Luck of the Draw (2012)
Bryce is an 80-year-old man living in Mundania. His health is poor; he doesn’t expect to live more than 2 years more. His wife has died. His children have grown up and don’t visit him much anymore.
There is a smell of a dead rat in the garage, so he goes to clean out the garage. There is all sorts of junk there, reminding him of things of the past.
Then he finds a bright yellow box. He wonders how it could have got there. The dead rat smell comes from the box. He opens it. It contains three objects: a pillbox containing a yellow capsule, a small vial of yellow liquid and a bound yellow notebook. There is cryptic writing on all three.
He figures out the writing is in code, and works on decoding it. The pillbox says “Eat Me”, the vial says “Drink Me” and the notebook says “Read Me”. He has nothing to lose, so he swallows the capsule and drinks the liquid from the vial.
The notebook has a coded message, which he decodes to “This is a secret one-way portal to the Land of Xanth. To activate it, speak the magic words.” But it doesn’t tell him what the magic words are.
He finds his old recumbent tricycle. He cleans it off, and takes it out of the garage, intending to ride it.
A female dog comes to meet him. She has no collar. He goes and gets some food and water for her.
He decides to go for his ride, and then try and locate the dog’s owner. He sets off along the road, riding the trike. The dog runs beside him. He tells her he will loop around the block and return home. She seems to recognise the word “home”. He says, “I guess I said the magic words.”
But now he doesn’t recognise his surroundings. He is on a path through a quiet forest.
The trike goes downhill, out of control. The handbrakes don’t work. He is heading for a castle. There is a dungeon door in front of him. The dog is still with him. They crash.
Bryce comes to. He and the dog are in a stone chamber. He seems to have double vision. He speaks to the dog and she replies. She can talk! – but only in short simple sentences. She says her name is Rachel.
He looks down at his body – he seems to have become younger and fitter.
A walking skeleton enters the room. He introduces himself as Picka Bone, proprietor of Caprice Castle. Bryce tries to explain how he got here. Picka leads him away to another room, where he meets Picka’s wife, a human woman, Princess Dawn. [Dawn and Picka’s story is in “Well-Tempered Clavicle”. Dawn has appeared in many previous stories.]
Dawn touches him. She tells him that her magic talent is to know anything about any living thing she touches. So she knows all about him. He has come from Mundania to the Land of Xanth.
Dawn touches the dog, Rachel. She learns that Rachel had been a Service Dog, but her owner had died. They were going to put her down, so she left. Bryce reminded her of her owner, so she stayed to help him.
Dawn says they can stay here in Caprice Castle while they become used to Xanth. She doesn’t believe they will be able to return to Mundania.
She tells Bryce he has been gifted with four magical things:
- the youth potion has youthened him to 21 and made him healthy
- the blurred vision is actually second sight. He can see, hear and feel ten seconds into the future with the left side of his body
- he has a pass to the magic land of Xanth
- he has been imprinted with romantic love for Princess Harmony (Dawn’s younger cousin), who is 16.
Picka fetches a magic mirror and connects Bryce with Princess Harmony. Dawn tells Harmony that Bryce will be courting her. She suspects there is a Demon Wager involved. There may be other suitors: they will probably compete in some kind of quest. Bryce says he doesn’t want to court a teenage girl, and Harmony responds that she doesn’t want to be courted. Picka breaks the connection.
Dawn tells Rachel her magical gifts:
- she is now young and healthy
- she can speak
- she has the talent of finding useful things
- she has been imprinted with love for a dog she hasn’t met yet.
Dawn tells them they should take a few days to familiarise themselves with Xanth, and then go to see Good Magician Humfrey, to ask him how to proceed. She calls in a dog called Woofer and a parakeet called Tweeter to show Bryce and Rachel around. (Woofer, Tweeter and a cat called Midrange were originally the pets of the Baldwin family, who visited Xanth in “Yon Ill Wind”. The three pets returned to Xanth to live there permanently in “Well-Tempered Clavicle”.) Rachel and Woofer are attracted to each other. He must be the dog she is spelled to be in love with.
Woofer and Tweeter show Bryce and Rachel to their bedroom, which has a bed and a dog blanket. Woofer and Tweeter can’t talk, but Bryce gets the sense of their woofs and tweets. Bryce showers and changes his clothes. Then the animals lead them to the banquet hall.
Picka is there – but as a living man of flesh. Dawn arrives in the form of a walking skeleton. Within Caprice Castle they can swap their forms. They have two infant children: Piton, a skeleton boy, and Data, a fleshly girl. They are able to swap forms too.
Dawn and Picka, as proprietors of Caprice Castle, have the job of collecting all the excess puns and storing them in the castle dungeon. Any residents of the castle join them in this work. So Bryce and Rachel will be doing this too.
The next day Bryce and Rachel prepare to head out with Dawn and Picka to collect puns.
Bryce is finding his second sight – the vision in his left eye – confusing. Dawn tells him the spells to tune it in and out.
Dawn assigns a castle maid – Melinda (Mindy), who is 20 years old – to help Bryce with his pun collecting. Mindy tells him that she also comes from Mundania; she has been in Xanth 6 months.
Bryce wants to get his trike back, so Woofer leads them through the corridors until they exit from the castle.
