Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Xone of Contention


Xone of Contention (1999)
Edsel and Pia are a young married couple in Mundania.  They are friends of Dug and Kim, who previously appeared in “Demons Don’t Dream” and “Roc and a Hard Place”. Dug and Kim are now married.  The four of them are in business together, writing and selling computer software.  (Back at the beginning of “Demons Don’t Dream”, Pia had been Dug’s girlfriend, and this still affects the way they relate to each other.)

But Edsel and Pia’s marriage is in trouble.

One day, when Edsel is on the Mundane Mega Mesh (the computerised network which circles the globe), he finds himself on a site called the O-Xone.  He suddenly finds himself in a hall with screens showing images.  One of these is of Breanna of the Black Wave.  (Breanna appeared previously in “Zombie Lover”.)  He knocks on the screen; the image comes alive and Breanna talks to him.  She tells him the O-Xone is a computer interface between Mundania and Xanth.

Edsel says he’d like to visit Xanth, and Breanna says she’ll see what can be arranged.  Before long it is proposed that Edsel and Pia will swap bodies with Nimby and Chlorine, so that Nimby and Chlorine can visit Mundania while Edsel and Pia visit Xanth.  Breanna and Justin will be Edsel and Pia’s companions in Xanth.  Dug and Kim will be Nimby and Chlorine’s companions in Mundania.

Breanna is 16.  Justin is a man who had been transformed into a tree, and remained in that form for many years (refer “Zombie Lover”), but has recently been transformed back into a man and youthened. (He is still referred to as Justin Tree.) His actual age is 99, but his apparent age is 19.  Breanna and Justin are girlfriend and boyfriend.  But Justin has conservative ideas, and is not willing to marry or have sex with Breanna until she is 18.  She finds this frustrating.

Pia tells Edsel she wants a divorce.  Edsel persuades her to go with him to Xanth – maybe the experience will make them happier with each other.  Afterwards, if she still wants a divorce, he will not oppose it.

Nimby is actually the Demon X(A/N)th – given all the interactions between Xanth and Mundania, he wants to experience what Mundania is like.  However Demons are jealous of their territory; Demon E(A/R)th will not be happy about X(A/N)th entering Mundania, so it must be done secretly.

[In much of this story, Demon Earth’s name appears in normal print rather than as the mathematical formula.  The group also takes to referring to him as “Dearth”.]

Nimby was the persona Demon X(A/N)th was required to take by the other Demons, in “Yon Ill Wind”, as part of a Demon Bet. In that story he alternated form between a donkey-headed dragon and a young human man. The young woman, Chlorine, had became his companion in that story. Nimby and Chlorine appeared again in “Faun & Games” and “Zombie Lover”, with Nimby in his form as the donkey-headed dragon.

Nimby doesn’t normally talk; his awareness of all things makes it difficult to focus on individual thoughts.  So Chlorine speaks for him.  Nimby is able to communicate his thoughts to her by touching her.

When they all meet in the O-Xone, Nimby (who is in human form) transforms himself and Chlorine, so they are identical in appearance to Edsel and Pia.  Then they swap bodies; Nimby with Edsel and Chlorine with Pia.  Pia has diabetes; she will still suffer from it in Chlorine’s body while in Xanth.

In Xanth:
Edsel has been given the talent of creating solid illusory creatures.  He practises by creating a tangible ghost.  Pia has been given the talent of being able to see one day into the future.  She tries this out, and sees a pretty shore, with pleasant trees by blue water.  She sees Edsel in the scene.

Edsel, Pia, Breanna and Justin walk along an enchanted path, observing various things. They encounter Demoness Metria.  The two men are so fascinated by the attractive demoness, they agree to what she requests, that they look after Demon Ted (Metria and Veleno’s son), and Ted’s friend DeMonica (daughter of Nada Naga and Demon Vore), both 3-year-old half-demons.  The demoness disappears and the two children appear.

