Every cloud has them, so the saying goes, but Kelvin isn't so sure. He knows he's stuck with being the Roundear of Prophecy…and he even knows the Prophecy isn't completed and his adventures aren't over.
But he had hoped for a bit of a rest.
There's not much chance of that--his father's got himself imprisoned in a dungeon beyond Flaw, his half-brother is entangled with a beautiful girl and a silver serpent, and King Philip of Blastmore is beginning to figure out how much he is ruled by Melbah the witch. Kelvin's father-in-law has strong ideas about who should advise the King in Melbah's stead.
If that weren't enough, the relationship between the flopears and the silver serpents has become completely and dangerously misunderstood…
Twenty-one times New York Times Bestselling Author
Piers Anthony is one of the world's most prolific and popular authors. His fantasy Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world, and have been on the New York Times Best Seller list twenty-one times.
Although Piers is mostly known for fantasy and science fiction, he has written several novels in other genres as well, including historical fiction, martial arts, and horror. Piers lives with his wife in a secluded woods hidden deep in Central Florida.Robert Margroff
Robert Margroff and Piers Anthony have been collaborators since the late 1960s when they first wrote The Ring, a science fiction novel in 1968. In 1970, they wrote E.S.P. Worm, another sci-fi novel. In the 1980's they wrote their longest collaboration, the Kelvin series: Dragon's Gold, Serpent's Silver, Chimaera's Copper, Orc's Opal and Mouver's Magic.
Heln Knight Hackleberry lay back against the pillows. Her brown eyes were closed, and her bosom heaved shallowly. Her shiny black hair framed her lovely oval face. She was as beautiful as she had been on their wedding day, seven months ago, Kelvin thought.
He lay beside her, squeezing her calloused yet very feminine hand. They were on their new bed in their new home, but they were not alone, and this was no pleasant interlude.
He glanced up at his sister, Jon, who was unusually silent. Then his gaze passed Jon’s normally smiling husband, Lester, who was quite serious now. He wished again that he hadn’t let them talk him into this.
She has to! It’s your father and your brother! Jon had insisted. They’ve been missing four months! When had Kelvin Knight Hackleberry ever been able to argue his manly little sister out of anything? She was correct, of course, but that did not make him feel any more comfortable at the moment.
Heln’s hand was growing cold now, as if she were dying. Oh, it was so like death, this astral traveling—death from poisoning. Indeed, dragonberries did kill pointears; only roundears like Heln could survive them, suffering just the partial death of soul-separation. They were never sure of the safe limit, and he hated the risk. If she died, he would go with her into death, he thought, if that was the only way to be with her always.
His hand tightened on hers, but she did not stir. It was fortunate that he could experience some of her thoughts and share her experiences, he thought, while she was in this state. He could even communicate with her while her spirit traveled, freed by the magic that had once been the secret of the golden dragons. So he knew she wasn’t really dead—not as long as her mind touched his.
Now he started receiving her thoughts. “I’m back at the underground river now,” Kelvin said for her. He had become like a thing his father had once told him about: a radio receiver. He tuned in on the words and repeated them without conscious volition. In this manner she shared her experience with those standing by her body.
Kelvin became aware of her sensations: the cold cave walls drifting by, the passages twisting, splitting, merging. The dim glow of lichen on the walls, somehow distinguishable from the lamplight in the room the four of them occupied. Images in her mind and his, overlapping yet distinct. He remembered another device his father had talked about: the receiver of words and pictures known as television. Perhaps he was becoming like that, too. But he could not show the pictures to the others.
“The Flaw! The Flaw! I see it now!” He was speaking for her, but he saw it, too: the water falling, falling into a darkness filled with stars.
He willed her away from that dread void, thrilling to its menace. “The other room! The other room!” he cried.
Then she was taking him, through her awareness and his, through the round, solid door. Perfectly round: rounder than round ears! They floated into the metallic chamber that only roundears such as the two of them could enter without causing its destruction. That was what the parchment there claimed; they had read it only partially during her prior visit here, but he believed it.
They hovered together above an open book on a table, and a box the size of a closet. The walls of the box were lined with dials and what appeared to be clocks. Kelvin recognized the sort of instruments his father had talked about: they were gauges and controls that somehow ordered things to be done.
“He left here,” Kelvin/Heln said. “Into the other frame. He stepped in here to follow the path of your father. It will still work for us. We can cross the astral bridge through Mouvar’s magic. To where Kian and your father are.”
For Kian was Kelvin’s half brother. They had been on opposite sides, and had fought. Though they were friends now, Kian’s guilt had led him to go on the risky tour through the dread Flaw, searching for his lost parents. He had not returned.
Heln and Kelvin entered the box. The vision became a blackness so deep it shimmered. There was something like a crash of soundless thunder, then a streak of fire that split their existence. Stars appeared, shining all around and through and into them. Existence whirled, collapsed, and expanded. Time and place ceased to have meaning. Then they were…
Moved. Into a hazy chamber closet like the one they had entered. The closet wall with its clocks reappeared, forming out of the confusion. The image needed tuning; it seemed to be far away. But even as Kelvin thought of that, the sights and sounds and smells of the new location came into clear focus. They had arrived—where?
Two sets of footprints crossed from the closet to a rock wall, where a large round metal door stood ajar. It might have been the same door they had just entered—but that one was closed. The footprints might have been their own—but they were going in the opposite direction, and in any event, Kelvin and Heln were not here physically. So these could be John Knight’s and Kian’s prints.
They began moving, bodiless but with direction. Kelvin smelled grass, and heard the songs for birds and the tinkling of what might be metallic chimes. This was an intelligible world, then.