Mindy discusses the differences between Demons (Senior Demons) and demons (lesser demons), and mentions Metria as an example of the latter. Metria hears her name and appears. (Naming a demon often results in that demon appearing – they treat it as an invitation.) The demoness is curious and talkative: she enquires what is going on, and talks about her own nature: her difficulty with vocabulary and her alternative personalities Mentia and the child Woe Betide. Mindy tries to get her to leave, but she persists until Mindy threatens to call Dawn.
Bryce finds his tricycle and tries it out. Not only is it undamaged, it can now handle off-road terrain. It must have been affected by the magic which affected him and Rachel. Mindy fetches a magic carpet for herself to ride, and they head out. Tweeter leads the way to where the thickest pun fields are.
Mindy tells Bryce that she is in Xanth because she had committed suicide in Mundania. [This often happens in the Xanth series: people die in Mundania and appear in Xanth. Generally it has been with minor characters.]
Two cats come to meet them: they are a male, Midrange (the other Baldwin pet), and his female companion Erin.
They set to work, identifying puns and putting them into their collection bags. Afterwards they return to the castle and empty their bags into the dungeon.
The next day they head out to collect puns again. Bryce is surprised that the landscape has changed. Mindy tells him that Caprice Castle has moved: it fades out in one location and appears in another. This means they can go to fresh pun fields when they have cleared out the previous ones.
They come to a number of small settlements. There is a sign: “Welcome to N”. Then they see direction signs to the different villages: Tice, Velop, Joy etc. Then Bryce gets it: Entice, Envelop, Enjoy etc. As he identifies them the signs dissolve into mist and drift into his bag. The villages disappear as well; they are all illusion. There is another set of signs for V villages and he follows the same procedure.
But this time the sign for the village V gan does not disappear. Maybe that is a real town. They go to see.
They find a man and woman sunning themselves in deck chairs outside a house. They are Bink and Chameleon; they are just visiting the village. (Bink and Chameleon have appeared in various stories in the past, including the very first story, “A Spell for Chameleon”.) Mindy introduces herself and Bryce. She explains that Bryce is 80 years old, but has been changed to 21, that he is competing for the hand of Princess Harmony and is not happy about it.
Mindy explains to Bryce that these are Princess Harmony’s great-grandparents. They have been rejuvenated, and are now 34 and 29 respectively. (The Good Magician Humfrey has a supply of youth elixir, which he supplies to selected people. Bink and Chameleon were youthened in “Zombie Lover”.)
Bink explains that Harmony is one of three triplets: the Princesses Melody, Harmony and Rhythm. They are all powerful Sorceresses. Their older cousins are Princesses Dawn and Eve. They discuss Bryce’s situation. (Bryce suspects this meeting had been a setup.)
Bryce and Mindy return to their pun collecting. They return to the castle at the end of the day.
The next day Caprice Castle materialises within sight of Castle Maidragon. Mindy tells Bryce that Trent and Iris are visiting there now. They are also Harmony’s great-grandparents. (Trent and Iris have also appeared in various stories in the past, including the very first story, “A Spell for Chameleon”.)
Bryce and Mindy go out collecting puns, while on their way to Castle Maidragon. There is a dragon protecting the castle. Mindy introduces them and the dragon transforms into a girl: this is Becka Dragongirl, the caretaker of the castle.
Trent and Iris come out to meet them. They have also been youthened: they are now 39 and 37 respectively. (Trent was youthened in “Harpy Thyme”. Iris was youthened in “Geis of the Gargoyle”.)
They take Bryce out in the field to practise using his second sight. Iris can create illusions of attacking dragons etc. His second sight can give him extra warning of a threatening danger.
Trent says they are taking an interest in Harmony, because she is the most sensible of the five princesses of her generation. Dawn had married a walking skeleton (“Well-Tempered Clavicle”), Eve had married Demon Pluto (“Jumper Cable”), Melody had taken up with the Dastard (the book “The Dastard”) and Rhythm had taken up with a cyborg when she was only 12 years old (“Two to the Fifth”).
[This is possibly a bit unfair on Melody – it was her counterpart from the world of Ptero who had come to Xanth and taken up with the Dastard. At the end of that story, the Dastard had renounced his evil ways, taken his original name of Anomy, and returned with Melody of Ptero to the world of Ptero. He swapped with Ptero’s version of Anomy, who now lives in Xanth. But given Ptero’s nature, the latter version of Anomy possibly has memories of being the Dastard. It is expected that the Xanth version of Melody will marry the version of Anomy now living in Xanth.]
And Trent says that Harmony is likely to become the next King of Xanth. (For constitutional reasons, the monarchs of Xanth are all referred to as Kings, whether male or female.)
The next day, Caprice Castle arrives near Castle Roogna, which is the King’s Castle. Bryce has an appointment at Castle Roogna; he will be guided there by a man called Piper.
Bryce wheels his tricycle outside Castle Caprice, where he meets Piper. Piper uses a duplication spell to duplicate the trike, so he can have one too. The two of them set off.
As they approach Castle Roogna, they realise it is an illusion. Iris must have been practising her illusions, and forgotten to delete it.
But then a horde of goblins pour out of the illusion. Bryce has a ten second warning via his second sight. Piper tells Bryce that he, Piper, will transform into a monster. When he does, Bryce should put the trikes on Piper’s back, jump on himself, and guide Piper in the fight.
