Dastard (Magic of Xanth Series #24)by Piers Anthony
Many malevolent menaces have imperiled the magical land of Xanth in its long and storied history. But none has been as despicably dangerous as the Dastard-a craven miscreant who sold his soul to a detestable demon for the power to erase events. Now the entire future of Xanth is at the mercy of his every whim. Only a young dragon-girl named Becka has the power to… See more details below
Many malevolent menaces have imperiled the magical land of Xanth in its long and storied history. But none has been as despicably dangerous as the Dastard-a craven miscreant who sold his soul to a detestable demon for the power to erase events. Now the entire future of Xanth is at the mercy of his every whim. Only a young dragon-girl named Becka has the power to stop his devious deeds!
Becka is a crossbreed-the daughter of Draco Dragon and a lovely human woman who met, by chance, at a Love Spring. Now fourteen, Becka is beginning to wonder where in Xanth she belongs-on the ground with her mother's people, or flying the skies with her father's kind. So she journeys to the Good Magician Humfrey to discover her True Purpose in life. Much to her astonishment and surprise, the Magician tells her that that a great Destiny awaits her-one that will affect the future of all of Xanth.
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By Anthony, Piers
Tor FantasyCopyright © 2001 Anthony, Piers
All right reserved.
The Dastard walked through the forest, looking for mischief. It had taken him a while to get the hang of living without a soul, and to learn to use his talent effectively, but now it had been four years since his deal with the demon, and he was ready to make more of an impression on the Land of Xanth. He had cast off his old nothing-name of Anomy and perfected his new one, for the dastardly deeds he was doing. So he was emerging from his secluded neck of the woods and searching for greater challenges.
He was well equipped to search, because an aspect of his talent was to have a sense of place/time. He could tell where and when there was something significant, and so could go there to discover what it was. His sense informed him that something interesting was headed toward him on this path. All he had to do was keep going the way he was going.
He encountered a little girl walking the opposite way. "Hi, mister," she called. "Is this the way to the Good Magician's castle?"
One thing the Dastard had discovered in the course of his restricted practicing was that significant mischief could come from seemingly minor situations. He had also learned that lies were precious and vulnerable; it was best not to use one where the truth would do. That way he could save his lies for the best opportunities. So he told the truth: "No, this is not. But I canshow you the correct route."
She squealed in girlish fashion and clapped her hands. "Oh, thank you so much, mister! Where is it?"
"First we have to go this way," he said, indicating the way he was going. "For I am just now emerging from the hinterlands, where there is nothing interesting." That was in part because he had abolished anything interesting in that region, but he didn't feel the need to clarify that aspect. Now he needed to find out what was significant about this dull child. "Who are you, and why do you want to find the Good Magician's castle?"
"My name is Melody Irene Human, and I'm from Mundania," she said proudly. "I was named after a princess and her grandmother, I think. I want to ask the Good Magician how I can stay in Xanth."
"You think you are named after a princess? Don't you know?"
"Well, you see, I'm older than Princess Melody, so I'm not sure I was named after her. But maybe she was named after me."
"That makes sense," the Dastard agreed. That wasn't even a lie; the princess could conceivably have been named after a Mundane girl. There were three little princesses, four years old, named Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm. Their parents might have had trouble coming up with three names at once. "If you are Mundane, why do you want to stay in Xanth?"
"I've always loved Xanth," Melody said. "I've always wanted to be here. But my parents don't believe in it. So I'm going to ask the Good Magician, and even if he says I can't stay, I'll still have to remain here a year to finish the service for my Answer. That's a lot better than nothing."
This didn't seem to have much potential for mischief, but his sense of significance was seldom wrong, so he gave it another try. "How did you get here?"
