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I followed the wizard up the cliffside stairs to the top. Around us lay the ruined temple of Psaan, the Novarian god of the sea. The stumps of marble columns rose in ranks like a company of soldiers magically turned to stone, while separate column drums and fragments littered the cracked and tilted marble pave. Grass grew in the cracks. So did shrubs and even a few trees, which had canted the flags in their growth. There had once, Maldivius told me, been much more to the ruins, but for centuries the Chemnites had used the site as a quarry.

While I saddled up the mule and strapped the doctor’s traveling bag to the cantle, Maldivius repeated his instructions. Then off he went.

Doctor Maldivius was right about his apprentice. The diviner was hardly out of sight, and I had started down the stair, when I had to halt to allow Master Grax, wearing his good doublet and boots, to ascend. The youth grinned.

“Well, old Catfish,” he said, “I’m off to town. I’ll warrant you wish you had what I’m going for!” He jerked his pelvis to illustrate.

“I own I shall miss my wife,” I said, “but—”

“You mean demons have wives, just like people?”

“Of course. What thought you?”

“Methought that when you were fain to increase, you split down the middle and each half-became a whole new demon, as Maldivius says some little water creatures do. Do you futter your wives as we do?”

“Aye, though not the year round, as you Prime Planers seem to.”

Grax: “Well, why not come to Chemnis with me? I know a dame—”

“My orders forbid. Besides, I misdoubt that a human woman would enjoy carnal congress with me.”

“Why not? Wrong size?”

“Nay; it is the spiny barbs on my male member.”

“You actually have one?”

“Certes, inside.”

“How do your women—demonesses, I suppose I should call them—take the spiny barbs?”

“They find them pleasantly stimulating. But now I needs must take up my post in the central chamber.”

“Well, stupid, don’t fall asleep and let some thief clean the place out! A couple of boys down in Chemnis wouldn’t mind eking out their earnings by a bit of burglary. Expect me back on the morrow.”

He strode off on the dusty track that Maldivius had taken. I returned to the sanctum. For several days I had been too busy to digest the food I had eaten and hence had become somewhat bloated. I welcomed the chance to sink into digestive torpor. This lasted into the following day, as I could tell from the little water clock on one of Maldivius’ tables.

I had roused myself and was refilling the reservoir of the water clock when I heard the sound of boot heels in the maze. It might, I thought, be Grax; or it might be an intruder.

Then I remembered how insistent Doctor Maldivius had been about my devouring the first person to enter the sanctum before his return. No exceptions, he had said; I must follow his orders literally and implicitly. When I tried to ask whether he was fain to except Master Grax, he had shut me off. Meseemed he wished me, for some arcane reason, to treat Grax as I would any other intruder.

Presently, Grax stood in the entrance with a sack of edibles, bought in the village, on one shoulder. “Hola there, stupid!” he cried. “Poor old Catfish, can do nought better than sit in the sanctum and look ugly, like the idol of some heathen god—ho, what do you?”

Grax had advanced into the sanctum as he spoke. He had time for but one short scream as I sprang upon the youth, tore him to pieces, and ate him. I must say that he was pleasanter as provender than as a living companion.

Some things, however, perturbed me. For one, the brief struggle had disordered the room. A table was overset, and gore was spattered far and wide. Fearing that Maldivius would chastise me for sloppy housekeeping, I set to work with bucket, mop, and broom and in an hour had almost erased all traces of the fracas. The larger bones of the late Grax I stacked neatly on an empty bookshelf. A gout of blood had struck a copy of Material and Spiritual Perfection in Ten Easy Lessons, by Voltiper of Kortoli, on the bookshelves. The blood had run between the pages, staining several with a large red blot.

As I worked, another thought oppressed me. On the Twelfth Plane, ever since Wonk the Reformer, devouring fellow beings alive has been strictly forbidden. I supposed that the Prime Plane had similar regulations, although I had had no opportunity to master this world’s many legal systems. I was comforted to think that, since I acted under Maldivius’ orders, the responsibility would be his.


Doctor Maldivius returned late the next day. He asked: “Where is Grax?”

“Following your orders, master, I was compelled to devour him.”


“Aye, sir.” I explained the circumstances.

“Imbecile!” shrieked the wizard, going for me with his wand again. “Fool! Dunce! Lout! Ass! Dolt! Blunderhead! What have I done to the gods that they should visit a jolthead like you upon me?”

He was chasing and whacking me all the while. I darted out of the chamber but got lost in the maze. As a result, Maldivius cornered me at the end of a blind passage and continued his beating until exhaustion forced him to stop.

