Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Yon Ill Wind


Yon Ill Wind (1996)
The Senior Demons of the Solar System are unhappy that Demon X(A/N)th has been winning all the Demon Bets recently, so they make a new wager with him, which they think he won’t win.

  • He will take the form of a mortal being, a strangely coloured donkey-headed dragon called Nimby, and go among mortals for the duration of the contest. He must not reveal his true identity.
  • He will be able to speak to one person for one moment (but he will have the voice of a duck). After that he will not be permitted to speak.
  • He will be able to use his demonic powers on himself and that person, but only to the extent requested by that person.
  • To win the contest, he must receive at least one tear of love or grief from that person.
  • If that person leaves him, he will become immobile, and eventually his mortal body will die of starvation, at which point he will lose the contest.

And so the Demon, now to be known as Nimby, finds himself in the form of a donkey-headed dragon, in the Region of Madness, in the Land of Xanth.

Nimby becomes aware of a young woman approaching, whose name is Miss Fortune, who will be a suitable companion.  But she might become afraid of his appearance, so he hides behind a pile of rocks.  When he hears her arrive, he starts speaking.  He explains that he is an ugly non-human creature, that he needs her company, and that he has magic powers. He can make her whatever she wants, as long as she remains his companion.

Then he raises his head over the pile of rocks, only to discover that there is a different girl there.  Her name is Chlorine, and her talent is poisoning water.  She laughs at his strange appearance.  Nimby realises how unsuitable she is.  She has a harsh personality, is cynical and heedless of others’ feelings.  She had once had some sensitivity, but it had been beaten out of her by her abusive family.  And she has only one tear left, and is unlikely to shed it on him.

Chlorine, realising the possibilities, asks to be made beautiful.  And Nimby makes her beautiful, including her clothing.  She asks in turn to be made smart and healthy, and Nimby does it.  She is aware that she is mean-spirited, and asks to have a nice but realistic personality, and Nimby does it.

Then she asks him to make himself equivalent to her, so he becomes a handsome, smart, healthy, nice, but realistic human man.  (Nimby continues in this form throughout the adventure, except when he can more conveniently do things as the donkey-headed dragon.)

Meanwhile, Nimby realises that when he had entered Xanth as a character, the Interface between Xanth and Mundania had wavered, permitting a storm to enter Xanth from Mundania.

The Baldwin family are currently driving home to Miami from Key West, in their recreational vehicle (RV).  The family consists of the parents, Jim and Mary, and their children, Sean (aged 17), David (aged 12) and Karen (aged 7).  They have three pets with them: Woofer, the dog, Midrange, the cat, and Tweeter, the parakeet.

But they are driving through a storm, Tropical Storm Gladys (which Karen has nicknamed Happy Bottom), which is building up to a hurricane.  Driving is difficult, and they can hardly see out the windows.  The RV’s motor is skipping, and they are looking for a safe place to stop.  They reach Big Pine Key, but then somehow end up on No Name Key.  The engine gives up.  They spend the night sleeping in their seats.

In the morning they find themselves in a strange place.  They see a centaur.  After some confusion on both sides, the situation becomes clear: the storm has caused them to cross into Xanth; they are on Centaur Isle.  The centaur, whose name is Cedric, takes the family into the centaur village, and hands them over to a centaur called Carleton. (This is the brother of Chena from “Roc and a Hard Place”. His name was spelt “Carlton” in that book.) He calls a female centaur called Sheila, to provide food for them.

When Carleton hears about their RV’s motor failing, he sprinkles some healing elixir on the motor, and the engine starts.  Then the centaurs ferry the RV and the family across to the mainland, on a raft.  Sheila comes with them, to hand them over to the guide that Good Magician Humfrey will be sending. She mentions how Carleton is sad about Chena being exiled (the centaurs had exiled her when they discovered she had a magical talent), and asks them to take Carleton’s best wishes to her if they meet her.

