"And I say Opiode should give way!"
The speaker. Asmouelle the tamandua, stood be-
fore the narrow wooden oval that was the Quorum
table and glared at his colleagues. His nose was
damp and glistening, and so was the table. Most
everything stayed damp in Quasequa, a city built on
numerous islands in the middle of the Lake of
Sorrowful Pearls. Causeways joined the islands together,
and each isle sent its duly chosen representative to
^ argue for it in the Quorum.
This afternoon the arguments raged hotter than
the air outside the Quorumate. The members were
debating the selection of an advisor in matters ar-
cane and magical.
The unexpected challenger for this mystic position
sat and brooded in a chair at the far end of the
Quorum chamber. Reluctant attendants saw to his
needs. They were afraid of the newcomer. So were
several members of the Quorum, though none
confessed such unseemly fears openly.
Two members openly supported the challenger,
but not out of fear. Kindore and Vazvek saw a
chance to better themselves by striking a bargain
with the newcomer for their aid. The rest of the
2 Alan Dean Poster
Quorum regarded this naked display of sycophancy
And now Asmouelle appeared to have joined
The tamandua sat down. Domurmur the lynx rose
and spoke dispassionately. "And / say this wanderer
has yet to prove himself capable of anything stronger
than bad breath." His paws rested on the ancient
table, which was as black and shiny as a bottle of
Kindore responded with an insult of some subtlety,
and once again the debate dissolved into chaos. It
ceased only when Trendavi raised a hand for silence.
He did not stand. Long experience had taught him
that it was not necessary for a legislator to jump up
and down like a toy in a box to make a point.
The aged pangolin squinted down the length of
the table, studying the challenger silently for a moment.
Then he nodded to his left.
"Opiode the Sly has been principal advisor in
arcane matters to the Quorum of Quasequa for
nearly thirty years. Skillfully and well has he served.
The city and its citizens have profited much from his
advice." Trendavi showed scaly palms. "As have we
Words of agreement rose from the members while
Kindore and Vazvek were conspicuous by their silence.
The newcomer said nothing.
"It is true that this Markus person"—and Trendavi
gestured toward the individual in the solitary chair,
who sat smiling to himself as if at some secret joke—
"has demonstrated to the Quorum nothing more
than a facile tongue."
Now the newcomer stood and approached the
black table. "Since you credit me with it, let me use
it, friends." The towering form of his personal body-
guard moved to stand close to the door. "Can I come
TSOS MOMENT Of THB MACMCiAflr 3
nearer?" He smiled pleasantly and even Domurlnur
had to admit that this Markus the Ineluctable, as he
styled himself, could be downright ingratiating in
manner when he so desired. Especially for a human,
a species not noted for its social graces.
Trendavi nodded. All eyes focused on the newcom-
er as he moved close.
For his part, Markus the Ineluctable sensed antag-
onism, fear, curiosity, and some open support among
the members of the Quorum. He would concentrate
his efforts on persuading those who seemed to be
wavering. Of the ten, he could count on three. The
two who openly feared him he could ignore. He had
to persuade at least two others.
And he had to move carefully lest he panic them
all. It was too early to press his demands. His posi-
tion was uncertain in Quasequa, and despite his
powers, he had no wish to raise a formal alliance
against him. Far better to make friends of them than
enemies. Of a majority, anyway.
"I've come here from a faraway land, a land far-
ther off and stranger than any of you can imagine."
"So you've claimed." Domurmur had become some-
thing of an unofficial spokesman for Markus's
opposition. "All that you claim is difficult to be-
"Yet much of it is proven by my presence, isn't it?"
"Not necessarily," said Newmadeen, preening her
whiskers casually. One of her long ears was bent
forward in the middle, a sign of beauty among the
Markus turned away momentarily and coughed.
He did not need to cough, but he didn't want them
to see the expression on his face. He didn't like being
called a liar- Calming himself, he turned to face
them again. Newmadeen he didn't reply to, but he
4 Alan Dean Foster
would remember her. Oh, yes, he would remember
her. Markus the Ineluctable never forgot an enemy.
Cascuyom the howler shrugged. "There is nothing
unique or remarkable about your person. There are
many humans living in Quasequa. All species mix
freely here. Or you could have come from any one
of several neighboring lands with denser human
populations. Your humanness is proof of nothing."
Markus stepped up to the table, enjoying the way
several of the members shied away from him. "But
I'm no mere human! I'm not your usual mortal. I
am a magician—the magician. Markus the Ineluctable!
I have powers you cannot comprehend, abilities you
cannot conceive of, talents you cannot imagine!"
"A mouth big beyond belief," Domurmur whispered
to the beauteous Newmadeen.
Trendavi cleared his throat, spoke thoughtfully
and, he hoped, with some degree of neutrality- "You
must think quite highly of your skills to come straight
to the Quorum to challenge the faithful and talented
Opiode without first passing time as an apprentice.
For the nonce I will credit you with boldness instead
of ignorance. Whether Opiode will be as forgiving
remains to be seen." He nodded toward the salaman-
der seated in the advisor's chair off to his right.
Red-orange blotches decorated what was visible of
Opiode's back. He wore a single garment that resem-
bled a raincoat. It was not close-fitting. No salaman-
der could wear anything close to its skin because its
natural bodily secretions would cause the material to
Opiode's long tail flicked nervously back and forth.
What he'd heard of this Markus the Ineluctable
hadn't pleased him. Now that he saw him in the
flesh, he liked the man even less.
Still, he'd held his peace because protocol demanded
THE MOMENT OF TISK MAOTCMUT 5
it. Not that his personal opinion would be accepted
as evidence. The selection of chief advisor to the
Quorum was purely a matter of business. He would
have his turn in due course. So he continued to sit
quietly, ignoring the debate as best he could while
trying to still the twitching of his tail.
Markus was talking on. "I can do things you won't
believe by means of a magic you've never encountered
"More talk," said Domurmur, slapping the table
with a paw- Markus grinned at him.
**I suspected it would come to this. You want more
than talk from me."
"That'd be nice," said Domurmur sarcastically.
"We've had to contend with applicants whose loquadou&-
ness far exceeded their abilities before"
For an instant, it seemed as if Markus the Inelucta-
ble was about to lose his temper. His barely concealed
rage didn't faze Domurmur. He was made of sterner
stuff than some of his colleagues.
"Yes." said Opiode suddenly, unable to contain
himself any longer. "Let's have an end to this talkl"
All eyes turned to the chief advisor as he rose
from his seat. The glow bulbs hanging by their single
Strands from the curved stone ceiling pulsed a little
brighter as the salamander stood. It was his spelling
which provided their soft, steady light. The servitors
flanking the doorways whispered expectantly among
themselves. Attendants and Quorum members alike
could feel the power flowing from the old wizard,
could sense that he was completely involved in what
was taking place.
About the challenger there was no such percepti-
ble aura of strength. There was only the air of
mystery and feeling of alienness he had brought with
him from the moment he'd stepped into the chamber.
6 Alan Dean Poster
That, and the regal bearing he affected, which some-
how seemed not to fit.
Nor was his actual appearance particularly impres-
sive. He was tall for a human but not spectacularly
so, round of countenance, and crowned with less fur
than most. In hand-to-hand combat it was unlikely
he could have defeated any of the Quorum with the
exception of old Trendavi, for he displayed a consid-
erable paunch above his belt line.
The forthcoming batde would not be physical,
however. Opiode approached the Quorum. "I see no
reason to oppose a challenge. Indeed, I could not
turn it down if 1 wished to. Nor is there any way you
can choose between us without a contest of wills. The
people of Quasequa deserve to have an advisor who
has proven his abilities" He sighed deeply, looked
resigned as he smoothed the slime on the back oT his
hands with a fold of his voluminous robe.
"I have demonstrated my fitness many times be-
fore and expect to have to do so many times again."
He cocked an amphibian eye Coward the newcomer.
"Have you any objection to a public contest?"
"Here and now suits me fine." Markus fairly oozed
confidence. "I'm a little new at this kind of duel. Do
we need seconds?"
"1 think not. In any event, my assistant Flute is
quite young and I would not want him subjected to
mystic influences that could injure him at a delicate
Stage of his development."
"Aw, I wouldn't do that." Markus turned. "Prugg,
no matter what happens you stay there and keep out
of the way. Understand?" The huge bodyguard nod-
ded once and backed away from the table. He was
not completely impassive, however. Like everyone
else in the chamber, he was curious to see how his
master would fare. He was even a little worried.
After all, Opiode was the most noted wizard in the
THB MOMENT OF TSB SSAWCSAM 7
land. It was simple for his master to overawe the
peasant folk with his magic, but outwitting Opiode
would be another matter entirely.
Markus the Ineluctable seemed anything but
intimidated, though. He grinned and gestured
expansively toward the salamander. "You first."
Opiode did not smile. "Food is vital to the health
of all. No food is more important to the people of
Quasequa than the fish that swim in the lakes around
us." He slid back his sleeves, cleared his throat, and
his words rolled through the chamber.
"The bounty of the lake
I bid you aH to share
Your hungers may you slake
With meat beyond compare
For while I advise Quasequa there will be
No nutritional dystopia
But always instead if you look you will see
An ichthyological cornucopia."
Quorum members and servitors alike watched with
the fascination of children as a small, glowing blue-
green whirlpool formed in the air above the floor.
You could smell the lake water as the vortex hummed.
Then the fish poured forth, falling head upon tail,
until there was a heaping mound of flopping, bounc-
ing weewaw lying in the middle of the floor. Weewaw,
the hardest to catch and tastiest of all. And Opiode
had brought forth this expensive and improbable
feast with a wave of his hands and a few words.
The wizard spoke only when the last fish had
• tumbled to the stones and the whirlpool had vanished.
"Can you so readily insure the supply of food to the
citizens of the city?"
Markus frowned a moment. Then his grin returned.
He raised his hands above his head, the fingers
8 Alan Dean Poster
pointing outward. His black cape fluttered behind
him. The Quorum members strained to listen, but
those with good hearing could make no sense of the
newcomer's words. Even Opiode, who could hear the
incantation clearly, did not understand. The words
were strange and sharp.
Sense they might not have made, but there was no
denying their effect. A bright green glow appeared
before the table. A few of the members shifted
nervously in their chairs, and Markus casually as;
sured them they had nothing to worry about.
The glow expanded and thinned. Markus looked
smug as the glow formed a floating rectangle above
It was an aquarium without sides- Magic alone
held the water in place. Swimming to and fro within
the drifting section of lake was a whole school of
weewaw. suspended before the Quorum.
"I don't know about the rest of you, but I hate
waste. Wouldn't it be better to get your fish one at a
time and keep the others fresh for the taking?"
Opiode muttered something and his pile of dead
weewaw vanished. Markus did likewise and the float-
ing aquarium also disappeared, save for a few mis-
placed drops which stained the floor-
"Well brought!" said Kindore, only to have his
colleagues shush him. Opiode glared at the flying
squirrel, then turned his attention back to the smil-
ing Markus. They had determined one thing already.
His challenger was for real.
"It is not enough to feed a population in times of
difficulty, stranger. One must be able to defend
them as well" Again he lifted an arm, made sinuous
motions in the air.
"Let those who threaten
THE MOMEMT OF THE MAGICIAN 9
We will not fight
with air, with air
We mold our weapons
with care, so there
Be metallurgical might!"
Fire this time, bright and hot. The Quorum mem-
bers shielded their faces as the set of armor co-
alesced before them, melting out of the flames. Sword,
shield, and long spear accompanied it. The fire
cooled and flickered out.
Notorian moved from his seat to inspect the newly
forged weapons. He hefted the sword, tapped the
armor with it.
"Fine instruments for fighting."
"For one fighter, yes," Markus agreed readily. "For
a trained warrior. But what of the ordinary citizen?
How does he, or she, defend the community?"
Once more he raised his hands, once again he
intoned an invocation none could comprehend. This
he concluded by swinging his cape around in front
of him, to form a funnel in the air.
There was a tinkling sound as something fell from
the base of the funnel. Then another, and another.
It became a metallic clashing as the flow increased,
until the flow of knives was a shining waterfall pouring
from the bottom of the cape.
Notorian the wolf picked one up and tested the
edge. "Finest steel I've ever seen," he declared to the
stunned Quorum. The rush of metal continued until
Trendavi finally raised a hand himself.
"Enough!" Markus nodded, let the cape swirl back
around his neck. As he did so, the clanging waterfall
ceased. The floor of the Quorum chamber was awash
in knives of every shape and size- Markus kicked a
few of them aside and bowed.
"As my employers wish." He swept a hand out to
Alan Dean Fofltcr
encompass the armory. "A gift to the Quorum and to
the citizens of Quasequa, my adopted home."
"They're only knives," Cascuyom muttered.
"You'd prefer swords?" Markus asked him, over-
hearing. "Or maybe something more lethal still? Like
this." He threw his left hand toward the ceiling- A
burst of lightning flew from his fingers to shatter the
pole holding a banner across the table. Splinters and
fabric tumbled onto the Quorum. Markus grinned as
they fought to extricate themselves while maintaining
"Something more impressive?" he inquired.
"No, no, that will be quite satisfactory," harrumphed
Trendavi, trying to untangle himself from the fallen
"You can feed and you can destroy," snapped
Opiode, "but can you create?"
