On a bet from his fellow Demons, an omnipotent entity must travel incognito through his realm, until he can wring a tear from the cold-hearted Chlorine, but a hurricane blasts into Xanth, bringing a hapless mundane family with it and threatening to destroy the magical world.
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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, and he daily receives hundreds of letters from his devoted fans.
In addition to the Xanth series, Anthony is the author of many other best-selling works. Piers Anthony lives in Inverness, Florida.
YON ILL WIND
1NIMBYThe Demons of the system did not gather frequently unless there were intriguing contests to be made or issues to be settled. This occasion was a bit of both."You must have cheated!" the Demoness V(E\N)us declared. Of course the Demons did not actually communicate in words or have any emphasis, but for the sake of intelligibility their interactions could be represented as such in degraded prose. "You have been winning every contest recently.""I simply learned how to play to win," the Demon X(A/N)th responded mildly. "My victories have been fair.""I wonder," the Demon E(A/R)th remarked. "There is something suspicious about the way that foolish mortal boy gave up his game victory at the last moment, so that you won our wager.""And the way that crazy lesser demoness decided the obviously innocent bird was guilty, so that you won our wager," V(E\N)us agreed."I merely have compatible lesser creatures in my domain, because I allow them to pursue their own mischief without interference," X(A/N)th protested. He glanced obliquely at E(A/R)th. "In contrast to some.""If I did that, my idiot creatures would destroy my domain," E(A/R)th retorted."Aren't they doing that anyway?" V(E\N)us inquired snidely."Hardly the way your lesser creatures affected your domain,"E(A/R)th shot back. "Now it's all cloud and desert, instead of milk and honey.""We all have made our little mistakes," the Demon JU(P/I)ter said soothingly. "Which is why we have failed to gain significant lasting status. But it does seem that X(A/N)th has been unusually fortunate recently.""Yes it does," V(E\N)us said emphatically."Agreed," E(A/R)th agreed. There was a murmur of acquiescence from the other Demons present."It is merely my good lesser creatures," X(A/N)th insisted. "I treat them well, and they reward me by behaving well. My fortune is in the quality of my creatures."The other Demons exchanged a hundred and fifteen glances in half a fraction of a moment. "Suppose we put that to the test?" JU(P/I)ter suggested.X(A/N)th grew more interested. "Are you challenging me to a contest?""Yes, I believe I am. Suggest terms.""If I win, I will assume your status as dominant entity in this system.""Agreed. And if you lose, you will revert to the status of least entity in this system, and yield your land to me."That was a formidable stricture, for it had taken X(A/N)th three thousand years to work his way up to second place, and might take longer to do it again. Still, this might be his only chance to depose JU(P/I)ter, because ordinarily the Dominant Demon would never put his status on the line. "Agreed. Conditions?"JU(P/I)ter smiled. This was akin to a short-tailed comet fragmenting and plastering itself across his face in a series of violent collisions. "You must subject yourself directly to the whims of these inferior creatures you claim have such good behavior. You must assume the form of a mortal entity and go among them for the duration of the contest."Now, this was different! "But normally we don't influence the inferiors in any way, so that the outcome is completely random, or at least not affected by the touch of a Demon." He glanced darkly at V(E\N)us, whom he suspectedof violating that stricture the last time.--SA(T/U)rn--nodded, and his rings precessed. "This time you will have license to influence them--to the extent you are able."X(A/N)th realized that he had been set up. The other Demons were conspiring to bring him down, because they were miffed by his string of victories. Still, he did have good lesser creatures, and perhaps they would bring him the biggest victory of all. Certainly the challenge was exciting. He had on occasion interacted with them, when they had intruded on his awareness, but never done so for a prolonged period. "So I can interact. What's the catch?""Your awareness can not be limited," JU(P/I)ter said, "for you are in essence a Demon, regardless of the form you assume. But for the purpose of the contest, your expression can be limited. You may not tell any creature of your realm your true nature, and if any learn of it, you forfeit immediately.""Provided no other supernatural entity informs them," X(A/N)th said, with another glance at the Demoness."Agreed," JU(P/I)ter said. "We shall enforce that stricture. Anything else you may convey to one person, in one moment. But--" He paused meaningfully. "There will be a penalty when you do: thereafter you will lose the power of verbal communication, for the duration of the contest."But one moment of full communication should be enough, X(A/N)th reflected, his albedo increasing. So there was probably another catch. "What else?""You will have your full powers, apart from speech, limited to yourself