“Mean you,” I said at last, “that you did not intend me to eat this youth?”

“Of course I meant it!” Whack. “Any idiot could have seen that!”

“But, sir, you expressly commanded me—” And I went through the logic of the situation again.

Maldivius raked his gray hair back from his face and drew his sleeve across his forehead. “Beshrew me, but I suppose I ought to have known better. Come back to the chamber.” When we reached the sanctum, he said: “Gather up those bones, tie them together, and throw them into the sea.”

“I am sorry, sir; I did but try to give satisfaction. As we say in Ning, no one being can excel in everything. Will Grax’s disappearance entail any legal consequences for you?”

“Not likely. He was a kinless orphan; that was why he wished to become my apprentice. If, however, you should be asked, say that he fell from the cliff and was carried off by some denizen of the deep. Now let us plan a proper dinner, for I expect an eminent visitor tomorrow.”

“Who is this, master?”

“His Excellency Jimmon, the Chief Syndic of Ir. I made them an offer, but they derided it and suggested one-tenth of my price as a just requital. Jimmon said he might drop by to discuss the matter further. This bids fair to be a lengthy haggle.”

“Are you sure, sir, that the doom you foresee will not come upon the land whist you and the Syndics chaffer? As we say on my plane, a fish in the creel is worth two in the stream.”

“Nay, nay; I keep watch on this menace by my Sapphire. We have a plenty of time.”

“Sir, may I ask what sort of menace this is?”

“You may ask, ha ha, but I won’t answer. I know better than to—ah—let this bird out of its cage by blabbing what’s known only to me. Now get to work.”


His Excellency the Syndic Jimmon was a fat, bald man borne in a litter, who stayed overnight while his servants went to Chemnis for lodging. I did my best to play the perfect servant. I had been told to stand behind the chair of the guest at dinner, to anticipate his every wish.

Betimes, Jimmon and Maldivius haggled over the price of revealing Ir’s doom, and betimes they gossiped about events in Ir. Jimmon said: “If someone stop not that accursed woman, by Thio’s horn, she’ll attain the Board of Syndics yet.”

“What of it?” said Maldivius. “Since your government is based upon wealth, and Madam Roska has the wealth, why should you mind her taking her seat amongst you?”

“We have never had a woman syndic; ’twere unprecedented. Moreover, everyone knows what a silly female she is.”

“Ahem. Not too silly to multiply her fortune, methinks.”

“By witchcraft, belike. ’Tis said she dabbles in wizardry. Humph. The world is out of joint, when a featherwitted frail can amass such lucre. But let us talk of pleasanter things. Have you seen Bagardo’s traveling circus, eh? ’Twas in Ir last fiftnight, and meseems Bagardo the Great is now touring the smaller towns and villages. His entertainment is not bad. But if he come to Chemnis, beware that he fleece you not. Like all such mountebanks, he’s full of wiles and guile.”

Maldivius chuckled. “He needs must arise early to fleece me and not—ah—the other way round. Stop your squirming, Your Excellency; my servant will not harm you. He is a very paragon of literal obedience.”

“Then, wouldst mind asking him to stand behind your chair instead of mine? His looks disquiet me, and I’m getting a crick in my poor neck from craning it to view him.”

Maldivius commanded me to change my place. I obeyed, albeit I found it hard to understand Jimmon’s apprehensions. At home, I am deemed a perfectly average sort of demon, in no way outstanding or formidable.

The next day, Syndic Jimmon departed in his litter, bouncing on the shoulders of eight stalwart bearers. Maldivius told me: “Now understand once and for all, O Zdim, that your purpose in guarding my sanctum is not to slay anyone who happens by, but to forestall thievery. So you shall devour thieves and none other.”

“But, master, how shall I know a thief?”

“By his actions, fool! If he seek to snatch some bauble of mine and make off with it, destroy him. But, if he be merely a customer wishing his horoscope cast, or a peddler with sundries for sale, or a villager from Chemnis who fain would exchange a sack of produce for aid in finding his wife’s lost bangle, then seat him courteously and watch him closely until I return. But, unless he truly attempt to filch, harm him not! Have you got that through your adamantine skull?”

“Aye, sir.”

For the next fortnight, little happened. I continued to cook and clean. Maldivius went once to Chemnis and once to Ir; Jimmon paid us one more visit. Maldivius and Jimmon continued their chaffer, inching towards each other’s positions with snail-like sloth. At this rate, meseemed the predicted doom would have come and gone thrice over ere they reached agreement.

