"Portable hole," Disgusting Sword read off the inventory sheet.
"Check," Ridiculous Sword replied, taking the folded piece of black hyperdimensional cloth from Sick Sword's bureau and stowing it in a trunk.
"Second portable hole."
"Check." Ridiculous Sword did the same to this facsimile.
"Fifty containers of dust of disappearance."
"Tentwentythirtyfortyfifty — check."
"Ring of earth elemental command."
Ridiculous Sword pulled the ring from Sick Sword's finger and threw it into the trunk. "Check. Ringman, you sure you don't want any of this stuff?"
"Huh, what?" Ringman awoke from his stupor. "Oh, no, no, I've got my limit as a paladin. Can't have more than four non-armor non-shield non-weapon magic items, you know."
Disgusting Sword shrugged. "We've never gone by that stipulation."
"You also got this way via robbing centaurs," Ringman noted. "Sorry, that lifestyle's not for me."
"Suit yourself. Ring of water elemental command."
"Check." The ring made a "ting" as it landed in the trunk.
"Plus six dagger of wounding."
"Plus six bastard sword of wounding."
"Mace of Cuthbert."
"Check. Hey, you think one of us ought to use that?"
Disgusting Sword pondered the idea. They were both lawful-good clerics with strengths of 18 or more, after all. "Well, we'll see. Maybe later. Hammer of thunderbolts."
"Arrow of slaying lawful-evil half-elven fighter/magic-user/thieves."
"Plus five longbow."
"Helm of brilliance."
Sick Sword's lifeless head lolled gently up, then down, as Ridiculous Sword took its bejewelled helmet off. Ringman couldn't bear to look anymore. "Check."
"Helm of teleportation."
She took the helmet underneath the first off her head. "Check."
"Helm of telepathy."
She took the third helmet off her head. "Check."
"Amulet of life protection."
Ridiculous Sword moved to the bureau and took out a charm-on-a-chain. Sick Sword hadn't needed the amulet's limited psionic protection when her now-artifact sword had given her total immunity to all forms of mental or psionic attack. And despite its namesake, Ridiculous Sword reassured herself, the amulet of life protection wouldn't have done any good against Gross Sword anyway. "Check."
"Reverse eyes of petrification."
Ridiculous Sword covered the spectacles with her hand so as not to look at them. "Check."
"Sphere of annihilation."
Ridiculous Sword calmly chucked the black ball of nothingness into the trunk. "Check."
"Wand of negation."
This item she was more careful with. "Check."
And the list went on and on. Altogether, 10 magic wands, 20 magic rings, 150 containers of magic dust, 3 magic helmets, 3 magic pairs of gauntlets, 17 magic ioun stones, 3 magic staves, 13 non-artifact magic weapons, and 45 other miscellaneous magic items completed the inventory of the late Sick Sword's magic item arsenal.
"And last but certainly not least," Disgusting Sword finished the list, "The Sick Sword."
"I AM THE SICK SWORD," the Sick Sword bellowed as Ridiculous Sword grabbed it.
"Oh, pite down," Ridiculous Sword silenced it. "Check."
She was about to toss it in the trunk, but she stopped herself. "You know, this weapon right here could do a lot of good in the right hands. Ringman, are you sure you —"
Ringman backed away emphatically. "Even if I did have room for it on my inventory, which I most definitely do not, you understand, I am not going to touch that sword again!"
Ridiculous Sword let the sword fall and put her hands on her hips. "Hey, wait a minute. You have four magic weapons, right?"
"Yeah, that's right. My holy sword, my +3 hand axe, my +1 bow and +1 and +3 arrows, and my —"
"And you have one suit of magic armor and one magic shield, right?"
"Well, yeah, but I was in too much of a hurry to put them on when I heard Gross Sw—"
"And what other magic items do you have?"
"Well, there's my ring of shooting stars," he counted one on his fingers, "My +3-in-a-5-foot-radius ring of protection," he counted two, "My +3 periapt of proof against poison," he counted three, "And my . . . and, my . . . my . . . uh . . ." His voice trailed off.
"You don't have a fourth magic item, do you?" Ridiculous Sword chuckled. "Ha! You'd been hauling around those two magic potions for so long that you forgot when you used them that they freed up two slots on your inventory."
"Oh, I remembered that, all right," Ringman defended himself, "It's just that I've been —"
"So preoccupied with the rest of the things going on in your life you forgot about it," Ridiculous Sword finished the sentence for him. "Well, now I'm reminding you. You can have one more magic item in your care." She indicated the overflowing trunk. "Well, now's your chance to pick one. These things might never get used again otherwise."
