The Sick Kids


Roger M. Wilcox

(Originally begun on April 2, 1987)

part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4


Sick Sword nursed her baby daughter in one arm and her Sick Sword in the other.  Disgusting Sword was quite a name to be born with, but she was worth it.  After all, she would never have even been born had not the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters brought Sick Sword and Ringman the paladin together.

Ringman entered from a nearby room and smiled at the sight.  About a year ago, Sick Sword had moved the small keep she'd gained from the Deck of Many Things to the same clearing in which she and Ringman had had their first romantic interlude, and the sunlit trees sparkled gaily through the portal spells — er, windows.  This place hadn't seen any combat in its life, and Ringman always liked being able to walk around without having to wear +5 plate mail.

"Do you know what day this is?" Sick Sword asked as she simultaneously carried on a telepathic conversation with the Sick Sword.

"It's Tuesday," Ringman chuckled in reply.

"Mm hmm.  It was also one year ago this date that the I.U.D.C. was completely disbanded."

"Oh, that's right!  It is, isn't it?  And it's also the first anniversary of Omnion's death."

"Thank goodness you got rid of her, too.  She was a real pain.  I'm just sorry that God II doesn't condone going to the outer planes and destroying someone's soul, otherwise I'd —"

"— But you wouldn't want to lose your alignment status, now would you?" Ringman assured her.

"Mm, I s'pose not.  I just don't like the thought of her taking over Hell, or coming back as a 49th-level arch-lich, or plane-travelling to any of the other outer planes and wreaking any more havoc."

Ringman hadn't heard of this last one.  "She can do that?"

"Well, not for another 99 years; and even then she couldn't get away with much.  Most of her power lay in her magic items, and they've all been stored away in The Dungeon."

"Uh, you do mean a few levels below The Dungeon, don't you?"

"Yeah, yeah, well, it's all the same place," Sick Sword agreed as she put down her Sick Sword.  "I had to do something with that old freehold of mine, didn't I?  And what better use is there for stone walls and adamantite bars than to hold all the surviving Union members?"

"Ah yes.  Wild Max, the Grandfather of Assassins; Rango, the 17th-level ranger; Dirk the Destructive, the 20th-level anti-paladin; Da Bad Dude, the 31st-level evil illusionist; and that dastardly 20th-level 'paladin' Peter Perfect.  I hope I never see any of 'em again."

"Without their magic items and stripped of their psionic powers, they're just as harmless as 31st-level kittens."

Ringman suppressed a shudder and decided to change the subject.  "So, what were you discussing with your sword just now?"

'He's getting pretty perceptive,' Sick Sword noted.  "I was just seeing how well it was doing in the major benign powers department."

"And how many major powers does it have now?"

"It's up to five.  Two more and I get another prime power."

Ringman shook his head and snorted a disbelieving chuckle as he turned and walked out of the room.  "I always thought it took more than a year for something to become an artifact," he muttered.

The Sick Sword's rate of power gain was pretty impressive, she figured.  "I have eight extraordinary powers and eight special purposes," the Sick Sword had told her.  "I'm almost an artifact right now.  Why not let me go that last extra step and become a real artifact?"  She had agreed, but she also made sure that the sword picked up enough malevolent and side effects to keep its personality score below hers.  The sword, therefore, now had "alignment of possessor permanently changed to that of item" and "user has limited omniscience" as well as bestowing total immunity to all forms of mental and psionic attack.

She fingered Disgusting Sword's chin lightly, and the baby replied with "Hi mommy, you feel nice."  Age 3 months was a little late to start speaking, but she would catch up.  She'd need all the skills she could muster if she were to become as powerful as Sick Sword wanted her to be.

And then again, she thought as she rubbed her belly, if Disgusting Sword didn't measure up, there was always the next child she was pregnant with.


"YOU!!" Rango screamed, clawing through the adamantite bars.  "YOU'RE the one who got me into this mess!  You ought to be in one of these cells just as much as any of us!!"

Clerasil the 38th-level high priest maintained his smugness.  "If you recall, I changed my mind."

"Yeah, right, and I suppose none of the other Union members gave you AAANNYYY peer pressure to stay in the group!"

"That's right."

"That's because you were away from headquarters when you defected!!"

"True, true.  But Wierd Dough wasn't away from headquarters."

"He was also nearly fried by that half-elven ultra-arch-devil!"

"Koenieg, Middle Monk, and Melnic the Loud thought the risk was worth taking."

"My God IV, man, Wierd Dough didn't even let me IN on what was going on!!"

"You knew about them later.  Omnion was practically screaming their names out at every turn, from what I hear.  You could always have come over to the Right Side."


Clerasil, in the most insulting gesture he could dream up, grinned at him and left without another word.

"Looks like Rango hasn't calmed down yet," Wierd Dough the 49th-level arch-mage commented when Clerasil joined him.

"Yeah, yeah, and he's sort-of right."  Clerasil was looking slightly down and away.  "We did make the Union in the first place, after all."

"Hmmph.  Don't think Peter Perfect wasn't instrumental in that too."

Koenieg the 14th-level Great Druid broke his druidic silence.  "It is very convenient for you, then, to have Peter Perfect to dump all of your blame and guilt on."

Wierd Dough blinked at that.  Clerasil only looked down and away even more.

Middle Monk the Grand Master of Flowers, meanwhile, approached Da Bad Dude's cell.  "How ya doin', Da Bad Dude?"

The illusionist growled.  "If I had my spell books right now, I'd cream you."

Middle Monk folded his arms.  "No you wouldn't."

"Okay, then," Da Bad Dude decided, "If I had my spell books and my psionic powers, I'd cream you!"

"No you wouldn't."

"Well, then, if I had my spell books, and my psionic powers, and my magic items, I'd cream you!"

"No you wouldn't."  Middle Monk turned and walked away.


Middle Monk rejoined the other anti-Disgusting-Characters.  Melnic the loud the Magna-Alumnae bard looked around.  "So, why isn't Sick Sword on these little prison tours any more?"

"She says it's because she doesn't believe in laughing at the prisoners," Wierd Dough said, "Which is ridiculous because everybody likes to gawk at the bad guys.  Actually, she hasn't been around recently because —" he made a cradle out of his arms "— she has a little ga-ga to take care of."

Clerasil shook his head.  "I told her not to take off that ring of protection."

"Aah, she probably wanted it that way.  She is a mortal human after all, and she does have to worry about the next generation."

Clerasil cocked his head to one side.  "So are you."

"Er, um, yes, well, ahem, you see, I haven't had . . . uh . . . much time for family life recently.  Yeah, that's it, not much time."

"Oh?" said Middle Monk.  "You seemed to have plenty of time for that cute blond apprentice sorceress last —"

"That's different!" Wierd Dough stammered.  "She needed help learning her . . . um, somatic technique."

"I'll bet.  What did you teach her to cast, a sleep spell?"

"Well, you're just jealous because you couldn't score with any of the female recruits in your monastery."

Clerasil intervened.  "You've got your monastery, Middle Monk; you, Wierd Dough, have your wizard's college; you, Melnic the Loud, have your faculty position at Ollamh; you, Koenieg, have your trees; and I have my church of Clerasilism.  We've been out of the Disgusting Character scene for over a year now.  I don't even know why we bother to come to The Dungeon any more."

"TO CHORTLE AT PETER PERFECT," Wierd Dough, Melnic the Loud, and Middle Monk replied.

Peter Perfect heard that, and clenched his teeth.  He was the greatest thing on horseback until those wimps decided to join up with Sick Sword.  Now, he'd already spent a whole damn year rotting away between adamantite bars and unbreakable stone walls.  They'd stripped him of all his magic items.  They'd whittled him down to zero psionic strength points, feebleminded him, inflicted him with idiocy through an ego whip, then healed both the idiocy and the feeblemind to leave him exactly as he was before except without any psionic powers.  They'd dispelled every spell he'd had made permanent upon him.  And they'd been feeding him terrible meals every day since then — without any dessert.

He'd show 'em.  He'd get out and get even with them . . . somehow.


Sick Sword's second baby was just as beautiful a girl as the first, especially considering that they both had 18 charisma.  In fact, they both had straight 18's all the way across the board.  She'd named this second child Ridiculous Sword, in the hope that she'd be even more powerful than her first daughter.  She also hoped that Disgusting Sword wouldn't mind if she played favorites.

"Don't play favorites, mommy," Disgusting Sword warned her.  So much for that idea.

Ringman entered the nursery and put his hands on Ridiculous Sword.  "May I?" he asked.

"Be my guest," Sick Sword shrugged.

Ringman picked up the little girl and held her close to his chest.  Ridiculous Sword liked that.  She always liked being held by daddy.  She reached up and ran her tiny fingers through his beard.

"So," Ringman said, "You're going to bring them up to be weapons masters, then clerics, then magic-users, right?"

"No, silly, they're going to be druids first."

"Uh . . . druids?"

"Sure.  First they become druids and work their way up to 14th level, then they change to monk, then at 17th level they change to thief, then —"

"My goodness, what are they going to be?  Characters with seven classes?"

"Eight classes, actually.  After thief comes paladin, then comes illusionist, then cleric, then magic-user, and finally weapons master.  I figured if you put weapons master last you could get to the highest level in that class, and that way you could do even more per-level damage in melee combat."

"Oh, wow, you're raising them to be the last word in killing machines."  Ridiculous Sword sensed his anxiety and withdrew.  "Sick Sword, what use is there in making them into disgusting characters?!"

Sick Sword frowned.  "Don't ever call them that."

"Why not?  You're a disgusting character.  Just because you didn't join the Union of Disgusting Characters doesn't mean you didn't make yourself just as powerful as they were."