The child launched into her story. "My folks were coming to Florida to visit Disney World. We were driving south from Virginia. We stopped to eat in Georgia, and there must have been something wrong with the food my big sister had, because suddenly she was ready to burst with indigestion and had to get out of the car before she exploded. Dad didn't want to stop, 'cause we were on Interstate seventy-five you know, and there was no rest stop near. But my sister wasn't fooling, and Mom said if he didn't want it to happen in the car he'd better pull off in a hurry. I thought it might be sort of fun to have it happen in the car, you know, having a really big stink, but I guess Mom wouldn't have seen the humor. So we were passing this section where the north and south lanes separated, and there were trees growing between them. In fact, there was a whole little forest there. Dad saw a little trail going in, so he braked and slowed the car to the left and got onto that trail, into the forest, and out of sight of the highway. Then he stopped, and Mom pretty much dragged Sis out and they disappeared into the ferns. So I got out and looked around, and you know, it was different. In fact, it looked sort of magical. I really liked it. But then Mom and Sis were done and we had to get back in the car, and Dad turned it around and we drove back out toward the highway. But we couldn't find it. I said 'Hey, maybe it's a magic forest, and soon we'll find a house made of candy, and a nice old woman saying '"Come in, the oven's hot."' I thought it was funny, but nobody laughed. Adults don't have much of a sense of humor, and Sis wasn't feeling all that good at the moment. I learned about the adult deficiency in humor the time I joked that if Mom had a phantom pregnancy, she'd give birth to a ghost. Not only did she not laugh, she sent me to my room without dessert. Can you believe it? But when Dad still couldn't find the Interstate, Mom started yelling at him for making a stupid wrong turn, and he said he hadn't, he was just coming straight back the way we had come. Then I saw what sure looked like a tangle tree and I said 'Hey, this must be Xanth!' But they didn't know what I meant, because I'm the only one in my family who reads the Xanth books. The others are just sort of back in the stone age when it comes to reading. Dad drove right by that tangle tree. But I kept telling them 'We're in Xanth! We're in Xanth!' and finally Mom said that if I could show them something truly magical, then they would believe me. The trail kept on, in fact it became a trollway, but Dad thought the sign was a joke. Then I spotted a centaur, and I yelled 'Stop the car! Look out the window to the left!' Dad and Mom and Sis looked out, sort of sneeringly, but then they saw it, and their mouths dropped open. The centaur saw the car and spooked; I guess he never saw a car before. He ran off. But now my folks had their minds halfway open, for a change. Then we came to the Gap Chasm and had to stop. I told them to turn in the direction of the bridge and Castle Roogna, and when we crossed the Gap they really believed, 'cause it was so wide and deep. So we got there and I wanted to see the king and queen so maybe we could get a house to live in, but my folks just wanted to find the way back to dreary Mundania. But nobody's figured out how to return yet, so while they're thinking about it, I'm on my way to see the Good Magician, to find out how I can stay here. I mean, I may never get another chance, 'cause I don't think we'd ever find that one trail that led into Xanth again."
The Dastard considered. A whole Mundane family stranded in Xanth, and the youngest member eager to stay. The Good Magician would probably find a way for her, too, and she would surely be endlessly happy, having lucked into her dream. This did seem like a worthy project.
The Dastard didn't say another word. He slid into limbo and traveled back in time two days. As he did, he guided himself toward the north, looking for the area where the Mundanes had entered Xanth.
It took a while, but it didn't matter, because he remained in limbo during his excursions in place/time and it didn't affect his real life. He slid back and forth between one and two days ago, and canvassed the general region. His sense of significance got a bit fuzzy in limbo, but he knew he would get it straight eventually. He finally saw the family enter, passing through a glitch in the magic boundary without knowing it. Good; he had it spotted.
He slid to the time one hour before their arrival. Then he emerged into real existence at the boundary. He dragged fallen branches to the trail and formed a pile that blocked it off. He laced the branches with brush to make it look entirely impassable.
He finished just in time. The odd Mundane vehicle was just arriving. It would have to stop outside Xanth, and would never know what it had missed.
He relaxed, and the place/time vortex pulled him back to the present. He emerged in the precise place and time he had left it, on the path he had been walking with the girl. But now there was no girl. Melody Irene Human had never entered Xanth.
The Dastard rubbed his hands together in glee. He had just performed another dastardly deed. He had deprived the family of its phenomenal experience, and the girl of the accomplishment of her dream. That made him feel good.
He continued in the direction he had been going, where his sense informed him that there was more significance ahead. Soon another traveler appeared. This was an old woman. "Pardon me, young man," she said. "Could you tell me what this year is?"
"It is the year eleven hundred," the Dastard replied, finding no good reason to deceive her. The woman looked old enough to have misplaced a few years, which was probably why she was uncertain.
"Eleven hundred!" she exclaimed, surprised. "Is Castle Roogna still in existence?"
For some reason, this question struck him as odd. But there still seemed to be no harm in the truth. "Yes."
"That's good. I was afraid it might have fallen or been deserted in eight hundred and fifty years."
This seemed even odder. "If I may ask," he said politely, for politeness was always best until he knew enough to make rudeness really count. "Who are you?"