Piper tries to reason with the goblins, but when they persist in attacking, Piper transforms into a huge goo monster. The goblin chief is absorbed into the monster’s body, and the other goblins find that their weapons are useless against the monster. Bryce throws the trikes onto Piper’s back and gets on himself. Vents open in Piper’s body and he throws fireballs out against the goblins. The goblins flee.
A storm is building up. Piper flows forward in his monster form, then slides into a crevasse, down a cliff and into a cave. He reverts to human form.
Piper tells Bryce how he had been the original proprietor of Castle Caprice, but had been turned into a goo monster for failing his duty. He later became Picka’s rival to marry Dawn, but had lost. (This story is in “Well-Tempered Clavicle”.) Granola the invisible giantess (who appeared in that story) is his girlfriend.
When the storm passes, Piper turns back into the monster and carries Bryce and the trikes back to the surface. He returns to human form. Then he calls to Granola, who is nearby, and asks her to give them a lift. She picks them up on their trikes and carries them the rest of the way to Castle Roogna (the real one this time). Piper waits outside with Granola while Bryce enters the castle.
The three princesses, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm meet him. And then the other two depart and leave him with Harmony. She leads him to her bedroom.
Bryce finds Harmony to be a combination of seriousness and flirtatiousness. He finds her attractive – but then he has a love spell on him. He tells her he would not be courting her if it were not for the Demon Bet and the love spell. He is 80 years old and she is younger than his granddaughters. She says that she had not wanted this Demon Bet; she would have preferred to make up her own mind.
They talk for a while. He tells her about his life and gives her advice. She plays her harmonica, and explains that it enables her to perform her Sorceress-level magic.
She gives him a gift: a magic pen and a pad. Whatever he draws, and then invokes, becomes a real object. He can revoke the object, or it will disappear when he invokes another drawing. He draws a sword, and it slips off the page and becomes a real, full-sized sword. He repeats this with an ice-cream cone.
But he says he can’t accept this gift; it would show favouritism. She says she will give gifts to all the suitors.
Eventually he departs. He meets up with Piper, and Granola carries them back to Castle Caprice.
The next day Castle Caprice arrives in the Gap Chasm. Dawn introduces Bryce and Rachel to the Gap Dragon, so he won’t attack them.
There are two more walking skeletons in the pun-collecting team today: they are Joy’nt Bone, Picka’s sister, and her friend Skully Knucklehead. (These two characters were also in “Well-Tempered Clavicle”).
Skully is able to change his arms into weapons. Bryce practises using his magic pen to draw shields while Skully pretends to attack him with swords. They return to their pun-collecting.
Bryce wades across a river, but then gets swept away, via an underground passage, to the sea. Rachel has followed him. A sea monster approaches; they swim to a nearby island.
But as they land, Bryce is transformed into an ogre and Rachel into a human woman. A sea nymph called Sela approaches and tells them to get off her island. Bryce sketches a canoe and invokes it. As they leave the island in the canoe, they revert to their true forms. But the sea monster attacks again. Bryce sketches a stink bomb. As he invokes it, the canoe disappears and they splash into the water; Bryce throws the stink bomb into the monster’s mouth; the monster flees. He sketches the canoe again; they get in and return to the Gap Chasm.
Bryce sketches a recumbant tricycle: he rides it while Rachel runs along beside him.
Then they see a small wormlike creature hovering in the air. Then it shoots off in a straight line boring a hole through a rock. This seems dangerous. And there are others; it is part of a swarm.
Bryce sketches a magic mirror, invokes it and tries to contact Princess Harmony at Castle Roogna. An older woman answers: she is King Ivy, Princess Harmony’s mother. Bryce describes the creature to her. Ivy identifies it as a wiggle. She says she will send a roc to rescue them.
(Wiggle swarms have occurred previously in a few stories. In the earlier stories, everyone sought to eradicate them. The events of “Vale of the Vole” brought a different understanding of wiggles: it is sufficient to evacuate the area until the swarming is complete.)
Roxanne Roc arrives, carrying a basket. They get into the basket. The roc flies to where the others are; the others get in and she carries them back to Caprice Castle. The Castle moves to another location. (The Gap Dragon has fled from the Gap for the day.)
The next day Bryce and Rachel go to Good Magician Humfrey’s Castle. Wira, the Good Magician’s daughter-in-law, takes them in to see him.
The Good Magician tells Rachel that she will be returning to Mundania the next day; there is someone there who needs her. But before she returns, time will be dilated for her; so she can be with Woofer for what seems like a year. Wira escorts her out.
Bryce asks Humfrey about the quest. Humfrey tells him the suitors will travel together, and each will have to find an object to present to Princess Harmony, which should be a suitable gift to help her govern as the future King of Xanth. She will decide which is the best gift, and will select the suitor who gives it. The Demon who sponsored the winner will gain a Status Point. This is all part of a Demon Wager; the mortal participants have no choice but to play along with it.
Wira returns to conduct him to his room within the Castle. All the suitors will be staying here tonight, and will depart together tomorrow. He will be sharing his room with a roommate.
