Ridiculous Sword pushed her way through the swinging doors of the saloon. She needed a drink. Or at least she needed some place to unwind.
She listened briefly to the piano player on her way from the door to the bar. He was playing one of those sprightly tunes that piano players always seem to be playing in saloons. A sign rested on top of his tinny upright, reading: "Don't hack me to bits, I'm only the piano player."
She propped herself up on a barstool and smoothed the light-brown hair out of her face. "Bartender, gimmie a double ethanol."
The bartender leered at her. "Okay, kid, let's see some I.D."
She looked him straight in the eye. "I.D.'s haven't been invented yet."
"Oh yeah," he replied, and reached below the counter for a bottle of pure grain alcohol.
She looked at the piano player again, who was repeating the same musical phrase he'd just played 20 seconds ago. "Oh, can it, pianos haven't been invented yet either."
"Here ya go, kid," the bartender returned with a glassful of ethyl alcohol. "Uh, ya do got money, don'tcha?"
"Do I have money, he asks! Here." She plopped a million-gold-piece gem down on the counter.
The bartender's eyes bulged out. "Um, er, uh, sorry, but we don't —"
"Take any denominations smaller than 20 gold pieces. All right, all right! So what else is new?"
She drew her Ridiculous Hand Axe, much to the dismay of the bartender, and chopped the 1,000,000-gold-piece gem up into 65,536 15.25878906-gold-piece gems. She scooped 65,535 of these back into her leather backpack of holding (which she placed in her portable hole) and gave one to the bartender. "Here. Keep the change. Oh, and bring me two more of these, will ya?"
"Two more double-ethanols? Uh, sure . . ." He set to work.
She lifted the glass to eye level and swished it around, watching the small impurity of water make little eddies. Then she lowered it to her mouth. "For the honor of Grayhawk," she toasted, and downed the whole glassful in a single gulp.
It was in staring at the bottom of the tilted glass that she saw a reflection of the commotion outside.
"No," the little half-elven boy screamed as he struggled to free himself. "I don't wanna go with you!"
"Sure-you-do," the female dragging his left arm replied in a monotone. "Don't-you-want-to-come-home-with-us?"
"No! You're not my real mommy and daddy!"
"Of-course-we-are," the male dragging his right arm recited in a monotone half an octave below the female's.
The monotone mommy and daddy barely noticed that they had bumped into a ten-year-old girl. When the message reached whatever passed for their brains, they were quick to reprimand her.
"Get-out-of-our-way," the female said, pointing her decaying, elven pointy ears forward. "This-is-none-of-your-business."
"Oh no?" Ridiculous Sword replied. "Since when do zombie parents have live children?"
'Zombies?' the boy gulped.
The two glazy-eyed humans looked at each other quizzically, then looked back at Ridiculous Sword and said in chorus, "We-are-not-zombies."
Ridiculous Sword smirked. "We'll see about that," she replied as she reached under her robe of eyes. She pulled out a white egg-shaped thing with a light blue stripe (with dark blue trim) across the middle that had the words "HOLY SYMBOL" printed on the side. Holding it out in front of her and facing the kid's "parents," she nonchalantly said, "Begone."
And the two zombies disintegrated into piles of dust.
The boy just stood there and shook.
"Sorry," Ridiculous Sword put a hand on his shoulder. "Did those ever used to be your real parents?"
"Well," the boy sniffed, "Well, they did look sorta like my mom and dad . . ."
Ridiculous Sword nodded solemnly. "They've probably been dead for several days. There are always those prankster cults around who'll look for parents who have just died and animate them into zombies before their kids find out. Sorry it had to happen to you."
"I," the boy began, ". . . I had a feeling something was wrong when they went out to the town well yesterday morning and didn't come back."
Ridiculous Sword nodded again. "Are you an only child?"
"Um, I don't have any brothers or sisters, if that's what you mean." Then, he added: "I used to have a sister, but she died of typhus."
Ridiculous Sword covered her eyes with her right hand and shook her head. "When are these people going to get around to inventing penicillin?"
The boy puzzled. "Peni-what?"
"Er, never mind, never mind. Hey, what's your name?"
"Jimmy, what's yours?"
In the most phenomenal turn-around Ridiculous Sword had seen in a long time, Jimmy went from the verge of sobbing to a barely-controllable fit of the giggles. He was down on the ground in seconds.
"RIDICULOUS Sword?!?" he managed to spit out between guffaws. "RIDICULOUS Sword!?! Haw haw haw haw haw haw haw!! That's the stupidest name I EVER heard!!"
"Oh, right," Ridiculous Sword folded her arms, "And I suppose you think Jimmy is a lots better name."
"You bet! HAW HAW HAW!! RIDICULOUS SWORD! What a STUPID name!!!"
Of its own volition, the broadsword stashed next to Ridiculous Sword's left hip pulled itself free of its scabbard and dashed toward Jimmy. Jimmy's case of the giggles went away instantly. The sword hovered in midair momentarily, and then zipped to within an inch of his throat.
"RIDICULOUS SWORD," the sword bellowed, amplifying its voice with telepathy, "HAPPENS TO BE A PERFECTLY FINE NAME! THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THAT?!!"
"Now, now, Ridiculous Sword," Ridiculous Sword chided her naughty weapon, "Don't go threatening innocent bystanders. He was talking about me, anyway, not you." She drew her sword from the air and sheathed it. Jimmy shook like a fault line. "Sorry about that, Jimmy; my Ridiculous Sword's a bit touchy. You'd be, too, if you had an 82 ego."
"Your . . . your sword's named after you?"
"Sure." She drew some of her other weapons. "And so's my hand axe, and my longsword, and my dagger, and my pair of gloves, and my other pair of gloves. They're all just as Ridiculous as I am."
Jimmy was silent for a very, very long fraction of a second. Then, he spoke up: "What do I do now that my mom and dad are two piles of dust?"
Ridiculous Sword shrugged. "Well, I guess you're with me, kiddo."
Jimmy glared at her. "But you aren't any older than I am!"
"No, but I have seventy or eighty million more experience points than you do."
'Seventy or eighty million?' Jimmy mouthed, his eyes bulging.
"Come on," Ridiculous Sword gestured, "Let's go to your place and try to straighten out your future."
"Now that I'm looking after you," Ridiculous Sword explained as they walked down Hack-and-Slash Lane toward Jimmy's old home, "I think you ought to know that I've made some pretty powerful enemies. Not the least of whom is my own dear brother."
"Uh huh. So?"
"So, they might want to get at me through you. You'll need to be able to protect yourself."
"Hey, I'm ten years old! If anybody tries to mess with me, why, I'll bash 'em across the jaw!" He swung at the empty air. "I'll kick their butts!" He thrust his foot out in front of him. "I'll —"
"You'll get killed, if you try that. Fists and feet aren't very useful against crossbow bolts —"
"— unless you happen to be a monk, like me."
"A monk? But I thought you were a cleric!"
"No, silly, pure clerics can't use edged weapons."
"So you're a monk, and a cleric then?"
Ridiculous Sword thought of telling him more, then thought better of it. "Yes, I am."
"Oh." They resumed walking. Jimmy rubbed his chin for a moment. "But monks aren't supposed to use swords!"
Ridiculous Sword sighed. "Okay, you got me. I'm also a ranger."
Jimmy stopped short. "So you're a ranger, and a monk, and a cleric? Are you anything else besides?"
"Well, I am a druid as well."
"All right," Jimmy folded his arms. "Tell me, from top to bottom, everything you are, or I'm not budging a centimeter!"
"Kinda personal, wouldn't you say?"
"You want me to trust you? Then tell me."
"Okay," she breathed, "I'm a Hierophant of the Cabal druid, the Grandfather of Assassins, the Grand Master of Flowers, a 17th-level ranger lord, a 17th-level master thief, a 20th-level paladin, a magna-alumnae bard, a 31st-level illusionist, a 49th-level arch-mage, a 60th-level weapons mistress, and a psionic. I'm lawful good, because neither the Book of Infinite Wisdom, the Book of Finite Wisdom, nor the Other Book of Infinite Wisdom makes any stipulation against druids or bards or thieves or assassins changing their alignment." She paused, reached into the astral plane, and pulled her brownie down into the physical universe. "This is my familiar, the Ridiculous Brownie. Say hello to the nice little half-elven boy, Ridiculous Brownie."
"Hi, nice little half-elven boy," the brownie said, and disappeared back into the astral world.
"There," Ridiculous Sword finished, "Are you satisfied?"
Jimmy rolled his eyes up into his head and fainted.
When he woke up twelve seconds later, he found Ridiculous Sword leaning over him about to cast some kind of wake-up spell. "Oh my deity," Jimmy moaned, "You're more well-equipped than Sick Sword!"
Ridiculous Sword stopped gesticulating, smiled a smile of sudden understanding, closed her eyes, and nodded her head. "Sick Sword was my mother."
"Your mother . . . Sick Sword . . . Ridiculous Sword . . ." They had the same last name and everything. Now it all made sense. Well, almost all of it did: "You said Sick Sword was your mother?"
Ridiculous Sword nodded solemnly. "Up until a couple days ago. Like I said, my brother is my most powerful enemy."
"Your own brother killed your mom?!"
"Mmm hmm. 'Fraid so. Evil little sonofabitch, isn't he? Didn't even leave a soul behind to resurrect."
"So you're an orphan like me?"
"Well, not quite. My dad's still alive, but he's just a 9th-level by-the-book paladin. He's a nice guy, though. . . . Well, anyway, like I was trying to say, I've got some pretty powerful enemies, so you'll need some protection."
She took a portable hole out of her pocket with a piece of masking tape across the top. On the strip of tape were scribed the words, "Sick Sword's stuff — excess." Opening the hole, she reached in, rummaged around noisily, and finally pulled out a gray, solid adamantite broadsword and handed it to Jimmy. "Here," she told him, "This ought to help."