Chlorine feels the need to show off her new beauty, so she decides to go to the Good Magician and ask a Question, so that during her subsequent Service, she will have opportunities to show off.  So Chlorine and Nimby travel to the Good Magician’s Castle.

Chlorine asks the Good Magician: “Where is my last tear?”  Humfrey tells her that she has half of the tear in each of her eyes.  But if she sheds it, she will go blind.  Then, impressed by her beauty, he adds that he hopes she never becomes so unhappy that she sheds that final tear.

The Baldwin family are waiting near a giant pillow.  A figure flies through the air, and lands on the pillow.  It is Chlorine; her assignment from the Good Magician is to be the family’s guide through Xanth, to the northwest, where they can exit to Mundania.  A moment later, Nimby arrives on the pillow.  They have been thrown there by the cat-a-pult: this is a giant cat whose tail springs up and hurls things where they need to go.

Sheila departs, to return to Centaur Isle. The Baldwins, and Chlorine and Nimby board the RV, and set off.  They come to a sign marked “Trollway”.  Jim pays the troll two cents, and proceeds.  Chlorine tells them the trollway is enchanted to prevent harm coming to them.

Chlorine explains how Xanth’s Interface had failed, and let the storm through.  As the wind builds up, it will stir up the magic dust to greater concentrations, causing strange occurrences and madness.  They have to try and stay ahead of the storm.

Jim has mentioned that they will need gas, so eventually Nimby points out the exit they should take.  They find a creature called a gas guzzler.  He fills their tank from his tail in exchange for an ant-acid tablet.

Chlorine explains her background, and Nimby’s nature, and how Nimby had changed her.  Nimby seems to be aware of everything around him, including dangers, although he does not volunteer the information unless Chlorine asks him.  He can’t talk, so has been communicating using gestures. Sean asks how Nimby can warn her of complicated dangers.  David suggests that Nimby can write a note.  Chlorine says she can’t read, and Sean suggests that Nimby make her able to read.  So Nimby does, and he writes a note telling of danger ahead: goblins are setting up an illusory barricade and detour, but Jim should just drive ahead through the illusion.  Chlorine tells Nimby to write a note whenever there is danger – to her, or to any of the Baldwin family.

They come to the barricade and the detour.  Jim brakes, but Chlorine tells him to go ahead.  It turns out to be an illusion, as Nimby had warned.

They stop at a rest stop.  Nimby writes a note warning that the storm is stirring up bad creatures that could frighten the children.  Then Nimby says (via another note) they should set their pets free from their cages to roam around: the increased magic is making them more intelligent and responsible, so they won’t wander off.  This turns out to be so.

As they continue on, they are attacked by various flying creatures: a roc, a dragon and a harpy.  But the creatures can’t harm them on the enchanted road, although the harpy could drop explosive eggs on their vehicle.

They arrive at the Gap Chasm. Part of the trollway service is a ferry across the chasm.  The ferry turns out to be a cloud. With some nervousness, Jim drives onto the cloud, but the cloud supports them satisfactorily, and carries them across.

As night falls, they look for a place to stay, and find an imp village called Imp Erial.  The hotel there is run by an imp woman called Quieta, and her father Imp Ortant. (All imp men have names which make a word when combined with “Imp”.)  (Quieta and Imp Ortant were previously encountered by Smash in “Ogre, Ogre”.)  The hotel makes use of an accommodation spell to change the humans and pets to a compatible size to enter.  The family is surprised at how sumptuous their suite is, and that no payment is required.

After dinner, the adults and Sean are taken on a tour of the village; the villagers’ main occupation is making gems; these are the gems which end up in the barrels of nymphs such as Jewel (refer “The Source of Magic”), for distribution.  The imps are trying to clear everything out to their shelter cave before the storm hits.

After their return to the hotel, the pets come to Sean, and through a process of responding to his questions, tell him that the imps will have trouble clearing everything out by the following night when the storm arrives.  Sean tells his father, and they go outside to see if they can help.  Quieta and Ortant are involved in the evacuation; their responsibilities to their guests have made it difficult to do as much as they could.  But Quieta says that the Baldwins will have to leave at dawn, to stay ahead of the storm.

