Clerasil glanced impatiently at his wrist-sundial after having sniffed a block of meditational incense for the last eight hours. It was nearly 1600 hours, the time they had all mutually agreed upon would be the "least likely time for them to expect us to attack."
Melnic the Loud was still tuning his Ollamh banjo, wondering whether he should tune it to just-intonation or the Pythagorean system. His Recorder of Ye'Cind was Pythagoreanically tuned, yet he couldn't figure out for the life of him what Clerasil's Mystical Organ of Heward was tuned to, unless it was some ungodly system of all-half-steps-being-equal.
Ringman sat busily adjusting the string on his +1 bow; he never knew when he'd need it. He wondered fleetingly whether he'd need to consume his potion of storm giant strength, then dismissed the thought. Of COURSE he'd need to consume it. He'd never get a better opportunity to use it than against the Disgusting Characters.
Koenieg simply sat in lotus-position, resting his hands on his legs, thumbs touching his forefingers, and saying, "Ohmmm. Ohmmm." as a block of magic incense finished its eight-hour burn nearby. Middle Monk glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, wondering if he was queer or something, and practiced striking imaginary targets with Dhalveron, his sentient +6 Pair of Gloves. Wierd Dough glanced back in his magic book, making sure that there was no maneuver to this-or-that spell he might have forgotten (anybody who memorizes 234 spells every day is bound to forget something).
At last, Clerasil drew his attention to the second hand on his wrist sundial. "Five . . . four . . . three . . ." Everybody was intently alert, so intently alert it nearly hurt. "Two . . . one . . . NOW! It's sixteen hundred hours! Teleport! Teleport!"
And with that, Wierd Dough teleported half the party and Sick Sword the other half, using very little effort indeed from their helms of teleportation. Everybody popped back into being at precisely the points in the Disgusting Characters' camp where they were supposed to be.
Rango the ranger sounded the verbal alarm instantly. "IT'S THEM!" he shouted. "THE ANTI-DISGUSTING CHARACTERS! THEY'RE HERE! THEY'RE HERE!"
And within seconds, Dirk the Destructive, Wild Max, Peter Perfect, Da Bad Dude, and Omnion were all charging up to the front lines with weapons and material components in hand.
"Omnion's mine," Sick Sword sneered, then turn to Melnic the Loud. "Sing for us, Melnic! We need all the help we can get!"
"I know just the song, too," Melnic the Loud smiled, his Recorder of Ye'Cind already welded to his shoulder. He began strumming his adamantite banjo strings as the recorder began to flutter wildly through arpeggiae.
Clerasil picked up on the mood instantly, too, having already removed Heward's Mystical Organ from its portable hole. He put a Scroll of Player Piano Paper in the appropriate slot on the organ (this scroll held a clerical spell, though; that is, it had air holes for controlling the organ stops) and left his instrument there to accompany his hammer-flinging.
And Melnic the Loud's song began:
"To dream the impossible dream, . . ."
Clerasil cast bless, resist fire, prayer, and sticks to snakes all at the same time. Thirty-eight twigs on the ground within ten feet of each other rose up into totally venomous serpents, meant more as an inconvenient distraction than a serious threat. Da Bad Dude charged through the field of innocuous deadly snakes and swung at Clerasil with Stormslinger, his sentient dagger of life stealing but, with Clerasil's armor class of -10 and protection from evil, naturally missed.
". . . To fight the unbeatable foe, . . ."
Wild Max fumbled with a tube of Dust of Disappearance, hoping to invisibly stab one of the anti-Disgusting characters in the back with Kas's sword and his own titan strength. Middle Monk wasn't going to let him get away with that so easily; he ran up at an unbelievably fast speed and knocked the container out of the Grandfather of Assassins' hand with a lightning-fast palm strike.
". . . To bear with unbearable sorrow, . . ."
Koenieg hopped into the foray on his right hand, primarily because he couldn't untangle his legs from the lotus position. This meant, of course, that he couldn't use his +5 defender scimitar and move along the ground at the same time, since his left hand held his +5 wooden shield. No matter. Rango the ranger was closing in on him with Escalatio, his sentient +6 broadsword, so Koenieg hit him with an Ego Whip which bounced harmlessly off of his Johydee's Mask but got him to stop and check to see if his face was still there anyway.
". . . To run where the brave dare not go; . . ."
Many of the anti-Disgusting characters were beginning to sing along with Melnic the Loud, or at least mouth the words while they expounded their spells' verbal components. Wierd Dough, realizing that nearly every other opponent was taken, shrugged his shoulders, turned to Dirk the Destructive, and cast a Ball Lightning Swarm spell just a few centimeters off target. Being off-targeted, Dirk the Destructive would get a saving throw against the spell (which he would have gotten anyway thanks to his $#@!ing Scarab of Protection) but wouldn't be able to spell-turn the electricity. Dirk the Destructive gladly took the 50 (half averaged) damage points the spell inflicted upon him; it was either that, or throw up an "energy control" mind discipline and lose 40 psionic power points. He then stabbed non-chalantly with his unholy sword and unholy dagger at Wierd Dough and hit both times.
". . . To right the unrightable wrong, . . ."
Peter Perfect stared at Ringman and smiled; he would have smiled evilly had not that blasted stamp on his character sheet read, "lawful good." He was already mounted on his warhorse, and decided to charge Ringman sword-first in classic paladin fashion. Ringman half-expected, half didn't expect this, but he was ready; the strength of an ogre was nothing compared to the storm giant strength compressed into his human-sized muscles at this point. Just as Peter Perfect and his warhorse were about to impale him, he dropped to the ground, let the horse run halfway over him, then lifted the beast up and overbore him to the ground seven feet away. He sang along with the Melnic the Loud's next line, staring at Sick Sword:
". . . To love even if from afar, . . ."
By now, every anti-Disgusting Character's morale and to-hit chances had been boosted by 10% and +1 respectively, thanks to Melnic the Loud; and Sick Sword was no exception. Omnion rushed up to her with a sickening scowl on her female half-elven face, raised Hymenslayer high above her head, and hacked down with full titan strength. Sick Sword held her Sick Sword valiantly before her across the incoming longsword's path. And when Hymenslayer impacted against the Sick Sword, much to Omnion's astoundment, it didn't reach Sick Sword's body and do any damage.
". . . To try when your arms are too weary . . ."
"What?!" Omnion screamed. "That's impossible! I didn't roll a '1', I had to hit!"
'What's the matter, Omnion,' Sick Sword telepathized, 'Didn't you read the latest issue of Dragon and Dragrace?'
No, her shaking head conveyed.
'Straight from the Dungeon Master's mouth, assuming it has one. They've repealed the armor-class-negative-ten maximum character limit. We can be as hard to hit as we want; and with all my protections, even without specifically parrying, I'm armor class -24. You couldn't hit me without rolling a 20.'
". . . To reach the unreachable star; . . ."
Peter Perfect got to his feet, looked around for his pet peeve, and then realized that there was this bard pounding out a traitorous tune not twelve feet behind him. He twisted around, sanctions in his eyes, charged the Magna Alumnae, and hacked down with his holy sword as he yelled. Melnic the Loud brought the neck of his Ollamh Banjo up as a cross-brace and intercepted the sword with his adamantite banjo strings. This was completely inexcusable, Melnic figured, and kicked the dumbfounded Peter Perfect in his adamantite-alloyed-steel-plated groin; this sent the paladin clanging unharmed into the side of his warhorse. Never interrupt a bard's song.
". . . This is my quest, to follow that star, . . ."
Incredulous, Omnion slashed sideways with her left-handed +6 dagger of wounding and missed Sick Sword for a second time. Sick Sword followed up by thrusting her Sick Sword in rapier fashion at Omnion's head, which also missed. 'See?' telepathized Sick Sword.
". . . No matter how hopeless, no matter how far, . . ."
Clerasil, meanwhile, was having a Hades of a time with Da Bad Dude. Thanks to the repeal of the armor class -10 limit, neither of them had any real chance of hitting the other, and their spell protections were all so powerful that neither could harm or control the other with illusion or clericism. At that point, Clerasil noticed that Wierd Dough was having a Tarterus of a time with Dirk the Destructive, too, primarily because the archmage's armor class was only -14 and Dirk could indeed hit that rather well. Casually turning his attention from the innocuous Disgusting illusionist he faced, Clerasil aimed his holy symbol at Dirk the Destructive and shouted, "BEGONE!", at which the anti-paladin screamed and ran for his life. 'If an evil cleric can turn a paladin,' Clerasil figured, 'Why shouldn't a good cleric be able to turn an anti-paladin?'