"I am Sorceress Tapis. I make magic tapestries. Because of a complicated situation that I need not bore you with, my body became a magic seed, and it recently sprouted, returning me to my former state. Now I shall do my best to make do in the Land of Xanth as it is presently constituted. I trust there remains a market for magic tapestries?"
The Dastard remembered the Sorceress Tapis from his centaur-school history lessons. They would certainly be glad to see her at Castle Roogna. One of her magic tapestries still hung in the children's room there. It showed all of Xanth geography and history, and was a prime source of entertainment and amusement. There would surely be a rich market for more tapestries. The Sorceress would be highly successful and renowned.
So the Dastard re-entered place/time. He quested until he found the time and spot where the Sorceress had sprouted from the seed. A heavy rain had wet it, making it come to life. He moved to one hour before that. He picked up the dry seed and put it in the dry hollow of an acorn tree. He sealed the hollow with a fragment of wood, so that no water could get in. It would not get rained on, and would not sprout this day, or for many, many days to come. In fact, maybe never.
He relaxed, and was drawn back to his place/time in the present. He resumed walking along the path. The Sorceress Tapis was gone; indeed, she had never been there. He had performed another gratifyingly dastardly deed. He felt great.
This path had been worked out, but his sense informed him that there was another significant nexus not far away, along a side path. He took that route, and continued until he encountered another female. She was twelve years old, and suddenly appeared before him on the path. "Who are you?" he inquired.
"I am Surprise, the child of Grundy Golem and Rapunzel. I have many talents, but can use each one only once. Then it is gone. I just discovered that eventually my used talents will replenish, so I can use them again, if I just have enough patience. Isn't that wonderful?"
"That should make you very happy," the Dastard said. "How did you discover it?"
"I was sitting by a pleasant pool, looking at my reflection in the clear water, and I remembered how I had once made a ball of water. Before I thought about it, I did it again. Then I remembered that I couldn't use a talent a second time. I was amazed. So I tried another old talent, and a third one. I discovered that my oldest talents had recovered, but the ones I had used recently were still gone. So I figured it out. I'm really, really pleased. I just had to tell someone, and you're the first person I've seen since it happened. Well, farewell." She spread her arms and flew away without wings.
The Dastard went back into place/time travel. He explored until he found the clear pool where the girl had seen her reflection and made her discovery. He went to the time just a few minutes before her arrival there. He scooped up handfuls of mud and stirred them into the water until it was impossible to see any reflection. It would be hours before it cleared. The girl would not see her reflection, and not think the thoughts that had led to her discovery. She would not know what she missed.
He returned to the present. Another dastardly deed accomplished. This was turning out to be a great day.
But it was not over. If he hurried, he could nab yet another significant nexus. They were thick and fast, out here in unmolested Xanth. He ran back along the path to the main one, found another side path, and followed that. He encountered a man, an adult of moderate age, and handsome. "Who are you?" he inquired.
"I am Ho," the man replied. "I am traveling to see the Princess Ida, hoping she will find my talent useful. I think she will. I might even marry her, if she Likes me well enough. Maybe we'll have a child named Idaho who will have a talent with potatoes."
Princess Ida was Princess Ivy's twin sister. Her talent was the Idea, and she had whole worlds of ideas. She could make any idea come true. But it had to originate with someone else, who did not know of Ida's talent; Ida could not make her own ideas come true. That was the one limit on an otherwise extraordinary talent.
"What is your talent?" the Dastard asked Ho.
"It is selective amnesia. I can make a person forget any particular thing he or she wants to. This would enable Princess Ida to forget the nature of her talent, and it would thus become far more useful to her. I think she should be very pleased."
The Dastard nodded. This could make an enormous difference. Probably Ida and Ho would like each other, and would marry, and be happy forever after, and do much good with their new ideas. A wonderful future awaited them. How dastardly it would be to deny them that.
But as yet he wasn't sure how to do it. Ho was already on his way, and had a clear notion what he wanted; it seemed to be too late to change that. But there had to be a way. Sometimes the intellectual quest was more difficult than the physical one. "What gave you the notion of doing this?" he asked.
Ho, like most innocent upright decent folk, was glad to answer openly. "It was sheer coincidence. Last month I was walking along the path from my village when I happened to stumble on a stone I didn't see. I didn't fall, but its sharp ridge caught my shoelace and broke it. So I had to replace the lace. So I turned around and went back to the village for a new shoelace from Lacey, the woman who makes them. This time her new husband was there, a man I hadn't met before. So we chatted, and he turned out to be descended from Ghost King Warren, whose talent after he died he said was making ghosts. He inquired about my talent, and I told him, and he said that might be useful for Princess Ida. I had never thought about that, but the more I considered it, the more intriguing it seemed, until finally I decided to do something about it. So here I am, on my way--all because of a broken shoelace."
