Read Swell Foop Online

Authors: Piers Anthony

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Fantasy fiction, #Humorous, #Humorous fiction, #Science Fiction/Fantasy, #Xanth (Imaginary place)

Swell Foop (8 page)

BOOK: Swell Foop
12.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

"It is interesting the way these Challenges are tailored to the querents," she remarked. "An ogre could bash his way out."

"I suspect an ogre would find his strength missing. He would have to use his mind."

"His what?"

Che had to smile. "True—ogres are justifiably proud of their stupidity. But he might make a face and scare a wall into collapsing."

"Yes, I understand that an ogress can curdle milk with half a glare."

"And crack a mirror just by thinking of looking into it. But this isn't solving this Challenge. I suppose you could reach the top of the wall by standing on my back and jumping, but I would be too heavy for you to pull up after you."

"Surely so. Still, it would not hurt for me to look. There might be a ladder on the other side that I could pass back to you."

Che looked down at his four hooves. "I don't think I could use a ladder."

"Maybe a long board for a ramp."

He nodded. "You seem to be thinking better than I am."

"Unlikely. Everybody knows zombies have rotten brains."

"What everyone knows is not necessarily true."

She glanced obliquely at him. "I gather you're not much for conventional prejudice."

"Not much," he agreed. But he had to admit to himself that he had made a reasonable effort of prejudice, before getting better acquainted with this zombie.

He went to stand beside a wall, and she got on his back, then carefully stood. "I can't quite reach the top."

"Maybe if I stand on a crate." But the crates were in poor repair, and he couldn't find any he could safely use.

"Maybe if you just lift me with your hands," she suggested.

"I can try."

"I'll delete some weight." She removed her small helmet, letting her hair hang loose, and her short sword.

He stood beside the wall again, and she stood before him. He put his hands on her waist just above her metallic skirt, and lifted. She came up, surprisingly light; she was a slender woman. In a moment her nice knees were before his face.

"Not quite high enough," she said. "My fingers can't quite catch the top."

"I can't lift you higher," he said. "In fact, I can't hold you here long. My arms aren't strong."

"Let me get on your shoulders." She lifted her right leg and put her metallic slipper on his left shoulder. Then she stepped up with the other foot. Now she was squatting over his head. "Don't let go; I'm unsteady. Just slide your hands down my legs and take another grip so I can stand."

He did so. Her legs were marvelously sleek and firm. He found her knees, and gripped just below them.

Then she straightened her legs. Her balance shifted. He glanced up, trying to judge which way she was leaning, so he could correct it—and caught a glimpse of her inner thighs and metallic panty.
I'm not human,
he thought determinedly.
I can't freak out
. That steadied him, and he in turn steadied her. He had thought that human men were foolish to freak out at the sight of female human underwear, but that peek under her skirt had given him a jolt. There was definitely magic there.

"Got it!" she said, and suddenly her knees slid out of his grasp as she hauled herself up. In two moments she was sitting on the top of the wall, dangling her feet. A light breeze ruffled her loose hair. She was looking increasingly feminine.

"Good enough," he said, gratified that they had succeeded to this extent. A silvery image remained in his mind, and he realized that it was the memory of that panty. The magic was still trying to get him, attacking his human aspect. "Anything you can fetch for me?"

Zyzzyva looked around. "Nice gardens all around, girt by similar walls. This seems to be one of those greenhouse puzzles, with hedges and paths and barriers every which way. We just happened to land in a closed section."

"By no coincidence, I think."

"I don't see anything I could fetch that could help you. Shall I come down?"

"No need. I'll just have to find my own way clear."

He reconsidered the yard. There were the battered crates, assorted wood boards, several partial rolls of canvas fabric, a short length of chain left over from something, a half full box of nails with a rusty hammer, and several huge feathers weighted down by stones. He smiled. Did someone think the feathers would fly away by themselves?

Then he re-reconsidered. Could those be roc flight feathers? If so, they could indeed fly; they were what enabled the big birds to do it.

