Danny soon tired of the chase. It was rather hard keeping up, considering that Ludicrous Lance's movement rate on foot was 128 times higher than his own. Oh, sure, he could use his psionic teleportation to keep popping up in front of his quarry, but then Ludicrous Lance would just run away again. He came to a running halt, shrugged, decided he might as well rejoin his father back on the clifftop, and strolled back at a leisurely 40 feet per second.
When Danny was a mile away, he made out the bony silhouette of a dracolich.
When Danny was half a mile away, he made out the shapes of a centaur sprawled on the ground, and two men.
When Danny was a quarter of a mile away, he could tell that one of the men was also sprawled on the ground, and the other was standing over him.
Danny arrived just in time to see a blond-haired figure, in shimmering chainlink armor with a stack of helms on his head and a green glowing long sword in his right hand, disappear while clutching one of his amulets, leaving behind the lifeless corpses of a curiously evil-looking centaur . . . and of his own slain father.
His eyes bulged wide as he assessed what must have happened. Great Bahamut's ghost! He'd had it in for his father many a time, but he never actually wanted him dead! He ran to the blood-stained paladin's lifeless corpse and fell to his knees beside it. Who had done this to him?! Who was that guy in the chainlink armor with the minimal set of disgusting-character acoutrements that just disappeared? Shaking his head in confusion and near-panic, he pored over and patted down every inch of his father's armored cadaver, looking for anything — anything — Ringman might have had on his person that would let him cheat death.
Ringman had nothing. Not even a run-of-the-mill amulet of life protection.
And something else was missing. That holy sword of Ringman's that he liked to talk to was out of its sheath and nowhere nearby.
Danny furrowed his brow and scratched his head. His dad's holy sword — what was its name again? Proteus? Promethium? He didn't have a 25 Intelligence back when his dad had told those stories and so his memory was less than perfect. But he remembered enough. It was an intelligent weapon, but it was no artifact. Its market value would be no different than that of any other ordinary longsword +6, holy avenger, a measly 40 000 gold pieces. It hardly seemed worth the effort for a disgusting character, like Ringman's attacker evidently had been, to take such a paltry bauble.
Unless . . .
Danny tried to recall the stories Ringman had told about his adventures on Central Earth over the years. Man, his old man could ramble. Danny had gotten so bored with those tall tales that when his dad started retelling his Smogzilla story again to those student-paladins back home, Danny had walked out of the room. But there were some stories that had caught his attention more than others, because there'd been a certain . . . bitterness, or even outright contempt, in his father's voice. They involved another paladin, a disgusting character paladin by the name of Peter Perfect, who had a thing for mayhem and with whom Ringman's intelligent holy sword apparently got along really really well. Supposedly, Peter Perfect was dead and in Heaven — er, Mount Celesta — and there wasn't enough of his corpse left to resurrect. But knowing disgusting characters, he or someone else might have found some way around that minor inconvenience.
And if that was the case, and it was Peter Perfect who had killed his father and taken his holy sword, then when Peter Perfect disappeared while holding on to one of his amulets a minute or two ago, the amulet he was holding might have been an amulet of the planes. He might have "disappeared" by plane travelling. But where would he plane-travel t— . . .
Peter Perfect, his amulet of the planes still clutched in his left hand, materialized in the surf of a vast ocean bathed in silvery moonlight.
"Huh?" he asked, releasing the amulet so that it fell back to its usual spot around his neck. "This doesn't look anything like the Heaven I remember!"
"Of course not," Prometheus replied from within the grip of his right hand. "They only renovated this place with all the Second Edition changes a couple of weeks ago."
"I know, but jeez!" the paladin sniffed. "What in heck is that awful stench?! It smells like . . ." He gasped and cringed. "Holy water! Ew, yuck!! This whole ocean is composed entirely of holy water! Ack!!" He trudged to the nearby shore as quickly as he could manage, hoping he wouldn't get any more of the holy water on him than he'd already picked up.
"Yep," his holy avenger quipped. "Book of Planescape Wisdom, DM's guide, page 62, Lunia paragraph: 'Portals open into the shallow surf at the ocean shore's edge. The water itself is as sweet as holy water and has the same effect on undead.'"
Peter shook the liquid from his legs as he emerged on the shore, his nose still wrinkled in disgust. "Gah. The grossest substance in the multiverse. It figures Heaven would be chock full of the stuff. Bleah!"