The Dastard didn't wait He phased into limbo, orienting on that place/time where/when Ho had broken his shoelace. In due course he found it, and entered regular existence just before Ho came down the path. He picked up the rock Ho was about to stumble on and hurled it into the brush. Then he returned to the present. He was alone; Ho was not making his journey to meet and marry Princess Ida. There would be no child, and no potatoes.
Oh, this was wonderful! The day was yet young, and he had already abolished four significant events.
However, there was nothing remaining in this general place or time; he had used it up. It might be another day before he found anything else.
He was hungry, so he paused at a path-side stand that served freshly harvested pies. There was a small orchard of pie trees behind it, obviously well cared for. The young woman tending the stand was unusually pretty; she practically glowed in a lovely green hue, from her blonde-green hair to her fair-green complexion. The Dastard liked her immediately, so he struck up an acquaintance. "Who are you?"
"I am Jade," she replied. "My talent is to make anything into a jade stone." She indicated a number of jade stone statuettes she had converted from other substances.
"Are you married?"
She giggled, embarrassed by the directness of the question. "Of course not!"
This looked promising. One thing the Dastard lacked was a woman to appreciate him. For various reasons that escaped him, girls tended to avoid him once they got to know him, so he had had no serious romantic relationship despite being twenty-two years old. He had thought his acquisition of his wonderful talent four years before would change that, but it hadn't. So he was still looking, and maybe Jade would do.
"How about marrying me?" he asked.
"Oh, I couldn't possibly do that," she said.
"Because I'm in love with Mac."
Oops. He had forgotten to ask whether she had a boyfriend. Pretty girls usually did. But maybe the situation I wasn't wholly hopeless. "Who is Mac? What's his talent?"
Jade was happy to talk about her boyfriend. "He's just the most handsome, smart, wonderful person I know. He's different. He can split into three likenesses, called Mac, Mike, and Mal, and each is a bit different in looks and temperament, so it's never boring. We met three years ago, and it just got better, so now we're going to marry and be happy forever after. Oh, it's just so utterly thrilling!"
The Dastard was really getting to dislike this Mac/Mike/Mal. But maybe if he could get rid of him, Jade would be available for himself. Three years was within his range. "How did you meet him?"
"Well, I was baby-sitting for Okra Ogress three years ago. Her twins were Og and Not-Og, five years old. Og was already getting really stupid, even for an ogret boy, and Not-Og was getting really ugly, even for an ogret girl. He could lose track of how many toes he had, and she could curdle cream with one smile. In short, they were wonderful ogre children, and Okra was really proud of ft them. But her husband Smithereen had gone on a boulder-smashing expedition and not returned, so she knew he was lost, and she had to go find him, and so she left the twins with me, the neighbor's daughter. It was a few weeks before she returned, and the ogrets were getting bored, so I took them for a walk in the woods, where they could practice being really stupid and ugly. I didn't have to worry about safety, because nobody who isn't duller than an ogre--and there are none such--ever bothers an ogre. Or an ogret. The very greensward cringed at their approach, and the sun dimmed when they glanced at it. They both had fun twisting small trees into pretzels and teaching young dragons the meaning of fear; these are just things ogres naturally do. They are so justifiably proud of their strength, stupidity, and ugliness.
"Then Fracto drifted by. That's Cumulo Fracto Nimbus, the worst of clouds, always looking for picnics to rain on or valuables to blow away. He thought he would have some fun with the ogrets, because he figured they couldn't do anything back to him. He made a foggy face and started blowing up a storm. But it didn't turn out the way he expected. The wind stirred up half a soul that had been half buried somewhere, and as it flew by, Og grabbed it, and held it, wondering whether to eat it or squeeze it into pulp. Just then a stone gargoyle happened to pass by, and Not-Og smiled at it, for a moment petrifying it with her un-beauty. When it stood immobile, she pulled off one of its gargoyle socks, admiring its colors. Og saw that, grabbed it, and stuffed the half soul into it. Not-Og snatched it back. Og grabbed it again and hurled it into the cloud. The half soul escaped and found Fracto. That made Fracto turn halfway good. He collapsed his storm front and sailed rapidly home to the Region of Air where his partner Hurricane Happy Bottom lived, and they did whatever clouds do to summon the stork, and after that Fray came on their scene, and she got the half soul. Just what sort of a cloud she will turn out to be we don't yet know."
