"Ho ho, Ringman!" the shining-armor-clad rider goaded. "You know you're no match for me!"
His bearded target ran out of the reach of his longsword's blade. The fleeing armored figure clenched his teeth and spat, "We'll see about that, Peter Perfect!"
Ringman the Bearded put his gauntleted index and middle fingers in his mouth and whistled. The bushes nearby rustled, and out charged a warhorse plated in glowing metal barding. Ringman put one foot in the left stirrup and mounted up, the clank of his own glowing armor against the horse's ringing of their adamantite alloys.
"You don't think your own warhorse will give you enough of an edge to defeat me, do you?" said Peter Perfect the Clean-Shaven. "My holy blade will rip you to shreds!" He raised the sword in his hand. It was one of those rare magic types that didn't glow.
Ringman stood firm. "As can my own holy blade!" The sword he drew did glow; in fact, it pulsated an intense greenish-white and hummed a bit. "Prometheus!" he addressed the sword. "Show this self-dubbed paladin what we can do!"
"You mean what I can do," the sword protested. Its luminous pulsations fit perfectly to the rise and fall of its voice.
Peter Perfect glanced down at his body. It was starting to move of its own accord. "Hey — what the?!"
"Prometheus has you in a telekinetic grip. You'd best surrender before it throws you into a tree at 512 feet per second."
"Not if I can dispel the effect," Peter Perfect said, gestured, and dispelled it. He fell perfectly onto his horse's saddle.
'Zounds,' Ringman thought. 'That's a third-level spell! Where did he get the experience points to —'
Peter Perfect lowered his eyebrows and his head while staring intently at Ringman. At once, he opened his eyes wide and a cone-shaped, yellow wave of mental force — a veritable blast of psionic power — cascaded out from his forehead and struck both Ringman and his horse. The armored man made his saving throw; his horse didn't, and collapsed.
Startled, Ringman got to his feet and went to the horse's neck to check for a pulse. There was none. His lower jaw quavered as he slowly turned back to Peter Perfect. "You've . . . killed . . . a paladin's warhorse! You call yourself lawful-good?!?!!"
"No, I call myself the epitome of paladinhood."
"STAND AND FIGHT, YOU MURDERER!" Ringman charged, magic-shield first.
Peter Perfect dismounted and let his horse's armor take Ringman's first blow, which was ineffective. The clean-shaven paladin rounded the animal and bashed Ringman with his shield, which sent him reeling.
'He's got the strength of a titan,' Ringman figured as he rolled head-over-heels backwards. His armor clanked heavily, but didn't hinder him as he regained his footing. "When was the last time you paid your tithe," Ringman asked as he charged and swung. His +2 to hit from strength and +5 to hit from the holy avenger finally got through Peter Perfect's armor class -10; Peter Perfect was wounded in the left shoulder.
"Argh," Peter arghed, clutching the wound. "Nobody does more than 10 hit points of damage to me and gets away with it!" He charged and hacked, hitting Ringman's +4 shield by mistake instead of his groin.
But the force was enough to knock Ringman on his back again. Peter Perfect straddled his prey and raised his sword again. Ringman hid behind his shield, which took the blow — in exactly the same place as it had just been hit. There was a deep groove along the shield's center.
Fury in his eyes, Peter drew back his sword a third time. Shimmering blue patterns raced from the metal girdle about his waist up the right side of his body and into his holy avenger's blade, giving him all the titan strength he needed. The sword came down like a meteor, on the same place it had hit Ringman's shield twice before, and broke the shield in half.
Ringman gasped, and rolled out of the way as quickly as he could. He stood up about twenty feet away, holding Prometheus in his right hand and drawing a lesser (+3) magical hand-axe with his left. He'd be at -2 to hit in his off hand, but at least he could use it to parry. Without his shield, his armor class was only -5.
Peter Perfect smiled. He knew he outmatched his rival. "Prometheus," he called, addressing Ringman's sword.
"Don't answer him," Ringman whispered to his sword.
"What is it, opponent?" the sword asked in spite of Ringman's plea.
"You're a holy sword. You serve a paladin, right?"
"Well, I too am a paladin, and far superior to this wimp."
"I . . . see . . ." the sword pondered.
"Prometheus, this man is no paladin!" Ringman countered. "He must have killed at least three people on his way up here."
"No, only two," Peter Perfect corrected him. "And how many have you killed in the past week, Ringo?"
"You see my point, Prometheus? You are a lethal weapon. Come join the service of a wielder who will let you be lethal."
"I like that idea," Prometheus mused. "I like it . . . a great deal." It jumped from Ringman's hands.
Ringman gaped. "Prome —"
"Don't bother me any more, wimp. I'm serving a real master now." The sword easily bridged the distance between its previous and its new owner, landing grip-first in Peter Perfect's right hand.
Ringman kneeled nearly motionless on the ground. His face was clenched in anger and sorrow. So much had happened since the day began, so much had changed for the worst.
Peter Perfect turned to walk away, but glanced back over his shoulder. He had accomplished his mission for the day. "And just to show you there are no hard feelings, Ringboy —" He tossed his non-sentient holy avenger, which landed ten inches away from Ringman point-first. "— You can have my old sword." He mounted up, and rode away.
Ringman slowly raised his head to look at the blade. "Stained with the blood of how many?" he asked. In any event, a holy longsword was a holy longsword. He picked up the sword, wondering if a good bath would clean off the blade's blood and bad memories.
The advance copies of the new issue of Dragon and Dragrace Magazine were already bought up first by Clerasil and Wierd Dough, as usual. There was an interesting feature on the anti-paladin class and a side article on a new class called a "Weapons Master," but no new errata restricting the power of any obscure and exploited rules. None they would tell anyone about, anyway.
Peter Perfect rode down from over the hill range, his horse's hooves never quite touching the ground and his new sword wavering proudly. He joined the cleric and the magic-user by the lake.
"Wierd Dough, Clerasil," he presented the sword. "It looks like our skeptical rival has one less near-artifact on his side."
"You mean YOUR rival," the adamantite-armored cleric responded.
"Oh, come now, Clerasil, he would have turned against you eventually too. Balance of power and all that. I know he would have eventually come down on you, Wierd Dough." He pointed to the guy in the white Robe of the Archmagi. "You're a chaotic force in his eyes."
"Not as chaotic as some people I know," Wierd Dough commented.
Peter chuckled. "I'm not chaotic, just competitive. Say, the tide looks a little high on the lake this afternoon. I'd better fix that."
Actually, the tide was just where it should have been, but Peter wanted to show off. He gestured, waved Prometheus a few times, and threw a pinch of dust into the lake. A 200 foot by 200 foot section of the water sank out of sight.
Clerasil was astounded. "That's a fourth-level spell! I know magic swords can't have that spell, so you must have cast it; but last I saw you you were only tenth level. You'd have to be at least fifteenth level to cast that spell."
"I'm twentieth level, actually."
Wierd Dough's jaw dropped. "How did you get so many experience points so quickly?"
"Well, how'd you guys get your experience points?"
Clerasil cleared his throat. "I plane-travelled to the Abyss and cleaned out all the demon lords."
"Likewise," Wierd Dough said. "I went down through the nine circles of Hell and destroyed all the arch-devils. And a good deal of greater devils to boot. Nothing like a pair of petrification glasses with the lenses put in backwards."
Peter Perfect inhaled and exhaled contentedly. "I got my ten levels from one lowly centaur."
"WHAT?!" the other two said in unison.
"Half the centaurs carry gems, right? This one happened to be carrying a couple million gold pieces worth. I just cut him in half, stole his gems, and got one experience point for every gold piece they were worth."