The instant Jimmy grabbed the haft, the sword's will took advantage of the opportunity and lanced full-force into him. Brilliant white light scintillated outward from the blade, an ominous fanfare wafted through the air, and a voice both telepathic and auditory boomed, "I AM THE SICK SWORD!"
"Y-y-y-yikes!" said Jimmy meekly.
"BEFORE SICK SWORD WAS, I WAS. BEFORE CENTRAL EARTH WAS, I WAS."
'Oh, come on,' Ridiculous Sword thought, 'You've only been around for twelve or thirteen years.'
"I AM ALL THINGS GREAT AND POWERFUL, ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL. I SERVED IN THE HAND OF THE GREATEST WEAPONS-MISTRESS/ CLERIC/ARCH-MAGE THAT EVER LIVED. I CAN FELL AN OGRE WITH A SWIPE OF MY BACKHAND. I —"
The Sick Sword felt a Ridiculous glove grab hold of its adamantite blade. "Cool it, Sicky," Ridiculous Sword ordered, "Or I'll find a humble ant to crush you beneath the foot of!"
The adamantite broadsword was instantly silent.
"Sick Sword," she continued, "This is Jimmy, your new wielder. You're to protect him just as you did Sick Sword. Understand?"
"*sigh* . . . ALL RIGHT. DO YOU WANT TO BE MY NEW OWNER, JIMMY?"
"Well . . . yeah, sure!" Jimmy decided.
"EXCELLENT. WHAT'S YOU'RE ALIGNMENT?"
"Uh, kinda chaotic-lawful with neutral tendencies."
"WELL, IT'S LAWFUL-GOOD NOW."
"Huh? What do you —"
"ARTIFACT SIDE EFFECT A: ALIGNMENT OF POSSESSOR PERMANENTLY CHANGED TO THAT OF ITEM. YOU ARE LAWFUL-GOOD NOW, WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. OH, AND I'M ALSO SUPPOSED TO PLACE A GEAS OR A QUEST ON YOU . . ."
Ridiculous Sword leered at the weapon menacingly.
"SO, UM, UH, YOUR GEAS IS TO, ER, SEEK OUT AND FIND THE, UM, UH —"
"Holy Grail?" Jimmy asked.
The sword pointed at him defensively. "HE SAID IT, NOT ME."
Ridiculous Sword snapped her fingers. "No matter. I wish that Jimmy were un-geased."
"WHEW," the sword exhaled. "WELL, THAT WASN'T SO BAD, NOW WAS IT?"
"Well, I dunno," Jimmy told the Sick Sword, "I ain't never been geased before."
"Jimmy, this is a +6 vorpal 9-lives stealing broadsword of wounding, dancing, and life stealing. It's made of solid adamantite. Do you know what that means?"
"Yeah, it means I get to HACK UP THE BAD GUYS! Wham! Hack! Swoosh!" He swung the sword around precariously three times.
"No, no, NO! It means —" she grabbed the sword again to keep him from slicing haphazardly through the air, "— that you've gotta learn how to use it to defend yourself. In other words, you gotta know how to parry as well as how to attack. One of the sword's major artifact powers will reduce your base armor class to 0, but that certainly isn't enough to make you hit-proof. Now then, what's your DEX?"
"Er, my what?"
"Your DEX. You know, your Dexterity."
"Well, I guess I'm pretty good with my fingers."
"You GUESS?! You mean you DON'T KNOW?!!"
"No. Should I?"
"By God II, what kind of a world is this where people don't even know their own character abilities?! Where's your character sheet?"
Ridiculous Sword conked herself on the head. "How do you expect to keep track of your experience points without a character sheet!?"
"Well, um, I always just thought that, well, uh, you know . . ."
Ridiculous Sword sighed, feeling rather vexed, and reached into the outer planes right above Jimmy's head. She pulled out a yellow sheet of paper with lots of markings on it and the name "Jimmy" written in bold calligraphy. "Let's see. Jimmy: half-elven, level 0 —" she eyed the sheet and the boy warily. "— Oh, that's right, only PURE elves never get to be 0th level. Ahem; 9 Strength, 12 Intelligence, 8 Wisdom, 11 Dexterity, 13 Constitution, 10 Charisma." She looked at him over the top of his character sheet. "You're not much, are you?"
Jimmy grimaced but didn't bother to reply.
Ridiculous Sword took his hand. "Come with me," she said.
Jimmy shrugged and nodded his consent.
Not that he had much choice in the matter. Ridiculous Sword's second helm glowed purple for a moment, and they found themselves within a great cavern at the core of a majestic mountain. With his natural infravisual capability, Jimmy saw a massive stone chair carved out of the stone on one side of the cave. Intricate mosaics of ivory, platinum, and adamantite adorned the bejewelled throne. It was pretty awesome-looking even in the infra-red.
"This is the Throne of the Gods," Ridiculous Sword told him, indicating the chair. "Sit on it."
"Um, sit on it?" Jimmy inquired, not quite believing her and still a little shaken up from that teleport.
Ridiculous Sword nodded. "Go on, sit on it."
Jimmy took a few faltering steps toward the relic. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Would I lie to you?"
"I don't know, would you?"
Ridiculous Sword sighed. "Look, here, I'll even cast a detect lie spell on you so you can tell if I'm telling the truth." She did. "Now then, that Throne is perfectly harmless."
Jimmy put a hand to his chin. "What does that little red light over your head mean?"
"Er, um, uh, all right then — that Throne is perfectly harmless if you do as I say."
In Jimmy's mind, the light over her head changed from red to green. "Well, okay," Jimmy acquiesced, turning back toward the seat, "But no funny stuff."
Jimmy's hands trembled so badly he could barely hold on to the arm rests as he sat himself down.
"Now, repeat after me," Ridiculous Sword told him. "Semper fidelis, cum regio spaticum est."
"What's that mean?" Jimmy asked.
"Never mind what it means, just say it."
"But what's it mean?"
"It means 'Holy fidelity! It's a space ship!,' all right? So say it: semper fidelis, cum regio spaticum est."
"Semper fidelis, cum regio spaticum est."
"Sic transit gloria tuesdi."
"Sick transit gloria tuesdi."
"Lisan-al-gaib Shai-hulud Muad'dib Kwisatz Haderach shield-lasgun explosion."
"Listen-al-gaib Shy-hoolud Maud'dib Quizzat's Hatrack shield-lazegun explosion."
"Abra cadabra, presto changeo."
"Abra cadabra, presto changeo." And the instant he finished "changeo," he felt somehow . . . different. "I feel somehow . . . different," he said.
Ridiculous Sword smiled. "Prime power B: 'All of possessor's ability totals raised to 18 each upon pronouncement of a command word.' Those little phrases I gave you to say were the command word; now you have straight eighteens across the board."
Jimmy's eyes bugged out. "You mean 18 strength, 18 intelligence, 18 wisdom, 18 dexterity, 18 constitution —"
"And eighteen charisma," Ridiculous Sword finished.
"But suppose I don't want straight 18's across the board!"
"Oh, nonsense, everybody wants all 18's. Everybody except people who have 19's, that is. Which reminds me . . ."
"Oh, no you don't!" Jimmy insisted, standing up and moving away from the Throne. "Bad enough that I can outclass most nobility right now! You're not getting me pumped up any further!"
Ridiculous Sword folded her arms. "I could never get my father to do even as much as you just did."
"Maybe that was because Ringman knew that all of his abilities would get permanently raised to 18 if he did that. You never told me what you were doing with me. Gehenna, you've hardly ever told me anything! What are you, a cleric or something?!"
"Naturally. Part cleric, part —"
"Oh, how could I forget about your eleven classes — especially now with my 18 intelligence! For the positive material plane's sake!" He slammed his fist down on a rock outcropping, leaving an 18 strength fist-shaped indentation. "There, you see! You've already given me more power than I know what to do with!"
"Come on, you can handle it; you've got an 18 wisdom."
Jimmy was about to formulate a reply when Ridiculous Sword snapped her fingers. "Oh, wait a minute, almost forgot." She reached into a pouch strapped to her side and pulled out two baubles that Jimmy couldn't quite see. "You don't have psionics, do you?"
"Well, no, why would —" Jimmy stopped short.
Ridiculous Sword rolled the pair of icosahedrons across the cave floor. Since each face was marked with a "0," the roll was of course a double-zero, or one hundred. "Well, you do now!" she told him.
Jimmy slapped his palm over his face.
"Sure; your intelligence, wisdom, and charisma just went up, remember?" Ridiculous Sword rolled again. "Another 00. 172 psionic strength," she rolled yet again, "All attack . . ." another roll ". . . and defense modes, and . . ." yet a fifth roll of the crystalline, loaded percentile dice ". . . four minor and two major psionic disciplines."
Jimmy didn't bother to uncover his eyes. He just shook his head.
"Okay, for now, your psionic devotions are invisibility, cell adjustment, domination, and reduction, and your psionic sciences are energy control and probability travel; but you'll get more powers once we get you in touch with some spheres of annihilation."
"Why me?" Jimmy moaned.
They eventually made it back onto the prime material plane — thanks to a whole lot of complaining on Jimmy's part — and walked the rest of the way to his old house. Ridiculous Sword went in and turned the place inside out in three minutes flat.
"I found seven silver pieces and three coppers in loose change," she said, "But that's all your parents had lying around."
"Of course," Jimmy replied, "Rents are cheap around here."
Ridiculous Sword put her fists to her hips. "Rent hasn't been invented yet."
"Oh yeah, I forgot. Well, we were just meager serf-type village folk who earned a poor but honest living."
"Oh, give it up. You didn't even have a single electrum piece stashed under the mattress. In fact, you didn't even have a mattress."
"Well . . . I like hay. It feels comfortable. (Except when it makes me sneeze.)"
"It also makes you smell like a farm animal."