". . . To fight for the right . . . without question or pause, . . ."
This left Wierd Dough free to gang up on Da Bad Dude with Clerasil. He opened up with a classic mirror image spell, creating four false likenesses of himself, which Da Bad Dude easily saw through with the help of a certain first-level illusionist spell that's good for seeing through illusions. Wierd Dough conked himself on the head for trying to fool an illusionist with an illusion, took out a potion of heroism (which wouldn't affect him normally since he wasn't a fighter), drank it, gestured, and suddenly had the music get real loud as a startling transformation occurred. "Yee-haa!" he shouted as he berserkedly charged the Disgusting illusionist with a magic dagger in each hand.
". . . To be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause; . . ."
Sick Sword savored that line of the song; Omnion sneered at it. "Cause or not," the half-elf cursed, "I'm still the better swordswoman!"
'Oh yeah?' oh-yeahed Sick Sword telepathically, exchanging three or four double-handed parries with her Disgusting opponent.
". . . And I know if I only be true to this glorious quest . . ."
"Yeah," Omnion sneered. "If you weren't dripping in so damned many magical protections, I could carve my initials into your chest right now!"
'And while you were doing that,' Sick Sword mentally responded, 'I could give you a successful radial keratotomy.'
'Hmmm,' Omnion thought. 'That is good.'
". . . That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I'm laid to my rest. . . ."
Sick Sword glanced through one of the rear-facing eyes on her Robe of Eyes to see how Wierd Dough was doing. He had had the brains to cast probably the single most potent spell in the Disgusting arch-mage's vocabulary, Tenser's floating transformation, and was now perfectly capable of meleeing Da Bad Dude to death. Good. She turned her full attention back to Omnion, who was still failing to get a shot in past her defenses. She disengaged from Omnion and darted across the camp, telepathically shouting, 'C'mon, catch me, catch me!'
". . . And the world will be better for this . . ."
Her ploy worked. Omnion took the bait and started after her. Nothing in the Disgusting Characters' camp or in its vicinity could trip Omnion up now that she knew about Koenieg's improved trip spell; that wasn't why Sick Sword was drawing her out. She had to get the lawful-evil bitch chasing her before she'd follow to more distant locales. Omnion threw the +5 shuriken of returning from around her neck and missed.
". . . That one man, scorned and covered with scars . . ."
In desperation of the lethal melee-ball in front of him, who had worn him down nearly to nothing, Da Bad Dude started to cast a phantasmal force spell. He would need it to alter reality. Clerasil was no supra-genius, but he knew this too, and cast a flame strike down on the illusionist. His ring turned half the effect and they both took only two points of fire damage thanks to their helms of brilliance, but that was enough to foil Da Bad Dude's spell. With blue-white mana in his berserk little eyes, the transformed Wierd Dough struck hard and fast with both Excalibur and his meager +5 dagger in combination, and felled the Disgusting illusionist to the ground.
". . . Still tries with his last ounce of courage . . ."
Koenieg had been spouting Zen Druid Bhuddism to Rango continuously under his hail of 25 ineffective sword hacks, and evidently it was getting to him. Upon telepathically hearing 'One to change it and one not to change it' for the twelfth time, Rango threw down his weapons, threw up his arms, and cried, "No more! No more! Get this tree brain away from me! AAaaagghh!"
Middle Monk was also handling Wild Max quite well. The Grandfather of Assassins' armor class of -18 made him hit-proof, but he'd neglected to reduce his save against no-save magic below 10-or-better. Thereby, when the Grand Master of Flowers (that's Middle Monk) grabbed him in the effect of his telekinesis ring, he failed to resist it, and Middle Monk lifted him high into the air and accelerated him down at maximum speed — with a little help from Central Earth's gravity. He smashed into the ground and took 30d6 of damage, which killed him instantly.
Before Melnic the Loud completed his song, there was the little matter of a very rude paladin still trying to make him shut up. Frustrated at his opponent's stubbornness, he opened one of his portable holes, took out the Machine of Lum the Mad, set the range finder, and pushed the button marked "Don't press"; and a creeping doom of 800 one-hit-point-of-damage-each insects materialized right on top of Peter Perfect. He made his no-saving-throw saving throw, naturally, so he only took 400 points of damage; but that was enough to pick him to the bone anyway. Too bad. If he could've gotten off any fire-based spells, he could have immolated the whole cloud.
". . . To reach . . . the unreachable stars!"
That was her cue. Sick Sword smiled back at Omnion, gestured, and opened a one-woman portal to another dimension. "I'm headed for the plane of Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt," she goaded; "Follow me if you dare!"
She hadn't much time; her body was getting sucked through the portal even as she recalled that she hadn't explained the whole plan to Ringman. 'Damn!' she cursed herself, and quickly articulated a "message" spell. The laser-thin beam of whispered words fell upon Ringman's ear alone, yet all she had time to say before the portal closed was, "The arrow, look at the arrow!"
Ringman tapped his head as though his hearing was going, then realized who had said it. The arrow . . . which arrow? What did she mean?
Omnion fumed in smoke signals. "YOU WANT ME TO FOLLOW?!?" her words echoed across the valley. "YOU GOT IT!" And with a psionic snap of her fingers, she left for Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt.
She didn't even notice the gigantic pile of magic items lying at the foot of where Sick Sword's interdimensional portal had been.
The world surrounding Sick Sword's mind was hardly more than a cloud of streaming primary colors. This was the longest transition layer she'd ever had to go through before congealing out on a solid plane. Omnion might be able to attack her in this etheric soup, but she wouldn't be able to do much even if she found her.
Finally, shapes began to resolve and outlines began to take on some solidity. There was gravity, with green below and blue above, and patches of brown and red. The brown was upright and rectangular, and the red was cubic and, apparently, distant. Then the whole picture resolved, with sound effects and olfactory sensations and cold under her feet and all. She was standing in the middle of a meadow on a slightly overcast day, with a single brown-trunked tree (from which a bird sang) and a red barnhouse off in the distance. It felt rather cool all-of-a-sudden; partially because her ring of warmth was back on Central Earth, and partially because she was stark naked.
A rather plump, middle-aged woman was running toward her, making the standard medieval maneuver of holding up her peasant dress so that she didn't step on it. She looked ticked off, but then again so would any farm woman who had a wood nymph suddenly materialize in her back yard. Sick Sword had no time to waste on her, though; she had to find Omnion.
Then again, why wasn't Omnion right there? She'd obviously appeared in a different place on Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt. Excellent; that would give Sick Sword plenty of time to rebuild her arsen—
"Just what do you think you're doing, young lady, parading around naked in somebody's meadow? Why, I should —"
"My appearance can't be helped, ma'am," Sick Sword explained, "I'm not from around here. I had to come here with nothing, absolutely nothing, so that I could hunt down a half-elven woman. Have you seen —"
"Well, if you really have no clothes," the tubby woman interrupted, "Then we ought to put you in a robe or something. Come on inside."
"Um, okay, but I'm not wearing any pointy hats."
"Eh?" the older woman said, shrugged, and started leading her around to the far side of the barn. "My name's Izabella," she began. "Who're you?"
"Sick Sword," she replied, as though her name was just another name.
"Sick Sword? What kind of a name is that?"
"Well, what kind of a name is Izabella?"
"And what would a 'Sick Sword' be doing in North Fliedershire?"
'North Fliedershire,' Sick Sword logged the name of the town. "I . . . look, the less you know about who I am and why I'm here, the better. I'm looking for a female half-elf with a rather nasty disposition. She probably first showed up naked, too. Have you seen her?"
"No, but first thing's first. Come on inside."
She led Sick Sword into a farmhouse in back of the barn and put a sleeved wool robe over her back. "You're going to catch your death of cold running around naked this time of year. How long were you out there like that?"
"Oh, it couldn't have been longer than sixty sec— oh, not long."
"Well, a nice hot cup of dirty water will fix you right up." She went to the waiting kettle in the other room and poured a tablespoonful of dirt into a cup.
'Strange customs here,' Sick Sword thought, and began searching the room. She spied a broom with a decrepit-looking head but a fine handle. "Pardon me, Izabella, but do you need that broom in the corner?"
"Oh, that old thing? My, it hasn't worked in years. I've just been too lazy to take it in to the service shop."
'Good God II,' Sick Sword winced. "I'd like to use it. May I?"
"Sure, be my guest — hey, what are you doing?"
"Well, you said yourself that the broom doesn't work. I'm only interested in the handle." She pried the bristles off the end.
"But won't that violate the warranty?"
