Fantastic Falchion adjusted her adamantite full plate armor's straps one more time as she hefted her glowing heavy jousting lance. Jousting was fun in its own way, she supposed, but the real thrills began after the second or third pass when her opponent would inevitably become ticked off at her and lunge across the field at her unmounted. She could always win a no-holds-barred fight against anyone short of the most powerful disgusting characters.
Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl, though, was no slouch. He too could hold his own against equally disgusting characters in straight melee. He was one of the few weapons masters who chose a pole-arm as his primary weapon, despite the rule against double specializing in pole-arms. Like Fantastic Falchion, the need to wear armor during the merely ornamental jousting portion of the contest would slow him down.
The two contestants mounted their magically-summoned paladinical warhorses (or anti-palidinical warhorses, no one was quite sure of either contestant's alignment), the trumpets blared signalling the start of the joust, and Fantastic Falchion and Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl charged toward each other at their horses' top speed. This top speed wasn't much, though; warhorses could not benefit from permanent double-strength potions of speed, and their riders' "double movement speed (on foot)" major benign artifact powers had no effect on them either. Their only saving graces were their riders' cavalier abilities, which marginally increased their base movement rates, and their horseshoes of speed; and even with those, they had to limp along at 400 yards per minute. (It would have been a paltry 400 feet per minute, if the jousting arena were indoors.)
After what seemed an eternity to those patrons who were under the influence of permanent double-strength potions of speed, the two contestants met and clashed. On the first pass, Fantastic Falchion preferred to "feel out" her opponents, so she didn't try any fancy parrying tricks. She just let Vastly Hugley Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl's lance hit her armor, and hit his armor with her own lance likewise. Since these were jousing lances, they only did subdual damage, so neither contestant was wounded; but they both did enough subdual damage to each other to knock themselves 200 feet back, smack into the protective backstops at the ends of the arena.
"The first round is a tie!" the announcer blared over the public-address magic mouth.
Unbelievable Sword and Jimmy were watching from two of the best seats in the house. "They look pretty evenly matched," Unbelievable Sword commented.
Jimmy shrugged. "It's still too soon to tell yet. When Fantastic Falchion pulls out the stops in the next round, this Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl guy is in for a nasty surprise."
The two competitors once again mounted their horses, the trumpets blared, and again they charged at one another jousting-lance-first. This time, though, Fantastic Falchion's lance was at an ever-so-slightly different angle. The difference was almost imperceptible. Only a kensai or a weapons master who was familiar with a mounted pole-arm could have noticed it. She was using her effective armor class as a kensai, rather than the piddling armor class her full plate armor gave her. Normally, wearing bulky armor would have precluded this, but her armor was magical and therefore no heavier than ordinary clothing. Furthermore, she was actively parrying with her lance, which improved her armor class even further. When Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl missed her, as she was sure he would, her weapons master parry-counterattack ability would kick in and she'd get a free hit. She should win this round easily.
The tips of their lances touched, and Fantastic Falchion knocked her opponent's lance out of the way. But Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl's reflexes were up to the task, and he re-centered his lance on her breastplate, knocking her all the way back into the backstop while he himself remained in the saddle.
"The second round goes to Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl!" blared the announcer. The crowd cheered wildly. This new guy was pretty damn good!
Fantastic Falchion sat up and shook herself back to her senses. How could her parry have failed? Her base AC was improved by 1/3 the level of her kensai class — with no upper limit — and her parry AC bonus was 1 plus half the level of her highest-level warrior class. To get through all that, this Pike-Awl guy must have a THAC0 almost equal to her own!
All right, then, no parry this time. She'd get right back on her horse and go at him full-on just like she did in round 1. Maybe she'd get lucky and he'd try to parry. She mounted up, pointed her lance forward, waited for the trumpets, and charged again. Once again, Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl hit her squarely and sent her flying — and wouldn't you know it, the fates finally caught up with Fantastic Falchion as they eventually did with all disgusting characters. She rolled a "1". It was an automatic miss. No THAC0 or magical bonuses on Central Earth could have salvaged that botched roll.
"The third round goes to Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl!" the announcer gawked. "What an amazing upset! Fantastic Falchion has never been behind by more than one jousting round before! I don't see how she'd gonna pull out of this deficit!"