They paused, Heln sensing the way. There was a metal rope ladder anchored to a solid ring in the cliffside. The ladder descended into a large tree that seemed similar to the beenut tree where Kelvin had found his magic gauntlet. That was a good sign! They swooped down to the roots of the tree and along the ground.
Heln in her astral state seemed to be drawn to a location or person of her choice. In this she was like the magnetic compass his father had described—or the magic needle that pointed always to The Flaw.
As Heln followed the pull of the brother Kelvin had first met on a battlefield and tried to kill nine months before, he looked around to the extent this form allowed. He saw or sensed displayed in a tall oaple tree the source of the chiming. Three silver spirals hung from a branch and produced the sound when the breeze twirled them. They looked like snakeskins, he thought uneasily: silver serpent hides that were stiff and dry yet also shiny and bright.
Now they were traveling across a wide valley, mountains, and rolling farmland similar to that of Rud. On and on interminably—but then swooping abruptly, hawk-fashion, to a palace on a river bluff. They entered the palace and drifted through spectacular halls filled with art objects, some of which seemed familiar. On down carpeted hallways, polished corridors, and banistered stairs. To—
A dank, dark, foul-smelling place that seemed made for fear. Kelvin jerked with shock.
“What is it, Kel?” his sister asked, hovering over his body. He had stopped talking, alarming her.
“Dungeon,” he said. Indeed it was, exactly such a dungeon as Kian’s mother, the evil Queen Zoanna, had used to confine Kelvin and his father and Rufurt, the good king of Rud.
Now he could see in the dim light that came through the high barred windows. There was his father, John Knight, haggard and dirty. There was his brother, Kian, in no better shape. And a third man, battered, blood-spattered, lying on the floor, propping his head with his arm, evidently too weak from loss of blood to do more.
Standing between them and a barred door was a wide man wearing a silver crown. Kelvin focused on the man’s face.
“Rufurt!” Kelvin whispered.
But no, this Rufurt had round ears, as did the prisoners, while their Rud counterparts had ears as pointed as Jon’s and Lester’s. The Rud king’s face, even after years of imprisonment, had a jovial appearance around the jowls that nothing could quite erase. This nearly identical face was taut and grim by comparison.
Yet a part of his mind shrieked: It’s Rufurt!
At the king’s gesture a man in uniform unlocked the cell, entered, and bent over the wounded man. John Knight grabbed the bars, seeming about to speak. Undeterred, the torturer pushed the unfortunate man’s head down on the floor and twisted it sideways. Then he brought out a silver tube, held it above the prisoner’s ear, unstoppered it, and tilted it carefully. Something silvery oozed out and flowed, undulating, into the man’s ear.
The guard paused only long enough to make sure the vial was empty. Then he let go of the prisoner and stepped quickly away. He got out of the cell as if afraid of something.
The prisoner pulled his face from the grime of the floor. His hand came up to touch his ear, as if it itched. It seemed that he was not sure why the guard had departed without beating him again. Or that he was afraid to think about it.
Then his look of perplexity darkened into something else. He clawed at his ear as if trying to wrench it out of his head. His eyeballs rolled back until only the whites showed. He screamed. It was a horrible sound, signifying something infinitely worse than pain.
The king made a ghastly smile that was all the more horrible for being on King Rufurt’s face. “Silver’s not so nice, now, is it, Smith? Now that the little beastie’s chewing in you?”
Little beastie? Kelvin hoped he misunderstood.
The man shook all over, from head to foot. His eyes stared wildly, seeming ready to pop out of his face. His arms and legs spasmed. He screamed again, as if trying to vomit out his tongue, while the other prisoners looked on with drawn faces. The screaming continued, diminished, because the man could not take enough of a breath to make it loud.
“We must go back. We are going back,” Heln said with Kelvin’s mouth. With that the dungeon faded and slipped sideways. They were pulled, as though by elastic, back to the chamber, into the closet, through darkness and stars. It happened so swiftly as to be instant; their minds seemed to shatter.
Then they were home. They were on their bed in their room, with their closest friends looking down at them. Where their bodies had been all along.
Kelvin sat up, turning to his wife. That horror—
Heln’s eyelids flickered. Her big, soft brown eyes opened to stare into his blue ones.
“Oh, Kelvin, we must help them! We must!”
“But—” He thought desperately, an enormous fear threatening to swallow what passed for his courage. “I have things to do here. There’s the prophecy.”
“And you will fulfill it, dear, you will. But you are a hero and a roundear. Only a roundear can journey to the chamber as Kian did. Only a roundear can make the trip we just did.”
“You can’t go,” he said, being firm. Immediately he knew in his most cowardly secret self that he had misspoken. He should have said “we,” including himself as well as her.
“Oh, Kelvin, you’re so brave! I knew you’d want to go to that other world and rescue your father and your brother! I knew you just couldn’t do anything else!”
Yes, he thought glumly. Yes—but what had he done to deserve this hero mantle? He had never wanted to be a hero. Jon had wanted to and he had not. Now, because he had lucked out on one step of a prophecy, they thought he couldn’t fail at anything.
“Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of her,” Lester said, his boyish smile broadening.
Kelvin knew that Lester and his sister would do that. He had no decent excuse to get out of another mission of foolish attempted heroism. He wished that he had never agreed to let Heln take that astral trip.
Yet that prisoner, with the appalling silver beastie in his ear—was that the fate awaiting John Knight and Kian, if someone didn’t get them out of the dungeon? Kelvin was sickly certain that it was, and that he was the only one who could do anything about it. He was a coward, but he had to act.