"You'd think a paladin like yourself would like holy water," Prometheus commented.
Peter sneered. "The only times I ever 'liked' holy water was when I threw it at undead monsters and watched it burn their flesh off their bones."
"You fought undead?" the sword asked.
"Yep," Peter replied. "Back in the glory days of my youth, before that first Monty Haul dungeon. Ah, those were some good times. Fighting ordinary, run-of-the-mill, low-hit-dice monsters generated randomly; having to wend my way through an underground labyrinth because I didn't have any oil of etherealness and I didn't want to waste any psionic strength points; not knowing what would be around the next corner because I didn't have a permanent potion of clairvoyance at 150 percent effectiveness. I was a second-level 18/00 Strength weakling without a holy sword or a girdle of giant strength or even a magical suit of armor to my name. The only psionic disciplines I had were energy control, etherealness, mind over body, animal telepathy, body weaponry, and domination. But I didn't care. I was adventuring. I drooled over every experience point the DM handed out when I vanquished a monster and picked its pockets clean."
"Sorry I wasn't around to share it with you back then," the sword cooed.
"Yeah," Peter sighed, still lost in his reverie, "There was nothing quite like the dying screams of agony I could wrench out of a ghoul or a wight." He shook himself, and smiled. "And now, I get to do some more vanquishing against the dweebiest pansy ever to call himself a paladin. If I can find him, that is. Dog gone it, I turn my back on Heaven for one minute, and they've changed the name and rearranged all the furniture without putting up so much as a road sign. Where the heck is everything around here anymore?!"
Okay, think, Danny, think! That son-of-a-biscuit Peter Perfect was probably on the plane of Heaven, or Mount Celesta, or Lunia, or whatever they called it these days, to annihilate Ringman's soul! If he did that, his dad would be gone forever. No one could be brought back to life once their soul had been obliterated. But if Ringman could be brought back to life first, his soul would leave Heaven and go back into his own body, right here in front of Danny, where Peter Perfect couldn't get at it.
Well, Ringman might not have been carrying anything with him that could preserve his soul or bring him back to life, but by the gods, Danny wasn't so ill-equipped! His artifact short sword had the table 25, entry 63-67 artifact power, which allowed it to cast a resurrection spell. He drew the short sword, touched the tip of it to his father's cadaver, and chanted "Resurrectionem!"
Damn it, the artifact power of resurrection was only usable once per week! He'd already used up this week's allotment back when he'd disintegrated that centaur and used his artifact short sword to bring her back to life. At his father's insistence. Now what? Danny had to get Ringman brought back to life before Peter Perfect could get within melee range of his soul. Didn't he have anything else in that disgusting character arsenal of his that could raise someone from the dead? He searched through the powers of his other two artifacts. Nothing. His artifact bracer of defense had just about every artifact power in the multiverse, except raise dead or resurrection. He scanned the vast panoply of psionic powers now available to him in Second Edition. Nothing. Even cell adjustment, which now had no upper limit as to the number of damage points it could heal, still couldn't bring anybody back to life.
His non-artifact magic items were equally useless; he didn't have so much as one paltry raise dead fully ring (with or without both charges). His ring of regeneration could only bring someone back from the dead if that someone happened to be wearing the ring at the moment of death. His book of infinite spells was currently turned to a page with delayed-blast sonic ball on it. Here in the heat of the moment, with the Dungeon Master watching, he wouldn't get to roll for what spells were on the next pages with loaded dice. He'd have to roll for which spell was on each page for real, and the chances of any of those spells being raise dead or resurrection were vanishingly small. He did have a white powder philosopher's stone, but no potion of longevity to mix it with. And no other magic items existed which could bring someone back to life without the aid of a cleric.
A cleric . . .
Danny gazed back down toward the valley and sped off at his full jogging rate of 4800 yards per minute.
Peter Perfect levelled his broom of flying off at 3000 feet and gazed out over the landscape, hoping to make some kind of sense out of Lunia's layout. The perpetual nighttime that cloaked the whole plane wasn't helping.
"See, that's what I don't get," Prometheus quipped from within Peter's long sword scabbard. "You say your only major psionic disciplines used to be energy control and etherealness, right?"
"Mmmm," Peter nodded absent-mindedly, still surveying the land.
"But just before you formed the IUDC, I remember watching you go through about 30 spheres of annihilation so that you could pick up all the other psionic disciplines under that little First Edition loophole."