A woman enters his room. She gives her name as Anna Molly, and says she is his roommate. Her brother, Justin Kase, was selected as a suitor, but he is busy, and so she is representing him and going on the quest on his behalf. He will marry the princess if she wins. Her talent is to cause the unexpected to happen. (This relates to her name Anna Molly = anomaly. Throughout the adventure, anomalies occur which relate to her talent.)
They go to the banquet hall for dinner. The other suitors are there. The Gorgon (the Good Magician’s Designated Wife of the Month) introduces them. Piper (whom Bryce had already met) is there as one of the suitors. (His relationship with Granola had only been temporary, so he is free to marry Harmony if he wins.) There is a demon called Pose (Demon Pose = D. Pose = depose). He states his goal of taking over the kingdom from within, deposing the current monarch. There is a man called Arsenal, a combat expert, a well-built man with muscles. And there is a young man called Lucky, whose talent is to be lucky for a set time.
Then the Gorgon tells them that a servant girl will be coming with them to handle chores: To Bryce’s surprise, it is Mindy!
The next morning the Gorgon tells Bryce that Rachel is here to see him. She is there with Woofer and three pups. It has been a year for Rachel; she and Woofer have a family. Rachel is now departing for Mundania. Woofer will take the pups back with him to Castle Caprice. Bryce and Rachel say their goodbyes.
First part of the quest
All the suitors gather outside the castle to begin their quest. Bryce’s trike is there; Mindy had brought it from Castle Caprice. Bryce demonstrates its use, and Piper uses his duplication spell to create one for each of them, including Mindy.
The Good Magician has given Mindy a scroll. It will unroll just enough to reveal one destination site at a time. They will have just one day to find the required object at each site. The first site is the base of Mount Rushmost. The suitors all agree to cooperate with each other.
They set off along the enchanted path. Arsenal points out that the enchanted path winds all around; they should take a shortcut. After some debate they all agree. Lucky points out a cluster of signs; he must have found it because of his luck.
Anna asks about a jewel Lucky is wearing. He says it is a charm Harmony had given him: it focuses his luck for better effect. The others show the gifts Harmony had given them: Anna has a tiny purse which can magically contain a large number of things; Arsenal has a penknife, that is an object consisting of a pen and a knife; Pose has a bottle he can rest inside – it locks from the inside; Piper has a magic piccolo. Bryce tells them about his magic pen.
They go to the cluster of signs; one of them points the way to Mount Rushmost.
Arsenal asks Pose if he could use his power as a demon to locate useful things such as pie trees along the way. Pose says he intends to act as a human as much as possible, to win Harmony’s trust. Arsenal suggests he can pop off invisibly, locate things such as food, and then return to inform the group so they can go and get them. Pose agrees to do this. He flickers briefly, and tells them he has located pie and cake plants at a nearby house.
They set off along the shortcut path. But then the path branches into 8 different paths: which one should they take?
A storm is building up. It is caused by Fracto, the worst of storm clouds. Pose directs them to the house he had found. They knock and a man lets them in. They introduce themselves; he gives his name as Andrew, or “Average Magician Andrew”: his talent is to answer questions, and he is right 50% of the time. And each person can only ask one question.
They need to know which of the 8 paths is the safest and quickest to take. Bryce figures out a way they can find out, with each person asking Andrew one of a series of questions. But they ought to pay for this service.
Andrew says he is hungry. But there is a difficulty with the cake plants in the yard. Some of them are angel’s food cake, which makes you behave like a saint, and some of them are devil’s food cake which makes you behave in the opposite way. He can’t tell them apart, and he doesn’t want to behave in either way. Mindy says she and Anna will harvest several cakes, mix them together to create a big cake, and the effects will cancel out. And they can all have some.
So they ask the series of questions and come up with the answer. Mindy and Anna make the cake and they all have a share.
The rain has stopped, so they set off again, taking the specified path. But Fracto had been waiting for them, and the storm builds up again. But then the path leads them into an underground cave.
But water is flowing into the cave. They have to pick up their trikes and walk; fortunately the trikes are foldable and light.
They continue on through the underground passage and come to a goblin mound. But the goblins are too busy with the flooding water to bother them.
But further on is a troll village. The two women flash the male trolls with their panties, causing them to freak out – to freeze in place in a trance. (This is a frequent effect in the Xanth series: men freaking out when seeing women’s panties.) There are also female trolls, so the men freak them out by flashing their underwear. (I don’t think this happens anywhere else in the series, and in this case it only works because there are 5 men in the party.)
Now they are coming to another goblin village. But this time the goblins are ready for them. The male goblins have gone on a hunting trip on the surface, but the goblinesses are in their underwear, are wearing dark glasses and are wielding knives.
There is one gobliness in royal dress: she must be their queen. Mindy recognises her, calls out to her and goes to talk to her. The queen tells the other goblinesses to let them through, as they are on a mission for the Good Magician. So they are given safe passage. Mindy tells the others the gobliness is Gwenny, Queen of Goblin Mountain, who rules several vassal tribes. This is one of those tribes. [Gwenny has appeared in previous stories, in which she had the title of Chiefess. Possibly the fact that she now rules vassal tribes has resulted in the higher title.] Gwenny had previously visited Castle Caprice, which is where Mindy had met her.
The path emerges from the underground and they find themselves at the base of Mount Rushmost. They find an alcove within the mountain where they can sleep. Lucky is exhausted from using his talent of luck. He finds some material for a pillow and lies down to sleep. The others work out a roster for keeping watch.