"No, no, I couldn't, I'm —"
"Afraid of taking anything that once belonged to your true love."
Ringman grimaced. "Well, yes, because then —"
"You'd feel like a vampire."
"WILL you stop doing that?! Just because you can read my mind doesn't mean I want you to!"
Ridiculous Sword nodded solemnly. "Sorry about that. I guess all the experience points in Central Earth wouldn't teach me respect."
"Anyhow," Disgusting Sword reached into the trunk, "How about her old helm of brilliance?"
"I already told you, I don't want —"
"Oh, come come now. It'll protect you like a double strength ring of fire resistance, it'll glow pale blue whenever undead are around, this pale blue glow'll do 1-6 points of damage to the undead per minute, you can produce flame at will, it'll turn your holy sword into a holy sword of flame, and you can fire up to ten prismatic sprays, twenty walls of fire, thirty fireballs, and forty light spells."
Ringman rubbed his fuzzy chin. This magic item did seem awfully useful. "Uh . . . uh, no. No, I couldn't. Really."
"Then how about this handy-dandy girdle of titan strength?" She held up the harness and added temptingly, "Plus 7 to-hit, plus 14 to dam-age!"
Hmmm, he thought. Compared to the normal +2 to-hit and +5 to damage that his 18/92 strength allotted him, 25 strength would certainly be an improvement. He recalled how much he'd enjoyed being super strong after imbibing that storm giant potion for the final battle against the IUDC, and that only gave him 24 strength. But that was only a power trip, he realized. "No. No super strength for me. There's enough of that in Central Earth."
Disgusting Sword shrugged. "Suit yourself. Hey, then how about a wand of negation? One zap from this wand can instantly neutralize any magic item it's pointed at 3/4 of the time. Or, in the same vein, a rod of cancellation might do wonders for you. It can instantly drain an item of all its magic powers just by touching it."
"They would be useful against Peter Perfect and his ilk. Listen, I'll tell you, one of the reasons I'm reluctant to take a fourth magic item is that my warhorse already has horseshoes of the zephyr and horseshoes of speed. I'd feel a little guilty if —"
"And you'd feel a little stupid if having that one extra magic item could have saved your skin the next time you clash with Peter Perfect," Ridiculous Sword butted in. "Besides, didn't you used to have a carpet of flying?"
"That was a very long time ago. I got rid of that years before I even met Sick Sword. And I have a fast warhorse anyway."
"Hey," Disgusting Sword resumed, "How about a rod of lordly might?"
"Doesn't that count as a weapon?"
"Not if the Dungeon Master isn't looking."
Ringman covered his eyes with his hands and shook his head.
"Her old amulet of life protection would make you immune to psionic blasts, and that's the only psionic attack mode that can affect you. Or that amulet of proof against detection and location would keep the bad guys from finding out where you were. Or . . ."
Ringman wasn't listening anymore. He was lost in thought. "That helm of brilliance sounds marvelous. Wearing that would be like being a fire god. But . . . titan strength, the ability to lift and carry 1500 pounds without even straining, smash open locked doors 9 times out of 10, successfully bend bars and lift gates 110% of the time, and get +7 to hit and +14 to damage." He rolled the words around in his head. "Plus 7 to hit and plus 14 to damage. Mmmmm. +7 to-hit/+14 damage.
"WHAT am I SAYING!" he suddenly blurted out. Disgusting Sword stopped rattling off item names. Ringman hyperventilated. "Look, I can't get involved in any power trips, no matter how tempting."
"Don't tell me you actually think your code of paladinhood prohibits that sort of thing!"
"No, no, no, power trips . . . power trips got the I.U.D.C. together in the first place. Power trips turned Gross Sword to chaos and evil. I don't want that to keep on happening to people, least of all to me." He grasped his holy sword by the hilt, which was still stuck point-first in one of the gaps between the stones in the floor, and pulled it out.
Or at least he tried to pull his sword out. It wouldn't budge.
"Oh, come on, holy avenger, we've been through this before. You're not sentient. You weren't forged by a wizard who looked like a red push-button telephone receiver. So stop playing that sword-in-the-stone bit and come on out."
He yanked again. The few inches of the blade still stuck in the masonry still refused to give.
"Maybe it likes being Sick Sword's tombstone," Disgusting Sword suggested.
"We're gonna move Sick Sword anyway," Ringman said as he strained with the stubborn longsword. "She'd stink up the keep if we didn't bury her. And we can't exactly cremate her while that permanent potion of fire resistance at 150% effectiveness is still in effect on her. Oh, stop playing dead, you stupid sword, let go!"
Ringman exhaled and dropped to his knees. It seemed there was only one way to get it out. "Pretty please?" he pleaded with the sword.