Sick Sword rolled her eyes up into her head, then ignored the comment and put both hands on the pole. She whirled it around above her head fast enough to make a B-flat above great C, then practiced blocking and striking imaginary opponents in the room. "It's not my favorite weapon, but it'll do under the circumstances."
"Weapon? Circumstances?" Izabella practically dropped Sick Sword's cup of hot diluted dirt.
"Yes, weapon and circumstances. The half-elf I'm pursuing is Omnion, the scourge of Central Earth. She's called Omnion because she wants to take over everything — the Omni. If I don't build up my own personal arsenal, she certainly will, and she'd gladly hunt me down and stab me in the back. Being head freedom fighter has its dangers, you see. Do you know where I could find any sulfur or bats around here?"
Izabella was already shocked into near-silence. Either the woman she'd let into her house was a target with a quarterstaff, or she was a psychotic with a quarterstaff. The best thing to do was to tell her anything she wanted to know, and to have it lead her outside her house. "Th . . . there's an old bat-cave about f-f-five kilometers southeast of here. Y-you can pick up some sulfur in town on the way there."
She thought a bit. "A town. Do they have a blacksmith?"
"Oh, they have anything you want! J-just hurry on out before everybody closes up for the day."
"All right, I'll do that. Uh, thanks for your hospitality and your broom handle. I wish I could repay you, but I have nothing." So saying, and having sensed her hostess's nervousness long ago, she let herself out.
She wasn't halfway to the road when she saw Izabella charging away toward town on horseback along a back road. Izabella doubtlessly wanted to beat her there and warn them. That wouldn't do; she wanted as little friction from this alien culture as possible. And so, she engaged her psyche and opened up a short high-speed journeyway. No horse in the known universes could outspeed a Dimension Walk.
Dirk the Destructive returned to the battle site after Clerasil's turning had worn off. He wondered why he had ever been so scared of some guy in adamantite plate mail with a holy symbol that looked like a sextant. Then he stopped wondering about that and wondered why he hadn't thought to do the same thing to Ringman. Nevertheless, when he returned, the battlefield had lost its look of favorability.
"Dirk the Destructive" Clerasil mused. "So delighted you could join us again. . . ."
Wierd Dough stood up and smiled nastily at Dirk, and Melnic the Loud and Middle Monk followed his example, wiggling their spell-casting fingers, brandishing their weapons, or whacking their fists. Dirk looked for his comrades to aid him, but they were sadly overwhelmed. Wild Max looked like he'd just had a terminal fall, which he had. Da Bad Dude had La Machine marks all over his corpse. Rango was whimpering in a corner, stripped of all equipment. And there wasn't even enough of his good buddy Peter Perfect left to recognize.
Koenieg, through all this, was still sitting in his inextricable lotus position, meditating on something forest-like.
Wierd Dough spoke to the anti-paladin: "You are going to put that unholy sword and unholy dagger down, aren't you?"
"Good." Wierd Dough went on with the Prisoner of War processing process at the usual rate.
Meanwhile, Ringman still stooped over Sick Sword's pile of magic items, wondering which arrow she had meant in her message. He found a quiver inside one of her portable holes, which contained eleven arrows; but except for one pair, all eleven of them were different. They had shafts of enchanted redwood, enchanted balsa, and enchanted zinc-plated aluminum; feathers from birds Ringman had never heard of, presumably also enchanted; and heads of anything imaginable laced with adamantite. The pair had jet-black heads shaped like equilateral triangles with a hole in the center.
An equilateral arrowhead . . . now that was strange. That design couldn't hold a point as well as an isosceles head. And why was there a hole in the center of the point, like some sewing needle that wouldn't be invented for a few more centuries? He vaguely remembered seeing this shape before, somewhere, but he couldn't quite place —
Yes, that was it. The black triangle with the hole in the center was the shape of Omnion's +5 shuriken of returning that she wore around her neck. The triangle represented order, the blackness evil, and the hole in the center the universe — the Omni. And the three feathers on each of the shafts were all different: one from a hawk, one from a nightingale, and one from a magpie. A fighter bird, a magic-user bird, and a thief bird. The two arrows reeked of Omnion. Perhaps they were arrows of slaying.
"All right, you've got me," Dirk the Destructive moaned, now stripped down to his medieval BVDs. "Are you going to turn me into a corpse too?"
"Nonsense," said Clerasil, "That would waste too much effort, in more ways than one." He walked over to the broken-boned corpse of Wild Max, then turned to Da Bad Dude's slashed-up form, then shunned both aside and said, "Naah, I'll raise them later."
"You're going to raise them from the dead?" Middle Monk cringed.
"Stripped of all their magic items and psionic powers, of course. Prisoners of the anti Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters characters — that's us. They'll also serve as . . . memories of our misguided past."
Everybody bowed his head down for a couple of seconds, then forgot about it.
Clerasil looked at Peter Perfect's bleaching bones. "Hmmm, it's gonna take a Resurrection spell to get this guy back up on his feet."
There were other items in the pile that held just as much import to Ringman as the arrows: for one, that Sick Sword of hers. It was lying on top of everything, outside its sheath and alongside her +6 dagger of wounding. It was lawfully-good aligned as well; it was too tempting not to try.
The instant he grasped the hilt, the air burst bright white and the sword's telempathic song cut through the air — "DAT da DAAaAAaAAaAAaAA!"
"I AM THE SICK SWORD."
'My deity!' Ringman thought. 'This sword's more powerful than my old Prometheus!' He swallowed hard. "How do you do, I'm —"
"RINGMAN. YES, I KNOW. MY WIELDER AND NAMESAKE HAS TOLD ME MUCH OF YOU."
"Your namesake? I thought she named you after herself."
"I WAS THE SICK SWORD BEFORE SHE EVER DECIDED UPON CALLING HERSELF THAT. I AM THE GREATER FORCE IN THE UNIVERSE BESIDES."
'He's also more arrogant than Prometheus, if that's possible,' Ringman figured.
"MY PURPOSE IS TO SLAY EVIL, DEFEAT CHAOTIC EVIL, SLAY EVIL, OVERTHROW CHAOS, SLAY EVIL, SLAY NEUTRAL AND EVIL NON-HUMAN MONSTERS, SLAY EVIL, AND SLAY EVIL."
"Slay evil five times?" Ringman asked the sword.
"OF COURSE. I WANT TO MAKE SURE IT STAYS SLAYED. I AM A +6 VORPAL SWORD OF WOUNDING, LIFE STEALING, DANCING, AND NINE LIVES STEALING, UNLIKE YOUR OLD 'PROMETHEUS' WHICH WAS ONLY A MERE HOLY SWORD."
"Hey!" screamed Prometheus from Peter Perfect's remains. "Watch who you call 'mere'!"
"Um," Ringman began apologetically, "I hate to tell you this, but I don't have weapons familiarity with broadswords. Just longswords and bastardswords."
"WELL, IT'S NOT LIKE YOU'RE A WEAPONS MASTER AND NEED THAT TO STAY ALIVE OR ANYTHING. YOU'RE A FIGHTER, YOU'LL ONLY TAKE A -2 PENALTY WITH ME — OH, AND BE GRATEFUL THAT YOU'RE LAWFUL GOOD."
"Why not? It was my suggestion to Sick Sword to become that alignment in the first place."
Sick Sword came out of the sulfur mine with a substantial nugget of pure gold in her hand to use for money, Dimension Walked again, and materialized just outside the door of an assayer's. She entered and plopped the chunk down on the table. "I want to trade this gold in for its cash value."
The assayer looked at her wool robe, looked at her incredible figure, looked at the piece of ore, and looked at his scale. "Uh . . . nine-and-a-half troy ounces. The stuff looks like real gold all right. Feels like it, too. That's about eight-tenths of a pound; I'll give you seven gold pieces for it on the spot if you'd like."
"Uh, sure, that'd be fine," she said, scooped up the seven three-sixteenths-inch thick gold coins, and made for the door.
"Say, where'd you find this gold anyway?" the assayer asked.
"You may not believe this, but I used to be a miner before I was 18." She left and headed for the nearest glassmith.
Ah, there was a sign — it wasn't in any language she knew, but she could easily Comprehend it: "Glass modeler." She entered, slapped a pair of gold pieces down on the counter, and said, "I need a mock-up glass model of a broadsword and two daggers connected by short, tiny glass threads."
It was an unusual request, but the manager consented. "I can have it ready in an hour and a half. What kind of glass do you want it out of?"
