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Air Apparent (Magic of Xanth Series #31)

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Overview

When the Good Magician Humfrey’s son Hugo suddenly vanishes, his disappearance sets in motion a series of madcap misadventures that send a collection of colorful characters on a perilous pair of parallel quests. Among them are Debra, a pretty young girl beset by an obnoxious curse; Hugo’s beloved wife Wira, whose sightlessness is balanced by a talent for sensitivity, Happy and Fray, a pair of sprightly storm-spirits; Nimbus, the Demon Xanth’s own son; and the mysterious outlaw ...

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Overview

When the Good Magician Humfrey’s son Hugo suddenly vanishes, his disappearance sets in motion a series of madcap misadventures that send a collection of colorful characters on a perilous pair of parallel quests. Among them are Debra, a pretty young girl beset by an obnoxious curse; Hugo’s beloved wife Wira, whose sightlessness is balanced by a talent for sensitivity, Happy and Fray, a pair of sprightly storm-spirits; Nimbus, the Demon Xanth’s own son; and the mysterious outlaw known as the Random Factor.

As they travel through some of the magical realm’s most astonishing locales, these unwitting adventurers discover they are key players in a grand drama whose origins reach back to the origins of time itself.

Filled with exhilaration and excitement, ribaldry and romance, Air Apparent is a fabulous new fantasy saga from the lively imagination of master storyteller Piers Anthony.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Xanth books constitute Anthony's longest and most successful series . . . . They are intended to be kind-spirited, fun reading, a series of wondrous beasts and beings, and most of all, an endless succession of outrageous puns"—Lee Killough, Wichita Eagle
Publishers Weekly

In this meandering 31st Xanth novel, Hugo, son of the Gorgon and Good Magician Humfrey, vanishes from his cellar, where the body of a murdered man just as suddenly appears. What's worse, Humfrey's book of answers has been scrambled, and blind Wira, Hugo's wife, has no idea how to solve a mystery. Her prayers are answered by 13-year-old Debra, visiting from Mundania in hopes of lifting the curse that makes her name sound like "De-bra" to any man she meets. Without the book, the curse cannot be cured, so the Gorgon temporarily turns her into a naturally bra-less flying centaur in exchange for her help. As they hunt down Hugo and the killer, Debra and Wira encounter the usual crop of terrible puns and characters both new and familiar. Acknowledging that reader loyalty keeps this venerable series going, Anthony includes an extensive afterword, providing credits for 140-odd (in some cases, very odd) suggestions and updating fans on everything from the state of his health to the length of his hair. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA
In this new Xanth book, the Good Magician's son, Hugo, disappears. As his blind wife, Wira, sets out to find him with the help of several lively Xanth characters, a string of random events creates excitement and adventure for the party of travelers. The story takes readers through many places in the land of Xanth and even a few realms beyond. Although the Xanth books are chronological, each story stands on its own, and they can be read in any order. Established fans will not be disappointed with the thirty-first addition to the series. The wonderfully written action moves briskly. Even when resolution seems to be around the corner, the plot twists and the exploits continue. Anthony's humor permeates, and readers will find themselves chuckling, laughing out loud, and maybe even rolling their eyes and groaning at the use of puns, which as in all Xanth books, are abundant-from the title of the book to the last few sentences. For example, a bovine plant grows cows, twins Pesi Mystic and Opti Mystic see the bad and good things in the future, potatoes ogre rotten are served, and the Tell-A-Path takes people anywhere they ask to go. These books are very readable and feature a unique perspective on humanity. Reviewer: Dawn Talbott
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765343130
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 9/30/2008
  • Series: Magic of Xanth Series , #31
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 31
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 221,180
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Piers Anthony is one of the world's most popular fantasy authors and a New York Times bestseller twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world. In addition to his bestselling Xanth books, Anthony is the author of a series of historical fantasies called The Geodyssey, that makes the broad sweep of human history into very personal stories. Piers Anthony has a devoted fan following, and he daily receives hundreds of letters and emails from them. Piers Anthony lives in Inverness, Florida.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Wira was uneasy. Her husband Hugo had been absent half an hour, and it wasn't like him to stay away longer than he said. Especially not this night.

