The next day, Linkce was to embark upon his quest. He stood in the throne room, as before, as the King explained what was to be done.

"So," King Dor finished. "As you have no knowledge of...well, no offense, will need a guide. So I shall send with you--"

"Me," Princess Ida said.

Every head in the room turned.

"Are you sure, Ida?" King Dor asked. "Quests out into Xanth can prove dangerous, and you're..." Dor paused.

"Not as young as I used to be?" Ida finished, a hint of a smile on her face.


"That shan't be a problem." Ida reached into a pocket of her dress and withdrew a small glass vial, which she held up for all to see. "Youth elixer," she explained. "I requisitioned it from the Good Magician this morning." And, before anyone could object, she uncorked the vial and downed the contents at a single draght.

The change was impressive, and immediate. Where there once stood a middle-aged woman in an elegant dress, there now stood a stunningly pretty sixteen-year-old girl, with blonde hair that shimmered a faint green, wearing a dress that was far too large for her.

"Ida...why do you wish to go along on this quest?" Queen Irene asked, once she'd regained her composure.

The sixteen-year-old Ida made her small smile again. "I have my reasons, she replied.

After a great deal of arguement, and a much-needed wardrobe change, the two began their journey. As they were crossing the drawbridge of Castle Roogna, Linkce slipped on a damp, mildewy patch of wood and tumbled into the water with an impressive splash.

"Linkce? Are you okay?" Ida asked, leaning carefully over and looking down into the moat.

After a few seconds of sputtering, Linkce's head appeared above the surface of the water. "Yes. I think so." The strange creature paddled his way to the shore and climbed out. Ida crossed the drawbridge and stood alongside him.

Linkce glared at the water as he grasped a handful of his shirt and wrung out the black fabric.


Linkce turned back to Ida. "Yes?" he asked.

"You're steaming," Ida said.

Linkce glanced down at his arm. Sure enough, a pale, shinnering steam was rising from his gray skin.

"That's...interesting. Is it because of the....that?" he asked, pointing down at the moat.

"It's called water. Yes, I supose it is...but I have no idea what kind of creature steams when wet."

"Just one more mystery for the list, I suppose."

Something caught Ida's object that was stuck with moisture to the side of Linkce's leg.

"What's that?" she asked, pointing to it.

Linkce reached down and pulled it off, then held it up to the light. It was a small, white, triangular piece of metal that seemed to have a tiny skull engraved on the front.

"I have no idea," Linkce replied. "How long do you think it's been in the moat?"

"No telling," Ida said.

With a shrug, Linkce tucked it away into a pocket, and the two continued down the path that led away from the relative safety of castle Roogna and into the sometimes-charted wilds of Xanth.

Along the way, Linkce kept pointing to commonplace things along the side of the path, and asking Ida to tell him what they were. Ida was more than happy to oblige, and once Linkce knew the name of the thing, he could look up the rest himself.

Eventually, Linkce tired of this and simply began looking through his archive alphabetically. He was quiet while doing this, and seemed to be daydreaming. As such, one wouldn't have thought him to be very good company, but Ida was glad to have him along anyway. He really did seem nice enough.

Not far down the path, they encountered a small band of small creatures, each one no taller than an elf. Ida recognized them as Imps, though they were far away from any Impish residence she knew of.

"Hello," Ida said pleasantly.

The elderly Imp who seemed to be leading the party turned, his irritable expression vanishing the moment he got a good look at Ida. Before Linkce could inquire about this effect, the imp replied. "Hello. I am Ortant."

"Imp Ortant?" Ida asked.

"Yes. Who are you?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I am Princess Ida of Castle Roogna. This is Linkce."

"Linkce what?" Ortant asked.

"Just Linkce," Linkce replied apologetically. He had noticed by now that everyone else had a great deal more to their names than he did.

"It is a pleasure to meet you," Ortant said gracefully. "Tell me, are you in a hurry?"

"Yes," Ida said.

"No," Linkce said, at exactly the same time.

"Yes and no," Ida clarified. "It is Imp Ortant…I mean, important that we reach our destination soon, but I believe we can pause for a moment if needed."

"We could use your help," Ortant said, and all the Imps behind him nodded. "You see, some of our vital supplies have been stolen, and there is one more Imp here than we had when we left our residence."

"How is that possible?" Linkce asked.

"One of the items that was stolen is a disguise spell. It can enable anyone or anything to take on a different form. We believe that some creature, perhaps a goblin or some such vile creature, has taken it and is using it to pretend to be one of us, that he, she, or it can more readily steal more."

"Oh, I'm sure it was a Goblin!" Ida exclaimed. "Only one of them would do something so mean!"

"So?" Linkce asked. "Which Imp wasn't with you when you left? Surely you know the members of your own party."

"It isn't that simple," Ortant explained. "The spell is crafted to be the perfect disguise. Not only does it change the appearance of its user, it also alters the memories of those in range when the spell was cast so that they are unable to recognize him. We have meories of past interactions with everyone present, but the numbers don't add up. That is how we know of the imposter."

"So you need the aid of someone who was not present when the spell was cast." Ida surmised.

"Yes. Would you be so kind as to assist? Your help may well solve our problem."

"Oh, I'm sure it will," Ida said, grinning.

"I'm not," Linkce said. "How-"

"Trust me," Ida said. Then, to the Imps: "Could you identify yourselves, please?"