"Oh, I don't care, crown glass — whatever's cheapest and fastest to work with." She took out a piece of licorice root she'd retrieved during her Dimension Walk and cast a haste spell on the glass worker. "I'll be back within the hour." So saying, she left one gold piece as partial payment and left.
As she crossed the dirt road, she caught sight of Izabella riding in. Izabella caught sight of her too and, astonished, stopped her horse right next to her. "How did you get here ahead of me?"
"I'm a fast runner." That was true, but that wasn't how she did it.
"I had to have been going forty kilometers per hour!"
'They still use the per-hour system here,' she thought. "Uh, look, I got here ahead of you in about the same manner I got into your farm in the first place. Like I said, the less you know the better. If you like, I'll return your broomstick and your robe."
"N-n-no no, that's all right." She felt horribly insecure for a woman mounted so that she stood twice the height of the person she was talking to. "Are . . . are you the . . . the Fire-eater?"
Sick Sword wrinkled her forehead and scanned her mind. The fire-eater was the name they gave to the non-existent god who would one day come down and save them from some obscure thing she didn't quite pick off Izabella's mind. "You mean, am I a god?" she chuckled. "I really wonder some times. I have a few less powerful friends who've defeated a few gods in their tim— uh, no, I don't think I'm this fire-eater. Not if Omnion hasn't started a reign of terror here yet, anyway."
Izabella trotted nervously off without replying to hitch up her horse. Sick Sword shrugged and entered a blacksmith shop.
"I need a hunk of steel," she announced.
"Sorry, we don't deal in stolen goods," the head smith scowled at her.
"No, no, S-T-E-E-L, iron-limestone-charcoal alloy. You must have heard of it."
"Alloying pure iron with impure non-metals? Don't be ridiculous. We've tried carbonated iron before, and it's brittle as all get-out."
"With high amounts of carbon, yes, but I'm talking of alloying less than half of one percent carbon with iron. And a little limestone for calcite protection. Look, here's a gold piece if I can use that batch of iron in your blast furnace. I only need a little, and I think you'll be impressed with the results."
"Uh, sure, be my guest. I'm only smelting a little iron today."
Smiling, she made her way to the blast furnace and opened the lid. The overwhelming heat pouring out would have overwhelmed anyone else, but she merely waved it aside as an annoyance. She studied the red-hot molten metal for an instant, then looked around the room and made for the forging furnace.
"Hey, what you need the forge for?"
"Charcoal," she said. She opened the oven door and found inside the standard wood-burning fire she'd come to know so well in her youth on Central Earth. She reached in and broke off a small piece of a log to within a micron of the size she wanted it.
"Hey, lady, those're red-hot coals!" the smith yelled.
"I know," she said, holding it up as she carried it in her hand across the room. Suspending the burnt log fragment above the molten iron, she crumbled it into the metal, then turned her psionics on it and stirred telekinetically. No way she could stick her hand into molten iron without taking a point of damage every six seconds.
"Um," she turned back, "You wouldn't happen to have any lime around here, would you?"
The blacksmith and his two apprentices, never moving their terrified eyes from her, pointed in unison at the bags of powdered lime in the corner.
"Ah, of course, I shouldn't have missed it." She crossed to the bags, opened one, and took out a precisely measured handful of the stuff which she transported to the blast furnace and deposited into the iron/charcoal mixture.
"Now, watch," she instructed, and poured out one miniature pig's worth of the alloy. "The best way to make this into a weapon would be to quench it in warm water — about body temperature — and then whirl it around in the air until it's completely cool. After it's cooled down to reasonable forging temperature, that is. If I quench this pigiron now it'll turn into iron, carbon, and calcate glass — but you already know that, don't you?"
They all nodded their heads in unison, still terrified and speechless.
"So I have to cool it off in a different way. Say, you wouldn't happen to have a small crystal or glass cone, would — no, I suppose you wouldn't. Oh Gehenna, you know what to do from here next time, you'll just have to take my word for it."
She lifted up the pig and doused the whole mess in the nearest quenching trough. This was about as hard and brittle as steel would get; but it was still steel, and that was enough. She smiled and waved goodbye to the cheery bunch of blacksmith and apprentices, who waved back in terrified chorus as she left with her hunk of steel.
She re-entered the glass shop just as the modeler was putting his final touches on the mock-ups with lightning speed.
"Hereyouare," he said, speaking speedily without really realizing it. "Onegenuinebroadswordanddaggerpairconnectedbythetiniestlittleglassthreads. Absolutelypositivelynooneelsegetsthejobdonefaster."
"Thanks," said Sick Sword, picking the combination up. "Oh, I need a spare piece of glass, too."
"Here, useoneofmyleftoverglassblobs. I'djusttrowitbackinthehopperanywayorreplaceitwithanequalamountofsand."
"Yeah, sure thing," she said, picking up a small glass blob and rubbing her piece of brittle pig steel against it. She started chanting and gesticulating, and 48 seconds later both the glass blob and the steel disappeared.
And the glass broadsword and two daggers, which she broke into three pieces from their thin connecting threads, now had the tensile strength and unbreakability of actual steel.
"Now to enchant them," she said to nobody in particular, a little of the calcium and carbon still on her hands from the iron works. She sprinkled the white and black powders over all three weapons and cast the same spell twice. Now, for four hours and five minutes, those three weapons would be able to hit someone who could only be hit by magic weapons, like Omnion.
She went back out into the street with one glassteel dagger and a broomstick stowed in her robe and searched for Omnion's mind with her own. Nothing. She was still protected by a "mind blank" spell, no doubt. No problem, Omnion'd find her. Her challenge to "follow me if you dare" was too smug to pass up.
She was swishing her glassteel broadsword through the air when the town's warning bell rang.
"She's coming!" cried the town crier. "She's coming!"
Omnion, Sick Sword thought. So her enemy had reached this town before her. Everywhere, people ran from the streets and shut their houses tight. Sick Sword caught sight of Izabella running for her horse and falling down when a minor tremor shook the ground.
Sick Sword traced the tremor's source and looked to the horizon. No way Omnion could achieve an effect like that.
"What are you doing?!" yelled Izabella as she propped herself up on her hands. "Get out of sight! Smaugzilla is coming!"
Smaugzilla? That sounded almost like the name of the dragon that had plagued her own home town before Ringman defeated it. "Who's Smaugzilla?"
"The dragon!" Izabella screamed. "The huge red fire-breathing dragon!"
A dragon, was it? Well, maybe she would take a detour from her search for Omnion. . . .
Dirk the Destructive sat distraught on a boulder, his hands and legs bound with adamantite ropes, perusing a book entitled, "Spell Effects Made Easy: a field guide to magic identification for the beginner" (also known as the Book of Finite Wisdom). It had a picture of a big, horned, orange statue being looted for its ruby eyes on its cover. He was currently in the second chapter, Druid spells, and had just reached the seventh level spell descriptions.
"Um, how did you say you killed Peter Perfect?" Dirk asked.
Melnic showed Dirk the entrance to the portable hole that contained Lum the Mad's machine. "With a creeping doom spell, of course."
Just his luck, that spell was on the very next page. He read silently: "When the druid utters the spell of creeping doom, he or she calls forth a mass of from 500 to 1000 venomous, biting and stinging arachnids, insects and myriapods. This carpet-like mass will swarm in an area of 20 feet square, and upon command from the druid will creep forth at 10 feet per minute towards any prey within 80 feet (80 yards outdoors), moving in the direction in which the druid commanded. The creeping doom will slay any creature subject to normal attacks, each of the small horrors inflicting 1 hit point of damage (each then dies after the attack), . . ."
Wait a minute — did it say "subject to normal attacks"?! That was it! Not a moment to waste; Dirk the Destructive levitated himself across the ground and plopped down next to the bones of his good buddy Peter Perfect. "Pete! Hey, Pete! That spell you died from? Those insects shouldn't have been able to affect you, you hear? You're invulnerable to normal attacks like the rest of us!"
The instant Dirk the Destructive said this, massive quantities of charged flesh materialized from out of nowhere and strapped themselves in layers onto Peter Perfect's skeleton. Prometheus still rested atop the right-hand finger bones, and even before the paladin opened his eyes to full consciousness, he grasped the sword, sat straight up, and slashed down across Dirk's adamantite bonds to within a millimeter of his skin.
"Careful, Pete," Dirk complained as he burst the final adamantite threads, "That thing touches me and I take 10 points of damage without even trying!"
"Sorry, Dirk," he said, opening his eyes. He assessed the situation instantly. "We're in bad if we stay here. Touch your pile of magic items and teleport half a league west."
"Gotcha," he replied, and beelined for his pile of goodies.