The holy avenger leapt from its place in the floor into Ringman's right hand. Ringman shook his head in tired disbelief.
Ridiculous Sword eyed the holy sword warily. "Are you sure that sword's not sentient?"
"Sure I'm sure. It's never so much as throbbed at me for the whole time I've owned it, and Peter Perfect said it was an ordinary holy sword."
"Lemme have it for a few minutes."
Ringman shrugged. "Okay." He handed her the sword. "What are you going to do."
She held the sword in her right hand, took out a scroll she'd had specially scribed for just such an occasion, and read the runes from the page. The scroll looked like it would take a while to read.
"She's identifying it," Disgusting Sword told him. "The identify spell itself takes ten minutes to cast, but she can pick up one property of your holy sword every six seconds after that."
"Say, what weapon do you use in your off hand?"
"You mean, what's in my left hand when I'm wielding my holy sword?" Ringman replied. "My shield, of course."
"No, I mean, what do you use in your left hand when you're not using your shield."
"Oh. Well, when Peter Perfect splintered my old +4 shield I had to use my magic hand axe in my left hand."
"I see. And just how magic is your hand axe?"
"Plus three. Why?"
"Well, you can use a dagger, right?"
"Well, yeah, I have —"
"So why not trade that old +3 hand axe in for Sick Sword's +6 dagger of wounding?"
Ringman opened his mouth in a half-stupor. "A plus . . . six . . . dagger . . . of wounding?" he whispered. Then, in his normal voice: "Hmmph, it's bad enough she was ever able to buy such a weapon in the first place. Can you imagine me walking around with a pure adamantite dagger that leaves unhealable wounds?"
"And . . . you're sure you won't want that girdle of titan strength?"
Ringman stood up and put his hands behind his back. "I think," he mused as he strolled toward the window, "That I would rather take in the view of the surrounding forest than wear a girdle of titan strength."
Disgusting Sword glared at him out of the corner of her eye. "Are you sure you're really our father?"
Ringman glanced solemnly over his shoulder at her, and after a few seconds replied, "Are you sure you're really my kids?"
He looked out over the fields in the late-afternoon sun for a long time, never so much as flinching. Never so much as looking back at his first daughter, whom his last question had hurt. It was only Ridiculous Sword's voice ten minutes later that broke him out of his trance.
"I think I've found something," she said, putting the sword down. She would have been quite exhausted had not that spell come from a scroll instead of herself.
"Oh?" Ringman turned toward her, only half-interested.
"Your sword has no intelligence in the usual sense of sword intellect. However, it is sentient, in a way." She handed the holy avenger back to Ringman.
Confused, Ringman carefully took the sword in both hands. He viewed it in a totally different light now. "How . . . is it sentient?"
"It has one special power, in addition to being a run-of-the-mill +5 holy longsword."
'Run-of-the-mill holy sword?' Ringman thought. "Um, what power is that?"
"If you embed it in stone, it won't come back out unless you say, 'Pretty please'."
Ringman rode rather slowly back to his own castle. Disgusting Sword and Ridiculous Sword could straighten things out at his late girlfriend's keep on their own.
His holy sword hung from his belt as it had on that hurried journey over there. He had firmly decided not to take any magic items from Sick Sword's inventory home with him, so there was no helm of brilliance capping his head or girdle of titan strength circumscribing his waist. However, there was one charge of Sick Sword's that he did feel obliged to look after, and it sat on the saddle behind him.
"My master's gone," the brownie sobbed. It had taken a long time for him to get over the shock of having the mental cord between himself and Sick Sword snap apart. Familiars always took a while to recover from the loss of their master. Now his crying had subsided to a gentle evening shower in the middle of the forest.
"I know how you feel," Ringman commented. "Believe me, I know how you feel, . . . uh, what's your name?"
The half-pixie dried one of his eyes with his index finger. "Sick Sword always called me 'the brownie'."
"She . . . she never even asked you your name?"
"Naah, she was usually too busy, and most of the time I was astrally projected so I wouldn't get hurt." He gazed skyward, then out at the forest. His first home had been in a forest much like this one. "The astral plane was an awfully drear place; but at least I had her thoughts to keep me company."
"Did you have a name among the brownies?"
"Well, yeah, my folks and all my friends used to call me 'Homer' before I got recruited to be Sick Sword's familiar."
"So . . . you left your family and friends behind then."
"Yeah, but at least I got this in the bargain." He held up a dimly glowing short sword. "It's made of pure adamantite."
Ringman chuckled slightly. "So what around here isn't?"
"Did . . . did you used to have family and friends too?"
