Fire Sail (2019)
[In this review I have used the actual chapter headings from the book.]
Two people meet at a rest stop. They are both on their way to see Good Magician Humfrey.
One of these is a young man, aged 21, called Lydell (Dell). The other is an older woman, aged 60, called Grania (Nia). They both consider themselves to be dull.
Nia says her magic talent is to make two spots appear on a wall, which look like eyes.
She had been married, and her husband had enjoyed “summoning the stork”. But after she had three children, she had lost interest in doing this, so her husband had got a mistress. Now her husband is dead, her children and grandchildren have families of their own, and they don’t take much interest in her. She would like to be involved in a project which would make life worthwhile for her.
Dell explains that his talent is to change the colour, texture or taste of things.
He says that no one notices him. He’d like to have a decent life, doing something decent, preferably with a pretty girl who finds him interesting.
Nia gives him some advice about girls. It is what is on the inside which counts – in the mind and the heart. If a pretty girl comes to him, he should ask himself what it is she wants: does she want him for himself, or for what she can get from him?
They learn that they had both encountered a female travelling minstrel, Cool Hand Lute. When she had touched them, they had each felt an urge to be the best person they could be.
There are mounds of hay in the rest stop. When they lie down to sleep, they each find a piece of paper in the hay. Dell’s has a heading of “Riddle”, and says, “Like me you are a spraint [otter poop] on the riverbank, understand and your halfway there.” Nia says this suggests that they are unimportant. But what does the rest mean? That they are more important than they think?
Nia’s paper is headed “Evil Whispers”. It is a poem, with rhyming couplets and ends with the lines:
so follow me now, but hide me well my dear
look not into my eyes, for
The end is missing, and they can’t guess what it would be.
Have these papers been planted for them to find?
The next day they proceed to the Good Magician’s Castle, and have to pass the Challenges. In one of these, Dell finds himself at a zombie dance. A zombie girl called Zephyr comes and dances with him.
Having passed the Challenges, they meet a beautiful woman. It is Cool Hand Lute! She explains that her real name is Dara Demoness; she is the Good Magician’s current Designated Wife.
Dara describes the Service they will perform, in payment for their Answers. They will both pilot a special boat, and take it to its new proprietors. Other people might want to take possession of the boat; Nia and Dell have been chosen for the task because they are compulsively honest.
She takes them to where the boat is moored, tied to a castle turret. It is floating in the air! They get on board. Dara gives directions on how to operate the craft. Nia sits in the stern and operates the rudder. Dell raises the mast, which had been lying flat on the deck. He unties the binding cord and unfurls the sail, which is gossamer thin. He snaps his fingers, and the sail becomes a sheet of flame. The flaming sail is round, but over the course of the adventure, it takes different shapes: a square, a triangle, etc.
They cast off and sail through the air to another tower of the castle. They anchor, Dell snaps his fingers again to douse the flame, furls the sail, and lays the mast on the deck. They cross to the tower, and meet the Good Magician in his study.
He tells them, “Deliver the craft to its new proprietors and you will have your desires.” He tells them there will be hints on the way about where to go.
Dara ushers Dell out of the room, where he meets Zephyr. In fact, she is not a zombie, she is an actress who had been made up to look like a zombie, as part of her Service to the Good Magician. She takes him to the room he will be staying.
But then she offers to help him wash up. Obviously she is suggesting something more. She asks that when he leaves with the boat, he should take her with him. Travelling in the boat will help her get to her acting performances. And she would reward him by sleeping with him every night. This is tempting. But Dell knows the boat is not to be used for private purposes. And Zephyr does not want him for himself, but what she can get from him. And so he says no.
Dell and Nia meet to go to dinner. This includes sweetie pie as dessert: this has the effect of leaving Dell with a residue of sweetness which girls find appealing.
Returning to his room, Dell finds Zephyr in his bed! He finds this so tempting and distressing that he runs from the room to Nia’s room. Nia comforts him; she tells him that this must have been an additional test. He spends the night in her room, with Nia holding his hand to comfort him.
In the morning the Good Magician tells them that their talents have been enhanced, to better enable them to perform the mission. Dell is able to change the nature of things: he transforms a letter opener into a sharp knife. Nia’s spots on the wall are transformed into eyes: she can make them move around – they are not restricted to the wall – and she can see through them.
Zephyr takes them to the boat, which is now parked on the moat. Humfrey and Dara are there to give them final advice. The boat is called Fibot, as in Firesail Boat. Dara gives them some scraps of paper – Answers which had fallen out of the Good Magician’s Book of Lost Answers, so it is not known what the corresponding Questions are. Maybe they are hints for their voyage.
The papers say: Look for the Children. A Royal Wedding. Future Visit. Mountain Garden. In Your Dreams.
Zephyr opens a hatch in the bottom of the boat. There is a huge chamber below, much bigger than would seem possible from looking at the boat from outside. There are living quarters: food storage, bedrooms etc.
And there are two additional occupants of the boat: the pet peeve, and Tata the dogfish. The peeve was introduced in the story “Pet Peeve”, and has appeared in other stories since. It is a parrot-like bird that constantly insults people. But in response to Nia’s no-nonsense attitude, it moderates its behaviour in this adventure.
Tata was introduced in “Ghost Writer in the Sky”. He is a combination of dog and fish, covered with metal and with a computer screen for a face, and can swim through the air. He has an association with Princess Eve, and shares her talent of knowing everything about any inanimate thing. (In “Ghost Writer in the Sky”, Eve had transferred her spirit to his body. But she isn’t doing that in this book, she just retains a mental link with him.) Part of his job will be to sniff anyone who comes on board, to ensure they are no threat. (Since his ability relates to inanimate things, he sniffs their hair, shoes,etc.) (Tata had limited communication abilities in “Ghost Writer in the Sky” – he usually just barked – but in this story he has greater capability; in particular, he displays information on his computer screen.)
They head off into the sky.
Keys to the Craft
The peeve suggests they use the first hint: “Look for the Children”. They land so that Tata can touch the ground, to determine where they should go. He displays a map on his computer screen, with an X marked. They set off again.
They cross a river, and see a mermaid waving with her thumb, wanting to hitchhike. So they take her on board. Her name is Merrie Mermaid: her river is drying up, so she needs a new one which is unoccupied.
Merrie says she had seen a child, who seemed to be lost in the swamp. Tata shows the girl’s location on the map, and they go and take her on board.
The girl’s name is Ula, which means “sea jewel”. She is 9 years old. Her talent is to be useful in a way no one expects. She is an orphan; she had run away from the orphanage because they mistreated her. Over the course of the adventure she will make suggestions which turn out to be useful.
Merrie is the kind of mermaid that can’t transform her tail into legs, so Dell has to carry her around. After he carries her to her bed, she offers to summon the stork with him. Dell is not sure how to react, and then they are interrupted. Nia later tells him that Merrie’s offer seems genuine; it would be okay to accept it.