So, feeling somewhat guilty, they leave at dawn.

But as they approach the boundary between Xanth and Mundania, the family decide they must go back and help the imps.  Besides, they feel they are not ready to leave the fantastic land of Xanth, and return to their mundane lives.  So they head back.

Nimby asks them to stop, and he collects a branch with cherries.  These are actually cherry bombs, new clear cherry bombs, more powerful than ordinary cherry bombs.

The rain comes down heavily.  They reach the Crimea River, which brings tears to everyone’s eyes.  The road is flooded.  Nimby tells them the goblins have dammed the river; the Baldwins need the cherry bombs to destroy the dam.  The adults and Sean leave the vehicle to do this, leaving David and Karen in the RV.

But Karen hears a bell, and runs off to see where it is coming from, with Tweeter going with her.  David sends Woofer after her.  But when she hasn’t returned, David goes looking for her, but can’t find her.  He goes and tells his mother that Karen has run off.  (Mary is holding the branch of cherry bombs; Sean is building a framework of driftwood for the bombs.)  Chlorine and Nimby go to find Karen.

Mary tells David to check on Jim, who has gone to find the best place to set the bombs off.  David finds him, surrounded by goblins.  He distracts the goblins, while Sean blows up the dam, so David and Jim escape.

Nimby and Chlorine return.  They had found Karen in a tree.  The area is full of wraiths – ghostly beings which mimic other people, so Karen was not sure whether Nimby and Chlorine were real.  So David goes with them, and convinces Karen that he is real, so she returns with them.

But now Woofer and Tweeter are missing.  Nimby can’t tell where they are, because the area is full of phantom images of the two pets.  David sends Midrange off to find them. Nimby provides Midrange with a magic tonic (“catatonic”), which causes phantom images of Midrange to split off, which will hopefully fool whoever is creating the phantoms; the cat phantoms will also cancel the images of the other pets.

Midrange follows the scents of Woofer and Tweeter.  On the way he finds a doglike creature – a snarl, which had been combed from a little girl’s hair.  Midrange and Snarl follow the scents to a cave.  This turns out to be the cave of Sending, the offspring of Com Pewter (refer “Man from Mundania”).  Much like his parent, he is confining creatures to his cave, to help him take over Xanth.  Sending has captured Woofer and Tweeter, and now captures Midrange and Snarl as well.  But Chlorine and Nimby rescue them.

They all, including Snarl, load into the RV, and set off.  Further on they find Snarl’s owner, the girl whose hair he had been combed from, and return him to her.

The madness is building up; illusory flying monsters attack, and the landscape appears distorted.

They arrive back at the imps’ village and help transport their possessions to the shelter.  Midrange overhears some imps saying that Xanth will be destroyed, except for those creatures sheltering underground.  Nimby confirms this: the wind and magic dust will devastate all of Xanth. But there is a way which may possibly save the land.  Nimby and Chlorine will fetch the windbreaker, while the others go to Castle Roogna.

Nimby and Chlorine ride a cloud to Sending’s cave.  Sending will ask Twenty Questions.  If Nimby and Chlorine get them all right, they will get the windbreaker.  Otherwise they will become Sending’s slaves.  In response to Sending’s questions (which are generally on the subject of apparent contradictions in Xanth’s history), Nimby writes the answers, and Chlorine reads them to Sending.  Of course they win, and get the windbreaker, which is a jacket.

The Baldwin family drive their RV to Castle Roogna.  They have a guide, Trenita, Quieta’s daughter.  Mary drives to allow Jim to get some sleep.  They cross the Gap Chasm on a bridge, as the ferry service is closed.

