Piers Anthony's 37th adventure in Xanth changes the Mood to one of Doom!
Kody woke up in a hospital bed, not knowing how he got there. Before his questions could be answered, he was told that he was about to undergo surgery, and that there could be some side effects…. And then he woke up again, this time in Xanth.
Kody is the only person in Xanth who has not been affected by a dreadful spell that reverses how people see each other. What was adorable is now loathsome. What was ugly is now beautiful. What was loved is now hated. Kody has clearly arrived just in time! Only he has any hope of reversing the spell, turning Esrever Doom into Reverse Mood.
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About the Author
Piers Anthony is one of the world's most prolific and popular fantasy authors and a New York Times bestseller twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels, including Esrever Doom, Luck of the Draw, and Well-Tempered Clavicle, have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world. While he is best known for his science fiction and fantasy, Anthony incredibly versatile, having also written several novels in other genres, including historical fiction and horror. He lives in Central Florida.
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By Piers Anthony
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2013 Piers Anthony Jacob
All rights reserved.
Kody woke when the nurse came into his hospital room. He felt awful. "What happened?"
"Ah, you're awake," the nurse said. "The doctor will be with you shortly. Now if you will just sign this admittance paper, your insurance will cover it."
"What happened?" he repeated as her hand guided his numb fingers for the signature.
She glanced at him sympathetically. "You don't remember?"
"I don't," he agreed.
"You were in an accident. A bad one. But they got you here in time."
"In time for what?"
"The doctor will explain. Meanwhile this will relax you."
"Don't —" But she was already giving him a dose via the IV hooked to his arm. He had no choice but to fade out.
When Kody woke again, he was cautious about speaking. He wanted to know more about his situation before they dosed him. He had been in an accident? It must have been a bad one, because his whole body felt washed out. Had a drunk driver hit him? Then what about his car? Was it suffering similarly?
The nurse, morbidly attuned, knew he was awake. "Just in time for the doctor," she said briskly, as if that was all that mattered.
"I just want to know —"
"Not now," she said with impersonal efficiency. "He's here."
So much for any preference he might have. This was, after all, a hospital; they had better things to do than chat with patients.
The doctor was brusque. "You face some serious surgery, Mr. Kody."
"My name's not —"
"Don't be concerned; we'll put you out for the duration. It's called an artificial coma. When you emerge, the surgery will be done and you'll be well on the way to recovery."
"Surgery? What for?"
"So glad you understand." Already the nurse was doing her thing with the IV. He had only moments of consciousness remaining.
"There may be some disorientation," the doctor explained. "It's a known side effect of the anesthetic. A sense of floating, perhaps some temporary mood reversal. Nothing to be concerned about, Mr. Kody."
Mood reversal? He didn't want his mood or anything else reversed. But it was too late to protest; he was going under. Only the doctor's last words lingered. Mood Reverse. Mood. Reverse. Mood reversed was Doom. That did not sound good.
* * *
"Boom! Doom!" the ogre cried, hurling the poor creature at the shimmering wall.
Kody reacted before thinking. He put out a hand and intercepted the victim just before it collided. He brought it in to him, unharmed, as the ogre tromped away.
Ogre? Where was he?
It got worse. He looked at the creature he had just rescued. It was a bird. No, a cat. In fact it had the head and wings of a bird, and the body and tail of a cat.
The creature, briefly stunned, recovered. "Cheep?" it said.
"You're welcome, I think," Kody said. "I don't know where you were going, but it didn't look healthy."
"Cheep!" The creature looked at the wall, which shimmered in response. The wall was translucent, with an open meadow beyond, but there was a sinister cast to the scene. Kody didn't like it.
"Can you run or fly? I think you need to go home before you run afoul of another ogre."
The thing seemed to understand him. It sat up in his hand, spread its wings, and flapped. It flew up, made a circle in the air, then departed, flying over the jungle.
"You're welcome," Kody repeated, bemused.