"Mmmm," Peter scratched his head, still looking for clues far below.
"But," the sword noted, "In order to survive a sphere of annihilation, you have to be using probability travel! Probability travel was a psionic discipline you didn't even have before you started going through those spheres of annihilation in the first place!"
The paladin glowered at his holy avenger. "Will you shut up?"
Prometheus put on its best British accent and quipped, "Shutting up, sir."
Peter looked back to the horizon, and let out a sigh. "These hills are littered with citadels and even a few small towns, but there's no sign of the pearly gates, or of any congregations of new angelic recruits, or of that blasted Concorde, or even of the runway for the Concorde. They could be anywh— wait a minute!" He cupped a hand to his ear, and his eyes narrowed. "Ugh. I'd recognize that damned piped-in harp music anywhere." He pointed, "It's coming from over that low rise. Onward!"
He kicked his broom of flying back into gear and arrowed toward the source of the noise at the broom's full outdoor movement rate of 300 yards per minute.
"Josephus!" Danny called out as he neared the dwarf-on-horseback.
The dwarven cleric gasped as he looked over his shoulder. A disgusting character was zooming toward him at 4800 yards per minute. He pulled back on the horse's reins, hauled out his hammer of thunderbolts, assumed a defensive posture, and prepared for the worst.
"Oh, for cryin' out loud, it's only me!" Danny chided him when he arrived.
'Only a chaotic 3000th level Weapons Master with every psionic wild talent in the book and an array of magic items and artifacts that could level a whole continent,' Josephus thought as he lowered his hammer and shield.
"Look," Danny told him, "Ringman's dead."
"What?!" the dwarf blurted out. "You killed your own father?!"
"No no no NO!" Danny rolled his eyes. "That Peter Perfect guy killed him."
Dwarven brows furrowed as Josephus dug up his long-languishing memories of Ringman's past. "The paladin who co-founded the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters?"
"Whatever," Danny went on. "The point is, he killed him, and I think he plane-transported himself to Heaven to wipe out Ringman's soul!"
"Oh My Deity," the cleric did the My Deity equivalent of crossing himself. It looked vaguely like the signals a baseball manager would give to his players, had baseball been invented yet.
"You've gotta raise him from the dead before Peter Perfect gets to his soul!"
"But," the dwarf stammered, "But I'm only a 6th level cleric! Raise dead is a 5th level spell; I won't get to cast it until I'm 9th level!"
"You can cast it off a scroll!" Danny insisted. "Priests can read priest scrolls even if the spells on them need a higher level to cast them than the priest's level! It says so in the Book of Infinite Wisdom, Second Edition!"
"So it does," Josephus mused. "I'd need to be 9th level to cast raise dead, and I'm 6th level now, so there'd only be a fifteen percent chance of failure if I tried to read a raise dead scroll. Of course, if it did fail, it could also backfire; but with only 3 levels difference between my level and the level needed to cast the spell, the chance of a backfire would only be five percent."
"So you'll do it?" Danny asked.
The cleric replied, "Do you have a raise dead scroll?"
"Well, not on me, no," Danny answered. "But I can buy one!"
The dwarf put his fists on his hips. "You can't just go and buy magic items!"
"Sure I can!" Danny retorted. "Watch! Oh, black magic maaaaaaaaaar-keeeeeeet!" he called out in sing-song fashion.
Instantly, a crescendo filled the air, space to one side of them distorted and puckered, and there on the hill appeared a sales stand whose back end vanished into infinity. The pale-skinned, unkempt, scruffy-faced youth standing at the front counter croaked, "Yeah, whadaya want?"
Danny shook his head in confusion. "Where's Dirk Vader?"
The clerk shrugged, "He wasn't trendy anymore."
Danny waved it aside. "Never mind, just gimmie a scroll of raise dead."
The clerk lethargically pulled a scroll out from the blurry infinity behind him and unceremoniously plopped it down on the counter. "That'll be fifteen hundred. And —"
"I know," Danny cut him off as he reached into one of his portable holes, "No denominations larger than twenty gold pieces." He hauled out one of his old million-gold-piece gems and quickly chopped off seventy-five 20-gold-piece-thick slices Julienne-fashion. "Here ya go," he pushed the newly-sliced-off pile of mini-gems forward and reached for the scroll.
"For two silver pieces more, would you like fries with that?" the clerk droned.
"Er, no no," Danny waved a hand at the clerk and turned back to the dwarf. "There, see?" he held up the scroll. "Now, quick, come back to dad's corpse with me and bring him back to life!"