"Everybody around here smells like a farm animal. Soap hasn't been invented yet either, remember?"
Ridiculous Sword relaxed her posture. "Oh yeah. Sorry. I'm only intelligence 19, you know."
"So you've ransacked my house and come out saying that everything me and my family have ever owned is useless to me now. So what?"
"So . . . now we have to get you a better place to stay. How would you like to come live at my late mother's keep for a while?"
"Really?! Wow, that'd be neat!"
'Whoo, can this boy's mood change fast,' Ridiculous Sword figured.
"This," Ridiculous Sword indicated the updrawn gang-plank in front of the small castle, "Is the drawbridge."
"Wow, just like on a real castle!" Jimmy said excitedly. You would think he had only read about these places and never seen them or something.
"Hey, D.S.," Ridiculous Sword shouted, "Lower the D.B.!"
Disgusting Sword stuck her ethereal head through the adamantite-reinforced drawbridge, said "Okay," drew her head back in, solidified, and pulled the lever marked "down." The drawbridge cranked down across the moat to the sound of clanking adamantite chains.
"And this through here," Ridiculous Sword led Jimmy across the drawbridge, "Is the foyer. This is where my sister and I have placed a rather strong protection from evil spell — just in case our brother or anybody he's in cahoots with decides to visit us."
"Yeah, I kinda figured that from the thaumaturgic circle inscribed on the floor."
"There, you wouldn't have known that was a thaumaturgic circle with your old intelligence of twelve, now would you?"
"As a matter of fact, I saw a thaumaturgic circle being demonstrated two years ago, and I would have recognized it anyway. Nyaah."
"And this," Ridiculous Sword quickly changed the subject, "Is the room where my mother used to sleep. It'll be your room for the time being."
"Um . . ."
"Oh, don't worry, all her magic items've been moved out."
"Um, I'm more worried about her ghost."
Ridiculous Sword lowered her head involuntarily. Her eyes felt moist. "If she had a ghost, we could bring her back."
"Oh . . ." Jimmy's voice trailed off. Somehow, he understood. "I'm sorry, I didn't know."
"It's all right. I wish Bahamut hadn't had to follow in her path, though."
Jimmy gulped hard. "Bahamut's dead too?!"
"As a doornail."
"A platinum doornail!" a voice approached from the other room.
"Uh, Jimmy," Ridiculous Sword indicated the entering girl, "This is my big sister, Disgusting Sword."
"Hey," she put her hands on her hips and addressed Ridiculous Sword, "Who's the cutie?"
Ridiculous Sword rolled her eyes up into her head and pointed at the other girl with her thumb. "She's just entering puberty."
"Oh," Jimmy replied, "Well, I'm just entering puberty too. . . ."
Disgusting Sword grinned girlishly.
"I found him," Ridiculous Sword insisted, "So he's mine. Nyaah."
"Oh yeah?" Disgusting Sword retorted. "Well, double nyaah!"
"PTTTTTTTTT!" they both raspberried each other, lockhorned.
"Girls, girls, let's not fight over me." Jimmy grabbed their opposing shoulders and tried to tear them apart. They wouldn't budge, no matter how hard he pulled. "What gives," he strained to say, "I thought I had an 18 strength!"
"You do," Ridiculous Sword told him without flinching, "We just happen to have 25 strength."
"Oh . . ."
"25 star strength," Disgusting Sword corrected her.
"Anyways, like I was saying," Ridiculous Sword said smugly as she put her arms around Jimmy's neck, "I found him so he's mine now." She pulled up a little closer to him and playfully kissed his cheek.
"EW!" Jimmy wrenched himself away from her. "I don't wanna be kissed by no girl!" He wiped her smooch off as harshly as he could.
Disgusting Sword shook her head as she left the room. "What a waste of an 18 charisma."
Both Ridiculous Sword and Jimmy were silent for some time. Then, Ridiculous Sword said, "Hmmph. Looks like we've all got some growing up to do."
Jimmy folded his arms. "Phh, boy, I'll say! You two didn't know when to quit!"
"Your attitude toward my, er, affections wasn't exactly the most mature on Central Earth either, bub."
"Aw, that's just a sissy game."
"Yeah, played by us sissy 60th-level weapons masters, sure. And what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"Oh, that's easy. I wanna be a FIGHTER!" He thrust the Sick Sword through the air again. "I wanna hack up all sorts of vicious monsters and mount their heads on my wall! On the wall of my palace, that is — the palace I got by killing the villainous king that lived in it! HA! HACK! THRUST! DIE! DIE!! DIE!!!"
"Well, I can help train you in that direction, if you'd like."
"YOU?! But you're a GIRL! And you're not even a fighter, besides!"
"Oh, sure, I'm not a fighter, he says. I'm only a weapons mistress and a paladin and a ranger! Those don't count!"
"Oh yeah, that's right, those are sub-classes, aren't they?"
"Well, actually, the Other Book of Infinite Wisdom (a genuine Dungeon Master™ publication) goes back and says that a paladin's actually not a fighter but really a sub-class of cavalier, but it's close enough. Tell you what, kiddo. If you really want to get invincible, you ought to be multi-classed; say, a fighter/magic-user, or a fighter/thief, or a fighter/magic-user/thief, or a cleric/druid/fighter/ranger/weapons master/cavalier/paladin/magic-user/thief/thief-acrobat/assassin who'll change to become a bard, or —"
"No! I'm NOT gonna be a fifteen-classed character! I want to be a fighter — just a fighter! You got that?"
"Okay, okay, it was only a suggestion."
"Hmmph. I'm surprised it wasn't a suggestion spell."
"Oh, believe me, it was. You just got lucky and made your saving throw."
Jimmy narrowed his gaze and eyed her warily. "You're sure we're on the same side?"
"No, no, don't aim for my sword," Ridiculous Sword instructed, easily deflecting the latest hack of his Sick Sword, "Aim for my body! You're fighting me, not my weapon!"
"But I don't wanna hurt —"
"Don't worry about that, kiddo, there's no way you could really hit me. Just try to, all right?"
"Well, okay. Hyyyyah!" Jimmy swung his sword out and around in a wide arc blade-on. The blade was barely half way to its target when Ridiculous Sword brought her Ridiculous Broadsword to within an inch of his left eye. Jimmy gasped and dropped his blade.
"That maneuver may have worked against someone wearing plate mail," Ridiculous Sword told him as she slowly moved her sword away. "Heavy armor'll slow down an opponent's reaction time enough for you to finish blows like that. But you left yourself wide open for anyone with half an ounce of speed to thrust his rapier through your heart. Or her broadsword through your left eye. Now let's try again."
Jimmy studied the distant mountains for a few long seconds and rubbed his stockinged toes in the grass. Then, he cleared his throat. "Ahem. Sword of Sickness, come to my hand!" he commanded in Lawful Good. The adamantite Eternian-looking sword shot up from the ground and landed grip-first in his palm.
"Now, defend yourself!" Ridiculous Sword launched at him with both her Ridiculous Longsword and her Ridiculous Hand Axe before her.
Jimmy was barely able to draw Sick Sword's old +6 dagger of wounding and parry the adamantite longsword in time. He was so relieved at having fended off her sword that he didn't cover his right side and received a nasty run in his shirt from her hand axe. That made him mad enough to forget about being nervous and hack at her with the Sick Sword as hard as he could. Ridiculous Sword jerked to one side and easily avoided getting hit.
Jimmy didn't get to stay angry for long. Three seconds later, a mere instant in this particular combat system, Ridiculous Sword hacked at him again with her long sword, forcing Jimmy to block the blow with all his might. Adamantite clashed against adamantite, then, and again, and again, until their ordeal seemed to take on a rhythm of its own. Every thrust or slash Jimmy made, Ridiculous Sword easily curved away; every stab Ridiculous Sword took, Jimmy somehow managed to parry or avoid. Sure, she was holding back, but she wasn't making this a picnic for him.
Finally, after four long minutes of fruitless exchange, Jimmy backed up a few feet, loosed the Sick Sword to dance, and drew Sick Sword's old +5 broadsword to attack with. Ridiculous Sword shrugged, sent her Ridiculous Longsword dancing into the air to deal with the Sick Sword, and flashed the Ridiculous Broadsword into her right hand in the blink of an eye. She also let her Ridiculous Hand Axe dance after Jimmy.
"Hey, that's not fair!" Jimmy complained, desperately fending off the adamantite axe. "My dagger doesn't dance!"
"True, but who's to say your next opponent won't have a +6 holy vorpal defender frost-brand flame-tongue sun luckblade hand axe of wounding, dancing, life stealing, slaying everything, disruption, throwing, thunderbolts, all dragon slaying, speed, final word, and nine lives stealing with intelligence 17, speech and telepathy, read languages and magic, ten non-alignment languages, eight extraordinary powers, eight special purposes, seven artifact minor benign powers, twelve major benign powers, and limited omniscience in one hand and a nearly-identical sword in the other?"
The instant she said "other," Jimmy found his opening, ducked under the hand axe, and came at her at full tilt. She saw his sword hack coming a mile away; it would be easy enough to parr—
Jimmy's +5 broadsword came within three inches of her right side, jerked over, and thrust right below her left ribcage. Surprised, Ridiculous Sword reached down to the sheath on her left boot, pulled out her Ridiculous Dagger, intercepted Jimmy's thrust, and sent his sword reeling two hundred feet through the air to land, point-first, on the center of a target painted on a rock.
"Amazing!" Ridiculous Sword told him, lowering her dagger. "I haven't seen a feint like that in weeks! You're real fighter material, Jimbo."
"Really? You mean I can be a real honest-to-gosh fighter now?"
"That's right, Jimmy. You've passed the test."
"Oh, wow! Neat! I . . . I . . ."