They set off again, and come to the location of the children. (These are the children specified in the hint; Ula was separate.) There are three children: these are three of the five children from the story “Five Portraits”: Santo, a boy aged 11; Squid, a girl aged 9; and Win, a girl aged 8. They have come to serve as crew on the boat; their parents have given them permission, given that there are responsible adults on board. Santo’s talent is to make holes (this includes tunnels, enabling people to move quickly from one place to another); Squid is actually an alien octopus-like water creature, able to transform her appearance; she currently appears human; Win’s talent is that the wind is always at her back. She demonstrates how she can supply wind to the sail when there is no wind.
The five children from “Five Portraits” had come from the future – actually a parallel world whose setting was 50 years in the future – where Xanth was being destroyed. They had been brought back by Astrid (a basilisk transformed into a human) and Demoness Fornax. They had been adopted by five sets of parents, and although the children are not related, their relationship is like that of siblings.
The next clues are “A Royal Wedding” and “Future Visit”. Tata displays an X on his screen, for the location of the royal wedding. They set off again, with Win providing wind to the sail.
Could “Future Visit” refer to the children? But Win says no, they are not visitors from the future, they are here to stay.
A storm arises: it is Fracto, the worst of storm clouds. They can’t sail through it. The rain tries to douse the fire sail – but it bounces off without hitting the boat or sail. The peeve points out that there is a shield protecting the boat. (This becomes a bit of a pattern: the peeve revealing features of the craft that were previously unknown. It hadn’t told them because they hadn’t asked.)
But the wind is still buffeting the boat. Nia lashes the rudder in place, and Dell furls the sail and lowers the mast. The peeve tells them to drop the anchor, although they are in midair, and this serves to hold the boat in place. They go belowdecks, where the lower compartment (the “yacht section”) is unaffected by the buffeting. The peeve tells them about the periscope – a magic mirror where they can view what is happening outside.
When night falls, Merrie invites Dell to spend the night with her. He asks her what she wants from him. She says that she only wants to be taken to a suitable river. But until then, she would like a casual affair with him. But now she thinks that if he sleeps with her, he would fall in love with her, and want to make it permanent. And this wouldn’t work out, because he is a land creature and she is a water creature.
He agrees, and they settle for just one kiss. They are both in tears as he walks away.
In the morning the storm has passed. They land the boat on a lake. Merrie, Squid and Tata jump into the lake for a swim. Squid takes her natural form of a squid. Tata dog-paddles.
Tata directs them to a certain location in the lake. Merrie tastes the water and discovers they are at the mouth of a river, which is vacant of merfolk. This can be her new home.
Back on the boat, Ula tells Nia she wishes she could stay permanently with them on the boat. But Nia says she needs a family, which they hope to find for her. Nia and Dell are not a family; after the mission they will go their separate ways.
Merrie, Squid and Tata arrive back on the boat. Merrie tells Dell she had found a river that can be her home.
As mentioned above, their next clue is “A Royal Wedding”. Princess Eve arrives on the boat. She tells them that her twin sister Princess Dawn will be attending, and three other princesses. The wedding will be a small private ceremony; all of them will be witnesses. Either Dell or Nia, as co-captains have the authority to conduct the ceremony. Dell is horrified at the thought, so it is assigned to Nia.
Eve assigns the other roles:
- Win – flower girl
- Dell – Best Man
- Merrie – Maid of Honour
- Santo – Ring Bearer
- Squid – bridesmaid
- Tata and Peeve – witnesses
- Ula – a special role, which Eve proceeds to explain.
Eve tells them there will be a special visitor, Kadence, who will attend in spirit form. She needs a host her age: 9 years old. Ula says she is willing to be that host.
And Ula’s aspect transforms: Kadence’s spirit now occupies her body. She introduces herself, Princess Kadence, and says she is glad that this marriage is happening. (Kadence will also be a bridesmaid.)
Eve explains. Kadence is the bride’s daughter; she has not yet been delivered by the stork. It is in her interest that her parents get married, so she will have a physical existence. Kadence has existed in spirit form for the last 10 years.
Eve then tells them the background story (which occurred in “Two to the Fifth”).
A decade ago there was a huge bird, Ragna Roc, who intended to take over Xanth. He had the power of “deletion”, that is, he could turn people and things into illusions, so they could be seen, but not touched or heard.
The Good Magician had assigned Cyrus Cyborg, and the three princesses, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm (Eve’s cousins) to defeat Ragna Roc.
The princesses were 12 years old. Rhythm developed a crush on Cyrus. And when Cyrus said to her, “You’re a child!”, it made her all the more determined to proceed. She invoked a spell to make herself temporarily 10 years older, to the age of 22, and hauled him into a love spring, where they made love. But something went wrong with the spell, and a child was delivered to her immediately: that was Kadence. And a side-effect of the spell was that Kadence immediately aged to be 6 years old.
But Cyrus, Rhythm and her sisters, and Kadence, were instrumental in defeating Ragna Roc. But afterwards Cyrus was banished to Counter Xanth. Kadence faded away, and would only gain physical existence again after her parents married.
Now the three princesses are 22, the age Rhythm had transformed herself to when she made love with Cyrus. It is Rhythm and Cyrus’s wedding they will be celebrating.
But Rhythm’s relationship with Cyrus caused a scandal. For this reason the wedding ceremony will be a small private affair.
Then Princess Dawn arrives. And it is now revealed that Fibot was created by Melody, Harmony and Rhythm, who when working together can perform very powerful magic. This had been before they got interested in boys, after that they had asked the Good Magician to find new proprietors for the valuable boat.
And then Melody, Harmony and Rhythm arrive, followed by Cyrus.
Rhythm and Cyrus go for a naked swim in the lake, chaperoned by Dell and Merrie.
Then they have the wedding rehearsal. They need a substitute for the Bride’s father, to walk her down the aisle. (Rhythm’s actual father is busy ignoring the wedding.) So Tata performs that role.
For the Wedding March, Melody sings and Harmony plays the harmonica.
There is an intermission before the actual wedding. Everyone dresses in formal clothes, and they all look beautiful or handsome. The wedding proceeds. Dell imagines that it is himself and Merrie getting married. Afterward they adjourn to the wedding banquet.
The married couple and the other princesses leave for nearby Caprice Castle.
It is now time for Merrie to leave for her new home. After a final kiss, Dell drops her over the side of the boat into the lake.
Kadence wants to stay with them a bit longer, and Ula is happy to continue being her host. Kadence says that now that her parents are married, and have summoned the stork, she has a real physical existence in the future. She is the visitor from the future referred to in the hint. And she shares the fact of coming from the future with Santo, Squid and Win, although in a different sense.
The children go below to rest after their big day. Dell and Nia discuss how they wish they could continue sailing like this forever.
Demoness Metria appears on board. She wishes to borrow the children for a mission, to help her friend Nan O’Tech. In return, Metria will be able to provide them with the missing words from the “Evil Whispers” poem.