'I'll show you how I'm gonna pull out of this deficit,' she thought. She pulled the quick-release strap on her armor and let it fall to the ground. Discarding her jousting lance with a wave of her right hand, she drew her +6 holy (or was it unholy?) vorpal defender flame-tongue frost-brand luckblade intelligent artifact falchion of wounding, dancing, throwing, sharpness, thunderbolts, never missing, slaying everything (as in all of the arrows of the same name), life stealing, disruption, all dragon slaying, speed, quickness, final word, and 9 lives stealing. There was no official entry for a "falchion" in the Book of Finite Wisdom's weapon tables, so instead she used the line for a scimitar, which was single-edged and curvy and middle-eastern looking like a falchion was. In her left hand, she drew her +6 short sword with powers nearly equal to her falchion's. So accoutred, she ran on her own legs toward Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl at her full 245 760-yards-per-minute outdoor movement rate. It was time to go mano-a-mano.
"Ooh, looks like Fantastic Falchion was the first one to lose her cool this time!" noted the announcer.
Jimmy rubbed his hands together. "This ought to be good!"
Fantastic Falchion rushed up to her opponent and skewered him on her namesake. Since she was part samurai, she got to add 1/3 her experience level as a samurai in damage points to the attack, with no upper limit. The wound thus inflicted would have killed any deity several times over, but it was barely enough to scratch the surface of a disgusting character like Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl. He turned deftly around and impaled her on his own weapon, a +6 artifact pike-awl that was the equal of Fantastic Falchion's weapons in every respect, and boosted the damage with his samurai level damage bonus. The wound he inflicted on Fantastic Falchion was almost identical to the one she'd inflicted on him.
Fantastic Falchion followed up with the short sword in her left hand, again inflicting several deities worth of damage on her target, whereupon Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl gave her a mild (but not totally unexpected) surprise by jabbing her with a slightly-shorter-than-normal artifact pike-awl in his left hand. She struck with her falchion again, and he struck with his primary pike-awl a second time. Then the short sword and the smaller pike-awl, then the falchion and the larger pike-awl, and back and forth and back and forth the melee went.
"Looks like they've gone completely in to La Machine mode!" the announcer quipped.
Again and again their weapons swung, and again and again they hit their marks, whittling each other down well past the hit points they'd earned in every character class other than barbarian. It was their barbarian classes that had given each of them as many hit points as a mountain. But even that seemingly-insurmountable mutual advantage was beginning to crumble. Blood spattered everywhere. Each hit by the one now made the other wince more loudly. Finally, when Fantastic Falchion's hit points hit the low quintuple-digits, she panicked.
"I wish," she chanted, "That all damage on my body were healed!" All her wounds instantly vanished.
"Uh oh!" scolded the announcer amid the rising groans of the crowd. "She's using a wish spell! This isn't the Fantastic Falchion we know!"
"All right," declared Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl, "If that's the way you want to play it, I wish that all the damage on my body were healed!" And poof, they were evenly matched again.
"Stoneskin!" Fantastic Falchion countered, sprinkling granite and diamond dust on her skin.
"Oh, for crying out loud!" her opponent exclaimed. "That does it!" He held one hand high above his head, palm facing the sky. "Anti-magic shell!"
Unbelievable Sword's two portable holes immediately belched up just about all of his magic items and spell material components, and became ineffectual black circles of cloth. Hundreds of pearls of power spilled out in a heap. "Aw, nuts!" Unbelievable Sword cursed, scooping his stray pearls together. "Every time some bozo with a high magic-user class level decides to cast that spell, we get a power outage all across Town!"
"So that's why the continual-light spells in my castle sometimes go out," Jimmy commented.
"Yep," Unbelievable Sword sighed. "If this Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl guy's magic-user level is anywhere near the same ballpark as mine, his anti-magic shell will extend for miles. I hope no one's trying to call me on my cell phone."
"Your what?" Jimmy asked, perplexed.
"Er, I mean, on my crystal ball with clairaudience."
The announcer picked up a conventional megaphone and shouted into it, now that the anti-magic shell had deactivated his magic mouth spell. "Say what you want about an anti-magic shell, but Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl has certainly levelled the playing field with it! As you may know, both contestants' psionic powers will still operate inside the shell, as will any potions they've already drunk, and — thanks to a little clarification published in the Second Edition of the Book of Finite Wisdom — so will their artifacts! But no non-artifact magic items will work, and neither will any spells, including that stoneskin spell Fantastic Falchion just threw up! Now we'll really get to see who's the best!"