When not otherwise occupied, Maldivius consulted the Sibylline Sapphire. Since he insisted that I stand guard over him while he was in his vaticinatory trance, I soon learned his procedure. He prayed; he burnt a mixture of spicy herbs in a little brazier and inhaled the smoke; he chanted a spell in the Mulvanian tongue, beginning:

Jyū zormē barh tigai tyūvu;

Jyū zormē barh tigai tyūvu . . .

I could tell from a sensation in my tendrils when the spell began to take effect.

Having mastered my domestic tasks, I found time hanging heavily on my hands. We demons are far more patient than these fidgety Prime Planers; natheless, I found sitting hour upon hour in the sanctum, doing absolutely nothing, more than a little tedious. At length I asked: “Master, might I take the liberty of reading one of your books whilst I wait?”

“Why,” said Maldivius, “can you read Novarian?”

“I studied it in school, and—”

“Mean you that you have schools, too, on the Twelfth Plane?”

“Certes, sir. How else should we rear our young in the ways they should go?”

Maldivius: “And young as well? Somehow I have never heard of a young demon.”

“Naturally, since we do not permit the immature of our kind to serve on the Prime Plane. It were too hazardous for them. I assure you that we are hatched, and grow, and die like other sentient creatures. But about your books, I see you have a lexicon to help with words I know not. I beg you to suffer me to use it.”

“Hm, hm. Not a bad idea. When you become skilled enough, belike you can read to me, as poor Grax was wont to do. At my age, I needs employ a reading glass, which makes reading a laborious business. What sort of book have you in mind?”

“I should like to start on this one, sir,” I said, pulling out the copy of Voltiper’s Material and Spiritual Perfection in Ten Easy Lessons. “Methinks I shall need all the perfection I can attain to furnish satisfaction on this unfamiliar plane.”

“Let me see that!” said he, snatching the book out of my claws. His old eyes—keen enough despite his words—had glimpsed the blots of blood that marred several pages. “A souvenir of poor Grax, eh? Lucky for you, O fiend, that the book is of no magical import. Take it, and may you profit from its advice.”

So, with the help of Maldivius’ lexicon, I began plowing through Voltiper of Kortoli. The second chapter was devoted to Voltiper’s theories of diet. He was, it transpired, a vegetarian. He averred that only by eschewing the flesh of animals could the reader attain the sought-for perfect health and spiritual attunement with the cosmos. Voltiper also had moral objections to slaying sentient beings for food. He held that they had souls, even if rudimentary ones, and that they were akin to human beings as a result of evolutionary descent from common ancestors.

These moral arguments did not much concern me, since I was but a temporary resident of this plane. But I did wish better to adapt myself to the ways of the Prime Plane, to make my sojourn as painless as possible. I took up the vegetarian diet with Maldivius.

“A capital idea, Zdim,” quoth he. “I once practiced such a regimen myself, but Grax was so insistent upon flesh that I weakly gave in to him. Let us both follow Voltiper’s prescription. It will also abate our expenses.”

So Maldivius and I ceased to buy meat at Chemnis and contented ourselves with bread and greens. Then the wizard said: “O Zdim, the Sibylline Sapphire tells me that Bagardo’s circus is coming to Chemnis. I shall go thither to witness the show and, incidentally, to put forth discreet inquiries for a successor to my whilom apprentice. Bide you here.”

“I should like to see such a show, sir. I have been here for a month without stirring out of this ruin.”

“What, you go to Chemnis? The gods forfend! I have it hard enough, keeping on the good side of the townspeople, without your scaring them out of their wits.’

Since there was no help for it, I saddled up the mule, watched my master out of sight, and returned to the sanctum.


Hours later, a sound distracted me from my reading. It seemed to come from above. Whereas the brass lamps did not strongly illumine the ceiling, I could easily see that a large, quadrilateral hole had appeared in the plaster. How the intruder lifted that oblong of plaster out of the way without breaking it or arousing me sooner I know not. The burglarious sleights of Prime Planers are too subtle for the simple, straightforward mind of an honest demon.

I sat, watching. Demons have the advantage over human beings of being able to remain truly motionless. A Prime Planer, even when he tries to hold still, is always moving and fidgeting. If nought else gives him away, the fact that he must needs breathe several times a minute will. The fact that we can change color, too, gives Prime Planers exaggerated notions of our powers—as the belief that we can vanish at will.