and one inferior creature of your choosing, to the extent that creature requests them.""But if I am not allowed to describe my real nature, in my moment of communication--""Invent something," JU(P/I)ter suggested. "Anything but the truth. But if you come close enough to the truth so that the creature, or any other denizen of your domain, catches on, you lose."That, too, was reasonable; he could approach the truth,but if he came too close, so that the inferior creature realized that he was in fact the Demon X(A/N)th, he would forfeit. But the contest was still incomplete. "What is the penalty for becoming what that creature chooses?""The power of motion," JU(P/I)ter said. "After that state ends, when the inferior creature terminates the association and separates from you for more than a moment and more than a unit of distance, you will not only be mute but completely immobile. You will lose your powers of magical action, too, other than awareness. So you had better achieve your objective before such separation occurs.""Decision, time, geography," V(E\N)us said. "That is fair, isn't it? Triple termination. No accidents." Fair, to her, meant she felt assured of his loss, which she desired more than a victory of her own.This was getting tough, all right. He could speak only once, and then could act only as long as he kept company with the creature. Inferior creatures were notoriously fickle; at any time, for little or no reason, the one selected could decide it no longer desired his association, and tell him so, and depart. By the terms of this contest, he would not be able to demur.But it wasn't yet done. This conspiracy of Demons meant to see that he had virtually no chance at all. He needed to know the worst of it. "What is the actual item of decision?""You must be the recipient of at least one tear of love or grief, from a creature who has no notion of its significance.""The creature with whom you associate," V(E\N)us amended. "No other."And there it was. He had to evoke the severe sympathy of an inferior and ignorant creature. "And how long will I have to evoke this tear?""As long as your mortal body remains. If you become mute and immobile without achieving it, your body will behave in the manner of mortal entities: it will slowlystarve to death. When it dies, the contest will be over, and you will have lost."X(A/N)th considered. They expected him to balk, and to have to pay a forfeit for that. "Agreed. Let me select my mortal form for the occasion." He was thinking of becoming a beautiful woman, because mortals shed tears very readily over them. Or perhaps a winsome child: better yet."No. That's the last detail: I will select your mortal form.""But you could choose something difficult!""Exactly. It will be a real contest. Win it, and I will concede that your creatures do have good behavior.""You will concede more than that," X(A/N)th replied grimly. "I accept your deal, and the other Demons will watch to see that every aspect of it is honored."The other Demons nodded. This promised to be interesting."Then assume your mortal coil," Demon JU(P/I)ter said grandly. "A dragon ass, with the voice of an aqua duck. Your role name is Nimby."And before X(A/N)th could protest, he was in the Region of Madness, in the form of a creature whose body was that of a dragon with diagonal stripes of pastel pink and bilious green, with the head of a Mundane donkey."Ouch," he muttered subvocally, but even then it was the voice of an aqua duck, a sound like a cross between a goblin holding his nose and the burble of noxious gas percolating through sewer water.There was a stir on the surface of the cesspool that just happened to be near. An aqua duck poked its head out of the pool, evidently thinking to discover another of its kind. Finding no such thing, it ducked below again, for such ducks lived underwater, and had to hold their breaths to forage for bugs on the surface.And his name was now Nimby, which was an apt description, a digest of Not In My Back Yard: exactly where such a creature would be welcome. Nowhere.He was in trouble. How would he convince anyone evento approach him, let alone shed a tear for him?Well, he could look. He extended his awareness, covering all of the Land of Xanth. He knew what every creature was doing, and where every plant was. Xanth was teeming with activity. Somewhere there should be someone who wouldn't be afraid of a dragon ass, who would listen to what he had to say, and who would shed a tear for him. Maybe not immediately, but in time, after getting to know him. Because despite his ludicrous limitations, he retained considerable power to please. If the one he approached had the wit to ask for it. If that one would take him seriously.But instead of finding a suitable person, he found another problem. There had been a magic flux, the moment he changed form, resulting in a temporary weakness of the Interface. The spell required to fix him in this situation had done it, for even the most trifling Demon magic was stronger than that of all the lesser creatures combined. For the next few hours, it would be possible for things to pass through, entering Xanth without being twisted to some other time. That could mean significant mischief. Ordinarily he would automatically shore up the Interface to