"I . . ." Josephus stammered, holding up his hands, "I can't do it."
"What?!" the punked-out disgusting character blurted. "Why the Hells not?!"
"My Deity insists that I follow the rules," the dwarf reminded him. "The Book of Infinite Wisdom, Second Edition, chapter ten, clearly states that 'No magical stores exist.' This black magic market for black market magic that you just conjured up out of thin air can only exist in the distorted, rules-bent world of you disgusting characters. If I were to use any item 'purchased' from such a store, I would be breaking the rules just as much as if I were to have bought the item myself."
"You have got to be kidding me," Danny mumbled through clenched teeth. Then, more loudly: "You'd let my dad and your old friend's soul get annihilated, just because of your precious rules?!"
Josephus only looked down and away.
"Arrrgh!!" Danny screamed to the sky above. Then, he snapped his fingers. "Wait a minute — that's it! I can buy anything from this store!" He turned back to the slacker at the counter, presented the raise dead scroll, and declared, "I'd like to sell back this scroll, and buy a plain gold ring with the artifact power of resurrection!"
The clerk shrugged. "Okay, a hundred gee-pee for a gold ring, plus five thousand for the artifact power, minus 1500 for the scroll here . . ." he took out an abacus, as he was too lazy to do the arithmetic himself ". . . the difference comes to 3600."
Danny promptly sliced off 180 more 20-gold-piece-sized slivers from his formerly-million-gold-piece gem and scooted the pile toward the clerk. "There!"
The clerk scooped the gem fragments into his cash till, and then . . . he just stood there. Motionless. As though his business was over with.
"Well?" Danny held out his empty hand, "Where's my artifact ring?"
"Hmmm?" the clerk responded as though he'd never seen Danny before in his life.
"I just paid you thirty-six hundred gold pieces and a raise dead scroll for a ring with an artifact resurrection power," Danny stammered. "Now where is it?!"
"Oh," the clerk replied, "The Bureau of Artifacts, Tobacco, and Firearms put a five-day waiting period on the sale of all artifacts. They have to run a background check or something."
Danny's eyes practically left their sockets. "When did this rule go into effect?!"
"Uh," the clerk glanced at his wristwatch +2, "About a minute ago."
"Great," Danny threw up his hands, "The multiverse is conspiring against me!" Then, he remembered his stance with the Dungeon Master, and furrowed his brows. "Actually, that's probably true. Okay," he addressed the clerk again, "Forget the artifact ring."
"Can't," the clerk informed him, "The order's already going through Processing."
"But I didn't know there was a new background check rule in effect when I bought it! I wanna get my money back!"
"Too bad, you should've asked," the clerk replied, and almost seemed to smirk. Almost.
Danny fought down the bile in his stomach, took a deep breath, and tried a different tack. He could still whip up a makeshift raise dead elixir out of his white powder philosopher's stone, if he could get the right ingredient to go with it. "All right, then," he exhaled, "How about an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, non-artifact potion of longevity?"
The clerk plucked a potion vial from the plenum behind him and tossed it onto the counter. "That'll be a thousand even."
Danny instinctively chopped off another fifty 20-gold-piece-thick gem fragments, but stopped himself before he gave it to the clerk. "Uh, there's no waiting period to buy this potion, is there?"
"Nope," the clerk shook his head.
"So, if I give you this thousand gold pieces worth of gems," Danny asked cautiously, "You'll let me have that potion of longevity sitting on the counter right away. Right?"
"Nope," the clerk repeated.
"What do you mean, 'nope'?!" Danny winced.
"It's after 5 p.m.," the clerk explained. "The gem exchange is closed now. So's the trade-in exchange. We only take coins during evening hours."
Danny snorted, "Oh, great." He stepped away from the counter in disgust. Nearly all his wealth — like the wealth of most disgusting characters — was in gems. And what with the black magic market for black market magic blithely accepting gems as currency (during normal business hours, at least), there weren't any gem dealers anywhere to be found on Central Earth any more.
"The exchanges'll be open again at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning for your shopping convenience," the clerk offered.
"Go away," Danny grunted, and the clerk and the whole infinitely-deep sales stand did just that. He snapped his head back around to glower at the dwarf. "Damn it! If you're not gonna save my dad, I'll have to find Peter Perfect in Heaven right now!" He took out his own Amulet of the Planes, typed in what he hoped was the right sequence of commands, and ordered, "Amulet, take me to Mount Celesta!"