Again the salamander's hands moved in time to his
"Jewels of the earth
Scarce and profound
Gems of great worth
Come forth from the ground
Rise here to please us
To tempt and to tease us!"
Crystals of blue and yellow, of rose and lavender
began to take shape in the center of the table. They
seemed to grow out of the wood, catching the light
as they developed, throwing back delightful colors at
the enraptured members. By the time Opiode con-
cluded the incantation, the entire table was encrusted
with crystals. A smattering of applause came from
the servitors gathered along the walls-
But Markus the Ineluctable only smiled wider as
THS MOMEHT OF THE MAQtCIAM 11
he moved his fingers against one another. The ap-
plause for Opiode turned to awed whispers.
Flowers began to appear, growing out of the na-
ked stone of the walls and ceiling. Exotic, alien
blossoms that put forth the most exquisite smells. A
blaze of color and fragrance filled the Quorum cham-
ber to overflowing.
You could see the opinions of several members of
the Quorum begin to shift in/Markus's favor.
"Satisfied yet?" Markus asked them. "You tell me
which of us is the more powerful magician."
"A magician is a trickster, not a wizard," said
Markus shrugged. "I prefer magician. I'm comfort-
able with it. I've always called myself a magician. As
for my 'tricks,' they seem just as effective as your
wizardry. Had enough?"
"There is one more thing," said Opiode slowly.
"You have shown what you can do for others, but can
you do for yourself?" So saying he pointed a red-and-
black arm at Markus's face and uttered an incanta-
tion so powerful the words cannot stand repeating.
A slight but steady breeze sprang up, rippling the
fur of the onlookers, and the glow bulbs grew dim. No
one in the chamber dared to breathe, lest a fraction
of that energy latch onto them and turn them to
As they stared, Markus the Ineluctable began to
rise from the floor. He put his hands on his hips and
considered his levitation thoughtfully, then nodded
appreciatively in Opiode's direction.
"Hey. not bad. Not bad at all." Then he raised one
hand and murmured something almost indifferently.
Opiode the Siy, Opiode the clever, Opiode the
principal advisor in matters arcane and magical to
the Quorum of Quasequa, vanished.
Shouts and cries from the servitors, mild panic
Aim Dean roster
among the more impressionable members of the.
Quorum as Markus settled gently back to the ground.
"What have you done with him?" Domunnur's
teeth were clenched, but he knew when he was
overmatched. There was little more he could do than
ask. "Where is he?"
"Where is he? Well now, let me think." Markus
rubbed his chin. "He might be over... there!" He
pointed sharply toward a far doorway. Servitors
stationed there scattered, dropping a platter of fruit
behind them. Markus turned, inspecting the chamber.
"Or he might be... under there." A couple of the
members of the Quorum inadvertently peered un-
der the table, hastily sat up straight in their chairs
when they realized how easily the newcomer had
"But he's actually probably right... here." Markus
the Ineluctable removed his black hat, turned it
upside down, and tapped it once, twice, a third time.
Out plopped a dazed and very disoriented Opiode
the Sly. Disdaining Markus's proffered hand, the
salamander struggled to his feet and backed away,
shaking his head and trying to regain his bearings.
From the Quorum came a rising cry in support of
Opiode ignored it, stared narrowly at his opponent.
"I don't know how you did that, but of one thing I
am certain: it was no clean wizardry."
"Oh, it was clean enough," said Markus smugly.
"Just a mite different from what you're used to,
that's all. Are you afraid of something different,
something new?" He turned to face the Quorum.
"Are you all afraid of something different, even if it's
better than what you've been used to?"
"No," said Trendavi quickly. "We are not afraid of
what is different, or of what is new. We of Quasequa
pride ourselves on accepting new things, on promot-
TBS MOMENT OP TSOE MAGICIAN
ing innovation." He gazed sorrowfully in Opiode's
direction. "It is my recommendation and I hereby
move that the Quorum officially nominate Markus
the Ineluctable to the position of chief advisor to the
Quorum on matters arcane and magical, and I fur-
thermore move that Opiode the Sly, who has served
us so well lo these many years, be retired from the
post with a vote of thanks and an official commenda-
tion to be decided upon later."
"Seconded!" said a pair of voices simultaneously.
And that was that. It was done, over, and Markus
stood smiling, arms crossed before him as his sup-
porters gathered around to congratulate him on his
victory and those who had opposed him moved to
offer grudging words of acceptance. A few would
have offered their condolences to the defeated Opiode,
but the salamander did not linger. Instead, he left
quickly and with dignity, still a bit shaken from the
manner in which Markus had handled him, but in
no way cowed or t>eaten.
It was dark in the wizard's study. But then, Opiode
preferred the dim light and the dampness. His rooms
were situated at the edge of the Quorumate Com-
plex and below the water line. Ancient stones held
back the warm water of the Lake of Sorrowful Pearls
while allowing a pleasant dampness to seep through.
Thick moss, red as well as green, grew on the stones
and ceiling. The furniture was fashioned of stone or
boram root, which resists rot.
Glow bulbs dangled overhead, their magic lights
dimmer than usual, the weak illumination a reflec-
tion of the wizard's uncomfortable state of mind.
Opiode stared steadily at one flickering bulb as he
lay in his thinktank. The stone basin was filled with
freshly drawn lake water rich with lichens, mosses,
tight blue hot pads, and minute aquatic insects.
14 Alan Dean Foster
Altogether, the rooms constituted a benign and
thoroughly salamandrine environment.
But as Opiode lay on his back, his arms crossed
over his chest, his tail gently agitating the water, it
was plain to see he was disturbed. Tending the
crackling fire nearby was a much smaller and younger
salamander, well aware of his master's unease. Flute
wore the cloak of an apprentice. He was stouter than
Opiode, marked with black spots instead of red, and
his expression was anxious- His feathery pink gills
lay flat against his neck as he waited patiently for
Opiode to arise. A sad day. He knew what had
happened in the Quorum chamber far above. Every-
one in the city would know by tonight.
Finally Opiode rose from the basin, shifting easily
to inhaling air instead of water, and declared
portentously, "This thing must not be allowed to
"Your pardon. Master," said Flute sofdy. "What
must not be allowed to happen?"
"I have lost. There is nothing that can be done
about that. Nor do I deny the strength of this
newcomer's magic. He is a valid wizard, or magician,
or whatever he chooses to call himself. A manipula-
tor of the unknown. But it is not his abilities I fear; it
is his intentions. Those I comprehend even less than
He walked over to stand before the fire. Flute
moved to the table and checked the settings for
supper, then to the stove on which a big pot of
caddisfly stew sat boiling. He stirred it carefully. One
had to have a delicate touch with the dish or the
nests within would become soft and stringy and
would lose the delicate crunch so beloved of gourmets.
"Nor do I like the attitude of his original support-
ers on the Quorum," Opiode went on, staring into
the fire. "Kindore and Vazvek. Those two opportun-
THK MOMKVT OF THE MAOICIAM
ists would throw in their lot with anyone they thought
might help them turn a profit. And Asmouelle and
some of the others have the spines of worms. With so
much support, there is nothing to stop this Markus."
"Stop him from doing what. Master?"
"From doing whatever he wishes to do. He is chief
advisor to the Quorum. A prestigious position and
one which would satisfy most. But not him, 1 think. I
saw that much in his eyes. That is not sorcery. That is
thirty years of experience. Flute. No, he wants more.
I fear, much more."
"Evil designs. Master?"
"Flute, I have lived long enough and dealt with
those in power often enough to recognize the hun-
ger for power when it manifests itself on the face of
another. I saw it in the face of Markus the Inelucta-
ble as I left the Quorum chamber. He conceals it
from the others, but he cannot hide it from me,
"Did you know. Flute, that the great joy of living in
Quasequa is that we have never had a single ruler?
No kings here, no presidents or emperors. Only the
Quorum, which functions in a kind of constrained
anarchy. It suits us, we Quasequans.
"This Markus will think otherwise. He will see
weakness where we see strength. And it does have its
vulnerabilities, our system, particularly when some
are ready to grovel at the feet of the first would-be
dictator who comes along and declares himself."
"You think he means to announce himself absolute
"I wish I could be certain, but I can't." Opiode
absently cleaned his left eye with his tongue. "In any
event, I am no longer in a position to stop him."
"Is his magic so much stronger than yours, Master?"
"It was today. On another day"—he shrugged slick
shoulders—"who can say? But there is no denying
his power. If 1 only knew the source he draws
Alan Dean Foster
upon..." He broke off and moved to the table, the
frustration sharp on his face.
Flute reached for the potholders. "Supper, Master?"
"No, not yet." Opiode waved him off, his mind
working intensely. "If I could only be certain of his
intentions, of his motivations—but where humans
are concerned, nothing is obvious, nothing is certain."
"What if he truly is more powerful than you,
Master?" It was not a disrespectful question.
"Then we will need the assistance of one who can
deal not only with strong magic but with strange
"There is one more talented than you. Master?"
For the First time that day, Opiode smiled slighdy.
"You have seen but little of the wide world, my
young student. It is unimaginably vast and rich with
wonders and surprises. Yes, there are wizards more
powerful than I. I am thinking of one in particular.
One who is wise beyond all others, knowledgeable
beyond comprehending, stronger even, I think, than
this Markus the Ineluctable... 1 hope. One who is
brave, courageous, and bold, an inspiration to all
other wizards. It is he whose help we must have:
Clothahump of the Tree."
Flute frowned, turned away so that Opiode could
not see the skepticism on his face. "I have heard of
him. Master. Truly it is said that he is wise and full of
learning, long-lived and powerful. However, I have
yet to hear it said of him that he is brave, courageous,
"Well," Opiode retreated somewhat, "I confess some
of it may be rumor. But his ability is proven fact. You
know that he was largely responsible for the recent
defeat of the Plated Folk at the batde for the Jo-
"I have heard many versions of that battle. Master,
some of which were less flattering to Clothahump of
THE MoMKprr OF THK MAGICIAN.
the Tree than others. It is told that he was there at
the critical moment, yes, but to what degree he was
involved depends on which storyteller you are listen-
"Nevertheless, he is the only one powerful enough
to help us. We must seek his aid. He cannot refuse
"How will you inform him. Master?" Flute gazed
sadly at the supper that was on the verge of
overcooking. "Shall I prepare the pentagram for a
"No." Opiode rose from the table. "This Markus
might be strong enough to detect it. And there is no
guarantee of its working, given the distance the
conjuration would have to travel. Clothahump's home
lies a long way from Quasequa—and I am getting
old. It has been a long time since I attempted a
traveling conjuration over such a distance."
Flute was shocked by this admission of weakness
but fought not to show it. Truly the loss of today's
contest had weakened not only his Master's stature
but his confidence as well.
Or perhaps Opiode the Sly was merely being prop-
eriy cautious. Flute preferred to think that that was
"We must have a messenger," the wizard muttered.
"A reliable messenger. One who is used to traveling
far and fast and who will not be afraid to leave the
familiar country that surrounds the Lake of Sorrow-
ful Pearls." He thought a moment longer before
nodding to himself and looking up at his apprentice-
"Khi the Isle of Kunatweh, the furthermost of the
four high islands that form the eastern part of the
.city, hi the place where the fliers congregate, lives a
raven named Pandro. Bring him here to "me- Make
certain that none see you. I will explain what he
must do. Although 1 have never had reason to use
18 Alan Dean Foster
one such as him before, by reputation he is brave
and trustworthy. Again 1 tell you to take care in your
going and returning. It is said that this Markus
already has spies roaming the city and reporting
back only to him.
"Although he defeated me today, he strikes me as
no fool. I am sure he still regards me as his most
dangerous rival. In that he is right," Opiode muttered
grimly. "I sense and see what kind of individual he is
and so am unalterably opposed to having him in a
position of power in the city 1 love so dearly. I believe
he must know my feelings toward him, and in any
case, such as he will leave nothing to chance. So he
will have this place watched. At least you can slip out
without being seen. I do not believe anyone eke
knows of my private entryway."
"When do I leave. Master?"
"Now." The wizard hesitated. "Have you eaten?"
"It does not matter. Master. I can eat anytime.**
"No," Opiode said firmly." "You may need all your
strength. First we eat."
They did so, the meal passing largely in contempla-
tive silence. Then Flute secured his waterproof cloak
snugly around him and moved to the arched alcove
on the far side of the room. The arch was an
inverted bell fashioned of tightly chinked tile. A
pressure spell invoked by Opiode kept the lake water
Flute climbed the stone steps until he could look
out onto the black water that lapped against the wall
of the bell. He readied his gills, fluffing them out
with his hands, and dove into the water.
A couple of fast kicks carried him well out into the
open lake. He did not surface but swam hard and
unerringly for the four high islands of the east. Like
the other isles that combined to form the sprawling
city of Quasequa, they were connected to one an-
THE MOMENT or TBB MAOICUJT
other by causeways, but this was not the time to walk
openly on city streets.
It was time for stealth and for clinging to the dark
bottom of the lake.
Opiode sat in his robes of office, a thin, narrow
upswept cap balanced on the middle of his slick
head, and regarded his visitor. Flute stood quietly by
the front door.