Jimmy's voice choked off as he shook and fell to his knees. Something was wrong inside him, something was definitely wrong. He felt his stomach convulse and he doubled over. Every muscle, every fiber, every epidermal fragment of his body rumbled like it was about to explode. He pressed his palms into his throbbing temples. "Wha . . . what's happening?!?"
Ridiculous Sword fished two baubles out of her pocket and handed them to Jimmy. "Here, quick, roll these!"
"Okay," Jimmy strained, barely able to hold on to the objects. "If it'll stop this." He tossed them. They rolled along the ground and tumbled to a stop.
Jimmy gasped and yelled, "It got worse! HEEEEEEELLP!"
He looked down at his spasmodic arms. What looked like bubbles underneath the skin stretched it completely out of proportion. He could hear muscle and tendon fibers rapidly snapping and reforming like cracking celery. It wasn't a tenth as uncomfortable as it was horrifying. "WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME?!!"
"You just became a fighter," Ridiculous Sword explained, "With an 18 strength. Fighters with 18 strengths get to roll for exceptional strength. I gave you those double-zero dice to roll just to be sure you got as strong as an ogre."
"You . . . what . . . ?!?"
And just as suddenly as the transformation had begun, it ceased. Jimmy's skin came out toughened and weathered (although it was still 18 charisma skin). Muscles bulged from his body where he didn't know half-elves could have muscles. The great phantom character sheet in the sky told him that he had the full 14 hit points. He felt like vomiting.
Ridiculous Sword approached him and put her arm around his shoulders. She looked into his eyes, and said, "Welcome to level one."
Peter Perfect stopped scanning with his eyes of the eagle from his warhorse's saddle. Across about a mile of dry lakebed, he'd seen what he was hoping for.
"Well well well," he told his horse and his holy sword, "It looks like Ringman's decided to face me on my own turf. We'll see how well he handles himself without a magic ballista!"
He put his funny glasses away, held Prometheus in his right hand and the warhorse's reins in his left, and with a tiny jolt instructed the horse to trot toward the approaching Ringman. He surveyed the landscape one more time: absolutely flat, not a tree or a bush or a rock or a dumb old human to mar the expanse of barrenness. This place had Peter Perfect's name written all over it; nothing was quite so impressive as his castle jutting up from the center of all this nothingness.
It also gave Ringman and any goody-two-shoes cohorts he might happen to be carrying along with him nowhere to hide. Like that brownie Peter saw riding on his shoulder. Yeah, he figured as he rode closer, maybe he'd capture the brownie and torture it just to see what Ringman would do. Or maybe he'd torture Ringman to see what the brownie would do. Or perhaps he'd torture Ringman and the brownie to see what Ringman's horse would do.
Ringman rode up toward him on his own horse, unusually confident for being about to face his old nemesis. Homer the brownie rode on his left shoulder, meteorite-iron steel plate barding rode almost weightlessly over the warhorse's body, and Ringman's holy avenger rode in its scabbard rather than in his hand. He flinched as Peter Perfect shot him a sinister grin, but quickly recuperated. He also noticed that Peter Perfect had traded in the gauntlets and chausses of his +5 adamantite-alloyed plate mail for +6 pure-adamantite-metal full plate armor — perhaps this new item had become available in the same book that had forced Ringman's warhorse's plate barding down from +5 to +3.
Their horses trotted toward each other until they were practically nose to nose.
"Well, Ringman, old buddy, old pal," Peter Perfect chided, "What brings you to my realm of dread?"
'How can the Dungeon Master let this guy stay a paladin?!' Ringman thought. "I've come here to settle a grudge that's more than a decade old," he told him.
"Oh?" Peter Perfect asked sarcastically. "And what grudge might that be, hmm?"
Ringman shook his head and grinned a bit. "You and me, you disgrace to paladinhood, you and I. So long as you stay the way you are right now, I'm ashamed to share your character class."
"Oh, I see. So you've finally come to die." Peter cracked his knuckles.
"No," Ringman replied quite calmly, "I've come to bring you down."
The beardless paladin chuckled through his nose. "You must be joking. You? Alone?!"
"Ah, but I'm not alone," Ringman observed. "I've brought a friend."
"Pphhh, what, the late Sick Sword's little brownie?"
"Homer, sure, I brought him."
A flurry of scintillating dust grains wafted away from a spot two feet to the left of Ringman's horse. As the wind carried the dust away from what it had been obscuring — or rather concealing — there resolved the form of a ten-and-a-half year old girl with an adamantite dagger in her left hand and an adamantite broadsword in her right.
"I also brought along my first born," Ringman explained.
"<gulp>," gulped Peter Perfect. "D-D-D-Disgusting Sword! You? Here? How!? What?"
Like a lightning bolt that had drunken a permanent potion of speed at 150% effectiveness, Disgusting Sword bolted up onto Peter's saddle and stuck a +6 holy vorpal dagger of wounding, dancing, life stealing, and nine lives stealing in front of his face. "Hello, Peter Perfect," she grinned, "I've wanted to meet you for so long."
Peter Perfect shook with fear, even though paladins were immune to fear by then, then dismounted his horse as fast as he could without speaking a word. Disgusting Sword got down too and zipped around in front of him again.
"Hey," Peter said, "W-w-wait a minute. I'm a Disgusting Character too. I've got rights, y'know. And besides, I'm armor class -23; you couldn't hit me by rolling anything less than a natural twenty."
"You can't fool me that easily, you weak boson. I read Dragon and Dragrace, too. The Dungeon Master relinquished that natural-20-only-no-matter-how-many-to-hit-bonuses-you-have restriction long ago."
"Ah, b-b-but then I can hit you, too." Peter held Prometheus defensively in front of him. It shook in his hand like a divining rod.
"Of course you can hit me too; I'm only A.C. negative twenty-seven. But I have nearly four times as many hit points as you do, and I'm part weapons mistress. I could tear you apart in two seg— er, twelve seconds."
'Hey, baby,' a telepathic message wafted into Disgusting Sword's head from Prometheus, 'How'd you like to use a real macho holy longsword?'
'BACK OFF, BUDDY,' the Disgusting Dagger replied telepathically to the sword, 'SHE'S WITH ME.' Prometheus was the first intelligent sword on Central Earth in centuries to visibly cringe.
"Um . . ." Peter Perfect began, "Um . . . uh . . ."
"Surrender or die," Disgusting Sword offered.
"Surrender!" Peter Perfect yelped. Prometheus fell to the ground as his hands shot into the air. 'Whew,' he thought, 'Glad she made it easy on me to decide.'
Disgusting Sword shrugged and said, "Good." She snapped her fingers; Peter's warhorse obeyed blindly and sank to its knees. There was nothing quite like a permanent potion of animal control at 150% effectiveness. Peter Perfect had one of those, too, but he thought better of using it at this point.
"Now, the first thing we take off of your body —" shhhhink, she exposed Peter's woolen undies, "— is this Invulnerable Coat of Arnd. Here, dad, keep this warm for me, will ya?" She tossed it to Ringman.
"Do I have a choice?" he replied, fumbling the chain shirt with his mere 17 dexterity.
'Hmmph,' Peter thought, 'It's a good thing I dragged the torso and groin plates from that +6 full plate along for just such an occasion.'
"Next —" she took off his belt "— goes your girdle of titan strength. Here, Ringman, why don'tcha put this on?"
Ringman caught it while still holding on to Arnd's invulnerable coat. "I thought we went through why I won't put this on before."
'Hah, those fools,' Peter thought, 'Little do they realize that I have a permanent potion of titan strength in effect on me!'
"And don't try to get away by using that permanent potion of titan strength you have in effect on you," Disgusting Sword warned him. "I have Atlas strength."
"Um, what's —" Ringman began.
"Atlas has 25-star strength," the brownie whispered in his ear.
"And finally, we take away each and every item on your person that increases your saving throw versus magic. . . ." Disgusting Sword took away his +4 cloak of protection, his +3-in-a-5-foot-radius ring of protection (although why Peter Perfect would want to protect anyone but himself was beyond her), his stone of good luck, his luck blade longsword, his scarab of protection, and his Axe of the Dwarvish Lords, then dispelled the protection from good spell he'd had permanently placed upon him. She bared her archmagi robe. ". . . and cast a charm person spell on you."
She waved her hands through the air, stuck her two index fingers up her nose, and cried, "Oolam caloophid baeower gazots / Diddlysquat barnstorm hotten and tots, / If I don't charm you I think I'll just cry / So be under my power or you'll have to die!"
There was a tremendous crash of thunder as waves of magical force cascaded down from the positive material plane, through Disgusting Sword, and into Peter Perfect's head. Ghostly voices rose up from all around to help control Peter's mind. Her robe of the archmagi shone an awesome white. It was overwhelming.
And then, nothing happened.
"Oh well," she said, "Looks like he made his saving throw. He had a 5 or better chance of making it anyway."
"So now what do you do?" Ringman asked.
"Easy. I'll just cast it a few more times until he blows it." She did. Two tries later, he was as harmless as a 20th-level paladin kitten. Heck, she didn't even have to use her permanent potion of elf, half-elf, and human control.
"Yes-master," Peter addressed Disgusting Sword in a monotone, his arms jutting out in front of him, "What-may-I-do-for-you?"
"Get on your horse," she directed him, "And ride off to Sick Sword's old keep. You do know where that is, don't you?"
"Oh? And when was that?"
"When you . . . you . . . what?!" She was completely surprised. (She could even be attacked using six second intervals as minutes right then.)
"I — I thought you knew," Ringman said.
"Sure," Peter continued, zombie-like. "That-was-when-she-was-pregnant-with-Gross-Sword."
Disgusting Sword just sat there with her mouth open. It took her twelve seconds to finally say, "We've got to get this back to Ridiculous Sword."
"Right," Ringman answered, and gave his horse a little snap on the reins. He started trotting off with Peter Perfect and his warhorse following close behind.