Clerasil quickly hauled out the Book of Infinite Wisdom. "Hey, that's right! A single gem can be worth up to a million gold pieces, if you roll the dice right."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" asked Wierd Dough. "Let's go mug a centaur and take his four one-million-gold-piece gems!"
"Kill a centaur and take his four 1 000 000 g.p. gems," Peter Perfect corrected them.
Three centaurs later, Clerasil's level went from 28th to 38th, and Wierd Dough's jumped from 18th (just barely arch-mage status) to a whopping 49th. They would have gone farther, but that was maximum spell ability in their campaign. Clerasil could now cast ten of each of the seven levels of clerical spells per day (plus 2 each 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th level spells due to his superior strength of will), and Wierd Dough could cast 13 of each of the nine levels of magic-user spells each day (well, 26 actually, thanks to his 5 rings of wizardry).
They also had an extra 12 million gold pieces between themselves to spend. Digging up another obscure rule, they found a use for a couple million of them: By using the psychic plane-travel ability, they could not only survive contact with a small black hole but actually destroy it and gain another major psychic power in the process. They each bought about 30 black holes ("Spheres of Annihilation," they were called on the open black market) for some 30 000 gold pieces apiece, ran into each one, and gained every psychic discipline known to man and god alike. These made a fine addition to the spells and potions whose effects had been made permanent upon them, and let them keep pace with Peter Perfect who had already gone through the spheres-of-annihilation bit before they'd even thought of it.
The whole group was decked out almost beyond recognition. Enough rings, cloaks, magic armor and shields, bracelets of defense, and sundry magic gadgets to bring their armor classes down to the lowest allowable in the universe, -10; protection scarabs with enough gear to give them a 95% chance of avoiding the effects of magic that is supposed to be unavoidable; three or four different magic helms, all stacked one within the other, with the outer one bearing gems of explosive proportions; rings on each finger, covered by dexterity gloves, covered again by another ring on each finger; and all the wands of automatic missile fire stored inside their portable holes.
Ringman peered through the trees carefully at the group. With all their magic items, they must have detected him by now, he figured. They doubtlessly wanted him to see what power they held. It was disgusting.
"Do you realize how powerful we are now?" Wierd Dough asked. "We could take on an army and win!"
"Ah, from such humble beginnings spring such mighty oaks," Clerasil mused.
"Oaks can be cut down," Peter commented, symbolically swinging his Axe of the Dwarvish Lords through the air. "We can't. And as I recall, our beginnings weren't too humble."
"I was there, remember?" Clerasil replied. "We were in that dungeon together. The experience point values of the magic items alone was enough to boost us both to ninth level. The Dungeon Master" — his voice quavered in fear as he spoke the words — "would have sealed us off and doomed us in a half-mile-thick concrete prison if you hadn't threatened to kill off the characters he was running in your campaign."
"Yeah, and then he got tired of that campaign anyway," Peter noted.
"In any event," Wierd Dough continued, "We are positively disgusting in our power level. Holy swords and artifacts are nothing more than furniture to us. Look at that stack of artifacts Clerasil has."
"There must be others like us in the world. I know there must, because I've picked up several high-powered dummies on my crystal ball who didn't have the foresight to wear a detection-proof amulet. I say we form a union — a worldwide union. All the disgusting characters from around the globe can come to meet here on the shores of Crysglass lake, on this very spot." He drew Excalibur, his +6 dagger of sharpness. Peter Perfect followed his example and drew Prometheus, as did Clerasil who drew Mjolnir, his sentient hammer of thunderbolts. They raised their weapons together to the sky. "And we shall call it . . . the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters!"
'I think I'm going to be sick,' thought Ringman.
Now of course paladins can't get sick because they're totally immune to all forms of disease, but Ringman did a pretty good impression on his way back to town that evening. He felt miserable. At least the saloon might have warmer greetings for him than Peter Perfect had.
"Hey, Ringman!" someone called out when the magically-armored man clanked through the swinging doors. "Hey, Ringman!" said another. He was sort-of a hero to this town. A year ago, when the town was threatened by the huge ancient red dragon Smogzilla, he had killed one of her babies with Prometheus and forged one of its scales into the head of an arrow of dragon slaying. Smogzilla had fallen with a single shaft in her breast.
"Gimmie a milk on the rocks," Ringman said to the bartender.
"Hey, Ringman!" said a young man who sat down on the barstool beside him. Ringman felt ready to bury his head in his hands. "I hear you stopped Peter Perfect from getting into town today."
"I didn't stop him," Ringman winced. The noise level in the barroom cut in half. "He was after me. And he killed two people just to get to me. That's what happens when you carry around a highly intelligent holy sword. Look at what I have now."
He drew his recently-acquired holy longsword out to show everyone.
"It ain't green no more," the bartender noticed.
"It's not even the same holy avenger." He sheathed it. "He could have killed me, but I think he knows he did more damage by letting me live. He has Prometheus now, of the sword's own will, since it realized that Peter Perfect would use it more for its intended purpose. And that's not the worst of it."
The youth next to him gulped. "I couldn't think of anything worse than Prometheus working for that so-called paladin."
Ringman turned and gazed at him solemnly. "How about Clerasil and Wierd Dough becoming far more powerful?"
The bartender gasped. "Those two're Peter Perfect's associates, ain't they?"
Ringman nodded. "And they're forming a union that any disgusting character from anywhere on Central Earth can join. All of them with the strongholds they've built from the gems they've stolen from centaurs, and the small keeps they've gained from a deck of many things, all leaving those and the people within them so they can join with the other disgusting characters not three miles from this very spot. We'll be flooded with Peter Perfects and Clerasils and Wierd Doughs, most of which might not even be 'good' like those three claim to be."
Amid the pallor of doom that had fallen over most of the patrons at the saloon by now, a young lady strode up to the bar and proclaimed, "Gimmie a wine on the rocks." She slapped a gold coin down on the counter. It made quite a dent, particularly since it was 3/16 of an inch thick.
Ringman scanned her affectionately. Blond hair, blue eyes. She was probably 17 or 18 years old. Her outfit was skin-tight, which worked very nicely. She would have passed for a gorgeous lady of the night were it not for one thing: the broadsword stowed in the sheath on her back. He turned to the man next to him, who was also eyeballing this woman. "She's been carrying that broadsword around with her for weeks now."
"Maybe that's because she's a broad."
Ringman shook his head, grinning. 'At this point I'm glad she's not wearing any armor,' he thought. 'One crack about breastplate and I'd go off the deep end.'
"Most people training to be fighters," Ringman addressed the woman, "Wear some form of armor for protection."
"Huh?" she turned. "Oh, hi Ringman. No, actually I'm not going to be just a fighter. I'm training to be a melee weapons master."
Ringman puzzled. "I've never heard of that class before."
"Here," she drew a rather ratted-looking magazine out from her back pocket. "It's in next fortnight's issue of Dragon and Dragrace. I got an advance copy."
Ringman took the magazine slowly. "Where'd you get this from?"
She smiled. "I stole into the outskirts of Clerasil's camp today while he and his merry men were off somewhere else. Odd, the errata pages in this issue seem to have been torn —"
"That place must be mined with traps all over the place. How'd you get past them without being detected?"
"For one, I don't have any magic powers or magic items, so their magic detectors wouldn't go off. Secondly . . . I have the power to cloud men's minds, so as to appear . . . invisible."
Ringman rolled his eyes up into his head. 'Psionic invisibility,' he thought. 'What next?'
"Well, anyway, what's this melee weapons master class like?"
She pointed to the magazine. "It's on page 32."
"Uh . . . I can't read very fast. Could you just sort-of give me an outline?"