prevent such a nuisance, but as Nimby he couldn't. It was his policy to ignore the activities of his associated region, but the Interface the local creatures had established was useful, and helped keep things quiet, so he quietly supported it. He just had to hope that nothing really obnoxious passed from Mundania into Xanth, before the Interface healed itself.It would be nice if the person he approached was extremely cooperative, and shed a tear for him immediately, giving him the victory and freeing him. But since he couldn't even say that he needed a tear, that being too close to the truth, that seemed unlikely. However, if the person asked him for information, he could provide it, and if the person asked him to do something about the rift in the Interface, then he could. Provided he did it in such a way as to conceal his real nature. So there was a chanceto fix the problem, during the course of the contest. If he found the right person.He concentrated on that, sifting through all the creatures of the land. The great majority were plainly unsuitable. Most were hopelessly locked into their situations, and wouldn't have anything to do with a weird monster. In fact, they would either flee it or attack it, depending on the state of their courage. He needed someone reasonably open-minded. That cut the prospects down to few.He headed for the nearest. This was a pretty young human woman named Miss Fortune. She was smart, decent, amiable, lovely, and caring, and did not judge others too much by appearances. She would make some young man a fine wife, but for one thing. Her talent was bad luck, and it always interfered when a really good prospect approached her. Thus she was perhaps ideal for Nimby, who could, if she asked him, reverse her luck. He would catch her alone, present himself, and use his one moment of speech to acquaint her with the usefulness of Nimby. Thereafter he would be silent, per the stricture of the contest, but it should be enough. She would get to know him, realize that he was not merely a monster, ask him to reverse her luck, and when he did so, she should really appreciate him. Of course, that would not make her cry him a tear, but perhaps that would come later, if she came to care for him enough. She often did cry for her pets, and for family members when they suffered mischief--which was rather often, because of her talent. So this looked reasonably good.Nimby trotted along toward the rendezvous. His dragon body was actually quite strong, and could move well. His hide was tough enough to ignore nettles and branches. His eyes were good enough to spy out suitable paths. His nose was good enough to sniff out all manner of creatures great and small. In fact, Nimby felt his first pang of hunger. He was mortal now, so had to eat. Hunger was a new experience. So he sniffed out a fruiting pie plant and snapped up a fresh cherry pie. He gulped it down and slurped histongue around his donkey lips. Eating was fun!He extended his awareness again. Fortune was starting out to gather a sprig of thyme, because her mother was getting rushed and needed a bit more. "There's no thyme like the present," she said. "Go fetch it now." So Fortune, sweet as she was, set out instantly to fetch it.Nimby explored the immediate region with his awareness. There were, it turned out, several paths to the thyme plant, because many families made occasional use of it. In fact, they found thyme to be quite precious. It would not be long before Fortune arrived there.He considered what he would say to her when they met. Because he would appear to her as a frightening monster, he had better speak to her first, reassuring her. Then, when she was prepared, he would show her his dragon ass form. Even so, his words would have to be effective, because he would have only a moment of speech. Moments varied in length; some were long, some short. In this case it would be the time until she made a verbal response of some kind to his speech. So he would have to forestall her cry or exclamation, lest his moment end before he conveyed to her his potential usefulness to her. Such as being able to reverse her talent for a time. He could tell her that he had reverse wood, and knew how to use it to help her. No, she would just ask for the wood. So he would instead tell her that his talent could make her what she wanted to be, as long as they were together. So she would need to keep his company for a while. Because not only would he be silent after his moment of speech, he would be immobile once they formally separated. Thus his single opening monologue would be of overwhelming importance, and he had to do it just right. He could in effect win or lose his contest in that moment.He reached the thyme plant. It was a small one, so its effects were limited. Someone had drawn a circle in the dirt around it, showing the safe limit of approach. Folk who wanted a leaf of thyme had to use a wooden hook to get it, because the inanimate was not as greatly affected.That was what Fortune was coming here to do. Then she would maneuver the leaf into a magic pouch that stifled its ambiance, and take the pouch home to her mother. Her mother, of course, would know how to handle it safely; mothers were always i...
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