"Oh, and in the mean time," Disgusting Sword told Ringman, "You might want to replace the main section of your plate mail with the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd."
Ridiculous Sword heard them entering through the keep's drawbridge (Disgusting Sword usually lowered it by using her unseen servant) and saw them through the open door of her room. "Oh, hi D.S.," she said, taking her hands out of Jimmy's pants. "You're right, puberty's lots of fun!"
Disgusting Sword stepped aside and pulled Peter Perfect into Ridiculous Sword's view from behind Ringman. Peter's arms were still out stiff in front of him. "R.S., we have to talk."
Ridiculous Sword puzzled at the charmed paladin in front of her. Fiddling with her medallion of ESP, she had the answer in six seconds. "So this is Peter Perfect, eh? Um, why'd you take him out of The Dungeon?"
"We didn't take him out," Disgusting Sword told her. "He escaped over nine years ago."
"Nine . . . ye . . ."
Disgusting Sword shrugged. "I didn't even hear about it until this morning. It's a good thing dad decided to mention it to me."
"Like I said," Ringman explained, "I thought you knew!"
"And . . . what's he been doing for those nine-plus years?"
Disgusting Sword nudged Peter Perfect with her elbow. "Tell her what you told me."
Ridiculous Sword's jaw just about dropped to the floor.
"Yes, that's it," Disgusting Sword told him.
"I-made-a-deal-with-Tiamat-to-inject-a-seed-of-evil-into-Sick-Sword's-womb-while-she-was-pregnant-with-Gross-Sword," Peter told them.
"That's what I thought he said," Jimmy commented.
"So that means," Ridiculous Sword figured, "Gross Sword was drawn toward evil by an outside agent. It wasn't all mom's fault! I knew it!"
"Why did you make such a deal," Disgusting Sword asked the clean-shaven mind-controlled paladin.
"It-was-in-our-mutual-interests. Tiamat-got-to-spread-evil-all-over-the-multiverse-and-I-got-to-have-my-revenge-against-the-woman-who-destroyed-the-IUDC. And-her-husband."
"And how did you manage to keep your paladinhood?" Jimmy asked.
'Silly question,' Ringman thought.
"Silly-question," Peter bleated. "I-did-it-for-the-sake-of-perpetuating-my-ideal-of-lawful-goodness."
"Live-and-let-live . . . unless-you-don't-agree-with-them."
"Say, Ringman," a voice from Peter Perfect's side cut in. It was Prometheus. "Since my master is in no shape to kill anything, how's about you and me teaming up again?"
Ringman put his fists to his hips. "Why Prometheus, what a wonderful fair-weather friend you are!" He pointed out the nearest glassee spell — er, window. "See that pool over there? Well, it's really fresh water, and a quick dip now might be refreshing!"
"You sure you don't want me?" the holy avenger pleaded. "I'm +6 now!"
"And how did you manage that?"
"Easy. Peter Perfect just shucked out the 20 000 extra gold pieces and had me upgraded."
"Go disappear in a puff of logic," Ringman cursed it.
"Fine," the holy avenger replied, "I'll take that as a no for now."
"Hmmph," Disgusting Sword noted. "If Prometheus were an artifact I'd give it the humble ant treatment."
Ridiculous Sword totally ignored their sidetrack. She was too deep in thought about the nine-year-old news she'd just received. "How many times have I been in conference with the gods? How many times have I asked my contact-other-plane or vision spells if there's anything unusual going on?" She read Ringman's mind briefly. "Limbo, even Melnic the Loud's bard university knew about what Peter did to mom! Why did everybody keep it a secret?!"
"Hey," Jimmy perked up, "Maybe there was a conspiracy going on against you!"
"What makes you say that?" Disgusting Sword asked.
"'Cause then you could go out and find the conspirators and HACK THEM TO PIECES! Wham! Wham! Die, die, die!"
Ridiculous Sword waved his gestures aside. "No, God II damn it, there has to be a reason! In the months that I've been a disgusting character I've contacted just about every deity known to man and humanoid, good, evil, lawful, chaotic, or otherwise. Supreme beings who hate each other don't just conspire to withhold information from the most powerful force of lawful good in the multiverse!"
"Or the second most powerful force of lawful good in the multiverse," Disgusting Sword interjected.
"Just the same, we should have heard something about it! Hmmmm, I wonder . . . the fact that we didn't know gave Gross Sword time to be able to do all the sick, disgusting, gross, ridiculous, unbelievable things he's done without our butting in until it was too late. Some greater force out there wanted Gross Sword to get to my power level. Maybe if we knew more about why, we could find out how to bring our dear 3/4-brother down."
Jimmy puzzled. "But if the gods won't talk to you —"
"The Happy Hunting Grounds the gods won't talk to me!" Ridiculous Sword stammered. "I'll make them talk!"
And without another word, the most powerful force of lawful good in the multiverse amulet-of-the-planesed out of there.
She emerged on the plane of Gladsheim. This was the outer plane of chaotic good neutrals and, like most of the outer planes, was multi-layered. The first level of Gladsheim, and the only level touching the astral plane, was named Asgard; the second, which housed the dead warrior heroes brought there by the valkyries (along with a few fire giants), was named Muspelheim; and the third, where the Norse gods reigned, was named Nidavellir. Unlike the other outer planes, the three layers of Gladsheim were connected to each other by two rainbow bridges. Ridiculous Sword approached the first bridge.
A very large, flaming battle axe came down and blocked her path. "Halt!" the axe's owner demanded, showing off his gold teeth, "Who goes there?!"
"Oh, come on Heimdall, don'tcha recognize me?"
Heimdall gulped. "Ridiculous Sword? Wh-wh-what do you want here?"
"I want to go to Nidavellir and see ol' papa smurf."
Heimdall cleared his throat threateningly. "No one as lawful as yourself may cross this rainbow bridge without first crossing Heimdall!"
"Now really, do you think a wimpy +3 battle axe like that one is going to stand a chance against me?"
"How did you know my axe was +3?"
"Easy, it's the strongest kind of battle axe the Other Book of Infinite Wisdom lists on its miscellaneous magic weapons tables. Now let me in."
Ridiculous Sword blinked her eyes and dimension doored to the other side of the bridge. "Looks like you don't have much choice in the matter," she shouted back to him, and departed forty-two seconds later.
The rainbow bridge leading from Muspelheim to Nidavellir didn't have any picky old guard on it, so she didn't bother wasting one of her 399 remaining fourth-level spells on it. However, there was a god on the other side with long blond hair and a great big magic war hammer in his hands, wearing gauntlets of ogre power and a girdle of giant strength, riding on a chariot drawn by two trained attack goats, who was spouting curses at her.
"Odds and forsooth!" the blond-haired god thundered, "I knowest not how ye managed to pass by Heimdall at yon Bifroest Bridge, but ye had better get thine buns back to where thou camest from or know the wrath of my magick war hammer of thunderbolts, Mjolnir!"
"I don't think Clerasil would like you using his hammer," Ridiculous Sword pointed out.
"You dare to mock the God of Thunder?! Eateth hot lightning bolts, lawful slime!" He pointed his Mjolnir at Ridiculous Sword and pulled the trigger.
She made her saving throw (that is, she didn't roll a "1") and easily jutted her hips to one side. The bolt missed her.
"So, thou thinkest thou canst escapeth my wrath just because thou art a monk and taketh no damage from an attack if thou makst thy saving throw! Well, that'll not save thee from Mjolnir's adamantite-alloyed steel head!"
The thunder god cocked back his right arm and swung his hammer a mighty blow. Ridiculous Sword drew her two main weapons, parried Mjolnir with her Ridiculous Hand Axe, and jutted the Ridiculous Broadsword to within a mil of the blond god's neck. "That wasn't very polite," she told him.
"Um, er, uh — phhh," the God of Thunder groped for words as he blew some blond hair out of his face.
Ridiculous Sword took the sword away. "Thank you," she said, and walked over toward Odin's Place at a leisurely 2560 feet per second.
Odin's Place had a colossal pink neon sign over the drawbridge that read, "By invitation only." Ridiculous Sword got out a little piece of fleece, ground it between her 25* strength palms, blew the fleece dust at the sign, and chanted the ancient mystical words, "Permanent illusion!" That being done, she leapt over the moat and smashed through the adamantite-reinforced drawbridge.
Odin turned from his wife Frigga, with whom he was having a dreadful argument, and shouted, "Who dares smash a human-shaped hole through my drawbridge?!!"
Ridiculous Sword snapped her fingers and centered a continual light spell two feet above her head. "Me."
"And who art thou?"
"Ridiculous Sword, the most powerful force of lawful good in the multiverse."
Odin was furious. "I didn't invite you!"
"Take another look at your sign."
Odin peered through the window at the pink glowing letters. Sure enough, the sign now read, "By invitation only unless your name happens to be Ridiculous Sword."
"Upstarts and robes!" Odin cursed. "I'll show thee who's boss in Gladsheim!" He walked over to one wall of the chamber and grabbed on to a cross-brace several feet across which had a barrel glued to it. He pulled. The cross-brace moved slowly away from the wall and exposed more and more of a thick sheet of polished metal. The sheet was long and narrow and had sharp edges. It was about ten feet out of the wall before Ridiculous Sword realized that the cross-brace was actually a hilt, the barrel was actually a grip, and the sheet of metal was actually the blade to the biggest sword she had ever seen, bar none.
When Odin finally finished drawing his sword from the wall, it was about twenty-five feet long and must have weighed well over half a ton.
"What's that," Ridiculous Sword asked, "A twelve-handed sword?"
"Avast ye, yon varlet, hast thou not heard of the Odinsword?!"
"I thought you normally used Gungnir, the spear with the never-ceasing thrust."
"A man can only keep thrusting for so long, thou knowst; and besides, if I use the Odinsword I can do more damage that way!"
