The Intercontinental Proliferation of Disgusting Characters


Roger M. Wilcox

(Originally begun on July 10, 1989)
(Re-begun in earnest in September 2000)

chapter 1 | chapter 2 | chapter 3 | chapter 4
chapter 5 | chapter 6 | chapter 7 | chapter 8
chapter 9 | chapter 10 | chapter 11 | chapter 12

Finding the centaur pits wasn't difficult.  The back of the line stretched on through Town for block after block.  Ringman wasn't interested in standing in line and waiting his turn to take a whack at a centaur with the rest of the disgusting characters and disgusting-characters-to-be, though.  He looked off into the distance, figured out where the front of the line must be, and angled Warhorse to ride toward a spot some distance to one side.

A ways out of Town, he arrived at the bottom of a low rise.  A gargantuan sign — more like a billboard — dominated the view.  It read, "CENTAUR PITS - Move along, nothing to see here."  Beyond and above the sign, standing at the top of the rise, an aging man with flowing wizardly robes turned and gazed at the newly-arrived paladin and his warhorse.  Ringman detected evil on the man and instinctively drew Prometheus.

The robed man glared down at the paladin the way one might stare at an annoying insect.  Then, his eyes went open in recognition.  "Ringman!  Long time no see!"

Ringman recognized the other at about the same time.  "Da Bad Dude!" Ringman gasped.  "The 31st-level neutral-evil illusionist from the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters!"  He pointed Prometheus at him as menacingly as he could manage through his nervous sweat.  "Wh-what are you doing out of your adamantite prison cell?!"

"Whoo," the illusionist shook his head, wandering down from the top of the rise toward Ringman.  "You have been out of touch, haven't you?  That old prison got closed down years ago.  I bought it and turned it into a miniature museum."

"C-closed down?" Ringman asked, his holy sword wavering in his grip as Da Bad Dude arrived.

The illusionist stopped in front of the paladin and sneered.  "In the days of the IUDC, I was the most powerful illusionist on Central Earth.  Now, all the run-of-the-mill disgusting characters have three or four times my experience level as an illusionist, and illusionist isn't even their main character class!  They let me out of prison because I'm no longer a threat.  I'm more like an old joke.  Why waste valuable prison space on a wimpy 31st-level illusionist when the new crop of disgusting characters had enough chaotic-evil members to fill the prison to overflowing?  Not that a prison built with plain old ordinary mithral-laced stones could hold one of these new disgusting characters.  Mithral-alloyed objects are only considered +4."

"Don't remind me," Ringman muttered.  "That was how Peter Perfect escaped.  Thank My Deity I don't have to worry about him anymore."

"Unless somebody brings him back to life," the illusionist offered.

"Can't be done," the paladin assured him.  "His body was totally destroyed when Central Earth fell on him.  Not even a resurrection spell could bring him back from the dead."

"No," Da Bad Dude shrugged, "But a wish spell could."

Ringman puzzled.  "A wish spell can revivify someone?"

"Sure," the illusionist explained.  "They don't even need a corpse.  I thought that was common knowledge.  Although I don't think there's anyone who'd want to bring back Peter Perfect."

Ringman rubbed his bearded chin.  "Can . . . can a wish spell also bring back someone whose soul has been destroyed?"

Da Bad Dude chuckled.  "Oh no.  No chance of that.  If you're trying to come up with a way to bring Sick Sword back, you can forget it.  She's gone.  Finished.  Kaput.  Worm chow.  Fertilizer."

"That's not a very nice thing to say," Ringman half-pouted.

"What do you expect?" Da Bad Dude replied.  "I'm evil!  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah, those +4 mithral-alloyed prison walls.  All someone had to do was take barbarian as one of his character classes and raise it to a paltry 12th level, and bam — he can use his bare hands to damage creatures or objects that require a +5 or better weapon to hit."

"Wait a minute," Ringman recalled.  He opened one of his saddlebags and fished out a tattered tome with the word "obsolete" pencilled on its cover.  "According to the Other Book of Infinite Wisdom, page 18, lower-left, a barbarian cannot be a character with two classes."