"Look, mister self-righteous, we've been over this before.  I made myself disgusting so that I could get rid of the Disgusting Characters.  You know it would have been impossible to stop them otherwise; you were there."

"And that's just the point.  They're not around anymore.  You don't need our kids to kill centaurs and take their four one-million-gold-piece gems.  In fact, who's to say that one of them might not turn power-hungry and abuse her disgusting abilities?"

Sick Sword's eyes turned to steel.  She lunged from her chair and snatched Ridiculous Sword from Ringman's arms.  "That's just about the lowest suggestion you could make, paladin!  These are my children, I can keep my kids on the right side!"

"They're my kids, too."

"Not if you're going to raise them to be wimps like yourself!"  Sick Sword shuddered slightly at having said that, then turned her eyes away and looked at her daughters instead.

Ringman walked over to a dresser, pulled open a small drawer, and took out a pack of cards.  He slapped them down loudly on the bureau top to get Sick Sword's attention.

Sick Sword gasped, "My Hero's Collection of Commonly Used Sayings!  What are you doing with them?!"

Ringman put them in his left shirt pocket.  "You obviously won't be needing them any more."

"Get out."  It was a simple, poignant command.

"Sick Sword, hon, if you can't take —"

"Get out!  Get out of my keep!"

Ringman stopped cold.  "Out of the whole house?"

"Get out!  And don't come back!!"  She pointed.  Her helm of telepathy flared a dim red.  She'd psionically dominate his will if she had to.

Open-mouthed, Ringman slowly turned and walked out the nursery door.  What had he brought upon himself?!

"Get out!!" she called after him.

He walked down the corridor to the foyer, half sad and half dumbstruck.  He heard Ridiculous Sword's muffled voice cry, "Daddy?", but nothing else.

'My deity, my deity,' he thought.

He glanced sorrowfully at the stone walls around him, knowing he'd probably never see them again.  Despite the interior decorations, this place was still a converted castle and thus had all the standard fortifications.  The vertical notch in the outer wall, for instance, was called an arrow slit, and Ringman had always thought that was just about the most suggestive name for something he'd ever heard.  That comforted him little now.  He took his +1 composite longbow and his quiver of +1 and +3 arrows off their pegs by the arrow slit, and stared solemnly back at the nursery that was now around the corner.

"Get out!" Sick Sword insisted.

'X-ray vision,' Ringman thought, halfway in contempt.

"No, clairvoyance; now get out!"

He shook his head and would have chuckled were things not so grim.  He put on the +5 suit of plate mail still standing in the hall while he looked for his +3 periapt of proof against poison.  Periapts were always easy to confuse with any ordinary gems that might happen to be lying around.  He found it, though, thanks to the big white +3 he'd painted on its side.  After securing the adamantite-alloyed armor to his body, he strapped his +3 hand axe and +5 holy longsword to either side.  Finally, he picked up his +4 shield and slid his arm through it.

One more trinket caught his eye, and he felt even worse for having forgotten it.  It was Sick Sword's ring of shooting stars.  A year-and-a-half ago, right after the downfall of the Disgusting Characters, he'd given her the only ring he had, which was his own ring of shooting stars.

"That's sweet," Sick Sword had told him, but insisted that he take her ring of shooting stars, both to make them even and in case he ever needed a shooting stars ring again.  Of course he'd later recovered his old +3-in-a-five-foot-radius ring of protection since he'd used up his potions and had two more slots available within his magic item limits, but at times he had cherished the ring she'd exchanged with him.

He picked up the ring, turned it over in his hand, almost put it back down, and finally slid it over his left ring finger with a sigh.

He opened the outer door, looked out solemnly, then looked back one last time.  "Sick Sword," he began.

"GET OUT!" came the reply.

"I still love you."


And so, he did.  He had only one last stop to make, and that was at the one-horse stall just off the east side of the keep.

"Warhorse, old boy," Ringman addressed his warhorse, "It looks like we'll be riding off alone again."

The horse neighed in apparent sympathy and understanding.

Ringman checked the horse's hooves; yes, the horseshoes of speed were still firmly in place beneath the horseshoes of the zephyr.  He hauled out his warhorse's old suit of magic plate barding and began to put it on him; the horse didn't mind, seeing that the armor was nearly weightless.  Odd; the Dungeon Master must have decided to publish another official book, since the horse's plate barding had dropped from +5 to +3 and was now only meteorite iron steel.  Unlashing the horse's reins from the hitching post, he put his right foot in the right meteorite-steel stirrup, pulled himself up onto the meteorite-steel saddle, and urged the horse forward with a sulken "Giddyap."

He couldn't believe Sick Sword had actually thrown him out.  She was his girlfriend — effectively his wife — and she just tossed him out like all their months and years together had meant nothing.  He shook his head hard.  Why had he pushed her so hard about the way she should raise their kids?!  Couldn't he have just talked her out of her position more slowly?  Now those poor, fatherless children would have an even bigger chance of turning to the wrong side!

He'd taken an oath, he assured himself; he'd taken an oath when he became a paladin to uphold truth, justice, and the lawful-good way.  Like The Impossible Dream, he would "fight for the right without question or pause" and "be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause."  He had to tell her, straight-out, that she was raising their kids to be just as disgusting of characters as the ones they'd both despised.  Maybe she'd cool down, eventually; maybe she'd even see it his way.

He rode off into the wilderness.  He didn't feel like going back into town right away.  The old I.U.D.C. headquarters at the bank of Crysglass lake, in fact, would probably provide the solitude he needed, if it wasn't swarming with scavenging looters.  Who needed that old Sick Sword anyway?  After all, from one centaur she'd gained four million experience points, and from being instrumental in saving Central Earth he'd gained enough experience points to put him a fourth of the way to his next level. . . .


Peter Perfect hadn't heard many things from all the times the Anti-Disgusting Characters had come to gawk at him, but he'd heard enough.  Every magic item and magic artifact the Union had had was stored in some vault a few levels below The Dungeon.  This included his sentient holy sword, Prometheus.  He crossed his legs on the floor and tried as best he could to let his mind slip into alpha state.  He wondered why he had never thought of this before.

'Prometheus,' the word echoed in his mind.  'Prometheus, hear me!'

The sword should answer.  Eventually.  Even if Peter wasn't telepathic any more, his sword still was.


"I hear you, Peter Perfect."

A response!  The sword heard him!  At least he hoped that dull voice in his head was the sword's and not something he'd made up.  'Prometheus, where are you?'

"I'm in a dark vault surrounded by bits of enchanted junk.  I think I'm a few levels below ground in a freehold basement."

'What signal strength are you reaching me at?'

"Really strong.  I figure you couldn't be more than fifty feet away.  Say, why didn't you use any of your telepathic powers to call me?"

'Because the Anti-Disgusting Characters stripped me of all my psychic abilities.  Listen, can you cut your way through the ceiling?'

"Sure, I can try, but I can only animate myself for one minute."

Peter Perfect sighed.  'Yeah, that's right, your telekinesis only lasts that long.  Well, give it a try and see what happens.'

"Okay," the voice agreed.

Deep within a chamber beneath The Dungeon, something moved.  It wriggled its way through all the helms of brilliance and rings of elemental command that had been heaped on top of it, and shot up, impaling itself in the ceiling.  There, it sawed and pried enough of the stones loose for its hilt to fit through, slid all the way up to the next level, and found a darkened room there too.

"I made it up one level," the voice told Peter Perfect, "But you're still a ways above me.  I'd estimate you're twenty or twenty-five feet away."

'Well, your teek still has some time to run.  Plow up through another level.'


The object shot up through the darkness and impacted the ceiling.  Peter Perfect could see the glowing green blade sticking though his own cell floor.

"It's working, Prometheus!" Peter Perfect urged it on with his own voice.  "Work your way up through the rock!"

The sword blade jutted its full length through the stone and smacked into its own hilt.  "I can't go any further," it spoke to Peter directly, "I can get my blade or my handle though, but my T.K.'s almost gone and I can't work a hole big enough to fit my hilt through."

By now everyone's attention was drawn to Peter Perfect's cell.  Even Wild Max the Grandfather of Assassins was getting interested.

"Then turn around and stick your grip through the hole," Peter Perfect insisted.  "I'll take it from there."

"Okay, but —"  The blade withdrew from sight and switched to telepathy.  "— hurry up!  I'm almost out of lift!"

The grip of the sword barely managed to poke itself through the hole.  It shuddered, and started to drop — and at just that instant, Peter whipped out his hand and grabbed the handle.  "GOTCHA!" he cried.

"Yaaaaay!" all the other Disgusting prisoners cheered.

Peter Perfect acknowledged the cheers of his audience, then started to pull the sword loose.  "Come on, give," he insisted, futilely trying to pull the sword through the hole with his makeshift titan strength.  "What do they make the floors out of in these places, anyway?"

"Interlocking silicate stones containing trace quantities of mithral, bound together by a mortar laced with 7.3 percent mithral," the sword told him.  "Far more sturdy than the stuff they made the last floor out of."

"Prometheus," Peter Perfect said as he continued pulling.


"Shut up."

Peter started jamming the sword back-and-forth.  Bits of rock crumbled away.  Finally, he gave a good stiff yank and the whole assembly sprang out of the ground and held itself upright in his right hand.

"All RIGHT, Prometheus," Peter cheered, "We're a team again!  Now let's get out of this rat trap!"

He swung the sword around edge-on at the bars of his cell.  The sword thwacked against a bar, made a loud ringing sound, and shook in his hand.  The bar wasn't even scratched.

"Damn," Peter cursed, "That's right.  Solid adamantite bars.  The pure metal is +6, and you're only a +5 holy avenger.  Well, the floor is just plain old mithral-laced, and that's only +4; so it looks like we're gonna have to tunnel our way out."