For tonight, after seventeen years of marriage, Hugo's father, Good Magician Humfrey, had finally removed the Spell of Hiding that kept the storks from being aware of Wira no matter how ardently she summoned them. She was fifty-five years old chronologically, thirty-three physically, and her thyme was starting to wilt. If they waited much longer, the storks would never deliver to her, regardless of any spell. This time the signal would go out. She knew that Hugo was eager to send that signal, and so was she.

Where was he? He had gone to the cellar to fetch a celebratory bottle of Rhed Whine. That should have taken no more than ten minutes, and he would hardly have dawdled. Something was wrong.

Wira got off the bed, donned a nightrobe and slippers, and made her way out of their chamber. She pattered down the familiar stairs to the ground floor, and thence to the cellar. She knew every crevice of the castle, of course, and made no misstep.

But as she reached the cellar floor, she experienced a faint tinge of uneasiness. Her magic talent was Sensitivity, and though it normally applied to people, plants, and animals, it could sometimes attune to situations. This situation was uncomfortable.

"Hugo?" she called tentatively.

There was no answer.

The tinge became less faint. In fact it intensified into a wary semblance of dread. "Hugo, where are you?" she called less tentatively.

There was definitely an untentative silence.

Something was wrong. Not only was Hugo absent, there was something else in the cellar. She smelled its misty essence.

She snapped her fingers. Little magic echoes bounced off the cellar walls and floor, verifying its dimensions. Except for a muffled place on the floor, the vague shape of a man lying down.

Had Hugo fainted? But this wasn't Hugo. The shape was vaguely wrong, and of course the smell.

She squatted and reached forward to touch it. Her fingers encountered a clammy kind of flesh. It was definitely not quite alive.

Wira screamed.

The Gorgon, Humfrey's Designated Wife of the Month, and coincidentally also Hugo's mother, was the first to respond. "Wira, dear," she called from the head of the cellar stairs. "What's the matter? Are you hurt?"

"Oh, Mother Gorgon, there's a dead man here, and I think he's not quite human. And Hugo is gone."

There was half a pause. "This bears investigation. Let me fetch a lamp."

Wira waited by the body while the Gorgon got the lamp. Wira did not need light, of course, as she was blind. She had always been that way, and really did not mind it as long as she was in familiar territory. But others had some kind of problem with darkness.

She heard the returning footsteps, smelled the curling vapors of the lamp, and felt its slight warmth. There was also the faint sibilance of a small nest of snakes. The Gorgon was back and ready to take charge.

Wira had always gotten along well with the Gorgon. That was partly because the Gorgon's face tended to turn others to stone, but Wira could not see it, so was not at risk. That enabled them to be friends without precautions. The Gorgon was actually a very nice person, but strangers tended to be prejudiced by her magic face, and were nervous about her snake hair. The snakes were normally friendly, and could be good company on a dull day.

"It is definitely a body," the Gorgon said. "It's not breathing and it's cold, so it must be at least halfway dead. But who killed it, and what is it doing here?" Wira had a horrible thought. "Oh Mother Gorgon, you don't suppose Hugo could have-have-"

"Of course not, dear. Hugo doesn't have a murderous bone in his body. Not even a stiff one, as far as anyone knows. When are you two going to signal the stork?" "Tonight," Wira said, blushing. Sometimes the Gorgon's language was a trifle serpentine. But she had reason: her sister the Siren was long since a grandmother. She seemed to have forgotten about the stork-hiding spell.

Now the Gorgon had a nasty thought. "You don't suppose he could have gotten cold feet, or whatever?"

"Never," Wira said positively. "He wanted to-to do it. To be a father."

The Gorgon sighed. "He's so young."

"Mother, he's forty-three."

"Exactly."

Wira didn't argue the case. Technically she was a dozen years older than Hugo, but she had been youthened to sweet sixteen to marry him, so seemed a decade younger. Mothers always thought their sons were too young. "He wouldn't have left without word to me. Especially not tonight. Something must have happened to him."

The Gorgon was focusing on the body. "I have another foul thought. Maybe somebody killed this poor man, dumped the body here, and abducted Hugo to frame him for the murder. That would explain everything."

"Except where Hugo is, and who the victim is, and who the real murderer is," Wira agreed. "

Yes, there may be a detail or three to fill out. We'd better get Humfrey in on it." "But it's nighttime," Wira protested. "He gets grumpy when disturbed at night."