"You mean, before I became a paladin? Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I did. My father was a mason, you see; in fact, that was the family trade, fitting and mortaring stonework. Of course, like everyone in this culture I learned the family trade too, but my father knew somebody who had connections with the Knights' Guild, and that if I trained hard enough I could enter the service of King Whatshisname the Seventy-Fifth. So I went to knight school —"
"Couldn't you have gone in the daytime?"
Ringman grimaced. "That's an old pun. Anyway, I made it through knight training, entered the king's service, and eventually got selected to be one of the elite palace knights. They said it had to do with certain rare qualities that were determined at birth.
"Anyhow, they gave me this book to learn called 'The Code of Paladinhood.' Only problem was that at the time I couldn't read, so I had to learn it by rote. Well, I did learn the paladin's code, and the instant I finished reciting it before the Knights' Guild I gained all these weird powers. And pretty soon, I got assigned to be guardian of the town I'm still living in."
Homer rubbed his chin for a second. "But you still haven't told me about your family and friends."
Ringman thought for a long moment. He was looking down at nothing in particular. "Maybe that's because . . . I've been trying not to remember them."
They rode on through the forest in silence.
Now that was something you didn't see every day, the first guard thought. Rarely did little boys ever visit The Dungeon, and even then they usually weren't wearing robes of eyes. Still, he had his duty to uphold, so he straightened his scale mail, drew his broadsword, hefted his shield, and asked, "Who goes there?"
The boy grinned and parted open his robe of eyes on one side, then opened the black robe of the archmagi underneath so that both guards could see the dagger sticking out of his belt-sheath. The tiny sliver of the blade that was exposed to sight glowed a dim blue.
The first guard nudged the second out of his nap with his elbow. The second guard rubbed his eyes to resolve the very dangerous looking little boy stalking toward them.
The first guard pointed his sword at the kid. "Halt and identify yourself! Who are you?"
The boy stopped four feet away from him and narrowed his eyes until he stared out of slits. "Your worst nightmare."
The second guard drew his sword as the first one gasped and tightened his posture. It wasn't very easy to move in scale mail. It was, however, very easy to move in a robe of eyes and a robe of the archmagi, particularly if you happened to be a 17th-level monk and a 60th-level weapons master under the influence of a potion of speed at double normal effectiveness. The boy's hand flashed out, snatched the broadsword from Guard Number One, and squeezed until the blade broke in half.
Startled, Guard Number Two swung his sword around in a crescent arc, aiming for the kid's left shoulder. Before he knew what happened, the boy had drawn his dagger with his left hand, sliced up through the air, and cut off the guard's right hand.
"OWWWWWWW!" the guard screamed, slumping to the ground and clutching his right wrist below the stump just as hard as he could. It didn't stop the slow trickle of blood.
The first guard said some interjection in lawful-neutral and scampered away as fast as he could. The second guard wasn't about to stop the youth from getting in The Dungeon if he wanted in that badly. He couldn't have stopped him anyway.
'That's what I like about being chaotic evil,' Gross Sword thought as he walked through the entrance, 'You can do anything you want.'
"Well well," Wild Max said when he glimpsed Gross Sword walking into the visitors' arena, "What have we here?"
"It's a boy!" declared Rango.
"A boy wearing a robe of eyes!" Da Bad Dude observed.
"And a black robe of the archmagi," Dirk the Destructive added.
"And holding," Rango examined the dagger in his left hand, "A +6 unholy dancing frost-brand defender anti-sun blade of wounding, sharpness, throwing, thunderbolts, venom, life stealing, slaying everything, contradisruption, bronze dragon slaying, brass dragon slaying, copper dragon slaying, gold dragon slaying, silver dragon slaying, green dragon slaying, blue dragon slaying, speed, final word, and nine lives stealing."
A fire leapt up from the dagger's hilt and consumed the blade. "You forgot flame-tongue," the Gross Dagger complained.
"Oh, how stupid of me," Rango said.
"Frost-brand and flame-tongue at the same time?" Da Bad Dude wondered.
"Humph," Gross Sword humphed. "Hmm. Ha. Ha ha. HA! HA HA HA HA HO HO HO HO HO! HARDEHARHARHAR!!"
"Hey," Wild Max sneered, "What's so funny?!?"
"You call yourselves Disgusting Characters?!? HAH! I spit on your feeble attempts of disgust! PTOOI!"
"Well, what do you expect?!" Dirk the Destructive said defensively. "We've been stripped of our magic items, our psionic powers, and our dignity. Why, back in the days of the Union, we could —"
"DO NOTHING! Your pathetic Union was defeated by a bunch of wimps as weak as yourselves!" He reached into one of his portable holes, pulled out his three magic helms, and stacked them on his head where they belonged. "Why, my mother could defeat your most powerful member."