He hacked at the ground with Prometheus, widening the old gash by several centimeters.  He stuck the sword in the crack and began to saw.  In two minutes he'd nearly completed a full circle.  Finally, he withdrew his holy sword and stamped his foot down hard on the saw-loosened section of floor.  The little tab still holding it on broke, and the disk fell through with a crash.

Peter triumphantly jumped down the hole, landed on top of the slab he'd just loosened, and added enough weight to the already-punctured floor beneath him to break it as well and continue on down until he landed flat on his back in a pile of miscellaneous magic items.

Shaking himself back to his senses, he held prometheus up high and looked around.  The green glow from the sword illuminated everything within a twenty foot radius; and everything within that radius looked wonderful.

"This is IT!" Peter Perfect cried.  "This is where all our stuff is stored!  In fact . . . yep, there it is!  My old +5 suit of plate mail!"

He pulled himself up onto his legs with his makeshift titan strength (the permanent potion he had in effect didn't increase his to-hit chances, you see) and walked through the minefield of magic items to his suit of armor.  He was about to put it on when a shimmer off to one side caught his eye.  The sword's green light glittered off a coat of very fine chain links.

"On the other hand," Peter Perfect mused, "Why bother with just a run-of-the-mill suit of +5 plate mail . . ."  He crossed to the chain coat and took it off its wall peg.  ". . . When I can have the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd?"

"Good choice," said Prometheus, thoroughly impressed.  "Didn't that used to belong to Omnion?"

"Aah, Omnion's dead now anyway," Peter replied, pulling the coat over his head.  "She won't miss it."  He got the coat all the way on and put his arms through the sleeves.  "Hmmm . . . this only goes out as far as my upper arms and down as far as my groin.  I'm gonna have to pirate the leggings and vambraces from my old magic plate mail."

He did.  His forearms and legs were now armor class -2.  He clanked the vambraces on his arms together.  "Ahh, adamantite alloy once again.  It feels so good to have this stuff back on my body."  He tried to impale himself with Prometheus, but it only sent up a few sparks.  "And this mail is totally unbreachable.  I wonder what kind of stuff it's made out of; pure adamantite would only be +6.  Now then, where's my Axe of the Dwarvish Lords?"

He found his Axe, of course, after he'd located a scarab of protection to let him resist the Axe's malevolent effects.  He also found a germanium ring (that would be a ring of protection) and an obsidian ring (a ring of regeneration).  His cup and talisman of Al Akbar were hidden behind somebody else's +5 suit of leather armor.  He eventually collected a helm of brilliance, a helm of telepathy, a helm of teleportation (which he carefully stacked on his head), a medallion of ESP with empathy, all the rings of elemental command, a rod of lordly might, a cube of force, a vampiric ring of regeneration, five dull gray ioun stones (which he remembered he didn't need since his psionics were gone), his +4 cloak of protection, a girdle of titan strength, one pair of reverse eyes of petrification, his warhorse (which had been stowed in a portable hole for the last year-and-a-half), his warhorse's plate barding (which was still +5), gautlets of dexterity, gauntlets of ogre power, a ring of raise dead fully, a book of infinite spells or two, every other ring he could possibly use (he could stack them on the inner and outer sides of his gauntlets), his longsword of green dragon slaying, and all the other various odds-and-ends he'd had when the Union was still in force.  It was a good thing he had enough portable holes to carry everything in.

Getting out was the easy part.  He simply knocked open the vault door from the inside, mounted his warhorse, rode across to the staircase, and galloped out to freedom.

"Hey," Prometheus complained, "Aren't you going to free the rest of your comrades?"

"Are you kidding?  Most of them are evil."

"Rango the ranger isn't evil."

"THAT wimp?  You must be kidding.  Let him find his own way out."

"Don't you even feel obliged to get back at Clerasil and Wierd Dough for the way they treated him?  And you?"

"No, no," Peter explained, "Vengeance isn't my style."

'Now to get even,' he thought nastily.


Tiamat rolled lazily over onto her back and laid another white dragon egg.  This one was of the small variety, so the white dragon that grew out of it wouldn't have quite as many hit dice as it could.  She wondered if she should bother sending it to a cooler climate so that it could survive.

'Naah,' she figured, 'I saved a white dragon runt last week.  Let this one burn here in Hell.'

A rap on her front door rudely interrupted her train of thought.  "Come in," she grumbled.

Peter Perfect flung open the five-ton mithral door.  Suddenly, Tiamat breathed with all five of her heads at once, and Peter got hit with a cone of frost (which bounced off his Invulnerable Coat of Arnd), a bolt of lightning (which bounced off his Coat of Arnd), a stream of acid (which bounced off his Coat of Arnd), a cloud of chlorine gas (which bounced off his necklace of adaptation), and a cone of fire (which bounced off his cup and talisman of Al Akbar).

"WHAT DO YOU WANT?" all five of Tiamat's heads requested at once.

"Do you always breathe first and ask questions later?"

"Of course," her red and white heads replied, "It keeps out the door-to-door salesmen."

"Tiamat, let me get right to the point."

"Ohhh, please doooooooo. . . ." her black head said acidly.

"I need some help taking revenge on the Anti-Disgusting Characters."

"And what's in it for me?" her white head asked coldly.

"If I'm right, your life."

"That's a pretty serious threat," her red head growled hotly.

"Do you seriously think that those new sick kids Sick Sword and Ringman have are going to just let you crank out evil dragons in peace?  More likely, they're going to try to hack your brains out right here in your lair.  And if they're anything like their mother, they'll succeed."

"I see your point," her blue head agreed, and there was a spark to its voice.

"So what do we do?" Peter inquired.


"Okay, great," Peter Perfect agreed, "But how are you going to plant this 'seed of evil' in her womb?"

Her green head said: "I'm not," and then the other four heads kicked back in: "YOU ARE."

Peter folded his arms.  "Phhh, oh, right, I'm just going to walk over to her with a packet of seeds and stuff them up her birth canal without her objecting."

The chromatic dragon only smiled evilly.  Her blue head: "Do you have a potion of polymorph self in permanent effect on you?"

"Of course I do."

"Good. . . ."


Sick Sword felt despondent.  Why should she? she thought.  What did she need that paladin for, anyway?  Anybody who said she shouldn't raise her kids to be tough and successful deserved to be thrown out.  Maybe she just needed somebody else to go to bed with.  Yeah, that must be it, she just had to get laid.

She set Disgusting Sword and Ridiculous Sword down — they'd know how to take care of themselves — put on her most arousing skin-tight suit, and teleported into town just outside the saloon.

"Hey, Sick Sword!" echoed someone's voice as she walked through the swinging doors.  Then another: "Hey, Sick Sword!"

"How ya doin', Sick Sword?!" everybody turned around and said.

Sick Sword smiled wanly and started checking out the meat.  She knew most of these guys so well she couldn't stomach the idea of propositioning them.  There was one newcomer who caught her eye, though, and she decided to try him.

"You're new around here, aren't you?" she sidled up to him.

The stranger's azure eyes looked straight at her.  There was a nervousness about them that he kept carefully hidden.  "Yes, as a matter of fact.  This is the first time I've been out in over a year.  I'm a paladin."

"Really?" she said.  "Uh, hold on just a moment."

She turned around, made some barely-noticeable gestures, took a pinch of something out of a pouch, and mumbled some phrases in Latin.  The stranger cupped one hand to his ear and listened.  He recognized the incantation; she was casting a detect lie spell.  He would have to be very careful about what he said to her from then on.

Forty-two seconds later, she whirled back around and asked, "Say that again?"

"You mean that I'm a paladin?"

In her mind, a green light blinked over the stranger's head.  He was telling the truth.  "How interesting.  I like paladins.  What's your name?"

The stranger's eyes rolled up into his head for a split-second, then he decided, "Call me Slim."

He wasn't very slim — he was quite brawny, as a matter of fact — but she let it slide.  "Okay, Slim," she stuck out her right hand, "I'm —"

"Sick Sword.  Yes, I know."  He took her hand and kissed it.  "I've heard much about you, m'lady."

Sick Sword took her right hand back with a coquettish smile.  "You're cute, you know that?"

Slim smiled and raised his eyebrows.  "Yes, I do.  You're not so bad-looking yourself, either."

"Hey," Sam the bar frequenter said to the bartender, "Wouldja lookit Sick Sword put the moves on that guy?"

The bartender shook his head.  "I know.  Jeez."

"But don't she and Ringman —"

"Well, ya never can tell these days."

"So," Sick Sword winked at her pick-up, "You wanna split this joint and come up to my keep?"

"Mmmm, sounds like fun."  He winked back.

'Thank goodness this guy doesn't scare as easily as most of them do,' she thought.

"So, are you going to use any of those special powers of yours and teleport us there, or —"

"As a matter of fact —" boink "— yes, I am."

Slim looked around and took his bearings.  Considering the large bed dominating the scene, this was probably her bedroom.  This girl didn't waste any time.  He felt even more nervous than before, now that he was in her home court.  He had no armor, weapons, psionic powers, or charms; if she decided to take her troubles out on him now . . .

She stripped herself down to her bare 18 charisma skin right in front of him.  He would have come in his pants were his charisma not the epitome of perfection to match.  He slowly unbuttoned his shirt, exposing the beefy chest within.  Sick Sword couldn't restrain herself any longer and took off his clothes for him in a 150%-permanent-potion-of-speeded flash.

They didn't even bother to get beneath the sheets.


"Mmmm, you're not bad, kiddo," Sick Sword cooed into his ear after the exciting part was over.  "Where did you say you were from?"