The two contestants circled each other, their artifact weapons pointed menacingly at one another's heads and torsos. Each waited, twitching, for the other to make the first move or to let their guard down for just a fraction of an instant.
Then, from out of nowhere: "YOU SCUM!"
Both Fantastic Falchion and Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl turned to look. A little boy, not more than five years old, jumped into the arena carrying a glowing lance in each hand. He landed not four meters from the two contestants and waved a lance at each of them. The boy barked, "It's obvious that I, Ludicrous Lance, am better than either of you dweeb-faces!"
From the stands, Unbelievable Sword smacked his palm to his face. "Not this kid again!"
"Oh, for goodness sake!" the announcer bellowed. "It looks like one of the fans is down on the field! Now, folks, I really wish this kind of behavior would stop! It just hurts the sport of jousting! Sometimes these interference delays can last all afternoon!"
Ludicrous Lance pulled himself up to his full "awe-inspiring" four-foot-three height. "Come on!" he goaded the two competitors, "I challenge you!"
Fantastic Falchion and Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl glanced at each other, then at Ludicrous Lance, then back at each other. Then both of their stern expressions broke into wide grins. They narrowed their eyes, looked back at Ludicrous Lance once more, and then both of them charged at the kid, weapons first.
"Yikes!" Ludicrous Lance cringed, getting hit with a falchion, a pike-awl, a short sword, and a second pike-awl all at the same time. "No fair! You're not supposed to gang up on me!" He stabbed Fantastic Falchion with his Ludicrous Lance, and Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl with his Other Ludicrous Lance, but he could only inflict damage on his opponents at half the rate they were damaging him.
Unbelievable Sword snickered from the stands. He hated seeing an innocent wayward child like Ludicrous Lance get hurt, but . . . oh, who was he kidding? He loved seeing that kid get his just desserts! "Cut him in half, Fantastic Falchion!" he cheered.
Ludicrous Lance fought back as best he could, but it was no use. Two disgusting characters were just too much to handle. He popped his head up out of his fighting stance, screamed "Run away! Run away!", and dashed off at his full 12 288 feet per second movement rate.
Fantastic Falchion and Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl smiled at each other, sheathed their weapons, and held each other's hands in the air in triumph.
"Uh," the announcer joked, "The winners and still champions!"
Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl snapped his fingers and dropped his anti-magic shell. "Ready to play fair?" he asked.
"All right," Fantastic Falchion shrugged. She voluntarily dropped her stoneskin spell for all to see. "And just to show there are no hard feelings, I wish all the damage on both our bodies were healed!" The few wounds that Ludicrous Lance had inflicted on the two of them disappeared as though they had never been there.
The announcer's magic mouth back in operation, he boomed, "What a show of sportsmanship on the part of Fantastic Falchion! It looks like she's ready to abide by the Marquis of Queensbury rules and make this a good clean fight!"
Seated next to Jimmy in the stands, Unbelievable Sword and his permanent unseen servant spell were in the midst of shoveling his items back into his portable holes, when he stopped and wrinkled his brow. He looked up and away, seemingly lost in concentration. Jimmy looked at his son with some concern. "What is it?"
Unbelievable Sword closed his eyes and took a deep breath in and out, clearing the channel. His eyes popped open, and there was a look of alarm in them. "It's grampa," he announced. "He's in a jam. A big one."
"Grampa," Jimmy turned the word over in his head. "You mean Ringman? But isn't he over on the plane of Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt?"
"Yeah," Unbelievable Sword noted, "The Plane That Allows No Carry-On Luggage." He decided, then looked his father in the eye. "Watch my stuff."
Jimmy nodded, still confused.
Unbelievable Sword whipped out a forked metal rod, wiggled it around in the air a couple of times, chanted the mystic words "Plane shift!", and touched the center of his own chest. He popped out of the prime material plane instantly, and left his clothes and all his possessions behind in a heap. The forked metal rod he'd just been using clattered to a stop on top of the rest of his items.