The raven wore the kilt of his clan, colorful material
striped with green, purple, and red. His vest was light-
ly spun lavender. A single gold chain hung round
his neck to rest against his chest feathers. He rubbed
the underside of his beak with a flexible wingtip.
"Let me get this straight, now, sorcerer." He was
studying the papers Opiode had handed him. "You
want me to fly north along this route, turning slighdy
west here, to deliver this message." He shuffled the
papers, held up one filled with writing instead of
diagrams. "It goes to an old turtle named Clothahump
who lives in"—he checked the map briefly—"this ma-
jor tree here. For one hundred coins." Opiode nodded.
"That's a helluva long flight," Pandro said.
"I had heard that you were not afraid of long flights."
"I ain't. 1 ain't afraid of anything, least of all a little
long-distance traveling. But considering how quiet
you're being about this, and the amount you're paying
me, well, no disrespect. Master Opiode, but—what's
TBK MQMKNT OF THE KAOICIAN 21
Opiode glanced at Flute, then sighed and smiled,
down at Pandro. "It would not be right for me to
keep it from you. You must know what you are
about, as well as its importance.
"You must have heard that another has assumed
my position as chief advisor to the Quorum."
"Sure. It's all over town. This Markus fella... what's
it to me?"
"Good Pandro, I have reason to believe that this
newcomer intends ill toward our great city. But 1
cannot convince the members of the Quorum of
that. They would think I was making accusations out
of bitterness at my loss- And I cannot move against
this Markus by myself. I need help. This Clothahump
that you will seek out is the only one who can help us.
"The 'catch' is that this Markus the Ineluctable is
crafty as well as skilled in the arcane arts. You are
sure none saw you arrive here?"
"As sure as we can be, Master," said Flute. "I took
"Then, good Pandro, there may be no catch. But
be ever alert as you wing northward, for this Markus
is not stupid. If he believes you are aiding me, it
could be dangerous for you. If he did see you arrive
here, or sees you depart, he may try to stop you
from completing your journey."
"Is that all?" The raven rested his wingtips on his
hips for a moment, then rolled up the message and
the map and slipped them into his backpack. "Then
Acre's nothing to concern yourself with. Master
Optode. There isn't another flier in Quasequa who
Can stay in the air for as long as I can on as little food
as I can. Anybody he sends after me, if he sends
anyone. I can outfly." He flicked his beak with a
^ "See here? Been broken twice in fights. I can take
,^care of myself and I'm not worried about anything
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this Markus fella might send up after me. If it flies, I
can outrun or outfight it."
"It is good to be confident. Overconfidence is
"Don't worry. I'll use my good judgment, sir. I've a
mate and three fledglings to take care of, and you
can bet I'm coming back to them. That's stronger
motivation than your hundred coins. Relax. I'll get
your message through."
"Can you fly at night?" Opiode asked him.
"Night, day, the air's all the same to me whether
it's light or dark out. But if you'd feel better about it,
I'll leave tonight."
Opiode smiled. "Feel better, I would. The night
must be a friend to us all, now." Flute nodded
"As you wish, sir."
"Caution above all," Opiode counseled him. "This
Markus has spies everywhere. Even among the fliers."
"I'll keep it in mind, sir. Once I'm clear of the lake
district I should have free flying all the way north.
Besides, I know all the'good fliers and fighters in the
high islands. I don't think any are in this fella's
"I was not worried about your cousins," Opiode
said darkly, "so much as I was concerned about what
this Markus might call forth from another, more
sinister sky to challenge you."
"Can't spend all our time worrying about the
unforeseeable, can we, sir? At least I can't. I sup-
pose that's your job." He tapped his head. "Anyway,
anything I can't outfly or outfight I can sure as hell
"Then be off with you, owner of an unseen cloud,
and hasten back to us safely."
Pandro started for the doorway. "You can bet on
THE MOMENT OF THE MAGICIAN
"A raven, you say?" Markus the Ineluctable was
listening with only half his mind to what the mouse
was telling him. He was too busy enjoying the splen-
dor of his new tower quarters, the finest that the
Quorumate Complex could offer.
"Yes, wise one," said the mouse. It had a tendency
to stutter, a condition made worse by its proximity to
the powerful and much-feared new chief advisor to
the Quorum. "It flew s-s-straight away from the
H-Ianding where Mossamay Street and the wizard's
"Which direction did it take?"
"It f-f-flew north, wise one. Few city fliers live to
Markus turned from contemplation of an exqui-
site wood carving to stare at his bodyguard. The
mouse barely came up to his hip. "Prugg, what's
your opinion of this?"
Prugg was very big, very strong, and not very
bright. Despite his size and strength, people had a
tendency to laugh at him. At least, they used to.
Since he'd become Markus the Ineluctable's personal
servant they'd stopped laughing. Prugg was just intelli-
gent enough to realize this. He was very grateful to
' the magician. Markus made him feel comfortable,
feven though he understood very little of what his
new master had to say.
But he didn't have to think anymore. Markus did
all his thinking for him, Prugg found thinking
uncomfortable. And nobody laughed at him anymore.
• He was respected and feared. It was a new sensation
<and Prugg found that he liked it. Markus under-
'•Steod him, understood his needs. Prugg responded
^with devoted, unquestioning service.
^' So he considered the question carefully before
)lying. "It is true that the lands to the north of the
24 Alan Dean Foster
city are not as thickly inhabited as those in other
"What's the land to the north of here like?"
"Open forest where live peoples who do not pledge
their allegiance to the city or to any other government,
Master. North of that is the Wrounipai, the first of
many swamps all connected together that run from
west to east. They cut us off from any lands that lie
still farther north."
"And what about those lands?"
"I do not know. Master. I have never been there. I
do not know anyone from the city who has ever been
"And that's the way this bird was heading when he
left Opiode's place." Markus turned his full attention
on his spy. "You're certain of that?"
"Y-y-y-y-for sure, wise one! I am certain of it. He
f-f-f-flew straight away from the wizard's neighborhood.
I followed him with my eyes from the rooftops
"Okay, but how can we be sure he was on a mission
The visitor moved nearer, anxious to ingratiate
himself with the magician- His whiskers trembled as
"The wizard Opiode has a young assistant named
Flute. I s-s-saw him conversing with the raven before
he took off for the north." Markus was nodding
absently, admiring the polished hardwood inlay of
the table behind him- A single chair rested against
It needs something, he thought. A gargoyle or
demon or some such carved atop the chair. Some-
thing to draw the visitors' eyes upward. For that
matter, if the table was going to serve as a desk, it
had to be up on a dais. He'd have to get some
TBE MOMENT OF THE MAGICIAN 25
carpenters in here and get them started on the
alterations he wanted.
He was aware of his spy standing hopeful and
silent by his legs. "That's it?"
"That is all, w-w-wise one "
Markus nodded, glanced toward Prugg. "Give him
a gold piece."
"Thank you, wise one!" The spy was unaccus-
tomed to such largess, but Markus had always be-
lieved in paying his help as much as possible. Other-
wise you ended up with garbage working for you,
ready to sell you out to the first high bidder. Even if
he was overpaying for this particular bit of information,
in so doing he was buying himself a valuable servant
The mouse took the coin; skittered quickly away
from the ominous, silent shape of Prugg; and did
some admirable bowing and scraping as he retreated
from the magician's room.
When the door was closed once more, Prugg turned
to his benefactor. "What will you do now, Master?"
"What would you suggest?"
Prugg strained. Thinking hurt his head. "There
are faster fliers than ravens, Master. I would send
them after this one. Better not to take chances. Kill
"He has nearly a full day's head start," Markus
murmured, "but I agree with your suggestion." Prugg
smiled proudly. "I will send fliers out after him, yes,
faut 1 will not hire them. I will conjure them forth to
do our bidding."
""Yes. Master," said Prugg admiringly, waiting to
see what the magician would do next.
What Markus did was to assume a wide stance in
the middle of the room. The floor there had been
deared of all furniture and decoration. Prugg moved
to one side for a better view. He found it astonishing
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that Markus required no special chamber in which to
perform his wizardry. Nothing but a clear floor and
plenty of arm room.
As always, Markus mumbled the incantation. Not
that Prugg would have understood the words any
better than Opiode, but Markus the Ineluctable took
no chances with his secrets.
The room darkened perceptibly and the air grew
very still. Prugg would have been able to see better
with glow bulbs, but Markus would have nothing of
Opiode's around him and insisted instead on using
simple torches for illumination.
Then a faint whine became audible, alien and
harsh, rising slowly in volume. Prugg strained to see.
In the center of the room, in front of Markus,
shapes took form. If was as the magician had said:
fliers, but fliers akin to none Prugg had ever heard
tell of. He found himself backing away. They were
far smaller than he was, but ugly and threatening to
Markus, on the other hand, seemed delighted by
their appearance. They danced and whirled over his
head as he guided them with words and hands.
"Beautiful, beautiful! Better than I dared hope
for. If only I could've called them up as a child. Ah,
well, Prugg, it takes time to master the art. See,
they're just as I described theml"
The demons continued to pivot and spin over
their master's head, roaring exultantly and gnashing
their long teeth. In the enclosed space the din was
They had no faces, Prugg noted.
No eyes, nostrils, external ears, or visible mouths.
Only those mindless, clashing teeth. Fangs without
jaws. Prugg found he was shaking. There were worse
things in the world than one's own nightmares^
"To the north!" Markus cried, pointing with one
Tsss Moanswr or THE WAQSCSAS 2,7
hand. "There flies the raven named Pandro. Where
he's going 1 don't know, but see that he doesn't get
One by one, in single file, the faceless demons tore
through the open window. Only when the last of the
growling chorus had faded into the light of mideve
did Markus drop his hands and return to stand
behind his desk.
"About this chair, Prugg. What I want you to do
is—" He stopped and stared at his bodyguard. "Are
you paying attention?"
The huge servant forced his gaze away from the
window where the demons had taken their leave and
back to his master. Markus was speaking as though
die conjuration had never taken place. It was all so
matter-of-fact, so ordinary to him, this calling up of
Truly Prugg was fortunate to have him for a master.
It was a lovely warm day, the air thick with humidi-
ty but not oppressively so. Below Pandro the trees
had closed in, shutting off sight of the ground. He
was already well north not only of Quasequa but of
its outlying villages and satellite communities as well.
Rising thermals allowed him to glide effortlessly
over the dense tropical forest. Since departing
Quasequa he'd stopped only once, and that briefly,
the previous night to catch a bit of sleep. Then up
before dawn for a fast breakfast of fruit, nuts, and
dried fish and on to the north.
In his mind he reviewed the landmarks he would
pass on his way to the distant Bellwoods, a forested
region that was little more than rumor in Quasequa.
Opiode assured him such a place existed, just as he
assured him the great wizard he was to deliver his
message to existed.
If he was real, Pandro would find him. He'd never
28 Alan Dean Foster
failed to make a detivery yet, and this morning he
was feeling particularly confident. He felt so good he
skipped his usual midday snack, preferring to cover
as much territory as possible. Thus far the journey
had proved anything but dangerous. He'd assured
his mate before leaving that it would be more in the
nature of an extended vacation than a difficult
assignment. So far it had developed exacdy as he'd
Then he heard the noise.
It was behind and slightly above him and growing
steadily louder as he listened. At first he couldn't
place it. More than anything, it sounded like the
droning he imagined the fliers of the Plated Folk
might make. But those historic enemies were likewise
little more than rumor in Quasequa. Pandro had
only seen drawings of them, the fevered sketches of
far-ranging artists with more imagination than fact
at their disposal.
Hard-shelled, gray-eyed relatives of the common
bugs and crawly things that inhabited the woods and
lakes, they were. None had penetrated as far south
as Quasequa. He certainly never expected to see
them in person. Yet when at last he was able to look
back and make out the shapes pursuing him, he was
startled, for they certainly looked like the representa-
tions he'd seen of the Plated Folk.
The reality as they drew nearer still was worse.
They were not minions of the Plated Folk but some-
thing far more sinister. Similarities in shape and
appearance there were, but even the Plated Folk had
faces. The demons overtaking him had none. They
were hard-shelled but utterly different from any-
thing he'd ever seen before- Nor were they fliers like
his cousins, for where there should have been beaks
he saw only hungry, razor-sharp, strangely curved
THE MOMENT OF THB MAOICIAW
No matter how he strained he couldn't outdistance
them, and they closed the space between with terrify-
ing ease. Hoping to lose them in the trees, he dove
for the crowns of the forest. They followed easily,
closing ground still more when he reemerged from
the branches. He dipped and rolled and dodged,
employing every maneuver he could remember, some-
times vanishing among the foliage, sometimes dou-
bling sharply back on his route before rising again to
check the sky. And the demons stayed with him,
inexorable in their pursuit, malign in their purpose.
For Pandro they meant only death.
One veered just a little too near the mass of a giant
tocoro tree and smashed into the bark. Glancing
backward, Pandro was relieved to see it fall, spinning
and tumbling and broken, to smash into the ground
below. There was still hope, then. Demonic visitors
his tormentors might be, but they were neither invul-
nerable nor immortal. They could be killed.