Odin swooshed the gigantic sword around the room at Ridiculous Sword. As she ducked, Ridiculous Sword wondered if that sword shouldn't have been named after her; she hadn't the foggiest idea how Odin kept it balanced. The first sword hack whooshed harmlessly over her head and nearly hit Frigga, whom Odin may have been aiming at as well for all she knew.
It would take Odin about two minutes to finish following through on that swing and hack at them again in the opposite direction; that would be more than enough time for Ridiculous Sword to do her thing. She rushed up to Odin the Head God, grabbed the Odinsword out of his hands, broke it in two across her leg, slapped him harshly on the wrist, shook her finger at him, and declared, "Tch tch tch, naughty boy, didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with knives?"
And with that, both Odin and Frigga fainted.
Ridiculous Sword had Odin back on his feet within eighteen seconds. "Now tell me," she demanded, "Why didn't you tell me about Peter Perfect's pact with Tiamat to taint the baby in Sick Sword's womb?"
Odin shrugged. "D-D-D-Dungeon Master's orders! No telling the player characters anything about Peter Perfect. Honest, that's all I know!"
Ridiculous Sword stared him warily in the eye and cast a detect lie spell on him. The green spot over his head meant that he was telling the truth. She sighed. "I guess I'll have to try some other outer planes then. But one more question: just what in the universe is a player character?"
And try some other outer planes she did. Olympus was like Gladsheim all over again, what with Zeus, Hera, and Ares being dead ringers for Odin, Frigga, and Thor; it was also as fruitless as the Norse plane. She throttled a few greater devils she found running around in Acheron, but they only gave her the same sob story. On the Happy Hunting Grounds it seemed that the only word the natives knew how to speak was "How." She broke some of the inhabitants of Nirvana out of their meditative stupors and looked into their minds, but all that got her were pictures of the back walls of their skulls. The boss, tyrant, king, and queen of the elemental planes of earth, fire, water, and air were likewise uninformed. Even going up into the face of God II, her own deity on the seventh layer of Heaven, only got her a mild suntan.
She materialized on the keep floor and rested her head on her hands.
Ringman turned to his newly-reappearing daughter with no more feeling than if she'd just come back from going into town. He was almost used to this kind of stuff by now. "How'd it go?" he asked.
Ridiculous Sword could have just said, "I learned absolutely nothing," and been done with it, but instead she fired up her telepathic projection and compressed every detail of the last two hours into a six-second-long beam aimed at Ringman's cerebral cortex. Ringman got the message, all right, in a very forceful way.
"Wow," he said.
"Not used to seeing things through the eyes of your ten-year-old daughter, eh?" Ridiculous Sword asked him.
"Not in the slightest. I'm also not exactly used to seeing things through the eyes of a disgusting character."
"Say, speaking of disgusting characters, have you read the new paladin rules in the Other Book of Infinite Wisdom?"
"In the Other Book of Infinite Wisdom?" Ringman inquired.
"Sure, you know, the one with the picture of the brass-headed alchemist looking googoo-eyed at a tome on the front cover."
"Um, is this something I'm supposed to know about?"
"It's only the official upgrade to both the Book of Infinite Wisdom and the Book of Finite Wisdom as authorized by the Dungeon Master."
'So that's where the new rule against plate barding above +3 came from,' Ringman thought. "No, I haven't seen the upgraded paladin rules."
"Well then," Ridiculous Sword smiled, hauling out her copy. "For starters, you're no longer a sub-class of fighters. You're now a sub-class of this other class called a cavalier. And since cavaliers don't have any prime requisite, you don't get any 10% experience point bonuses anymore."
"Oh," Ringman worried. He checked his tally. "No problem; I'm still ninth level with fifty-five thousand points to spare."
"You also get to train your strength, dexterity, constitution, and charisma every time you gain a level until they're all 18's (or 18/00's); are immune to fear; project a protection from fear aura in a 10 foot radius; can vault into the saddle and have your horse underway in six seconds flat; ride your horse at 20 yards per minute faster than normal, not counting horseshoes of speed; remain conscious all the way down to negative however many hit points you had at first level; have 90% immunity to any mental magic, including a psionic blast; and, since you're ninth level, are at +2 to hit and +9 to damage with mounted lance and +1 to hit with long sword."
Ringman gaped. "You mean, I have this globe of anti-fear emanating from my body —" the air within ten feet of him suddenly glowed a dim grey; "— can hit better with my holy sword —" he could almost feel his hack and thrust improve; "— and by now would have maxed out on my dexterity —" his new and improved nerve endings gave him a buzz; "— my constitution —" his torso bulged out to accommodate the extra 9 hit points; "— my now full ogre strength —" his musculature broadened and toughened; "— and my charisma —" a phantom breeze swept his hair back in a gentle rolling curve; "— all because somebody decided to change the rules again?"
"You bet! I keep my mind's eye peeled for those kinds of things all the time. Heck, I wouldn't even have gotten that extra fifth level druid spell, those two extra sixth level druid spells, or those three extra seventh level druid spells if I hadn't heard that druids can now go all the way to 15th level and become the Grand Druid; in fact, they can go all the way to 23rd level as a Hierophant and get all sorts of neat interplanar powers."
"Although you get to cast six more levels worth of druid spells if you stay a Grand Druid!" Disgusting Sword called out from the next room.
"And not only that," she whipped a magazine out of one of her portable holes, "The special Other Book of Infinite Wisdom supplementary issue of Dragon & Dragrace says that weapons masters can specialize or double specialize in a single melee weapon just like fighters and rangers can. They get their number-of-attacks-per-minute entry shifted to the next better category with this weapon, and get +1 to hit and +2 to damage with it — +3 to-hit and damage if they double specialize. And of course these to-hit bonuses add into their armor class when they're actively parrying just like all their other hundred or so bonuses do."
"Oh, wow. So now you're even more disgusting, is that right?"
"Hey, I get 15 attacks per minute with any of my Ridiculous weapons — 18 per minute with my Ridiculous Hand Axe, which I retroactively double specialized in. I also retroactively gave the Axe some powers from the new magic weapons they have in there. Even the new +6 Prometheus is an official weapon type since they added +6 defenders and holy avengers to the magic swords tables. See this?" She whipped out an ordinary-looking spoon. "This ordinary-looking spoon is a spoon of stirring. Stir any potion with it and if you're real lucky, the potion comes out at twice normal strength. Not just 150% effectiveness, twice normal strength. Oh, and I almost forgot, you have another character ability to worry about now: comeliness."
"Comeliness? What's that, the chance I have of co—"
"Er, no no no no no; comeliness is how good looking you are. Hey, Disgusting Sword," she called out, "How many dice does Ringman get to roll up his comeliness with?"
Disgusting Sword walked in carrying her personal copy of the Other Book of Infinite Wisdom. She flipped to page 74. "Um, well, since his other six abilities are already rolled up, either 4d6 discarding the lowest die or 3d6 six times choosing the best roll of the six." She looked up at Ringman. "Too bad, you'd get to roll 5d6 and discard the lowest two dice if you were a pure cavalier."
Ridiculous Sword took out four dice and rolled them across the floor. They came up 6, 6, 2, and 1. "Fourteen," she told him, "Plus 3 for having a charisma of 18 makes 17 comeliness. Darn, you just missed the next higher category of attractiveness; but you're pretty good-looking, though."
Ringman glanced at his distorted reflection in the arm of his +5 plate mail; then he looked back at them in disbelief. "I don't look a damn bit different!" he insisted. "Do you mean that if you had rolled four 1's my comeliness would be a . . . let's see, a . . . five —"
"Six," Ridiculous Sword corrected him.
"Okay, a six, and that I would suddenly become homely?"
"No, if I'd rolled four 1's I'd have rolled it over."
"But that's cheating!"
"No it isn't; it's good business practice."
Ringman grumbled slightly. Chivalry was fast becoming a four-letter word. "Well, at least I'm not excessively good looking. Um, what would happen to me if I were in that next comeliness category?"
"If you were in the 18 to 21 range, you'd fascinate practically every woman you met and be the envy of most ordinary-looking males. As it is, though, you're just plain old run-of-the-mill good-looking."
'Fascinate practically every woman I met,' Ringman thought, 'And I missed it by one. Hmm, I wonder if any of them could measure up to Sick Sword?'
"Oh, geez, I almost forgot," Ridiculous Sword expounded. "You got a couple more cavalier restrictions besides your normal paladin ones."
"More restrictions, oh great. What do I have to give up now?"
"Well, first off, you have to take a lance as your first weapon of proficiency."
"But I don't even have a lance!"
"You do now."
Ringman searched his memory. He did remember a lance being stashed in one niche of his castle, although he couldn't remember having put it there or even having remembered it before. "Oh, all right, I'll give up weapons familiarity with that light crossbow of mine. I never use it anyway."
"And you have to prefer a dagger over a hand axe."
"Don't tell me." Ringman looked at the loop in his belt where his +3 hand axe used to be. In its place was a +4 dagger of throwing. He wondered briefly why it wasn't his old +2 dagger that was +3 only against larger-than-man-sized opponents, until he remembered that the Other Book of Infinite Wisdom had created a few more miscellaneous magic weapons since then. He had no idea where the 1500 gold piece price difference between a +3 hand axe and the cheaper +4 throwing dagger had gone.
"And . . . you have to choose full or field plate armor over plate mail, even if the plate armor is non-magical."
"What?!" Ringman gasped. He snatched the book from Ridiculous Sword's hands and read the cavalier entry. After his eyes bugged out at what it said, he flipped over to the description of new armor types. He read to himself for a few seconds, then looked up in dismay. "My deity! They want me to replace this, this perfectly gallant-looking armor of adamantite alloyed plate mail, with a tin suit that actually becomes one armor class worse if it absorbs too much damage?!"
Disgusting Sword and Ridiculous Sword nodded in unison. "That's right."