A rope came dangling down through the hole, and down this rope came a small man in dark, close-fitting garb. By happenstance, he had his back to me as he lowered himself. His first brief glance failed to note me, sitting quietly in my chair, matching my background and not even breathing. Like a frightened mouse, he scuttled on soundless soft shoes to the stand holding the Sibylline Sapphire.

Instanter, I was out of my chair and upon him. He snatched the gem and whirled. For a heartbeat we confronted each other, he with the gemstone in hand and me with fangs bared, ready to tear him apart and devour him.

But then I recalled Voltiper’s insistence on vegetarianism and Maldivius’ orders to follow Voltiper’s dietary advice. Such being the case, I could obviously not devour the thief. On the other hand, my master had given me express commands to eat any flagrant robber.

Given these contradictory orders, I found myself palsied as surely as if I had been packed in ice and frozen stiff. With the best intentions, I could only stand like a stuffed beast in a museum while the thief darted around me and out, drawing from his wallet a tube full of glow-worms to light his way.

After I had earnestly pondered these things for several minutes, it occurred to me what, belike, Maldivius would have wished me to do, had he known the full circumstances. This would have been to seize the thief, take the Sapphire from him, and hold him against the wizard’s return. I think this was very clever of me. Of course, Prime Planers are much quicker of wit than we demons, and it is unfair to expect us to be so nimble-witted as they.

Alas, my solution came too late. I ran out of the maze and raced up the cliffside stair. By this time, however, there was no sign of Master Thief. I could not even hear his retreating footsteps. I cast about to try to pick up his odor but failed to strike a definite trail. The gem had gone for good.


When Doctor Maldivius returned and learnt the news, he did not even beat me. He sat down, covered his face with his hands, and wept. At last he wiped his eyes and looked up, saying: “O Zdim, I see that commanding you to cope with unforeseen contingencies is like—ah—like asking a horse to play the fiddle. Well, even if I be ruined, I need not compound my folly by retaining your bungling services.’

“Mean you, sir, that I shall be dismissed back to my own plane?” I asked eagerly.

“Certes, no! The least I can do to recover my loss is to sell your contract. I know just the customer, too.”

“What mean you, ‘to sell my contract’?”

“If you read the agreement betwixt the Government of Ning and the Forces of Progress—as we Novarian wizards call our professional society—you will see that indentures are explicitly made transferable. I have a copy here somewhere.” He fumbled in a chest.

“I protest, sir!” I cried. “That is no better than slavery!”

Maldivius straightened up with a scroll, which he unrolled and held to the lamplight.

“See you what it says here? And here? If you mislike these terms, take the matter up with your Provost at the end of your indenture. What did this thief look like?”

I described the fellow, mentioning such things as the small scar on his right cheek, which no mere Prime Planer would ever have noticed during a glimpse by lamplight.

“That would be Farimes of Hendau,” said Maldivius. “I knew him of old, when I dwelt in Ir. Well, saddle up Rosebud again. I am for Chemnis the night.”

The wizard left me in no very pleasant mood. I am a patient demon—infinitely more so than these hasty, headstrong human beings—but I could not help feeling that Doctor Maldivius was treating me unjustly. Twice in a row he had laid all the blame for our disasters on me, when it was his fault for issuing vague and contradictory orders.

I was tempted to use my decamping spell, to flit back to the Twelfth Plane and bring my complaints before the Provost. This spell is taught us ere we leave our own plane, so that we can return to it on the instant when threatened by imminent destruction. It is not to be used frivolously, for which use the penalties are severe. The fact that a demon can vanish when human beings are about to slay him has given Prime Planers overblown ideas of our powers.

The decamping spell, however, is long and complicated. When I tried to run over it in my mind, I found I had forgotten several lines and was therefore, trapped on the Prime Plane. Perhaps it is just as well, for I might have been convicted of frivolous use of the spell and sent back to the Prime Plane under sentence of several years of indenture. And that had been just too dreadful a fate.


Maldivius returned next morning with another man. Mounted on a fine piebald horse, the other man was clad in dashing, gaudy-style compared with the somber, patched, and threadbare garments of my master. He was a man of early middle age, thin in the legs but massive in arms and body. He shaved his face but seemed to be fighting a losing battle against a thick, heavy, blue-black beard. Golden hoops dangled from his ears.

“This,” said Maldivius, “is your new master, Bagardo the Great. Master Bagardo, meet Demon Zdim.”

Bagardo stared me up and down. “He does look sound of wind and limb, albeit ‘’is hard to judge an unfamiliar species. Well, Doctor, if you’ll show me the paper, I will sign.” And that is how I became an indentured servant of Bagardo the Great, proprietor of a traveling carnival.

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