Da Bad Dude grinned.  "It doesn't say he can't be a character with three or more classes, though, does it?"

"That's ridiculous!" Ringman stammered.  "You know as well as I do that the term 'character with two classes' was the First Edition term for a human character that switches classes any number of times!"

Da Bad Dude snickered.  "Never underestimate the ability of a disgusting character to take a rule too literally when it's to his benefit.  Plus," he lowered his voice, "The Dungeon Master still allows it."

"So . . ." Ringman pondered, "Why didn't you —"

"— go back into the centaur pits and switch character classes a bajillion times like everybody else?" Da Bad Dude finished.


"Because I had a better idea," the illusionist replied.  "When I saw how popular the centaur pits were, I thought I'd get in on the business of running the pits and skim a little off the top for myself.  It worked beautifully — until I discovered that you only get experience points for acquiring gold pieces when you fight something to get them.  All that revenue I was raking in from running the pits wasn't getting me one iota closer to 32nd level.  And worse, I now had more unspent gold pieces worth of treasure than a centaur did.  I was afraid some enterprising disgusting character was going to kill me for my treasure, because he'd gain more experience points that way."

"So you got out of the business and gave all your gold pieces to charity?" Ringman asked.

"Charity?" Da Bad Dude sneered.  "I'm neutral evil!  No, there was a much better alternative.  If you kill someone and take his treasure, you get experience points for his coinage, his gems, and his magic items — but you don't get any experience points for his real estate!  I decided to embark on the single most ambitious construction project Central Earth had ever seen.  I bought up the old prison I was housed in and turned it into a shrine to myself.  Then — and this was the best part — you know that old keep I used to live in, the one I drew from the Deck of Many Things?"

Ringman shook his head.

"The one way way to the north of Town?" the illusionist insisted.

Ringman shrugged.  "Sorry."

Da Bad Dude shook his head, rolling his eyes.  "Well, anyway, I decided to lengthen my keep, and extend it all the way to the prison!  It'll cover miles!  I call it . . . The Da Bad Dude Mystery House!!"

Now it was Ringman's turn to roll his eyes.  He finally took the opportunity to sheathe Prometheus.  "I suppose you're going to charge admission and have guided tours?"

"Nah, that'd leave too many temptations for up-and-coming disgusting character thieves to practice their pick pockets and open locks skills.  Instead, I'm going to fill the whole place with booby traps, and rent out the rooms to various species of evil monsters.  That'll discourage casual visitors.  Of course, the last few miles of The Da Bad Dude Mystery House would have had to overrun several of the major neighborhoods through Town, and those lousy Townspeople wouldn't sell me their land.  And even if they did, getting the construction permits from the zoning board would've been murder.  So, instead, that whole section is going to be built underground."

Ringman narrowed his gaze.  "An underground labyrinth?"

"I've got an army of workmen tunnelling out the building site even as we speak," the illusionist continued.  "Each one of the diggers is using a spade of colossal excavation, so it shouldn't take more than another year before they're done.  I'm gonna make it ten levels deep!"

"Ten levels deep?" Ringman queried.  "An underground labyrinth, with depth measured in levels, filled with traps and monsters."

Da Bad Dude cracked a wry smile.  "Ever wonder how all those ancient abandoned underground 'dungeons' got built in the first place?  I'll bet there was another age in Central Earth's history when disgusting characters roamed the land like they do now, and wealthy eccentrics like me turned all their excess gold pieces into construction projects to save their own hides."

"And," Ringman asked, "What are you doing here?  Shouldn't you be overseeing the construction?"

"Overseeing?" the illusionist asked.  "Why bother?  It's not like I care if they build one of the rooms wrong or don't follow proper building codes or safety procedures.  It's a dungeon, for crying out loud!  It's supposed to look like it was generated by random dice rolls!  No, I'm here because I'm helping to keep the centaur pits running smoothly."

"Doesn't sound like a very neutral-evil living," Ringman commented.

Da Bad Dude shrugged.  "So who pays attention to alignments anymore?"

"I do," Ringman said in all sincerity.