Now, exactly where was he? Not in the hospital! This seemed to be some sort of fantasy land, with ogres, catbirds, sinister walls, and who knew what else. Kody really wasn't into fantasy; that was his friend Joshua's department. He was at a loss to explain how he had so suddenly come here; the last he knew, he was being put under for some sort of surgery. The doctor said there would be disorientation, maybe mood reversal, and his disoriented mind had translated Mood to Doom.
Could that phrase Mood Reverse be translated into Esrever Doom? That would make about as much sense as the rest of it. He was doomed to be caught in reversal.
And there had been the ogre crying "Doom!" Kody had arrived just in time to rescue a composite creature from likely doom. An incredible coincidence.
But maybe not. Maybe he was in the coma, suffering some sort of mind reversal, and this was a dream deriving from that word. No coincidence at all, if he was imagining it.
Well, he might as well enjoy it while it lasted. He feared he would not enjoy whatever had happened to him in the real world.
He saw a speck in the sky. Something was flying in, and it did not look like a regular bird. Was the composite creature returning? No, this one was rapidly looking larger as it approached. It was the size of an eagle, no, a turkey, no, a horse.
It looked like a large winged horse. With the forepart of a man. A — a flying centaur.
The creature landed neatly before him and folded his monstrous gray-brown feathered wings. His muscular human portion was taller than Kody, which was unusual. "Hello, stranger! My friend the catbird tells me you rescued him from a fate worse than death." Now Kody saw that the small creature was perching on the centaur's broad equine back, between the wings.
"I don't know —" Kody said, somewhat at a loss for words.
"Of course you don't know me," the centaur said. "I am Griff the Hipporoc, son of a male centaur and a female roc bird. My parents splashed into each other at a love spring they took for a normal pond. You know how it is; these accidents happen all the time, and account for many interesting crossbreeds. So I share their characteristics, and can speak avian dialects as well as human ones. That's how I came to know the catbird."
That hadn't been exactly what Kody was saying, but it would do. "I'm Kody, from —" He paused, uncertain whether his origin would make any sense to this fantasy creature.
"From Mundania, of course," Griff said. "You have that civilian look about you. Did you die?"
"Oh, I don't think so," Kody said, startled. "At least not yet. They put me in a coma, and I seem to be having a really weird dream."
"Well, that's one way to come to Xanth," Griff said. "We do see Mundanes here every so often, and dreams are important. Look, I really appreciate the way you saved my friend from the Void, so I came to tell you that."
"The Region from which there's no return," Griff said, gesturing at the wall. "That's the event horizon. If the catbird had gone through that, he would have been lost."
"Oh, I see," Kody said, not really seeing.
"So I think I owe you a return favor. Why don't I take you anywhere you want to go, so you don't have to stumble through the dangerous jungle? Air travel is much faster and safer. You'll soon get eaten by a dragon otherwise."
"I appreciate that," Kody said. "I don't know whether getting eaten by a dragon in a dream would affect me much, but I'd rather not find out. But I have no idea where I want to go."
"Good point." Griff considered favors.
Two micelike creatures ran along the ground between them. "Oh, bleep!" Griff said. "Don't let them touch you."
Bleep? "Those mice? Aren't they harmless?"
"Hardly! Those are vices. A cross between a vole and a mouse. See those letters on their backs? The one is an AD, the other a DE. If the ADvice touches you it will make you do bad things. Then you'll have to touch the DEvice to become nicer. Better to stay clear of them entirely." He stomped a front hoof. "Get away from us; we don't want any vices." The little creatures scurried away.
"Uh, thank you for the ad — uh, the clarification," Kody said.
"That's not enough of a favor. You saved my friend's life."
The catbird chirped.
"Now that's an idea," Griff agreed. "I'll give him the check her board." He looked at Kody. "Do you play check hers?"
"Well, I —"
"Or cheese. It's adaptable. But it doesn't matter. Just refocus and you'll see the scenes. Touch whichever one you want to go to." He produced a small object and handed it to Kody. "We have to be going now, but thanks again for what you did." The centaur spread his huge wings, trotted along the ground, and sailed upward. In one and a half moments he was gone.
One and a half moments? Evidently that was how time was kept here in Xanth.