"Huh?" Wierd Dough gasped as he caught the blur of motion. "Dirk's free! And Peter Perfect's up-and-reincarnated!"
Peter smiled at that as he touched his item pile. "Wrong, fool, I was never really dead! You didn't think a mere 400 points of damage could kill me, did you? Dirk — one, two, THREE!"
They both vanished.
And as if on cue, Ringman glanced down at Sick Sword's pile and sighted card # 12 from the Hero's Collection of Commonly Used Sayings, which read, "They got away again!".
"Damn it," cursed Clerasil, "Where did they go?"
This was just the break Rango had been waiting for. They could strip him of his magic items and drain him of his psionic power points (with #@$! repeated mental attacks), but they couldn't deprive him of his wits. He jumped up and dove head-first into the inverted helm of teleportation on top of his magic item pile, with all the precision a 19 dexterity would allow. He summoned up the helm's will instantly, and teleported himself and his whole pile — but not his adamantite shackles — a quarter of a league east.
Wierd Dough saw this and gasped again. "He made off too! Drage it, I knew we shoulda used 'hold person' spells instead of adamantite!"
"I precognate," began Koenieg, precognating, "That the grass a mile and a half to the west has just been stepped on by two people, as has the grass three-quarters of a mile to the east by one person."
"Great," Wierd Dough began, "They've split up."
"Oh no!" cried Clerasil, Koenieg, Melnic the Loud, and Middle Monk in unison. "They can do more damage that way!"
"I shall go and tackle the ranger lord," Koenieg proclaimed.
"Oh, no you won't," said Clerasil. He grabbed the lotus-crossed legs of the Great Druid and pulled them apart with his titan strength. He heard some cartilage fibers snap, but that was it. "Now you shall go and tackle the ranger lord."
"Anti-Disgusting Characters, . . ." Wierd Dough chanted.
Everybody raised his favorite magic weapon. "GO FOR IT!"
All except Ringman, that is. He was nervously perusing Sick Sword's Hero's Collection of Commonly Used Sayings cards.
"HEY," the Sick Sword complained. "AREN'T YOU GOING TO FOLLOW THEM?"
"Me?" the ninth-level paladin asked. "Go after Disgusting Characters?"
"DIRK THE DESTRUCTIVE IS EVIL. HE IS ALSO CHAOTIC. IN FACT, HE IS CHAOTIC-EVIL. I AM DESTINED TO SLAY CHAOTIC-EVIL. YOU WILL FOLLOW THEM."
Ringman could feel voluntary control slipping away from his muscles. The sword was trying to dominate him. It was succeeding. He knew the price he'd pay for leaving this spot; he had to convince the sword not to go after Dirk before it decided to teleport him or something.
"Listen, Sick Sword —"
"GO AHEAD. I'M LISTENING."
"— the combined strength of the guys who went after him'll surely overwhelm Dirk the Destructive. That anti-paladin doesn't stand a chance."
"SO? I WANT TO BE THERE WHEN HE BITES IT."
"But if we leave here, we'll miss Omnion's return!"
"Yes. She's evil through-and-through, more so than Dirk ever was."
"HMMM. YOU HAVE A POINT THERE. I GUESS I CAN WAIT A FEW MORE MELEE R— UH, MINUTES BEFORE I GO BACK INTO ACTION."
"Yeah," Ringman encouraged the sword, feeling its grip loosen, "And besides, you can be wielded by Sick Sword then, a real ultra-warrior."
"I DON'T LIKE SICK SWORD TOO MUCH, ACTUALLY. SHE ALWAYS MANAGES TO EXCEED MY PERSONALITY SCORE. YOU'D THINK A 95 WOULD BE PRETTY HARD TO BEAT, TOO."
'A ninety-five personality strength?' Ringman worried. 'I'm holding on to a sentient weapon with nearly three times my personality score? I don't see how even Sick Sword manages to keep this thing under control.'
"Do you have any mercury?" Sick Sword asked.
No one answered. Except for the few still out on the dust-paved streets, urging her to get the heck out of there, you crazy loon.
'How am I supposed to get material components if everybody's scared out of their wits?' Sick Sword thought. She glanced around for any sign saying, "Base Metal Shop" or words to that effect; there was none. She looked at a pebble on the street: yes, she could turn it into mercury if she so wished, but it would be very demanding on her psyche. There had to be another answer.
The mine she'd explored to find the gold nugget was actually a sulfur mine; she'd pocketed about a half pound of the yellow powder, but found no quicksilver. That was the only hole in the ground that the heavy liquid metal might deposit itself in except for . . . the bat cave? The place where she wanted to go to find bat guano? Well, it was worth a shot.
In the space of half a minute, she Dimension Doored the meager distance to the mouth of the cave and entered. The walls were cool, so any warm objects (like bats) would stand out in infra-red. Ten feet inside the cave she found the first of the winged mammals, perched in waiting on the ceiling. It was still sleeping; she had no time to wake it gently, and startling it would be more effective anyway.
She whipped out with her 19 dexterity, speeded-and-a-half right hand, grabbed the bat, and held it face-up over her left palm. The bat screeched an ultrasonic squeal and was so scared that it defecated into her hand.
"Thank you," she said, letting the bat go free. The frightened critter swooped around, tried to bite her, and broke one of its teeth on her skin.
That was enough bat guano for two balls. She took out a modest amount of sulfur and rolled the bat turds around in it, letting the stinking powder cover the stinking droppings, and divided the mass into two tiny spheres. Two catalysts for two fireball spells. Perfect. Now, if there was only some —
Her permanent-and-a-half clairvoyance potion spotted it behind a rocky wall. A pool of dense, metallic liquid lay not thirty feet away. Crossing thirty feet of cave would have been no problem; the trouble was that stone surrounded the mercury pool on all sides. Nowhere was the surrounding stone less than ten feet thick. She cursed herself for not having memorized a passwall or phase-door spell today.
Oh God II, she hadn't even taken a rock to mud spell! There was no way she could get through that wall in less than a quarter hour, even with her titan strength. Oh sure, there was a psionic discipline that could make materials weak and easily broken, but that cost a massive 50 psionic strength points and could only affect two feet of stone wall at a time. Maybe the mercury just wasn't worth . . .
Well, there was one spell she had, but it wasn't exactly the conventional thing to do at this point. She could cast stone to flesh on the wall, and then only have to tunnel through ten feet of meat, but the thought of that seemed a bit repulsive. She wasn't even sure what kind of flesh the walls would turn into, as they never had a flesh form in the first place.
Still, there seemed no other choice. She picked up a pinch of dirt, pricked her finger with her glassteel dagger (which would have been impossible had she not enchanted it), covered her eyes, and cast the spell. She cracked her fingers open and peeked out with one infravisual eye.
Oh for Arcadia's sake, why did it have to be warm? Side effects of the magic energy, she assured herself, side effects of the magic energy, it wasn't really alive, she could plow through it without killing anything. So thinking, she held her breath, aimed her glassteel enchanted broadsword and her glassteel enchanted dagger at the wall, and made like a food processor.
It took her almost a full minute to make it all the way through the wall of flesh, but she reached the mercury deposit. She sighed in relief, dipped the point of her glassteel enchanted broadsword in, and raised it above her head; she only needed one drop of mercury for this spell. Finally, she chanted the verbal components: "For the honor of grayhawk!"
The mercury at the sword's tip burst into tiny scintillating pyrotechnic shards that whirled down and danced around her body. In the background, ethereal voices began to chant: "Dum da da doo doo, do dum da doo — SICK Sword, SICK Sword! Dum da da DA DA, Da dum da doo. Dum — SIIICK Swooord! Da da da da DA DA DA DA dah, dit dah. Da da da da dah, da da dah, DIT dah, di di da dah, di dah DIT dah!"
It was too bad she had to use this glassteel broadsword rather than her own Sick Sword to make the spell work. The Sick Sword looked the part so much better.
And when the pyrotechnics ebbed away at the chant's cadence, Sick Sword had a resist fire spell up in addition to her standard fire resistance potion at 150% effectiveness.
She would have to get back to town as soon as she could; the dragon must have been practically upon it by then. She glanced to one side and caught sight of something shiny in the pitch darkness: a small vein of silver. She could use this, too; she broke off a piece, pressed it into an egg-shape in her titan strength hand, and stowed it in another of the folds of her wool robe. She would have to leave now.
No, not quite. That tunnel of flesh she'd made just looked too inviting; she had to taste what kind of meat she produced this time. Quickly, she broke off a piece and chewed it. "Venison," she commented. "No wonder this spell's so dear to me."