In the morning they wonder how to find the prize. Lucky exerts his talent and realises he has been sleeping on it: it is a Dress. Anna tries it on and it makes her look quite beautiful. Mindy tries it on and it makes her very pretty. It is a magic dress which enhances the beauty of the wearer. Lucky decides that he will be the one to give this gift to Harmony.
And the dress disintegrates. (Mindy is left in her underwear, which freaks out all the men.) This was only the demonstration model; they still have to win the real one.
A castle appears. Pose investigates (doing his instant invisible popping into the castle) and tells them the dress is being worn by a fairy queen in the highest turret. And there are guards everywhere.
So the team have to raid the castle, defeat the guards, get to the turret and take the dress. Lucky applies his talent to give them luck. The raid is a success.
So Lucky has won the prize. He sets off for the Good Magician’s Castle, riding his trike on the enchanted path.
Second part of the quest
Mindy unrolls the scroll and announces the next destination: The western tip of the Panhandle.
This is a long way away. Piper suggests they take the Trollway. (The tribe of trolls who run the Trollway are more civilised than other trolls.) But riding their trikes along the Trollway would take too long. They could take the Autotroll. However it costs quite a bit; they will have to make a deal.
They run into some difficulty on the way to the Trollway, but eventually get there. They negotiate with the troll; the group will perform as entertainers on board. The troll agrees.
The Autotroll arrives: it is an old-fashioned steam train. They all get on board; their trikes are stored in the freight car, and they are shown to their chamber. They prepare their act. A troll comes and conducts them to the revue car, where there is an audience waiting.
Pose transforms into stage curtains. Bryce is the Master of Ceremonies, and introduces the acts.
Piper plays a melody on his piccolo. Arsenal demonstrates swordcraft. Anna and Mindy, dressed in costumes, dance to Piper’s music. The audience appreciates the performance.
Afterwards a troll comes to Piper and asks if he can play a dirge. There is a contingent of Gnobody Gnomes on board, in mourning because one of their number has died. Piper realises they want the “Gnobody Gnows the Trouble I’ve Seen Dirge”, which is especially challenging. He asks that he and Bryce be permitted to go to the freight car to play it through the sound system.
When they get to the freight car, Piper transforms into his monster form. (Doing it in this location conceals his monster form from the rest of the group.) As described in “Well-Tempered Clavicle”, Piper is a magnificent musician, and the gas vents of his body, in his monster form, function as organ pipes. Bryce makes the announcement over the sound system, and Piper plays the dirge. His performance is truly magnificent.
Afterwards the troll is really appreciative, and tells them they all have lifetime passes to use their facilities without charge.
But the dirge has made all the passengers depressed. The troll asks Piper to play a cheering melody. So he plays a happy tune on the piccolo over the sound system, and everyone’s spirits are lifted.
They finally reach the western tip of the Panhandle and get off the train. There at the foot of a mountain is a small pavilion with a table. On the table is a Ring, with a sign which says: “Ring of Power: Demonstrator Model”.
Bryce picks the Ring up and, at Anna’s suggestion, says, “I invoke, you Ring of Power.” Nothing happens. He wonders aloud if he should wish for the mountain to move six inches to the left. And the mountain moves. He says he wishes the mountain to rise up a foot, and it happens. He wishes for the mountain to settle on the ground again, and that happens too.
Demon Pose claims the Ring. The Ring flies out of Bryce’s hand and lands on the mountain. The mountain disappears and is replaced by a wonderland of brass rings. The trees, houses, paths, pools, fields and hills are all made of rings. Obviously their challenge is to find the right ring.
But then they discover that all the rings are illusions. They have to find the real one. They split up, waving their hands around, trying to find something solid.
Bryce notices that Mindy, who of course is not participating in the search, is sitting on the circular rim that encloses the whole area. He realises: the rim is a big ring. He tells Pose to come and take it. Pose lifts the Ring up, and it shrinks down to normal size. He tests it out, and it performs as before.
Pose says farewell to the group, and sets off on his trike to return to the Good Magician’s Castle.
The others set up camp, to relax before the next part of the quest. Piper plays his piccolo and the others dance. They spend the night in tents there.
Third part of the quest
The next morning, Mindy unrolls the scroll and reads their next destination: Region of Fire. There are five Regions of the Elements in Xanth: Air, Earth, Fire, Water and the Void.
They return to the Autotroll station, and when the train arrives they get on. Although they are not required to, they offer to entertain the passengers again. This time they put on a play. And Arsenal demonstrates his swordcraft again.
The train brings them to the Regions of the Elements. They get off and continue on on their trikes. They pass the Void and the Region of Water and come to the Region of Fire, which is surrounded by a wall of fire. Mindy checks the scroll again, and it specifies the southernmost point of the Region.
They attempt to cross the firewall, but it is too hot.
So they enter the Region of Water and wade through the swamp to the border with the Region of Fire. They find some buckets and splash water against the firewall and create a hole they can get through. But then they see a massive fire racing towards them, so they back out of the Region of Fire and exit the Region of Water.
They continue on past the Region of Fire and enter the Region of Earth. But they will have to cross quicksand. Piper says he can do this by transforming into his monster form. He proceeds to transform.