He looked at the object. It was a folded mass that unfolded repeatedly to show a checkerboard (check her board?) with the checkers painted on the squares. Each one resembled a buxom young woman in a circular skirt. He touched one, and she moved forward to another square, jiggling.
Intrigued, he touched another, but she didn't move. Then he touched one of the opposing checkers, which resembled a handsome young man in a kilt, and he did move. It was necessary to take turns. Soon Kody was in a game with himself, seeing the check hers jump each other and disappear. When each one jumped, skirt flaring, the other piece looked up, froze in place as if seeing something forbidden, and faded out with an audible huff. They were checking each other out! Thus Check Hers and Check His. This was one naughty magic board!
But checkers was a relatively simple game. Too bad there were not chess pieces. And as he thought of that, the chess pieces appeared, each a little marvel of statuary carved from hard cheese. Which must be why they called it cheese instead of chess; it wasn't just a typo. When he touched a pawn, it stepped forward two squares. Other pieces moved in their traditional ways. So he could play chess on this board.
But what about the pictures Griff had mentioned? Kody focused, and refocused, and in a moment got the range. It was like looking at a 3-D picture; focus was everything. Once he had the pictures, they were fascinating. Scenes of assorted magical creatures and things. And if he touched one he would be there?
Better experiment cautiously, because some indeed were dragons. So he oriented on an appealing castle with pleasant foliage and turrets. That should be safe to visit. He touched it.
Nothing happened. Ah, well. He folded the checkerboard, tucked it in a pocket, and looked around.
He was standing before the castle. The change had been so smooth he had not realized it had taken place.
So the game board worked. He could go where he wished, in this fantasy land. There were sixty-four scenes in all; surely one would serve his purpose. If he could only figure out what his purpose was, in this dream.
The front gate of the castle opened. A stunningly lovely young woman stood there, svelte and blond, evidently the mistress of this castle, as she wore a petite crown. "Why, hello," she said, surprised.
"I apologize for intruding," Kody said. "A centaur gave me a magic device that enables me to travel, and I was trying it out. I think I can as readily depart as I came here."
"First let me touch you," the woman said, approaching him. He stood bemused as she came and touched his hand. "Oh!"
"You see, I'm not from this region," he said. "I don't know the geography or the customs."
"You are Kody, from Mundania," she said. "You were in some sort of accident, and woke in a hospital, where they drugged you, and you find yourself here in Xanth. You think it's all a dream."
Kody's mouth opened, but no words came out. How could she know that?
She smiled, and it was like the rising sun. "I am Princess Dawn. My talent is to know everything about anything living that I touch. You need my help. You must have been guided here. Come in." She turned and reentered the castle. Her back side was just as impressive as her front side.
Kody followed. He kept being surprised by this dream!
"This is Caprice Castle," Dawn said as they walked. "It has marvelous properties you will discover soon enough. A number of us live here. We gather puns for storage, so that Xanth is not infested worse than it has to be."
"Puns," Kody said. "I believe I have encountered some of those."
"Indeed, it is hard to avoid them. It's a real problem."
"Yes," he agreed. But puns were the least of his concerns at the moment.
"Picka, dear," Dawn said, not loudly.
A spook-house animated skeleton appeared. "Yes, dear," it said.
"This is Kody, from Mundania. He needs help."
"We'll help him," the skeleton agreed. It came forward to shake Kody's hand. He tried not to recoil at the touch of the bare bones. "I am Picka Bone, Dawn's husband. And these are our children." For two small figures had appeared. One was a walking skeleton, the other a cute little girl.
It seemed this crazy realm was destined to keep surprising him. A walking skeleton could marry a princess, and they could have children? Obviously so.
"I'm Piton," the little male skeleton said.
"Hello, Piton," Kody said. "You look a lot like your father."
The boy giggled, complimented.
"I'm Data," the girl said.
Kody realized that Piton was a P name, surely because of his father Picka, while Data was a D name, after her mother Dawn. It seemed that in Xanth men had sons, women had daughters. "Hello, Data. You are lovely like your mother."
The child blushed with pleasure. Kody had not realized a small child could blush. But of course this was a magic land.