"Well in that case," the aged illusionist responded, "You know it's not very lawful-good not to wait your turn at the centaur pits."  He pointed toward the long, snaking queue of people winding its way through the streets of Town.  "The back of the line is over that way."

"Oh," Ringman replied, "I'm not here to become a disgusting character.  I'm just here to look around."

"It's not exactly the most panoramic tourist spot on Central Earth," Da Bad Dude informed him.  "Go ahead, knock yourself out.  Just try not to break anything."  He stepped out of the paladin's path.

Ringman urged Warhorse up the side of the rise, past the billboard.  The way was rough and steep, but it was nothing that horseshoes of a zephyr couldn't handle.  He quickly reached the top of the rise and, for the first time in his life, looked out on the centaur pits.

The view took his breath away, and broke his heart.

He never imagined the centaur pits were so vast.  It wasn't so much a set of "pits" as it was one vast, shallow canyon dotted with depressions and caves, stretching out far and wide until it was lost over the horizon.  It looked somewhat like an enourmous version of a strip-mining pit, except that strip-mining hadn't been invented yet.  Millions of tiny moving specks lined the walls and floor of the pit far off into the distance.  Only the nearest specks, an insignificant fraction of a fraction of the whole, were close enough to resolve.  The specks were the centaurs themselves.

The centaur-specks moved in and out of the cave-holes that littered the pit, carrying a pick-axe and a burlap sack with a drawstring on top.  From what little Ringman knew of the centaur life cycle, all the centaurs that were close enough for him to see looked to be very young, probably juveniles.  They were covered in dirt and grime, only wore the most tattered of clothing, seemed emaciated, and had the dullest look of resignation in their eyes that Ringman had ever seen.  Every single one of them had that look.

One of the centaurs noticed Ringman staring at them, and cringed in horror.  Instantly, he (she?) bolted for the nearest cave.  Alarmed at this reaction, Ringman decided he needed to get a closer look.  He urged Warhorse down the other side of the rise and into the outskirts of the centaur pits, figuring that he looked a little bit more like one of them if he stayed on horseback.

Centaur traffic passed back and forth to all sides, seemingly with blinders on as to Ringman's approach.  One line of centaur traffic seemed to move more slowly than the rest.  This slow-moving line snaked off to the right, toward Town.  And — was that singing he heard coming from the centaurs in this line?

Ringman got in closer.  No doubt about it, these centaurs were singing; and what a dismal dirge it was:

I'm just a poor wayfarin' stranger
A trav'llin' through this world of woe,
But there's no sickness, toil or danger,
In that bright world to where I go.
A distant scream pierced the sky, and the singing centaurs abruptly fell silent and looked off toward whence the scream had originated.  A moment later there came the sound of crackling electricity from the same distant place, and a yowl that could have been a wail of sorrow, or a yelp of pain, or a whoop of joy.  And then, as though picking up their songbooks, the centaurs in the slow line resumed singing from the very place — the very measure, note, and syllable — that they had stopped on.

Ringman wondered how these centaurs had learned a song whose lyrics were in the Common tongue and not in the centaurs' own language.

A centaur from one of the lesser traffic lanes Ringman hadn't noticed bumped into his warhorse and lost his footing.  The young half-man, half-horse stared up at Ringman with a look of sheer terror.

"No, don't kill me!" he pleaded.  "I'm too young to die yet!  Look!"  The centaur opened his burlap sack wide, displaying the two perfectly-cut giant diamonds inside.  "I don't have all four one-million-gold-piece gems yet!"

"You speak Common?" Ringman asked.

The centaur stared back, somewhat confused that this outsider wasn't trying to kill him.  "Yeah.  I managed to pick it up from the keepers.  Some of my buddies can speak it, too."

"What's your name?" the paladin inqured.

"Uh . . ." the centaur ruminated, "Eric.  I think."

"Eric," Ringman repeated the name.  "My name's Ringman.  How old are you?"

"Just turned two-and-a-half," Eric responded.  "That makes me a senior now.  If I'm lucky, they'll give me a stint in the breeding grounds before I have to —" he thumbed over his shoulder at the slow, snaking line wending its way toward Town "— walk down that line."