Ringman could feel the arms and legs of his armor vibrating. Ringman had a good idea of what was about to happen. "Oh, no," he cursed, covering his face with his hands, "Not again." He took his hands away and gazed skyward. "All right, get it over with!"
By the time he looked back down six seconds later, every piece of plate mail on his body had become a mithral-alloyed piece of full plate armor.
"Mithral alloyed?" Ringman asked. "But that's only +4."
"Only plus four, he says!" Ridiculous Sword snickered. "This coming from the man who absolutely refuses to wear a girdle of titan strength?"
"But doesn't mithral-alloyed full plate armor cost mucho gold pieces?"
"You got a discount from not getting the full suit. And 1500 gold pieces worth of credit from exchanging your hand axe. Besides," she turned a small fragment of a million-gold-piece gem to the light, "We covered the difference."
"And anyways," Disgusting Sword noted, "With +4 full plate, after it absorbs its 90-damage-point limit, you'll be exactly the same armor class you were in +5 plate mail."
Ridiculous Sword shrugged. "We could have got you +6 pure adamantite full plate, but that wasn't on the treasure list in the Other Book of Infinite Wisdom, and we know how you can't stand to bend the rules."
"Oh, thank you ever so much for sparing me the embarrassment! I think I'll go take a bath in Crysglass lake now for a year or two to see if mithral alloyed steel can rust."
"Awh, don't be so sore. Just think: now you can stay conscious all the way down to -16 hit points."
Ringman did a double-take. "But I only had 13 hit points at first level."
"Not any more you didn't. You get a d10 plus three hit points at level one, in addition to your constitution bonus."
"Oh, but then I should have had 17 hit points at 1st level, because my constitution just went up to 18."
"No, your constitution didn't make it up to 18 until you were third level."
"Oh, well, forgive me for not remembering something that never happened to me! Geez!"
"My, aren't we in a testy mood today." Ridiculous Sword pulled a glass full of a smoky-colored liquid out of her ethereal cooler. "Here, drink this. You'll feel better."
"Ohhhh no you don't," Ringman insisted, "I almost fell for that last time! What is it today, a double-strength permanent potion of extra healing at 150% effectiveness?!"
"No, no, no, nothing like that," Ridiculous Sword assured him. "And the 150% effectiveness bit isn't cumulative with the twice-normal-strength thing anyway. You just looked like you could use a drink."
Jimmy materialized by the side of the room. He had just gone through several spheres of annihilation (with some severe magical protection) and was trying out his new psionic disciplines. Sometimes he couldn't stand having all these powers, but usually he just thought they were neat.
"No thank you," Ringman waved Ridiculous Sword's glass away, "I'm not thirsty."
"Well, I sure am!" Jimmy interrupted, walking toward the center of the room. "If you won't drink this, I will." He took the glass from Ridiculous Sword's hands and swallowed it down. It was good enough for him to lick his chops and wipe his mouth on his sleeve. "Mmmm, that tasted great! What was it?"
"A permanent potion of invulnerability at twice normal strength," Ridiculous Sword told him in a perfectly level voice.
Jimmy gazed down at the glass, then down at the floor, said, "Oh," and strolled slowly out of the room.
"Only one more permanent potion to go, Jimmy," Ridiculous Sword told him, pouring the contents of her +6 bowl of potion mixing back into its original decanter. "Oil of acid resistance. Take off all your clothes."
Jimmy eyed her warily for a moment until he was sure she didn't want to play doctor with him, then stripped bare. Ridiculous Sword immediately began rubbing the acidproof liquid over every exposed portion of his body. She lingered briefly around his groin when she got there, but then moved on.
"Here, Jimbo, you'll have to drink a little of it too."
Jimmy shrugged, took a mouthful from the container as she handed it to him, and swallowed it with a grimace. "Oh, God II, is that stuff bitter!"
"Of course it's bitter. This is the most powerful antacid known to man and god alike. Now your mouth's been coated, and so has your throat, and your stomach. Within about nine hours, it'll have gone all the way through your digestive tract and you'll be acid-proof on the inside from both ends. You'll never get an ulcer and never have to worry about heartburn again."
"Heartburn. . . . That sounds like the title of an evil magic-user spell or something."
"It does at that, doesn't it? Okay, now, I'm gonna put a drop in each eye. It'll sting for a couple seconds."
"Don't worry," Jimmy said, tensing up every muscle in his body and straining his voice, "I can take it!"
She let one drop fall into his left eye, then his right, after each of which Jimmy blinked almost uncontrollably. Within a few seconds his eyes felt normal again, and by that time Ridiculous Sword had already finished coating the back of his neck and was working the oil into his left ear.
"So, R.S.," Jimmy began, trying to take his mind off of his fifth rub-down that day, "If the gods can't give you any answers as to why they wouldn't give you any answers, where'll you go next?"
"I'm not sure," she commented, acid-proofing his chest. "The gods were all hushed up about it for some reason. I figure it's because they had to answer to a higher station. I need to find someone who doesn't have to answer to anybody, someone on another plane who gets in on all the interplanar poop and yet isn't bothered by godly protocols."
"Oh," he chuckled, "You mean like Omnion?"
"Omnion," Ridiculous Sword said, rolling the idea around in her mind. "Omnion," she repeated. "She just might know. . . ."
"Oh, you are not serious!" Jimmy quavered.
"You bet I am. Let's get Disgusting Sword and we'll all meet her on the first plane of Hell."
"C-c-c-couldn't we just send her a postcard?"
"Mail hasn't been invented yet."
"Then couldn't you use one of your extraplanar powers to contact her from here?"
"She might not believe it's us."
"Then you could make her believe it."
"Nope, there ain't no other way around it. I might need to be there to cast just the right spell on her or something."
"So why do I have to come along?"
"For the educational experience." She finished coating his Achilles heels with the oil. "Now come on."
One minute and forty-two seconds later, Ringman, Disgusting Sword, Ridiculous Sword, and Jimmy all materialized in the first layer of Hell.
The place gave new meaning to the word hothouse. 200 to 300 degrees was the likely temperature, and the ground stank of burning sulfur. Vaguely humanoid blobs, the "lemures" which all (or nearly all) new recruits in Hell got turned into, littered the ground as far as the horizon stretched. Every twelve feet or so an orcish-looking devil with a whip and a trident punctuated the sea of lemures.
"Now Jimmy and Ringman, watch out for the devil taskmasters. You two might be fire resistant, but you're not fire immune. At least not without being within twenty feet of that Sick Sword or any of our artifacts. You especially be careful, Jimmy; you're only first-level with only 14 hit points."
"How come I'm fire resistant?" Ringman asked.
Ridiculous Sword and Disgusting Sword chanted, "The Invulnerable Coat of Arnd."
An orc-like taskmaster stopped beating up on one of his lemures and noticed the new arrivals. "Hey, who the here are you?!"
"That's none of your business," Ridiculous Sword told him.
The orc-devil sniffed briefly in their direction. "You're . . . you're all lawful good! Why, I ought to —"
Ridiculous Sword and Disgusting Sword pulled out their holy symbols and shouted "BEGONE!" at practically the same time. The devil turned black with fear and ran away with its barbed tail between its legs.
Jimmy turned to the lemure the devil had been beating. "Have you seen Omnion?" he asked it.
"Uhhwuuuwuuwwuuuuuhpthhhht," the lemure replied, accidentally spitting up some internal glop.
Jimmy wiped the ectoplasm off. "Ewwwwwww," he commented. "Forgot those things barely have minds."
"No problem," Ridiculous Sword reassured him, "I see her."
Six seconds later, everyone else saw her too. She wasn't a lemure at all. She was just plain old Omnion — stripped of all her magic items, of course, but still the same Omnion Ringman had slain eleven years hence. She was stooped over a rather large basin, moving something in her hands back-and-forth against a rough board. Suds covered whatever it was in her hands and the interior of the basin.
Our four heroes walked toward her rather cautiously. Several dark-shaded somethings were piled in a heap behind her; the back and top ends of the pile were lost in the darkness. Omnion saw them, wrinkled her forehead, and then smiled. "Well, hi, all you lovely people. I was wondering when you'd get around to stopping by."
Jimmy indicated the boundless mountain of stuff behind her. "What's the pile?"
"What's the pile, he asks! HA! That's a good one! 'What's the pile?' IT'S DIRTY LAUNDRY!! That's all I've been doing for the last eleven years is DIRTY LAUNDRY!" She wrung out the devil-shaped shirt in her hands, threw it at the lemure next to her, told it "Rinse!" just as she had for the past 132 months, took a pair of pants down from The Pile and dunked it in her basin. "And just think, I only have 988 years to go. Then I can really show Hell who's boss!"
"No talking, slave!" a taskmaster shouted in her direction. "Back to work!"
Omnion grabbed the taskmaster's collar with one hand and drew him up to meet her gaze.
"Omnion!" the guard yelped. "I'm sorry, I, er, didn't recognize you!"
"Sorry isn't good enough," she said, tossed him in her basin, scrubbed his head against her washing board, took him out, broke him in half across her right leg, and flung his remains to the far horizon thanks to her permanent potion of titan strength.
"Oh, don't worry," she told our heroes, "They'll replace him soon enough." She took the pants in her basin in hand and began scrubbing. "And, uh, I'm really sorry to hear about your mother, little Sicklets. And your parents too, Jimmy." Her sinister smile revealed her still-perfect 18 charisma — er, 23 comeliness — teeth.
"So how come you have to put in 999 years of servitude?" Ridiculous Sword asked her.
Ringman counted on his fingers and mumbled to himself. 988 plus 11 was about 999, all right. He never was much good at this math thing.
"Why?" Omnion blurted. "Because you have to! Everybody who gets sent to Hell has to take anywhere from a hundred to a thousand years worth of torture, depending on how evil you were while you were alive. Since I was invulnerable to most of the things they could throw at me, they assigned me to do Hell's laundry for 999 years. I was pretty pissed that they didn't think I was worth the full millennium treatment." She wrung the pants out, threw them at the lemure next to her, told him to "Rinse!," plucked a pair of smelly underwear from the pile, and chucked it into her tub.