Tiamat's white head belched forth a cone of numbing frost. In its wake, an entire neighborhood of North Fliedershire was flash-frozen. "TELL ME WHERE THE NEW BAHAMUT IS," all five of her heads bellowed as she tromped inexorably onward through the village, "AND MAYBE I WON'T KILL ALL OF YOU!"
On the far side of North Fliedershire, a lone, armored figure clambered atop his warhorse's plate barding, his Rubenesque wife pleading for him to reconsider.
"Please don't go, honey!" she begged, "That dragon-thing is as big as a galleon!"
"I've got to," her husband declared in a flat, almost expressionless tone. He would have hauled out an appropriate card from the Hero's Collection of Commonly-Used Sayings, if the card deck wasn't back on Central Earth someplace. "I've already told Sheila and the rest of her class to take little Bahamut and find someplace safe to hide him. If Tiamat spots them, she'll kill Bahamut junior faster than you can say 'platinum dragon flambé'. I've got to distract her and buy them the time they need. If I fail, all good dragonkind will suffer for decades, perhaps even centuries, longer without their own dragon-god to protect them. Perhaps that will be all the time Tiamat needs to rally her troops and vanquish good dragonkind forever. Next to that, my own life seems pretty insignificant."
Izabella choked back tears. "If you die, I'll . . . I'll never speak to you again!"
"Uh," Ringman scratched his head, "I'll take your word for it." He shook himself back to seriousness. "You knew when you married me that I am, first and foremost, a paladin. That means I have a duty to protect my village from evil. We were lucky; over the eighteen years since I've been here, no invaders attacked. But now our luck's run out. And now, this paladin almost literally has to march into hell for a heavenly cause. But don't worry," he winked at Izabella and patted the quiver on his back, "I still have an ace up my sleeve. On, Warhorse!" The horse neighed and galloped in the direction of the five-headed dragon goddess.
Izabella watched her husband fly away on iron horseshoes for twenty, maybe thirty yards, then buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
With every gallop of Warhorse's hooves, the chromatic dragon loomed larger. Ringman had never been in the presence of a dragon-god before, unless you counted baby Bahamut. Her true fearsomeness only became apparent when the paladin approached to within a quarter of a mile. From there, she looked every bit as big as Smogzilla had when Smogzilla was just about to pounce on him — and every bit as scary as when Smogzilla was just about to pounce on him, for that matter.
But Ringman had prepared for something like this. When Sick Sword killed Smaugzilla twenty-seven years ago, Smaugzilla's carcass had been well-preserved by the folk of Dragontown. Her scales had been sold off one-by-one as souvenirs; Ringman had made sure he got one of them. It was good enough, on this plane as anywhere else, for the arrowhead of an arrow of dragon slaying. The town fletcher's child had had a bout of life-threatening pneumonia, and the fletcher had been so grateful for Ringman's cure disease power that he'd gladly forged an arrow of dragon slaying for him free of charge.
He gallopped closer to Tiamat, drawing the black arrow out of its specially-made compartment in his quiver. Finally, when he came within bow range, he pulled the non-magical composite longbow off his left shoulder and nocked the arrow on the string.
Tiamat's blue head glanced in his direction and began to scrutinize him. He froze. He'd been noticed. It was now or never. He lined up the arrow with what looked to be the least indestructable part of her indestructable hide and drew back the bowstring. For the third time in his life, it came down to a single arrow of slaying.
'O My Deity,' Ringman prayed without speaking, 'Guide my hand.'
He let the arrow fly.
The arrow zeroed in, almost of its own will, on Tiamat's left foreleg. It impaled her right in the narrow gap between two scales, just above her knee, and pulsed with its black, fiery light of doom.
Tiamat stared down at the arrow in her left foreleg with some disdain, then deftly plucked it out with her right paw and threw it away. Calmly, as though explaining the obvious to a child, her green head said, "Did you honestly think an ordinary arrow of dragon slaying would stop Tiamat?"
Gulp, Ringman gulped. So much for the ace up his sleeve.
The chromatic dragon took a couple of lumbering steps toward the mounted knight. "It's always paladins, isn't it?" her black head lamented as Ringman directed his horse to back up. "It's always the knight in shining armor that tries to slay the evil dragon." She continued her slow pace toward Ringman and his mount. "Do you know how many holy swords I've collected from paladins that tried to kill me? Why, I've had to expand my trophy gallery three times in the last two centuries alone, just to accomodate them all."