"He gets grumpy any time," the Gorgon said. "You don't see much of it because you have an ameliorative effect on him. I think if he'd been half a century younger he would have married you himself."

"Mother Gorgon!" Wira exclaimed, horrified. "

Oh come on now, girl. You know he's taken with you. "

"Because I'm his daughter-in-law."

"That, too. Anyway, he already has about five wives too many; he certainly doesn't need any more. Now I'm going to get him up, grumpy or not, and bring him down here to fathom the situation. It will give him another pretext to bury himself in the Book of Answers."

"Oh, I hope the Answer is there! " Wira breathed. "I miss Hugo so much! " "He's been gone only half an hour, dear. "

"Yes, and it's awful."

The Gorgon gazed at her. Wira could tell when someone was looking at her; there was a certain subtle mood. "You really do love him, don't you, dear." "Yes!"

"And that is why I am taken with you, Wira. Without you he's pretty much a rotten-fruited gnome."

"He is not!"

"Of course not, dear," the Gorgon agreed, smiling knowingly. Wira could also tell when a person was smiling; it curled up the corners of the voice. Then the Gorgon went off to roust out the Good Magician.

Wira remained in the cellar, uncertain what else to do. She knew the Gorgon meant well, but the woman sometimes unnerved her. Meanwhile, there was this awful situation to deal with. Could someone really have tried to frame Hugo for the murder? To make it seem that he had committed a terrible crime, and fled the scene? But how could such a thing have been done here, in the Good Magician's Castle? The castle was enchanted to exclude all but the most powerful magic.

Yet something of the sort had happened. That was frightening in itself.

She checked the shelves along the cellar wall, just in case there was some indication that would help resolve the mystery. She knew the stored potions by the shapes of their bottles and faint odors. The first shelf held bottles of pills from pharm-assist plants that a pill pusher had harvested for the Good Magician long ago. The pills lent certain temporary talents to those who swallowed them. There were gra-pills that enabled folk to wrestle well, purr-pills that caused folk to turn reddish blue while feeling very satisfied, and ap-pills that kept doctors away. Also princi-pills for those lacking in ethics, sim-pills for those with too much intellect, and pill-fur coats for those who didn't mind stealing clothing. All was in order, undisturbed.

The next shelf contained assorted gloves or mitts reserved for particular Challenges: an amity, which made a person very friendly; an enmity, which had the opposite effect; a hermit, which was a solitary lady's glove; an imitate that enabled a person to copy things; a comity that made the wearer courteous; an emit that caused a stink; an omit that somehow had been left off the list; a submit that could be used underwater; a permit that allowed almost anything; and an admit that added a glove and also let a person into the castle. At the end of the shelf was a vomit that she knew better than to touch. None had been disturbed. The problem seemed to be confined to the (ugh) body.

"Ludicrous, woman," Humfrey's voice came grumpily from above. "Can't it wait until morning?"

"Do you want poor Wira to stay in the cellar all night?" the Gorgon's voice retorted.

Wira had to smile, wanly. The Gorgon was using her to make Humfrey mind. It was true that the Good Magician liked her, though Wira was sure it was not in the way the Gorgon had implied. Wira was sensitive to his moods, and so could manage him to an extent. And of course she was helpful around the castle. That was important, as the castle needed constant attention. The assorted Wives came and went every month, and Hugo wasn't much for detail work, so that left it mostly up to Wira. Fortunately she liked details.

The Good Magician arrived at the scene. "That's not exactly a dead body," he said immediately. The situation had temporarily abolished his grumpiness.

"What is it, dear?" the Gorgon inquired.

"A mock-up of some sort. Possibly it's a transformation of a body, to mask its identity. I will have to look it up in the Book of Answers. Meanwhile, put it away somewhere."

"But won't it stink?" the Gorgon asked. Wira winced.

"No. It's in stasis. It won't change at all, until we discover the magic binding it and nullify it."

This was interesting. Frozen animation? Not ordinary magic indeed.

Humfrey went up to his study to look in the Book. Wira and the Gorgon took hold of the body, which was surprisingly light, and dragged it to a dusty alcove. The Gorgon put a sheet over it, covering it like old furniture. That should do until they got to the bottom of this mystery.