She retrieved her magazine and chuckled a bit. "Okay, silly boy." She opened to page 32 and cleared her throat. "'The weapons master is a sub-class of fighters. To be a weapons master, a character must be human or half-elven, and have at least 15 strength and a dexterity of not less than 16. High ability scores bring no experience point bonus. A weapons master may be of any alignment.
"'Weapons masters combine many of the advantages and disadvantages of fighters and monks. They may not wear armor or shields. They begin with proficiency in but one weapon, like monks, and thereafter gain proficiency in a new weapon every three levels, like fighters. They use the monk's table for experience level progression, requiring 500 000 experience points for every additional level beyond the seventeenth.'"
Ringman commented, "Doesn't sound too good so far."
She closed the magazine. "Those are about the only disadvantages the class has. They get 10-sided hit dice, get the extra hit point addition for 17 or 18 constitution that fighters do, use the fighter's to-hit table, make their saving throws off of either the fighter's or the monk's table, whichever is better, get to add in half their level as damage points every time they hit with a melee weapon they're familiar with, just like monks, and get an effective armor class in front whenever they're wielding a melee weapon equal to what a monk of the same level would have, plus the dexterity adjustment for armor class monks should have gotten in the first place."
Ringman's eyebrows went up slowly as he blinked. "Impressive."
She sidled up closer to him. "They also get to roll for exceptional strength if their strength is 18. I'm just as strong as you."
"That's a pretty sizable claim, lady. I'm almost as strong as an ogre." He put his right elbow on the bar and lifted his hand. "Let's see you prove it."
She smiled and put up her own right arm. Their hands grasped each other, their faces hardened, and they began to push. Their arms stood fixed, vibrating against each other perfectly perpendicular to the table. Ringman's gave an inch, then hers gave an inch to make up for it. The sweat on their palms was reaching pressure-cooking temperature due to the adiabatic pressure between their hands. Finally, Ringman jerked his hand away and exhaled loudly.
"Hey, I wasn't finished yet!" she complained.
Ringman rubbed his finger bones. "You've more than proven your strength to me, young lady. You'll make an excellent warrior."
"Weapons master, please. Ordinary warriors don't get to add their dexterity to-hit adjustment with missiles into their to-hit chance with melee weapons, or get as many attacks per minute with a melee weapon as a monk of the same level does with his open hands."
Ringman's jaw dropped open a foot. "How do you get that?!?"
She took out Dragon & Dragrace. "Right here, page 34, top and bottom paragraphs."
Ringman quickly formed the words "melee weapon," "dexterity," "to-hit," "monks," and "open-hand attacks." "All right, I believe you. How come I never heard of these bonuses?"
"Because only melee weapons masters get them, and they're a hot-off-the-press character class."
"So," Ringman changed the subject slightly, "What is your dexterity?"
"Only eighteen now, but —"
"I see. Uh, and your constitution?"
"Oh, eighteen, of course."
"Of course." Ringman was getting worried. Straight 18's across the board was a sure-fire ringer for that new I.U.D.C.. "Do you have anything that's not an 18?"
"Sure. My hit points are only 14. And my level's only 1."
'Maximum hit points,' Ringman thought, 'all 18's, a character class deadlier than any previously devised, and psionics. I think I'm in big trouble.' "What do you intend to use your talents for?" he asked.
"Killing centaurs and taking their four 1 000 000 gold piece gems."
She put her left fist to her hip. "So that I can drive away those Disgusting Characters. If there's anything the world doesn't need, it's more political pressure."
Ringman let out a relieved sigh. "For a minute there, I thought you were going to join the IUDC."
She chuckled. "For a minute a while ago, so did I."
"Say, you can be any alignment. Have you decided on one yet?"
She thought a moment. "Why, no, actually."
"Might I suggest lawful-good?"
She turned it over in her head. "You know, that sounds like a pretty good idea."
Ringman smiled affectionately. "I'm very glad to hear that."
"That way, I can change my character class to cleric at level 30 and wield the Mace of Cuthbert."
Even before dusk the next day, new disgusting characters were dimension-walking in. There was the Great Druid Koenieg, the Grandfather of Assassins Wild Max (who was half orc by race), and the Grand Master of Flowers Middle Monk. There were also a few obscure wraiths with the word "Sauron" emblazoned on their T-shirts, but they were only wearing one ring apiece so Wierd Dough sent them away.
The initiating process started out slowly, but by the time the evening rush set in they had the system pretty well figured out.
"Name?" Clerasil questioned the latest entry.
"Class and level?"
"Ranger, level 17."
"All major and minor psionic disciplines?"
"ALL of them? Why, no, I —"
"Tch tch tch. Armor class?"
"Good. Main weapon?"
"Longsword of dancing."
"Hmph. You're going to have to do a lot better than that. What's your saving throw against spells which normally allow no saving throw?"
Clerasil looked him square in the eye. "My God III, man, haven't you even heard of a scarab of protection? Look, you're obviously not prepared for this. Come back tomorrow after you've exchanged some of those gold pieces for real magic items."
Rango turned and left, disgruntled. As he kicked a pebble from side to side while walking away, Clerasil shouted back, "And don't forget to make whatever +6 sword it is you're going to get sentient! We can't have a union without special purpose powers, you know!"
The next few days acquired numerous patrons of moderate level who had yet to go through the centaur process. Eventually, not only were Middle Monk, Koenieg, Wild Max, and even Rango added to their ranks, but so were Da Bad Dude (a 31st-level, neutral evil illusionist), Melnic the Loud (alias Disgusting Bard, chaotic-neutral), and Dirk the Destructive (a 20th-level anti-paladin). Dirk and Peter hit it off quite well.
Ringman was scouting their camp again as he had done so often in the past, and he practically cried. What good was he, a 9th-level paladin who pays his tithe, donates his excess, and keeps within the limit of magic items, when compared to an army of state-of-the-art killing machines?
Footsteps heralded the intrusion of another party on his scouting post. Startled, Ringman drew his holy avenger and assumed a defensive posture.
The weapons mistress from the saloon stopped and rolled her eyes up into her head. "Oh for crying out loud, it's only me."
Ringman sheathed his sword. "You took a lot of chances coming here. Do you know what's going on in there?"
"That's what I came here to find out," she replied. She kneeled down two feet to the left of his old scouting position, looked, nodded, and turned to him. "I did it."
"Huh?" he kneeled down beside her. "You did what?"
She took out the four giant diamonds she'd stowed in her newly-acquired leather backpack. "I made a hit on a centaur. Peter Perfect was right! I tell you, if they're all carrying loads like this the species won't survive."
Ringman looked down solemnly. "You . . . you killed one of them?"
"No, I jumped out of the bushes with broadsword in hand, and yelled, 'Hold, creature, and face the wrath of my sick sword!' He just dropped the gems and ran. I was ready to use my psionic blast on him and everything."
Ringman chuckled. "The centaurs must be used to these raids by now if they know enough to drop the gems and scram."
"You know, for a fighter with a 10 intelligence you're pretty thoughtful. I just decided on my alignment not a week ago, and you've probably been living with it all your life."
"I'm 23. I've been a paladin for a few years, so I'm used to this alignment by now. Oddly enough, the only reason I'm lawful good is because I have a 17 charisma and I didn't want to waste it. Now, even if I could be, say, a chaotic-neutral paladin, I'd never change my alignment for the world. I've seen its true virtue. I hope you will too."
"Well, I have at least a couple more weeks to think it over. These stones only brought me up to 18th level."
Ringman shook off the impact of that statement. "So you're —"
"— armor class -7 from the front. And I get four attacks per minute and can hit armor class -10 on a 14 or better — 9 or better if you add in my strength and dexterity bonuses."
"I see. And when you've gotten another four gems, then what?"
"Then I'll be 26th level, and only have two million gold pieces — er, experience points to go before level 30, when I'll change and become a first-level cleric."