With that pun, she Dimension Walked back into town.
She could see the dragon now. If she had had her eyes of the eagle, she could've seen the shapes of each individual scale. As it was, though, she could see quite enough. Smaugzilla was a huge ancient red dragon, heading her way feverishly in anticipation of all the mass destruction she hoped to inflict. There was less than three minutes before the dragon would arrive.
Still, there was one more thing Sick Sword could do. She rushed into a paint shop (the proprietor hid in the back), took out her silver egg, dipped it in white paint, and dried the paint with a quick "burning hands" spell. That done, she picked up a light blue magic-marker lying on the workbench and drew a thick blue stripe on the egg just below the center line. She cast that marker aside, picked up a narrow, dark blue one, added dark blue trim to the light blue band, and finally wrote the words "HOLY SYMBOL" in block letters above it. A generic holy symbol; she never knew when one'd come in handy.
She dashed back out onto the street for the last time. Izabella was still on the sidelines, and now held her cheeks and shook her head at Sick Sword's idiocy.
"Don't worry," Sick Sword explained. "I've got a 'resist fire' spell up now, in addition to my normal fire resistance."
Izabella puzzled. "So . . . you've got fire resistance twice."
"No, fire resistance once and resist fire once. You see, multiple applications of the same spell aren't cumulative, but different spells with similar effects are cumulative with each other."
"Um, never mind. Just stay out of the line of fire, if you know what I mean."
Smaugzilla was within earshot now. This was it. "Hold, dragon!" Sick Sword bellowed, "Turn back now or be slain!"
"Bwa ha ha ha ha!" the dragon chortled back, smoke billowing from its tremendous nostrils. "A human against me? You must be kidding! RAAAAAAA!"
Smaugzilla flapped her mighty, Ghydra-like wings and took to the air. All right, if she wanted to be fought above ground, then that's how Sick Sword would do it. The weapons mistress/high priestess/arch mage took three valiant steps forward and jumped into the air like a diver; it was the fact that her trajectory didn't curve back toward the ground that amazed all the onlookers.
"My deity!" Izabella exclaimed.
The townspeople weren't the only amazed onlookers; so was Smaugzilla. Here was this . . . this mammal who dared to fly in a dragon's realm! Well, she'd put a stop to that. Smaugzilla opened her craggy maw and belched out a cone of flame ninety feet long.
Sick Sword instinctively put her broadsword and dagger behind her as the flame passed over her body. Just because they had the tensile strength and unbreakability of actual steel didn't mean they didn't melt like ordinary glass. When the smoke cleared, Sick Sword rose like a phoenix from the rescinding flames, having taken only 14 actual points of damage.
Everybody's eyes bugged out at that. "My deity!" Izabella exclaimed again. "She's . . . she's the fire-eater!"
"GO GET 'ER, FIRE EATER!" the crowd cheered her on.
Her wool robe had burnt up completely, but she could do without that. Her glassteel broadsword, her two glassteel daggers, her two balls of bat guano and sulfur, and her generic holy symbol remained intact; she let all but the sword and one dagger fall, knowing they would survive. But there was one thing she had lost: "You ruined a perfectly good hairdo, you reptilian creep!"
Smaugzilla gaped in horror at the naked pink phoenix still approaching her. In desperation, she realized that her own arms were longer than Sick Sword's, and so the instant she got within range Smaugzilla swiped at the anti-Disgusting Character with her right claw. Sick Sword swished her broadsword through the air and deflected the massive paw without much effort at all.
Sick Sword flew up to the creature's neck and hacked at it twice, once with her sword and once with her dagger. Her weapons master training and titan strength combined to inflict horrible wounds across that scaly area; but she was still alive. Knowing that the next strike would do it, she crossed to the dragon's abdomen and thrust her glassteel enchanted broadsword right between two of her metal-like scales. Smaugzilla screamed momentarily, pivoted on the still-embedded sword, and slid belly-up off the weapon. The only damage Smaugzilla ended up doing to the town was a huge, dragon-shaped impact crater in the middle of the main street.
"YAAAAAAY!" the crowd roared as Sick Sword descended to where she'd dropped her things. She took a bow. "YAAAAAAY!"
"I'm sorry, O great fire eater," Izabella apologized, "I didn't recognize you!"
"There you go with that 'fire eater' gibberish again. I . . ." Well, why not? Prophetic legends are prophetic legends. "Um, how long have you had to put up with Smaugzilla?"
Thirty different people from the still-growing crowd gave thirty different answers, ranging from a year to a century. The favored answer, though, seemed to be thirty-five years.
"You've been living in appeasement with that chaotic-evil bugger for that long?!" She gathered up her other dagger, her generic holy symbol, and her two fireball catalysts. A bit of wool was still stuck to her shoulders. "Why couldn't you do anything about it?"
"What, and give up a name like 'Dragontown'?"
Sick Sword buried her face in her hand and chuckled. As she looked back up, she froze into dead-seriousness when she saw the humanoid shadow at the other end of the street. The shadow was vaguely half-elven, and vaguely female. A pallor of blackness seemed to hover over the form. Its left hand clutched a faintly glowing dagger; its right seemed almost to be a weapon in and of itself. "So," the shadow rumbled, "I've finally found you."
"Omnion," Sick Sword mouthed in silence. The crowd's cheeriness was dwindling away awfully fast.
Omnion advanced at a snail's pace. "You thought you could get the better of me if you got rid of all my magic items and artifacts, didn't you? You thought you could trick me into following you onto a plane that doesn't allow luggage."
"And evidently," Sick Sword folded her arms, "I was right."
"HAH!" Omnion hahed. "This plane has its store of magic items too!" She whipped the glowing dagger up above her head. "See?"
Sick Sword started advancing as well. The local sun, another class G2, shone high overhead. Her sword and dagger gleamed in glassy lethality in her hands. "But how many magic items could you get in the time you had? You can't steal artifacts where none exist, you know."
"I see," Omnion began, changing the subject slightly, "That you had a glassteel spell and two enchanted weapon spells memorized before you came here. You've been planning this all along, haven't you?" She continued advancing, her eyes as hard as her manner.
Sick Sword moved ever-closer, step by step. The crowds were retreating back inside and barring their doors. This was looking more and more like a walk-down swordfight. "I'm ready when you are, pod'ner. Draw."
Omnion was confused. "Pod'ner? Draw? What're you talking about?"
"Never mind, just something I saw in an old black-and-white precognition."
Omnion was tired of waiting. With a cry of awe, she took three steps and leapt through the air, dagger and right arm pointed forward, on a collision course with Sick Sword.
Sick Sword smiled at the opportunity, whipped her glassteel dagger up to the wool still stuck to her left shoulder, and rubbed vigorously. She could feel the resistance build up. As Omnion's trajectory reached the half-way point, she moved the dagger away from her wool pad, drawing an arc of crackling blue shimmers out from the point. She aimed for the flying half-elf, and with a gleam in her eyes chanted the mystic words, "Lightning bolt!"
The crooked ion path thundered out from the charged glass dagger and struck Omnion dead-center through her abdomen. She made her saving throw, of course, and so only took 24-and-a-half d6 worth of damage, but the fact that she took any electrical damage at all was something her Coat of Arnd would never have allowed.
Sick Sword chortled. "Not so indestructible without your artifacts, are you, Omnion?"
Omnion fell from the sky and levitated to the ground, sneered venomously at Sick Sword, and fired a shimmering yellow cone-shaped wave of mental force — the dreaded Psionic Blast — at Sick Sword's mind. Sick Sword immediately threw up a Tower of Iron Will, the most effective mental deterrent against a Psionic Blast, but still ended up losing a total of 17 points of psionic defense strength. "Not so well mind-shielded without your amulet of life protection, are you, Sick Sword?!"
Sick Sword counterattacked in the same mode, and Omnion defended with the same iron will tower and lost the same 17 psionic defense points. Sick Sword commented, "Nor are you."
Omnion got to her feet and rushed Sick Sword, who parried both her +1 dagger and her +4 sword arm.
"Resorting to the old body weaponry discipline, eh?" Sick Sword goaded. She slashed sideways with broadsword and dagger at the same time; the dagger was unlucky and missed, but the sword rolled above a 6 and made a nasty (24 damage point) gash on Omnion's left side. Omnion was only armor class -7, after all. "Been a long time since you've taken physical damage on your torso, hasn't it?"
Sick Sword was getting smug and letting her guard slip; even a mere 64th level fighter like Omnion could see that. Omnion reached in past the hole in her opponent's guard, and used the +4 sword of her right hand to hack an O-shaped scar on Sick Sword's naked belly, doing more disfigurement than damage. "I told you I could carve my initials in your chest."