The Imps introduced themselves as Atient, Rudent, Oster, Ressive, and Ersonate.

"It's bound to be either Oster or Ersonate," Linkce said immediately.

"I'm sure you're right," Ida said. "But which?"

"That's trickier," Linkce said. He picked an Imp at random; it was Atient. "Tell me, what-"

"Would you get on with it?" Atient asked, irritably.

"That's what I thought." Linkce turned to the two he'd picked out. "Tell me, Ersonate, what do you do?"

"Tell me, Ersonate, what do you do?" Ersonate replied, sounding exactly like Linkce.

"Right answer. Your turn, Oster. What do you do?"

"I…err…" As everyone in the clearing watched, Oster's form began to waver, and his outline fuzzed, fizzled, and evaporated, leaving behind a rather startled-looking goblin.

Instantly, the Imps seized him, which was Imp Ressive considering that they were considerably smaller than him. Ortant turned to Linkce and Ida. "You did it. You pierced his disguise spell. See, there it is." He pointed to the ground where the goblin stood, and lying on the ground was the punctured spell.

"How can we repay you?" Imp Ortant asked.

Linkce considered, but Ida got there first. "Oh, you don't need to repay us," she exclaimed.

"We insist. Here, it's getting dark. Let us provide shelter."

Ortant gestured, and one of the other Imps drew a small object forth from his backpack and handed it to Linkce.

"Imps are known for their hospitality. Even when they're nowhere near their home." Ida said.

Linkce shrugged, allowing that Ida knew more about this than him. He hadn't gotten to the I's yet.

"So what brings you out so far?" He asked Imp ortant.

"We Imps are responsible for crafting all the jewels in Xanth. We send them to replenish the barrels of the Jewel Nymphs, who scatter them for people to find. But lately, there have been problems with the system, and the jewels we send haven't been reaching the barrels. The jewel nymphs are beside themselves, they haven't any clue about what to do without any jewels to place. So my party and I are out to visit the nymphs and examine the barrels, to see exactly what's wrong, if we can."

"So who's watching your home, providing hospitality to any visitors?"

"My wife, Quieta. She can handle things well in my absence." Ortant sighed. "I am getting a bit too old for traveling. I daresay it will be nice to get back home. I only hope we can resolve this issue of the missing jewels soon."

"Don't worry," Ida said with a smile. "I'm sure you will."

The Imps bade them farewell and continued on their way, as did Ida and Linkce. Not much later, strange sounds began to eminate from the middle of Ida. Linkce glanced at her, alarmed.

"I'm hungry," she said, apologetically.

"Hungry?" Linkce asked. "Hungry. In need of food or sustanence." This didn't seem to clarify much for him, so he continued. "Food. The fuel necessary for a living creature to continue functioning." Linkce looked around, having finally gotten the idea. "Maybe we can find some. My information seems to indicate that it grows on trees."

"Oh, I'm sure we can! There's bound to be some pie trees or something around here."

"You're sure we can," Linkce echoed cynically. "You're very optimistic."

"Yes, but I'm never wrong," Ida said smugly. "Come on, let's see what we can find."

After a brief search, the pair managed to turn up a pie tree, a breadfruit tree, and another tree which bore colorful fruit. Ida plucked one of each, then, drawing a large blanket out of her backpack, she arranged what promised to be a wonderful picnic.

Linkce picked up one of the fruits and sniffed it curiously.

"Haven't you ever eaten a purple before? No, of course not. Silly question. You just bite into it. Like this." And she demonstrated.

Linkce found that he didn't care much for the fruit or the bread, but had quite a liking for pies. Finally, having eaten all she cared to, Ida sat back, watching as Linkce polished off pie after pie, until the tree was bare.

Linkce looked around, and seemed disappointed. "No more?"

"You're still hungry?" Ida asked, shocked.

"Hungry? No, I never was. I just like the…the…"

"Taste?" Ida suggested.

"Taste? Taste. The sensation caused when matter comes into contact with the tongue, usually associated with food. Yes, that's it. I liked the taste." Linkce scanned the branches once again. "What's that?" he asked, pointing to something that was growing on the multifruit tree. It didn't look anything like a fruit.

Ida squinted at it. "Oh, that's a mis-steak. Sometimes fruit trees grow them by accident."

"I wonder how that…tastes..?" Linkce asked. Then, without warning, he simply rose up off the ground and plucked it from the tree.

Ida's mouth dropped open in a most unprincessly manner as Linkce simply stood on air and bit into the mis-steak, the juice dribbling down his chin.

The gray-skinned whatever-he-was wiped his mouth as he drifted back down and planted his feet on the ground. "Mm…it's good."

"How did you do that?"

"You showed me yourself. Just bite into it."

"Not eat! I meant the way you floated like that."

"You mean this?" Linkce asked, evidently confused. His feet left the ground again and he hovered a few inches above the soil.

"Yes, that! I thought your talent was accessing information!"

"So did I. You mean it's not?"

"Well…maybe…but no one has two magic talents!"

Linkce shrugged. "I just did it without thinking."

"But how?"

"I'm not sure."

Ida closed her eyes and pondered. "There's only one person I know who has more than one magic talent. Maybe we can ask her."

Linkce shrugged aquiescently. "I suppose any direction is better than none. What's her name?"

"Surprise," Ida answered. "Surprise Golem."