Metria tells them Nan’s story:
Nan O’Tech was a leprechaun, living in Ireland in Mundania. (Mundania is largely without magic, but a few remnants remain.) (Unlike how leprechauns are often depicted, Nan is not small, but normal human size.)
Nan could create amazing things from atoms, and wanted to make the best use of her potential. She went to visit her cousin Georgia O’Tech, at a campus in another land. Georgia suggested she would find opportunities in the Land of Xanth, challenging the local powers. Although Demons could be scary, Demon Xanth was fairly benevolent.
Nan went to discuss this with Demoness Selene (one of the Senior Demons), whose realm was the Moon, and whose power was Light. Selene lived in Tokyo in Mundania.
Selene welcomed her and taught her things about becoming a Demoness. Nan travelled to No Name Key in Florida and entered Xanth through the portal located there.
Demon Xanth recognised Nan’s potential, and she received the status of a Demoness-in-Training. He assigned Demon Professor Grossclout (a lesser demon) as her mentor. Grossclout was so impressed with her that he made her his teaching assistant.
[This is the only case in the series of a lesser being – admittedly a magical one – becoming a Senior Demon. Nan O’Tech’s story was submitted by a reader. I’m not sure Piers Anthony would have done this on his own initiative.]
[In a previous version of this review I said that Nan O’Tech, in this story, should not be confused with the similarly named Demoness Nan O’Tek, referred to in the story “Knot Gneiss”.
However I notice the stories of both these characters were contributed by the same reader, and maybe he intended them to be the same character. If so, they have been included in the Xanth chronology in the wrong order. But it might still work if, after Nan becomes a Demoness, she uses time travel, to go back and rescue the Maidens, as described in “Knot Gneiss”.]
It was in Grossclout’s classroom that Nan met Demoness Metria. As a former student of Grossclout, Metria often attended his lectures to cause mischief.
As part of her training, Nan had to progress through a series of challenges. But there was one challenge she had to complete within a week, but she didn’t know what it was, or how to find it. She took her problem to Metria.
Metria suspected the Adult Conspiracy was involved, given that Nan would turn 18 in a week’s time. Metria has two alter egos, the somewhat crazy Mentia, and the child Woe Betide, permanently 5 or 6. Metria thought that Woe would know the answer to this, and transformed into her child form. Woe told Nan that she needed the F-Bomb, which could be found in the Mountain. She transformed back into Metria.
Metria understood the references. It related to the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. He had rid the town of rats, but when the townsfolk refused to pay, he led the town’s children away into a mountain. The children must still be there. The mountain is not accessible to adults. No one knows where it is – or maybe Woe does. But since Nan is almost an adult, and looks like one, she should go there with a group of children.
So that is Metria’s proposal, that Nan go with the children from the boat, to the Mountain, to get the F-Bomb. But they must do it without discovery, merging in with the children who are there, or they may be forced to stay in the Mountain. The children there are ageless, constantly playing, with no memory beyond the current day.
Nia and Dell are reluctant to involve the children, but Metria thinks they should ask the children.
They decide to ask the peeve and Tata to check Metria out first. The peeve is suspicious; it has had dealings with Metria before. But Tata sniffs Metria and indicates she is genuine.
So they go below to talk to the children. And the children all say they are willing to be involved in this mission.
Then Nan appears among them. Dell is impressed by how beautiful she is.
Metria transforms into Woe Betide; she will be one of the children in the group.
Nia insists on one more thing. They need an adult presence, to ensure they don’t forget to return. Dell should transfer his spirit into Santo (in a similar way to how Kadence’s spirit is in Ula’s body, except that Santo will retain control of his body); Dell will be able to talk to Santo and remind him when it is time to come back.
Dell lies down on a bed, and Nia gets him to sniff vapour from a jar; his spirit separates from his body, and enters Santo’s body.
Woe touches Santo, giving him the location of the Mountain. He creates a tunnel to it. The six children enter: Woe, Win, Squid, Kadence, Nan and Santo.
The interior of the Mountain is a domed garden, with flowers, fairy castles and miniature train rides. The children mingle with the children already present, playing tag, taking a train ride, eating Eye Scream etc. They come to a gazebo with water bombs, labelled A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Woe tells Nan to take the bomb labelled F (the F-bomb), but not to burst it.
But the children are forgetting why they are there; they want to throw the water bombs. Dell tells Santo it is time to go, so Santo tells Squid to call the others. Santo creates the return tunnel, and they all return to the Fire Sail boat.
Dell’s spirit returns to his body. Woe morphs back into Metria. The children say they had felt that they wanted to stay in the Mountain forever.
Nan drops the water bomb on the deck; it explodes, splashing them all.
And they realise what the last line of the poem is: Look not into my eyes, for my name is . . . Fear.
“In Your Dreams”
Nia says that they must have to face their worst fears and overcome them.
Nan’s involvement in their activities is finished. She is grateful for their assistance. She thanks Dell for his part in ensuring they didn’t get trapped in the Mountain. She thinks maybe they could meet and relate on a more adult basis once she turns 18.
But Dell says he is just an ordinary guy, and she is an extraordinary girl. He would just hold her back from fulfilling her potential.
She agrees, regretfully, and kisses him. Nan and Metria depart.
Nia proposes that they all visit the dream realm to experience their fears. This fits in with the clue “In Your Dreams”, and they can do it as a group. They gather hypnogourds for the visit. Nia points out to the children that they don’t have to do this, but she and Dell have to since it is part of their mission. But the children all agree to do it too.
The next day the six of them (excluding the peeve and Tata) gather in a circle, holding hands, with a gourd in front of each of them. Dell has a compass on his wrist, which he has modified, using his talent, to point to fear.
They all look into the peepholes of their gourds, and find themselves within the dream realm, near the haunted house which is the usual entry point. But Dell’s compass points to a path to the side.
They follow the path, and one by one, each of them encounters their worst fear, which they have to resolve before they can continue along the path.
Win: Win is afraid of big spiders. There is a big pool across the path. A big spider has fallen in and is in danger of drowning. Win has to help the spider out of the pool.
Squid: Squid is afraid of sharks. The path passes through a lake. Squid swims out in her natural form and emits a jet of ink, which the sharks don’t like. Then hidden by the ink she transforms into a small shark and then swims to the opposite shore.
Nia: Nia is afraid of heights. There is a chasm across the path with a plank bridge. But the moment someone sets foot on the bridge, there is an illusion of a swaying rope bridge stretched between two mighty mountains, with the ground far below. At Ula’s suggestion, Nia shuts her eyes, and Dell guides her across with verbal directions.
Kadence: They enter a forest glade, with a robot with a funnel for a head. Kadence thinks it is a deletion machine. Ever since her encounter with Ragna Roc in “Two to the Fifth”, she has been afraid of being obliterated. Dell throws things at the robot, and it does indeed swallow up anything thrown at it. But Kadence walks toward it and gets swallowed up by it. But then she bursts out from inside it.
