi and Zap attack the Bogeyman.  In the process the Bogeyman releases Plato and Wenda.  The Bogeyman fights back and seems to be indestructible.  But then Kody notices that the Bogeyman’s body seems to have been assembled piecemeal, like Frankenstein’s monster.  He flips a reverse wood chip against the Bogeyman’s shoulder, and the arm comes off.  He repeats this for the other arm, the two legs and the head, and they all come off.  But the Bogeyman is still alive and able to talk.  They decide to bury all the parts separately, to prevent them getting back together.  Wenda takes the limbs and head far away, using her rapid travelling ability.  The others bury the torso on the spot where they are.

With the matter resolved, the Demons depart.  Eve, Plato and Wenda leave for Castle Windswept.

Kody wonders about the Demon who is responsible for the Curse Bomb.  Yukay suggests that it is Demoness Fornax, who has caused trouble in Xanth before.

Zap suggests they deal with NoAmi and the Bomb first and then Fornax.  They should force Fornax to act openly, which would enable the other Demons to act against her.

They are now half a day away from the Bomb.  They keep travelling till nightfall, set up a mock camp, but then continue on during the night to take NoAmi by surprise.

They come to beautiful garden, with a central pavilion.  NoAmi is lying on a bed in the pavilion, but Naomi tells Kody she is not asleep.  So it is not such a surprise after all. There are guards around, posing as statues and waiting for NoAmi’s call.  Kody places reverse wood chips in the hair of each of the guards, changing them from alert to sleeping in place.

Kody approaches NoAmi.  She is the ugliest woman he has ever seen, which, because of the Curse, makes her the most beautiful woman to everyone else.  She opens her eyes.

She tries to tempt him with her body, but of course it doesn’t work on Kody.  Kody demands that she hand over the Bomb.  She summons the guards, but of course they don’t come.

NoAmi tells her side of the story.  She and Naomi had been delivered as twins sharing only one soul.  Naomi got most of it, which made her beautiful and nice. But NoAmi saw this as a weakness: Naomi could not hurt or deceive people.  NoAmi, on the other hand was more ruthless; she could do what was necessary.  And NoAmi dominated their relationship; Naomi could not deny NoAmi’s orders.

[There seems to be some inconsistency between Dawn’s determination of Naomi’s nature and what NoAmi says about her.  Dawn stated that Naomi was a temporary construct, created specifically to deter Kody from his mission, although she was unaware of her mission from NoAmi.  This seems to be backed up by the fact her body disintegrated after she died.  NoAmi states that Naomi has existed all of NoAmi’s life as a real person, and she was following NoAmi’s orders to deter Kody from his mission.]

NoAmi goes on to tell how she had found the Bomb in some ancient ruins.  It seemed to be calling her to turn it on.  What other people call the Curse, she calls the Blessing.  Now the ugly people get a turn at being beautiful.

She points out how stupid Kody is.  When the Night Stallion gave him the dream pass, it wasn’t to the Night Stallion’s realm; it was to Xanth, which Kody is visiting in a dream.  When he returns to Mundania he can visit Xanth for a few hours every time he sleeps.  And so he can keep seeing his girlfriend Zosi.  Given this, what need has he to turn off the Curse?

But Kody insists that he will proceed with the quest; his loyalty is to his companions who trust him.

Kody returns to the others.  Daylight had come by this time.  Kody tells Sniffer to lead the way to the Bomb.

But suddenly something knocks Sniffer off the path into a hole.  It is NoAmi in her serpent form.  Then the serpent attacks Kody.  He flips a reverse wood chip into its mouth.

They both hesitate, waiting to see what the chip will do.  But then the serpent seems to be about to strike again.

Kody is about to attack the serpent with his sword, when he gets a feeling of déjà vu: this is exactly like when he killed Naomi.

The serpent seems confused.  And Kody can’t sense the ghost Naomi anymore.  And the serpent is turning beautiful.  Kody says, “Naomi!  Change!”  The serpent turns into a woman: it is Naomi!  She is alive again!  The reverse wood chip had made the two alter egos change hosts.  NoAmi must now be a ghost, but he can’t sense her because she doesn’t have much soul.

They turn their attention to getting Sniffer out of the hole.  Naomi has recovered from the transition and helps by transforming back into her serpent form and slithering down into the hole while Kody holds her tail.  She returns with Sniffer in her mouth and then transforms back into a human.

Sniffer leads them to a beer-barrel tree and they find the Bomb in the foliage.  It looks to Kody like a TV remote.  But there is no power switch.  There is only what looks like a channel-changing button.  Kody presses it.  Everyone now appears the way they should.  But Zap detects something else: she can see germs in the air, and they are evolving backwards.  In fact all living things are living backwards.

Kody points out that this device must be from Demoness Fornax, who associates with antimatter.  So it is not surprising that it reverses things.  He turns the device over, and opens a panel to reveal a flashing red button.  This must be a self-destruct button.  But pressing this is likely to cause a massive explosion.

Kody keeps pressing the “channel-change” button, causing a series of undesirable reversals, until he comes to one that just makes the landscape unattractive.

They wonder whether this is all part of a Demon Wager.  The device may have been placed to see how people would react.  And Kody, who is immune, was brought in to deactivate it and then return home.

Zosi is upset again at the idea of Kody leaving her.  Kody tells her what NoAmi had said, that the dream pass will enable him to continue to visit Xanth and see her.  Naomi says that despite being their enemy, NoAmi was not a liar.  This gives Zosi hope.  If indeed Kody can continue to visit her, this will give her reason to remain as a living woman, and fulfil her mission: to be Plato’s governess as he trains to become the new Zombie Master.

Kody believes he must press the self-destruct switch.  But he doesn’t know whether this will result in him returning to Mundania, or whether it will kill him in both Xanth and Mundania.  But he doesn’t want the others, especially Zosi, with him when he presses it, as it will surely kill them.

He needs to be in an isolated place when he presses the button. But the others insist on coming with him. They look on the chessboard and see what looks like a planetoid in deep space.  They gather round and transport to that location.

But the Bomb hasn’t come with them.

Then they see a beautiful woman.  It is Demoness Fornax.  She waves her hand and a parlour forms around them, with a banquet.  She invites them to eat, which they do.

She tells them they have arrived in the Fornax Galaxy.  She is permitted to take direct action now that they are no longer in Xanth.

She proceeds to promise rewards to Kody and his companions if they just bury the Bomb in the ground, leaving it active.  But Kody will not give in.

They find themselves back in Xanth. Kody has the Bomb in his pocket, where it was before they were transported to the Fornax Galaxy.

And Kody knows where he should go to blow up the Bomb.  He calls Caprice Castle and it appears.  They all enter and tell their story to Dawn and Picka and family.  Kody tells them the location he intends to blow up the Bomb: the Void, which he had seen when he first arrived, and from which nothing returns.

Princess Eve arrives to inspect the Bomb using her talent, which is to know everything about any non-living thing she touches.  She tells them it is a New, Clear Bomb, with enormous energy.  Detonating it will vaporise everything within 100 paces.

The questers stay the night in Caprice Castle.

In the morning they exit the castle, which has brought them close to the Void.  Kody says his farewells and enters the Void to detonate the Bomb.