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

Ridiculous Sword peered through her mirror of mental prowess at the vast, centaur-choked expanse of valley where her father was still playing labor-union organizer.  She couldn't actually see her father, since the mind blank her son had cast on him was still in effect, but she quickly zeroed in on the paladin-shaped hole of snow and static where his image would have been.  That old paladin had more courage than she did, keeping up his crusade even in the face of the Dungeon Master's wrath.

The Ringman-shaped hole in her image seemed to be talking to someone who wasn't mindblanked.  Odd; she expected him to be hashing things out with one of his centaurs, but the person he was talking to was a dwarf.  The same dwarf she'd seen when she'd visited the site yesterday — and his purple robes were clanking.  She squinted suspiciously for an instant, then rubbed some old mushroom-flavored goop on her eyes and cast a true seeing spell.

"What's up, sis?" Disgusting Sword asked as she casually entered the room.

Ridiculous Sword wrinkled her nose as she stared at the image.  "Dad's talking to some dwarf with full plate armor of blending +5."

Disgusting Sword puzzled.  "He's using a suit of armor to talk to a dwarf?"

Ridiculous Sword rolled her eyes.  "No no no, he's talking to the dwarf, with the full plate armor of blending +5!"

"Oh," Disgusting Sword nodded, doing her best to conceal a crafty grin.  "So dad's got a a new suit of armor of blending, then."

"Gah!" Ridiculous Sword scowled.  "No no no no!!  It's the dwarf who's wearing the arm—"

Disgusting Sword couldn't suppress her snickering any longer.

Ridiculous Sword clicked her tongue in frustration.  "Wouldja quit yankin' my chain like that?!"

"If I wanted a chain to yank on," Disgusting Sword countered, "I'd go fool around in your Jimmy boy's pants."

"He's not 'my' Jimmy, okay?!" Ridiculous Sword blushed.  "I dumped him seventeen years ago."

"Or he dumped you," her sister taunted.

"Ptttttttt!" Ridiculous Sword made her most convincing raspberry.

Unbelievable Sword chose that minute to enter their room.  "Tsk tsk tsk, with all the noise you two are making, I could zero in on you from all the way over in the guest room, even with your mind blank spells up."

"That's only 'cause she's turning into a stuck up old lady," Disgusting Sword pointed a thumb playfully at her slightly-younger sister.

"Oh yeah?" Ridiculous Sword put her fists on her hips.  "Well, you're a, um, a big poopy head!"

Unbelievable Sword got serious for a moment.  "So how's grampa holding out?"

Ridiculous Sword indicated her mirror of mental prowess.  "Well, at least the D.M. hasn't killed him yet."

They all turned to stare at the static-filled, paladin-shaped outline talking to the dwarven cleric in the valley in the mirror.

Meanwhile, in the real valley, the real Ringman talking to the real dwarf was not actually obscured by static, of course, but his future seemed just about as bleak as if he were.

"It's unbelievable," Ringman sighed.  "I knew the billion centaurs would have to split up and go in different directions if they were to have any chance of surviving in the long run.  So I split them up into a hundred little groups.  A hundred of them!  And there's still nearly ten million centaurs in each of these groups!"

Josephus shrugged.  "Well, that's what you get when you divide a billion by a hundred."

Ringman scratched his head, counted some numbers on his fingers, and gave up when he got past ten.  "Er, okay, I believe you.  But my point is, even this first group, this first hundredth, this first one percent of the freed centaurs, is having terrible organizational problems.  They can't seem to decide upon a leader.  Heck, a few of them were even thinking about taking those new hunting skills I taught them and using them to stage a coup d'ete for command.  There was nearly a civil war within Group One!  If you hadn't had that map of the continent handy, showing exactly where they were going to go and how long it would take to get there, I wouldn't have been able to keep them under control at all.  And we haven't picked anywhere near a hundred decent sites for settlement yet.  My Deity.  If I can't even organize one percent of the centaurs so that they're not all going at each others' throats, what hope is there for the other 99 percent?"

"Considering the odds against them, you've done exceptionally well so far," Joe replied.  "Plus, they seem to be learning the Centaur language at an amazing rate.  I wish I could take credit for teaching them the language so well, but it's almost like they're born with an aptitude for it.  They just needed a little help with the basics to get started, and now, voom!, they're pushing the limits of the Centaur vocabulary and spitting out compound-complex sentences like they were going out of style."

