/ Language: English / Genre:antique

Spellsinger 04 - The Moment Of The Magician

Foster, Dean

antiqueFoster,AlanDeanSpellsinger 04 - The Moment Of The MagicianengFoster,AlanDeancalibre 0.8.1820.12.201183ff64a8-d332-477b-89a3-70c74d47e3e51.0

"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

with disgust.

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.

"Why not?"

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


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


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

the floor.

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

beware, beware


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

their dignity.

"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


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

manipulated them.

"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-



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

his magic."

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-



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,

and bold."

"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-

Troom Gale."

"I have heard many versions of that battle. Master,

some of which were less flattering to Clothahump of



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-

ing to."

"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

traveling conjuration?"

"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

the case.

"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-



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

the catch?"



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

every precaution."

"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

Alan Dean Foster


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

that, sir."



"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

c-c-close join."

"Which direction did it take?"

"It f-f-flew north, wise one. Few city fliers live to

the n-n-north."

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

directions. Master."

"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

for Opiode?"

The visitor moved nearer, anxious to ingratiate

himself with the magician- His whiskers trembled as

he whispered.

"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

the table.

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


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

Alan Dean Foster


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

If v!




hand. "There flies the raven named Pandro. Where

he's going 1 don't know, but see that he doesn't get

there. Go!"

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

otherworldly powers.

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

told her.

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




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


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

I try."

"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."


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

^Cthis time.

"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

f Sympathetic.

^ "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.


*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

^Co sock.

"  "Watch your blood pressure. Spin," said the third

? bird. He was slightly less hyperkinetic than his

; companions.

"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."


"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

pretty good.

"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."

m                   39

Alan Dean Foster


"What happened?"

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

the present.

"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

petty thief."

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

that's that"

"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



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



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,"

Clothahump suggested.

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."



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

called up."

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


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

was overwhelming.

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



"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

the doorway.

"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."



"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.

iffl '

"^ "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

the Bellwoods.

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-

ping decorously.

"What's that?"

"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


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

| Quasequa."

" '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

|cay delivery."

| "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

' IW

• • "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

head off."

"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.



"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



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."




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

of you."

"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

to Quasequa.

"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


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


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

befeathered sot?"

"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-

ny you."

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

be helpful."

"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

not exaggerate?"

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



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

tomorrow rooming."

"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



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

less urbanized.

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

reminiscing about—

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.



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."



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,

"debating semantics."

"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



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

was deliberate.

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

flimsy threads."

"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

extol beyond—"

"Oh, come off it, guv'nor, I've 'eard all this before."

He sniffled once. "Twelve of a kind." A glance up at



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