"I didn't say where I was from," Slim told her.  "I hope I didn't get you —"

"Oh, don't worry about that, I'm already pregnant."

"Oh . . ." Slim said, trying to act surprised.  "Um, I meant, I hope I didn't give you any —"

"Well, you're immune to diseases anyway, being a paladin and all; and even if you are carrying something, I've always got my periapt of health."

"Oh.  Glad to hear it.  Well . . ."

"Well, um, I . . . uh . . . guess I'll see you later then?"

"Uh, yeah, guess I'll see you later too."

They got up and got dressed at opposite ends of the room.  If anything, Sick Sword felt worse.

"G'bye," Slim said, and walked out the front door.

'Hmm,' She figured, 'Guess he didn't need a ride back.'

Slim didn't need a ride back, certainly not.  His warhorse was parked just beyond the edge of the clearing he was now exiting, as a matter of fact.  He could see the +5 plate barding through the trees.

"Whew," he told his horse, "Glad that's over with.  She coulda gotten suspicious at any second."

"Neeeigh," the horse replied.

"Yeah, I know what you mean."  He pulled the finely-tooled chain shirt out from one of the saddlebags of holding and put it on.  By the time he'd drawn the coat of mail completely down over his torso, his features had changed.  His hair was blond.  His lower jaw jutted ever-so-slightly more forward.  His cheekbones were slightly wider.  And his voice was more firmly in the baritone range.

He put on a weapon belt and drew its green glowing sword.  "Well, Prometheus," he said to the sword, "At least I got laid.  Even if that wasn't my own sperm I injected into her womb."


Ringman only heard about his son Gross Sword through the grapevine.  After living with his lady love for eighteen months, here he was right back in his old cottage in town.  Of course his cottage was actually a small castle, but without Sick Sword in it it was hardly a keep.  He'd never managed to get back to the way things were before Peter Perfect and the Disgusting Characters had come along.  He would've started drinking were he not concerned about keeping his paladinhood.

So he had a third kid and he'd probably never see him.  He'd come back to Sick Sword's keep once, all right — for the sake of seeing his daughters if not her — but she only tossed him out with an even louder "GET OUT" than before.  The glimpse he'd gotten of her face before she slammed the door looked more like Omnion than it did like her.  The next thing he knew, Sick Sword had moved her keep several leagues away, back to where she'd first drawn it from the deck.  He hadn't seen or heard from her since.  Well, a paladin operated best as a solo player anyway; at least, that was how he tried to reassure himself.

He picked a volume up from one of his shelves and flipped to the page he'd had marked.  His doomed relationship hadn't been a total loss; she had taught him how to read.


Disgusting Sword reached her first level of Druidicism at age 10 1/2. Again, she was a slow developer, but she could still make it.  Sick Sword took her to the edge of a centaurs' lair and pointed inside.

"That's a centaur's lair," she told her daughter.

"I know," Disgusting Sword replied.

"Good.  And you know what to do?"

"Of course."  Disgusting Sword activated her permanent potion of flying at 150% effectiveness and wafted into the shallow cave.

One psionic blast and several clatterings of gems later, she emerged as a 15th level druid, a 17th level monk, an 18th level thief, a 21st level paladin, a 31st level illusionist, a 38th level cleric, a 49th level magic-user, and a 58th level weapons mistress.

"Well," she said to Sick Sword, making sure all 533 of her hit points were in place, "That was easy.  How long before my magic sword becomes an artifact?"

Ridiculous Sword was a little smarter.  The only reasons Disgusting Sword had taken those particular levels of development was so that each of her classes would be of higher level than the one before it.  Reading between the lines on the rules, Ridiculous Sword figured that it didn't matter what order her levels were stacked in, so long as the last class she chose had the highest experience level.  As the bard class couldn't be started with a lawful-good alignment, she would need that rules assumption if she were to become both a 20th level paladin and a 23rd level bard without losing her paladinhood.

And so, hitting the centaur pits on her tenth birthday (only one day after her sister did), Ridiculous Sword emerged as a 23rd level druid, a 15th level assassin, a 17th level monk, a 17th level ranger, a 17th level thief, a 23rd level bard, a 20th level paladin, a 31st level illusionist, a 38th level cleric, a 49th level magic-user, and a 60th level weapons mistress.  She would have gone farther in that last class had not the . . . Dungeon Master . . . set the maximum half-point-per-level damage bonus for weapons masters at +30 points.

And she didn't stop at just one artifact weapon like her sister did, either.  No sirree.  No one "Ridiculous Sword" for Ridiculous Sword.  She had the Ridiculous Hand Axe — a +6 holy vorpal defender frost-brand flame-tongue sun luckblade of wounding, dancing, life stealing, disruption, slaying everything (as in the arrows of the same name), throwing, thunderbolts, red blue green black white brass & copper dragon slaying, speed, final word, and nine lives stealing with maximum intelligence, eight special purposes, and enough artifact powers to leave her set for life (including "weapon damage is +2 hit points" taken five times) — sure, Disgusting Sword practically had one of those.  But she also had the Ridiculous Broadsword, which did almost everything the Ridiculous Hand Axe did except allow her to cause serious wounds by touch.  And she had the nearly-identical Ridiculous Dagger and Ridiculous Longsword, both to boost her weapon damage by 20 points and to serve in melee if she had to fight for more than four minutes and got to loose the other two weapons to dance.  And in case she got totally unarmed, she also had the Ridiculous Pair of Gloves, although it seemed kind of strange to combine the gauntlets of ogre power effect with a +6 holy vorpal pair of gloves of wounding and all the rest.  And she had the Other Ridiculous Pair of Gloves, in case her first pair got to fight for more than four minutes and could be loosed to dance.

And as if that weren't disgusting enough, she topped it off with the granddaddy of all artifacts: the Bracer of Irresistible Damage.  No sentience, no ego, just immunity to all forms of mental, psionic, heat-in-a-20-foot-radius, and cold attacks, and the ability to cast first, second, third, and fourth-level spells simultaneously.

And the "weapon damage is +2 hit points" major benign power taken 100 times.

Then came Gross Sword's turn.  The lad was younger than his sisters, a bare nine years old, and Sick Sword had felt uneasy about her third child all along the way.  But she felt obliged, and was determined, to prove to herself that she didn't need that old paladin Ringman to bring up her kids as deity-level psionic magical powerhouses that could really take care of themselves in the outside world.  And so, when Gross Sword's whack at the centaurs came, he was ready; although not quite the kind of ready that Sick Sword had hoped.

He found the cave, jumped in, and hit all the centaurs in the room with a psionic blast just like Sick Sword had told him to.  That stunned most of them and put the rest of them in a coma.  He collected the sixty million gold pieces worth of million-gold-piece gems just like Sick Sword had told him to.  And he systematically killed every centaur in the room without telling Sick Sword or anybody.

He emerged into daylight and immediately began spending his experience points just as his sisters had.  He progressed until he was a twenty-third level druid, then switched and became a fifteenth level assassin, then a seventeenth level monk, and then on to rangerhood.

Well, not quite on to rangerhood, and that made Sick Sword feel really uneasy.  What he chose instead was to become an anti-ranger so that he wouldn't once have to shift his alignment away from evil.

'Have I created a monster?' Sick Sword thought.  'No, no, I'm overreacting.  Gross Sword knows what he's doing, sure.  His alignment doesn't really mean that much, does it?  After all, the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters had all sorts of different alignments in it, and they got along just . . . fine. . . .'

And up through the 17th level of anti-rangerdom, to the 17th level as a thief, to the 23rd level as a bard, and then . . . and then he became an anti-paladin all the way out to the 20th level.

But still, Sick Sword held firm.  This was her son, for crying out loud, she couldn't just send him to his room for something so trivial as an alignment choice, now could she?  Naw, of course not.  And besides, his becoming an anti-paladin would allow him to keep all the benefits of being an anti-ranger.  Yeah, that must be why he did it.  Yeah, yeah, sure.

Gross Sword kept that chaotic-evil alignment of his anti-paladinhood all through his being a 31st level illusionist, a 38th level cleric, a 49th level magic-user, and a 60th level weapons master.  It would be stupid to change alignments now; he'd have to sacrifice both his anti-rangerhood and his anti-paladinhood if he did.  Sick Sword knew that, and she wasn't about to change him into anything less powerful than he already was.

And like Ridiculous Sword, Gross Sword bought four hundred of each type of pearl of power (so that he could cast 426 of each level of magic-user spell every day) and created seven magic artifacts for himself: the Gross Dagger, the Gross Broadsword, the Gross Longsword, the Gross Hand Axe, the Gross Pair of Gloves, the Other Gross Pair of Gloves, and the Other Bracer of Irresistible Damage.

It didn't take long for all three of them to probability-travel through a few dozen spheres of annihilation and gain every major and minor psionic discipline, either, but every Disgusting Character had done that at one time or another.

'Every Disgusting Character?' Sick Sword thought in horror.  'No, no, they're not Disgusting Characters.  Not my kids.  No, they're anti-Disgusting Characters, just like I am.  They must be.  They have to be.'

Ridiculous Sword, on the other hand, was extremely nervous about her kid brother.


A clamor in the streets shook Ringman from his midday doze.  He heard cries of "Run for your lives!", "My god, it's him!", and "He's back!".  'Finally,' Ringman thought.  'I haven't seen any action in nearly nine years!'  He clasped himself into his +5 suit of plate mail — it still fit — strapped on his +4 shield, fastened his weapons belt around his waist, made sure his two rings were still in place, and tramped out into the middle of town.

He'd walked barely fifty feet from his door when he stopped dead in his tracks.  He recognized the figure at the other end of the street and drew his holy avenger.