"Oh yeah? Who's your mother, kid, Sick Sword?!"
"As a matter of fact, yes."
That got their attention.
"Or at least she was until today. Now she's nothing."
Rango shrugged. "Well, don't look at any of us. We didn't have anything to do with it."
"Not that we're sorry to see her go," Wild Max gloated.
"Of course not. I killed her and evaporated her soul."
All four pairs of ex-IUDC-members' eyes bugged out. Then slowly, one by one, they began applauding their boy hero. Gross Sword bowed.
"Kiddo," Da Bad Dude said amid the mounting cheers, "You've just got yourself four followers for life."
"Followers?" Gloss Sword asked rhetorically. He'd expected someone to suggest that, but turned the word into a question anyway for dramatic effect. "Oh, I'm not interested in followers. You four are going to bow down and worship me."
The cheering stopped instantly.
"Or I will kill each and every one of you."
A purple shimmer in the middle of the room broke the mood. The ex-Disgusting-Characters all wiped their brows in relief until they saw who it was stepping out of the purple shimmer.
"I thought I might find you here, Gross Sword," Ridiculous Sword said.
"Well, sister dear," Gross Sword smiled chaotic-evilly, "Long time no see. Too bad about dear old mom, eh?"
"You've killed your last prime material being, Gross —"
"And she might have survived, too, had she ever bothered to draw the 'fates' card from a deck of many things. Tch tch tch."
Very calmly, she said, "Defend yourself, brother," and charged at him at 12 288 feet-per-six-seconds.
Gross Sword's Gross Broadsword deflected Ridiculous Sword's Ridiculous Hand Axe with no trouble at all. Of course, the clap of thunder that rose out of the weapon-to-weapon contact was a bit unnerving. "I always have," Gross sword replied to her last instruction.
This time, it was Ridiculous Sword's Ridiculous Broadsword's turn to parry Gross Sword's Gross Dagger, which it did quite well. With a little guidance from its disgustingly accurate owner and another very loud thunder clap, of course.
"Hmmm," Gross Sword said in between sword hacks, "Not bad for an amateur."
Ridiculous Sword glanced around at the cells around her and their terrified occupants. Each weapon-to-weapon thunderbolt probably brought them that much closer to deafness. She would have to take the battle outside. Breaking off from the fray, she ran out through the entrance doorway, past the wounded guard, and into the elysian fields.
Gross Sword ran out as far as the de-handed guard in the doorway, then stopped. "Gee, too bad," he said very loudly, "If you won't engage me I guess I'll just have to kill him instead!"
Ridiculous Sword had to get his attention, and fast. "Gross Sword sleeps with his Teddy bear!" she teased, and scampered insultingly away.
"I do not!" the nine-year-old disgusting boy replied. "And besides, he's a Teddy dragon-turtle." He charged after her.
They clashed again. And again. Their weapons sent peals of thunder echoing from the far-off peaks. And neither of them got hit.
"I see," Gross Sword said over the prevailing thunder, "That the Dungeon Master hasn't retracted that old limitation requiring you to roll a natural 20 to hit anyone who's armor class -17 or better."
"Don't play dumb with me," Ridiculous Sword replied just as audibly. "The Dungeon Master let us add our to-hit bonuses into those 'extended twenties' on the attack matrices long ago. Our armor classes are just so good that we can't hit each other anyway."
They couldn't even hit each other by surprise or from behind, either, as they eventually discovered. Their rear armor classes were -45, not counting their protections from evil/good.
Clang, clash, the skirmish continued. Clang, clang, clang, shink, kssh, kssh, shunk, pshank — they could have knocked each other unconscious and never hit each other. They were hit-proof even in their sleep. This was getting them nowhere.
"This is getting us nowhere," Ridiculous Sword commented.
"Who cares? This is the most fun I've had in hours!"
Sparks flew from their weapons, dusty roads and elysian fields got trampled underfoot, a few people and some forest creatures in the vicinity went deaf, and still they hadn't a scratch on them. Neither of them dared to use any of their "slay living" or "finger of death" spells, both because they'd easily make their saving throws and because any spells they cast at each other would set up a resonating field between their rings of spell turning. It was a stalemate, pure and simple.
And finally, even Gross Sword got tired of playing this silly game.
"I'm tired of playing this silly game. I think I'll go wipe out an upper or lower plane instead."
"No!" Ridiculous Sword accidentally gasped.
Gross Sword smiled. "You'll see me around again. On one plane or another." And with that, he vanished.