"Well, Warhorse," Ringman whispered to his horse, still backing up, "It's been nice knowing you."
"Now let's see," Tiamat's red head commented, "I could roast you alive, but that would immolate a good percentage of this town, and since it doesn't look like the locals have put much effort into making their houses flame-retardant, the fires would spread most everywhere. I could choke you to death on poison gas, but that would also kill off a couple neighborhoods full of people, and then I wouldn't get to interrogate them. I can't freeze you to death because I've already done that today, and using the same breath weapon twice in a row is just such bad form. Lightning or acid would be pretty nice, though. I can use either with pinpoint precision. Plus, that metal armor of yours would turn my lightning blast into a wonderful light show. I could just cast a lightning bolt spell on you, but all my material components mysteriously vanished when I got here. So, lightning breath it is."
Ringman could see her blue head revving up for action. He could either stand there and wait to die as a Crispy Critter . . . or he could die like a real paladin. He drew his lance from his mounted lance rack, lowered his head, levelled the lance tip at Tiamat's midsection, and hollered, "CHAAARGE!"; and Ringman and his trusty warhorse, Warhorse, rushed forward to meet their fate.
Tiamat's blue head inhaled and centered its crosshairs right on the face of the oncoming paladin.
And then, without warning, the sky rumbled like otherworldly thunder and a bright blue point-source of light irised into a swirling blue Babylon-5-jump-point-looking cone. Both the paladin and the dragon goddess stopped in their tracks to look. And from the apex of that interdimensional cone flew a single, naked young man. Or at least he was naked for the three seconds it took him to cast a "wrap" cantrip, which covered him in generic-looking clothing.
The man landed on his feet near both Ringman and Tiamat, pointed at the Lord of All Evil Dragonkind, and said in an almost bored tone, "Back off, Tiamat. This is your only warning."
Ringman looked at the 17-year-old in wonder. Could this be his grandson from Central Earth?
Enraged by this untoward interruption, all of Tiamat's heads but the white one unleashed their exhalatory fury. A cloud of instantly lethal gas, a cone of white-hot fire, a bolt of lightning, and a jet of concentrated acid all hurtled at the newcomer. The man dodged in several directions at once and managed to totally avoid all four breath-weapons with the deftness that only a monk can achieve. Tiamat, now even further enraged that this . . . this pipsqueak upstart had not only survived her best one-two punch but had come through it completely unscathed, lunged at him with all five sets of jaws and whipped her venom-tipped tail around into position.
The tail sting and all five bites missed him.
The teen-ager sidled up next to her enormous midsection, held up one set of fingers in an "OK" sign, and with a flicking motion, ploinked her indestructable dragon hide with his index finger. Such an attack would have done exactly 0 damage points, normally. But the attacker had a 25-star strength, which added 14 damage points to that 0-point base. He was also a 50 027th level samurai, and that added another 16 676 damage points. The Lord High Evil Dragon Goddess evaporated into a dragon-shaped cloud of dust, which collapsed onto the street and blew away in the wind.
Ringman stared in shock and awe. "Is . . . is she gone? I mean, really gone, forever?"
"Naw, only her presence on this plane," the newcomer replied, "And then only for ten years, just like any other devil." He looked the paladin in the eye. "It's good to see you again, grampa. It's been a long time."
Ringman gasped. "Unbelievable Sword?!"
The man nodded, smiling.
"I thought it was you!" Ringman called out, dismounting Warhorse and rushing up to give his grandson a great big hug. He wrapped his plate-armored arms around the boy and squeezed with his full 18/92 strength, as he knew this wouldn't hurt him through that double-strength potion of invulnerability of his. "How the heck have you been?"
Unbelievable Sword returned the hug by patting his granddad on the back in typical manly fashion, then straightened up. "Oh, I've been fine," he shrugged. "You know, the usual — fending off chaotic-evil disgusting characters, watching the occasional jousting tournament, reading between the lines in the Second Edition rules and exploiting a new loophole every once in a while . . . it's been pretty boring, actually."
"I take it you're still top of the heap on Central Earth," Ringman inquired.