"Peter Perfect!" Ringman worked his voice into order.  "How . . . how did you get out?!"

Peter had positioned himself so that he stood directly between Ringman and the sun.  It made him look more impressive that way.  "Ha ha, I've been 'out' for nine-and-a-half years!"  He started to approach.  "And I must say, your ex-concubine is really good in bed!"

Ringman gasped.  "Sick Sword!  What have you done to her?!"

"Nothing, Ringman, nothing at all.  Nothing she didn't agree to, anyway."

Ringman suppressed a shiver.  He couldn't speak.

"Face it, Ringboy, you're ancient history and Sick Sword knows it!  And so does Prometheus, right?"

"Right," the sword in his right hand pulsed.  It would have smiled if magic swords could smile.  "It's been a long time, Ringman."

Ringman sneered.  "At least the holy sword I have now doesn't want to kill everything in sight!"

"Too bad," Prometheus sighed.  "It doesn't know what it's missing."

"Oh, sure it does, Prome," Peter Perfect told his sword, at every moment stalking closer to Ringman.  "It used to have a much more lethal wielder, remember?"

Ringman clenched his jaw hard.  "They should never have let you live, Peter Perfect."  He spat out the two P's.

"And I should never have let you live," Peter cursed, and charged at him.

Ringman saw the incoming flash of green.  He gasped, raised his shield, and blocked Peter's Promethean swing with a full-parry.  Pete followed up by hacking with his Axe of the Dwarvish Lords; he hit Ringman's right shoulder, but not hard enough to sever the arm.  (That is, he didn't roll an 18, 19, or 20.)  Of course, Peter Perfect's cause-serious-wounds-by-touch ability didn't help Ringman much, but at least he saved against contact paralyzation.  As he clutched the wound with his shield arm, Peter Perfect kicked his groin with an adamantite-tipped boot as hard as he could.  Even Ringman's +5 plate mail couldn't dissipate all the impact strength of a blow like that; he shrieked involuntarily, and was stunned.

Peter Perfect straddled him, a nasty smirk across his face.  He reached down and tore the +4 shield from Ringman's left arm, then reached out once more for his downed opponent's holy avenger.  Panicking himself back to his senses, Ringman rolled aside and kept his holy sword in his own right hand.

"Think you're pretty tough, do you, paladin?" Pete scorned.  "You all thought The Dungeon was pretty tough too, didn't you!?  So tough that none of you even came back to see if I'd escaped!  But I did escape, bwa ha ha, and I got back all my magic items and artifacts — and a certain invulnerable coat as a bonus.  And I bought a few scrolls and, with the help of Prometheus here, managed to recast all my permanent spells — including protection from good."

Ringman wondered why he was incapable of moving during this ego trip Peter Perfect was on.  He thought it was some special power, but then dismissed that since he didn't see any magic twinkles.  He thought it may have been some obscure rule about getting to make unlimited soliloquies in combat; then he remembered that it was just the fact that one exchange of blows in melee combat took a whole minute.

"And furthermore," Pete continued, "I struck up a deal with Tiamat!"

"Tiamat?" Ringman gulped.  "As in the chromatic dragon?"

"No, as in the lady across the street!  Of COURSE the chromatic dragon!  Geez, you never were very intelligent, were you?  In any case, thanks to Tiamat's seed of evil, your son is now precisely what you and your ex-bed-partner wanted him not to be."

"You struck a bargain with Tiamat for some 'seed of evil,' and you're still a paladin?!"

"Hey, the ends justify the means, Ringo.  It was my pleasure to thrust Tiamat's seeds into Sick Sword's womb."

Ringman lay there, dumbfounded.

"Why do you think I did it with that bitch in the first place?"

Things couldn't have been much worse, Ringman figured.  He had to get out of this disadvantaged position, though, before he could think of what to do next.  He put his right thumb and index finger in his mouth and whistled a string of three notes.

"What are you doing?" Peter Perfect demanded.

"Whistling," Ringman told him.

"I KNOW that, but for what?!"  Peter Perfect clutched his medallion of ESP and aimed it at Ringman's cranium.  Unfortunately, he rolled a 6; he whacked the medallion in disgust.  "Stupid newfangled piece of junk, can't even count on it to work right!"

Just then, a horse galloped silently into view on a cushion of air.  Peter Perfect recognized it instantly from its +3 plate barding; it was Ringman's warhorse.  He stood out in front of it, between the horse and Ringman, and punched the horse across its meteorite-steel-plated jaw as hard as he could.  The animal rolled with the punch onto the ground some twenty feet back.

In the mean time, Ringman had recovered his shield.  Peter Perfect sneered at Ringman for daring to try something so dirty and underhanded while claiming to be a paladin.  "Savor death, insignificant flesh slug!"  He hacked down with his Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, this time slashing Ringman's right shoulder cleanly enough to sever his right arm.

Ringman screamed with pain, now shocked out of his stunned condition.  The arm socket gushed blood, but it would stop before he ran out.  He let go of the top strap of his shield and grabbed his severed arm — which still held his holy sword — with his remaining hand.  The shield flopped uselessly from his elbow as he scrambled for his horse.

"Hah!" Peter Perfect called after Ringman, shaking his Dwarvish Hand Axe in his left hand and inadvertently switching it to Battle-Axe length.  "Let's see you fight without your writing arm!"

Ringman made it to his horse and tried to mount up.  He had to hold the arm between his chin and his chest to get on.

"You're a wimp, Ringman!  A one-armed wimp!"

Stowing the right arm between his legs, he grabbed the reigns in his left hand and giddyapped out of there.  He was grateful for those horseshoe-of-the-zephyr shock absorbers; any jostles could have sent him tumbling.

"Ringman has no writing arm!  Ringman has no writing arm!  And he's got a chaotic-evil Disgusting Character for a son!" Peter chided him.

'First stop, Clerasil's place,' Ringman thought as his horse accelerated.  'He'll probably be able to reconnect my writing arm.  Well, Peter Perfect, at least it is a writing arm now.  What self-improvements have you made during lo these past years?'


Knock knock knock.

"Who is it?"

"It's Ringman."

A bit surprised, Clerasil got up from his desk and went to the tremendous gothic double doors.  The man on the other side of it had +5 plate mail, a beard, and a severed right arm.

"My right arm's been cut off," Ringman said, just in case Clerasil hadn't noticed.

"My word," Clerasil inspected the limb, "That does look rather nasty.  Er, come in, come in."

Ringman came in.

"Tell me, who did this to you?"

Ringman stared at the ground.  "Peter Perfect."

Clerasil gasped.  "The Disgusting paladin?  He's escaped?  But how?"

"He didn't say how, only that he's been out for nine years or so."

Clerasil seemed to be in a mild state of shock.  "Well . . . uh . . . it's true that we stopped visiting him after a while; er, we got tired of ragging on him.  But escaped?  I don't unders— wait a minute.  That's right.  We stored all their magic weapons in a vault two levels below The Dungeon.  He could have made telepathic contact with his holy sword and had it hack its way up to him."

"So, in other words, you didn't even bother to eliminate his psionic powers."

"Oh, yes we did; we were very careful about that.  It just so happens that his sword has its own powers of telepathy that we couldn't touch."

Ringman put a hand to his chin.  "Oh yeah.  That's right, Prometheus was telepathic.  I guess Prome just didn't want to be telepathic with me."

Clerasil changed the subject.  "Let's reconnect that arm of yours, shall we?"

Ringman had practically forgotten about it.  "Oh, uh, sure, sure."

Clerasil exposed the severed flesh on the end of the arm and pressed it up next to the stump on Ringman's shoulder.  Ringman had thoughtfully tied a tourniquet over the open end of his stump.  "You know, you're lucky you're a paladin here.  Your disease resistance let you get away with this without getting gangrene."

Ringman folded his arm.  "And then you'd have to cast a cure disease spell on me, right?"

Clerasil didn't reply, he merely opened the tourniquet and let little bits of blood leak through to the severed limb.  He sprinkled holy water on it and began to chant: "Ooom, shalagoom, shak shak.  Qui tolis veal pecata mundi, et in unum domino's pizza, e pluribus uranium, semper ubi sub ubi.  BY THE POWER OF GOD III, I COMMAND THIS LIMB — REGENERATED!"

The mighty hand of God III stretched its fingers through Clerasil's body and touched Ringman's shoulder with its awesome pinky.  He could start to feel sensations in his arm almost immediately, and within a minute, the limb was whole again.  He moved the joint and flexed the arm a bit.

"Uh, thanks," Ringman said.

"And since you're a paladin and have had to give away all your excess wealth," Clerasil said, "I'm gonna let you keep that regenerated limb for the low low price of only 15 000 gold pieces."

Ringman scowled at him.  "That's the usual price; and besides, I gave all but a little under 300 gold pieces away to some amorphous lawful-good institution long ago."

"Hmmm.  Well, considering how crucial a role you played in vanquishing Omnion 'way back when, I'll let you have it on the house.  Now good day."

Clerasil indicated the front door of his church and turned back to his desk.

"Um," Ringman umed.

"Yes, yes what is it now?"  Clerasil kept his back turned to him.

Ringman exhaled.  "Peter Perfect's out, and I'm no match for him."

"And I suppose you want me to just go charging out there and bring him back to justice, right?  Sorry, no sale."

"He's already done plenty of damage."

"Yeah, I saw your arm.  Now go away."

"That's not all.  He made a pact with Tiamat."

Clerasil dropped his writing utensils and froze.  "Tiamat?  The chromatic dragon?"

Ringman chuckled, recalling his own reaction.  "Yes, Tiamat, the chromatic dragon, the hellbound spawn of all evil dragonkind.  Apparently he and Tiamat . . . um . . . 'implanted' some seed of evil in my third child before he was born, and now he's a chaotic-evil genociding machine at least twice as powerful as his mother.  Or at least he has the potential to be one."