Then they went up to the Good Magician's study to learn what the Book of Answers said.

"Bleep!" Humfrey swore. "Bleepity bleep!" Wira felt the curtains singeing. This was a stage or four beyond mere grumpiness.

"What is it, dear?" the Gorgon asked, alarmed. Even her little snakes were hissing with concern.

"The Book's been scrambled!" he said, outraged. "It's useless."

This made both Wira and the Gorgon pause, precisely together. How could the sacrosanct Book of Answers have been changed?

"Let me see, dear," the Gorgon said. "Oh, my! The entries are in random order."

"Exactly. The first entry is on Earl the Pearl, whose talent is to create peril. The second is on the sisters Katydid and Katydidn't. It's all out of order."

"You're right, dear, as always: the Book of Answers has been ruined. Whatever are we going to do?"

"There is only one thing to do," he said grumpily. "I must put it back in order."

"Of course, dear. How long will that take?"

"Several months." He was so angry he seemed about to explode like an overripe pineapple.

"Then we had better leave you to it. Come Wira; we have other things to do."

"But Mother Gorgon, I need to find my husband! Who knows what mischief has befallen him?"

"Trust me, dear."

And of course Wira did trust her. The Gorgon had something in her sinuous mind.

They went downstairs, where the Gorgon fixed Gorgonzola cheese and slightly stoned biscuits. They were very good; she had had decades of practice using her talent to make interesting delicacies.

"You know we can't wait months to rescue Hugo," Wira said.

"Neither can we tolerate Humfrey's royal grumpiness for that period," the Gorgon agreed. "So we simply have to leave him to his chore and do something ourselves. Perhaps the other wives will help. They don't want to deal with unremitting grumpiness either."

"But what can we do?" Wira asked despairingly. "We have no idea who did what or why!"

"It's a mystery. We must do what folk always do with mysteries: We must solve it. As I see it, there are four parts: Who, why, where, and how."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Who did it. Why did he do it. Where is he now. And how did he bollix the Book. That would have required some very special magic."

"So it would," Wira agreed, appreciating the significance of it. No one but Humfrey really understood the Book, let alone had the ability to affect it.

"Some of it we can fathom on our own. Obviously the murderer knew that Humfrey would know his identity immediately, so he fixed it so Humfrey wouldn't: by scrambling Humfrey's reference. But murderers always leave some inadvertent traces that a good detective can fathom."

"They do?"

"Yes. It's in every mystery novel. I have read a pile of them. The trick is to find the traces and figure out their meaning. It's never easy, but always possible, for the right detective."

"You are a detective?"

"By no means, dear. That will be your duty."

"Mine! But I know nothing of such things. I can't even go out beyond the castle."

"Well, certainly I can't. I'm here only a month at a time, by special arrangement. The rest of the time I have my movie career. You, in contrast, are here continuously, and you also have excellent reason to solve the mystery and recover Hugo. So that task naturally falls to you. I confess that your liability may be a problem."

"Let's skip the euphemism. I'm blind. I would fall into the next hole in the ground if I walked out far beyond the castle. I do well here only because I have memorized every cranny of the castle."

"That is a problem," the Gorgon agreed. "Yet no one would suspect you. It's the perfect cover."

"The perfect disaster, you mean! I'd be helpless. I was fully functional only with Hugo at my side, and now-" The realization that he was gone suddenly overwhelmed her, and she wept.

"I understand, dear," the Gorgon said. "I really do. He's my son. I'm only trying to devise a way to get him back soon."

"Yes, of course," Wira said bravely, stifling her tears. "I'll do what I can. But I can't do it alone."

"I will cogitate on that. Meanwhile we need to find some Clues."

"Some whats?" "

Clues. Detectives always have some. We just have to figure out where to find them."

Wira laughed somewhat bitterly. "Maybe in the Book of Answers?"

The Gorgon nodded. Wira could detect that too. "That is the obvious place to start. The murderer had to have left some fingerprints there."

"We don't use fingerprints in Xanth. They're too scientific."

"Oh, bother!" the Gorgon said crossly. "You're right. But there has to be something. We merely need the wit to find it."

Wira had an idea. "If he scrambled the Book of Answers, he must have touched it, to turn the pages or something. Maybe he left stains that could be magically analyzed."