"This is all very interesting," the Dastard said, expending a fair sized lie at this point, because it was really all very boring. "But what does it have to do with your meeting Mic/Muck/Mock?"
"That's Mac/Mike/Mal," Jade said sharply. "I'm coming to that." She gave him a brief green stare, then resumed her how-we-met narrative. "The day was getting on, so we started back toward home. But the ogrets heard someone declaiming heroic poetry and ran to see who it was, and I had to follow. It turned out to be a woman polishing a freshly waxed statue. It was the statue doing the declaiming. For a moment I was mystified what it all meant, but then I realized that she was waxing poetic. Fortunately poetry bores ogres, unless they are speaking it themselves, so that didn't hold the twins long. We resumed our trek, and encountered a group of big furry animals. I hadn't seen anything like them before, so I inquired: 'What kind of creatures are you?' And two of the biggest ones, who seemed to be males, replied 'We are bears. We are Bears Noting, and these are Bears Mentioning.' They indicated two females. 'And we are Bears Repeating, Bears Repeating,' two small ones said. That left one more, who was busy scratching figures on a pad he carried. He looked very interesting, but didn't speak. "Do you feel you are of no account?' I asked. 'By no means,' he responded. 'I am an Interest Bearing Account.' So then I understood, and we went on toward home."
"But about 3M," the Dastard said, trying to stifle his burgeoning impatience.
"I'm getting there," Jade said severely. "We had to stop, because there was an imp ass. It was just a little mule, but we realized it had strayed from a settlement of imps and needed to be returned. So Og picked it up, and Not-Og smiled around until most of the surrounding foliage wilted, and there was the imp colony. Og set the imp ass down there, so than it no longer blocked our way. The imps were very grateful, so they told us where we could find some nice varieties of thyme. A person can never get too much thyme, so we thanked them and went there; it wasn't far off the path, but we would never have found that patch on our own. There was 2/2 Thyme, and 4/4 Thyme, and 6/8 Thyme--just a great variety of very special Thymes. So I gathered a timely assortment, and we started back for home again."
"Will you get on with it!" the Dastard said, becoming foolishly impatient. He was beginning to wonder if this pretty green woman was worth the effort. Her endless talk was as dull as she was lovely.
"I'm getting there," Jade said, favoring him with a glare. "We started back--and there, coming along the path the other way, was Mac. I was so surprised that I fell back. Right on my soft bottom, as a matter of fact. A stray gust of wind came at that moment. My skirt flared up and gave him a good flash of my panties. Maybe that was just as well, because he froze in place, as men do, and remained that way until I got back on my feet. I realized that chance had enabled me to capture his attention. He was a handsome man, so I decided to keep it. And that was the beginning of it all, and soon we will be married. Meanwhile, the ogres--"
But the Dastard was already fading into limbo. He went back three years, then zeroed in on the thyme patch. He considered half a moment, then set about fashioning a baffle. He set it up by the path, just upwind of the place Jade would tumble, so that when the stray gust of wind came, it would be deflected before it reached her skirt, and her skirt would not flare, and the man would not see her panties. So she would not catch his attention, and they If would pass without noticing each other.
He returned to the present. There was Jade, just as pretty as before. "So how about marrying me?" he asked again.
"Oh, I couldn't possibly do that," she said. "I'm in love with Eck."
"Eck?" he asked distastefully.
"Eck Sray, my fiancé," she explained. "He sees through things. When we first met, he saw right through my skirt to my panties, and--"
Oh, no! He had abolished the incident that attracted Mac's attention to her, only to have her meet another man who was attracted by the same thing. Which meant that the Dastard still didn't have any decent chance to get an indecent look himself.
He was tired of such frustrations. So he decided to snatch what spot of pleasure he could, and move on. His talent had one more aspect that could be extremely useful on occasion, and this might be such an occasion.
He reached across the table and caught Jade's head. He pulled her in for a hot kiss. It was pretty good, considering that her lips were mushy; surprise had made her forget to firm them.
Then she jerked away and screamed. A huge older man appeared from the garden. "What's the matter, honey? This creep bothering you?"
"Yes, Father," she said. "He kissed me!"
"Well now," the man said grimly. He strode toward the Dastard, raising a hamfist.
But the Dastard got out of there by going into limbo and changing his own recent past. He could do that, to a limited extent. He could go back as far as a day, if he hadn't been changing the lives of others, or otherwise as far back as the last change he had made. When he changed others, that fixed his own presence, lest he run afoul of paradox. So in this case he was limited to about five minutes, since he had abolished Mac. That was enough; he went back to just before he kissed Jade, and this time he didn't kiss her. The episode had never happened.