Santo: They come to a stage, with a huge audience. Santo realises this is the stage where he has to come out as gay. His companions assure him that they accept his sexual orientation, and he can accept it too. And they too are all different in their own ways. Santo goes to the stage and announces that he is gay. There are insults from the crowd. But Santo puts his arguments, and as members of the crowd accept the arguments, they disappear from the audience. Soon they are all gone.
Dell: Dell finds himself in a scene where he is captain of a spaceship. His companions are in stasis chambers. His mission is to deliver robot parts to a far planet for terraforming. The trip will take two years. There is only enough food for one person. Dell’s fear is of being alone.
He goes to the cargo hold and finds some robots which are already assembled. He talks to a female robot, Rosie the Riveter. She says they are not terraforming robots; their job is to run the ship, to follow his orders and to do repairs. She can even be his companion; she can make her body soft and share his bed. Dell asks her to change her body to look like Nia. She does, but Dell knows this isn’t the real Nia. But she tells him that the robots are in telepathic contact with his companions in stasis, in case of malfunction. While remaining in stasis, Nia can communicate with him through Rosie, and it will be as if Nia is present. Since Dell has found a solution, the scene dissolves.
The group continue to the end of the path and find a plaque that says “World of X Moons”. This is their next clue.
World of X Moons
Back on the boat, they ask Tata what this could mean, but he just displays an endless series of worlds and moons.
But then Nia thinks of Jenny Elf, who came from the World of Two Moons. The peeve tells them the story of how Jenny and her cat Sammy had somehow accidentally crossed from their world to Xanth. (This story is given in “Isle of View”.) So they decide to go and visit Jenny the next day.
Kadence tells Dell she needs to return to her body in the future. But she’d like to visit again, especially if something interesting is happening. She gives him a ring; he should tap it to tell her to come.
So Kadence departs, which means Ula is in charge of her body again. Ula tells Dell that Kadence has a crush on him. Dell protests that she is only a child. But Ula reminds him that that is what Cyrus had said about Rhythm; if he’s not careful, history could repeat itself.
The next day they fly to the werewolf kingdom, where Jenny is Queen. Dell says that no one seems to notice the boat sailing in the sky, and the peeve tells him that the boat has a no-notice spell – effectively it is invisible unless they want it to be seen.
The peeve tells them the story of how Jenny became Queen of the werewolves: how Jenny met werewolf prince Jeremy, fell in love with him (especially since she had been a wolf rider in her home world), and married him. (This story is told in “Zombie Lover”.) Jeremy is now King, so she is Queen.
They arrive at the castle on the Isle of Wolves; Jenny is working in the garden. The peeve knows her and flies to meet her; it tells her they are here because they got a message “World of X Moons”.
Jenny says this fits in with her own mission: to find a suitable princess to marry her 19-year-old son Jerry. The local princesses are turned off because he is a werewolf, and in his human form he has (like Jenny herself) pointed ears, and only four fingers on each hand.
The peeve tells Tata to make the boat visible, and then takes Jenny on board the boat to meet the others.
Jenny recognises Santo, Squid and Win; she had been at the ceremony honouring Astrid and Demoness Fornax. (This occurred at the end of “Five Portraits” – but I haven’t mentioned it in my review of that book.) She tells them to touch her hand; Win does so, and recognises something of the aspect of Astrid. Santo and Squid touch her as well, and have the same experience.
Jenny tells them that she had had a daughter, Jone, who had died. When they had buried her, her soul had fallen into a hole and they couldn’t find it. Jenny had discovered later that it had fallen onto a basilisk, Astrid, who had therefore become inspired to do good in Xanth. Astrid had later become human and, inspired by that soul, had worked with Demoness Fornax to bring the five children from the future, rescuing them from disaster. (This story was told in “Five Portraits”.) This is why the children had recognised the similarity of Jenny’s soul to Astrid’s.
Jenny thinks they could find a suitable princess (a daughter of a chief) on the World of Two Moons. She wants them to take her there. The peeve says that Santo can create a tunnel which shortcuts the long distance to another world. Santo says he will need a thorough description of their destination so he can orient on it.
In the meantime, Jenny invites them to the castle for a banquet and then to stay overnight. Dell is a bit nervous about relating to royalty, and taps the ring to call Kadence. As a princess she will know what to say and do. She arrives in Ula’s body. They meet Prince Jerry, and their stay at the castle proceeds satisfactorily. Kadence returns to her own time.
The next day, Jenny accompanies them as they board the boat again. Jenny describes the World of Two Moons to Santo. Nia tells him to factor in a suitable princess. Dell calls Kadence again; she arrives, and says she is interested in visiting a foreign world.
Santo gets a fix on their destination, and creates a hole, big enough for the boat to sail through. Then he collapses, exhausted from the effort. Nia and Jenny take him below to rest.
Win takes the rudder as she supplies wind to the sail. They pass through the hole to the other world.
Jenny returns to the deck – but then she realises they are at the wrong world! The sky is the wrong colour – plaid! The peeve flies out to investigate. Squid asks Tata if there is a suitable princess on this world; he displays a map showing the princess’s location – halfway around the world from their current position.
The peeve returns; it reports that this world has three moons; and there is a war going on on the planet’s surface.
The war has flying dragons fighting on both sides. The boat avoids the battle lines and lands in a swamp. Squid jumps overboard to explore; she returns saying there are spooks in the swamp.
Then they see one of the spooks: she appears to be an attractive mermaid; Dell is tempted to go to her. But the peeve flies to her and insults her; her face turns ugly, and she snaps at the peeve. This breaks the spell on Dell.
Other female spooks try to tempt Santo (who has returned from belowdeck); being gay, he is not tempted, but he pretends to be tempted to avoid further complications. One of these spooks has the appearance of a 10-year-old girl.
But soon the spooks give it up as a bad job.
The peeve hears someone calling for help and flies off to investigate. It returns, saying that it looks like the 10-year-old spook who tried to tempt Santo. But this is puzzling: why would it take this form while out of sight? Dell suggests it is a real girl, lost in the swamp, and the spook had copied her form.
They steer to where the girl is, on a small hill in the swamp; Santo and Tata go out to meet her. And they soon determine she is a real girl. She had followed an illusory path into the swamp and got lost. Santo brings her on board.
Nia provides the girl with food. Her name is Noe. She tells them about the war.
Princess Froma has reached marriageable age, and all the princes have been courting her, but she has rejected them all. Now the other kingdoms are trying to invade her kingdom, to force her to marry one of their princes. Santo tells Noe that they are looking for a princess to marry Prince Jerry, from their world.
Noe says she would like to be Santo’s girlfriend. Santo explains that he is gay. But Noe says that she would still like to be his girlfriend; they would really just be friends, as they’re not expected to be very romantic at their age, and having a girlfriend could avoid Santo getting a certain amount of teasing. And they could break up in the future. Santo understands and agrees.
They sail to Noe’s home, and Santo takes her to her door and meets her mother. Then he returns to the boat and they sail on.