He trotted to one of them, took hold of its quill, and rolled the stone off. Immediately the feather sailed up, eager to fly. It was indeed a flight feather. It was all he could do to hold it down. It took a lot of lift to launch a roc, so the magic was strong.

Now the rest of it fell into place. He could use the other junk to build a craft to anchor the feathers, a flying machine that would carry him out of here. That was the solution to this riddle.

He got to work. As it happened, the boards and bits and nails were the right size to make a crude boatlike vessel. Happened? That had been the point all along, just waiting for him to catch on. He felt stupid for not doing so before, and he did not like feeling stupid.

Soon he had a craft with a canvas rudder operated by the chain, a central basin large enough for a lying centaur, and oarlocks for six big feathers. He fitted the feathers one by one, weighting each down with its stone, until all six were securely in place.

Now at last he was ready to fly. But he paused. Once he removed the stones, those feathers would fly, carrying him up. But how would he land again? He would not be able to weight them down again once he was airborne.

"You have a problem?" Zyzzyva asked from above.

"Yes. I'm not sure how to land this flying machine, once I'm aloft."

"Why will you need to?"

This seemed like a stupid question, but he answered carefully. "Because a fall from the heights could be dangerous if not lethal."

"But once you're clear of the Challenge, won't your own power of flight return?"

Che's jaw actually dropped. She was of course correct. He would have no need to land the flying machine; he could land far more conveniently on his own. "Once again, your brains are functioning better than mine."

"Thank you. But I wonder: Assuming it flies away, never to return, what will happen to it?"

"I suppose it will crash somewhere. Does it matter?"

"Yes, it matters. That machine is like a zombie, having a kind of half-life. It should not be thrown away after it gives good service."

Che would never have thought of it that way, but he was coming to appreciate her zombie viewpoint. Zyzzyva herself was a fine and interesting person who was forever changing his conception of zombies. Naturally she had empathy for other neglected or disparaged creatures. He would have to do something about his flying machine.

"Suppose I name it, and give it a compatible destination? If it is capable of hearing and understanding, then it will know where to go on its own."

"I can enable it to do both," she said. "Toss up my sword."

He had no idea what she wanted with it, but she would need both sword and helmet when she went on. He picked up the helmet. "First this," he said, and tossed it.

She caught it neatly. "Thank you." She put it on, becoming more military. Had he been human, he might have been disappointed.

"And the sword." It was sheathed, so was safe to throw. He did so carefully, and she caught it as neatly. She buckled the sheath belt around her waist, then drew the sword. She put it to the side of her head and cut off her left ear.

"What are you doing?" Che cried, appalled.

"I am cutting off my left ear," she said. "Have no concern; I'll grow another, zombie style. Fasten this one to your machine, so it can hear you speak." She tossed the ear down to him.

He controlled his revulsion and caught it. There was no blood, just a little stickiness at the point of severance. He took it to the machine and set the sticky side against the prow. The ear adhered; indeed, in a moment it seemed as if it had grown there on its own.

"Now that is a zombie machine," Zyzzyva said. "It will hear you and respond to you."

This was weird! But he followed through, rather than embarrass Zyzzyva by openly doubting her. "Flying machine, I name you Rockie, because your animation is from roc feathers and your ear is female. You are a lady craft. Do you understand?"

There was no reaction. That hardly surprised him. "You have to tell her how to respond," Zyzzyva said. "She doesn't know anything yet."

Oh. "If you hear and understand, wiggle a flight feather."

Still nothing, as expected. Machines constructed of ends and odds did not come to life of their own accord. "You must tell it which one," Zyzzyva said. "It will not be very smart at first."

"The front right feather," he clarified.

The right front feather wiggled under its stone.

Che stared, but there was no doubt about it. It was now a living, or at least an animate, flying machine. Zyzzyva had been right all along.

So he continued. "I will use you to fly out of this yard. Then I will leave you, to go about my own business. Do you understand? Wiggle your left front feather if you do."

The left front feather wiggled.

"But I don't want you to feel out of sorts, because you are the only creature of your kind. So I will tell you who else to look for. There is a duck-footed boat named Para who normally plies his trade near the Isle of Women just west of the peninsula of Xanth. He's the only one of his kind too. You should get along. Simply fly over the coast until you see him. He should be glad to see you. If you understand, wiggle your right rear feather."