Danny vanished from the side of the mountain, and Josephus hoped and prayed that he would get there in time to save Ringman.
As Peter Perfect descended toward the angelic cluster, a white-robed figure rushed up to greet him. The man had small, white-feathered wings sticking out of his back, a brass hoop suspended over his head, . . . and a small brass harp in his hands. "None shall pass," he intoned, "Who are not pure of heart and spirit. Behold the soothing harp music of the angelic host!" His fingers arched menacingly close to his harp's strings.
"Oh no you don't!" Peter Perfect growled. "I've been waiting years to do this!" He cocked back Prometheus to deliver a killing blow.
"Now hold on!" the long sword protested. "I can't just go kill an angel! I'm a holy sword, for lawful goodness' sake!"
"All right then," Peter smirked, and reached into the pouch on his left hip. He threw a small pinch of the evil seeds at the man in the white robes, and at once the angel shrieked with fright. His robe instantly turned black, his feathery wings became bat wings, horns and a barbed tail sprouted from his body, and as a final touch, his face grew a goatee.
"Now that's more like it!" Prometheus proclaimed, and with the aid of Peter's titan-strength right arm, the green flashing blade hewed the newly-fallen angel clean in half. Each half fell from the sky of Lunia toward the moonlit ground below.
"Hmph," Peter grunted. "That wasn't as satisfying as I'd hoped it would be. Probably because those critters aren't worth very many experience points."
Peter resumed his course, only to be assailed by a little ball of light that nipped at his heels like an overly affectionate cocker-spaniel. "That must be one of those new Lanterns that the Book of Planescape Wisdom warned me about," he noted. Indeed, it was — he could make out a "Coleman" logo on the side of it. He spattered the glowing fuzzball with a few evil seeds, whereupon it began to glow red, indicating that it was now evil and therefore safe for a paladin and his holy avenger to hack to pieces. He stabbed at the now-evil Lantern nonchalantly, and it popped like a toy balloon.
Down he flew, ever nearer to the place where he knew Ringman must be, and as he did so, more lanterns and yet more angels and even some kind of new lawful-good greyhound or two kept on popping up in his path. He suspected that some of them weren't intentionally standing in his way and merely happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he didn't care. Evil seeds went flying from pouch to hand to heavenly denizen over and over, and no sooner had each new handful of seeds transformed its victim into a brimstone-clad mockery of its former self than Prometheus came right on its heels and slew the new creature without so much as slowing Peter down.
"Yee haw!" Peter Perfect cheered, his broom of flying bucking slightly with each sword hack. "I'm gunnin' for you, Ringman!
Danny materialized on a flat landscape baking under a red giant star, across which countless hordes of snivelling Manes roamed aimlessly.
'This can't be Heaven,' he thought, his permanent potion of fire resistance at 150% effectiveness and constant protection from fire keeping him from roasting under the sky's red sunlamp. Then he conked himself on the head as he remembered. Until the user of an amulet of the planes had "learned" the device, whatever that meant, the amulet would transport him to a random outer plane. He'd ended up in the Abyss.
"All right," he said aloud, "Let's try that again." He set the dials on his amulet a little differently, and again commanded, "Take me to Mount Celesta!"
Once more, the multiverse twisted around him, and when reality reestablished itself, he found himself sitting in the middle of the Parthenon. "Damn it, no!" he cursed, "This is Olympus!"
"No it's not," replied a lady in a toga, "This is Arborea. We had to change its name; something about trademark infringement."
It still looked like a Romanized version of Olympus, as far as Danny was concerned. He reprogrammed his amulet of the planes yet again, with the forlorn hope that even if he didn't learn the device, he'd still have a one-in-twelve chance of teleporting to Mount Celesta by sheer luck.
"There!" Peter barked as he descended the final couple hundred feet. "In the middle of that cluster of . . . of guys that look like ordinary plain-clothed people! I'd recognize that scruffy black beard anywhere. And I see that death has deprived him of his armor and all his magic items. Ringman!"
The recently-disembodied paladin on the ground looked up quizzically at the mention of his name. Was My Deity calling him at last? Were one of My Deity's saints greeting him at the pearly gates? Were they calling his name because he had earned some special reward for a martyr's death?
No. The crowd around him was scattering in panic. He looked up and, to his horror, saw the visage of his killer bearing down toward him. "Peter Perfect!" he gasped.