Arsenal had suspected that Piper had another form. And Mindy already knew; Dawn had told her. But it is a shock for Anna when Piper seems to be melting.
Piper, in his monster form, spreads out on the ground like a black rug and slides out onto the quicksand. The others climb onto his back with their trikes.
But the quicksand bubbles violently, releasing gas and forming sinkholes. Piper can’t see so well in his current form; he needs to be guided. Anna, recovering from her shock, gives him directions.
They come to the firewall and throw buckets of sand at it. A hole forms and Piper carries them through. Piper transforms back.
They see a Sword embedded in a rock. They each try to pull it out, but fail, until Mindy tries and succeeds.
Anna holds the Sword and finds it very light: this is a magical effect. She slices at the rock, and a section comes off. Arsenal approaches her with his own sword; the Sword leaps to counter it. When she attacks him, his sword bounces back. She attempts to pry open a crack in the rock with the Sword, and it shrinks down and splits the rock open. The others try it out to similar effect.
Arsenal claims the Sword as his gift to the princess. The Sword disappears.
A manlike figure appears, carrying the Sword; it is a fire demon. An arena forms surrounded by flames. Arsenal realises he must fight the demon for the Sword. He enters the arena.
Arsenal fights well, but the demon seems to be unbeatable with the Sword. And Arsenal is becoming tired, whereas the demon doesn’t tire.
Bryce remembers a story about a table tennis game where one player had an unbeatable magic paddle. But his opponent won. That gives him an idea, which he calls out to Arsenal, enabling him to defeat the demon. Arsenal wins the Sword.
Piper changes back into the monster and carries them back through the Region of Earth. Arsenal sets off on his trike to board the train and return to the Good Magician’s Castle.
They set up camp, and spend the night in two tents. Piper and Anna sleep in one – they have become lovers. Piper won’t mind too much if the princess doesn’t choose him; he and Anna can continue their relationship. Bryce and Mindy sleep in the other tent, but apart. But Mindy confesses to Bryce that she is falling in love with him. Bryce points out that, because of the spell, he is in love with the princess. But he wonders what he will do if, as seems likely, the princess doesn’t choose him. Will he be back at Caprice Castle collecting puns with Mindy? There is the same problem of age difference with her.
Fourth part of the quest
The next morning Mindy opens the scroll and tells them the next destination: The Gold Coast.
Bryce draws a magic carpet with his magic pen and invokes it. It is a bit wild, as new magic carpets tend to be until they’re broken in. He draws a second one, but this causes the first one to disappear. So he draws a big one, and they cut it into four.
They each get on a magic carpet. Mindy is nervous about heights, and lies on hers facedown. They rise into the air; the carpets fly around wildly, so they have to tame them. Eventually the carpets are sufficiently under control, and they set off. They fly past the Region of Air and come to the Gap Chasm and start across. Mindy is especially nervous about this.
But then they see a cloud: it is Fracto again. The wind builds up and it starts to rain.
They see a mesa in the Gap Chasm and descend to it. A snake appears and transforms into a young woman. She introduces herself as Nara Naga, chief of the Noway Naga. (The naga are a snake/human crossbreed, able to take either snake or human forms.) She tells them this is Menace Mesa and leads them down into a cave below the ground.
There is a table with cakes; she invites them to eat. Mindy recognises the cakes as goblin cakes. Nara explains that there is a goblin colony in the mesa; the naga trade with them. There are also a harpy roost and a nickelpede nest. Normally these species would be deadly enemies. But this naga colony, being isolated from their own kind, interacts with those other species.
But the food had been drugged. The questers pass out, and when they come to, they find themselves confined in a cell. Except that Anna is missing.
Nara comes to the door, which is a barred gate. She tells them to look out the window. There is Anna, in a harness, suspended from a horizontal pole. Nara explains that they trade with the other species by providing them with innocent victims. The harpies come and pluck out the victims’ eyes and tongue. The goblins come and rape them, and the nickelpedes come and eat them.
Piper tells Bryce to distract Nara while he transforms into his monster form. Bryce does so, until Nara departs. In the meantime, Piper exits the window and makes his way along the cliff wall towards Anna, with Mindy calling out directions.
The harpies are approaching. Bryce calls out directions, and Piper fires fireballs at them. Then goblins come out of a door in the cliff wall. Piper performs a blast of harsh music, paralysing the goblins and making them fall to their deaths. Piper reaches the pole. But now the nickelpedes are approaching across the cliff face. Piper exudes acid from his body, which flows across the surface, killing the nickelpedes. Piper releases Anna, who rides on his back as he carries her to safety. Bryce calls out that they will meet south of the chasm.
Bryce sketches a grenade and throws it at the door. It explodes. Bryce and Mindy escape to the top of the mesa. Bryce sketches a magic carpet; they both get on board, taking the four trikes with them, and lift off. They fly to the ground level on the south side of the chasm. Bryce leaves Mindy there, and flies to pick up the others. Piper, still in monster form, is crawling up the chasm wall. Anna gets on board the carpet, and Piper transforms back into a man and also gets on board. Bryce flies them back to where they meet up with Mindy.
After a suitable recovery time, they fly the rest of the way to the Gold Coast.
They see a golden pedestal supporting a golden box containing a Gem. Behind it is an enormous golden scarab, apparently part of the setting.