Taking the children with them, they continue on their tour, which includes a tangle tree and a dragon.  Monica finds a magic locket: anything can be put into it, even something much bigger than the locket.  They get things out by wishing them out.

Pia gives Breanna some tips about getting physically close to Justin, without going as far as sex.

At the end of the day they come to a rest area; they will sleep in large nests in trees.  Demon Vore comes to pick the children up.

In Mundania:
Nimby and Chlorine are getting used to life in Mundania, with Dug and Kim’s help. There is no magic, and the facilities in Edsel and Pia’s house are unfamiliar.  Dug and Kim take them in their car to the mall, and to see a movie.  After returning, Chlorine (in Pia’s body) feels dizzy, and they realise she needs to take insulin.  Dug and Kim help her.

In Xanth:
Breanna comes to Edsel and Pia during the night, and tells them that they must come with her, as there is danger. So they go with her.  But something about Breanna seems wrong; they discover this is not Breanna, it is a spook (an intangible phantom).  But they are on a one-way path; they can’t go back.  The spook fades when dawn breaks.  They see a dark castle; this presumably was where the spook was trying to lead them.  They see a boat in a stream and get in.  The current carries them to an island in a lake.  Pia realises this is the place she had seen in her vision.

They soon discover that the island exchanges talents; they now have different ones than before.  If they leave the island and return, or even jump up and come down again, their talents are exchanged again.  They find a disc called a teller; it tells them what their current talent is.

They leave the island and return to where they had got in the boat.  They still have the teller with them.  They discover that their talents keep changing; each is only good for one use.  They experiment with the talents; Pia’s body is transformed into the one she had at age 16; Edsel causes his Lemon motorcycle to appear.  But the motorcycle is not useful in this terrain.  Then Breanna and Justin catch up with them.  Justin tells them the teller is a demon; it is causing them to keep changing talents.  They can’t get rid of it, so they will need to return it to the island.

They find the boat Para (an intelligent boat who previously appeared in “Zombie Lover”) in the tentacles of a tangle tree.  They persuade the tree to exchange the boat for the motorcycle.  Then they travel in the boat (who can travel on both water and land) back to the island.  Edsel and Pia swap their talents until they come up with useful ones; Edsel’s is to modify or deflect someone else’s talent; Pia’s is to know what is inimicable (harmful) – when she touches something harmful she feels a tingle.  They leave the teller behind and depart the island.

They decide to investigate the dark castle, which only appears after dark.  As they enter, they realise that it is an illusion.  In the centre there is a manhole, with a stairway going down. Pia and Justin go down while Breanna and Edsel keep watch.

Pia and Justin find a passage, which goes round in a loop.  Along its walls are six pictures, illustrating the melting of the snow in the mountains and the flooding of the valley, causing trees to die. Then they discover a passageway down to a lower level.  Justin recognises that what look like columns are actually the roots of the Coventree, an intelligent tree with the power of illusion.  The tree is telling them it needs help.  Pia resolves to make it her mission to solve this problem.

In Mundania
Dug and Kim show Chlorine and Nimby how to connect to the Mundane Mega Mesh.  They login to the O-Xone, and leave their daily check-in for Edsel and Pia.  Dug and Kim also show them other Mesh environments.

Nimby learns to ride Edsel’s Lemon motorcycle. [Apparently the one Edsel conjured in Xanth had been a copy.]

Then Dug and Kim show them another Mesh environment: the Xanth Xone: the players in this environment take on the personas of characters from Xanth.  The players like to think they have a connection to their Xanth counterparts.

Dug suspects there is more to Nimby’s visit:  Nimby admits that there is a Demon bet in process – whether he can enter Mundania and stay for three days without being discovered and caught by Demon Earth.

In Xanth:
Pia and Justin return to Breanna and Edsel, and take them to show them what they have found.

After staying overnight in the underground passageway, they head off in Para to the mountains, to investigate the problem the Coventree had shown them.  They meet various interesting people on the way.  Metria appears and dumps the children on them again.