"Maybe he did," the Gorgon agreed. "Let's go look."

"But Humfrey won't let us touch the Book!"

"Correction, dear. He'll let you touch it, if you charm him. He can't say no to you."

Wira started to protest, but realized it was true. Humfrey never really said no to her. "I'll try."

Humfrey was deep in the Book, using the flickering light of a feeble candle. "Dear, you'll ruin your eyes that way," the Gorgon said.

"Don't bother me, woman," he grumped.

"We need to look at the Book."

"No. Go away. I'm busy."

"Wira needs to look at the Book."

Humfrey paused. His head turned toward Wira. She smiled. He obviously did not want to leave the Book, but neither did he want to tell her no.

"And we have unfinished business in the bedroom," the Gorgon said. "Woman, don't-"

"Now," she said firmly. "You know it supplements the youth elixir you use to keep your age at an even hundred." She took him by the ear and tugged. Slowly, reluctantly, grumpily, he went. The Gorgon led him away. Only she could have done it. "It's up to you, dear," she said in passing to Wira. "I can give you half an hour, maybe a little more."

"But I hardly know-"

"Now," the Gorgon said, with what registered as about five eighths of a smile. Then they were gone.

Wira sat on the Good Magician's stool and oriented on the open Book of Answers. She couldn't read it, of course, but she ran her hands across the pages. There was, of course, nothing. She had assumed that the Gorgon would read the entries or see the smudges or whatever. What could she do on her own?

A cloud appeared; Wira felt its ambiance. "Whatever? I heard that thought." Oh, no! "Demoness Metria, go away!" she snapped.

"By no means. Humfrey's distracted at the moment-I can't think by what-" The cloud assumed the form of a truly evocative bare female torso with serpentine curves. Wira knew, because she knew the demoness's nature. "So I took advantage to pop in while the magical repulsion is off. Is that the Book of Dissolvings?"

"The Book of Whats?"

"Solutions, Rejoinders, Responses, Retorts, Replies-"

"Answers?" "

Whatever," the demoness agreed crossly. "There, I said it. Whatever are you up to?"

"Please, Metria, I have only a little time. Let me work."

"Wira, you can't even see it! What work could you possibly be doing?"

It was not in Wira to prevaricate. "I'm looking for signs of whoever abducted Hugo."

"Hugo was stolen? That is a news flash! What girl lured him away?"

"No girl," Wira said grimly. She was trying not to let the demoness bother her, but of course Metria was succeeding anyway. "It was the murderer."

"A murderer! Whodunit?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Never mind. I can see I missed something interesting. So you're looking in the Book to find your murderer. What's keeping you?"

"The entries are scrambled."

The demoness looked. "Why so they are! That must complicate things."

"Yes." Wira ran her hands over the pages. There was nothing. She turned to open two new pages, then two more-and felt something. "Hugo!"

"That's not Hugo," Metria said. "That's just a fruit stain on the page."

"That's the feel of Hugo! His talent is to summon fruit. He must have been here. Metria, will you help?"

The demoness hesitated. "You want my help? Is this a trick?"

Wira remembered how to handle this creature. "Of course it is! I'm pretending to need you so that you'll go away just to spite me." That was a half truth, or maybe a quarter truth, so was not a full-.edged prevarication; she could manage it in this emergency.

"What do you want me to do?"

"Read the entry I have identified."

"Well, I will. It's about Cumulo Fracto Nimbus, the ornery cloud."

Wira was disappointed. "Not Hugo?"

"No known connection to Hugo."

"Still, it must be a Clue."

"A What?"

"Suggestion, lead, intuition, indication, intimation-"

"Hint?"

"Whatever," Wira agreed crossly. "Something that will help me find Hugo, or the murderer, in some devious way."

"You must be tetched in the head, girl."

But Wira was turning more pages and running her hands across them. Soon she felt another trace. "This one."

"That's about the pet peeve, the perpetually irascible bird. You think it stole your husband?"

"I don't know what to think. Maybe it's irrelevant."

"Let's turn some more pages. I think you're making random selections to turn me off."

Wira wasn't, but did not argue. The demoness actually was helping, so it was better to let her think she wasn't.