Six of them had fallen on him. Now there were
five left. But he couldn't continue the battle at this
speed. All the diving and dodging among the trees
was wasting his strength at a much faster rate than
mere flying. Yet having tried to outrun them and
failed, he didn't have much choice. He had to keep
to the woods-
One of his pursuers swooped around the bole of a
forest giant, only to find itself caught in the grasp of
a huge, carnivorous flying lizard. Blood spurted as
the two combatants tumbled groundward, unable to
disengage. The lizard was stunned by the ferocity of
the much smaller creature it had caught, while for its
part the demon was unable to break free from sharp
talons. They struck the earth together.
Four left, Pandro thought wildly. His heart was
pounding against his chest feathers and his wing
muscles ached. One of the demons was right on top
Aim Dean Foster
of him, and he had to fold his wings and drop like a
stone, plummeting desperately toward the ground
only to roll out at the last second. Even so, curved
fangs slashed at his left wing in passing, sending
black feathers flying.
He checked the injury as he climbed cloudward.
The wound was superficial, but it had been a near
thing. Too near. And his assailants seemed as fresh
and untired as when they'd First attacked. He had to
do something drastic, and soon. He couldn't keep
dodging them forever.
Once more he drew his wings in close to his body
and fell earthward. As though of the same mind, the
four demons followed in unison, screaming at him.
Again he rolled up and over before crashing, but
this time he landed behind a chosen tree. His pursu-
ers split and came at him from two sides. The first
one went over his head, the second missed him on
the right. The third went straight for his throat and
crumpled itself against the tree, teeth flying in all
directions as the head shattered. The fourth turned
away to reconsider -
Pandro pushed air as he flew back toward Quasequa,
hoping they wouldn't see him and intending to make
a wide curve back northward once he'd lost them.
Looking back over his shoulder he spotted two of
them skimming low over the treetops, hunting him
in the opposite direction.
But where was the third surviving demon?
He turned just in time to duck, but the teeth bit
deeply into his neck and back, barely missing his
face. Blood flew with his feathers. The clouds began
to swim in front of his eyes, blotting out all the blue
sky. He felt himself falling toward a green grave.
Good-bye, Asenva of the saucy tail, he thought.
Good-bye fledglings. Good-bye worried wizard, may
THE MOMENT OF TBE MAGICIAN 31
your skin never be dry. I tried my best. But you
didn't tell me I would have to fight demons.
The first tree reached up to catch him. He hit
Prugg enjoyed the expressions that came over the
faces of Kindore and Vazvek when the demons
returned. The two members of the Quorum made
protective signs in front of their faces and all but hid
beneath the master's cape. Markus let them quake in
terror for a few minutes before assuring them they
were in no danger and that the faceless fliers were
his servants. Even so, Vazvek did not emerge from
behind the magician until the demons had settled
one at a time into waiting wall alcoves.
As soon as he was sure they had fallen asleep,
Prugg approached them. He did not want to show
fear in front of the Quorumen, but he feared the
master's magic nonetheless.
"Go on, Prugg," said Markus helpfully. "They won't
hurt you. They won't move unless I command them."
Prugg studied the trio. True to the master's word,
they ignored him. They were not very big, especially
for demons, but those curved fangs were very
impressive. Prugg ran a finger over one and still its
owner did not stir.
"Only three of them," Markus murmured- "I won-
der what happened to the other three." He shrugged.
"Doesn't matter. I can always call up more." He
tteraed to face his supporters.
"What do you think, Kindore? Should I bring
dievq back to life and have them dance in the air for
"No, oo, no, advisor," said a badly shaken Kindore.
He pulled at his thin coat, working to refasten the
buttons which had come loose as he'd scrambled to
32 Alan Dean Foster
avoid the demons. "I have never seen demons like
"How many demons have you seen?" Markus
grinned at the squirrel. "They're harmless now. We
can resume our discussion."
This was done. When Markus's questions had all
been answered, he gave the pair his orders. Not
advice, orders. Markus the Ineluctable had already
moved beyond making suggestions, and Kindore and
Vazvek hastened to carry out his bidding. Things
were moving rapidly now, and the master was pleased.
He dismissed them, watched with amusement as
they retreated quickly, and then walked over to in-
spect his now-silent aerial servants.
"Only three." He rubbed a forefinger across his
lower lip, then gestured at the last demon in line.
"See, there's blood on this one's teeth."
"I saw. Master."
"But whose blood? Could it be demon blood?"
Prugg strained but could not come up with a quick
Markus looked pained. "You're slow, Prugg, you
know that? Real slow."
"Forgive me, Master. 1 know that I am stupid. But
"That's okay- I don't keep you around for your wit.
You may as well know that it can't be demon blood
because there is no blood in any of these creatures,
Just as there is no life in them. They only live at my
command. They're not sleeping, Prugg. They're dead.
Until I choose to give them life again. Therefore it
stands to reason, doesn't it, that this is the blood of
the black messenger?"
"Yes, that must be so," agreed Prugg. "Yes, the
black flier must be down, along with whatever mes-
sages he carried from that slimy bad loser, Opiode."
THE MOMENT or THE MAOICIAN 33
prugg looked pleased. "Can I tell the old wizard his
^'Servant has been killed?"
^ "No, Prugg, you cannot. Nor will I tell him. Let
faun squat in his bath believing his messages are
going to be received. Let him think his trusted
messenger ran out on him. Let him stew those possi-
bilities over for a while. It will keep him out of our
hair for now." He smited thinly. "I have a lot to do
^and I don't want to have to waste time worrying
^about the salamander."
^ "What's wrong with him?"
Pandro heard the words faintly through the black
^haze that was the inside of his head. There was a
Hflaoment during which he thought the words might've
^fceen part of a dream, a bad dream he'd been having.
1'Then more words, different, a little more intelligible
"How the hell should I know? Do I look like a
H • "You always did look like something escaped from
||a hospital," countered the first voice. "One where
j|they treat mental problems."
j- "Shut up, you two. I think he's coming around,"
^commanded still a third voice.
^ The voices went away again- It occurred to Pandro
$fhat perhaps they might be waiting for some kind of
^response from him-
^- "I... can hear you okay, but I can't see you. I'm
^l' "He's blind," said one voice, not in the least
^ "Have you tried," said the third voice, a little more
rntly, "opening your eyes?"
Pandro mulled this over. "Why, no. I haven't."
|»"Try," the voice urged him.
H Pandro blinked, discovered he was lying on a crude
34 Alan Dean Foster
platform built between two branches high above the
forest floor. The foliage around him was swarming
with the graceful, swift shapes of fellow fliers. They
had one thing in common: every one of them was
considerably smaller than he was. None stood more
than a foot high.
Two of the three who were staring down at him
wore blue-and-black kilts with bright chartreuse vests,
while the third was clad in a kilt of white and yellow
with a pink vest. This attire was subdued compared
to their natural coloration, which was brilliant and
At first he had a hard time telling them apart.
They hardly ever stopped moving, darting in front
of him, behind, making erratic loops around the
branches, arguing constantly with each other, and
occasionally flitting overhead to sip from one of the
huge tropical blossoms that burst forth from the
Shoving backward with his wingtips, Pandro sat
up, winced in pain- His wing came away from the
back of his neck unbloodied, however. If he hadn*t
turned at the last instant, the demon would have bit
him in the face. The image that produced in his
mind made him queasy all over again.
"Where are you from?... What are you doing
here?... Who are you?... Why the neck chain... ?"
The trio threw one question after another at him
and didn't wait for replies- One of them was tapping
him on the shoulder as it spoke.
"Take it easy," Pandro pleaded. A quick inspection
revealed that the surrounding trees were filled with
tiny homes and traditional covered nests. "My turn
first- Where did you find me?"
One of the querulous hummingbirds drifted in
front of Pandro, fanning his face with wings that
were sensed rather than seen- It nodded to its right.
THE MOMENT or TAB MAOJCUW 35
*You came down over there." Crimson flashed
^beneath its bill. "Busting branches all the way down.
^.Wonder is that you didn't bust your skull."
"Some others tried to,"
"Oh ho!" said another, whose throat was blue as
an alpine tarn. "A fight! If it's a fight they're looking
-for..." He curled the tips of both wings into fists and
glared belligerently at the sky, looking for someone
" "Watch your blood pressure. Spin," said the third
? bird. He was slightly less hyperkinetic than his
"Watch your rear." The bird dove on him, and the
'ithree of them went round and round in the air,
iJabbing with feet, wings, and beaks. When they fmal-
^ly separated, Pandro saw that no harm had been
H-done. None of them was even breathing hard. Two
^ buzzed upward for a sugary drink while the third
;' regarded the injured visitor sorrowfully.
.^ "That's the trouble these days. Nobody knows how
^.to have a good fight anymore."
("I know civilization's in a bad way." Pandro agreed
dryly, "but it's going to be worse if I don't carry out
U wy mission."
^ "Hot damn, a mission!" He danced all around
JrfPandro as the raven stood and tested his wings.
^ Emeralds flashed on his tiny chest.
,, Except for a few missing feathers and the naked
^-•Icar that ran from the back of his neck downward,
^randro seemed to be intact.
; "Yes, a mission for the wizard Opiode, former
}-®hief advisor to the Quorum of Quasequa."
tit "Never go into Quasequa," declared the humming"
>ird, shaking its head and forcing Pandro to duck
°ack to avoid the swinging bill. "Nothing going on
lere. Talk about dull."
, "Cousin, to your kind, everything is dull. Are the
36 Alan Dean Foster
rest of us responsible if you happen to live at a speed
twenty times faster than anyone else's?"
"No, you're not," said the one called Spin. "You
can't help it if you're slow and boring. The whole
rest of the world is slow and boring."
"It's liable to get exciting real soon," said Pandro
grimly. "Some weird human's taken over as chief
advisor in Quasequa. This Opiode's worried about
what he might do. The newcomer's a powerful
magician, and Opiode doesn't seem to think much of
his plans." He had a sudden horrible thought, and a
wingtip went to his chest. When he clutched the vial
containing the messages, he relaxed. The demons
had ripped off his backpack, but they'd missed the
chain and vial hanging around his neck. A good
thing he'd taken care to put the messages there for
He eyed the sky. "1 guess they think they got me."
"Who thinks they got you?" asked Oun, the second
"The demons. They must've been sent after me by
Markus the Ineluctable, that new advisor I just told
you about. Opiode warned me to watch out, but
there wasn't anything I could do. They were just too
fast for me"
"Demons, wow!" said Spin. "About time we had a
decent scrap." He turned to his two companions. "I'll
go find Wix and the rest of the gang and we'll—!"
"Hold on a minute," said Pandro. The humming-
bird pivoted in midair. "You don't want to go looking
for these things."
"We're not afraid of anything that flies"
"I'm sure you're not, but these were different." He
shuddered, remembering that cold, barren contact
on the back of his neck. He made a chopping motion
with one wing. "And they've got teeth, not just bills.
They'll take you apart."
THS MOMENT OF THE MAGICIAN 37
"Condor crap!" snapped the second hummingbird,
^darting through the air and striking out with lefts
1 and rights at imaginary opponents. "We'll pull their
wings off! We'll—!"
"Do nothing of the kind," said the spokesman for
the trio, "because there aren't any demons around."
Oun's crimson chest feathers flashed. "There aren't?"
^ "Seen any demons lurking about? Either of you?"
is; "Well, no." Both looked abashed and finally land-
Is ed on the platform. "Not actually." Spin lifted slightly.
|l "But if Pandro here could lead us to them..."
t The raven shook his head violently. "Thanks, but
; I've got a job to do. Anyway, if they were still looking
',,-for me, I'm sure you would've seen them by now.
They brought me down, but they didn't kill me." He
flexed long black wings and rose from the platform.
No damage to the vital shoulder muscles. Consider-
ing that he'd recently missed death by inches, he felt
"Listen, thanks for your help, but I'd better be on
my way. I'm beginning to share some of that
Salamander's concern about what's happening in the
"Phooey," muttered Spin, "who cares what some
^-old wizard thinks?"
"Some might," said the third flier thoughtfully. He
Stared at Pandro. "Fly high, cousin, and don't look
"Don't worry." Pandro rose skyward. "And while
I'm gone, consider this: Opiode the Sly believes that
^ihis new wizard may have evil designs that extend
^|even beyond Quasequa. Perhaps even to your forest."
•/IY "Then he better not come here," hummed Spin,
'" l?dardng and jabbing at the air, his wings a blur.
I'yFlying demons or no flying demons, we'll send him
^running without his tailfeathers."
38 Alan Dean Foster
Pandro's voice was faint now with distance. "He
doesn't have any feathers. I told you, he's a human."
Spin settled back onto his branch. "A human. Now
what would a human want with us?" He shrugged,
turned to his companion Oun, "What say we go
round up Wix and the rest and have ourselves a
good punch-up anyway?"
"Yeah, sure!" They zoomed toward the next
The third member of the trio held back and
struggled to grasp the import of the raven's words.
Then he shrugged and flew off to join his friends,
That's the trouble with being a hummingbird.
One's attention span is so damned short.
"But I know that she loves me!"Jon-Tom spoke as he
paced back and forth in the turtle's bedroom. There
was plenty of headroom even for his lanky six feet
two inches because Clothahump had thoughtfully
expanded the internal dimension spell another foot.