"Bonan matenon!" a feminine centaur voice intervened, as if on cue.  "Kiel vi — AIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!"

Ringman's jaw dropped to the floor as there, right in front of him, the centaur woman screamed, writhed in pain for an instant, and then literally exploded into a cloud of dust.

Josephus made for the sidelines, terrified.  Ringman could hardly blame him; centaurs didn't just explode for no reason.  This had disgusting character written all over it.  And, worse, he recognized the centaur woman as —

"Gods damn it!" came a voice from out of nowhere.  A blur of 120-foot-per-second movement rushed up to the dust cloud that had been the centaur woman, and cursed, "This damn centaur wasn't even carrying one lousy gem!"

"Danny!" Ringman exclaimed, flabbergasted.  "You killed her?!"

"Sure," the punked-out youth grunted impatiently, an artifact sword in each hand.  "I hit her with my psionic Disintegrate power.  Forty lousy PSPs.  A drop in the bucket.  But what good is that damn centaur if it doesn't have four hundred-thousand-gold-piece gems?!  They're supposed to have treasure type Q!"

"They don't have any treasure!" Ringman countered, gesticulating at the throngs of centaurs that were starting to take notice of Danny's handiwork.  "None of them do!  They know that if they were carrying any treasure, disgusting characters would descend on them from all directions, just to get the experience points!  Like you!"

"And what do you know about it, dad?!" Danny snarled.  "You on your high-and-mighty holier-than-thou pedestal, you have no damn clue what it means being a disgusting character!  I only made it to 3000th level by the time that big rules change announcement hit.  Three thousandth level!  That's nothin'!  Without my artifacts, my THAC0's still not down to -3000."  He waved his artifact swords around with the skill of a 3000th level weapons master, to emphasize the point.  "I don't even have a 5-digit hit point total yet!  If I'm gonna be any good at all, I gotta get me more experience points!"

Ringman pointed at the pile of dust and hoof fragments that had been the centaur his son just killed.  "Do you know who that was?!  That was Lindo.  The mate of the leader of this local clan of centaurs!  This whole situation was tense enough before, but now — you're going to ruin everything!"

"Tough adamantite," the youth sneered.

The paladin pointed more emphatically at the centaur's remains, and sternly admonished, "Daniel of North Fliedershire, you bring that centaur back to life this instant!"

Danny walked slowly up to his father, his 25*-Strength chest thrust belligerently forward, and goaded, "Make me."

Ringman glared back at him, at a loss for words.  There was no way he could make his son do anything, now that he was a disgusting character.

The gallop of approaching hoofbeats interrupted.  The man's face atop the arriving horse's body was wracked in shock and grief.  Georgo fell to his knees before the the pile of dust that had been his lady-love a minute ago, and screamed, "Neeeeeee!!"

"And that," Ringman whispered to Danny, "Is the local leader."

"Lindo!" the centaur wailed, clawing desperately at the dust as though there might be some fragment of her still alive.  "Kiel ili povas fari tion c^i al vi?  Kiun vi dolorigis?!"

Danny sneered down at the kneeling centaur with utter contempt.  Hmph.  What did a three thousandth level weapons master care about the plight of one lousy centaur?  And the way that half-man-half-horse belted out his anguished sobs was beginning to annoy him.

Or at least, that's what he told himself.

"Oh, all right," the punked-out youth grunted, "I'll bring her back to life.  If it'll make this this horse-assed jerk shut up."  He drew his artifact short sword, touched it to one of the bits of hoof that survived his earlier disintegration attack, and chanted, "Resurrectionem!"

Instantly, the dust gathered itself from off the ground, swirled and congealed in midair, formed itself into the shape of a centaur woman, and with a pop no louder than the lightest puff of air, Lindo was back together in one piece as though nothing had happened to her.  Georgo didn't know whether to be overjoyed or confused.

"There," Danny growled, "I hope you're satisfied.  I can't use that damned artifact power to cast resurrection again for another week."

"You don't give a damn about any of them, do you?" the paladin admonished.  "There's over a billion thinking, feeling individuals here, and all you can see are little centaur-shaped piles of experience points."

"Hmph," the youth hmphed, "Not if they're not carrying any gems, I don't.  They look more like little centaur-shaped wastes of time."