"In the flesh, again!" the paladin-on-a-broom gloated. "Unlike some dead people I could mention."
Ringman's brows furrowed and he shook his head in disbelief. "You've come to ann . . ."
"To annihilate your worthless soul," Peter finished the sentence for him.
"Peter, listen to me," Ringman intoned, having been shocked so often in the past hour that nothing could shock him any more. "You're a paladin. Killing me was bad enough. But no paladin hunts down and destroys any dead man's soul, let alone a lawful good man's soul, let alone another paladin's soul, and keeps his own paladinhood intact."
Peter smirked as he parked the broom and planted his feet on the soil of Lunia in his own boots of elvenkind (with his boots of speed worn underneath). "Well, then, we'll just have to make you an evil man's soul!" he answered, grabbed some evil seeds from his now-well-worn belt pouch, and threw them straight at Ringman.
"No, no, no, this is Nirvana!" Danny growled as he materialized onto the wrong plane yet again. This plane seemed to be filled with rock musicians that were all named Kurt Cobain, whoever the heck he was. He turned the Rubik's Cube that was his amulet of the planes into yet another configuration, and with a voice growing hoarse from repeating the command so often, once again said, "Take me to Mount Celesta!"
And once more the multiverse spun around like the wheels of a slot machine, and once again reality came to rest and his senses returned. But this time, he was standing on a moonlit landscape in a shallow, holy-water-like surf. Lunia. This was it! He'd rolled lucky and wound up in the plane of Mount Celesta at last!
Now he had to find his father before his father's killer could kill him a second time, somewhere in this vast plane.
Ringman tried desperately to dodge the incoming handful of evil seeds. Without his armor or shield or ring of protection, and without a weapon to parry with (not that he could have parried a cloud of thrown projectiles anyway), he had only his Dexterity defensive adjustment to reduce his Armor Class; and that was only enough to bring him down to A.C. 7. Positive 7. Against the base THAC0 of a 20th-level Warrior like Peter Perfect, combined with Peter Perfect's Dexterity to-hit adjustment with missiles of +3 (+4 if he was wearing his gauntlets of dexterity, which he was), there was no way those evil seeds would miss Ringman at this range, unless Peter rolled a 1.
Peter did not roll a 1. The black seeds spattered themselves all over Ringman's disembodied clothes and disembodied body . . .
. . . And just as suddenly, the seeds leapt away from him. A white light seemed to come from Ringman, repelling the evil that Peter tried to inflict upon him, and they could almost hear Handel's "Hallelujah!" chorus welling up in the background. (The fact that Handel hadn't been invented yet notwithstanding.)
Even Ringman's brows arched up at this; but he couldn't say he was completely surprised by it. "Wow," he commented, his voice subdued in awe, "You really can't corrupt the soul of a paladin."
Peter glared at this upstart paladin through eyelids narrowed to slits. "Then I'll just have to finish you off the old fashioned way." He started to raise Prometheus.
"Don't do it," Ringman pleaded with him, and in a last-ditch effort added, "You'll be throwing your paladinhood away."
"We'll see about that," the clean-shaven paladin sneered, and raised Prometheus over his head to strike.
Finding Peter Perfect's trail wasn't difficult. Danny only had to look for the swath of horn-spouting, barbed-tailed dead bodies that littered the ground. He raced along the line of decimation at his full jogging rate, the corpses getting fresher and fresher as he sped along, and was soon upon the low rise that Peter Perfect had crossed by air just moments earlier. Boots of speed, a permanent potion of speed at 150% effectiveness, and two helpings of the "double the normal overland movement rate" artifact power all boosted him to a speed far, far beyond what Peter's meagre broom of flying could muster. Every three and three-quarters seconds, he covered the same distance it had recently taken the clean-shaven paladin a full minute to cross.
But he was still not close enough to see them. And he felt in the pit of his gut that he might already be too late.
"Now hold on just a mithral-pickin' minute here!" Prometheus protested from within the grip of Peter Perfect's titan-strength right hand. "This just flat-out goes beyond the pale. I am not going to sit here and let you use me to strike down a paladin's disembodied soul! A holy sword's got to put its foot down someplace!"
"You don't have a foot," Peter sneered at the disobedient blade. "You don't even have legs, fer cryin' out loud!"
"Be that as it may," the long sword replied, "I'm not going to attack him, and that's that." Prometheus did the swordly equivalent of folding its arms and pointing its nose in the air.