"Breeding grounds . . ." Ringman mulled the words over.  "You . . . you mean, you're born and raised in captivity?  Like cattle?"

Eric puzzled, "What's a cattle?"

Ringman was going to explain, but then a distant scream, just like the one he'd heard before, interrupted him.  And just as before, an electric-like crackle followed it.  "What's that sound?" Ringman asked.

Eric cast his eyes downward.  "That's the sound of four million experience points."

Ringman opened his mouth to speak, then closed it.  He watched the slow-moving line of mournful centaurs inch its way toward where the scream and the electrical sound had originated.  The scream must have been another centaur being defeated.  The crackling noise that followed it must have been several experience levels being gained all at once.  "Do most of the centaurs lose their four one-million-gold-piece gems because they just get knocked out, or are most of them killed?"

"I've heard of centaurs coming back from the Last Long Line," Eric told him, "But I've always thought they were myths.  I've had a lot of friends and acquantances who had to go into the Line, and none of them ever came back."

'Animals could be bred, and slaughtered,' Ringman thought, and for some reason this thought was in a fake German accent.  He vaguely recalled Sick Sword once telling him that she'd managed to get her first four million experience points by just threatening a centaur into dropping its four gems and running away . . . but now he wondered if she hadn't just made that story up to spare his feelings.

"Um, listen," Eric interrupted his reverie, "I'd better be getting back to the mines.  I only have half as many gems as I'm supposed to."

"Well, wait," Ringman tried to put the whole thing together, "Why do you have to mine the gems?  I mean, once you've got four of them you'll just have to go wait your turn in the Last Long Line, right?  So why not just stop?"

"I've heard of a few rebels who tried that," Eric recalled.  "The keepers just refused to feed them.  Most of them went back to the mines, but a few of them held out and starved to death."  He gestured with a swish of his tail toward a tall wooden post in the far distance.  Ringman could barely make out the silhouettes of three centaur skeletons suspended from a cross-brace at the top of the post.

"This is terrible!" Ringman cried.  "I thought the centaur pits were just some kind of sanctuary or wildlife preserve for centaurs, and the whole deal with the line at the front to get in and hunt centaurs for their gems was just a way of protecting the natural centaur population from being over-hunted.  I had no idea you were being kept as slaves and bred like farm animals!  It isn't right.  It just isn't right to do this to you.  Centaurs are intelligent creatures!  You have a whole society all your own!  You even have a language all your own — or you would if your 'keepers' would let you learn it from each other!"

A not-too-distant half-orc pulling a cart labelled "centaur feed" pointed at Eric.  "You," he said in a flat tone.  "Back to work.  Now."

Eric didn't excuse himself from Ringman's company.  He was too well trained.  He rushed right back into one of the mine entrances and lost himself in the darkness.

Ringman rode his horse up to the half-orc and glowered at him.  "You have no right to treat these creatures as slaves!" he barked.

The half-orc folded his arms.  "Oh, and what're you gonna do about it?  Kill me?"

Ringman gritted his teeth and rode away without saying another word.  He was seething mad, but that little half-orc had him dead to rights.  Even if he were to kill every single one of those "keepers," they'd be replaced before the sun went down.  And the only consequence would be that the centaurs wouldn't get fed that day.

He rode up the side of the pit and back out onto the Central Earth he knew and was comfortable with.  No, the keepers weren't the problem.  The more powerful disgusting characters who ran the place, like Da Bad Dude, weren't the problem, either.  Even the disgusting characters who used those millions upon millions of centaurs as nothing more than a source of easy experience points and gold pieces — even they weren't the real problem.  The real problem was right there in the pages of the Book of Infinite Wisdom.  It set up a macabre system that rewarded only murder and theft.  Under the oppressive thumb of this system, good and evil, law and chaos were just an excuse to kill monsters and steal their treasures.

And everyone and everything was under that blackened, diseased thumb.  How could a paladin hope to fight such a true evil, such an evil that far transcended its own watered-down definition of "evil," when this true evil permeated every plane in the multiverse?

And speaking of evil . . .