"Yeah, but not by much. Not anymore."
"What, you've got a competitor now?" Ringman worried.
"Not just a competitor, countless boatloads of competitors." Unbelievable Sword sighed. "It really has changed since you visited last. There are super-high-level characters coming out of the woodwork everywhere you look. Just about everyone's rolled and re-rolled their abilities until they get straight 18s across the board, then rolled for psionics — which they always get the maximum of, of course — and then gone on an experience point quest that would make even my mom turn green with envy."
"Oh boy," Ringman winced. He was even more glad he'd left Central Earth.
The residents of North Fliedershire, at last becoming aware that a colossal five-headed evil dragon goddess was no longer walking their streets, slowly began to emerge from their basements. Somewhere in the distance, Ringman's wife and both kids were running to him.
"Are you staying long, Unbelievable Sword?" Ringman asked.
"Not really, I basically just came here to save your bacon."
"Well, do you think you might be able to meet my family before you go?"
"Family?" Unbelievable Sword asked. Then: "Oh! You mean that other family you have here in Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt. I thought for a minute you were talking about mom and aunt Disgusting Sword and uncle Gross Sword. Well, I guess that jousting tournament I was in the middle of with dad would be over by now, so I suppose I can stay a little while longer."
Izabella, holding her skirt off the ground so that she could run at full tilt, reached them first. She threw her arms around her husband, weeping with joy. "I thought you were dead for sure!"
Sheila also ran to Ringman's side, but stopped short and gawked when she caught sight of Unbelievable Sword. "Howdy, stranger!" she practically drooled.
Unbelievable Sword tipped his non-existent hat to Sheila. "Well, howdy yourself, miss . . . ?"
"Sheila," she crooned nervously, unable to tear her eyes away from him. All of Sheila's male classmates were paladin-gorgeous, to be sure, but they were all run-of-the-mill next to Unbelievable Sword. His natural beauty was . . . well . . . unbelievable!
Ringman stepped in quickly. "Izabella, Sheila, I'd like you to meet Unbelievable Sword. My grandson from my previous family." He addressed his daughter deliberately. "Which would make him your half-nephew."
"You're family?" Sheila asked Unbelievable Sword, incredulous.
"Yep," Unbelievable Sword answered.
Unbelievable Sword turned to Ringman. "Don't worry, I figured I'd have that effect on everybody. Not too many people outside Central Earth have seen a 25 charisma before."
Danny, who'd been hanging at the back of the crowd, suddenly burst forward. "You're from Central Earth?!"
"Uh," Ringman began uncomfortably, "This is my son, Danny." There was a barely-perceptible hesitation before he said "son." Unbelievable Sword surreptitiously read Ringman's mind and discovered he'd had to keep himself from saying "blacksheep son."
"Yeah, Danny," Unbelievable Sword answered without skipping a beat, "I've lived most of my life on Central Earth, near a big village we just call 'Town.'"
"Can you really get super-powerful there?" Danny asked, excited for the first time in Ringman's recent memory.
Unbelievable Sword groaned and rolled his eyes. "Yes, a sizeable fraction of Central Earth's population have become disgusting characters."
"And anti-disgusting characters," Ringman interrupted.
Unbelievable Sword puzzled, then remembered hearing his mom use that antequated expression once. "The distinction between a disgusting character and an anti-disgusting character hasn't mattered for almost two decades, grampa."
Ringman felt a hard lump in the pit of his stomach.
"Anyway," Unbelievable Sword continued, slightly nervous about all the magic items and artifacts he left back on his home plane, "I'm really not staying much longer. Heck, I'm overextending my stay as it is; I only stayed this long because I promised grampa Ringman I'd meet his new family."
Danny practically dropped to one knee in front of Unbelievable Sword. "Take me with you!"
"Uh . . ." Unbelievable Sword showed clear discomfort.
Ringman levelled a stern look of disapproval at his son.
"I've always wanted to see Central Earth!" Danny implored, as much to Ringman as to Unbelievable Sword. "It could be like, um . . . a field trip!"
Izabella said to Ringman, "It might be nice for Danny to go someplace beyond North Fliedershire and Dragontown. Maybe all the trouble he's been getting into is just his little itch to see the multiverse."
Ringman whispered to her through clenched teeth, "You're not helping any."