They decide to camp for the night and tackle the challenge in the morning. Piper and Anna sleep together in one tent again; this might be their last chance to be together. Bryce and Mindy sleep in the other tent, chastely holding hands.
In the morning they approach the Gem, wondering what it does. Anna picks it up. The giant scarab comes to life and comes toward her. Anna hands the Gem to Piper. He tells the scarab to back off and it stops a body length away. He hands the Gem to Bryce. The scarab approaches to about six feet of him and then stops. They conclude the Gem attracts monsters, but stops them at a distance of six feet.
Piper tests it by transforming into his monster form. He can only approach to six feet of the Gem. He transforms back, and is able to take the Gem while in human form. Piper claims the Gem.
The Gem and the scarab disappear. Then the Gem reappears on the pedestal, and the scarab behind it, as before. They each try to go and pick it up, but discover they are stopped before they can reach it. (The scarab takes no further part in this challenge.)
Bryce, thinking of Harmony’s magical ability with the harmonica, suggests that music might provide the magic necessary to reach the Gem. Piper plays his piccolo, and manages to get to two feet from the Gem. He plays another, more authoritative, melody, and gets to one foot from it. He stops playing and is pushed away. He transforms into his monster form and starts playing his organ music and gets to six inches from the Gem. He switches to the Dirge, which gets him close enough to pick up the Gem. He transforms back into human form. He has won the Gem. He says his farewells, kisses Anna and departs.
Fifth part of the quest
Mindy unrolls the scroll. Their next destination is Lake Kiss Mee. They can get there on their trikes, following the enchanted paths.
They set off and come to Lake Ogre-Chobee. They continue on and come to a junction, which has a sign to Lake Kiss Mee. But below it is the warning, “Enchantment out of order. Proceed at own risk.” Bryce suspects all the difficulties along the way have been intended as much a part of the challenge as the winning of the prizes.
They no longer have a warrior, monster or demon in the group to fight for them. But Bryce thinks they can get a demon, and names Demoness Metria. And she appears. She normally only remains if there is something interesting happening, so Bryce tells her there is a good chance they are about to walk into a nasty trap.
They come to a pool. Anna says she’d like to swim and cool off. But unknown pools can be dangerous. Metria goes to check it out. A demon called Flower comes to them and hands them each a flower. He invites them to his spa. They smell the flowers and decide to stay for an hour. Flower leads them to a cabin. There are swimsuits they can change into, to swim in the pool.
But Anna points out that this is an anomaly (since anomalies relate to her talent); a demon should be threatening or making mischief for them, not treating them as pampered guests. Metria returns and tells them the smell of the flowers had drugged them, making them stay. They discover they are locked in.
Bryce decides they should find out what is going on with Demon Flower. He draws a remote control, of a kind used for a security camera, and activates it.
A holographic image appears in the room. They see a previous visitor to the spa, a girl whom they name Innocent. Innocent has come to the healing pool to get her dragon breath cured. She enters the pool, and Demon Flower follows her. But then a goblin and a harpy touch the water: they have the combined talent of changing the nature of pools of water. The pool changes into a love spring, forcing Innocent and Flower to make love. Then Flower leaves the pool, and the goblin and harpy change the pool to dilute Lethe water, so Innocent loses her memory of the last few minutes. Innocent leaves the spa. And so the meaning of the demon’s name is revealed: Demon Flower = D. Flower = deflower.
This is what Flower has in store for them. There is probably a lady troll planned for Bryce. Bryce enlists Metria to turn the tables on Flower and the lady troll. Meanwhile, he draws a screwdriver, uses it to jimmy open the lock, and Bryce, Anna and Mindy depart.
They arrive at Lake Kiss Mee before nightfall. They set up camp and spend the night there.
In the morning they look around for the object they are supposed to win. There is only the lake and a meadow, with bees among the flowers.
They wonder about the bees: could they be telepathic? They try to communicate, and one answers telepathically: it is the Queen Bee. She is the prize. She comes to rest on Bryce’s hand.
She demonstrates her abilities. Mindy pretends to be an attacking ogre, and all the bees fly to land on her body. (For the demonstration, they do not sting her.) Then the bees bring a honeycomb to them, and they eat the honey. The Queen says the bees can scout for them. And the bees demonstrate how they can carry a person, forming clusters around Mindy’s arms and legs, and raising her into the air. Anna says she would like to choose this gift: she would give it to her brother to present to the princess.
But now Mindy and Bryce wonder about why Anna’s brother had not come himself, and whether he can be considered worthy since he has not been on the quest himself. But Anna is unwilling to explain; something is preventing her.
But Bryce has a solution. He asks the Queen Bee to get the bees to form a telepathic shield around them, so no one outside the group can hear their conversation. Then he gets Anna to play a game. He, Mindy and the Queen Bee will ask a series of yes-no questions, and Anna must lie in her answer to each one. That way she will not be telling the truth which she is not permitted to tell.
And the story comes out: Anna had been promised by a Demon that she would find true love, which she had now found with Piper, but had been threatened with its loss if she revealed her story. She was to substitute for her brother, because Bryce would be more likely to yield this current prize to a woman. This would be Bryce’s last chance to win a prize, because for some reason he would fail to win the final prize. The Demons expect Princess Harmony to choose Bryce if she possibly can, and want to eliminate him by ensuring he won’t win a prize.