"Because you want to be king of the hill," Ringman folded his arms.  "Because you're still hoping that out of the millions of other disgusting characters on Central Earth — who were using these centaurs in the very same arms race you've gotten yourself into, and who could squeeze gold pieces and experience points out of them at the same rate you could — that you, and you alone, might be able to win the lottery and be crowned Most Disgusting Disgusting Character."

"Well . . ." Danny furrowed his brow, "Well . . . yeah!"

"And then no one would be able to push you around, right?" his father asked.

"Yeah!" Danny nodded vigorously.  "Then nobody would be able to tell me what to do!"

Ringman shook his head slowly, then glared upward out of the corners of his eyes.  "There's one being who still would."

Danny puzzled a moment, then shook his head as vigorously as he'd just nodded it.  "Whoa, whoa — you're not talking about the Dungeon Master, are you?"

Ringman nodded his head, once, and gave his son a knowing glance.

"Oh, come on," the young disgusting character admonished, "The Dungeon Master isn't a 'being,' it's just a force of nature."

"He," Ringman corrected him, "Is most certainly a real being.  He's capricious, he's malicious, he loves violence and death and power.  And he loves to push us mortals around, more than any god in the multiverse ever has, so that he can see more violence and death and power.  My daughter — er, that is, my second daughter from my first family here on Central Earth — she met him face-to-face once."

Danny's mouth dropped open.  "You're kidding!  You know somebody who actually met the Dungeon Master?!"

Ringman nodded.  "She described him as, quote, 'The most nasty, ruthless, egotistical, self-righteous, manipulative being it has ever been my displeasure to meet,' unquote."  He lowered his voice to a grumble, but there was a clear intensity to it: "And now, I'm beginning to understand what she meant."

Danny gestured toward the throngs of centaurs stretching off into the distance.  "You're in trouble with the D.M. for this, aren't'cha?"

"In trouble?" Ringman almost snickered.  "He wants to kill me.  He wants to return all of these centaurs to their old status quo, and I'm standing in his way.  And I'm going to keep standing in his way."

Danny's sneer made a fleeting return.  "Why?"

Ringman bit his lower lip.  "Because I don't want these centaurs to get pushed around any more."

Danny blinked.  Several times.  He was about to say something, but he was cut short by a growing shadow on the ground around him.

Ringman looked up.  Something very tiny, or very distant, was eclipsing the sun.  And it was growing larger, or closer, by the second.  Then, glancing to one side, he noticed — to his great shock — that one of the twin mountain peaks to the south was missing from its normal spot.  "My Deity!" he gasped, stumbling as if trying to find someplace to run but knowing he couldn't get out of the way, "Someone's dropping a mountain on us!!"

Danny's eyes opened wide as the shadow grew to cover the whole landscape.  Millions of centaurs shrieked in panic.  The punked-out youth glared straight upward, focusing on the center of the onrushing expanse of earth and rock.  It was a mountain, all right, and it was falling upside-down, peak-first, with its peak pointed just about at where he and Ringman were standing.

Danny took two steps to his left, and held up his gauntleted hands.

The mountain peak crashed straight down onto his outstretched palms, and instantly came to a dead stop right there in his hands.  A few trees and boulders shook themselves loose from the inverted mountainsides and fell the rest of the way down, but the mountain itself just stood there, suspended seven feet off the ground in Danny's grip.  He bent his legs slightly, and with a mighty heave hurled the mountain back through the air away from the valley on a perfect trajectory to land, bottom-first, in its spot in the southern mountain range from whence it had come.

"There we go," Danny brushed the dirt from his gauntlets.  "Yet another reason to have Atlas Strength."

"That was meant for me," Ringman said somberly.  "Dropping a mountain on me.  A stunt like that has the Dungeon Master's signature written all over it.  It's the second time I've ticked him off enough to attack me directly, and it's not going to be the last. . . . And, thanks.  For saving my life."

"Uh," Danny scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably.

"You didn't have to do that, you know," Ringman raised an eyebrow.  "You could have teleported out of the way and let the DM finish me off.  It would only have killed a few million centaurs.  I'd be out of your hair, and in all probability the Centaur Pits would be back in operation inside a few days, cranking out four hundred thousand experience points a pop.  So why'd you stop that mountain?"