For that matter, the entire tree was filled with
rooms that shouldn't have been, thanks to Clotha-
hump's wizardry. The turtle wasn't engaging in any
wizardry now, though- He was lying on his plastron
among the mass of strong cushions which served
him as a bed, his arms crossed under his horny chin.
Only his eyes moved as he followed the nervous
progress of the upset young spellsmger.
"You know, I was once in love myself, lad."
That revelation was sufficient to halt Jon-Tom in
his tracks- "What... you?"
Raising his head, the turtle peered indignantly at
|jt the tall and tactless young human through hexagonal-
pi tensed glasses-
'My "And why not me?" He looked suddenly wistful.
ij^lt was about a hundred and sixty years ago. She was
.ytquite attractive- The colors and patterns in her shell
^ reminded one of flatly faceted jewels, and her plas-
^ tron was smooth as polished granite."
Alan Dean Foster
Ctothahump sighed. "She threw me over for a
slick-talking matamata. I believe her tastes were rath-
er kinkier than mine." His attention snapped back to
"So I am speaking from some experience, my boy,
when I tell you that this Talea does not love you.
Besides which, you are a spellsinger with a promis-
ing future and can do better- She is nothing but a
Jon-Tom didn't turn away from the wizard's gaze.
"It's not her profession I'm interested in. She saved
my life and I saved hers and we love each other and
"It is not 'that' or anything else," argued the imper-
turbable turtle. "I do not for an instant deny that she
is brave and courageous. I wish I could also add that
she is thoughtful. Brave and courageous do not
automatically translate into love, however. As for
thoughtful, if she were that and she did indeed love
you, she would be here now."
Jon-Tom looked uneasy. "Well, you remember how
she is. Flighty, high-strung, nervous, especially around
"Me? Now, boy, why should she be in the slightest
nervous around me?"
"You are the greatest, most powerful sorcerer in
the world. You make a lot of people nervous."
"Do I? Dear me," said the turtle, "I thought I only
made a lot of people irritable. Take my advice, my
boy, and put her out of your mind. She will interfere
with your studies, which you neglect as it is." He
brushed dust from one ot the bed pillows and frowned.
"Have to get Sorbl to clean this place up, if I can
corner the little sot long enough to put a dirt hex on
"Damn it, 1 know that she loves me!" Jon-Tom
THE SSOUKMT OF TOT MAGICIAN
spoke with unaccustomed intensity. "I know she does.
1 can feel it. She's just... she's just not quite ready to
make it permanent, that's all. She needs more
reassurance, more encouragement." He stared at the
wood chips carpeting the floor. "Of course, that
would be easier to do if I had some idea where she
"You'll never get a wild type like that to settle
down." Clothahump removed his glasses and squinted
through one eye as he gave them a perfunctory
cleaning, then set them back on his beak. "Why not
just marry her and then go your separate ways?
There's so much world left for you to see."
"I warn to see it all with her." An uncomfortable
pause followed. Then Jon-Tom moved to the bed
and knelt before it. "Look, you're the greatest wizard
alive. Can't you help me?"
Clothahump shook his head, wrestled himself into
a sitting position, and crossed his arms over the
compartments in his plastron.
"I must say it is hard to refuse the requests of one
of such perspicacity. I only wish you could find a
more stable possibility for a mate."
"Talea's the one I love."
"What about that Quintera female you brought
over into this world?"
Jon-Tom swallowed, turned, and walked away from
the bed. "Why bring that up? You know it's a sore
point with me."
"Why? Because in the end she preferred that
sophisticated hare Caz to you?" Ctothahump shook a
warning finger at him. "That's what comes of
projecting your own desires onto someone else. She
may have been your physical ideal, but mentally and
emotionally she was neither... and neither is this
"No!" Jon-Tom whirled on the bed. "Talea's the
Alan Dean Poster
right one. I'm sure of that, even if our relationship is
developing a little, uh, slowly. Come on, Clothahump,
I know you can help if you want to."
"With what? You want me to mix you up a love
potion to slip into her drink?" He shook his head. "I
don't deal in those kinds of petty emotionally manip-
ulative devices and you know it. If that's what you
want, go to the chemist in Lynchbany. I'll give you a
prescription, but I won't mix you anything myself.
You'll be wasting your money, though. Ninety per-
cent of that stuffs no better than what you can buy
"I don't want your potions or prescriptions, Ctotha-
hump. I want your wise, sage advice."
"Really? All right. Get a haircut."
Jen-Tom moaned. His hair was only shoulder-
length, "Not here too. Or do you have a prejudice
against fur because you've none of your own?"
The turtle looked down at himself. "My, my, so
you've noticed that, have you? I can't imagine how
one so observant hasn't been able to win the undying
affection of the woman he thinks loves him."
"It's not a question of 'winning,'" Jen-Tom muttered-
"This isn't a war."
"Isn't it now? Dear me! Perhaps after your first
two hundred years you'll learn to adjust that view."
"And don't lay any of that 'venerable ancient' shit
on me, either! I want your advice, not your sarcasm."
Clothahump peered over his glasses. "If you want
to learn what love is all about, my boy, you'd better
learn to handle sarcasm."
Jon-Tom shifted to another tack. "I've been work-
ing on a song for her,"
"If you think you can spellsing her into love with
you, my boy, then you—"
"No, no, just a friendly little song to show her how
THE MOSfCPiT OF TBS MAGICIAN
I feel about her. I've always been better at conveying
my emotions through music. Want to hear it?"
Clothahump muttered under his breath, "Do I
have a choice?"
Jon-Tom walked over to the comer where he'd set
down his duar and picked up the peculiar, double-
stringed instrument. He caressed it lovingly. It had
brought him through some tough spots, that duar.
It, and his ability to make magic with it, however
erratic and unpredictable.
"Just something to put her in the right mood," he
assured Clothahump. "I've been trying to remember
what she likes so I can sing about it the next time we
"Sing about a rich drunk lying alone in an alley,"
Jon-Tom ignored the gibe. "I remember her tell-
ing me one time how much she liked roses. She said
they were pretty. She'd never use the word 'romantic.'
Talea's not the romantic type- But she said she liked
their smell and the way they went with her hair. So
I've been trying to think of a song about roses. It
wasn't easy. It's not the sort of thing my favorite
musicians like to write songs about, and I have to be
careful or I'll wind up with that amazonic tigress I
told you about.
"Anyhow, I finally settled on this. I'd like your
opinion of it."
"Hold on a moment, boy. I want none of your
hit-and-miss spellsinging in my home. If you feel the
need to practice, do it outside."
"Oh, it's all right." Jon-Tom found himself a seat
1 on a strong shelf. "It's just a Hide tune. I'm not going
to do any spellsinging."
Clothahump eyed him warily. "Well, if you're sure.."
Jen-Tom smiled confidently at him. "Sure I'm
sure. What could be dangerous about a song about
44 Alan Dean Foster
something as innocent as roses?" He let his fingers
fall lightly across the first set of strings, then the
second, adjusted the control for tremble ever so
The chords floated through the room, soothing
and mellow, not nearly as sharp or discordant as
Jon-Tbm's heavy metal favorites. Clothahump relented.
"All right, boy." He moved as far back on the bed
as he was able. "If you're certain you know what
you're doing and have everything under control."
Jon-Tom smiled reassuringly and began to sing.
The music was lovely, but that didn't relax Clothahump.
He was watching and listening to more than the
Sure enough, there it was: an intense red glow
near the foot of the bed.
"Boy, see there, I told you...!"
But Jon-Tom wasn't listening to his mentor. He
was transported to the kingdom of love by images of
how Talea would react to this song, composed specially
for her by the man who adored her.
The intense, blood-red ball of light hung in the
air, throwing off red sparks as Jon-Tom's voice rose
passionately. Clothahump waved anxiously at it and
was pleased to see it fall to the floor and disappear.
He let out a relieved sigh and narrowed his gaze as
he waited for Jon-Tom to finish his song. So he did
not see the branches that sprang forth from beneath
the carpet of wood chips. They grew with astonishing
Jon-Tom concluded his chorus and looked proud.
"There, you see? Nothing to worry about. I've
been working hard on my control, and I think I've
gotten it to the point where I only conjure up what I
want to." His expression changed to one of curiosity.
"That's funny. I don't remember your planting any-
thing at the foot of your bed."
TUB MOMENT or THE MAOICIAM
Fearing the worst, Clothahump tumbled forward
to peer over the edge of the bed. Growing out of the
floor was a small, nicely pruned collection of thin
branches. As they both watched, some two dozen
American beauty blossoms erupted from the naked
"Hey, how about that?" said Jon-Tom, delighted.
"Now I ask you, what girl could resist that?"
"Well," Clothahump said reluctantly, "1 have to
admit that's quite a charming little bouquet you've
Jon-Tom netted the duar. "I didn't even get to the
second chorus. What color would you like this time?
How about a nice canary yellow?" He sang again,
and this time the second bush appeared sooner than
its predecessor. It was also twice as tall and, sure
enough, heavy with fragrant yellow blooms.
"Nothing to it. I told you I've been practicing my
Clothahump stared at the bush. "Good. Then you
can stop it now."
Jon-Tom's jaw hung a little slack. "Uh, stop what?"
"Stop it from growing."
"But I have stopped. I'm not singing anymore."
Clothahump pointed. "Tell it to that rosebush."
Indeed, it didn't take especially sharp vision to see
that the bush was continuing to expand. It was
almost up to the roof. When it hit the ceiling, the
branches began to spread out sideways, throwing out
shoots and blossoms in every direction.
"No sweat. I'll just sing the final chorus. That
ought to finish it." He proceeded to do so, the words
falling gentle and sweet on the now heavily aromatic
air of the bedroom.
It had absolutely no effect on the fecund rose-
bush, which continued to spread out across the walls.
Having covered ceiling and sides, branches began to
40 Alan Dean Foster
fill the room, crisscrossing and occasionally running
into one another. Some of the stems were now as
thick as birch trunks. The room was shaking.
"That's enough, boy!" Clothahump was hemmed
in against the headboard of his bed. Jon-Tom was
trying to edge his way toward the near doorway, had
to duck as two sapling-thick branches boasting three-
inch-long thorns tried to block his exit.
"I... I don't understand. I'm not singing any-
"You bet your ass you're not, lad." Clothahump
struggled with one drawer in his plastron, finally
yanked it open. "Got to lubricate these one of these
days." The drawer finally popped open and he rum-
maged around inside himself. "Hope I can stop it
"Before what?" wondered the thoroughly distraught
Jon-Tom as he stumbled back from an encroaching
branch. It vomited a three-foot-wide blossom in his
face, and the burst of perfume made him dizzy.
"Before these damned things start growing out of
us," Clothahump shouted at him.
His path to the door blocked, Jon-Tom scrambled
across the floor toward the only remaining open
section of the room . -. Clothahump's bed.
"Maybe I overdid it a little bit"
"My boy, your powers of observation and your
innate ability to intuit the blatantly obvious never
cease to amaze me. Ah, there!" He removed a small
box from his plastron, shoved the drawer shut, and
opened the box. From within he selected a pinch of
white powder and leaned forward.
"Roots and shoots and cellulose
Blossoms that be profane
Dwell in lands of malathane
THB MOMENT OF TSW MAGICIAN 47
Make thy xylum comatose
Dry up thy tannic staint"
He threw the powder into the advancing thorns. It
evaporated. The cluster of branches seemed to
shudder, to slow... and finally, to petrify.
They were surrounded, engulfed by beauty. Jon-
Tom felt sure he was going to throw up.
He took a step toward the door which led into
Clothahump's laboratory, found he couldn't move
more than a few inches off the cushions before
swordlike thorns pricked his legs. He retreated back
onto the bed.
"Sorry," he whispered morosely. The smell of roses
Clothahump sighed, gave him a fatherly pat on the
back. 'That's all right, tad. We're all a little overconfi-
dent now and again. You were right about one thing,
though. If your ladylove were here, I've no doubt she'd
be impressed with this little floral tribute of yours... if
she wasn't cut to ribbons first. I will say this for your
spellsinging: you don't seem able to do anything in a
small way" At least a thousand blossoms of all shades
and hues kept them imprisoned on the bed.
"There's nothing basically the matter with your
spellsinging, my boy. But you are going to have to
work at moderating your enthusiasm a bit." He eyed
his bedroom appraisingly. "An impressive, though
difficult to deliver, bouquet."
Tucking his head down inside his shell until only
the crown was visible, he slid off the bed and waded
out into the brambles, quite safe from the thorns.
They couldn't penetrate his body armor, but neither
did he have the strength to force a path through
them. Finally he gave up and returned to the bed.
"It's no good, lad. I'm neither as young nor agile
as I once was."
Alan Dean Foster
"How about a spell?"
Clothahump's reply to that suggestion was tart.
"You spelled this jungle up: you unspell it."
Jon-Tom's fingers twisted against each other. "I
don't think I ought to try that."
Clothahump looked dazed. "What's that? What's
this? Some small hint of humility? How gratifying.