The right rear feather wiggled.

"One more thing," Che said, as an afterthought. Afterthoughts were almost as good as forethoughts. "Your ear is from a zombie, so if you ever have occasion to do a zombie a favor, please consider it. Zombies can be good folk when you get to know them."

Then he got into the craft and reached out to roll the rocks off the six flight feathers. They immediately vibrated, taking flight, carrying the craft and him with them. In nine-tenths of a moment he was up and out of the yard and flying over the walled garden.

"Wait for me!" Zyzzyva called.

But the flying machine wouldn't or couldn't wait; it was flying vigorously onward. So Che spread his wings and flicked himself, and felt himself getting lighter. He lifted out of the craft, hovered above it for the remaining tenth of a moment, then turned to face Zyzzyva. "You're going east, Rockie," he called. "You want to go west."

The craft turned and flew the other way. Meanwhile Che glided down to land on the top of the wall beside the zombie woman. He saw a lump on the left side of her head; the ear was already re-forming. "Thank you for your help," he said.

"Men need women's help," she said matter-of-factly. "That's why I married Xeth."

Che didn't argue. He lifted her onto his back, as there was not room on the wall for her to get to his side. "You have also educated me about zombies."

"Living folk need that."

He spied a woman waving in the center of the garden. He flew down to join her. "That's Wira, Humfrey's blind daughter-in-law," he murmured. "She's very nice."

"I have heard of her."

"Hello, Wira," he called as he landed. "I am here on business, and I brought Zyzzyva Zombie, King Xeth's wife and queen of the zombies."

"On business?" Wira asked. "We assumed you were a querent."

So that was it. "No, this is an urgent mission to save Xanth from destruction."

"In that case you had better see the Good Magician right away." She faced the zombie, who was dismounting. "Hello, Zyzzyva. We have not met before."

"We live apart," Zyzzyva agreed.

Wira stepped into her and embraced her. So much for prejudice; the blind woman had little way of knowing that this zombie was not rotten. "You seem remarkably fit."

"I am. I was killed in battle, and zombied within hours."

They followed Wira into the castle proper. There was room for Che's bulk; the Good Magician's castle always accommodated what it needed to. They made their way up the winding stairway to the Good Magician's dingy office. There was Magician Humfrey, poring over his Book of Answers.

"Che Centaur and Zyzzyva are here on business," Wira said, announcing them.

"I don't know where the Ring of Earth is," Humfrey said grumpily.

So he had known their business! "I understand you are in charge of it," Che said.

"True. But none of the Ring proprietors know where their Rings are. You will have to search for it."

"But doesn't your Book of Answers list everything?" Zyzzyva asked.

"No. The omission is deliberate. If the location were recorded, some nefarious entity might snoop and locate it."

Che considered. His zombie guide didn't know exactly where the Ring was, and neither did the Good Magician. But it had to be somewhere in this castle, because otherwise it would be out of Humfrey's control. "May we search for it?"

"Of course. We cleaned up the castle for you. The Designated Wife will help you." Humfrey turned back to his huge tome.

They went back down the stairs to the kitchen, where a cloud of smoke hovered over the stove. "Dana, this is Che Centaur," Wira said politely. "Also Zyzzyva Zombie. Che, this is Dara Demoness, the Good Magician's Designated Wife."

The smoke roiled, then formed into the figure of a lovely dusky woman. "A zombie! This could be interesting."

"Or it could be dull," Zyzzyva said, unimpressed.

"What are you up to?"

"We must locate the Ring of Earth," Che said. "We believe it is somewhere on the premises."

"The Ring of Earth! I haven't heard of that in centuries."

"It has not been used in centuries."

"That explains it. Why do you need it now? It controls all the landbound creatures of Xanth. Are you preparing to invade Mundania?"

"We need it to fetch the Swell Foop."

She puffed into incoherence. "The Swell Foop! That thing is dangerous!"

"So we understand," Che agreed dryly.

BOOK: Swell Foop
12.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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