There was an awkward pause. Then Dawn approached. "I need to touch you again."
"Welcome," Kody said. "I never mind being touched by a lovely lady." That made him pause, because it was not the kind of thing he had ever said before.
Dawn touched him. "It is true. You see us as beautiful."
"Doesn't everyone?" Kody asked, perplexed. "I'm no expert, but if you are not one of the loveliest women extant, and your daughter a beautiful child, this is the most remarkable realm imaginable. Or is it considered bad manners to say the obvious? Have I given offense?"
"No offense," Dawn said. "Far from it."
"He sees you as beautiful?" Picka asked, as if not quite believing it.
"He does," Dawn said. "And Data as really cute."
"Then he's immune!"
Dawn considered. "Not exactly. He's just not reversed in the same way we are."
"Then can he fix it?"
"I don't know. Kody is not completely real, here."
Picka looked at her, perplexed. "Not?"
So did Kody. A walking skeleton found him perplexing? "I don't really understand any of this."
"Come and sit down," Dawn said. "This may take some explaining."
Soon they were ensconced in an appealing living room. Data, thrilled to be appreciated as pretty, came to sit on Kody's lap. But the surprises were not through. For a moment she became a little skeleton, startling him. It was definitely her, because now her dress hung loosely on the bones. She was just as cute in that form as when she had flesh.
"We can change," Data said, her voice emanating from her little skull. "It's part of the magic of Caprice Castle." She reappeared in human form, and squirmed to get her sagged dress to fit properly. "Do you really think I'm cute?"
"Yes, definitely," Kody said.
"That's great!" She leaned forward to hug him.
"Here is the background," Dawn said in a businesslike tone. "About a week ago the Land of Xanth was affected by a malign spell of reversal that caused people to perceive others as the opposite of what they are. That is, handsome or beautiful folk are perceived as ugly, while ugly folk are seen as handsome or lovely. Those in the middle range are affected less, becoming moderately the opposite of what they were. So, for example, others now see me as a hag, while seeing true hags as beautiful. We of the sightly persuasion find this distinctly awkward. We would like to have the old order restored, but we don't know how to do it. The Good Magician Humfrey says that only a person unaffected by the spell has any chance to nullify it. But all residents of Xanth are similarly affected, at least to some degree."
Kody's head was trying to spin. "This is not a literal change? Just one of perception?"
"Correct," Picka said. "I see Dawn as I always have. But now I am repulsed. That complicates our relationship."
"So it's really a mood reversal," Kody said. "Your sight has not changed, just your appreciation of what you see." Esrever doom, he thought: mood reverse. It was almost starting to make odd sense.
"Exactly," Picka agreed. "Even when she assumes skeletal form, I see her nice bones as ugly sticks."
"I don't like being seen as ugly," Dawn said candidly. "No woman does."
"While I, being Mundane, am not affected," Kody said, getting it straight.
"Not exactly," Dawn said.
"I'm not exactly here, yes, as it seems I am dreaming. But apart from that, I see things as they are."
"Not exactly," Dawn repeated.
"I'm not following you."
"I think I need to demonstrate." She glanced at Picka. "With your acquiescence, dear."
The skeleton shrugged. "Of course."
She faced Kody. "Stand."
Data got off his lap, knowing what was coming. He stood, perplexed.
She came to him, put her arms around him, drew him close, and kissed him. He felt almost as if he were floating off the floor. Her wonderful bosom was pressing into his chest, his hands were somehow on her marvelous bottom, and the contact of their lips was sheer rapture. She was an utterly mesmerizing creature. In that moment he loved her, despite knowing that she was not and would never be his. Not only was she a magic princess, far beyond his station, she was a thoroughly married mother of two. He had no business reacting romantically to her.
Excerpted from Esrever Doom by Piers Anthony. Copyright © 2013 Piers Anthony Jacob. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Map of Xanth,
5. Zap and Yukay,
6. Illusion Fields,
9. Demo Derby,
10. Alter Ego,
11. Bomb Sniffer,
Tor Books by Piers Anthony,
About the Author,