Today we pass another signpost on the road to
wisdom." A powerful, resonant voice interrupted his
"THERE'S SOMEONE AT THE DOORI"
"Drat, that's the bell," the wizard groused. "Why
am 1 blessed with visitors who have such wonderful
They waited patiently on the bed. Minutes later an
uncertain voice called to them from the vicinity of
"Uh, Master?" They could just make out the four-
foot-tall shape of Clothahump's apprentice standing
in the opening. For a wonder, Sorbl sounded almost
sober this morning. That was something of a magic
"There is someone at the door, Master."
"We know that, you idiot," said Clothahump with a
grimace. "We heard the bell too. Who is at the door?"
"He says he's come a long ways on a mission of
great importance. Master."
"Don't they all."
"His name is Pandro. He's a raven and he says he
comes from a city named Quasequa."
Suddenly Clothahump was more interested than
indifferent. "Quasequa, you say? Well, I have not
heard from anyone in that distant land in some time.
I recall mention of a young sorcerer of some promise,
a fellow name of Opiode, who was trying to set
himself up in business down there."
THE MOMENT OF TOE MAGICIAN
"That's who's sent him here, sir!" said Sorbl excitedly.
"This Pandro says it's most urgent."
"Opiode, yes, that was the name. Though I can't
be certain. My memory's not what it used to be. I'll
see him, though." The turtle's tone darkened. "You
> will not offer him any liquid refreshment stronger
than fruit juice!"
"Master, I? Do you think that I... ?"
"Yes, I do. Now, shut up, see him comfortably in,
and inform him I'll be along directly. Then go to the
storage bin outside the parlor. Inside you'll find
some large wood clippers. Bring them back here and
cut us out of my bedroom. Then, while we are
listening to this visitor's tale, you may take the re-
mainder of the day to prune around my bed."
The owl let out a resigned sigh. "As you direct,
Master." A brief pause, then, "Would it be improper
of me to ask what happened here?"
"Not at all. You should find it instructive. This
E minor botanical catastrophe sprang from the heart
of our young spellsinger here. He is in love, you see.
One would tend to say he has a green thumb. The
^ actual problem, however, lies with the protuberance
which arises from between his shoulders."
^ It was a mild enough reprimand and Jon-Tom
fought to accept it gracefully. Lest he do additional
damage, he forced himself to put all thoughts of
the beauteous Talea aside and concentrate instead on
*the potential import of whatever this far-ranging
truest might have to say.
|^ Clothahump's spell-sharpened shears soon cut a
11" tunnel to them through the tangled growth, and the
^ two of them were able to crawl to freedom.
"^ "A good job," the wizard complimented his appren-
; .^- lice. "Now clean out the rest of it, but leave those
•^ pink blooms over there, the ones under the window.
Alan Dean Foster
They're rather attractive, and that part of the floor's
always damp anyway."
"Yes, Master." They left him hacking away with the
shears at Clothahump's bedchamber.
The raven awaited them on the guest perch which
had been installed by Clothahump for the comfort of
winged visitors. He might have come a long ways,
but he didn't look particularly fatigued to Jon'Tbm.
Of more interest was the bruise on his forehead, the
feathers missing from one wing, and the ugly scar
which ran down the back of his neck. The wounds
looked recent, and Jon-Tom wondered if they had
anything to do with the raven's reason for coming to
If Clothahump noticed any of this, he gave no
sign, preferring instead to stare grimly at the
widemouthed glass from which the raven was sip-
"What's what?" said the raven uncertainly, looking
up as they entered. "Oh, this?" He gestured with the
glass. "A drink, and nice and strong, too- I sure as
hell needed it. Thanks to your—"
"1 know who to thank," rumbled Clothahump
dangerously, "He did not by any chance have one
himself? Just to prove that he could be a proper
Before the raven could reply, the wizard had whirled
and was clomping angrily back toward his bedroom.
Jon-Tom and Pandro eyed each other uncomfort-
ably for a couple of minutes until Clothahump
"I'll be lucky if he has my bedroom cleaned out by
nightfall, and he'll be lucky if he doesn't cut off one
of his own feet in the process- I'll deal with him
THE MOMENT OF THE MAOICIAJI 51
Her." He calmed himself as he gazed over at his
"Please pardon the interruption. Now then. Your
| name is Pandro and you come from far Quasequa?"
\. The raven put his glass aside on the shelf that was
^attached to the perch- "That's right, sir."
I "That is quite a journey."
I "Tell me about it." Pandro fluttered to the floor
•and hopped over to stand close to them. "Keep in
: mind that I'm just a hired messenger. I'm not
[ completely sure what this is all about. I could tell you
what I know, but 1 imagine these documents I was
instructed to deliver to you will explain what's going
; on in my country much better than I could." He
| removed the papers from the cylinder hanging from
| his neck chain.
[ "These come from Opiode, former chief advisor
' in matters arcane and mystic to the Quorum of
" 'Former'?" Clothahump peered at the messages
through his thick glasses. "Um." He turned to read
Jon-Tbm tried to make conversation. "What hap-
Ipened to your neck?"
| Instinctively, a wing felt of the recently acquired
ground. "I was attacked while on my way here. Some-
tone or something wanted to make sure I didn't n^ake
| "Who attacked you?"
| "Demons." Pandro said with admirable casualness.
I^Taceless demons. Gray and black they were, with
pong curved teeth and no eyes."
•is. It wasn't the explanation Jon-Tom expected, and
^he was more than a little taken aback. "You don't
• • "They were demons," Pandro insisted, mistaking
Jim-Tom's surprise for disbelief. "I know a demon
Alan Dean Poster
when I see one, let alone when it tries to take my
"I wasn't disputing you," Jon-Tom replied.
The raven studied him with interest. "You're the
biggest human I've ever seen."
"I'm also a spellsinger," Jon-Tom told him proudly.
Clothahump .spoke without looking up from his
reading. "That he is. If you want to see a demonstra-
tion of his powers, have a look in the next room
"It doesn't matter. It's not very impressive," Jon-
Tom said hastily. "This wizard Opiode: you work for
"I was only hired to make this single delivery. I'm
not in his regular service, if that's what you mean."
Clothahump concluded his perusal of the papers
with a noncommittal grunt. "This doesn't sound too
serious, even though Opiode's language borders on
the hysterical- Certainly not important enough to
warrant my personal attention. Still, if he feels he
needs help, I suppose it is incumbent on me to
provide some." He turned back to face the raven.
"This new advisor, this Markus the Ineluctable
Opiode refers to: have you met him?"
Pandro shook his head. "I just run a small messen-
ger service. I don't get into the halls of the Quorumate
Complex much. No, I haven't met him. From what
I've heard, not many have. Keeps to himself a lot.
But there are plenty of stories about him. And about
his peculiar powers."
"And he's a human?"
Pandro nodded. "That's what they say."
Clothahump examined the papers again. "A hu-
man who claims to have come here from another
Jon-Tom felt suddenly faint -,. but not so faint that
he couldn't interrupt with anxious questions.
THE MOMENT OF THE MAGICIAN
"Another world! Tell me, does he sing his magic,
spellsing like 1 do, or use a musical instrument when
he's exercising his powers?"
Pandro flinched, taken aback by the gangling young
human's unexpected enthusiasm. "Not that I've heard,
sir, no. It's said that he whispers his spells so that
none can hear him. I haven't heard anyone mention
"It is not used," said Clothahump, "or Opiode
would have mentioned it in his communication. The
rest he does confirm, however." He was watching
Jon-Tom carefully. "A human magician who claims to
have come here from another world."
"It's possible," said Jon-Tom excitedly. "Don't you
think it's possible? It happened once, to me. Why
not to another?"
"All things are possible- However, just because you
have a good heart and good intentions does not
mean that this new visitor is as good and kind as
yourself, or that he even comes from your world.
The plenum is full of other worlds."
"That's right," said Jen-Torn, momentarily downcast.
"I got so excited I forgot about that."
"In fact," the wizard went on, still eyeing the
'papers, "from what Opiode says, this Markus ap-
; pears to be sadly lacking in the social verities. Opiode
• is not only afraid of what the newcomer has done;
he is even more afraid of what he may intend to do
anext. As for the visitor's magic, it is powerful indeed."
L'He folded the papers.
I "This is none of my business. I'm not one to
[insinuate myself into another wizard's difficulties.
Opiode admits that this Markus defeated him in a
battle of talents. These 'fears' he alludes to may
merely be a reflection of his own disappointments.
And he speaks only of worries and concerns, not of
any actual threat. I see no reason for such panic.
Alan Dean Foster
This Markus hasn't instituted any sort of reign of
terror or inquisition or anything so boring since
assuming Optode's office, has he?"
**No sir," Pandro admitted. "As far as the average
citizen is concerned, nothing's changed. At least, not
insofar as I've seen. Of course," he added thoughtfully,
"I was attacked on my way here, and the forest where
I encountered my assailants is not noted for having a
large demonic population."
"I wouldn't know," Clothahump murmured. "1 am
not familiar with that part of the world. What do you
think of all this, Jon-Tom?"
Sorcerer and spellsinger discussed the matter while
Pandro stood and waked quietly. While hardly an
experienced judge of wizardry qualities, if asked, he
would have had to confess that Opiode was whistling
up the wrong trunk if he expected to get any aid
from this bunch. The apprentice who'd ushered him
inside was an obvious drunk, the turtle showed signs
of senility, and the tail human struck the cosmopoli-
tan Pandro as something of a hick.
Still, surely Opiode the Sly knew what he was
doing in sending here for help. And what was it they
were arguing about?
"I'm telling you, this guy's from my own world,
from my home!" Jon-Tom was saying. "He's got to
be. Transported here by accident, just like me."
"There have been no recent disturbances in the
ether as there were when I brought you over,"
Clothahump told him.
"Maybe he crossed over in a different way. Do you
know of every path between the dimensions?"
"No," Clothahump admitted, a mite huffily. "As I
said before, all things are possible. All 1 am saying
now is that there is nothing to suggest that this
Markus the ineluctable came over from your world.
For one thing, according to Opiode, this fellow seems
THE MOMBWT OF THE MAOICIAN
to have been practicing his magic for quite a while,
whereas you discovered your spellsinging ability pure-
ly by accident and only after you had been in this
world for some time. Furthermore, all this blather of
coming from another world may merely be typical
wizardly showmanship, an attempt to cow and over-
awe impressionable Quasequans. There are many
humans in this world, as you well know. This Markus
may not be a transdimensional traveler; he may be
nothing more than a slick talker. Remember, my boy,
that your materialization here was an accident."
"Maybe this isn't an accident," Jon-Tom argued.
"Maybe some wizard from another world has found
a way to cross over on his own."
"As I recall, there are no wizards in your own
Jon-Tom slumped. "I know. But maybe he was
something else. Maybe he's an engineer like you
thought I was, and he can make magic here by
reciting engineering theorems, or something. The
point is, Fve got to know. Don't you see, Clothahump?
If he got through on purpose, by design, maybe he
can return home the same way. Maybe with the two
;of us working together we can manage a way home
; for both of us!"
'• Clothahump was nodding. "That is how I thought
you would react to this information, my boy. Well, it's
only natural that you should be excited. 1 certainly
will not stand in the way of your finding out."
TBK MOMENT OF THE. SSAOICtAtf
Pandro had been silent long enough.
"Look here, I'm not at all sure what you two are
talking about any more than I knew what Opiode \
was talking about. Like I said, I'm just a messenger." 3
He gestured with a wingtip toward the papers ^
Clothahump held- "One thing Opiode did tell me,
though. He said that if this Markus is truly from
another world, then it must be a place of evil and
darkness." He eyed Jon-Tom uneasily.
"And you say you're maybe from the same place?"
"Maybe. We've no reason to believe that yet," .
Clothahump replied. T
"Well, he's sure peculiar-looking, but according to ^
the descriptions I've heard, mighty different from ^
this Markus the Ineluctable."
"What's he supposed to be like?" asked Jon-Tom
"Definitely human. Tall, but much shorter than
you. Fat, and older. Not much fur left on his head."
Jen-Tom was nodding. "He could be an engineer
from my world."
"And it's said he still wears the clothes he was
wearing when he came into our world."
"Tell me about them, describe them! Does he wear
jeans—pants of rough blue material? Or maybe a
suit, something with a long V-shaped opening in the
front, with a white shirt underneath, and maybe a
long strip of material tied around his neck?"
"No," said Pandro thoughtfully, "the description
that I heard was somewhat different. I was told he
dresses entirely in black of some slick, finely woven
material, with a black cape to match, and a strange
black tower atop his head, and a spot of petrified
blood he keeps always over his heart."
"That doesn't sound very familiar," Jon-Tom re-
plied slowly. And he'd been so positive!
"From another world, perhaps, but not necessarily
yours," Clothahump told him. "Interesting. Not nec-
essarily dangerous, but interesting."
"Even if he is from your own world, sir," Pandro
told Jon-Tom, "1 wouldn't plan on him helping you
to get back to wherever you're from. From what
Opiode says, this magician helps no one but himself."
"Maybe because he's frightened," Jen-Tom suggested.
"Maybe if by working together, the both of us can
return home, he'll turn out to be much less threaten-
"If you can get him to leave, regardless of how you
help yourself, sir, all of Quasequa would be grateful"
He hesitated. "Opiode did not say as much, but
there are rumors that this Markus has plans for
• doing away with the Quorum and installing himself
as an emperor or king or something. That would be
a disaster for Quasequa. We have no tradition of
powerful, single rulers. I think what Opiode the Sly
is saying is that now is the time to stop the newcomer
before he can put any evil designs into effect."