"I . . ." Danny began.  "Look, I don't have to explain myself.  Not to anyone, you understand?  Not to you, not to these stupid centaurs, and not to the damn Dungeon Master.  Capeesh?"

Ringman nodded silently — and though he didn't dare say it out loud to his son at this juncture, he was very glad to hear that.

"I think I'll check this place out a bit," Danny announced, then turned toward the throngs of centaurs.  "Only because I want to, though."  Any excuse to find out more about the plight of these hapless creatures.

He gripped the hilt of his artifact long sword with his full Strength as he walked away, not willing to let any of his new, torrential unsureness show.  He had to be tough.  He had to be.  He had to come out on top, every time, and never ever admit defeat about anything.  But for once, he knew his father was right.

The blond-haired, blue-eyed figure materialized in the center of the vast, cavernous room, his teeth gritted, his eyes squeezed shut, and his hands covering his ears.  It took him almost three full six-second intervals to figure out that something had changed in his surroundings.  The clench of his teeth slowly faded to puzzlement as he pried open his eyes and realized that, yes, indeed, he was someplace else.

And when he finally removed his hands from his ears, his bewilderment gave way to chortles of joy.  "Huh huh.  Ha ha ha.  Hah hah hah hah ha!  HAW HAW HAW!"

Off to one side, Omnion smirked and folded her arms at the sight of the newcomer.  The five-headed chromatic dragon goddess standing next to Omnion put on her most stately air as her red head proclaimed, "Welcome to Avernus, Peter Perfect!"

"Oh, thank you, Tiamat!" the blond-haired, blue-eyed paladin exclaimed from the bottom of his heart.  "Thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou!!  The stupid puffy white clouds, the cheap angel costumes, that awful piped-in harp music — they've finally stopped!  Oh, you have no idea how wonderful it is to be away from Heaven at last!"

Tiamat puzzled.  "You . . . like it here?  I mean, this is Hell, and you are a paladin, and —"

"Who cares where I am!" Peter Perfect cheered.  "This is the first reprieve I've had from that same awful mind-numbing scenery in eighteen years!  And the noise!  Do you have any idea what a thousand angels all playing their harps at the same time sounds like?!  Most of those guys had never even touched a musical instrument while they were alive!  God II, I wanted to take out Prometheus or the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords and hack those guys into little bits.  But no-o-o!"  His voice twisted into a mocking sneer, "'You can't take any worldly posessions with you into the afterlife.'  Not that it would have mattered, oh no.  I couldn't even throw a punch at a 'fellow denizen of Heaven.'  Damned pacifist house rules.  And as if that wasn't bad enough, the D.M. came thundering in with that only-second-edition-revised edict, and from then on all the new recruits turned into these bizarre floating lanterns that just did not know how to mind their own damn business.  Every time a new one spots me, he rubs up against my leg like an overaffectionate cocker spaniel.  Bleah.  Then again," he rubbed his still-clean-shaven chin, "I did get to re-roll for my psionic powers again.  Man!  Those new Psionic Wild Talent rules are killer!  A little finesse with the dice, and I got every psionic devotion in the book, every psionic science in the book, and three thousand six hundred forty-two psionic strength points to spend on 'em."

"Uh," Tiamat's white head interrupted, "Getting back to my summoning you here —"

"However," Peter Perfect continued, oblivious, "They also took away that rule about attacking creatures with less than one hit die.  We fighter subclasses got our level in attacks per minute.  Man!  Twenty attacks a minute, and that was before you factored in my permanent potion of speed at 150% effectiveness!  Not that I could find all that many critters with less than one hit die each, mind you — but when I did, look out.  I could've single-handedly wiped out a whole kobold army in less than an hour.  Ah, those were the days."

Tiamat's blue head interrupted, "As I was saying, I have summ—"

Peter snapped his fingers in sudden remembrance, "Ooh, ooh, oh yeah!  And they took all my cavalier powers away, too.  I so liked getting to do an extra 20 damage points every time I poked somebody with a lance from horseback.  Not to mention getting to make all attacks from horseback as though I were 21st level.  Which meant twenty-one attacks per minute against creatures with less than one hit die.  Before you factored in my permanent speed potion."

Tiamat's black head interrupted, "I have summoned you here for a purp—"

"And that cavalier freebie +3 to-hit bonus," the paladin steamrollered on, "Not to mention three — count 'em, three — attacks per minute, with long swords and horseman's maces.  Or horseman's flails.  Or horseman's military picks.  Funny, I never did get around to picking that last Cavalier Weapon of Choice.  Not that it matters any more."