The roar of those five gigantic dragon heads filled the sulfur-choked air of the first circle of Hell for leagues in all directions.  Asmodeus damn it!  Here she was, Tiamat, the lord of all evil dragonkind, stuck back in her lair for another ten friggin' years.  She knew she'd be bored with having nothing to do but lay dragon eggs day in and day out before the first year was over with.  Not that "day in" or "day out" had any real meaning on a plane that was constantly shrouded in night and lit by its own flames.

And once again, that accursed Ringman had been involved with foiling her plans.  Eighteen years ago, he had been central in turning Gross Sword, her last pet project, away from evil — and now, he'd been there again when she'd come for the new Bahamut.  Oh, sure, technically it was Unbelievable Sword, not Ringman, who had killed her material self and had banished her from the plane of Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt.  But a disgusting character like Unbelievable Sword wasn't so much a person as a force of nature.  Like a hurricane.

A hurricane that never would have been there, if not to rescue Ringman.  If that paladin had minded his own business, or had been on another plane, or simply hadn't existed at all, then something as trivial as going after Bahamut would have easily slipped under all the disgusting characters' radar.  Disgusting characters would rather fight each other or accumulate one-million-gold-piece gems than get up off their lawn chairs and kill a piddling little dragon goddess like Tiamat.  Up at a disgusting character's stratospherically-high experience level, the paltry 63,580 experience points one would get for killing her wouldn't even be enough for one level.  (Hell, so to speak, even the 635,800 experience points one would get for coming here and annihilating her permanently would still only be worth two, maybe three experience levels tops.  They'd get over six times this much from one centaur's gems.)

One thing was certain: If Ringman were still around 10 years from now, when her imprisonment in Hell ended and she could roam the other planes again, Ringman would find some way to interfere with her next plot, too.  Ringman had to be eliminated, once and for all, before her 10-year sentence was up.  But how could she accomplish such a thing?  She couldn't eradicate him in person, as satisfying as that would be.  She couldn't venture outside of the first circle of Hell to attack him.  Could she perhaps convince Ringman to come to Hell on his own, somehow?  No . . . if that happened, one of that goody-goody paladin's disgusting-character children or grandchildren would surely follow him here and protect him.

But what if she could get someone else to go to Central Earth and do the deed for her?

Hmmm. . . .

Ringman took a different route back to town, one that took him past the front of the line to get into the centaur pits.  The sight sickened him more than ever now.  Up this close, he could see two lines of humans and demi-humans waiting their turns — a shorter line for the veteran disgusting characters who were just trying to get more and more disgusting, and a much longer line marked with signs saying "First-Time Visitors."  Presumably, extra precautions needed to be taken with first-timers to ensure that the centaur they fought against wouldn't actually win the fight.  Maybe the first-timers' fighting arena was a padded room with restraints holding back the centaur to ensure that it couldn't follow the would-be disgusting character initiate if the battle went badly and the first-timer decided to flee.  Maybe the people running the operation did preliminary tests on the first-timers for sufficient hit points and armor class — to satisfy their insurance providers and avoid lawsuits, of course.

Less than a hundred yards behind the front of the first-timers line, Ringman caught a glimpse of something that stopped him cold.

"Danny!" he yelled, riding up to where the punked-out seventeen-year-old stood in the line.  "Get out of this line!  You don't know what you're getting yourself into!"

"Hah!" Danny retorted, with a confidence in his defiance that Ringman had never seen before.  "No way am I gettin' out of this line when I'm this close!  Go back to little North Fliedershire and die, loser!"

"I can't let you do this!" the paladin proclaimed, dismounting.  "You're coming back with me!"

Ringman lunged at Danny, trying to grab him with his strong right arm.  But he never made it.  Danny wrinkled his brow in concentration, and unleashed a yellow cone of mental force that caught Ringman squarely at its center.  The paladin was totally unprepared for anything like this, and as such got a -2 on his saving throw, which he missed.  A deep feeling of dread and panic flooded though him; he resisted it mightily, with all his paladin courage, but it was all he could do to keep from running away screaming.  He staggered back and fell to the ground.