"You don't have a choice," Peter informed the holy avenger with forced calm. "My personality score is 12 points higher than yours."
"I can still go limp and curl up into a little ball," Prometheus replied, whereupon it went limp and curled up into a little ball. "Try hacking at Ringman with a wet noodle in your hand!"
Ringman's eyebrows arched up in surprise again. "I had no idea a +6 lump of solid adamantite could do that."
Peter Perfect glowered at the rebellious former ally in his right hand. "Fine!" He tossed the sword to the ground, where it clanged and regained its long-swordly shape. "Who needs you!" With those words, he drew the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords with his left hand and his hammer of thunderbolts with his right. He raised the Axe over his head to strike, just as he had with Prometheus a moment before.
And at that moment, Danny finally sprinted into view.
"No!!" the punked-out 3000th-level youth screamed from the distance as Peter's axe blade sliced through the air of Lunia and into the noncorporeal flesh of his father's soul. Peter didn't roll a natural 18, 19, or 20, so Ringman was spared the embarrassment of the axe's sharpness power and kept all of his limbs intact — not that dismemberment would have had much of an effect on a dead person's disembodied spirit anyway. But the +3 damage bonus of the axe head, combined with +14 damage points from Peter's girdle of titan strength, +18 damage points from his permanent potion of storm giant strength at 150% effectiveness (he'd managed to convince the DM that its damage bonus was cumulative with his Strength bonus, whether from his natural Strength score or from the girdle, since the wording of the potion's description didn't actually say it raised his Strength, so the damage bonus it imbued must therefore be something "different" from his Strength bonus), and the additional 1d8+6 damage points from the ring of shocking grasp on his left hand, added up to a massive stroke of 48 damage points. Ringman's soul had started with the same number of hit points that his mortal body had when it was in perfect health, namely 79. That one slash of the axe-blade had reduced him to a mere 31.
Danny poured on the speed and increased his movement rate to the highest tier he could, but he was still too far away to engage his father's assailant before the axe-and-hammer-wielding paladin got a chance to strike with his other weapon. Curse these round-by-round combat rules! He was also out of range for a psionic blast, or any other psionic power he might use against Peter Perfect. Sure, he could use his helm of teleportation or his psionic teleportation power to appear right next to them both this very instant, but then he wouldn't be able to do anything else for the rest of the minute. (Or at least for the rest of the 24 seconds, what with his permanent potion of speed at 150% effectiveness.)
He was utterly powerless to intervene in time.
Peter cocked back the hammer of thunderbolts in his right hand for the final blow. "Ho ho, Ringman!" he goaded, savoring the moment by dredging up a very old memory. "You know you're no match for me!"
"Danny," Ringman whispered. Despite the great distance still between them, his son could hear his words clearly. "Tell your mom and your sister that I'm sorry, I couldn't keep my promise to come back to them. And that I love them both, very very much."
Danny stretched out his hands desperately toward his father as he ran, wanting fervently to prevent the end from coming.
"As much as I love you," his father finished.
Through the anguish of his new tears, Danny watched helplessly as the hammer swung around and slammed straight into his father's belly with an echoing peal of thunder. Ringman's 31 remaining hit points were no match for such a coup de grâce. The second tier of death, the eternal tier of nothingness to which few had been condemned and from which none could ever return, claimed one more victim.
Ringman seemed almost calm as his phantasmal form broke apart into a myriad of soft shards, which dissolved into the air of Heaven like a vanishing mist once and for all.
Danny at last arrived, too late, wailing a mixture of sorrow and disbelief and vengefulness. His artifact swords were drawn, and he intended to use them to turn Peter Perfect into so much paladin purée.
But even there, his father's killer foiled him. The blond-haired paladin merely quipped, "Toodles!", engaged his helm of teleportation, and transported himself far enough away that he could engage his amulet of the planes at his leisure. The mind blank still in effect on him wiped out any chance Danny would have had to have gone after him. Only Prometheus, still lying where Peter had discarded it, remained behind.
Danny walked to the spot where his father's soul had just been standing, and fell to his knees from exhaustion and anger and fear and sorrow and grief all heaping themselves upon him at once.
"Dad," he shook his head, the bitter tears eking out of the corners of his tightly-shut eyes. "Oh, dad!"
The Intercontinental Proliferation of Disgusting Characters is continued in chapter 11.
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