Then they see Noe again, holding up a sign which says “Warning”. But then they realise it is not Noe, it is the spook who had copied her form. Santo and Tata go to meet her. The spook explains that copying Noe had created a connection to her; now, because Noe likes Santo, the spook also likes him and is concerned about his welfare. She warns Santo that soldiers are hunting the boat using magic sniffer-hounds, intending to take possession of it and to make them slaves.
So they sail from the swamp to a lake. The peeve tells them the boat is submersible. They sink to the bottom and remain there overnight.
The next day, the soldiers have stopped hunting them, so they take to the sky again. It takes another day and a night to get to the princess’s kingdom.
They try to persuade the guards and officials to give them admittance to the castle, but given that a war is on, the guards and officials don’t trust them, and won’t let them in.
Jenny says that if they can get into the castle, she believes she can persuade the king and queen to listen to them. Jenny has the talent of singing visions into existence for sharing. Over the years this talent has broadened; she can tune into a person’s nature, and seem to be someone that person can trust.
Santo says he has recovered enough to create a short tunnel, from their current position in the swamp through to inside the outer castle wall. So he does this, and the boat flies through.
They organise a small party to leave the boat: Queen Jenny, Kadence as a royal child companion, Squid as a royal servant girl, and Dell as a royal guard.
Guard-wolves race toward them, but Jenny sings a song which pacifies them. She gets on the lead wolf’s back. She tells all of her companions, including the others still in the boat, to allow the wolves to sniff them, so the wolves know they are friends. Then she rides into the castle with her entourage. She dismisses the wolves.
Princess Froma approaches and asks their business. Kadence explains that they have come to see whether she is a suitable match for Queen Jenny’s son, Jerry.
Froma asks to be shown the flying boat, so Dell escorts her to it and gives her a tour. Froma says she wants to acquire it. She tells him he could remain captain; she offers him rewards and flirts with him. But he insists the boat is not for sale; they must deliver it to the proprietors. They return to the castle.
The King and Queen are there, having conversed with Jenny. The Queen tells Froma that she, Froma, will marry Prince Jerry.
The Princess is shocked. Why have they changed their attitude? Shouldn’t she reject Jerry like all the other suitors?
Jenny stretches out her hands to Froma, and Froma faints. When she comes to, she takes off her gloves and reveals that she too has only four fingers on each hand; she is descended from the inhabitants of the World of Two Moons. She has had the same problem as Jerry – intolerance toward her because of her difference. But now it is settled: Froma will travel with them on the boat to meet Jerry in Xanth. And the war will end because Froma is off the market.
Santo visits Noe again before they leave the World of Three Moons.
Jenny and Froma are delivered to the palace on the Isle of Wolves. Kadence returns to her own time.
Eve has informed Tata about a problem. He tells the peeve, who tells Dell and Nia.
Jack Pot is a man whose magic talent is to conjure pots. But now he has conjured a cookpot which belongs to a tribe of goblins – and it is full of warm water, and a naked maiden, whom the goblins had been about to cook for their dinner. When the pot appeared in Jack’s house, the maiden had screamed, which attracted all the goblins, and they are banging on the walls, wanting to take back the pot and its contents.
So the Fire Sail boat heads for Jack’s house. The peeve tells Dell the boat can pass through a crack, which will enable them to fly the boat into the house. They locate a crack in the wall and head toward it; the outside view twists as they enter, and they find themselves in the house.
They meet Jack, and the maiden, whose name turns out to be Jill. Nia brings clothes for Jill to wear. They offer to take Jack and Jill away in the boat. Jack objects that he doesn’t want to lose his valuable pots.
Jill remains naked in the pot. She tells Dell that her talent is to turn pink when tickled. She invites him to touch her on the rib, and when he does, she screams and turns bright pink all over. Dell realises that she is flirting with him; she is displaying more of her naked body than she ought to.
Nia makes her phantom eyes scary, and sends them out to scare the goblins away. But this is only a temporary solution; the goblins will be back.
Dell goes out and uses his talent to strengthen the walls of Jack’s house. It will take the goblins a while to break through.
The peeve tells them about a man called Hawthorne, who has a close to Magician-calibre talent. He has the ability to talk to people and make them enthusiastic to do whatever he wants. But when he does this, they remain in this state permanently. But he doesn’t like to do this; he prefers people to relate to him normally. So to avoid putting people in this state he lives as a hermit. But he could persuade the goblins to go away.
The goblins are returning, so the occupants of the boat leave Jack and Jill behind and sail back through the crack and continue on to the home of Hawthorne.
They explain what they want to Hawthorne and he agrees. They take him on board. Dell notices that Hawthorne and Nia are attracted to one another.
The boat returns to Jack’s house. Jill is now out of the pot and clothed. She tells them she wants to stay with Jack.
The goblins have returned and are banging on the walls again.
The occupants of the boat, plus Hawthorne, Jack and Jill, board the boat; they sail through the crack and past the goblins, landing behind them. As the boat is invisible the goblins don’t see it. Hawthorne says they should wait for all the goblins to return before he goes out and addresses them.
Hawthorne speaks privately to Dell, asking if Nia is spoken for. Dell tells him that Nia is no longer involved with her family, and that she would be free to join Hawthorne once the mission is over.
Meanwhile, Nia has prepared a meal; they all sit down to enjoy it. Hawthorne is impressed with Nia’s skill of food preparation.
Hawthorne goes out to address the goblins. The rest of the boat’s occupants cover their ears so as not to be affected by Hawthorne’s speech.
But Dell accidentally nudges Jill and she shrieks, turning bright pink. Startled, they all uncover their ears. And are brought under Hawthorne’s spell! Now they will do anything to please him.
Hawthorne completes his speech and the goblins march away. He returns to the boat and realises what has happened. This is not what he wanted. Now he wants to be able to free them from their compulsion.
Ula speaks up. If Hawthorne truly wants to free them, she knows of a way. She tells Dell to summon Kadence. And Kadence appears in Ula’s body. She had been absent when they were brought under Hawthorne’s spell, and so hadn’t been affected by it. She learns from Ula’s mind what had happened.
Kadence’s talent is of Sorceress level; it is to make things align to the beat. She starts tapping her fingers on the table. They all find themselves tapping their feet and swaying their bodies to the rhythm. She stands while still tapping, and they all stand, continuing to stamp their feet. And then she stops. They have been released from her spell and Hawthorne’s too. Kadence returns to her own time.
But now there is no question of Nia joining Hawthorne. They return him to his home, and then return to Jack’s house.
Jack has conjured a gift for Jill: the pot from the end of the rainbow, which is filled with gems and valuable coins. Dell sees the word TESS on the pot: is this their next clue?
They leave Jack and Jill and sail into the sky. But this time it is Dell who has to comfort Nia for the loss of her love.
Tata searches his databanks for “Tess”, but there are a huge number of entries. Ula suggests including the condition that Tess had pressed the panic button. Tata returns a partial match: Tess is not exactly her name. They sail off, following Tata’s map.