But Bryce decides it is still the right thing to let Anna have the Bee. He will take his chances with the next prize. So Anna declares she will take the Bee.
The Queen Bee flies to a hive which has appeared in the meadow. If anyone approaches, the bees will sting them – but only to unconsciousness, not to death.
Anna walks towards the hive, but the bees come out to prevent her approach. Anna and Bryce discuss possible solutions. Then Bryce thinks of the way it is done in Mundania, using smudge pots: pots which emit smoke, causing the bees to be disoriented. They find an old root with a hole in it and stuff dried leaves and stems into it. Bryce sketches a lighter, and sets the leaves alight.
Anna approaches the hive, holding the root and staying within the cloud of smoke; she is able to pick up the Queen Bee. After saying goodbye and kissing Bryce, she departs on her trike with the Queen Bee.
Sixth part of the quest
Bryce is determined to continue with the quest, despite the prediction it will fail. Mindy unrolls the scroll and reads the next destination: the Gap Chasm.
They get on their trikes and continue on the path until it joins the enchanted path going north. They stop at a lake. Bryce drinks from it. But this is Lake Kiss Mee; it forces a person to continually kiss people. But Mindy is quite happy for Bryce to kiss her, since she is in love with him.
Once the spell has worn off, they continue on and arrive at the village of Kiss Mee. Mindy goes to see the Mare, to arrange for lodging for the night. (In Xanth, mares – female horses – often perform the duties which would be performed by a mayor in Mundania.) The mare speaks in whinnies, but Mindy can understand her.
Mindy returns to Bryce and tells him there is a favour the Mare wants them to do, in exchange for their lodging. People have been dying; they suspect a particular young man called Brant, who has motive, but he’s never involved when it happens. He just spends a lot of time sleeping.
Bryce wonders if Brant had been sending the victims bad dreams, causing them to be distracted and dangerously careless. Mindy says only the Night Stallion could determine that. This situation may be something they must investigate as part of the Demons’ challenge. They decide they must enter the dream realm and talk to the Night Stallion.
The Mare arranges for their lodging. They sit in a room, opposite each other across a table, holding hands so they will arrive in the same place in the dream realm. They stare into the peepholes of hypnogourds and find themselves in the dream realm – outside a haunted house. They enter the house. Bryce uses his magic pen to draw a folded map of the house. He opens the map and finds a shortcut to the outside, to the graveyard. They meet a walking skeleton called White Skeleton (cousin to Red Skeleton). They persuade him to lead them to the Night Stallion.
He leads them to a dark horse, who asks them their business. Mindy introduces them and explains about the quest. But Bryce thinks something is not right: this horse is a fake. He turns to address White Skeleton as the Night Stallion. And White Skeleton transforms into the Night Stallion.
Bryce tells him about Brant, who is possibly causing people to die with his dreams. The Stallion flickers; apparently he has instantly transported himself somewhere else, investigated and returned (in a similar way to Demon Pose). He confirms that Brant has the Deathwish; he dreams up a death and makes it happen. Bryce recommends that Brant’s dreams be cut off.
Mindy mentions the prediction that Bryce will fail in his quest. But the Night Stallion says that the princess is devious, and may seek to change the rules. He seems to be amused at some private joke.
But now the Stallion warns them that Brant had had one dream left from before his dreams were cut off: in it dragons catch a girl and tear her apart.
Bryce and Mindy return to the normal world.
They spend the night there in their room. Mindy wishes she could sleep with Bryce, but Bryce turns her down. She is upset.
The next morning they continue on. As they leave the town, a young man stares at them silently.
They finally arrive at the Gap Chasm. They can’t see the object Bryce is supposed to win, so he draws a flying carpet and they cross to the other side. And there is a pedestal with a Monocle on a cushion. They try looking at each other through the Monocle (which doesn’t magnify) and discover they can tell a person’s surface thoughts – in particular they can detect the truth when a person is lying. Bryce chooses to take this prize.
The Monocle and the pedestal disappear. But now they see it on a cloud over the chasm. Mindy stays on the brink of the chasm, while Bryce flies out to the cloud. But every time he approaches it, it dodges away.
But then there is a scream from Mindy. Three dragons are flying towards her. He flies back towards her, but he sees that he won’t get back in time. He sketches a box with speaker holes and a button. A dragon grabs Mindy in its talons. Bryce arrives at the brink, invokes the box and throws it to Mindy, who catches it.
The dragon flies out over the chasm. Bryce yells to Mindy to press the button. The device is a dragon repeller: it emits a sound that hurts a dragon’s ears. The other two dragons flee; the one holding Mindy flies around erratically. Bryce tells Mindy to steer the dragon; when it flies in the right direction, back to the brink, she should turn the device off. The dragon brings Mindy back and releases her, and then flees.
Mindy throws herself into Bryce’s arms in her relief. But now he has lost the Monocle; the cloud and the pedestal are gone.
The quest is over, and it seems Bryce has lost. But Mindy reminds him what the Night Stallion had said: Princess Harmony is devious and might change the rules to suit herself.
They return to the Good Magician’s Castle. The presentation of the gifts and the princess’s selection will occur in two days’ time.