Ridiculous Sword let her weapons drop down by her side, and retrieved her Ridiculous Dagger and Ridiculous Longsword from out of the air. Being weapons of dancing, the dagger and longsword had been doing their part independent of her. Then again, Gross Sword had been doing his part independent of her since before he was born. She wished she knew what had made him go wrong, she wished one of those commune spells or audiences with the Dungeon Master or Ollamh bards would have let her in on the secret. Something about spraying an evil seed was all she'd ever picked up.
But first, she had to warn the other planes of what might soon happen to them. Gross Sword could attack anyplace at any time, but his most likely targets would be those planes that were lawful good. After all, he could goad her the most by attacking a saintly plane, and his own alignment was diametrically opposed to law and good anyway. That narrowed his choices down to the three levels of Arcadia, the seven Heavens, and the Twin Paradises. Twelve planes to choose from, and Gross Sword could strike at any one of those. Well, she had better get st—
No, there was a thirteenth plane she'd almost neglected to include: the back of the east wind, where Bahamut's palace stood. The lord of all good dragons; wouldn't his head make an excellent trophy to hang on Gross Sword's wall. That would have to be Ridiculous Sword's first stop.
"Bahamut!" Ridiculous Sword called out. There was no answer. Surely, the one platinum dragon could hear her; his palace was barely a hundred yards away. Even if the palace was invisible to normal sight. She approached a bit closer, and called for him again: "BA-hamut!"
An old hermit creaked up to her from a nearby brook down a hill. There were seven canaries flitting around his head. "Are you looking for the platinum dragon?" the hermit asked.
"Oh, there you are," Ridiculous Sword said nonchalantly. "Hi, Bahamut. We have to talk."
The hermit studied her closely, then gasped and bugged out his eyes. "It's you!" he exclaimed, and as he said this his body underwent a startling transformation. His neck elongated and thickened, his arms and legs elongated and thickened, his head elongated and thickened, his torso elongated and thickened, his previously non-existent tail elongated and thickened, and his skin turned from wrinkled dry tan to shining platinum. Within seconds, the hermit was a huge ancient dragon once more.
His canaries turned into huge ancient gold dragons too, but that was what usually happened anyway. "Ridiculous Sword!" Bahamut said, quivering in awe. He bowed in that way that only dragons can. "I'm honored by your presence! Tell me, what brings you to the back of the east wind?"
"I came here to warn you about my brother, Gross . . . hey, wait a minute. Didn't Wierd Dough kill you for your experience points?"
"Oh, phhh, that was only my Bahamut android, programmed to act like me in every detail. So what is this warning about your brother?"
"He's finally flipped," Ridiculous Sword exhaled. "I saw it coming for a long time, 'though I'm not sure why. He said he wanted to wipe out an upper or lower plane, and he's fully capable of following through on that promise. This place is his most likely target. And so are you."
Bahamut shook his tremendous mane and swallowed hard in that way that only huge ancient platinum dragons can. "And . . . what can I do to protect myself and my court?"
Ridiculous Sword glanced downward. "I wish I knew."
And that's when the air behind Bahamut glowed purple for a moment.
"Holy feces," Ridiculous Sword cursed, "He's here." She drew her Ridiculous Hand Axe and her Ridiculous Broadsword and ran around behind the dragon lord.
Gross Sword only smiled and sprinted in a wide arc out to Bahamut's right side. Ridiculous Sword followed at the same impossible breakneck speed, but there was really no way she could catch up to him. Not unless he made a mistake.
He seemed to be making a mistake, Ridiculous Sword noticed. He seemed to be running too slowly. Ridiculous Sword was actually catching up with him. She knew he had the same set of artifact powers and the same running speed as she did — their infernal balance of power insured that — so then why would he run slow enough for her to close the gap?
It was not Gross Sword that had made the mistake. It was Ridiculous Sword who had. She was so intent on catching up with her brother that she didn't think that maybe he wanted her to catch up. Just as Ridiculous Sword was nearly upon him, Gross Sword doubled back and headed for the platinum dragon at full tilt.
Ridiculous Sword cursed herself for falling into that trap, leapt, executed a midair flip, and sprinted back toward her brother and the dragon lord she had been trying to protect. She wasn't closing in on Gross Sword this time, though.
But Bahamut wasn't going to take this sitting still. He knew about disgusting characters' armor classes, so clawing and biting were out of the question; besides, they had far too many hit points to kill in just a few blows. Instead, he opened his cavernous maw and exhaled a cloud of vapor at the boy-demon charging him. The seven gold dragons by his side also breathed seven cones of fire at the light-brown-haired youth in case that might do any good.