As they come close to the sea, the boat malfunctions. A bug has flown into the periscope, and since the boat is an integrated high tech magical craft, they will need some expert help to fix it. Win manages to land the boat. Tata indicates that there is a nearby village called C Side Village. Dell, Santo and Tata set off on foot to make enquiries.
They meet a boy and tell him their problem. He says they need the service of D Bug. And as he hears his name, the demon called D Bug appears. (Demon Bug = D Bug = debug.) D Bug agrees to fix the problem if they remove a nearby mountain made of peanut butter. (A young boy had magically transformed a molehill into this mountain, but because of his inexperience couldn’t get rid of it.)
Dell asks D Bug about Tess. D Bug knows her, and says that she could remove the mountain. He agrees to fix the boat if they agree, when they find her, to ask her to remove the mountain. No doubt she would be willing to do so.
So D Bug returns with them to the boat. He disappears into the periscope, then reappears saying he has fixed it. They do a test flight and all is well. D Bug departs.
They continue following Tata’s map, and come to a pavilion. They find a pedestal with a small box made of mirrors. The peeve says it is a tesseract, and Santo explains that it is a four-dimensional cube. It is larger on the inside. It is possible to get caught inside if you stare too deeply into it. Tess must be inside. The boat can enter, and they will be safe as long as they stay in the boat.
The tesseract is possibly a trap set by trolls to capture their victims.
The boat enters the tesseract, and they follow the line indicated on the map, travelling from chamber to chamber. And they find the girl. Dell and Tata jump out of the boat and go to her. At first Tess is afraid, thinking they are the trolls come to capture her, but Dell assures her they have come to rescue her.
But then the trolls arrive and attack. Dell is not a fighter, and the trolls have clubs. But he uses his talent; he strokes their arms, making them stiff. He tells them he can do the same on their eyes and make them blind, or on their chests and stop them breathing. The trolls run off.
Dell takes Tess on board.
Tess asks what she can do to repay them. Dell tells her how he had promised to ask her to remove the mountain. She agrees to do this. But she also offers to sleep with him. Dell says they should get to know each other better first.
They sail out of the tesseract.
Now Tess tells them she is a giant. A female giant, that is, a giantess – a giant Tess. Many giantesses answer to that name, just as female ogres answer to Gress, and female dragons answer to Ness.
When she entered the tesseract, her size became irrelevant. Then when she entered the boat, the magic of the craft changed her size to match theirs. When she leaves the boat she will be ten times taller. Here in the boat her size is compatible with Dell’s. Outside the boat, they would have to use an accommodation spell – that is, a spell that would enable them to relate intimately with each other.
They sail for C Side Village. Dell and Tess leave the boat – and suddenly Tess is ten times taller. Tess grabs the mountain of peanut butter, and drops it into the pit indicated by the villagers.
Then Dell and Tess return to the boat, Tess changing back to the same size as Dell. They hug and kiss. And since they are both now covered in peanut butter, they shower together.
That evening, Dell joins Tess in the room assigned to her, and they prepare to make love. But Dell discovers a note in his pocket: it says “Sea Kingdom”. This is a clue to their next destination. He explains to Tess that they are following a series of clues, which will eventually lead them to the boat’s new proprietors, after which Dell and Nia will leave the boat.
But Tess is dismayed. They can only relate to each other romantically while on the boat. And after leaving the boat, even if they got an accommodation spell for when they made love, they would be incompatible sizes the rest of the time; that relationship would not work.
Dell realises that if they made love now, he would fall in love with her, and want to make it permanent. So it is best if they break off now.
They are both heartbroken, and go to Nia to be comforted by her.
In the morning Tess leaves the boat. Tata displays a map to the Sea Kingdom, and they set sail. They come to the sea, change to submarine mode and descend into the water.
But then the boat snags on seaweed. Squid says she will go out to untangle it. Dell says he will go out with her.
But they are deep in the sea. Using his talent, Dell paints gills onto his neck. And stripping to his underpants, he strokes his hands over his whole body, making himself resistant to cold and pressure. He puts on swim fins.
Nia produces her phantom eyes, so she can keep watch on them.
Dell and Squid step through the boat’s shield into the cold dark water, lit up only by the boat’s ambiance. Squid transforms into her natural form. She heads toward the rudder to untangle it.
But it is no mere seaweed; it is the dread kraken monster, half a mile across, and about to attack Squid!
Dell strokes his body to make it slippery, so the kraken can’t grab hold of him; then he takes off his flippers and uses his talent to make their edges sharp. When the kraken’s streamers of weed reach out to grab Squid, Dell cuts them off with the sharpened flippers.
Squid untangles the rudder.
The kraken attacks again with strands coated with poison. Dell strokes himself and Squid again to make them poison resistant. He keeps chopping at the kraken’s strands.
But the kraken has hold of Squid and is carrying her away.
Dell sees that Nia’s phantom eyes have changed; he can now see through them to the interior of the boat. Tata has turned bright red, and Nia is holding a sign that says “Burn it!” Tata must have done a search and discovered how to fight the monster.
Dell strokes his flippers to make them fiery red and hot. He attacks the kraken again and gets Squid loose. At Dell’s instruction, Squid produces a cloud of ink, and they both disguise themselves as dragon turds. They make their way back to the boat.
But they haven’t completely escaped the kraken. It is sinking to the bottom of the sea, creating a whirlpool, and the boat is caught up in it.
But Dell thinks of a strategy to defeat the kraken. The boat has a huge septic tank which collects the wastes from the toilets. As the boat reaches the bottom of the whirlpool, they flush out the septic tank into the kraken’s mouth. The kraken vomits, and the boat rides the wave away.
They arrive at their destination – a canyon on the sea bottom. There is a town there! And a sign that says “The Sea Kingdom”. A woman walks towards them – how can she do that deep under water?
She tells them her name is Ann Noy. Tata sniffs her and growls; she is not to be trusted. She admits to being a bad girl, and asks to come on board. Reluctantly Dell agrees.
As she sits, she displays her beautiful legs; Dell is on the verge on freaking out. She tells them all her sisters have the first name of Ann, so they are known by their middle names: Nounce, Nex, Nul, Noint, and in her case Noy.
She wants to buy the boat. Nia and Dell refuse. Noy offers them a tour of the kingdom.
But now Dell has freaked out. As he comes to, Santo ushers him down to the yacht section. Squid is there too. They give Dell contact lenses to resist Noy’s flashing, and pills to protect him from mental confusion.
Dell returns to the deck. Nia says they should take the tour; has she fallen for Noy’s persuasion, or is she faking it? But Dell decides to go along with it.
Nia explains that the citizens of the Sea Kingdom are in half-phase: they are set apart half a reality, in a semi-alternative Xanth. They have air in their phase, so can breathe and walk. But they can also fish from the Xanth phase. But it is awkward swapping between phases, which is why they need the boat.
Dell and Nia leave the boat with Noy, and her phase translator transfers them to the Sea Kingdom phase. Dell tells the rest of the crew to stay on board.