"A psionic blast," Ringman declared, propping himself up on his arms and trying to steady himself against the psionically-induced jitters.  "You've done it.  You've actually gone and done it.  You re-rolled yourself.  You cheated on your dice rolls."

"I didn't have to cheat!" the youth exclaimed triumphantly.  "They sat me down on the Throne of the Gods and had me recite some bad high-school Latin.  That activated artifact prime power B, which gave me straight 18s in all my stats, with no dice rolling or cheating involved.  The new 18s in my intelligence, wisdom, and charisma automatically gave me another chance to roll for psionics."

Ringman narrowed his gaze.  "And you made your roll to get the psionics, without cheating?"

Danny fidgeted.  "Uh . . ."

"And did you also roll the full 176 for your psionic strength?"

"Well . . ." Danny scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably.

Ringman pressed on: "And you have all the attack and defense modes?  And four minor and two major psionic disciplines?  One of which is probability travel?"

"Uh . . ." Sweat beaded on Danny's brow.

"You did cheat," Ringman said flatly.  "My Deity help you, you've already taken the first step down the road to disgusting characterdom."

"It's the road to power!" Danny retorted.

"Oh yeah?" Ringman challenged, still unable to get to his feet.  "Look at the people standing in the other line.  The shorter line.  They're all disgusting characters, every last one of them.  Do they look happy to you?"

Danny studied the faces in the veterans' line.

"To me, they look bored," Ringman offered.  "Their lives have been reduced to the same routine, day after day.  Kill a centaur, take its four one-million-gold-piece gems, gain a few levels, spend more money beefing up the magic items, then go back and kill another centaur, over and over and over.  And every day, they hope and pray to their deities that some other, more powerful disgusting character out there won't consider them a threat and kill them pre-emptively."

Danny grew rigid.  "You.  Can't.  Stop me."  He turned back to face the front of the line again.  His turn was drawing ever-closer.  "And don't try to pull me out of this line again.  I didn't get just artifact prime power B bestowed on me by the Throne of the Gods.  I also got artifact prime power K, which permanently raises your major attribute to 19.  My major attribute is strength!  I'm gonna be a weapons master!  You don't even have ogre strength, and I've got hill giant strength now!"  He flexed his bicep, and glared down at his father triumphantly.

'Wow,' Ringman thought.  'Danny's stronger than I am now.'  He'd have been mighty proud of what his son had made of himself, were he not so horrified of it.

As his son inched slowly away toward the front of the line, Ringman made one last plea.  "What about the centaur you're going to kill?  Did you ever think about him?  Or her?  What if you were in its place?"

Danny pretended not to hear him.  His turn was next.  He was up to the entrance gate at last.  Just a few more steps, and he'd be well on the way to unlimited wealth and power.  His whole body tingled with anticipation; he could almost taste those experience points already.

Ringman finally shrugged off the last effects of Danny's psionic blast and got to his feet.  But it was too late.  Danny had stepped inside.  The disgusting character keeping watch at the entrance would never let Ringman through that gate.  He got back on his horse and waited for the crackling electrical sound of four million experience points.

He didn't have long to wait.

"All right!" Danny exclaimed from within the combat arena.  The fight had been surprisingly easy — one psionic blast and a sword through the helpless creature's heart, and the centaur was no more.  He kneeled down and opened the velvet pouch slung across the corpse's back.  There they were.  The four biggest, clearest, most flawless diamonds he had ever seen.  He slowly lowered his right hand into the pouch, savoring the moment.  His hand jittered with nervous excitement.  And at last, he scooped his hand underneath all four gems and lifted them out into the open, in his grasp at last.

Without warning, blue bolts crackled outward from the gems in his hand and completely encircled his body.  Danny gasped, but the electric-looking bolts were not painful; in fact, they felt exhilirating!  This was what he'd been searching for.  This was what he'd come all the way to Central Earth to get.  The feeling of sheer power was incredible.  And when the crackling bolts finally subsided . . .