At the Castle, they meet Prince Dolph and his wife Princess Electra, and later King Dor and Queen Irene.  While the adults work out the plan, David watches the Magic Tapestry (which shows scenes from the present or past of any location in Xanth). Jenny Elf, who is present in the castle, takes Karen to see Electra and Dolph’s daughters Dawn and Eve (slightly younger than Karen), then Princess Ivy and Magician Grey’s baby daughters, Melody, Harmony and Rhythm, and Nada Naga and Demon Vore’s baby daughter Demonica. (The extended royal family and their friends had brought their children to the Castle for safety during the crisis.)

Karen and David return to the adults.  Trenita will remain at Castle Roogna.  Their new guide, to Mount Rushmost, is Demoness Mentia.  Mentia is the alter ego of Demoness Metria, who appears in most books of the series.  Demoness Mentia (D. Mentia = dementia) is slightly crazy, but she has been chosen for this assignment because she becomes sane in an environment of madness.

The Baldwin family and Mentia get into the RV and travel to Mount Rushmost.  They enter a tunnel in the side of the mountain, and follow it in a spiral to the plateau at the top.

They gather fuel for a fire.  The winged monsters come to help. (The mountain is a place of truce for winged monsters.)   A roc arrives, carrying Chlorine and Nimby.  The fire generates a big cloud, which attracts the attention of Fracto, the worst of storm clouds.  They make a deal with him, to help herd/lure Hurricane Happy Bottom to the Region of Air.  She can then become Fracto’s female companion.

Sean has separated from the group.  A winged girl appears and addresses him by name.  And Sean remembers her.

When he had set off the bombs at the Crimea River, he had been thrown into the water. He had trouble finding his way to the shore.  A winged girl arrived in the air and guided him.  Then she told him she was Willow, a winged elf.  She came from a tall winged elm; her people were bigger than other elves, although still smaller than humans; they could roam further from their tree than other elves.  Both Sean and Willow had become muddy, so they went to a separate pool to clean up.  However this was a love spring; they fell instantly in love.  But they realised that, coming from different worlds, they had no future together.  Willow knew of the location of a Forget Whorl.  Sean entered the Whorl, and forgot about his encounter, and returned to his family.  But the Forget Whorl had been used up, and Willow couldn’t forget.  And so she had rejoined him at Mount Rushmost.

So the two of them are in love, and don’t want to separate again, although their future seems impossible.  Willow joins the family as they return to the RV.

The Baldwins and their companions drive their RV back through the tunnel and exit the mountain.  Nimby gives them the names of a few more people they will need for the plan, and they proceed to pick them up.  They are: Modem, a boy who can connect remotely to Com Pewter, to change reality in his vicinity; Keaira, a young woman who can control the weather to a small extent; Chena Centaur; and Adam, a young man who can make himself like anything he sees (hard as a rock, liquid like water, light and fluffy like a cloud).

Chena is the winged centaur from “Roc and a Hard Place”, the sister of Carleton.  The Baldwins give her Carleton’s best wishes.  She has a friend Crystal with her, a winged centaur who had been transformed from a human girl.  Crystal also joins them.

Modem uses his talent to make the vehicle big enough for them all (except the centaurs, who remain outside).  Winged centaurs have the magical ability to make themselves or other things light by flicking them with their tails; now the centaurs make the vehicle and the people in it light, so they can tow it through the air.  Keaira controls the weather around the vehicle so they are not buffeted about.

They land the RV.  The next stage involves a few of the party pushing Happy Bottom northwards to the Region of Air. David wears the windbreaker and rides Chena, Keaira rides Crystal and Willow flies nearby to explore and guide.  They all must fly close to the hurricane’s eye.  When David opens the jacket, it creates a high pressure which pushes the hurricane’s eye.  Keaira is controlling the weather in the vicinity.  There are various complications, but eventually they succeed in pushing the hurricane to the Region of Air, where Fracto proceeds to romance her.

After celebrations at Castle Roogna, the Baldwin family set off to return to Mundania.

But what of Nimby and Chlorine, and the Demon Bet?