"Now I know I'm out of my league.  Sick Sword herself could have creamed me if she'd been so inclined; any kid more powerful than her could stomp me into a little grease spot before I had a chance to cast a spell.  Sorry.  Uh, you could try asking Wierd Dough, though."


Knock knock knock.

"Come in."

Ringman opened the door and stepped into just about the biggest magical pyrotechnics display he'd seen.  Sparks showered off the walls in all directions.  Jugglers juggled without using their hands.  People whose faces were glued to instruction manuals cast burning hands spells without looking where they were pointing.  Several graduate-level pranksters, doubtlessly from one of the half-elven fraternities, were casting fireball and cone of cone spells at the same time, annihilating each others' effects mere milliseconds before disaster would have struck.  And this was just Wierd Dough's magic college's anteroom.

"Ah, whom may I say is calling?" asked a third-level apprentice who was seemingly unaware of the din going on around him.


"Ringman.  Lessee, Ringman, Ringman, Ringman — that Ringman with an 'R'?"

"Uh, yes.  R-I-N-G-M-A-N.  One word."

"Ring, Ringfield, Ringling, Ringworm — nope, sorry, no Ringman on my appointment list here."

"Look, this is important, I have to see Wierd Dough.  It's a matter of life and death."

The conjurer apprentice stared at him coldly.  "The chancellor sees no one without an appointment."

Ringman opened his mouth to speak, but a stray lightning bolt startled him and he had to begin again.  "Just tell Wierd Dough that Ringman is here to see him.  He'll know who I am."

The apprentice shook his head.  "What level are you, anyway?"


"Oh, and I suppose you think you can push everybody around just because you're a sorcerer?  Well, listen here, bud—"

"I'm not a sorcerer," Ringman folded his arms impatiently, "I'm a paladin."

The apprentice mouthed the word 'paladin,' and then evidently something snapped and it All Made Sense.  "Ringman . . . the paladin.  RINGMAN THE PALADIN?!"

The spell casting going on through the room stopped in mid-syllable.  Everybody dropped what they were doing and looked.  "RINGMAN THE PALADIN?!"

The apprentice gawked, "The same Ringman the paladin who defeated Omnion in the final battle of the I.U.D.C. at Crysglass lake?"

"Yes, the same Ringman the paladin.  Boy, for a character class whose prime requisite is supposed to be intelligence, you can sure be —"

"Welcome to Wierd Dough's college of magic, Ringman!  Won't you have a seat, make yourself comfortable, can I get you a glass of —"

"No, no, no."  He was still impatient.  "I have to see Wierd Dough.  It's a matter of life and death."

"Whose?  Yours or his?"


Now just a tad more nervous, the apprentice ducked behind a curtain and shouted to the next rung in the chain of command.  Ringman could just barely hear the "Ringman wants to see Wierd Dough," and the "Not the Ringman!" issuing from beyond.

Twenty-four seconds later, everything spun around and suddenly he was elsewhere.  He was in a very dimly lit elsewhere, as a matter of fact.  In the center of this dimly lit elsewhere was a robed figure who illuminated his bearded face by holding a handful of magic flame up to it.  "Welcome," the firelit face said in a haunting tone, "What can I do for you?"

"Can the theatrics, Wierd Dough.  This is serious."

"Oh, all right," the figure acquiesced, and switched on the light spells by snapping his fingers.  "You sure know how to spoil other people's fun!"

"Peter Perfect escaped from The Dungeon nine years ago."

Wierd Dough rubbed his chin in thought.  "Hmmph.  I wouldn't put it beyond him.  He probably made telepathic contact with Prometheus and had the sword hack its way up through two levels, then grabbed on to it and worked his way down to the magic items chamber, took his own stuff and the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd as a souvenir, rode his warhorse out of the complex, and sought revenge against the lot of us.  Pity we stopped going there to make funny faces at him, or we would've found out."

"You knew about how he made his escape all the time?!" Ringman stammered.

"You mean my guess was right?"

"Yes!  Your guess was exactly right!  Why didn't you think of it before?!"

Wierd Dough shrugged.  "I just never wondered about it before.  Why waste a 24 intelligence on piddling trifles?  Anyway, he couldn't have done much or we would've heard about it."

"He has done quite a bit, but it's the type of stuff you don't hear about until it's too late.  He got some 'seed of evil' from Tiamat and implanted it in Sick Sword's womb while she was pregnant with my third child, Gross Sword."

Wierd Dough grinned.  "The old sexual-implantation-of-the-deity-spawned-seed-of-alignment-determination-in-a-womb-that-has-an-unborn-child-in-it bit, eh?  I tried that once myself.  Nothing much happened, though."

"Yeah, well something happened this time.  Gross Sword is supposedly a couple times more powerful than Sick Sword herself; he could probably bring Central Earth to its knees."

Wierd Dough nodded solemnly.  "And you want me to help you get rid of him, is that it?  No, it's not.  You want me to help you vanquish Peter Perfect and then do something about Gross Sword.  Sorry, kiddo, but I know about how poor you paladins tend to be.  No sale."

"You want me to pay you for ridding the world of those menaces?"

"Sure.  Running a college of magic is expensive stuff."

"You could rob centaurs if you wanted money."

Weird Dough looked up at the ceiling, whose distance was distorted so that it appeared 5 feet above the floor.  "True, but then I wouldn't be able to complain about how low we are on funds over here.  How would it look to all the other colleges if mine didn't desperately need more money?"

"Don't you feel the least bit indebted to me for having gotten rid of Omnion?"

"Indebted for how much you participated in that campaign?  Sure I am!  I'll cast a polymorph others spell on you at no cost, if you want it!  But going back into action again is another matter entirely.  You're better off trying Middle Monk; at least his profession involves constant fighting."


The instant Ringman stepped on the welcome mat in front of the monastery, a fifteen-foot-diameter gong sounded on its own and Chinese movie music issued from enchanted loudspeakers.  One of the lesser disciples approached the front gate and bowed, greeting the man in the +5 plate mail.  "Gleetings, most honolable Lingman the paradin, wercome to our humbre monastely.  How may we assist you?"

"I need to see Middle Monk," he told him.  "It's —"

"—A matter of Rife and Death.  It always is.  I wouldn't berieve you if you welen't who you are.  Forrow me."

Never unclasping his hands, the disciple led Ringman in through a complicated maze of hanging gardens, beneath a row of paper lanterns, past some statues with unpronounceable monosyllabic names, and past a paper sliding door into the Main Training Room.  Ringman was a little worried about the security of this place until he noticed that the paper walls were made of adamantite-woven paper.  Three rows of monks, each wearing a white bathrobe and a different colored sash, were going through a training exercise.

"Ichi!" the one up in front shouted.  They all stepped forward and thrust their right fists into imaginary opponents.  "Ni!" he shouted again, and they did the same with their left fists.  "San!" came the shout and the punch again.  "Chi!" issued the cry and its consequent a fourth time.  "GO!"  This time, the three rows yelled as they stepped forward and punched.

Middle Monk, the one at the front of the group wearing a black belt with several victory notches carved in it, caught Ringman out of the corner of his eye.  Realizing who it was, he dismissed his students with an impulsive "Yasumeh!" and walked like a slob up to the man in armor.

"Ringman, ol' buddy!"  Middle Monk slapped him on the back with his full titan strength.  Being a monk, his strength did no extra damage, but it sure toppled the paladin.  "Long time no see!  Whatcha been up to?  Can I get you a Coke or a Pepsi?"

"Uh, Coke?  Pepsi?  Um, are those some oriental —"

"Uh, no, no, never mind.  So," he began to walk alongside Ringman, "What brings ya to these parts?  Wanna be a monk and be easier to hit than a first-level illusionist?  Or do ya just need a new magic bo stick?"

"No, it's a bit more serious than that.  Peter Perfect escaped."

"No!  Really?  Wow, that's intense.  He wanted to go surfing, right?"

"He escaped nine years ago."

Middle Monk stopped bantering for a few seconds, which was about the longest time he could be relied upon to be banter-proof.  Then: "Well, that cat probably would've gotten out some time anyway.  Not much trouble he can cause."

"Oh no?  He made a bargain with Tiamat so that my son, Gross Sword, is just as chaotic and evil as my two daughters are lawful and good.  And my blacksheep son is more powerful than anything that's come before.  He could take on the entire I.U.D.C. and win if they were still around."

"Including Omnion?"

"Including Omnion."

"Oh."  Middle Monk grimaced a bit.  "Wow.  Gee.  Awesome.  Tubular.  Cosmic.  Like, what's he done so far?"

"Nothing that I'm aware of, but at any moment he could decide to kill Bahamut or something."

"I thought Weird Dough killed Bahamut for the experience points," Middle said, then recalled:  "Oh, yeah, that's right.  That was only a Bahamut android, programmed to act like him in every detail."

"Both that damned Peter Perfect and my multiple-deity-powered son are running around loose, and there's no way I can deal with them on my own."

"Mmmm, so you want me to help.  I catch your drift.  Um, I don't think that's such a hot idea, what with my armor class being higher than negative 17 and all.  I mean, one hit and that kid of yours could do . . . uh . . . how much damage did you say he could do in one blow?"

"I didn't say, but from what I've heard, over three hundred points.  Times five if he hits you from the rear."

"YEEESH!  I only have 104 hit points myself!  Um, take care of yourself, man, but I've got my temple to attend to.  Why don't you try Wierd Dough?"

"Already tried him."

"Hmmm.  Then Cleras— no, that cleric wouldn't get involved for all the holy water in the Specific Ocean."