"y he has any such intentions. That may be noth-
ing more than your employer's paranoia at work."
'That is something Opiode felt you would sense,
Alan Dean Foster
sir. He said that you were wise and knowledgeable,
brave and bold."
Clothahump removed his glasses, spoke while clean-
ing them. "Even as a student, I recall this Opiode
being somewhat of a stickler for accurate descriptions"
"I wish I could tell you more, sirs, but I am only a
"You've done better than could have been expected
"So you will send help?" asked Pandro hopefully.
"Certainly I will."
"You'll come yourself?"
"I will send help," Clothahump said firmly. "You
may convey that message to Opiode. I'm sure he
expects some sort of reply, and that should cheer
him. As for specifics, I prefer not to divulge my
methodology to the hired help."
"I understand, sir," said Pandro, bowing and
finishing his stiff drink. He set the glass aside and
headed for the front door. "Any other messages,
"Sorbl. Sorbl!" Clothahump yelled. "Never mind.
I'll do it myself." The door swung inward at the flick
of his hand. It was a tiny magic, very minor wizardry,
but it impressed Pandro nonetheless. A good impres-
sion the raven would carry with him all the way back
"No, no other message. Tell Opiode if he feels the
need to convey additional information to me to send
you back again."
"Oh, no, sir! He may send more information back
to you. but I won't be bringing it. I've had enough of
wizardly goings-on. Humans from other worlds, face-
less demons, no thank you, sirs! I'll inform him
you're sending help down to Quasequa and I'm sure-
he will be heartened by that, but if he wants to thank
THB MOMENT OF THE MAOJCUUV 89
you he can do it himself. I've had more than enough
of such doings. Never again."
"Don't you mean 'nevermore'?" Jon-Tom asked
Pandro eyed him oddly for a moment before bow-
ing a last time. Then he left, closing the heavy
wooden door behind him.
"Hope for the better rather than for the worst,"
said Jon-Tom after the raven had taken his leave.
*TU start packing our supplies."
Clothahump coughed softly. "What do you mean
*our* supplies, my boy?"
Jon-Tom hailed in mid-stride. "Now, wait a minute.
What about all that business about your being
'courageous, brave, and bold'?"
"Dear me, is that what he said?" Clothahump was
studying the ceiling. "I thought certain he said
'courageous, brave, and old.' Because that is an accu-
rate description. In any case, I'm certainly not about
to leave my work here to embark on some long hike
simply to salve the injured feelings of a deposed
wizard. As 1 said, this hardly sounds to me like a
"No crisis, eh? Some evil sorcerer from another
world throws a colleague of yours out of office and is
scheming to take over an entire city with who-knows-
what eventual aims in mind, and you don't call that a
"It's not my city, and I'm not the one who's been
deposed. As for Opiode the Sly's being a colleague.
I've never worked with him and know of him only by
/ "That's one hell of a cold attitude."
"I would rather say realistic. However, I did say I
would send help, and so I shall. You are so con-
vinced that this Markus the Ineluctable is from your
world that I wouldn't think of putting off the day of
Alan Dean Poster
that meeting by so much as an hour. I would only
slow you down, my boy." He indicated the duar
Jon-Tbm cradled against his side.
"You can handle anything that comes before you.
You now know enough of this land and have mastered
sufficient of your spellsinging skills to extricate your-
self from any minor difficulties." He grinned. "Should
this Markus turn out to be as belligerent as Opiode
feels, you can always threaten him with a bouquet.'*
Jen-Torn gave the wizard a sour look. "What would
I do without your confidence and support?"
"Oh, I support you, my boy, I support you. Your
talent is developing nicely. I merely try to keep a
close watch on the diameter of your head, lest in a
dangerous moment of overconfidence it grow too
"Opiode desires speed in this matter and so do
you. I would be an encumbrance to you both. I am
quite confident of your ability to manage this matter
on your own."
"What if he's not from my world?" wondered
Jon-Tom, suddenly thoughtful. "What if he is some
strange demonic being in human guise? That raven's
description of his attire and his attitude, those don't
make him sound much like an old friend from back
"Then you must deal with him as the circum-
stances dictate," the wizard told him firmly. "I can't
wet-nurse you through maturity."
"I'm already mature."
"Then act like it." He winced. "Besides, my arthri-
tis is acting up."
"Funny how your arthritis always seems to act up
whenever there's a long journey to be taken."
"Yes, it is peculiar, isn't it?" Clothahump admitted
without batting an eye. He lumbered toward his
bedroom, peered through the doorway. "Ah! Sorbl
THE MOMENT Of THK XAOICIAW 61
has excavated my bed. I can hear him shearing away
in there. Presumably he is not so drunk that he has
cut off either of his wings." He raised his voice.
"Sorbll How are you managing in there, you useless
"I am tired. Master," came the faint reply from
somewhere deep within the thorny brambles. "These
vines are tough." A pause, then, "Can't you just
magic them away?"
"Perhaps I could, but I did not acquire an appren-
tice so that I might engage in menial labor. Besides,
a little exercise is good for the system, especially
when that system is overloaded with ethyl molecules."
"With what. Master?"
"Liquorish magical symbols."
"Not me, Masteri I would never—I"
Clothahump closed the door to the rosebush-ridden
bedroom, shutting off Sorbl's too-emphatic protesta-
tions of innocence. He turned back to jon-Tom,
peered up at him over steepled lingers.
"Opiode has a reputation for exaggeration, my
boy, and all salamanders are notoriously paranoid. I
know that you will enjoy the journey to Quasequa. It
will be a long but pleasant trip. The city itself is
rumored to be most beautiful, constructed on a
series of islands out in the middle of a body of water
called the Lake of Sorrowful Pearls. If 1 were a hun-
dred years younger, I would not hesitate to accompa-
jon-Tbm was nodding knowingly. "Sounds delightful.
In fact, it sounds a lot like our recent relaxing
vacation jaunt to distant Snarken."
Clothahump shifted his eyes away from the tall
youth- "Ah, any excursion can be dogged by unforeseen
bad luck." He cleared his throat self-consciously. "This
time you will encounter no oceans to cross, no mo-
rose moors to traverse. Merely shallow tropical lakes
03 Alan Dean Footer
and lagoons, such as the one on which Quasequa
itself is constructed. A land of moderate tempera-
tures and quiet beauty. A veritable paradise com-
pared to these cold Bellwoods. Often's the time I've
thought of traveling there with an eye toward retir-
ing in such a place."
"You'll never retire. You like your reputation too
"No, 1 mean it, my boy. Someday I will consider
it seriously. Perhaps when I turn three hundred."
"When you hit three hundred 1 hope I won't be
around to see it."
"Yes, your unquenchable desire to return home.
Perhaps this Markus the Ineluctable will turn out to
"You're just trying to make me feel better about
going off without you, but you're right. I'd go
anywhere, under any conditions, if I thought there
was a chance I could get a little closer to home."
"And what of Opiode's concerns?"
"Maybe he exaggerates, just like you say. If this
Markus is from my own world, I'm sure that if the
two of us can get together and chat for a while, he'll
be as happy to see me as I will be to see him, and we
can work something out"
"And if he's not of your world, and Opiode does
Jen-Tom took a deep breath. "In that case, I've got
my duar. If it comes to a battle of sorceral skills, I
think I can handle anything." Except my own mistakes,
he added silently to himself-
"Good for you, my boy! That's the spirit! Main-
tain that attitude and I'm sure you'll have things in
Quasequa sorted out in no time."
Jon-Tom looked uncertain. "There is one drawback.
I can't make a journey like that all by myself. Oh, I
understand if you don't feel up to coming along or
TBK MOMENT Of THK SSAQSCZAM
don't feel it's necessary, or whatever. But I won't risk
a trip like this all by my lonesome. I know that flier
wouldn't have guided me. Not his job, and fliers get
bored having to hang back with us land-bound types.
That much I've learned. What about making use of
public transportation systems along the way?"
"A good thought, except that there aren't any, my
boy. There is no commerce between the Bellwoods
towns and Quasequa. All trade from Lynchbany and
Timswitty and the like goes to the Glittergeist Sea or
"Then I'd like to have an old buddy accompany
Clothahump shook his head sadly. "I wonder that
your choice of company does not otherwise mirror
your normal good taste."
"1 Just feel comfortable with Mudge around. He's
clever with words, knows the customs and ins and
outs, is good with weapons, and is reasonably trust-
worthy so long as I keep an eye on him round the
dock and don't let him get his paws on the expense
Clothahump shrugged beneath his shell. "It's your
neck, my boy. You choose your own companions."
Jon-Tom frowned. "The only problem is, I haven't
the slightest idea where he's to be found. Last time I
had to track him all the way up to Timswitty. Since
Quasequa lies in the other direction, I'd lose a lot of
time if I had to hunt through the Bellwoods in..
search of him." He Finished on a hopeful note-
"I agree. And don't give me that innocent-apprentice
look. It doesn't have the slightest effect on me.
However, if you will insist on having him with you..."
"1 wouldn't insist," Jon-Tom said quickly. "It would
Just make me a lot more confident about the whole
"Very well, very well. I will see what I can do. I will
Alan Dean Fowter
attempt to locate him and explain that he is wanted
"As for yourself, you'd best begin preparing for
the journey. Fill your backpack with care, make cer-
tain you have ample spare strings for your duar, and
try to get a good night's sleep. 1 will be able to
discuss this matter of your 'friend' with more certainty
"How long do you think it will take for you to
locate him and give him the message?"
"We will just have to wait and see, my boy. We will
have to wait and see."
Jen-Tom arose the next morning still excited by
the prospect of meeting someone else from home,
someone who might be able to help him get back
where he belonged. It wasn't that Clothahump hadn't
been good to him- In his own distinctive, demanding
fashion, the wizard had gone out of his way to make
the displaced human feel welcome.
Nor had his sojourn in this land. been uneventful.
Quite the contrary. But he was more than ready to
return to the calm, familiar life of an anxiety-ridden
pre-law student in Weslwood, CA.
He washed his hands and face in the wooden basin
that grew from one of the tree's inner walls, wonder-
ing not for the first time what kind of intricate
magical spell could provide indoor plumbing within
the dimensionally expanded trunk of an oak. After
drying himself and dressing carefully, he went through
the contents of his backpack.
It held jerked meat, dried fruit and nuts, a selec-
tion of medicinal herbs and potions, a small metal
box holding the few Band-Aids and pills he'd had on
his person when he'd been sucked into this world, a
change of underclothing, and a small assortment of
toiletry items and personal effects. Packed to bursting,
it was heavier than it had been when he'd set out on
Ttffi StOUKHT W THE MAGICIAN
a previous journey to distant Snarken. On that trip
Clolhahump had informed him he would encounter
towns and villages in which to purchase food and
other necessities. The land between here and Quase-
qua, however benign, was apparently a good deal
That meant living more off the land. Well, he'd
always enjoyed camping out, and if Clothahump's
description of the country south of the river Tailaroam
was accurate, it should be a relaxing experience-
First breakfast, then he'd ask if the wizard had
succeeded in locating Mudge. Probably he'd have to
meet the otter somewhere. A couple of quick hellos,
and off they'd go, traveling at a brisk but unhurried
pace southward, enjoying the clear weather while
A terrible scream split this image and pushed
everything else into the background. It pierced the
thick walls of living wood. was followed by a second
and third. Each howl was more horrible than its
predecessor. Jon-Tom's skin prickled.
His first thought was that Markus the Ineluctable
was everything Opiode feared and more, and that
he'd somehow tracked the course of Pandro the
raven and had sent his faceless demons to do away
with any potential allies the flier might have made
contact with. Jon-Tom grabbed his ramwood staff
and rushed for the next rooms.
He flicked the concealed switch in the wooden
shaft, and six inches of sharp steel emerged from the
base of the staff. If only he wasn't too late and
whatever had entered the tree hadn't gotten ahold of
Clothahumpi The screams continued, but their inten-
sity had fallen somewhat. They seemed to be coming
from the vicinity of the kitchen. He turned down a
narrow hall, keeping his head low, and bounced off a
Alafi Dean Porter
wall, then skidded to a halt just inside the dining
Clothahump sat in his reinforced chair next to the
table that grew out of the floor. He was spooning
ground fish and water plant from a steaming bowl.
A tall glass of murky, aged pond water stood nearby.
Heat rose from the iron cookstove where Sorbl la-
bored diligently over two bubbling pots and baking
bread. As he watched, the owl dropped from the
perch welded to the front of the stove, slid a couple
of fried mice out of the oven -and slipped them
between slices of fresh bread, and began to munch
on his own breakfast. The bread smelled delicious.
At the moment, though, his thoughts were not on
food. Instead, he stared openmouthed at the con-
struction which had appeared in the middle of the
It was a cage, and not a very elegant cage at that.