Noy escorts them to the royal palace. They are brought to the royal banquet. Afterwards there is dancing. A handsome male dancer dances with Nia. Noy dances with Dell.
Then Noy takes Dell off to a nearby bedroom; she offers him her body in exchange for handing over the boat; he can even remain the boat’s captain. But Dell says no. Noy is shocked; she had thought he was under her spell. When Dell persists in his refusal, she shuts herself in the bathroom, saying he can’t escape their vengeance.
Dell sees Nia’s phantom eyes, and follows them out of the room and along a corridor to the entrance to a maze, where he meets Nia. Nia tells him how she had been escorted in to meet the queen. The king and queen of the Sea Kingdom only hold the position for a year. The queen had offered Nia the position of the next queen if she handed over the boat.
The queen had told her that the alternative was the Minotaur – a man with the head of a bull, who lives in the labyrinth, and eats anyone he catches. [The Minotaur and the labyrinth come from Greek mythology.] There are guards at the door to prevent them leaving, and the only way out is through the labyrinth.
The guards are watching them. Dell and Nia keep talking, while Nia sends her phantom eyes to search for a way through the maze. And then they run into the maze. In the centre of the maze is a statue of the Minotaur – there is no real Minotaur; presumably the guards kill anyone who enters the maze to keep the secret. And on the statue’s pedestal is the word ROBOT – this must be their next clue.
Back on the boat, Dell and Nia realise they are still out of phase. They and the rest of the crew can’t hear each other properly or touch each other. Ula writes a sign: Look under the mat. Nia tells Dell that people usually hide spare keys under their doormats. They hunt around and find a mat of seaweed on the sea floor. There is a key underneath; they use it to return to their proper phase.
The boat heads off to the Robot Realm in central Xanth following Tata’s map.
The peeve tells them about the battle with the robots which occurred 13 years ago (as told in the story “Pet Peeve”). The robots were multiplying and threatening to take over Xanth. They were cutting down trees for wood to burn as fuel, and were mining iron to build new robots. But all the creatures of Xanth fought against the robots, and the robots were destroyed. Except for one who was rescued by Gwenny Goblin. This robot, Roland, married Hannah Barbarian, and their son was Cyrus Cyborg. So Kadence has robots in her ancestry.
The boat follows the line of patrolling robots, and they learn where the boundaries of the robot kingdom are. So it seems that more than one robot had escaped the massacre. And these robots are not cutting down trees; they are using coal as fuel.
[In fact, we already know that other robots survived. In “Two to the Fifth” a village called Rolando is mentioned, inhabited by robots whose program derives from Roland – reprogrammed no doubt by Roland’s benevolent virus (refer “Pet Peeve”).]
They locate a factory in the centre of the robot territory. Most likely the head robot is inside. Dell summons Kadence; she may know about the robot kingdom from the future. She confirms that this is so, and she knows how to speak their language.
Dell, Nia and Kadence enter the factory. The head robot, Robert, meets them.
Robert tells them how he had lost his way to Iron Mountain and missed the battle. He had tripped and fell and maybe a wire had got crossed. He no longer had any taste for wood, and discovered that he preferred coal. Then he set about reproducing his kind, who are all clones of him. He is no longer set on conquest, and wants his kingdom to interact with other kingdoms on an even basis. However he does not know how to do this.
But Robert’s kingdom has no females: they are not required for reproduction, as the robots are built in the factory. Nia points out that the kingdoms of living creatures will be able to relate better to the robot kingdom if they have females. Once they have a female, she can form the template for other female robots.
Ula (temporarily taking back control of her body from Kadence) suggests Rosie the Riveter, whom they had met in the dream realm.
The robots fetch hypnogourds for them and they return to the boat. Dell, Nia and Kadence sit together with linked hands, look into the gourd peepholes and enter the dream realm.
Nia calls the Night Stallion. When he appears, she explains to him why they want to bring Rosie the Riveter Robot out of the dream realm. The Night Stallion disappears and Rosie appears. After they explain to her what they want she agrees – however she assumes that she will be Dell’s girlfriend. Rather than disappoint her, Dell accepts this arrangement. They return to the boat.
Dell, Nia, Kadence and Rosie return to Robert Robot. Rosie touches Robert’s hand. She explains that she has transmitted her template to Robert so multiple copies of her can be created.
Dell, Nia, Kadence and Rosie return to the boat. Rosie is coming with them to be involved in the diplomatic contact with the human kingdom. Kadence returns to her own time.
Dell and Rosie are assigned a shared room. Rosie recognises that Dell is not yet ready for intimacy. So they merely sleep without engaging in intimate relations.
The boat arrives at Castle Roogna – the castle belonging to the human King of Xanth. Dell summons Kadence. Kadence is nervous about meeting her grandmother, King Ivy, because of the scandal which brought her into existence. (For constitutional reasons, the monarchs of Xanth are all referred to as Kings, whether male or female.)
But Kadence needn’t have worried; Ivy comes out to meet them and welcomes Kadence with an embrace. They enter the castle.
Rosie makes her case to Ivy. The Robot Realm wants to establish formal relations with the human kingdom. Rosie, as a robot from the dream realm, is better acquainted with humans than the male robots of the Robot Realm. They now burn coal rather than chopping down trees. The Robot Realm is no longer interested in conquest. And the robots can mine gems and rare minerals for trade with the human kingdom.
Given that Rosie will now be Queen of the Robot Kingdom, Ivy presents her with a magic crown and sceptre. The crown will enable her to know the mental state of those who approach her, and the sceptre will enable her to project her will to them, so as to have proper control of the situation.
So diplomatic relations are established between the Robot Kingdom and the Human Kingdom. The occupants of Fibot return to their boat.
Back in their room that night, Rosie tearfully confesses to Dell that she can no longer be his girlfriend. Her duty is now to the Robot Kingdom; she must marry Robert, the Robot King.
They deliver Rosie to the Robot Realm.
Dell wonders how many girlfriends he must go through. Which one will be The One? They ask Tata. Tata displays the answer: #12.
Dell and Nia count up the ones so far: Zephyr Zombie, Merrie Mermaid, Nan O’Tech, Kadence, Princess Froma, Jill, Giant Tess, Ann Noy, Rosie Robot. The count comes to nine. There would be two more before The One.
That evening when he washes himself, Dell finds the word DEMONESS on his towel. Is this the next clue?
A demoness appears. It is Mentia, Demoness Metria’s alter ego.
Mentia tells Dell and Nia about her friend D Mure (Demoness Mure = D Mure = demure). D Mure is everything Mentia is not: shy, sweet and polite. She is in trouble.
Last month, D Saster (Demon Saster = D Saster = disaster) courted D Mure. But D Mure rejected his suit. D Saster laid a curse on her: she could no longer conjure herself farther than arm’s length. (Demons can usually pop instantly to far distant places.) The curse can only be broken by the love of a mortal man. But the moment she wins his love, she will spurn him, and his heart will be broken.
Since Dell is due to have two more girlfriends before the final one, this would be his opportunity to get one out of the way.