"WILL YOU SHUT UP?!" all five of Tiamat's heads bellowed at once.

"Sheesh," Peter quipped, "Who tinkled in your adamantite this morning?"

The dragon goddess ignored his insolence.  "As I was saying," her blue head began, "I have summoned you here for a purpose.  I intend to bring you back to life."

Peter's blue eyes bulged wide.  "Alive again?  You're going to do that for me?"

"Well, actually," Omnion spoke up for the first time since Peter Perfect arrived, "I'm going to bring you back to life.  The ol' Lord High Goddess of All Evil Dragonkind here can't cast spells higher than 5th level."

"Oh go ahead, rub it in," the chromatic dragon's black head grumbled.

The lawful-evil half-elven fighter/mage/thief continued, "Since I don't have any wish spells memorized, I'm going to limited wish you back to life.  You'll only have a few hours before you'll revert to being dead again, unless you can get hold of a full wish spell in that time and wish yourself back to life permanently."

"You mean puhhhhmanently," Tiamat snickered.

Omnion slapped her palm down across her own face.  "Geez, Tiamat, you can be a real pain sometimes."

"What do you expect?" the dragon's green head replied, "I'm evil!"

"So am I," Omnion retorted, "But you don't see me . . . oh, never mind.  In any event, Pete, I'll be limited wishing you back to life on Central Earth, so it should be a piece of cake for you to get your hands on a ring of multiple wishes or a sword +1, luck blade."

"Central Earth," Peter Perfect breathed, his eyes getting misty.  "I could get all my old stuff back!  Prometheus . . . the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords . . . the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd . . ."

"Hey!" Omnion blurted, "The Invulnerable Coat of Arnd is mine!"

The paladin put his fists smugly on his hips.  "Not if you're dead, it ain't, sister!"

Omnion rolled her eyes.

Peter Perfect counted off his impending Xmas presents on his fingers: "I'm gonna get back the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd, and the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, and my sentient holy sword, and the Cup and Talisman of Al'Akbar, and my helm of brilliance, and my trident of fish command, and my spade of colossal excavation, and my plate barding +5 — hmmm, come to think of it, though, I'll probably have to get a new warhorse."

Tiamat reasserted herself.  "There is a price you must pay," her blue head warned, "If we are to bring you back to life."

Peter Perfect eyed the chromatic dragon warily.  "Oh?"

Tiamat's blue and red heads gazed levelly at the blond-haired paladin, and said in unison, "You must eliminate Ringman."

"Yeah, and?" Peter Perfect held his palms up expectantly.

"Uh . . . that's all," Tiamat's same two heads replied.

"That's it?!" the clean-shaven paladin half-giggled.  "Eliminate Ringman?  That's all you want?  Heck, I was gonna do that anyway!"

"Oh, and," Omnion held up a finger, "You must return the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd to me when you're done."

All five of Tiamat's heads snapped around to look at Omnion in surprise.

Peter Perfect rubbed his chin, "Well . . . I dunno . . ."

"That wasn't part of the plan," Tiamat's white head whispered to Omnion.

The half-elf shrugged.  "I have my pride, y'know."

"Oh, all right, what the heck," Peter Perfect acquiesced.  "Anything's better than getting sent back to Heaven.  But," he raised a finger, "I'll need to get all my old stuff back if I'm going prance around out in the open on Central Earth."

"I can give you more than that," Tiamat's red head winked at him slyly.

"All right then, let's get this show on the road," Omnion readied her spell-casting muscles, "I limited wish that Peter Perfect were alive and well and standing right next to all of his old stuff."

". . . and that I not be aged a year by casting this limited wish spell," she added quickly.

As the fabric of reality around Peter Perfect unravelled itself — or at least, limited unravelled itself — Peter thought he heard Tiamat ask, "Why didn't you put a geas on him?" and Omnion reply, "Why waste another spell?  He'd just wish himself un-geased."

When space and time rewove, Peter Perfect found himself cloaked once again in the flesh of the living, standing naked in total darkness.