If by some miracle of nature Gross Sword had managed to roll a "1" on a 20-sided die against Bahamut's vaporous breath, he would have assumed gaseous form for two whole hours. As it was, though, he was neither vaporized nor fried; the flames all bounced off his fireproof Other Bracer of Irresistible Damage anyway. He closed to terrifyingly close range with Bahamut, glanced over his shoulder at his sister (who was only 10 yards behind him), jumped, whirled around in midair, landed on the back of Bahamut's neck, and poised his Gross Broadsword threateningly beneath the platinum dragon's chin. "FREEZE!" he commanded.
Ridiculous Sword hesitated. The dragon lord was motionless as stone.
"One more step, Ridiculous Sword, and Bahamut here gets it!"
Ridiculous Sword eyed her brother warily. He had already killed his own mother; he was certainly capable of following through with his threat. She wondered why he hadn't just killed Bahamut outright.
"Now, throw down your weapons," Gross Sword ordered.
'So that's his plan,' Ridiculous Sword thought. 'Make me disarm myself, then he can kill me and Bahamut both.' "You'd kill him anyway," she said, and leapt through the air toward him.
"You're right," Gross Sword replied, "I would." And the instant before Ridiculous Sword reached him, he stuck his sword into Bahamut's throat and did 345 points of damage. And that wasn't even counting the life stealing, slaying, venom, severing, or disintegration effects of the weapon. Bahamut slumped headless to the ground.
Gross Sword liked the feeling of that so much he killed one of the seven huge ancient gold dragons as well before he used his amulet of the planes to transport him out.
There wasn't a human or gold dragon present who wasn't screaming, crying, or moaning.
Ringman was unaware of what had just transpired at the back of the east wind. He had his own dilemma to worry about.
He saw it coming the moment he'd parked his horse. A lone figure, this time confidently without its own warhorse, stalked slowly into town toward Ringman's small castle. The glowing plate mail, the jewelled helmet, and the sheathed Prometheus dangling from its side left no question as to who it was that had decided to bug them again. "Quick, Homer!" Ringman instructed the brownie, "To the second floor!"
"But what's being one floor higher gonna do against Peter Perfect?" Homer asked as he clambered up the stairs behind Ringman.
"If I'm right," the 9th-level paladin explained as he reached the second story, "Everything." He pointed. "There's a closet marked 'Non-magical weapons' along the south wall. It it, there'll be a stack of things that look like javelins. Grab all of those javelin-looking things you can and bring them to the east parapet."
"Right," Homer said, and got going. He was too scared of Peter Perfect to argue.
Ringman went to the north parapet and unlashed a rather large war engine on wheels. "I put this here to ward off attack from the north," He mumbled to himself as he started to push the apparatus. "Peter Perfect would have to attack from the east."
He was having an Acheron of a time getting this thing to move on those old, rotten wooden wheels. He wished now that he had taken that girdle of titan strength; then he could just carry this whole mess to the east parapet. But he was making pretty good time anyway, considering that the left wheel only turned about 1/3 of the time.
"Oh RIIING-mannn!" Peter Perfect's voice echoed from far-off just as Ringman finished dragging the artillery engine onto the parapet. "Where ARE you, Ring-mannn? Come out and pla-ay! It's that time of the month again!"
Ringman grabbed the front end of the gismo and pulled until it pointed more or less at Peter Perfect. Homer was just emerging from the hallway, carrying a very large armful of javelin-looking things. He dropped one about every ten feet. Ringman nodded at the brownie, then took hold of the gigantic rubber band that spanned the front of the device and stretched it across a large metal tong three feet back from the apparatus' front.
"Now what do I do?" Homer asked as Ringman got behind the machine.
"Load one of the missiles into the firing slot, just in front of that rubbery thing as soon as I crank it all the way back." He grasped the two levers connected to opposite sides of a toothed wheel and began to turn it. Several gears and pulleys later, the metal tong keeping the rubber band in place pulled back even farther. Ringman continued to crank and the rubber band continued to retract.
"What is this thing?" Homer asked.
"It's a ballista," Ringman said with evident strain in his voice. It was getting harder and harder to turn the crank.
Peter Perfect interrupted them again, this time closer. "Which part of your body shall I cut off this time? How about your left arm? Or a leg? Or a different extremity?"
Ringman ignored him. "Since I learned how, I've been reading the Book of Infinite Wisdom a little myself," he explained. "I found this little gem in the construction and siege heading. So, with a little help from Sick Sword — before she threw me out of her life — I got hold of a +1 ballista. Peter Perfect's in for a nasty surprise."
"Hey, too bad about your little girlfriend, Ringboy," Peter shouted once more. "At least you won't have her ordering you around the castle to wash the dishes, right?"