'Oh yeah?' Sick Sword thought as she stabbed toward exactly the same place on her opponent's abdomen with her dagger. This time her opponent was parrying with her own dagger, so she had only an 11-or-better chance to hit (she missed), but that move was just so Omnion would shift her guard. Instantly, she followed up with a lightning-fast thrust straight to Omnion's optic segment. The couple dozen points of damage she could have incurred wouldn't have done much to her; that wasn't her intent. Instead, she whisked her sword lightly across the surface of Omnion's right eye eight times.
Omnion recoiled, clutching her eye in horror. When she took her hand away, she could still see out of her right eye, but her accommodation field had been lengthened, which she was not used to. "What have you done to my eye, witch?!"
Sick Sword shrugged. "I told you I could give you a successful radial keratotomy."
Omnion's face burned and clenched in white-hot rage. She reached into one of the back pockets on her hastily-acquired black robe and whipped out card # 7 from the Villain's Collection of Commonly Used Sayings: "You'll pay for that!"
"I didn't know you people had those things too," Sick Sword noted, genuinely impressed.
"Not on Central Earth we don't, but here in Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt you'd be surprised at the oddities they make. I must come back here when I've secured Central Earth."
Sick Sword reached for her back pocket to pull out one of her hero sayings cards, then recalled that both those cards and her back pockets were back on Central Earth. Oh well, words would do for now: "And that'll never happen as long as I'm around, Omnibrat!" She backed up and took to the air. "Not so long as there is breath in my body, not so long as living beings have free will to think and love, not so long as orgasms exist will your terrible might dominate this or any universe!"
"RrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAGGGGHHHH!!" Omnion raghed, and launched herself after her arch-nemesis.
Sick Sword looked over her shoulder at the approaching Omnion. 'Great,' she thought, 'It's working. She took the bait.'
If Omnion would follow her into the air, then presumably she'd follow her into a Dimension Walk. She engaged her mind and shifted perpendicular to 3-space; Omnion followed right on her tail. Perfect.
"You can't get rid of me by Dimension Walking, Diseased Sword!" Omnion chided.
And if she'd follow her into Dimension Walking, then maybe she'd also follow her right out onto the ethereal plane. A slight shift of mental power allocation and any and all links between Sick Sword and the plane of Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt were shattered. And Omnion followed her example there as well.
There was no ether cyclone to disturb their little interplanar chase, nothing save the misty blue-flecked serenity of ethereal darkness. Their speeds matched each other exactly; Omnion neither closed nor fell further behind. "Let this plane be your final resting place," Omnion said, took out a bat's furry hide and an amber rod she'd acquired especially for just such an occasion, and cast a 49d6 lightning bolt at Sick Sword.
'Well,' she figured, making her saving throw, 'Maybe I deserved a dose of my own medicine.' Eighty-three damage points was the final total; that amounted to maybe a small second-degree burn against her 339 hit point total. There was only one more step to this game of cat-and-mouse she had to play:
Omnion had followed her this far afield. Would she follow her blindly back to Central Earth and the Disgusting Characters' ex-headquarters?
"Oh, where are they now?" Ringman worried.
"DIRK THE DESTRUCTIVE AND THAT SO-CALLED PALADIN? PRESUMABLY THEY'RE STILL —"
"No, not them," Ringman interrupted the Sick Sword, "Omnion and Sick Sword. They've been gone for over an hour! Drage it, Wierd Dough, Clerasil, Melnic the Loud, Middle Monk, and even Koenieg are still off chasing down those other Disgusting Characters. That leaves me alone to handle things when Sick Sword leads Omnion here. How close are they to coming back?"
"WELL, IF YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW, YOU CAN USE ME TO GET A CLAIRVOYANT VISION. I HAVE A THIRTY YARD RANGE OUTDOORS."
"Really?" If they were that close, it'd nearly be time for him to go into action, however he was supposed to do that; still, a 90-foot early warning system was better than nothing. "Okay, how do I get your vision?"
"HOLD ME UP TO YOUR FACE SO YOU'RE LOOKING JUST OVER THE EDGE OF MY HILT."
"Okay." He did so. All he could see was broadsword.
"NOW SAY, 'SWORD OF SICKNESS, GIVE ME SIGHT BEYOND SIGHT'."
Ringman shrugged, and chanted, "Sword of Sickness, give me sight beyond sight!" Nothing happened.
"OH, THAT'S RIGHT. YOU HAVE TO SAY IT IN LAWFUL-GOOD."
Ringman shook his head. The very idea of alignment languages never really went down well with him, but he tried again in his own alignment tongue: "Sword of Sickness, give me sight beyond sight!"
Instantly, Ringman's eyes glowed like little cats-eye-shaped slits, and a ring of orbiting blue rays overwhelmed his field of vision. Inside the clairvoyance port, all he could see was a black void clouded only by serene blue swirls and streaks of energy.
"It looks like the ethereal plane," Ringman commented.
"AH YES, I REMEMBER IT WELL. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN THERE?"
"Well, sort of. I guess. Most of what I know is just what I've heard — oh, wait a minute! That's . . . THAT'S THEM! Sick Sword, carrying a glass broadsword and dagger, chased by Omnion, carrying a dagger and a very nasty looking right arm . . . they're coming! They're —"
The thunder of the ages rent its black hole in the low-flying firmament not thirty feet above the ground. Sick Sword and Omnion both soared out of the ether and into their home plane as the thunder ebbed and the hole sealed itself. Oh no, thought Ringman, he'd meant the clairvoyance to alert him to their arrival, and now that it had he was too frightened even to move.
The pair landed on the ground. Omnion slashed at Sick Sword. Sick Sword parried, then cast her glassteel broadsword aside. "Sword of Sickness," she commanded, "Come to my hand!"
Ringman was so frozen in fear that the Sick Sword had to wrest itself free from his petrified grip. "Huh?" Ringman said, his senses finally starting to return to him.
The Sick Sword landed grip-first in Sick Sword's right hand, surging with white light to acknowledge its true owner.
Omnion could care less. "Your Sick Sword won't save you from my wrath, Sick Sword! I will live to see your rotting corpse yet!"
Ah. There was one thing Ringman had prepared for this encounter, and this was the time. He reached into a fold in his adamantite plate mail and held forth the laminated card #1 from the Hero's Collection of Commonly Used Sayings: "Not if I can help it!"
"The arrow, Ringman!" Sick Sword wailed.
'The arrow?' Omnion wondered.
Ringman was still unsure. "Which arrow?!"
"Use your brain, lover!" Sick Sword retorted as she futilely attempted to disarm her opponent. There were no disarming rules in the Book of Infinite Wisdom, ergo it could not be done. "Which arrow do you think? She's vulnerable now without her scarab of protection! Get her!"
Ringman already had his magic composite bow in his hand and was searching Sick Sword's pile for where he'd put those two Omnion-looking arrows. "Drage it, where are they?"
"No, no, Ringman," Sick Sword momentarily diverted her attention from Omnion. "Use my long bow, it's more powerful and accurate."
"Huh? Oh, yeah, right." He bent down and picked up her bow without bothering to inspect it, then looked back up in shock. "SICK SWORD!"
Omnion had grappled the 130-pound naked Sick Sword thanks to that diversion. Sneering evilly, she threw her as far as her titan strength would allow. Sick Sword landed on her feet, as usual, but she was a long way away.
"I wish . . ." Omnion began to chant.
"Yikes," Sick Sword squealed, taking to the air as she could fly faster than she could run, "She's starting a wish spell! Ringman, shoot her!"
Ringman shook like mad. Where was that — ahA! There was the arrow quiver! The right arrow must be in . . . no, the quiver was empty. He cursed himself for having dumped all the arrows out to inspect them.
". . . That all my items . . ."
Sick Sword was also cursing herself, this time for not having the foresight to memorize a single magic missile spell. Even at maximum outdoor speed, in this slow-poke universe, she was still only flying at seven-and-a-half yards per second. "I can't reach her in time, Ringman!"
There were her arrows. All eleven of them. Despite their differences, they suddenly seemed a whole lot more alike. Just a bunch of shafts with three feathers on one end and a point at the other. The one he was looking for, he recalled, had a hole in its equilateral head; none of the arrows on top looked like that. He'd have to dig through the pile. One of them gave him a nasty black-colored shock as he nervously pushed it aside.
". . . And artifacts . . ."
She was still out of dagger throwing range, too — that was 90 feet outdoors. "Hurry, Ringman, hurry! If she gets this wish off she'll be as invincible as ever!"