"And when you've taken the stones of a few more centaurs and climbed all the way to 39th level for the full added hit dice, then what will you do with your life?"
"Why, what else? Buy magic items, of course. The black magic market isn't particular who they sell their magic items to, as long as they get list book price. And with these gems I'll be able to pay more than enough."
"And who's gonna buy million gold piece diamonds? You don't exactly have a 'small change' spell, do you?"
"Of course not. I was planning to slice the diamonds up into little 10-gold-piece-valued diamond pieces. Two hundred diamond pieces and I got me a +1 broadsword — or fifteen thousand d.p. and I got me a +6 vorpal weapon broadsword of dancing, life stealing, 9 lives stealing, and wounding, with 17 intelligence, speech and tel —"
"Enough, already! Creating artifacts out of the void with money. Where does this black magic market get its magic-users and alchemists to enchant the items?"
"It doesn't. There are an infinite number of magic items on the market. You just have to have the money to buy them. . . . Uh, I've gotta be going now. I'm gonna buy that sword and some potions."
"Hey wait —" he began, but she was already gone. He was staying in danger hanging around here, too, he figured, since the sun had already set, so he turned to a path that wouldn't make too many rustling noises and headed out. Having no place in particular to go, he went to find out more about the new weapons mistress.
"Ah, you're back here again," the bartender commented, wiping a glass with a rather old rag. Bartenders never clean glasses, but this always looks appropriate. "Milk on the rocks?"
"No, no. Uh, that blond woman with the broadsword who was in here three days ago — do you know her name?"
"Nope. Never heard it."
"Well then, do you know where she lives?"
"Why, no, I was looking the other way when she left." The bartender was looking the other way now, too, only his palm wasn't. His thumb rubbed against his fingertips.
Ringman sighed, and hauled out a quarter-inch-thick disk of a gold-silver alloy. This naturally occurring alloy was about ten times as valuable as plain silver. The bartender glanced at the offering pressed into his hand, and commented, "Uh, yeah, I saw her leave, but I didn't see which way she turned the corner." His thumb still rubbed across his fingers.
Ringman added another electrum coin to the pile. This was evidently enough. "She went down Bloodlust alley, heading west," the Bartender blabbed. "My guess is she probably lives at 1324 Memory lane, one block south of the corner of Death street and Gore avenue."
Ringman raised his eyebrows as he dismounted his stool. "That's a pretty impressive guess."
The bartender grinned. "I read it off the lost-and-found address on her broadsword."
'Oh yeah,' Ringman thought, 'Reading.' He left the bar.
He approached 1324 Memory lane as quietly as he could in his plate mail. He wanted to get a candid look at his new acquaintance in action; he couldn't afford to trust anyone who was that close to becoming a disgusting character. Stealing up against her front wall in the early night darkness, he peeked in through her front (and only) doorway.
A lit lantern hung from her stony ceiling, illuminating the one-room abode in pale yellow. She was alone; from the looks of her place, she lived alone. She was seated with her back to the doorway — a very bad move in a place without a door — and the table before her was littered with glass beakers, some full and some empty. She had already bought the potions she spoke of.
Ringman scanned the walls for the magic sword she claimed she would buy. There was no evidence of such a blade anywhere, although the sword she had been wearing was mounted on one wall. Then he caught it: a leather strap, like the type used to hold a sheath on one's back, dangled under the table. Above it, he could see part of a metal handgrip glowing with a pale blue light. Well thought out, he figured.
"Discovery!" she suddenly barked. Ringman froze, but she made no motion to turn around. He observed her more closely. She appeared to be scribbling something on a tablet. Five seconds later, she picked up a potion from one pile and a potion from the pile on the opposite side of the table, and drank them both at the same time. Then she picked up one white and one purple ball about an inch in diameter, rattled them in her hand, and tossed them across the table. Scanning the tops of the pseudo-spheres, she proclaimed "Discovery" again, and scribbled something down on the same tablet.
Ringman looked closer at the spheres. They seemed too angular to be ordinary balls, and they clattered to much when they rolled. Then, he recognized them: they were icosahedrons, twenty-sided polyhedra, each face of which had some marking on it.
In fact, each side of each object had the same marking on it: a number "0."
The last shovelful of dirt came down on the tremendous grave. Ringman had buried his warhorse with his magical plate barding and horseshoes of the zephyr on. Those were just more power-hungry magic items like the disgusting characters used anyway. He realized that now. He had once tried to walk their path, before he had heard of centaur's gems; that was how he had obtained his +5 plate mail, Prometheus, and all the rest. He wanted no part of that now.
As he began to carve the markings into the headstone with his holy sword, a finger tapped his shoulder. He turned; it was the weapons mistress.
Or rather, she was but an ordinary weapons mistress before; now prayer beads and an adamantite holy symbol hung from her neck. "Well, lady," he said, scanning her bedecked body, "I see you've joined the clergy."
"I am the clergy," she corrected him. "Thirty-ninth level cleric. Ten of each level of spell — twelve of levels 1-4. Like the Mace?"
She produced a jewelled battle mace from under one of her robes. It practically hummed with a life all its own. "This used to belong to Cuthbert," she said. "That cleric was a wimp, though."
Ringman was too solemn to get caught up in her mood. "Behold my steed," he proclaimed, indicating the grave. "Slain by Peter Perfect without a scratch on him."
"Psionic blast, eh? Hmmm . . . how long has he been dead?"
"Ten days. He died the day before Wierd Dough, Clerasil, and that murdering Peter Perfect formed their new union."
"Dig him up."
"Trust me. Just do it."
"Oh, all right," Ringman replied nervously. He scooped the dirt off the top until his shovel hit adamantite, then began clearing the side dirt away as well.
"There," he said when finished, shoving his shovel blade into the ground beside him with his full strength. "There he is. I hope you're satisfied."
"Lift him out of the grave," she said.
"What? You're crazy. I'll do no such thing. Besides, he's too heavy and . . . and too fragile."
She grinned ever-so-slightly, pointed one of her rings at the animal, and began concentrating. Rays of light as fine as spider webs raced from her ring and her forehead, enveloping the corpse and lifting it out of its nine-foot-deep hole. She set it down on the ground beside the grave, and began praying.
'Clerics have a knack for not letting you know what they're doing,' Ringman observed.
Finally, she pointed her right index finger at the warhorse. There was a spark on her fingertip simultaneously with a spark on the horse's underside, and the animal blinked its eyes open.
Ringman gasped, and knelt down by the horse's head. "You're alive, old boy!" He turned to the weapons mistress/cleric. "He's alive!"
"I told you to trust me. He'll have to rest for another ten days, but he'll be up and running after that."
Ringman clasped her elbows in his hands in exasperation. "Oh, I don't know how to thank you!" He hugged her.
"Clerics aren't really supposed to hug, you know," she commented, hugging him back anyway. As he pulled back, she said, "Wait until I'm an arch-mage too."
Ringman slapped his hand over his eyes, but this time he was smiling. "Magic-user too! Where will it all end?! Ha HA, but you did it, you brought my warhorse back to life! And I don't even know your name!"
She smiled broadly at that. "Well, now that my level as a cleric has exceeded my level as a weapons master, I can switch freely between the two classes, using edged weapons and effective armor class and all that." She pulled the +6 vorpal broadsword of ridiculous power out from her back-sheath. "I call myself . . . Sick Sword."
Ten figures jingled with magic items down the dusty noontime main street of the town. Several people stopped to watch the procession, but more fled in fear back into their houses. No one as yet knew what motivation, if any, lay behind the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters, and few wanted to be there when they found out.