Arriving at the mountains, they encounter the Demon CoTwo, who is responsible for warming the snow to make it melt. When Pia tries to remonstrate against him, he blows the whole group away so they land in the river.  They struggle out and try to get dry.  They set up camp for the night.  Demon Vore comes and collects the children.

They decide to go to Good Magician Humfrey to ask what to do about Demon CoTwo.  They reach the Gap Chasm, and wonder how to get over it.  A flock of harpies arrives; the harpies carry them over in Para, in exchange for Justin telling them the location of the cir-cuss, an event where harpies and male goblins compete in cussing contests.

They arrive at the Good Magician’s Castle, and tackle the Challenges.  Edsel admires Pia’s cleverness, and realises that part of the problem with their marriage is that he has been admiring her body without properly respecting her mind.

In Mundania:
Nimby, Chlorine, Dug and Kim travel to the Apple-aching Mountains for a camping trip.  Nimby and Chlorine ride Edsel’s motorcycle.  Dug and Kim follow them in their car.

They check in to a motel for the first night while they plan their trip.  They attempt to access the O-Xone on Kim’s notebook computer, for the daily check-in with Edsel and Pia.  They get the message “Not Available”.  Is this just a problem with the Mesh Server?  Or is Demon Earth on to them?

In case it is the latter, they decide to send a message through the Xanth Xone.  Nimby tells them there is indeed a tenuous link between a person who adopts a Xanth persona and that actual person in Xanth.  They ask all Xanth Xone members to attempt to send a message (mentally) to their counterparts in Xanth.  The message is: “To GM: Nimby eats dust.”  GM means Good Magician.  The expression “eats dust” has a double meaning: Nimby is in trouble, and he needs a supply of magic dust.  Nimby only has limited magic in Mundania, but some additional magic dust will enhance it.

The group sets off on their hike on the Apple-aching Trail.  Later they check in to the O-Xone successfully, using the satellite link.  Maybe the previous failure was a false alarm.

They set up their tents for the night.  But during the night there is a big storm.  Kim’s notebook computer is ruined.

In the morning, they see a symbol in sky.  It is rainbow coloured, a cross within a circle, the symbol of Earth. Demon Earth has issued his challenge.  Nimby needs to return to Xanth in three days or lose the bet.  Demon Earth will try to stop him.

In Xanth:
Pia and Edsel enter the Good Magician’s study. Pia asks the Good Magician how they can solve the problem with Demon CoTwo and the flooding.  He tells them they need the magic locket, which the half-demon children have.  They should capture Demon CoTwo in it.

Wira, Humfrey’s daughter-in-law, then takes Pia and Edsel to another room in the castle, to meet Grey Murphy (Humfrey’s assistant) and Grey’s wife Princess Ivy, to be told their Service, in payment for the Good Magician’s Answer.  Grey and Ivy tell them the following:

In earlier times, Com Pewter had been an evil machine, wanting to rule Xanth.  As told in “Man from Mundania”, he had provided help to Grey’s parents in return for their future son serving him.  At the end of that story, Grey had got out of his obligation to Com Pewter, by becoming the Good Magician’s assistant: Service to the Good Magician preempts other obligations.  But later, (at the end of “Question Quest”) Com Pewter had been reprogrammed to be a nice machine, and Grey feels he still has an obligation to him.

Com Pewter has created a tiny female golem, made of metal and cloth, called Robota (similar to Grundy Golem in his original form – refer “The Source of Magic”).  She has the same ability as Com Pewter to change reality, but only with respect to her own body; she can also use the power of illusion.  So she can change her size and appearance.  She has been filled with magic dust, so she has a limited ability to operate in Mundania.

Com Pewter wants to send her back in time, to study how Aeolus, the Storm King, controlled the weather.  [The Storm King wasn’t given a name in “A Spell for Chameleon”, but his name appeared in the Book of Kings in “Roc and a Hard Place”.]  Grey and Robota will travel back together.