"Yeah!" Danny agreed, taking any excuse to help his cause. "I'll get to see how all those people become disgusting characters."
"There's really not that much to it," Unbelievable Sword explained. "Heck, anyone who doesn't mind a little cheating can become a disgusting character. You just re-roll all your abilities and keep rolling 'til you get straight 18s, then roll and re-roll for maximum psionics. You'll need those psionics when you go after your first centaur."
"Centaur?" Danny grimaced.
"Yeah," Unbelievable Sword continued, "One of the only creatures in the whole Field Guide to Central Earth Wildlife that carries treasure type Q on its person, and certainly the least powerful type of opponent to do so. Treasure type Q means a centaur has a 50% chance of carrying 1-4 gems — a 100% chance of carrying 1-4 gems in Second Edition. Roll the dice just right, and each of those gems will be worth a million gold pieces."
Danny's eyes bugged out. As did the eyes of everyone in the gathered crowd. Everyone but Ringman, that is.
"And four million gold pieces," Unbelievable Sword finished, "Means four million experience points. With that first clutch of four million experience points safely tucked under your belt, you won't have any problem defeating all the subsequent centaurs you'll need to get whatever experience point total you want."
Danny wondered, "How many centaurs did you have to, um, go through, before you got to the level you are now?"
Unbelievable Sword did the arithmetic in his head for a fraction of a second. "About 22 or 23 thousand."
'Twenty-two thousand centaurs?!' Ringman thought, alarmed.
"That's becoming a more and more typical figure, too," said Unbelievable Sword.
Ringman's head was reeling. He wasn't used to working with large numbers. If every modern disgusting character had to knock out — or kill? — 22 000 centaurs, and a sizeable fraction of the entire population of Central Earth was now a disgusting character, then that would mean the number of centaurs they'd have to have "gone through" would be in the billions!
Those poor centaurs!
"You know," Ringman decided, "Maybe you should visit Central Earth, Danny."
Danny's eyes bulged out as if in shock. He'd never expected his uptight old man to agree to anything remotely cool. "Really?"
"Yes," Ringman declared, "And I'm going too. I owe my old home Town a visit after all these years." 'And I want to check up on those centaurs,' he thought.
Izabella looked worried.
"You'll need to stay home and take care of the property, Izabella. And you ought to stay behind too, Sheila; your paladin classes will start meeting again before we get back, and I don't want to hold back your studies."
Sheila drew her longsword, the same kind all the students carried, and held it aloft in salute. "Go with honor!"
"I always do," Ringman answered. And he meant it.
"All right then, guys," Unbelievable Sword instructed them, "You'll need to leave everything you're carrying behind. We'll be leaving the plane of Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt. Technically, you can take stuff out of this plane with you, but it's bad manners. If everybody did that, there wouldn't be anything left in this plane after a while."
Ringman dismounted from Warhorse, took the horse's barding off, unbuckled his own plate armor, and dropped his quiver, longsword belt, and lance on top of the pile.
"Including your clothing," Unbelievable Sword informed them.
"Oh, no way!" Ringman and Danny said, practically in unison.
Unbelievable Sword shrugged, touched Danny and Ringman on their shoulders at the same time, cast a wrap cantrip on them both which created inner clothing layers, then teleported their outer clothes on to the pile. "Sorry, guys, but rules are rules."
"Oh, geez," Danny cursed, "These clothes look like you got 'em off the discount rack at K-Mart!"
"K-Mart hasn't been invented yet," Unbelievable Sword corrected his anachronism. "Don't worry, you'll have plenty of opportunity to try on all the latest fashions when we're on Central Earth. All right, guys, grab my shoulders. Prime material plane, here we come!"
Danny put one hand on Unbelievable Sword's left shoulder. Ringman put one hand on Unbelievable Sword's right shoulder and the other hand on Warhorse. Unbelievable Sword cleared his mind and chanted the mystic psionic words, "Probability travel!," and a swirling yellow Babylon-5-receding-jump-point-looking cone fanned into existence in front of them.
Unbelievable Sword stepped into the interdimensional vortex with a paladin, a horse, and a rebellious teen-age boy in tow, as the yellow cone closed behind them.
The Intercontinental Proliferation of Disgusting Characters is continued in chapter 3.
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