Arrow, arrow, arrow, arrow, ar— THERE IT WAS! The black adamantite shaft; the hawk, nightingale, and magpie tail feathers; the black equilaterally triangular head with the hole in the center: this was one of the two anti-Omnion arrows. He picked it up and nearly fumbled it despite his high manual dexterity.
". . . Were here . . ."
Sick Sword could engage dimension walk and close with her foe at nearly 200 feet per second. Yes! Why hadn't she thought of that?! . . . Sick Sword hadn't thought of that because dimension walking could only be accomplished in ten-minute increments. "Shoot her, Ringman!"
Ringman notched the arrow in Sick Sword's adamantite bow, pulled back, and suddenly realized that even adamantite bow strings can come unstrung. That +5 bow was useless. He'd have to use his own +1 composite bow instead — he was more proficient at it, but the other bow was a lot more powerful. He hoped his would be enough as he unstrapped it from his shoulder.
". . . On my body . . ."
Sick Sword's face contorted into frenzied desperation and panic. "SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!!!!!!"
'Oh my deity,' Ringman thought, lined up the shaft, pulled his own bowstring back with his own muscles, shivered nervously, and let the black arrow fly.
". . . Right no—"
The black triangle didn't even have to penetrate Omnion's flesh. Just the slightest touch from tip-to-skin was enough to catalyze the deadly reaction. A shining alkar of blackness spread out omnidirectionally over Omnion's body, crackling and cascading over her convulsing form. It stretched up her trunk, up her neck, over her wide-open screaming mouth, over the top of her head, down across her misguided groin, down the lengths of her half-elfin legs, down to the tips of her toes and out. She was a humanoid, black, convulsing, short-circuiting mass, the screams of her crackling black aura now outweighing the screams of her voice.
She stood straight up, her arms at thirty-five degree angles to her sides, her fists clenched, her mouth screaming skyward. Ringman had no idea what would happen next; Sick Sword shielded her eyes because she did know. Suddenly, a ring of white rays sprang and expanded outward from her hips. The light was bright, but harmless. Omnion's sizzling black body lowered its head and clenched its fists to its sides for the last time, and all the living and deadly energy that ever was her thundered upward and outward in a foot-and-a-half wide, streaked, blazing white mass. Omnion's physical remains disintegrated in an accompanying sphere of light; the whole effect was blinding.
Ringman's vision started to clear, and Sick Sword took her hand away from her eyes and took her brownie out of the astral plane to watch. The energy streak of Omnion's essence rose to an altitude of about five hundred feet, slowed and stopped, circled itself, and spiralled inward upon itself until it disappeared entirely. Thousands of tiny, shimmering, barely-visible vapor trails swam out from where the spiral's center had been, and were gone.
The sky looked considerably brighter and bluer now. A kind of semi-ignorable grayish haze had always seemed to hang over this region for the last couple of months, but that was gone. For the first time he could remember since the forging of the Disgusting Characters, Ringman heard a bird singing from a tree.
In fact, he also heard an oboe playing the opening to the Pastorale from Rossini's "William Tell" overture. Now that was a little too much. He stuck his finger in his ear and tried to clean out any wax that might be making him hear things. But he stopped when he saw Melnic the Loud come into view, carrying Peter Perfect triumphantly by the back of the neck, with an oboe reed stuck in his Recorder of Ye'Cind.
The vigilant party strode down the main street of Town toward the town square. Trumpets and cheers echoed from all sides — keeping time with Melnic the Loud's banjo, Ye'Cind's recorder, and Heward's organ, of course. Sick Sword (with optional brownie on her shoulder) and Ringman (with optional horse off in the stable), their battle gear on their persons but not at the ready, led the procession, holding each other's hands in the air in triumph. Clerasil followed, carrying the front end of a long pole. Behind him, Peter Perfect was strapped to the pole by his hands and feet, stripped of all gear. "This is humiliating," the so-called paladin commented.
They were followed by Melnic the Loud, supporting the pole on his non-recorder shoulder so that he could play his Ollamh banjo, then a stripped and bound Dirk the Destructive, then Middle Monk, then Rango the ranger (the only captured Disgusting Character not bound by his feet), then Koenieg, and finally Wild Max and Da Bad Dude, lightly bound and half-nude, who had been raised from the dead without the benefit of having their psionic ability reinstated. Wierd Dough was at the back of the whole column, both to keep an eye on the two resurrectites and because his petty 12 strength wasn't much useful for carrying poles full of P.O.W.s.
They reached the town square, and Sick Sword and Ringman lowered their hands. The townspeople were still ecstatic. Ringman turned to Sick Sword and sighed in a low voice, "The war's finally over."
She smiled back, the glimmer in her eye well worth both their efforts. "Fellow citizens," she addressed the crowd.
"Fellow citizens!," she tried to cut through their noise.
She rolled her eyes up into her head, took out her old glassteel dagger (which had long since lost its temporary enchantment), rubbed it against a bit of goat fur, and cast a very loud lightning bolt above everybody's heads. The crowd instantly silenced itself.
"Thank you," she began. "Fellow citizens, after more than a month of control over virtually all of Central Earth, the Disgusting Characters' reign is at an end. On this day, the Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters is completely disbanded, and Omnion's soul rests in Hell where it belongs."
"Wait a minute," Wierd Dough message spelled to Clerasil, "I cleaned every arch-devil out of Hell when I was becoming disgusting."
'So?' Clerasil telepathized back.
"So when Omnion gets to Hell, nobody's going to be ruling it."
'Ah, no. I'm sure some pit fiend with a name that ends in an "r"'ll step in to take ol' Asmodeus's place.'
"Or maybe Omnion will."
'Chilling thought, isn't it? Then again, without her magic items to help her out she'll be a lo-o-ot weaker. She'll probably just end up coming back in a few decades as a lich or something.'
"Oh, that makes me feel a whole lot better."
". . . And so," Sick Sword concluded her little speech, "We shall need a kind of a police force, an Intercontinental Union of Anti-Disgusting Characters, to keep the threat of Central Earth domination or destruction out of our lives. Thank you."
"YAAAAAAAAAYY!" the crowd cheered wildly. They thought she was terriffic!
Hands were shaken, the crowds thinned out, and the bad guys were hauled away to adamantite jail cells.
Sick Sword sat down on the pedestal of the statue of somebody-or-other the seventy-fifth. "Aah, this age is coming to an end," she mused.
"Why?" said Ringman. "What's going on? We've restored the power to the hands of the people who deserved it."
"That's just it, in part. The people who deserve it are the mass population, the people whose lives are going to be affected by major decisions. Sure, the I.U.D.C.'s dominion's been removed from the power centers of Central Earth, but we've started to reinstate parliaments instead of kings, senates instead of dukes, ballots instead of royal orders. I never dreamed that the only way we'd achieve democracy is to ram it down people's throats."
"Well, what's so bad about that? That sounds like the beginning of a great new age!"
"Yeah, but that's just political side, the side that never really matters anyway. I've also heard of the discovery that by mixing sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter, we can produce an explosive as powerful as a fireball out of a wand. We can make objects appear closer by shaped pieces of glass, instead of clairvoyance or Eyes of the Eagle. Soon, there'll be no need for magic on Central Earth at all."
"Oh dear. How long do you think the changeover'll take?"
"Oh, maybe three hundred years. Four hundred at the most."
Ringman giggled. "Then I guess we don't have anything to worry about." He coaxed her face gently and playfully to his and kissed it. "Uh, that arrow I shot Omnion with . . . that was —"
"—an arrow of slaying lawful-evil half-elven fighter/magic-user/thieves."
Ringman stared through his eyebrows at her. "In other words, an arrow of slaying Omnion."
"No, it would have worked against any old lawful-evil half-elven fighter/magic-user/thief that happened to get hit by it."
"And why couldn't an inhumanly powerful hyperdeity like yourself fly any faster than you did?"
Sick Sword smiled and chuckled a bit. "What do you expect in a world where a normal person, engaged in mortal combat, can take a swipe at an opponent only once a minute?"
"You're right, half of this whole world doesn't make sense." He kissed her lightly once again, then slowly stroked his bare right hand across her 150% invulnerable face. "There is one thing I have been worried about. After all we've gone through . . ." He stared lovingly at her perfect 18 charisma body.
She smiled back. "Well, of course, I —" She read his mind. That was not what he was thinking about. Not mainly, anyway. "OoooOOOooohhhhhhhh. I see."
Ringman nodded his head. "How many experience points do I get?"
We hope you have enjoyed The Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters.
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