His permanent infravision spell kicked in a second later.  He was surrounded by thick, cold walls, in an open room littered with various odds-and-ends that featured what looked like a mannequin.  Or at least, it had the outline of a mannequin.  Infravision didn't reveal enough detail to see clearly.  Ultravision would, if it hadn't been taken out of the Second Edition rules, dog gone it.  Heck, he could have just cast a good old-fashioned light spell if the First Edition rules were still in effect, but nooooooo, the Second Edition rules put the light spell in the "sun sphere" of Priest spells and restricted paladins to casting Priest spells of the combat, divination, healing, and protective spheres.  Maybe there was something among the odds-and-ends in the room that could shed light.  Hrm . . . most of the stuff appeared to be standing upright, perhaps on separate display stands of some kind.  None of the outlines looked like a torch, or a lantern, or that hollow bamboo continual light flashlight he remembered seeing in Wierd Dough's equipment all those years ago — but at least one of the objects did appear to be about the same size and shape as a sheathed long sword.  Perhaps it was a glowing magical long sword.

He grasped the haft and pulled it from its scabbard.  Bingo!  The long sword was indeed magic, and gave off its own pale glow.  Unfortunately, the glow wasn't nearly as bright as he had remembered these things were supposed to be.  Back in the days of First Edition, magical daggers gave off light in a ten-foot radius, short swords could illuminate a fifteen-foot radius, and long swords were bright enough to light everything in a twenty-foot radius; but the Second Edition rules limited all magic weapons, no matter how large, to a measly five-foot radius of illumination.  Still, it let him see better details than his permanent infravision spell did.

He was in the middle of what seemed to be a floor display.  The mannequin, a tall, blond, lantern-jawed chap, sported a fine-link silver coat of chain mail, a glittering bejewelled helmet, and a backpack.  The various and sundry items all looked vaguely familiar in the sword's pale light, as did the floor and walls.  Curious . . . the stones and mortar making up the floor and walls had an odd glint about them, as though they were laced with —

Mithral!  Now he knew where he was, and why it looked so familiar.  Every structure built on Central Earth in the recent past had its walls and floors laced with adamantite, not mithral, because mithral was too second-rate to resist any half-decent attack.  All the structures older than this had been built with plain old ordinary unreinforced stones and mortar.  Only one place on Central Earth had mithral-reinforced walls and floors: the prison where he and the other members of the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters had been housed twenty-eight years ago.

And the floor beneath his feet had obviously been patched some time ago.  He was standing in the very cell he had occupied when he was a prisoner here.  The only difference this time was that there were no adamantite bars separating him from the corridor outside.  And . .  and the backpack on that mannequin — if not for the dim light, he'd have recognized it instantly.  That was his old backpack from when he'd been an ordinary up-and-coming adventurer!  Hey — all the stuff here was his!  The sword in his hand, throwing off five feet of feeble illumination, was his old back-up long sword, vorpal weapon.  And there was his old suit of full plate armor +6, standing unoccupied by itself, and his shield +5 strapped to the armor's left forearm; and there, mounted on the back wall, that must be his trident of fish command, and the five dull gray ioun stones he'd had back when dull gray ioun stones boosted your psionic strength, and his horn of the Tritons, and his reverse eyes of petrification (with a shroud pulled over the business end of the lenses for safety), and . . .

"You know what?" he mused aloud.  "I'll bet this is a Peter Perfect exhibit!  Woo hoo!  Somebody must have turned the old prison into a Peter Perfect museum!  A monument to me!  Why, I'll bet that mannequin is supposed to look like me, too.  Although there's no way in heck I looked that bad on even my worst hair day.  Yeesh.  Am I really that fat?"

Peter threw open the backpack the mannequin was wearing, took out his old portable hole — still there! — and rummaged around for the old hooded lantern he'd used back when he still did dungeon crawls.  Still there, in perfect shape, and still with a full flask's worth of lamp oil in it.  And if he could — there, his tinder box.  A little prestidigitation with the flint and steel, one smoldering tinder ember, and —

The hooded lantern burst into flaming radiance, bathing the room and the corridor beyond with bright yellow light.  At last.  He could see for thirty whole feet with this light source.

"Yep!" he declared aloud.  "All my stuff's here!  There's the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, retracted to hand axe length just like I left it.  And that mannequin of me's wearing my helm of brilliance stacked on top of my helm of telepathy, and the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd!  Ha ha ha ha ha!  You'd think that after the last time I recovered all my stuff, they'd know not to leave it all in the same place!"