She turned more pages, finding more clue-spots. None of them were about Hugo, to her grief, but surely they were relevant in some way, or they wouldn't be marked by his fruit essence. She remembered them all. She was good at remembering things, because she couldn't make notes she could read.

"Why don't you use be-wail?" Metria inquired.

"Use what?" Wira realized that she must have voiced part of her thought. "Dots, spots, marks, elevations, patterns-"

"Braille?"

"Whatever."

"It takes a special tool to write it. It's easier just to remember."

"It would be easier yet just to see."

"I don't miss it."

"Well, you should."

Before she made it to the end of the Book, she heard Humfrey and the Gorgon returning. She had excellent hearing, and generally knew what was going on in the castle without having to go there. The Gorgon had done her best, but there was only so much distraction the Good Magician would tolerate when he had a concern about the Book. Wira wished they could have stayed away longer; her list of clues was incomplete. "Darn." "OoOo, what you said!"

"It's not a bad word."

"Yes it is. Roxanne Roc was convicted and sentenced for uttering it in the presence of the Simurgh's egg. I know, because I was the swing member of the jury."

Wira might have argued further, but Humfrey was entering the study doorway. "I smell demoness," he grumped.

"Begone, strumpet!"

"Bleep!" Metria swore and faded. This time there was a faint smell of brimstone.

"Who has been interfering with my Book of Answers?" Humfrey demanded. "I was just turning the pages, looking for clues," Wira said.

He mellowed marginally. "First I need to restore proper order to the entries. Then I will be able to read the solution to the mystery." The man climbed onto his stool and went back to the beginning of the Book.

"Come dear, let's go down and have some comitea," the Gorgon suggested. "We'll leave Humfrey to his important work." She kissed the Good Magician on the top of his head.

They went downstairs to the kitchen. The comitea was very good, and did make Wira feel more civil despite her extreme concern about Hugo.

"Did you fetch in anything useful?" the Gorgon inquired.

"I don't know. Hugo's traces were definitely there, though I know he wouldn't have touched the Book directly. But the spots I found seem random."

"This whole business is strange. Hugo wouldn't have left you, as you pointed out, so I think it is fair to say he has no complicity. My guess is that he happened upon the murder scene before the murderer left, so the murderer had to get rid of him too, so as not to leave a witness. It must have happened very fast."

Wira was stricken. "Oh, Mother Gorgon! You don't think Hugo was killed?" "Definitely not. I raided Humfrey's spells long ago and put a no-death spell on Hugo, just on general principles. Don't tell Humfrey."

"Oh, I wouldn't!" Wira said, her relief overflowing. "But then why isn't Hugo here?"

"That was a pretty basic, simple spell, and I put it on a long time ago, so it must have faded some. It would have kept him alive, but not stopped other mischief. He could have been enchanted into a mouse, or conjured to some distant spot. So it will still be a job to locate him. The scrambled Book stops us from using it to find Hugo as well as from identifying the murderer."

"But what magic could have scrambled it? That tome is counterspelled every which way."

The Gorgon nodded. "That bothers me. It's Magician caliber magic. If a man could enter this castle, kill someone, banish the one who spied him, scramble the Book of Magic, and get away unobserved, what else is he capable of? I thought we knew of all the Magicians and Sorceresses in Xanth. This smells of something else."

Fingers of dread closed about Wira's heart. "What are you saying, Mother Gorgon?"

"Could this be a Demon involvement? Capital D?"

The Demons were to ordinary demons what sphinxes were to ants: immeasurably more powerful. The whole of the magic of the Land of Xanth stemmed from the mere radiation leaking from Demon Xanth as he rested deep below, or dallied in the Nameless Castle. Their ways were obscure but infinitely potent. If a Demon were involved, the case was hopeless. "It can't be," Wira said. She meant not that it was impossible, for nothing was impossible to a Demon, but that her whole world depended on it not being the case.

"Then it must be something less," the Gorgon agreed. "Someone or something with a special talent, maybe of conjuring himself places, and a handful of stolen spells. In which case the Book can identify him, when."

"I can't wait for when! Hugo's gone." "

I know, dear," the Gorgon said sympathetically. "That's why we shall have to solve it without the Book." Then she paused. "Oops-I thought of something else. Who would have been in the cellar, to kill? It's an odd place."

"Someone stealing some Rhed Whine?"