Edsel and Pia will be observers.  Their role will be to safeguard against changes to the timeline.  They will be linked to Grey and Robota, and so will be able to see through their eyes, while remaining in the present.  Since the adventure will take some time, Edsel and Pia will be able to fast forward through the boring bits.

As Mundanes, they should be immune to any changes which occur in the timeline of Xanth.  If they observe any changes they will advise Com Pewter.

At that point, Ivy and Grey’s three little daughters enter: Melody, Harmony and Rhythm.  Melody hugs her mother, Harmony hugs her father, and Rhythm, looking round for someone to hug, hugs Pia.  The girls are able to perform magic by singing and playing their instruments. They demonstrate this: Melody hums, Harmony plays the harmonica, and Rhythm beats the drum, and they create an illusory castle of candy in the middle of the room.

Then the whole group (including the children) travel in Para to Com Pewter’s cave.  (Soon afterward, Ivy takes the children back with her in Para.)  Edsel is linked to Grey and Pia is linked to Robota.

At the northwestern boundary of Xanth with Mundania, it is possible to cross from Xanth to different locations and periods of history of Mundania. (This is discussed in “Centaur Aisle”.) Effectively, this means time travel is possible.

Grey and Robota are carried by the invisible giant to the boundary of Xanth in the northwest.  They cross the boundary to arrive in Italy, 1885.  With Robota concealed in Grey’s pocket, they meet up with Trent’s army in France (at the time of Trent’s exile – refer “A Spell for Chameleon”), and travel back to the Xanth of the time of the Storm King.

(This adventure in Xanth’s past occurs during the events of “A Spell for Chameleon” and “The Source of Magic”.)

Grey and Robota separate from Trent’s army and enter Xanth, Grey using his nullification talent to disable the magical Shield.  (During the Storm King’s reign, the Shield prevented living things from crossing between Mundania and Xanth.)  Robota takes on the form of an elf, called Silica, a princess of the Mineral Elves.  They make their way to the North Village, where Aeolus lives.  Robota asks Aeolus to demonstrate his storm magic.  After some persuasion, Aeolus agrees.  He enters a chamber.  They follow, and see him taking something out of a magical strongbox.  It is revealed that Aeolus has stored his soul there, to ensure a long life, but he needs his soul to operate his talent.  Aeolus demonstrates his ability to create a storm, to Robota’s satisfaction.

Grey and Robota depart the North Village.  But then Grey takes Robota off into the wilderness.  She reverts to her golem form.  Grey believes that Aeolus, being without soul and conscience, will try to have them killed, for having seen the secret which the king believes will give him long life.

They make their way to the Magic Dust Village, and live and work there for a time.  As described in “The Source of Magic”, the males of the village have been lured away by the Siren, and turned to stone by the Gorgon.  But Grey is immune to the Siren’s song because of his nullification talent.

Grey and Robota visit the Siren.  Then Grey decides to visit the Gorgon, to persuade her not to turn all the men to stone.  (His nullification talent would make him immune to the Gorgon’s gaze.) Robota strongly advises against this; it would be a violation of the timeline.  But Grey falls into the lake, and then unexpectedly sees the Gorgon face-to-face.  He doesn’t get a chance to use his talent, and he turns to stone.

Back in the present, Edsel and Pia believe this is the end of Grey.  But Com Pewter points out that the Gorgon’s victims came back to life at the Time of No Magic.

Robota, who also realises this, returns to the Magic Dust Village, and continues to live and work there.  Eventually Bink and his party arrive (as described in “The Source of Magic”).  This group includes Grundy Golem; Robota becomes friendly with him.  [And this explains the presence of a female golem in the Magic Dust Village in that story.] Bink and his party depart.

Robota returns to Grey in time for the Time of No Magic.  When the magic departs, Grey comes alive again, and Robota loses consciousness (since she depends on magic to operate).  Grey puts her in his pocket.  He explains to the Gorgon what is going on, and escorts her to Com Pewter’s cave, as it is dangerous to travel in Xanth with all the bewildered magical animals.  The magic returns.  Robota regains consciousness.  Grey explains the situation to Com Pewter, who nullifies the Gorgon’s magic.