Assuming his agreement, Mentia disappears and returns with D Mure. Mentia departs. D Mure is apologetic and suggests they drop the proposal, but Dell agrees to go ahead with it. They introduce D Mure to the rest of the crew.
That night D Mure keeps Dell company in his room, singing him to sleep with a lullaby. They do not engage in intimate relations.
The next day Tata makes a bonging sound, and displays the message: World of 3 Moons. It is time to return Princess Froma to her home world, so the wedding can be organised.
The peeve sees a patch of rasp berries beside the boat. They are not edible: they are used to sharpen the talons of dragons and birds of prey. The peeve wants them to sharpen his dialogue.
Squid collects a pailful and hands the pail to Ula to give to the peeve. But Ula trips and some of the berries drop down the hatch. The peeve picks up all the ones he can find. Dell closes the hatch.
But then they find that the hatch cover is jammed. But Mure is able to dematerialise and remove the berry jamming the mechanism, since the distance is less than arm’s length. Dell is able to open the hatch cover. But there may be more berries that might still cause a problem, so Mure should stay on board until they are all cleared.
They arrive at the Werewolf Kingdom and take Froma and Jerry on board. Santo makes a tunnel to the World of Three Moons, and they sail through. They stop at the swamp where Santo visits Noe. Then they continue on to Froma’s kingdom. The children tour the kingdom while the adults make arrangements for the wedding.
Then they make the return journey. By this time Mure has cleared all the rasp berries which might jam the hatch.
They deliver Froma and Jerry back to the Werewolf Kingdom.
Together that night, Dell and Mure prepare to make love. Dell confesses his love for Mure. But Mure disappears. Her spell has been broken, but now Mure has spurned him.
The next day, Tata displays their next clue on his screen; it is “Ragna Roc”. But the big bird is dangerous; why would they want anything to do with him? Dell summons Kadence.
Nia suggests that maybe Ragna is about to escape, and their mission is to prevent it.
They sail to Ragna Roc’s former castle. It is in ruins, and its huge blocks have melted, as a consequence of the battle the roc had with the three princesses.
Dell goes to his room. There is a ghost there; she displays a sign saying her name is General Anna Sthesia. Anna can’t speak audibly, so communicates by displaying a series of signs. She tells her story.
When Anna was 20 years old, she had wanted to become queen, which would require her to seduce and marry a king. She developed her skills as a warrior, intending to join the army of a prince.
She heard about a new warlord, Ragna Roc, who was going to conquer Xanth and become its king. She went to join his army. The head officer of Ragna’s organisation was a woman called Em Pathy, whose talent was to change people’s emotions.
Anna was about to swear allegiance to Ragna, when she discovered that he really was a roc – a huge bird. She had assumed it was a metaphor. She walked away. But then she discovered that Ragna had deleted her – effectively she was a ghost.
This had been 10 years ago. She had got to know the other deleted people. They did not eat, sleep or age. Although she is now 30, she still has the appearance of a 20-year-old.
Anna had learned that Ragna could “undelete” the people or things he had previously deleted – that is, he could restore them to normal existence. But by that time Ragna had been confined inside a huge egg made of undeleted fragments, along with his paramour Roc Ette. (Kadence and Cyrus had created the egg and captured Ragna in it in “Two to the Fifth”.) If Ragna deleted something and then undeleted it, he couldn’t delete it again.
Then, recently, she received a message from one of the other deleted people that Em Pathy wanted to meet her.
Em told her about the Fire Sail boat that was coming. The boat has magical powers that would enable it to rescue Ragna Roc from the egg. It could enter the egg via the peephole in the egg’s shell. Then inside the egg, Ragna would fit within the lower compartment, and the boat could bring him out of the egg. It was necessary to persuade the two co-captains to do this. Em could use her talent to persuade one of them – Nia. She wanted Anna to persuade Dell by seducing him. Ragna would reward Anna – maybe by making her queen of Xanth. However, Kadence is likely to oppose them.
Anna went away to think about it. The next day she returned with her decision. She would follow Em’s plan, but with the option of walking away if things proved negative. And she had a list of conditions if she was successful, including that all the deleted people would be undeleted.
Anna tells Dell that her honour required her to tell Dell this plan.
Dell wonders whether Anna would be girlfriend number 11. But how could he interact with a ghost? And is Anna willing to have a temporary relationship which is destined to end?
Anna says she understands that the boat has an accommodation spell. Possibly it would work for a living person and a deleted person.
Dell takes Anna to meet the other members of the crew, and tells them that Anna’s mission is to persuade him to rescue Ragna Roc. Kadence is incensed, and tells Anna to get out. Anna asks them to hear her out. She says that Em Pathy is waiting outside. Nia goes and brings her in.
Em makes her case. Ragna has mellowed in his years of imprisonment. He no longer wants to rule Xanth, and would be satisfied with his own private kingdom, which would interact with the other kingdoms on a formal basis, and would not seek to expand beyond set boundaries. He would only use his talent of deletion for the good of Xanth, such as if there was an invasion from outside Xanth. And he would restore all the deleted people.
Em suggests they interview some of the deleted people. So the boat sails to a village where all the people had been deleted for opposing Ragna.
Kadence explains the situation to the villagers. The villagers take a vote on whether Ragna should be released; it comes out tied. The boat occupants return to the boat.
Now the co-captains have to decide. Nia is in favour of releasing Ragna, for the sake of the deleted people. She knows that Em is controlling her emotion, but believes that it makes sense even so.
But Dell can’t decide. Nia says she can’t make the decision for him. Kadence says she is conflicted. Dell asks Anna to help him decide. He believes she can guide him to his best decision, despite her personal interest.
The peeve says this is important, and asks Tata to put Anna on speaker phone. Now they can hear Anna’s words, rather that having to read her signs.
Anna says that Dell is a dependent man who needs a dominant woman in his life. She could be that woman. However, asked now to be honest, she believes that Ragna Roc is too dangerous to let loose. She turns and walks away from the boat.
Em recognises defeat and departs.
Dell wonders if there is some other way to restore the deleted people. He thinks of the similarity between the deleted state and the half phase reality of the Sea Kingdom. The people of the Sea Kingdom needed a phase translator to change their phase; could there be a phase translator for the deleted people?
They ask Tata to show Anna’s current position, then sail to that location. Anna is sitting on a rock with her face in her hands. Dell goes out and tells her his idea. But Anna says there are differences between the deleted state and the half phase reality of the Sea Kingdom. She doesn’t see how this comparison helps. But she would think about it; the solution might take years. Dell returns to the boat.
But then Win tells them that Anna is signalling them. Nia goes out to speak to Anna. When she returns, she tells Dell that Anna had found writing on the rock; it said “The Fountain of Youth”. This must be the clue to their next destination.
Their adventure is nearing its end. This new destination most likely will be where their mission is complete, where they deliver the boat to its new proprietors, and receive their rewards: in Dell’s case his final girlfriend, #12.