"Yes, I know," Ringman added coldly.

"Then your best bet is Koenieg the Great Druid.  He lives in the Great Big Forest surrounded by some large menhirs — er, standing stones — that are supposed to predict eclipses and things."


Ringman could have sworn he'd gotten the address right.  He was in the Great Big Forest, 5 leagues north of the Really Huge Falls, twelve furlongs east of the Vastly Hugely Mind-bogglingly Wide River, standing right in front of the Ring of Large Menhirs.  He should have seen some druidic activity by now.

It was then that the bottom fell out of the universe beneath him.  Screaming, he fell in a direction that was the fifth-dimensional equivalent of down, and landed five feet away from the center of the Ring of Large Menhirs.  From this angle, he could easily see the nine initiates of the 9th Circle mulling about and Koenieg the Great Druid seated in lotus position at the center.

"Oh, I get it," Ringman commented, "I can only see you from inside the menhir ring."

"Naw," one of the 11th-level initiates told him, "That ring of stones out there in the Great Big Forest is just a decoy.  The ring you're in now is in a parallel universe.  It keeps the salesmen out."

A wave of mistletoe from the center caught Ringman's attention.  Koenieg addressed him: "Welcome, Ringman, to the Tree of the Universe."

Ringman didn't see any trees around, but he had more pressing matters to worry about.  "I'm here to —"

"Enlist my help in vanquishing the escaped Peter Perfect and your blacksheep son.  Yes, I know; Middle Monk sent me a Telepagram.  I believe his words were 'Watch out for this one.  He's a loo-loo.'"

Ringman exhaled.  "Well, that was his answer.  What's yours?"

Koenieg went off into alpha state for a few milliseconds, then came back with: "No."

"Why not?" Ringman asked, even though he knew it was futile to try and talk a 14th-level druid out of anything.

"The tree of the universe spreads like a golden path upon the well-spring of Life.  He who can pick its fruits and not be cast down the dark pit will know ultimate wisdom.  If Buddha tripped and fell while nobody else was around, would he make a sound?  He who always finds fault in his friends has faulty friends.  A penny saved is a penny earned.  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  A stitch in time saves —"

"Okay, OKAY, I get the message!  Sheish!"  He looked out through the menhirs and saw only swirling darkness.  "Uh, can I get back to the Prime Material plane now?"

"Certainly.  Just click your heels together three times and say, 'There's no place like home, there's no place like home'."

Burying his face in his hands, Ringman grudgingly tapped the heels of his high hard boots together and meekly chanted, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home."

And while Ringman had his eyes closed, Koenieg cast some obscure plane transport spell on him so that he would think he'd gone back to Central Earth under his own power.

Of course, Ringman wasn't that stupid, but he was glad to be back on Central Earth again.  Well, sort-of glad.  Oh, all right, he could barely stomach the thought of living on the same planet with Peter Perfect and his killing machine son.  And he hadn't even seen his killing machine son yet.

"Yep," Ringman told his warhorse as he mounted up to ride off, "There's no place like home."


Clerasil had refused to help.  Wierd Dough had refused to help.  Middle Monk had refused to help.  Even Koenieg the Great Druid had declined his services.  The only anti-disgusting character left was Melnic the Loud, and that bard would almost certainly not get involved.

The instant he stepped on the welcome mat in front of Melnic's Ollamh college, he realized it was a telepad.  That was because everything around him had suddenly congealed and deposited him in the middle of the college's courtyard.  He found himself surrounded by raucous, noisy, semi-drunk Ollamh bards, some pure human and some half-elven, who upon his arrival began strumming away at their lutes (a few had genuine Anstruth or Ollamh harps) and singing:

"Welcome, Ringman, to our fancy-pants abode!
Ringman, the paladin, whose tale is still told
Of how he vanquished Omnion to the realm of burning cold;
Ringman, Ringman, aren't you getting too old?"

"Uh, hi, guys," Ringman said wanly.


Melnic the Loud emerged from the middle of the crowd, strummed his Ollamh Banjo, shifted his Recorder of Ye'Cind into overdrive, and sang a fast little ditty that sounded very much like Haydn's g minor symphony (except that Haydn hadn't been invented yet):

"From days of long ago a legend down to us has come,
Or maybe it was Wierd Dough's mind that this message comes from;
'Tis said that Peter Perfect had escaped his cell of late,
And that he went to make a pact with Tiamat the great.

And from his loins an evil seed in Sick Sword he did spray
To make an evil child nine years ago this very day;
And now he's tough, so all we'll say
Is singing, singing, singing, singing, ye-e-e-e-e-es,
. . . we are!"

And all the other bards joined in and repeated the refrain: "And now he's tough, so all we'll say / Is singing, singing, singing, singing, ye-e-e-e-e-es, . . . we are!"  STRUM.  Stru-dummmmmm.

Ringman rolled his eyes up into his head.  That last line didn't even fit in the context of the song.

"We know that last line doesn't fit within the context of the song," Melnic the Loud admitted in recitative, "But it's . . . a tradition."

"Well, for one thing, HE didn't make that child, I did.  Gross Sword is my son just as much as he is Sick Sword's.  Peter Perfect only . . . 'sprayed' . . . a little Tiamatish evilness onto him a bit later."

"OoooOOOOOOooooohhhhhhh," everybody sang.

"So you probably already know that I need to enlist some help.  I can't stop Peter Perfect and Gross Sword on my own.  Melnic the Loud, will you —"

"Well, er, I, um, that is, uh . . . I've got this college to run, see?"

Ringman folded his arms and shook his head.  "So did Wierd Dough."

"Good.  Then you'll understand."

"I know why you're declining," Ringman said, "But I don't think I'll ever understand."

Ringman turned his back to Melnic and started to walk away, then noticed all the 20th+ level Ollamh bards around him.  "Any of you bards want to help me?"

"Grumble grumble grumble grumble," they grumbled, suddenly becoming concerned about their studies.

Ringman walked slowly toward the telepad marked "MAIN EXIT" at one side of the courtyard.  This had been his last shot.  There was no one else he could turn to.

'Oh well,' he tried to console himself, 'I've had to go it on my own before.'


Gross Sword scratched a few dark magic symbols into the ground around Sick Sword's keep's clearing.  He couldn't stand his sickening mother or his two goody-goody sisters.  He had tried to wish them away once before, but they'd all made their saving throws and a wish spell probably would have sent him away instead anyway.  Luckily they hadn't found out about that, so they didn't vent any retribution upon him.

He spied a squirrel scurrying up a nearby tree.  He hated squirrels.  They were so cute and cuddly he wanted to throw up.  He took out his Gross Hand Axe, whirled it around as though it were a 5-ton war hammer, and let fly at the critter.  The squirrel was instantly felled, frozen, burnt, wounded, dismembered, poisoned, level-drained, hacked to bits, and finally stunned by the axe's clap of thunder.  Sick Sword would doubtlessly hear the noise, just like she always did, that bitch.

"Gross Sword!" called his mother's voice from within the keep.  "Are you killing squirrels again?!"

"Yes, mother," he replied.

"How many times have I told you not to do that?!"

"Fifty-seven, counting now," he called back.  God IV, how he hated Sick Sword.

"Well, don't do it again!  How do you ever expect to make it on Central Earth if you just go around killing things indiscriminantly?!"

Gross Sword shook with rage.  "All right, mother, THAT'S IT!!"  He opened up one of his portable holes and took out a tubeful of disappearing dust.  He spread the dust over his entire body in the blink of an eye, and was gone from sight.  "YOU'RE DEAD MOTHER!  DO YOU HEAR ME?!  YOU'RE DEAD!!!"

"YOUREDEADyouredeadyouredead . . ." echoed his cry from every distant mountain.  Disgusting Sword and Ridiculous Sword looked up in alarm.  "That's it," Ridiculous Sword commented, "He's making his move.  Come on, we'd better stop him."

Their helms of teleportation glowed purple for a moment, and they emerged at their mother's keep two leagues away.

The town heard the thunderous cry as well.  Ringman, from the top precipice of his house (which was actually a small castle), heard the thunder's words and knew who the voice had to belong to.  These were the first words he'd ever heard his son say, and they frightened him down to his kidneys.  After all she'd done to him, he still loved Sick Sword deeply, and now his Tiamat-infected son was about to kill her and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.

Except dash for his warhorse and ride like lightning to Sick Sword's keep, that is.

Sick Sword zipped over to her portal spell — er, window — and saw the dust-of-disappearance-covered killer urchin trodding through the front drawbridge of the keep at a rather alarming 40 feet per second.  The old cover-yourself-with-dust-of-disappearance-and-cast-a-light-spell-directly-on-Sick-Sword's-robe-of-eyes-to-blind-it-for-one-to-three-minutes-so-that-even-her-permanent-detect-invisibility-spell-can't-see-you-and-you-can-sneak-up-on-her-from-behind-and-backstab-her-for-quintuple-damage trick; Omnion had tried that on her twice before, and had succeeded the first time and nearly succeeded the second.  Sick Sword knew what to do; all she had to do was spray him with dust of appearance when he first showed up.  Now, where had she put her dust tubes?

The Sword sisters arrived just in time to see their evil brother dart into the keep covered in dust of disappearance.  They both knew this maneuver well; it was the only known way of handling a really disgusting character.  Without even having to use ESP on each other, they rushed in after him.

Ringman rode hard and fast.  Very fast.  He'd equipped his warhorse with horseshoes of speed and secured them in place with an outer layer of horseshoes of the zephyr.  His horse could move at double speed without tiring; and for some reason, right now it was going two feet per second faster than that.  That would get him there in time, he assured himself.  Of course it would.