Six feet tall and three or four square, it seemed to
hover in midair a foot or so above the kitchen tiles. It
had six sides instead of four. Instead of bars, thin
threads connected top and bottom. They did not
ripple in the heat of the room. They did not move at
Not even when the berserk, spitting, squalling
creature caged within chose to bang against them
with its body. It bounced off as if the threads were
fashioned of inch-thick steel. It used its shoulders
because its arms were tied to its sides. In fact, the
occupant of the cage wore a mummylike cylinder of
heavy rope that encased him from ankle to neck.
"Good morning, my boy," said Clothahump cheerily,
as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
"Have some breakfast?"
"In a minute." Jon-Tom put his staff aside. He
moved into the kitchen and walked slowly around
the hovering cage, never taking his eyes from it.
TBE MOKBNT OF THE MAOJCJAM
With a finger, he tested one of the threads. It
refused to move no matter how hard he pushed or
pulled on it. He had to pull away fast because the
bound creature inside tried to bite off his finger.
Sharp teeth just managed to nick his skin. He sucked
on the thin cut.
"I'm sorry, Mudge," he said, "but I didn't have
anything to do with this."
"Oi now, didn't you, you stretched-out offspring of
an otherworldly bitch? You slippery sliver-tongued
bastard. Of course you didn't 'ave nothin' to do with
it, you and that calcified lump of solid bone wot calls
'imself a sorcerer."
Clothahump ignored this tirade and continued to
slurp daintily at his meal.
"Don't give me that crap, matel You and 'im *ave
always been in league with one another against me.
Don't try to deny it! 'Tis been that way all along."
Jon-Tom continued to suck on the Finger his friend
had attempted to amputate, spoke quietly. "He was
just supposed to find you and send you a message."
He turned to face the wizard. "You were just sup-
posed to send him a message."
Clothahump considered, the spoon halfway to his
mouth. "I did send a message, my boy, and you were
correct in your concerns. He was quite a distance
away, in a town near Kreshfarm-in-the-Geegs."
"It weren't far enough!" Mudge howled. He tried
to sit down, but the enveloping ropes prevented the
maneuver, and he had to settle for leaning up against
the threads. "Seems it'll never be far enough to get
me away from you two arseholes! It won't stop me
from tryin', though. I'll never stop tryin'l" He glared
accusingly at Jen-Tom.
"Why, mate? I thought after that little sea voyage I
*elped you out with we were even up."
Jen-Tom found himself unable to meet the otter's
Alan Dean Foster
gaze. "We were... as far as that particular trip was
concerned. Unfortunately, something new has come
up." He tried to smile. "You know how highly I value
your company and assistance."
"And you want good old 'appy-go-lucky Mudge
along to 'old your bleedin* 'and, right? Or maybe to
push you along in your pram?"
When Jon-Tom didn't reply, the otter turned his
attention back to the kitchen table. "Untie me, you
disgustin' ball of reptilian corruption, or when I get
out of 'ere, I swears I'll shove you in on yourself and
cement up all the openin's!"
"Now, now." Clothahump dabbed delicately at his
mouth with a linen napkin. "Let us remember who
we are talking to."
"Oh, I know who I'm talkin' to, all right. The
world's master meddler. I don't care anymore, you
see? So I can say wotever I want. Turn me into a
snake, turn me into a worm, even turn me into a
bloody 'uman. See if I care. Because you've gone too
far this time, the two of you, and I've 'ad it! I'm not
goin' anywhere." He nodded in Jon-Tom's direction.
"Especially not with 'im. Not across any oceans, not
into any fights, not to the local market to buy chestnuts.
Nowhere, nohow, no way!"
Jon-Tom switched to rubbing his bitten finger.
"Ever hear of Quasequa, Mudge?"
The otter frowned down at him. "Qua wot?"
"Quasequa. It lies far to the south of the Bellwoods.
Exquisite country, a beautiful tropical city built out
on a vast lake. The kind of place an otter, it seems to
me, would find downright paradisaical."
"Charming, friendly inhabitants;' Clothahump added
without glancing up from his meal, "who know how
to make a stranger feel at home. Especially, I am
told, the ladies."
TBS MOMENT OF TJXE MAGfCUUr
Mudge seemed to waver, but only for an instant-
Then his determination returned.
"Oh, no, you ain't goin' to smooth-talk me into it
again. Not this time. I know 'ow you two operate, I
does." He nodded again toward Jon-Tom. "This one's
*alf solicitor and 'alf devil. Between the two of you,
you could sell ice to polar bears- No, I'll 'ave none of
it this time. Do what you want to me."
Jon-Tom approached the cage, his best profes-
sional smile fairly lighting up the dim kitchen. He
was careful, however, not to get within biting dis-
tance of his best friend.
"Aw, c'mon, Mudge. One more time. For old times*
sake. Be a friend." The otter didn't reply, stared
stolidly at the far wall.
"I know you're upset right now, and I can under-
stand why. I sympathize, really. I meant it when I
said I had nothing to do with bringing you here like
this. I was going to come out and meet you, but
Clothahump decided that it was important to try and
save time, I guess, so he brought you here this way
without telling me of his plans."
*Time. Let me tell you somethin' about time, mate.
Do you 'ave any idea where I was when 'is sorcerership
there yanked me out of reality and into nothingness?
Do you 'ave any idea what five minutes in Chaos is
"There are somewhat smoother methods of generat-
ing the transition," Clothahump murmured, "but
they take too much time."
"Do they now? Time, wot? I'll tell you about time."
A wistful expression came over his face. "There I
was, sittin* in Shorvan's Gambling Palace in down-
town Toothrust... which is a good place for a gam-
bling chap like meself to be... 'oldin* twelve of a
kind. Twelve of a kind!" He almost broke out sobbing,
but managed to restrain himself.
Alan Dean Foster
"And the pot... there was enough gold in that pot,
me friends, to set me up for three, four years o*
comfort. So I'm gettin' ready to make me play, see,
because I know wot the score is and that the one
chap with a chance to stop me 'as to be bluffin'
because 'e ain't 'oldin' diddly-squat in 'is paws. This
bum's a foxie with no moxie, see? I can read 'is
bloomin' whiskers, and I know I've got 'im beat, I
know I dol So I push in all me chips, a great
galumphin' pile won at great labor and pain, and
wot do you think 'appens to me and me twelve of a
kind, eh? Wot?" Jon-Tom said nothing.
"I'm jerked bodily into Unfamiliar Chaos, which
ain't no garden spot, I can tell you, and then finds
meself bound up like a B&D 'oliday gift in this
bloody cage so's that tuft o' blotchy, moth-eaten
feathers over there can tell me that I've been sum-
moned hence because you, mate, needs me 'elp on
one of your forthcomin' suicidal excursions."
Jon-Tom glared at Ctothahump, who appeared
not in the least distressed. "You did say, my boy, that
you wanted his company on this journey. If anything,
I expressed a dissenting opinion."
"I said that I wanted his help, his willing help."
"Best not to waste time," the turtle harrumphed,
"If you don't want to waste time," Jon-Tom said,
**why not send us to Quasequa tlie same way you
brought him here?"
"It's not quite that simple, my boy. Bringing and
sending are quite different things. The spells are
more complex than you can imagine. Bringing takes
enough out of you, and 1 am not at all adept, I
confess, at sending. If I were better at either, I'd
bring this Markus person here. That would simplify
everything, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, 1 cannot do
TUB MOUKKT OF THE SS.AOIC3AM
that. I was only able to manage this recall because of
your strong association with this creature and—"
"Who're you callin' a 'creature,' you fat-brained..."
Mudge hesitated, latched onto a new thought. "Wait
a minim. Who's this 'Markus' you're talkin' about?"
"Someone I have to talk to," Jon-Tom explained.
"In beautiful Quasequa."
"Ain't nowheres as beautiful as a gamin' room with
a big pot o* gold lyin' in it waitin' for the takin'.
Twelve of a kind. The draw o' me life." He looked
back to Clothahump again. "The least you could've
done, your sorcerership, was to 'ave brung me 'ere
first-class instead of economy."
"I am not one to indulge in frivolous, unnecessary
"Right, guv, and I'm sure you travels steerage
every time you transpose, too. At least let me out o'
these blasted ropes!"
"Yes, I believe 1 can do that, now that you have
calmed down somewhat and decided to act halfway
civilized. All that screaming and cursing, tch." He
mumbled something under his breath.
Nothing happened. "Well," Mudge asked, "is that
"Not quite. You have to sneeze."
"Oi, I do, do I? Just like that? You think sneezin*
on cue's as simple as talkin'? As simple as drawin* to
twelve of a kind? Right then!" He inhaled sharply,
tickled his nose with a whisker, and blew messily in
Jon-Tom's direction. No question but that his aim
The ropes turned to dust at his feet. He stood and
rubbed his arms to restore the circulation.
Same old Mudge, Jon-Tom mused, cleaning him-
self up as he inspected his old friend. The otter
boasted a new vest of gray shot through with silver
thread together with matching silver-and-black shorts.
Alan Dean Foster
His new boots were bright metallic blue. The famil-
iar longbow and quiver of arrows were slung across
his back. On his head rode the same battered green
felt cap. New feather, though.
"That's an improvement, guv'nor. Now 'ow about
this bloomin' cage?"
"What cage?" asked Clothahump with a half smile.
"There is nothing barring your path save a few
"Few they may be but flimsy they ain't. Don't think
I 'aven't tried." He pushed out with a hand, casually,
and several of the threads snapped. He had to rush
to jump clear as the wooden roof started to collapse
on top of him. Then he was standing unrestrained
on the kitchen floor staring at what up until a
moment ago had been an impenetrable prison but
was now nothing more than a couple of blocks of
wood lightly linked together by a few cloth threads.
"The only thing worse than a bloody wizard," he
mumbled, "is a bloody wizard who likes to play
"I do not play jokes," declaimed Clothahump with
dignity. "Such mundane exercises in plebeian amuse-
ment are beneath my stature." He coughed lighdy. "I
do admit to some slight subtle sense of humor,
however. At my age you pass up no opportunity for
some mild amusement.
"As for your late lamented twelve of a kind, for
that 1 am sorry. I have reason to believe that the
wizard Opiode the Sly, whom you travel to visit, will
be willing to reimburse you fully."
"Yeah, that's wot you always say, guv."
"In any case, you will surely have the run of lovely,
exotic Quasequa, whose climate and virtues the poets
"Oh, come off it, guv'nor, I've 'eard all this before."
He sniffled once. "Twelve of a kind." A glance up at
TBC MOMENT OF THE MAGICIAN
jon-Tbm. "You know 'ow long a player waits for a
'and like that, mate?"
"No, I don't. I thought the most you could get in a
game was four of a kind."
Mudge mulled this over. "I can see we're talkin'
different games 'ere, mate. You wouldn't understand,
then." He turned to face Clothahump. "Right then;
this brotherly dabbler in the back o' beyond may or
may not pay me for me time and trouble, but wot
about me own 'ard-earned money I put on the table?
Wot about the loss o' me gamblin' stake? Or don't
you think you're responsible for me losin* that?"
"I am not responsible for your gambling debts,"
said the turtle slowly, "but I agree it would be wrong
were you to suffer the loss of your own money on my
"Well now, that's more like it." Mudge looked sur-
prised and somewhat mollified. "You know, guv, if
you wouldn't treat me like an old 'ammer and saw all
the time, I might be a mite more inclined to partici-
pate willingly in these charmin' little diversions you
and the 'airless one 'ere come up with. Quasequa,
wot? Never been there, 'tis true. Wot is it we're
supposed to do there?"
"Check out a new chief advisor to the local rulers,
a newly arrived wizard who calls himself Markus the
Ineluctable," Jen-Torn told him.
"Sounds straightforward enough to me." His gaze
narrowed and darted back and forth between Jon-
Tom and Clothahump. "You're sure that's all, now?
You two wouldn't be concealin* somethin' from old
-Mudge, now would you?"
"Certainly not," said Clothahump, obviously insulted.
"Would I do something like that, Mudge?"
"I don't like it. You two are too chummy. I feel
safer when you're arguin'." He focused on the turtle.
Alan Dean Foster
"Wot's the land like between 'ere and this -Quasequa
"Tropical, friendly, largely uninhabited and un-
spoiled. I would be coming along myself if my arthri-
tis were not acting up. That, and the fact that this is
really a minor business, precludes my accompanying
"There's something else." Jon-Tom put a comradely
hand on Mudge's shoulder. The otter moved out
from under it, but at least he didn't try to bite. "This
Markus the Ineluctable claims to have come from
another world. If he comes from my world and the
two of us strike up a friendship, it's a chance for me
to get home. Maybe for both of us to get home."
"Well now, that would be worth the journey, to see
the last of you, mate, though I don't know as 'ow I
could stand more than one of you otherworldly twits
in the same place at the same time. Nothin' personal,
but if you get back to your 'ome, maybe I can get
back to 'aving a normal life o' me own."
"A normal life," said Clothahump dryly, "rich with
thieving, fighting, wenching, and being in a condi-
tion verging on permanent inebriation all the time."
"Yes, that's wot I said," agreed the otter blithely,
missing the wizard's sarcasm entirely.
Clothahump eyed him sadly. "I fear there is no
hope for you, water rat." He looked suddenly
thoughtful. "I was led to believe that the most you
could hold in a game of artimum was eleven of a
"I thought artimum was a spice," said Jon-Tom.
"A spicy game of chance, my boy. S