"That would hardly be worth it, considering the difficulty of getting into this castle. The stuff's not valuable."

"Could the-the murder have been done somewhere else, and the body conjured to the cellar?"

"Then why abolish Hugo?" the Gorgon asked sensibly. "Why not leave him to discover the body, as you did soon after? No, the murderer had to be there in the cellar. Which puts us back to who was the victim."

"But it hardly makes sense! One person sneaking into the cellar, another sneaking in to murder him, then doing something to Hugo to conceal his identity."

"And bollixing the Book of Answers," the Gorgon said. "Which suggests he knew where he was and what he was doing. I suspect we understand next to nothing at all."

"Next to nothing," Wira agreed, hating it.

"All the more reason to act. You got some clues."

"Just random names, like Cumulo Fracto Nimbus. He wouldn't have done this; in fact he couldn't have done this. He's a cloud!"

"Then you will have to go question him. Maybe he knows something about this. That's what Clues are all about. Once you have run them all down, you'll be able to assemble them and draw a Brilliant Conclusion."

"I'm not that smart," Wira protested.

"Nonsense. You'll be as smart as you need to be. But just in case, you can take some Eye Queue elixir along."

"You forget. I'm blind."

The Gorgon considered. "Yes, we'll have to deal with that. You'll need a Companion."

"A what?"

"Don't play Demoness Metria with me, girl! Someone to travel with you, to be your eyes. You'll need something to ride, too; walking all over Xanth would be too tedious."

"But I don't know anyone outside the castle, and I have never ridden an animal."

"Details to be addressed. Meanwhile, there's another problem: there's a querent coming tomorrow. How is Humfrey going to answer her, with the Book bonked?"

"We'll have to send her away." "We can't. The Challenges are all set up, and if she makes it through, she'll expect her Answer." "We'll have to go out to intercept her, to explain." "By no means! If we do that, everyone will soon know of the .x we're in. It would ruin the Good Magician's reputation for inscrutable expertise. Also, if word gets around that we're looking for a murderer, what do you think will happen to Hugo? We need the murderer to think that he's gotten away with it, and no one is investigating."

That froze Wira. "We must keep it secret," she agreed. "But how can I question people, then? That will quickly give it away."

A bulb flashed over the Gorgon's head; Wira felt its brief heat. "You're blind!" "That's not exactly late news."

"But you must have been longing all your life for sight. To recover the vision you lost as a child."

"I haven't been," Wira protested. "I have a very good life here."

"Of course you have, dear. But others won't know that. You must go on a Quest to find your Lost Vision. That way you can question people right, left, and center, and they won't catch on to your real mission."

"But how can I ask about Hugo without giving it away?" "Consider it a challenge, dear. I'm sure you'll rise to the occasion."

She would have to. "You mentioned a Companion. But there's no one." Then a bulb flashed over her own head.

"The querent!"

"That's it," the Gorgon agreed. "We can tell her that the Good Magician requires her Service first, while he researches her Answer. That Service is to be your eyes." She paused half a moment. "But she's an ordinary girl. In fact she's from Mundania. That means-"

"She has no magic talent," Wira said. "She won't be much help at all. Unless-"

A third bulb flashed. "Unless we change her to a more useful form," the Gorgon said. "Like a flying centaur."

"But we can't do that sort of magic."

"Yes we can. You forget that I was the one who first put all Humfrey's collected spells in order. There's a forgotten conversion spell on a back shelf, beyond the pun-gloves. It's voluntary, which means she'll have to agree to it, but of course we want her agreement. We can do this without disturbing Humfrey at all."

"Oh, I hope so," Wira breathed.

"I hope she's a nice girl," the Gorgon said.

"That, too," Wira agreed. She was beginning to have faint hope.

Excerpted from Air Apparent by Piers Anthony Jacob.

Copyright © 2007 by Piers Anthony Jacob.

Published in October 2007 by A Tom Doherty Associates Book.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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  • Posted May 1, 2009

    Another Piers Anthony triumph!

    Piers Anthony has done it again! Another great read in his Xanth series, this time featuring Hugo, the Good Magician Humphrey's son and his wife Wira, who have both been minor characters for too long. For all the Xanth fans out there, it is very good read. To Piers Anthony: Thank you and keep up the marvelous work!

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