With a flick of his middle finger, Gross Sword knocked down the solid adamantite door to Sick Sword's room.  His mother was ready for him; she uncapped her tube of appearing dust and blew at her son through the other end.

That would have worked perfectly, had not Gross Sword also been prepared.  For the last fifteen seconds, he'd been chanting, gesticulating, and fiddling with a legume seed behind that locked door; and now, having carefully integrated the flicking-down-the-door maneuver into his somatic components, he released his spell, blowing the spoilsport dust right back to its owner with a strong gust of wind.  And since his artifact bracer allowed him to cast simultaneous spells, he followed that gust of wind up with a light spell thrown directly on Sick Sword's robe of eyes.

Disgusting Sword and Ridiculous Sword had a clear line of sight from the splintered drawbridge through the knocked-down adamantite bedroom door to their blinded mother and her unseen adversary.  He'd succeeded; she didn't manage to coat him with dust of appearance in time.  "Get out of there, mom!" Disgusting Sword and Ridiculous Sword shouted as they charged across the foyer.  "Teleport!"

Ringman could see the edge of the clearing through trees blurred by speed.  Within that clearing lay the unmistakable silhouette of her keep.  This was not the same clearing they'd lived in together — it was instead where the keep had first materialized — but it may as well have been.  There were hundreds of bushes, trees, and leaf piles that could hide Sick Sword and Gross Sword, if they weren't inside the keep.  Only because that terrifying "YOU'RE DEAD!" sounded like it had come from this particular spot did he ride here at all.  He changed course ever-so-slightly and headed for the keep; he could only hope that they were in fact in there.

'My own son,' Sick Sword thought.  'How could I have misled myself this far?'

She didn't teleport.  She didn't look from side to side in panic.  She didn't try to find another container of dust of appearance.  She didn't even pick up her Sick Sword from the far wall.  She just stood there and regretted her fate.

'The bitch always was a pushover,' Gross Sword thought, and rammed his Gross Dagger through her heart from behind.

Disgusting Sword and Ridiculous Sword both saw the phantom form impale their mother.  They both cringed in horror as she convulsed and fell over dead.  Disgusting Sword involuntarily dropped her Disgusting Longsword, which clanked noisily against the stone floor.  As Gross Sword shook off the disappearing faerie dust, he trumpeted an evil, victorious chortle that sent shivers though both the still-approaching Ringman and his horse.

He was still chortling when he left the prime material plane six seconds later.

"My God II," Disgusting Sword cried as she knelt beside her dead mother.  "He wasn't supposed to get this far!"  Her fists clenched as her throat tightened up and wavered.  "We were supposed to stop him first!!"

Ridiculous Sword nervously looked at Disgusting Sword, then at Sick Sword's body, then at Gross Sword's footprints in the pile of invisible dust he'd just shaken off, then back at Sick Sword's body, then back at Gross Sword's footprints.  "I'm going after him," she resolved.

"But how will you know where he is?!" Disgusting Sword demanded.

"There's only one place he could have gone," Ridiculous Sword replied.  "What's the matter, have you forgotten Standard Evil Operating Procedure number twenty-six?  After an evil person kills someone who's lawful-good, he or she goes to Heaven to permanently destroy the soul!"

Disgusting Sword just stared back at her and continued breathing hard.

"Well, don't just stand there, start a raise dead spell on her!"

"Oh," she blurted.  "Oh yeah."  She took out a white-with-blue-striped generic holy symbol and began chanting and gesticulating.

"I only hope I can reach him in time," Ridiculous Sword mumbled, flicked the switch or her amulet of the planes, and went to Heaven.

Ringman double-parked his horse by the keep's entrance, jumped off, and rushed in through the door.  Without his bulky adamantite-alloyed plate mail to hinder him, he could run a whole 1% faster.  He saw Disgusting Sword kneeling over Sick Sword's body chanting a now-all-too-familiar raise dead spell, gasped, and continued to rush forward.  He had been right; damn it, that had been Gross Sword's deadly chortle.  His old love was dead.

He knelt beside Sick Sword opposite Disgusting Sword and drew his holy avenger.  Solemnly lining up the point with one of the spaces between the floor stones, he forced the blade three inches down into the floor.  The upside-down sword now resembled a cross, the ancient symbol for death.  He clasped the grip of the longsword and reclined his forehead against his hands, closing his eyes.  Silently, he prayed to his deity for Sick Sword's survival.


"Pardon me," Ridiculous Sword asked an angel-initiate passer-by.  "Did you happen to see a —"

She noticed a double-file path of dead angels littering the yellow brick road that lead through the pearly gates.

"Oh.  Never mind."

She got a running start and then kicked in her artifacts.  With all the times she'd taken major benign power "O: double movement speed on foot," she'd multiplied her running speed by 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, all the way up to 64.  She could now run 12 288 yards in six seconds flat.

Tiptoeing over the dead angels at a mere 6144 yards-per-six-seconds, she reached the pearly gates.  She addressed the toll booth.  "Saint Peter, you've got to let me in!  There's a —"

And then she noticed that the trail of angel-initiates weren't the only casualties around here.  Saint Peter had been killed over a decade ago by Omnion, and now even his replacement, Saint Paul, lay in a desiccated heap.

'Guess I don't need his permission to enter, then,' Ridiculous Sword thought, and charged in after Gross Sword.

Sick Sword felt a sickening lump of deja vu form in her stomach.  Here she was, perched on the boarding steps of a Trans Heavenly Airlines concorde SST, unarmed and about to get CuisinArted by a ruthless, evil foe.  She didn't much like being in this position when Omnion was bearing down on her, and she certainly didn't like the idea of getting eternally wiped out by her own son.  She had seen this coming and had finished a contact other plane spell several seconds ago, in case the worst were to happen, and that didn't reassure her one bit.  So she did the only thing she could: she started psionically telekinesing Gross Sword and hoped that she'd be raised from the dead in time.

Gross Sword held up Card Number 8 from The Villains Collection of Commonly Used Sayings.  It read: "Hah, you puny mortal fool!  Your powers of telekinesis are no match for my permanent potion of flying at twice normal strength!"

Sick Sword raised her eyebrows momentarily at the idea that such a card could actually be a commonly used saying, and continued concentrating.  Card Number 8 was right; during the first minute of concentration, her teke could only reduce his flight speed by four percent.  She couldn't teleport, either; teleportation involved using the astral plane for quick transit.  Since she was dead, she was bound to the plane of Heaven and to that plane only; she couldn't leave Heaven for another hundred years.

Ridiculous Sword wished she had asked somebody for directions now, even if it was only some cherubim-in-training.  She was lost.  Every yellow brick road looked the same.  There wasn't so much as a map pointing out "You are here," or a sign saying "New angel recruits —>".  Saint Peter or Saint Paul sure could have told her where Sick Sword had gone, yessireebob, but for all her Disgusting powers there was no way she could locate Sick Sword's spirit while it still had that %$!@#* mind blank spell up!  Why couldn't Sick Sword have relied on her amulet of life protection just for today?!

Gross Sword drifted closer by the millisecond.  Sick Sword was doomed, and she knew it.  Well, she might not be able to leave Heaven, but she could bloody well still transmit her thoughts through the contact-other-plane link she'd opened less than a minute before.  If she was going to be annihilated, she had to round out one last thing first. . . .

"Ringman!" Sick Sword's voice echoed in Ringman's mind.

"What?" he sat upright.  "Sick Sword?!"

He glanced at Disgusting Sword.  His outburst had not disturbed her prayer.

Ringman could feel her presence almost as much as if she were still alive.  He could feel the quavering fear, the encroaching doom in her telepathic voice.  He could almost see his own son bearing down on her with his adamantite dagger and broadsword.

"Ringman, you were right," the voice said.  "You were so right, there is no need for Disgusting Characters on Central Earth anymore!  I should never have turned our children into killing machines!"

"Sick Sword," he clutched his face as he said it, "No, no!  Don't let this be the end!  I still love you with all my heart!"

"My love," she replied, and her voice sounded more final than ever, "Ringman, I'm sorry. . . . I'm so, so sorry."

A choking sensation cut across the telepathic ether, and her transmission ended.  Ringman neither spake nor moved.

"NO!" Ridiculous Sword shouted to Gross Sword when she at last reached the scene, but too late.  Before she could get any of her spells off, before even the quickest of her psionic disciplines kicked in — before there was any way she could beat him to the punch — Gross Sword impaled his mother's ghost on his Gross Dagger and channeled enough damage into it from his Other Bracer of Irresistible Damage to vaporize her.  Her phantasmal form twinkled for an instant, and then dispersed itself back into the cosmic ocean from whence it came.

Disgusting Sword finished her prayer, pointed her right index finger at Sick Sword's corpse's neck, and let her arm recoil slightly.  The standard raise dead spark flashed on her fingertip, but it wasn't echoed by the body at all.

Disgusting Sword's mouth dropped open in disbelief.  Ringman had already known for the last several seconds that it wouldn't work anyway.  It was all over.

Gross Sword smiled chaotic-evilly at Ridiculous Sword, guffawed a hideous laugh, and left the plane of Heaven.  Ridiculous Sword couldn't find him now unless he wanted to be found.

Ringman buried his face in his hands and started to shake.  His fingertips grappled with his temples.  Then, not caring if Disgusting Sword or Ridiculous Sword or the whole town heard him, he tore his hands away and screamed as loudly as he could.


"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" wailed the first echo.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah," cried the second.

"Aaaaaaaaah . . ." whispered the third.

The silence that followed was thunderous.  It took Ringman a long while to break down and sob.

'The poor man,' Disgusting Sword thought.  'It must really be hard on him.'

The Sick Kids is continued in part 2.
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