But he remembered it. He was the only one who could remember events that he had made unhappen. So that he didn't lose his awareness of his own dastardly deeds. After all, what would be the point, if he didn't remember?
Jade was still talking about how great Eck Sray was, and how they were going to be married soon, and then he wouldn't need to see through her clothing to see her panties, because she would show them to him anytime.
"Uh, sure, thank you," the Dastard said, trying to control a fit of jealousy, and moved on. She was a pretty girl, but as usual he had gotten nowhere. He hated that.
There was another nexus some distance ahead. Maybe that would be better. He needed something to shore up his spirits. He had a great talent, and he had no soul, which gave him wonderful freedom, but it wasn't enough. He wanted a woman, too. A pretty one.
Farther along he spied an animal going the opposite way. Was this the nexus? No, his sense did not respond. But the creature approached him. It was a male canine, but did not seem to be a werewolf. What did it want?
He saw that it wore a mundane collar, from which dangled a little sign. He read the sign: my name is boss. i am a 90 pound black labrador dog. i lost my home and am looking for a new one. can you help?
"Certainly I can help," the Dastard said. "But I won't. Go away."
The dog walked sadly on. It was momentarily satisfying to frustrate him, but hardly worth the effort.
In due course he came to the nexus. It was at a statue of the Sea Hag, a Sorceress he had always admired. She took the bodies of young pretty girls and used them until they got worn and ugly, then moved on to others. She must have a fabulous history! She was old, in spirit if not in current body, and must have been around since the dawn of Xanth.
Then he saw a girl standing there by the statue. She was sort of halfway pretty, with blonde hair and brown eyes, but young. The Adult Conspiracy could get after a man who tangled with too young a girl; he had had some experience, and didn't need any more. So she was of no personal use to him. Still, she was at the nexus, so this needed to be investigated.
She saw him, "Did you see a big dog? I thought I saw one not long ago, maybe looking for a home."
The Dastard ignored this. "Who are you?" he asked her.
"My name is Becka," she said. "Who are you?"
That set him back. The Dastard was not used to people asking him questions. "Why do you want to know?"
"Because I'm supposed to wait here until a certain man comes, and then I'm supposed to go with him and help him in whatever way he wishes. I need to know whether you are that man."
This was interesting. She was at the nexus, and she wanted to help him. Maybe she was what he was looking for, despite her youth. If she didn't tell, who would ever know? So he gave it a try. "Kiss me."
"If you're supposed to help me--"
"Not that way."
"How do you know?"
"I'm too young."
"Maybe not," he said. He grabbed her and sought to kiss her.
Suddenly he was holding on to a dragon with purple-tinged bright green scales.
He backed off five minutes and tried again. They went through the introduction, and this time he answered her question. "I am the Dastard, because I do dastardly deeds. Do you have a problem with that?"
"I guess not," she said. "You must be going to do something good for Xanth, that I'm supposed to help you with. Otherwise the Good Magician wouldn't have sent me."
"The Good Magician! He sent you to meet me?"
"Yes. Didn't you know?"
"No. Why should that little old wizened gnome want to do anything for me?"
"I don't know. My guess is he wants to do something good for Xanth."
The Dastard pondered. This was a curious business. He hadn't known that Magician Humfrey even knew about him, let alone wanted to help him. Maybe it would be better to slide back through limbo and nullify that connection. But he hesitated, because he knew the Good Magician was a sharp old codger with a lot of information, and if he changed Humfrey's action once, he would not be able to change it again thereafter, because of the rule of paradox. Maybe the Good Magician was counting on that, to mess him up. So he would play along, and learn more about it, not acting until he was sure. Having a good magic talent was one thing; using it effectively was another.
Meanwhile, here was this girl who could become a flying dragon. She was obviously no prospect for any romance, and not just because she was too young. She could defend herself. He hated that. But she might indeed be useful, if he could figure out how.
"Very well," he said. "Tag along for a while. And if you don't like what I do, then you can depart." And that would get rid of her without putting him into any paradox bind with respect to the devious Good Magician.
"Okay," she agreed.
It was definitely a nexus, but not one he properly understood. Yet.
Copyright 2000 by Peirs Anthony Jacob
Excerpted from The Dastard by Anthony, Piers Copyright © 2001 by Anthony, Piers. Excerpted by permission.
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