Ringman accompanied the mayor out to meet the unknown that was marching down the street. For a town hero and a paladin, he was certainly nervous. They stopped walking when they reached the town square.
And so did the Disgusting Characters. "Citizens of this small town," Clerasil began, "We represent the single most powerful combined force on Central Earth: the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters. What was once the territory of king whoever the seventy-fifth is now ours. Each of us controls a country or even an entire continent of his or her own. We are the new strength, the new Union."
"And what do you want from us?" the mayor asked.
"Yeah," the gathering crowd replied.
"Only that you recognize that your ancient feudal system will be undergoing some changes from its newly appointed heads of state."
"And how," Ringman interjected, "Did you manage to take over every country in Central Earth in less than two weeks?"
"Yeah," the crowd conferred.
"Simple," replied Peter Perfect. "You can't very well oppose an incoming force without an army, can you? What little armies they had couldn't even touch us. We just walked in to every major political stronghold on the planet and took over. Nobody even had to die."
"Although some did," Wild Max commented.
Ringman drew his holy longsword and his +3 magic hand axe. "If you think you're just going to push this town around, you've got another thing coming."
"Ho ho ho," Peter Perfect gloated. "The town hero." He drew Prometheus. "Even your old sword knew you were a fool." He pointed the hilt at Ringman, and spider-silk-thin beams of telekinesis lifted the paladin off the ground. "Ever your old sword bears adversity toward you!"
Ringman dropped both weapons, too frightened to speak. He simply shook in midair.
"Even the bravest of heroes," Peter Perfect began. Prometheus picked up his thoughts and released Ringman. ". . . must fall!"
The bearded paladin landed with a clatter. He propped himself up and shook his head to regain his bearings. Getting to his knees, he picked up his sword and axe, then defeatedly put the hand axe away.
"And now," Melnic the Loud began, "To celebrate this joyous day, let us have music!" He set the Recorder of Ye Cind down on an adamantite instrument stand and took out his Ollamh Banjo.
"That's a great idea," Clerasil commented. He opened one of his portable holes and retrieved Heward's Mystical Organ from inside it.
Melnic was a bit skeptical. "Uh, can you play the organ?"
"I'm a cleric; of course I can play the organ!"
"All right. Recorder, Rainbow Connection!"
The recorder began sustaining a B-flat. Melnic strummed the introduction to the song on adamantite strings. Clerasil copied what Melnic was doing in parallel organum. 'Sure he knows how to play the organ,' Melnic thought, and began to sing:
"See that pool over there, well,The audience stood entranced by the charms of the bard's music. Even Ringman was drawn in by the twang of those adamantite banjo strings and the virtuosity of that 23rd-level medieval voice. Only one person in the mob made her saving throw versus magic at -7; but she was enough.
It's really fresh water,
And a quick dip now might be re-freshing!"
The song ended, and the crowd cheered uproariously. Half of them headed off for the lake to take a quick dip — although seeing as the only lake around had its access through the disgusting characters' base of operations, they probably wouldn't make it past the glyphs of warding and spiked pit traps. Ringman hadn't been suckered in by the lyrics, but he was just as jubilant as everyone else there.
Well, almost everyone else.
Sick Sword looked on with her arms folded, leaning against a wall, with five dull gray gemstones orbiting her head. "That's nice, Disgusting Bard," she commented loudly enough to be heard. The crowd silenced itself. "Now, can you play me 'The Impossible Dream'?"
A hard lump formed in Melnic's throat. That was exactly the kind of song that could rend the Disgusting Characters' reign. And this girl was obviously immune to his charming melodies. "Sorry, I . . . uh . . . don't do requests. Not anymore, anyways."
Wierd Dough stood ground for him. "Just who are you, young lady?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Your worst nightmare."
She saw the blur long before it was any threat to her. The arch-mage had whipped out his copper wand and was chanting, "Watt and Ampere, volt and ohm, let this discharge find its home!" She could have easily done something in the twelve seconds it took him to say that, but what she was about to do would be far more disquieting.
The lightning bolt leapt out of the tip of that magic lightning rod just as she knew it would. Gritting her teeth, she pointed one of the rings on her left hand straight into the oncoming bolt. The bolt struck the ring; half of the damage went through to her, and half raced back to Wierd Dough. Unprepared, Wierd Dough gasped as the bolt homed in on the like ring he was wearing, inflicting half the remaining damage on him and sending the left-over quarter back to Sick Sword, who bounced half of that back again. The lightning bolt completed ten strokes before this was through.
"A ring of spell turning!" Wierd Dough gasped. "I never figured on —"
"If you had inspected her body more closely," Peter Perfect commented, "You would have seen that she's equipped with just as great a magic arsenal as any of us. She even has the stretch marks characteristic of probability-travelling through numerous Spheres of Annihilation."
Wierd Dough shot him a threatening glance. "Yeah, I suppose you inspect women's bodies and look for stretch marks a lot, don't you?"
Peter clasped his hands behind his head casually. "All the time."
"All right, you weak bosons!" Sick Sword shouted. "You're not dealing with some obscure ninth-level by-the-book paladin any more!"
'Thanks a lot,' Ringman thought.
"I am Sick Sword, weapons master, high priestess —" She cast a meteor swarm spell at nobody in particular. All the Disgusting Characters' helms of brilliance went into action, and they all ended up taking 10 damage points each. "— and arch-mage. I have gone through all the power-building rituals you've undergone for the sole purpose of disbanding or destroying you." She glanced at Ringman. "If you intend to take this town, you must take me first!"
Peter Perfect's eyes were red with rage. "Get her, boys!"
And before any spell effects or weapons reached her, she word-of-recalled out of town.
"Huh?" Clerasil said, stereotypically. "Where'd she go?"
The instant he said "Where'd she go," a non-corporeal mouth appeared on the town statue of somebody-or-other the seventy-fifth, and began speaking in Sick Sword's voice: "I'm sure you're going to have a real fun time finding me through my mind-blank and detection-proof amulet!"
"Damn it!" Peter cursed. "She's been planning this all along!"
Ringman leaned against his sword and gave a thumbs-up sign in the direction of where she'd revivified his warhorse; that was the most likely place she'd teleport to. Glancing around, he caught sight of one townswoman of half-elven stock who wasn't the slightest bit afraid of the recent goings-on; in fact, she looked rather interested in the Disgusting Characters. This worried the pants off him.
Her name was Omnion, and she was indeed interested in the I.U.D.C.. She not only wanted to become one, she wanted to lead them. What character classes weren't represented in the Disgusting Characters? Fighter and thief. Fine then, she could become both of those classes, and throw in magic-user for a little firepower support. What alignment was missing? Lawful evil.
Omnion had no trouble locating and killing the nine centaurs for their gems. She found a lair with nine of them in it all looking the other way, snuk in, and backstabbed one of them with a longsword and her exceptional strength; it screamed and died. The other eight immediately rushed to attack her, but they all rolled "1"s and missed. She quickly scooped up the four million-gold-piece gems from the dead centaur, and with her sudden gain in experience easily dispatched the remaining eight.
That was how she told the story. The truth was she waited for them to line up in a 20-foot cone and then psi-blasted them all.
A few permanent potions, several permanency spells on the spells she could make permanent on herself, 30 spheres of annihilation, two or three decks of many things, the entire gamut of magic items, and all the left over artifacts and relics later, she stood at the front entrance to the headquarters of the I.U.D.C.. "Hello, fellow Disgusting Characters," she began with a slightly evil smile, "The name's Omnion. I want to join up."
Clerasil was bookkeeper for the IUDC now, thanks to his clerical skills. He looked at the girl over the top of his glasses. "A half-elf? All right, what do you do?"