"YES!" Danny screamed to the heavens above.  "Nineteenth level!  Two hundred and three hit points!  A THAC0 of two!  And all those wonderful weapons master powers!  Including weapon specialization!  I'm invincible!  And now I'm going to use these four million gold pieces to buy a +6 vorpal defender frost-brand flame-tongue luckblade of wounding, dancing, sha—"

The padded door to the arena burst open and a burly disgusting character stared in.  "All right, you're done here, get out so we can set up the next centaur."  He pointed his thumb gruffly at the exit.

Danny was all-too-eager to test out his newfound power.  "Suppose I don't want to leave," he asked, waving his sword menacingly through the air.

'Listen,' the unnamed disgusting character blasted his thoughts telepathically into Danny's head.  Danny reeled from the impact.  'I could kill you where you stand without having to move a muscle.  You have exactly five six-second combat segments to get the Hell out of here or I will kill you.  Four.  Three."

Danny skittered out of the arena, sword and gems in tow.  Damn.  He'd have to get a lot more powerful if he could ever hope to hold his own against somebody like that.  A lot more powerful. . . .

Unbelievable Sword had not seen his grandfather looking more dejected in his life.  Ringman's eyes never lifted off the ground.  His sullenness spilled over even into the expression of his warhorse.  "What's wrong?" he asked, choosing to float along in the air at the paladin's eye level and give his boots of speed a little rest.

"I wasn't in time," Ringman muttered.  "Danny had already rolled psionics for himself by the time I met up with him.  And by now, he must have gone through dozens — if not hundreds of centaurs' worth of million-gold-piece gems."

"Oh. . . ." Unbelievable Sword said.

"I thought he would cool down after getting a look at Central Earth for a while, but this little field trip had just the opposite effect.  I should have stopped him when I had the chance.  I should have sent him back to North Fliedershire the instant he started running off to stand in line at the centaur pits."  He glanced sidelong at his grandson.  "I would have been able to catch him, too, if you and Jimmy hadn't blocked my way."

Unbelievable Sword addressed his grandfather's reproach with, "Um . . . so!  How 'bout those Dodgers?"

Ringman scowled.  "Baseball won't be invented until 1839."

"1839?" Unbelievable Sword asked.  "You're not talking about Doubleday, are you?"

"Sure," the paladin answered.  "Abner Doubleday is going to invent baseball in 1838."

"Oh, come on!" Unbelievable Sword groaned.  "That's just a myth that Alexander Goodwill Spalding is going to concoct after he receives a letter from some schmoe.  He won't even research it or anything.  Fact is, I don't think Doubleday is ever going to see a baseball game in his life, much less invent the whole damn sport."

"All right then, smarty pants," Ringman retorted, "Who is going to invent baseball?"

"Alexander Joy Cartwright," Unbelievable Sword declared.  "He'll first work out the details of the new game with the New York Knickerbockers, some time in the 1840s."

"Riiiiight," Ringman shook his head.  "And who told you that?"

Unbelievable Sword shrugged.  "Ken Burns."

Ringman was going to reply, but something about Unbelievable Sword's countenance suddenly shifted, in a way that said that All Was Not Right With The World.  Unbelievable Sword's eyes seemed to be wandering, slowly, and with a creeping sense of growing horror, toward the sky overhead.  Ringman looked where Unbelievable Sword's eyes seemed to be lingering.  The patch of sky looked perfectly normal to Ringman's eyes, but then again, Ringman wasn't wearing a pair of eyes of the eagle.  He stared intently.

Then, he saw it.

It started as nothing more than a distant cluster of tiny blue lightning bolts, all radiating out from the same point, like an electric flower in the sky.  But the cluster grew.  And grew.  Soon, Ringman heard the faint crackle of the still-distant lightning, and it too grew.  The sky darkened.  The crash of the blue lightning bolts became a deafening roar.  Wind whipped across the landscape.  The very earth of Central Earth shook.  At last, a jagged crack opened at the very top of the sky, and a divine light poured through.  No — this crack in the firmament, and the light that shone through it, weren't merely divine.  They transcended divinity in the way that only one being known to exist ever could.

For the first time in recent memory, the Dungeon Master was preparing to speak — directly — to the inhabitants of the multiverse.

The Intercontinental Proliferation of Disgusting Characters is continued in chapter 5.
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