First things first, he reminded himself.  He had to make that limited wish he was under permanent.  He quickly located his old long sword +1, luck blade (it was next to his long sword +2, green dragon slayer, which he'd also never had occasion to use), held the blade aloft, and for the first time burned one of the luck blade's five wishes: "I wish that I were back to life permanently."

He didn't feel any different, but he could breathe a lot easier now.  The few hours of life he'd been granted under Omnion's limited wish were no longer ticking down.  Unless he got killed again, he wouldn't be returning to that gods-awful afterlife for a long long time.

He set the lantern and the long sword down, took the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd and his pair of helms (not to mention his old underclothes) off of the mannequin, and dressed himself.  He didn't know whether to be relieved or concerned that the mannequin wasn't anatomically accurate.  His undies felt a bit stiff from years of disuse, but the Coat of Arnd felt just as light and invulnerable as ever.  In fact, it felt more invulnerable.  He rubbed his chin with a sly grin and hauled out the Second Edition Book of Artifact Wisdom.  He noted quickly, as he skimmed the tome's pages, that the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords was now always hand-axe length and could not be extended to a long-shafted battle axe any more — a moot point, since you couldn't wield a second weapon with a battle axe anyway — and found the page for the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd.  Sure enough, the Coat no longer made the exposed parts of his body Armor Class 5.  It prevented all attacks to his body, no matter which body part they were targeted at, from succeeding unless the attacker rolled a natural 20.  The blond-haired blue-eyed clean-shaven paladin chuckled.  So long as he wore that Coat, he was beyond the need for an Armor Class.  Even a hillion-jillion-zillionth-level warrior armed with a plus-infinity weapon would now miss him nineteen times out of twenty.  'No wonder Omnion wants this Coat back,' he thought.

Curious now that he was no longer naked, he picked up the lantern again and wandered out into the corridor.  What he saw in the room across from his old cell made his heart sink.  There was another museum display there, but it wasn't devoted to himself.  It was devoted to Rango the ranger.

"Aw, man!" Peter cursed.  "You mean this whole place isn't a shrine to me?  Pfff.  Lunkheads.  Who'd want to look at a Rango display anyway?"

Peter Perfect inspected the other cells.  All of them contained exhibits devoted to a different member of the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters, situated in the same cell where that character had been imprisoned if he or she had in fact been imprisoned.  There was a Wild Max exhibit.  There was a Dirk the Destructive exhibit.  There was an Omnion exhibit in a formerly uninhabited cell, which, like Peter's own exhibit, contained displays of all the equipment Omnion had owned while she was alive.  (Except for the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd, neener neener.)  Outside the cells, the ceiling had been turned into a monstrous vaulted dome, around which were emblazoned the words, "Welcome to the IUDC hall of fame."  And when Peter looked to the spot below the center of this vaulted ceiling, right in the middle of a more-recently-built rotunda, stood an enormous solid-adamantite statue of —

"Da Bad Dude?!" Peter winced.  "I get one lousy cell-sized display, and that worthless illusionist lackey gets to be the main attraction?!  . . . Oh, I get it.  Da Bad Dude must have built this museum.  Hmph.  Illusionists.  I can't tell if they're more interested in tricking people, or drawing attention to themselves, the little nerds."

Peter returned to his own shrine and began loading himself down with all of his old equipment.  Time and again as he picked up the objects on display and stuck them into his backpack or his portable hole or his belt scabbards, he felt twinges of misty-eyed nostalgia over being reunited with his old magic items.  His girdle of titan strength.  His folding boat.  His reverse-effect eyes of petrification.  His rope of climbing.  His book of infinite spells, still open to the page with mind blank on it just like he'd left it.  His broom of flying.  His wand of secret door and trap location.  There was one item, though, that he didn't remember seeing before at all — a belt pouch that smelled remarkably like the lair he'd just been in, back on the first plane of Hell.  He smirked; this was obviously the little present Tiamat had hinted at.

One by one, he reassembled his old arsenal until every piece was in place.  Every piece but two, that is.  His old warhorse was gone, as he half expected; he would have to call for another one.  And worse, Prometheus, his steadfast holy avenger, was nowhere to be found.

And he had a good idea where Prometheus was.  Or at least, whom it was with.

The Intercontinental Proliferation of Disgusting Characters is continued in chapter 9.
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