She leaned on his desk menacingly. "Fighter-archmage-thief. 63rd, 49th, and 73rd levels, respectively — that's only for the maximum spell ability as a magic-user. Every artifact not already owned by one of your characters is mine. My main weapon is a sentient +6 vorpal longsword of wounding named 'Hymenslayer.' I have all major and minor psionic disciplines, all permanent spells and potions that I'm able to use and have any use, every magic item in the book . . . and I'm lawful evil."
Clerasil's eyes were already wide open. He cleared his throat: "Well, I, uh, think you live up to our standards. Uh, Wierd Dough! Come and look at this!"
Wierd Dough strode over to Clerasil's desk and read the notes he had just taken. "Forget it. The Book of Finite Wisdom clearly states that half elves can't reach upper levels as fighters or magic-users."
"It also says that characters can't buy magic items," Omnion added coldly, "and that you can't wear more than one ring on each hand. I'm sure you wouldn't want the Dungeon Master to find out what you've been doing behind his back."
Wierd Dough backed away. "Oh, no, no, of course not, you'd be a welcome final addition to our group. You've got just the two classes and the one alignment we've been missing."
"I know," she said wilily.
And Sick Sword, who was eavesdropping on this exchange from Ringman's nearby bush, got really worried for the first time in her life.
Sick Sword found Ringman in their private little clearing, tending on both his horse and his campfire. He hadn't gone back into town since the Disgusting Characters made themselves known there. She commented as she approached: "You know you're chancing it by coming here."
He turned. "Huh? Oh, hi . . . uh . . . Sick Sword."
"Any time they want they could locate you with a crystal ball or a wall mirror, teleport in, and kill you and your warhorse."
Ringman stared at his boots. "They could do that wherever I am. At least here they won't slaughter half the townspeople in the process."
Sick Sword got to the point. "They have a new member. A half-elf."
Ringman closed his eyes and nodded his head. "I saw her smiling at the I.U.D.C. the day you fended them off. I detected evil on her."
"Lawful evil, to be exact. Her name's Omnion. She's got a +5 shuriken of returning around her neck in the shape of a black triangle with a hole in the center. My guess is the black stands for evil, the triangle for law, and the hole for law and evil enveloping the whole universe. She's at least as powerful as Wierd Dough, and is a fighter and thief to boot so she can score quintuple damage and get off five double-handed melee attacks per minute."
"Five?" Ringman ventured. "I thought fighters only got up to two attacks a minute."
"Not if they're under the influence of a permanent potion of speed at 150% effectiveness."
"Oh. . . ."
"What really worries me about her is that she's got more artifacts than Clerasil; and every major benign power on them is 'weapon damage is +2 hit points.' That means she's +50 to every armed strike just from her artifacts alone. Seriously, Ringman, she's after the whole of Central Earth. She won't bother with a ninth-level paladin like you unless you get in her way."
"It's my job to get in their way. Why do you think Peter Perfect's always on my tail? And what do you think she's going to do to you?"
"I can take care of myself," she said, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him on his right cheek.
Ringman looked into her eyes. She was truly beautiful. "You sure you don't have a boyfriend?"
"None at the moment," she mused. "I'm too feisty for most." She stroked his beard, moving his head to face hers. "And now that I'm an archmage first and a priest second," she kissed his nose, "I have no statute against having one."
Ringman smiled affectionately. "I'm very glad to hear that," he said, and bridged the gap between them.
Omnion hadn't been a Disgusting Character for two days, and already she was making waves. Wierd Dough and Clerasil jokes were on everyone's lips. Peter Perfect was referred to as just a Ringman that didn't let his morals get in the way. The originators of the union talked worriedly among themselves in the darkness.
"I'm worried," worried Wierd Dough.
"You were the one who let her in," Clerasil noted. "And her sacrilege! She would have to be an atheist."
"So what?" Wierd Dough responded. "So am I."
"Atheism seems to be the norm for wizards," Peter Perfect mused.
"So is spelling their first names wrong," came a shout from a drunk Dirk the Destructive.
Peter, Wierd, and Cler moved further away from the circle gathered around the fire. It was only one burning leaflet, but an affect normal fires spell could do wonders. "I didn't misspell it by accident," Wierd Dough explained, "I just spelled Wierd weird to be weird."
"And your last name?" Peter asked.
"My father was a dough maker and I handled his shipments, all right?"
"Anywhich," Clerasil began, "Omnion is well on her way to taking control of this group. We're the senior members —"
"— by almost a whole month," Wierd commented.
"— and something has to be done."
"Like insult her pride. That's where she's weakest. She claims to have every artifact in the Book that we don't, right? Well, that's not quite true. . . ."
The original three approached Omnion. "Like your artifacts," Wierd Dough said to her. "Tell me, which ones do you have?"
Omnion stood and polished Hymenslayer in her left gauntlet of dexterity. "Oh, Queen Elhissa's nightingale, Arnd's invulnerable coat, Baba Yaga's hut, the crystal of the ebon flame, Yagrax's tome, the evil crown, orb, and sceptre of might . . ."
"How about the mace?"
"The mace. Cuthbert's +5 mace of disruption."
"Oh, that. Only a saintly cleric can use that. No, I don't have it; I suppose one of you does."
Clerasil shook his head. "None of us is a lawful-good priest. None of us even possesses it."
"Well, then where is it?" Omnion demanded.
Wierd Dough smirked. "In the possession of Sick Sword."
Omnion thought a moment, then nodded. "I'll get it by sunrise." She left the encampment.
"That was keen, Wierd Dough," Clerasil commented. "If she kills Sick Sword, we have no opposition, and if Sick Sword kills her, we have no competition. We win either way."
Ringman was awakened by Sick Sword's stirring on top of him. The sky was overcast, but it wasn't dark and he could tell it was about 2 a.m.. His ally and girlfriend was scratching some numbers into the ground.
"What are you doing?"
"Oh, sorry, did I wake you up? Yes, I did. You were dreaming about a city of gold and light."
"How'd you know that?"
She tapped one of her amulets. "Medallion of ESP with Empathy. Indispensable for lovemaking. Anyway, I'm calculating a certain half-elf's backstab damage. Let's see . . . d8 from longsword, +14 from strength, +50 from artifacts, and +6 from the weapon bonus is 71-78. 71 x 5 is . . . 355. I only have 339 hit points." She sighed. "She could kill me in one strike."
She got up, momentarily forgetting that Ringman was inside her Robe of Eyes with her. "I don't mind the robe," Ringman said, "It's kind of cozy. But do you have to have those stupid gray pebbles whirling around your head?"
"They add 50 to my psionic strength total. You wouldn't want me to be unable to throw a tower of iron will around you, wouldja?"
"No, I suppose not." He slipped out of her robe and into his adamantite plate mail. The armor felt awfully cold against his skin by comparison.
Of course, she has to be totally outside my field of vision to backstab me, and that's impossible with a robe of eyes on."
"Speaking of vision," Ringman said, looking off into the distance, "There's something strange going on with mine. Everything's color-coded."
"Oh, that. I cast an infrared vision spell on you before we dozed off. It lasts for two days, and I can rememorize it now anyway. You can see heat differences as bands of color. The offshoot of this is that you can see in the dark."
There was just the slightest whoosh of air, and a half-elf-shaped heat apparition appeared behind Sick Sword. All Sick Sword did was inhale a bit. ". . . and a good thing, too," Ringman realized. "Behind you!"
"I know," Sick Sword replied, staying perfectly still. Just as the half-elf lunged with her longsword, Sick Sword whirled around and parried it with the +6 dagger of wounding in her left hand. Since her armor class couldn't be reduced below -10 anyway, the sword hit; but she only took 75 damage points.
The half-elf gasped. "You survived."