But Grey had not anticipated what happens next.  Grey’s parents, Murphy and Vadne, who had escaped the Brain Coral’s Pool, arrive in the cave.  [This event is described as backstory in “Man from Mundania”, but it occurs in the timeframe of “The Source of Magic”.]  Grey tells them he is their future son.  But after this Com Pewter wipes Murphy and Vadne’s memories, and Grey is introduced as a stranger.  Murphy, Vadne, Grey, Robota and the Gorgon travel together to Mundania.  The Gorgon travels to a different part of the Mundanian timeline from Murphy and Vadne.  Grey and Robota return to present day Xanth.

Edsel and Pia agree that no harm has come to the Xanth timeline.

They now need to obtain the magic locket from DeMonica.  Edsel, Pia, Breanna and Justin travel in Para to Mount Etamin where Nada Naga and Monica are visiting Nada’s family.  Monica tells them she left the locket at the Fanta Sea.  Nada agrees that Monica can go with them to help find it.

The Fanta Sea is a place where wild dreams appear; people encounter the dreams of their worst fears.  Para takes them out onto the water.

Each of the party encounters an image which makes them afraid.  They are able to neutralise them by getting the images to crash into each other, or making a pun of the image’s name that renders it harmless.  They recover the locket.

At that point the winged elf Willow arrives, flying to their boat.  (Willow previously appeared in “Yon Ill Wind” and “Faun & Games”. Her boyfriend is Sean Baldwin; the Baldwin family visited Xanth from Mundania in “Yon Ill Wind”.) The Good Magician has asked her to obtain the locket, load it with magic dust, and take it to Mundania to provide help for Nimby.  She will take it to load in the magic dust now, and return it to them so they can capture Demon CoTwo, before she takes it to Mundania.

As they leave the Fanta Sea, another dream image looms.  It is another fear belonging to Pia, but she doesn’t know what it is.  It follows them on land.  As it approaches, it takes Pia’s own form, but in a dark shade.  Pia realises that this is her guilt: for the shallow relationships she has had with both Dug and Edsel, and the thoughtless way she had dumped Dug.

Ashamed she throws herself into a pool – but it is too shallow for her to drown.  She gets out and addresses the image: she resolves to face her guilt, learn from her mistakes, and make her marriage work.  And her contact with Monica and with Ivy’s children has persuaded her to have children.  Then Breanna tells her the pool had been a healing spring; it has healed her guilt as well as her diabetes (although of course this is a borrowed body).  The image fades.

They continue on and encounter Demon CoTwo again.  But they don’t have the locket – Willow has been delayed.  The demon threatens to possess Pia sexually and treat her sadistically.  It is looking bad for a while, until Willow shows up, and Edsel tricks the demon into conjuring himself into the locket.  Willow flies away with the locket.

In Mundania:
The group cut short their camping trip and return to base camp, only to find that Dug and Kim’s car won’t start.  So they get it towed to a repair shop, and wait until the car is repaired.

A storm is building; obviously Demon Earth is preventing them from returning home, to swap back with Edsel and Pia. The rain and wind come on strongly.  The rivers between them and their home become flooded.

They could possibly connect to the O-Xone on the computer system of a local library, except that Demon Earth will ensure that the power goes out.

Nimby, on the motorcycle (with Chlorine riding behind), and leading Dug and Kim in their car, tries to follow unpredictable routes.  When Nimby gets a chance to rest, he expands his awareness, and discovers that Willow has joined the Baldwin family at No Name Key in Mundania.  (As described in previous books, this is a limited access location for people to cross between Xanth and Mundania.)  And they are attempting to bring the locket with the magic dust to him. (In Mundania, Willow doesn’t have her wings.)  But there are flooded rivers between Nimby’s group and the group with the magic locket.

Will Nimby be able to return to Xanth and win the Demon bet?