Homer smiled expectantly as he loaded the first spearlike missile into the firing track. Ringman took his seat as the firer and grabbed the handles which allowed him to aim. Since this was a magic ballista, the swivel bearings would never rust, and so despite his difficulty in moving the ballista to this position its aiming mechanism worked smooth as glassteel. He poised his thumb atop the right handle's release switch, lined up Peter Perfect in the built-in crosshairs, and let him have it.
The missile streaked through the air and shattered to flinders against Peter Perfect's chest. "Ho ho, Ringman," he laughed, "You're going to have to do better than that!"
Ringman whacked himself over the forehead. "I would have to forget about that accursed Coat of Arnd. He's totally invulnerable from his neck down to his thighs. Reload for me again after I crank it back; I'm going to have to aim for his legs."
Homer shrugged. "Sure thing, uh, boss." Ringman had already set the rubber band back on the metal flange and was hurriedly working the crank.
Peter Perfect trudged ever-closer. He was less than two hundred yards away now. "I never thought that the 'great and powerful' Ringman would resort to throwing things at me!"
Homer had the ballista loaded, and Ringman centered Peter Perfect in his sights. He aimed just a tad lower this time, putting the crosshairs on his right thigh rather than his torso, and fired. The rubber band tossed the projectile forward, the ballista rattled back-and-forth, the black streak of the missile lunged across the intervening distance, and a javelin-looking thing pierced right through Peter Perfect's adamantite-alloyed thigh guard and impaled his right leg.
"ARRRRGH!" Peter screamed, clutching at the shaft. "How could you possibly have hit me?! I'm armor class -20!"
"Think again, you poor excuse for a paladin!" Ringman shouted. "According to page 109, left-hand column, paragraph 4 of the Book of Infinite Wisdom, 'BALLISTA TARGETS . . . ARE ALWAYS CONSIDERED TO BE AC 10 IF EXPOSED TO SIGHT.'!"
"Armor . . . class . . . ten?!?" Peter worried.
Ringman had another missile loaded in less time than anyone in his right mind would think he was capable of. "Fire!" he shouted, aiming for Peter's other leg.
Peter Perfect saw it coming and tried to dodge. His shield and dexterity were totally useless in this situation; he could only hope that by not being a static target he would incur some to-hit penalty on Ringman. Penalty or not, the missile still hit, and now Peter had a wooden pole sticking out of his left leg.
"Ouch!" Peter ouched, hopping from leg to leg. Either leg was equally painful to walk on. His invulnerability had not protected him here, so he figured that that blasted Ringman must be using a magic ballista or something. He heard the sound of a turning ratchet; Ringman was reloading again. Confound it, and he only had 188 hit points too. Sure, each hit only did 1-11 damage points to him (they'd be doing 3-13 if not for his permanent protection from normal missiles spell), but how long could he hold out before Ringman got that lucky strike to his head? He had only one alternative as far as he could tell: get out of there, and get out fast.
And so, with a purple glow from his second magic helmet, Peter Perfect teleported out.
"All right!" Homer shouted, "We did it!" He held up his hand.
Ringman slapped the brownie's hand a high-five, and joined him in rejoicing. "Yeah, we did it! VICTORY! . . . for now."
"Defeat," Ridiculous Sword said as she solemnly lowered Bahamut's corpse into the ceremonial dragon burial ring, "For now." There would be no cremation, no funeral pyre; dragon skin was too valuable to waste.
Two small bronze dragons and one normal-sized young gold dragon lowered the slain gold dragon's body down beside Bahamut's. There were tears in all their eyes, but the young gold dragon seemed ready to burst.
A silver dragon took faltering steps towand the two, and laid headstones next to them. "Bahamut," the first one read, "Lord of all good dragons." The second one read: "Samuel, of Bahamut's court."
"G-g-goo'bye, dad," the young gold dragon wept by Samuel's remains. Then, he closed his eyes and recited one of the gold dragons' axioms: "You shall lie more peacefully . . . that you have furthered Bahamut's ideal."
And with that, nearly every one of the hundreds of metal-colored dragons who had gathered there burst into tears. The six huge ancient gold dragons that had been Bahamut's court most of all. Bahamut was Life to each and every one of them.
"First Saint Paul," Ridiculous Sword recounted, "Then our mom, and now Bahamut. I swear, Gross Sword, I'll not rest until you've been defeated. I'll find a way. No one is totally invulnerable, not you, not I, not anyone. Even if it means my own life and soul, I'll stop you."
"Bahamut!" the saurine voices around her wailed. "Oh Bahamut, Bahamut, Bahamut!"
The Sick Kids is continued in part 3.
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