"Correct, Omnion." Sick Sword drew her sentient blade, the one named after herself. It looked like a glowing blue variant of the broadsword belonging to a certain muscle man on Eternia. Ringman was making like a jack-rabbit for the sidelines. "And now, I'm gonna carve you up in one minute."
She lunged, and struck first, seeking to carry out her threat. She would have been out of luck if she'd aimed for her torso, groin, or upper arms, but her legs, forearms, and head weren't so well guarded. Neither the dagger strike nor the broadsword strike rolled a 1, so both of them hit and Omnion lost 71 hit points. The half-elf could still take over two hundred fifty points of damage, but the devastation of her opponent's two-weapon strike had impressed her.
Sick Sword, having lower speed factors than her adversary (a considerable advantage of being a weapons master in these situations) struck with dagger and sword again before Omnion. She got to do ten attacks per minute to Omnion's five, anyway. Her dagger hit-and-did 40 damage; but her sword somehow managed to miss. 'Oh no,' she thought, 'I've rolled a one! This is it. . . .'
Omnion struck with both hands, delivering a massive 145 damage points to Sick Sword's body. Ringman cringed in fear; the wounds were horrible. Normally, they'd both be healing half the damage they inflicted, but the wounding powers of their blades prevented that. Sick Sword had taken a total of 220 damage; another sword-dagger combination like that last one and she'd buy the farm. She had no other choice but to cast one of her 26 ninth-level spells.
"I wish," she chanted, "That all damage on my body be healed!" And then, it was.
Omnion practically dropped her sword. "You're more than a weapons mistress, aren't you?"
Sick Sword puzzled, "You mean you couldn't see what I did that day?"
"No, and no one in the Union wants to give details about the day you challenged them. They never hinted that 'Sick Sword' was also an archmage."
"And a high priestess," she bragged.
"A cleric?!? They're the worst! Anyway, you're too nearly an even match for me if I attack frontally." She grinned an evil smirk at that, albeit a lawful evil one. "See you later." Her second helm glowed purple for a moment, and she vanished.
There was a long, dead silence. Ringman approached Sick Sword's heavily-glowing-infra-red form cautiously. "Are you all right?"
Startled, Ringman took off his gauntlets and came closer, preparing to lay-on-hands. "What's wrong, what's the problem?"
Sick Sword stared up into the murky heavens. "She is." The cloudy weather displeased her. She took her adamantite holy symbol from around her neck and began waving it back and forth. "Omnion is more than an even match for me in one-on-one melee combat; and she'll never chance going up against me that way again." She lit a stick of incense. "She's going to find some way to ambush me."
"How, with all those protection devices you have?"
She was manipulating her prayer beads now. "There's a way through everything, Ringman. She'll find some obscure loophole in the Book of Infinite Wisdom that'll allow her to get by me. Or I could fall asleep — people have a tendency to do that, you know."
ingman thought for a moment. "You could plant a shrieker and use it for a burglar alarm."
Sick Sword chuckled. "No, no, shriekers wouldn't be able to see invisible objects."
"Then put a robe of eyes on it."
Sick Sword held his arm with her unoccupied hand. "My dear Ringman, she could see any such trap the moment she teleported in and blast it to fragments before it went off."
"Then the blast would wake you up."
"And she'd run around me invisibly and jam her sword through my kidneys."
"But that robe lets you see anything."
"Hmmm . . . I guess that's true. We'll have to move our camp, you know. She knows about this place now. And for your safety as well as mine, for the time being . . . you'd better not hang around me anymore."
Ringman got behind her and began massaging her back. "I want to be by your side every step of the way."
"Hon, if they locate you, then they locate me, too, and Omnion'll probably kill both of us."
"And if you're not around, what's to prevent them from capturing me and using me as bait?"
She finished waving her symbol, and pondered. "Good point. You'd better stick with me." She pointed to the sky. "Isn't it a beautiful night out tonight?"
It was true. The stars smiled down on them where there had been clouds only a few minutes before. The waning moon had already set, leaving only points of light in the crystal dome above their heads.
"The fifth element, perfectly hard ether," Sick Sword mused. "Sure wish I could have a battle suit made out of that stuff."
Ringman sat by her side. The threats were piling on worse and worse, and abruptly, he began humming "The Impossible Dream."
Sick Sword was nervous as a baby away from its mother. She had sent Ringman away on some superfluous errand to hunt down game, just so he wouldn't be there when the time struck. She looked at the sun; it was about half an hour past noon. The attack would come at any moment.
The day before, she had called upon Cuthbert's mace to grant her daily audience with the Dungeon Master itself. "When will Omnion or the Disgusting Characters attack?" she had asked. "At half past noon tomorrow," a voice had channelled back through the mace. Well, it was half past noon tomorrow, and she still wasn't quite ready, psychologically speaking.
"I don't have to worry about backstabbing," she told herself, "I've got my robe of eyes which allows me to see dust of disappearance and in a 360-degree arc. I think."
One more time, she drew out the Book of Infinite Wisdom. Hers was a copy she'd bought from a garage sale, with the words "Fire Elementals Suck" scratched into the efreet on the cover. Yes, she was right, but there was another stipulation: "A light spell thrown directly on a robe will blind it for 1-3 minutes."
Oh oh. Her clerical light spell took 24 seconds to cast, but how long did the magic-user spell take? It had been so long since she'd needed to use it; she hauled out her spell book.
"Lesse . . . hold portal; jump; light — ah, here it is. Level: 1, Range: 60 feet (or yards outdoors), Duration: 2 minutes/level, Components: verbal and somatic, Area of effect: 20 foot radius globe, Saving throw: none, Casting time: . . . six seconds."
Six seconds. A tenth of a minute. Faster than she could carve up anybody or throw any kind of devastating spell, even from a wand. And without her robe of eyes, anyone cloaked in dust of disappearance would be totally invisible, even to her permanent detect invisibility spell. What could defend against that?
Ah, yes, that was right, dust of appearance countered dust of disappearance. Maddeningly, she opened one of her portable holes and began digging through the contents. She found one of the ivory tubes containing the dust she had been looking for.
She was about to sprinkle it on the ground around her when nearby space bent and a female half-elf stepped through the rift.
Sick Sword froze. Omnion was indeed covered by disappearing dust. "I asked my artifacts about you, too," she said, and cast her light spell on Sick Sword's robe of eyes just as Sick Sword had feared.
But she was ready. The instant the spell was thrown, Sick Sword uncapped the tube containing her own magic dust and blew through the other end at where Omnion was. Unfortunately, she'd neglected to label her tubes; this wasn't dust of appearance, but dust of sneezing and choking.
But that would do just fine. It should incapacitate Omnion for 5-20 minutes, enough time for her robe of eyes to recover and for her to hold her breath, rush in, and carve Omnion up in one minute. Then she recalled one of her own necklaces, the one that was a staple of every disgusting character that allowed its wearer to adapt to any environment — including sneezing and choking dust. Omnion would be unaffected.
Sick Sword glanced around, terrified. Where was she? Where could she be? She spun 180 degrees and hacked at empty air. Where? Where? WHERE?!?
Actually, Omnion was right behind her. Hymenslayer plunged quite easily through Sick Sword's heart. She screamed slightly, and fell down dead.
Omnion was at the lifeless body instantly. First, she removed all her rings and set them in a big pile. That would insure that no regeneration would take place. Then, she took off her amulet of life protection and smashed it with her vorpal longsword of wounding. She could practically see the ki escaping and going to the first of the Seven Heavens. But in order to ensure her permanent demise, she would have to slay her soul as well. She smiled evilly, touched her amulet of the planes, and went through a wrinkle in the astral dimension. Heaven would be a hostile environment for her, but that was no problem.
Ringman had heard the noise and came running just in time to miss Omnion's exit. He stared down with terrified eyes at the prone weapons mistress, at the fatal, bloody wound rent through her robe of eyes, protection cloak, and white archmage robe. Instantly, he got to his knees beside her and listened for a pulse, hoping against hope that she was merely unconscious. But there was none, and his healing powers could do nothing to bring her back. He sat back on his heels, still hovering over her motionless form, ready to cry.
The hissing, crackling sound of a teleportation gate opening snapped him to attention. He drew his sword and axe; none of the Disgusting Characters were going to desecrate this body without getting through him first. In the direction the sound had originated, a shimmering curtain of light peeled back to reveal a figure clad in adamantite plate mail, carrying magic shield and hammer, wearing three layers of helms, and bearing a symbol around his neck that resembled a sextant. It was Clerasil; he approached with a mixed look of aloofness and concern.
Ringman clenched his expression. "Haven't you people done enough already?! She's already dead, for Heaven's sake!"
Clerasil's eyes opened a bit wider, and he upped his pace until he reached Ringman and the deceased Sick Sword. Ringman nervously held him at sword point, but the cleric only brushed the holy avenger aside and said, "That won't be necessary."
Clerasil bent down to observe the body. The paladin had to deal with four conflicting emotions at this moment, so he didn't interfere. The cleric replaced the rings on her fingers, then looked at the broken amulet with a start.
"My God III!" he exclaimed. "That half-elven bitch destroyed her amulet of life protection!"
"So what?" Ringman asked contemptuously.
Clerasil turned to face him, holding the gadget in his hand. "If this amulet was destroyed when Sick Sword's psyche was inside it, her soul is gone forever!"
Ringman dropped his weapons and his jaw.
"Unless . . ."
"We Disgusting Characters always have a back door installed on our life protection amulets that allows our souls to escape even if the amulet's destroyed. If she picked up on that practice she could still be alive in Heaven."
"You call that alive?"
Clerasil flicked his holy symbol. "Where I come from, yes!"
"Then . . . she could be re—" Damn, he almost let the word "resurrected" slip out in front of one of his senior nemeses. He had to give them as few ideas as possible; if she could be raised from the dead, then the Disgusting Characters might want to prevent that.
"She could be raised any time," the cleric noted, "But not if someone destroys her soul while it's in Heaven."
Omnion's eyes darted back and forth among the angry-and-scared new angelic recruits. She hadn't been there two minutes; this wasn't nearly enough time for Sick Sword to pass through the pearly gates.
Her mistake. She caught sight of the glowing saint-initiate just as she passed through into sanctuary. Well, she'd be damned if she'd let that stop her; she charged toward the gate, plowing through any angels that got in her path.
Saint Peter's monstrous form towered in front of the gate and blocked her. "Hold," his voice thundered. "None as diabolic as yourself may pass through this portal!"
"Cram it, Peter Imperfect," she sneered, and hacked him to pieces.
"If Omnion's gone to Heaven to destroy her soul," Clerasil said, readying his holy symbol, "Sick Sword's in big trouble. All her magic items and material components are down here."
"But Omnion's evil," Ringman noted. "She'd never survive in Heaven."
"Oh yeah? I made it through the Abyss pretty well, didn't I? Now stand back; if she's not brought back before Omnion gets to her, she's finished!"
"What? You mean your going to resurrect her?"
"No, raise her from the dead. It's a less exhausting spell, and it's faster to cast."
Ringman was aghast. [editor's note: no, not in the literal sense, you monster manual moron!] One of his mortal enemies was actually saving the eternal life of his closest friend and lover! He listened more closely, as the cleric was saying some things in Common besides the normal Latin verbal components. He caught snatches of, "Been so blind?", "Working for the wrong side all this time!", "Power for power's sake . . .", and "Hope I'm in time to undo what I've done.".
The streets of Heaven beneath Omnion were indeed paved with gold; then again, the streets of Hell were paved the same, so that made little difference. The whole place was just as her storybooks had depicted it: lots of mindless undead angels wearing white choir robes and brass rings held in place above their heads by bars going to the backs of their collars, big grassy fields that had been untended so long they were all choked out by weeds, and piped in harp music eking in from everywhere. The place would have made her vomit had she not had an 18 constitution. Where the Angel was Sick Sword?
Ah, there, with the armed security guards escorting her to the concorde. This was getting a little too schmaltzy for Omnion to take, but she consoled herself in the fact that once she'd sprayed Sick Sword's soul's non-corporeal blood all over the runway things would get more agreeable. Not wanting to let her get in that SST and take off, she scrambled over the heads of the waiting crowd holding Hymenslayer high above her head and yelling some incomprehensible get-out-of-my-way phrase.
Sick Sword looked back and gasped. She was completely unarmed, and couldn't cast any spells that required material components, including fireball and lightning bolt. She had to hold Omnion off somehow. Concentrating, she flexed her brain neurons into action and froze Omnion in a psychokinetic grip.
Omnion put her hands on her hips. "This would stop me if I didn't have a flying potion at 150% effectiveness permanently on me." She flew forward and countered the telekinetic force. The logo on the jet, "Trans Heaven Planelines," grew nearer and clearer. The force barrier Sick Sword was creating with her mind doubled in intensity every sixty seconds, but this gain wouldn't be rapid enough to prevent Omnion from flying through it, reaching her, and carving her up in one minute. Sick Sword's face rang with dread.
"Don't be too late," Clerasil commented as his spell neared completion. He pointed his finger at Sick Sword's body. "Don't be too LATE!" His arm recoiled, a spark ignited at his fingertip, and the spark duplicated itself over Sick Sword's heart.
There was no motion. Clerasil and Ringman stared in open-mouthed horror. She should at least be breathing by now! Her soul couldn't have been annihilated this soon; it couldn't have!
The body twitched slightly, and as though suddenly awaking from the climax of a nightmare, Sick Sword's eyes popped open. And all three of them let out a welcome sigh of relief.
Sick Sword's mind started churning almost instantly. She felt very tired; she hadn't been resurrected, just raised from the dead. The amount of time she'd been dead was a good indication of that, too. Ringman couldn't have raise-deaded her; he could barely cast three cure light wounds spells. He couldn't have retrieved a 9th-level cleric that fast. Only only one person alive she knew of could arrive that quickly and cast that spell. She strained to look over her shoulder, and found Clerasil exactly where she'd expected him to be.
"Why . . . did you save me?"
"Don't talk," Clerasil soothed her. "Just rest. You were almost annihilated."
"When . . . Omnion . . . finds out . . ."
As if on cue, the Heavens shook with the fury of a thousand Zeuses and lightning bolts resounded the word "NO!".
Clerasil snapped to attention, and nodded. "She's found out. C'mon, we've got to get you two out of here to a place where she can't find you." He glanced at the paladin. "Hmmm, no amulet. I'm afraid you're too much of a risk." He took the second in the stack of helmets from Sick Sword's head and placed it on Ringman's. "Concentrate on the town square," he instructed.
"Uh . . . okay."
"Now, go there."
So, in a flash of purple, he went. It was as simple as that.
Clerasil turned to Sick Sword. "Do you have any psionic strength left?"
"Tons of it."
"Great. Then teleport us out of here. Anyplace. Anyplace except town or Union headquarters."
"Right. How about . . ." Boink. ". . . the cracks of doom?"
Clerasil glanced around. "You teleported us to the interior rim of an active volcano?"
"First place that came to mind."
"Well, at least she won't find us here. She'll run out of her day's supply of teleport spells and psionic points long before she guesses to come here. I sure wouldn't have thought of it."
Sick Sword chuckled. "You don't have a 22 intelligence."
The Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters is continued in
part 2 of 3.
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