"Yeah, but why do you have to do it?"
"Because they make me!"
"But couldn't you just beat them all up?"
"Sure I could."
"Then why don't you break out of your predicament?"
She sighed. "They don't make me by ordering me to do these things. When they assign you to do something, you have to do it. You just plain have to. It's one of the laws of nature in this place, for crying out loud! Now get out of here, unless you have something important to do!"
Ridiculous Sword folded her arms. "Aren't you afraid we might kill you?"
"Kill me? Heck, go ahead. Non-existence sounds like a welcome relief from this monotonous lifestyle — er, deathstyle."
"Laundry's that dull, huh?"
"Well, it's not all that bad. In another four-and-a-half centuries or so they're going to invent the washing machine, and I'll have more free time to do what I please. But I still won't be able to leave this plane. Nope. Un-uh. Nosirree. That's a no-no. No interplanar travel until your torture period is over — not even to any of the deeper layers of Hell."
"But you can contact other planes, can't you?"
"Oh, phhhh, anybody can do that!"
"Good. There's been this sort-of news blanket over every not-from-the-prime-material-plane creature we've talked to for the past decade or so. It seems the Dungeon Master didn't want the gods to tell us about what Peter Perfect and Tiamat did to our mom."
Omnion grinned at their mentioning it.
"I take it you know about Tiamat and her seed of evil, then."
"Oh, you bet," Omnion shot back. "Heck, I could have told you about it, even. I could have told you everything. But did you once call up your —" she leered at Ringman "— good buddy Omnion and ask her, 'Hey, Omnion, is there anything going on that we should know about?' No! You just thought your own petty little deities and demigods would tell you everything! Come on, this is the thirteenth century, wake up and smell the adamantite! Do you honestly think God II is going to be perfectly honest with you just because he's your deity?!"
"He's not my deity," Ringman mumbled.
"So, then," Ridiculous Sword got back on the main track, "Do you know why the Dungeon Master forbade the gods to chat with us about it?"
"Honey, if I knew why, I'd . . . I'd . . . I'd know why, I guess." She scrubbed the underpants.
"Then do you have any idea why?"
"You bet. The Dungeon Master was making one of his usual cruel and wanton proclamations."
Ridiculous Sword's and Disgusting Sword's eyes bugged out.
"Or maybe the D.M. was testing out his new hyperdimensional transport inverter beam when it malfunctioned and caused all non-material beings within a 700-plane radius to be unable to talk about the event. Or maybe the Big Referee accidentally stepped on all the gods' brains and wiped out their speech centers for a decade. I don't know!"
Ridiculous Sword cast a charm person spell on her a few times just to make sure. She was indeed telling the truth.
"Well, thanks anyway," she said, and prepared to leave.
"Any time," Omnion sneered at her. She watched them dematerialize in a purple haze.
"Hmmmph," she grumbled to herself, wringing out the undees. "Rasper the pit fiend thought he could rule Hell forever when Wierd Dough vanquished all the arch-devils eleven years ago. Ha! Only nine hundred eighty-eight years left; your days are numbered."
The halls of Sick Sword's small keep had not sounded so quiet for years. Nobody said anything to anyone else since they'd gotten back. Of course, part of that might have had to do with the fact that Ringman, Disgusting Sword, and Jimmy all went off to take a nap.
Disgusting Sword found her sister sitting by the window, staring out into space, with her head resting on her left palm. She had been like that for hours. Disgusting Sword brought her halfway out of her trance by telepathically asking her what was going on.
'Oh, nothing, as usual,' Ridiculous Sword thought back. 'Nobody knows why Gross Sword's contamination was hushed up. Nobody in this whole multiverse knows. Hardly any of them seem to care.'
'I care. You care.'
'Oh, sure, and why didn't our own deity care? Why didn't anyone say anything? Didn't the forces of law and good give a damn about what would happen to Sick Sword — or to Bahamut?'
'The important thing is that we know now, so we can prevent him from killing any other supreme beings or from mass murdering entire planar populations.'
'Prevent him? How? Every time we find a new loophole in the rules, so does he. We can't even hit each other any more. He can do anything he wants, and there's not a single force in the multiverse that can stop him!'
Ringman entered the room behind them and watched for a while. Not that you can really be behind anyone wearing a robe of eyes, that is.
'Not even Omnion knew anything,' Ridiculous Sword's telepathization continued. 'There has to be a reason for all this!!'
A rather annoying clanking sound approached from the laundry room. Peter Perfect emerged into their room, carrying a laundry basket as stiffly as he could manage. With that adamantite full plate armor, his stiffness, and his monotone voice, Peter would have easily been mistaken for a robot had robots been invented yet. He set the basket down at Disgusting Sword's feet. "Here-you-are-master — er, mistress. I-made-sure-to-wash-your-robe-of-the-archmagi-in-the-same-load-as-the-rest-of-the-white-clothes."
"Um, thanks," she said, lifting the white robe out of the basket. It crackled as she wrenched it free from its environment. Hmmmph. A thousand years of medieval advancement and they still hadn't figured out a way to get rid of static cling.
"Like I was thinking," Ridiculous Sword spake, "Like I've been thinking ever since I found out, there has to be some reason the gods clammed up, and somebody has to know it!"
"Heck," Ringman interjected, "At this point it seems that the only person who'd know is the Dungeon Master."
Ridiculous Sword's head sank back into her hands. "Yeah, I know," she sighed. "And I've even tried using the limited omniscience power of my artifacts to find out. Six times today alone. But every time I called up the Dungeon Master with that particular question, I got his answering machine! It's as though even the D.M. is keeping it hidden."
"Hey," Disgusting Sword snapped her fingers, "Maybe if you talked with the Dungeon Master face-to-face! The D.M. couldn't back down then and might have to tell you! Maybe. . . ."
Ridiculous Sword nodded solemnly. "I've thought of that myself. But no one knows what the realm of the Dungeon Master is like. No one in history has even seen the Big Referee and returned to tell about it! You can't exactly jaunt over to his plane and chat with him, because he doesn't have a plane in the usual sense of the term. Anybody who went to the Dungeon Master's world would be outside of the multiverse as we know it and completely at the D.M.'s mercy. Still, it doesn't look like we have much choice."
Jimmy had overheard, too, and was overjoyed. He bounded into the room shouting, "Oh boy! You're gonna go visit the Dungeon Master! Can I come along too? I always imagined the D.M. as this old guy wearing black-and-white stripes with a whistle stuck in his mouth!"
"No, you can't come along," Ridiculous Sword told him firmly. "You probably wouldn't survive for an attosecond. And I've always imagined the Dungeon Master as a female jailkeeper with a huge keyring that locks and unlocks all these dungeon doors."
Disgusting Sword snorted. "That's funny. I've always seen him as this three-foot-high gnome-looking guy with long white hair, a huge bald spot, red robes, and a cabbage-patch face."
"Whatever he looks like, I'm going to have to risk it. I'll take all my magic items and artifacts along with me, of course; if any of them work against me in his realm I can always discard them. It never hurts to have a little insurance." She paused. "If I weren't a paladin, I'd be really really scared."
"I'm a paladin," Ringman said, "And I'm still scared."
"Yeah, but neither you nor I can be affected by a fear spell, at least."
"Oh. Hadn't thought of it that way."
Ridiculous Sword exhaled once resignedly, and then once again decisively. She hauled out her amulet of the planes. She kicked in the vision spell from her Ridiculous Hand Axe. She cast commune, contact other plane, gate, and an astral spell, then rubbed herself down with some oil of etherealness. She activated all six of her limited omniscience side effects at the same time. And finally, she chanted the mystic words, "Bric-a-bracker, firecracker, sis boom bah / Dungeon Master, Dungeon Master, rah, rah, rah!"
And the multiverse collapsed into a big puddle around her.
The scene looked like the usual long-and-drawn-out plane travel special effects. There were lots of pretty colors and weird music playing on a 13th-century synthesizer in the background. She still felt her body clinging to the outside of her spirit, just like always, but she couldn't see it. Not even with her permanent detect invisibility spell or her robe of eyes. She felt very alone, and very, very helpless.
"What will the Dungeon Master look like?" she tried to ask herself. It was in trying to speak that she realized there was no air around her. She was in a vacuum. Even if there had been air out there, she noticed, she wouldn't have been able to breathe it; oxygen or nitrogen would turn to ice. The temperature was absolute zero. Her items and artifacts were doing a very good job of keeping her alive.
Then, the pretty colors started to dim. All lights and sounds — however she could hear sound in a vacuum — were leaving her senses. Within six seconds, it was absolute zero, and absolute vacuum, and absolute silent, and absolute dark.
She felt an almost imperceptible jostle. 'This is it,' she thought.
And as light and sound and temperature at last started to return, her limbs — as if of their own will — began to pose in an awkward mid-stride stance. They also started to stiffen. Her whole body, even her head, began hardening into a mould which almost, but didn't quite, fit the normal contours of her body.
Even her eyes became frozen in place. Fortunately, her robe of eyes still afforded a 360 degree view of things. The first thing she could make out was a white landscape; a perfectly flat white landscape. As the details cleared, she began to see thin blue lines networking the land, crisscrossing in a grid with each line spaced ten feet apart — or ten yards, she couldn't be sure. Above the horizon loomed an eerily lit, plaster-covered wall that seemed to enclose several square miles on all four sides. Directly overhead was another wall, this time with short stalactites hanging down from nearly every point. Any one of those stalactites could have been a very short and fat piercer, except for the fact that piercers didn't particularly care for bright light. A yellowish-white sphere hung from the tremendous ceiling, shining like an artificial sun.
It was then she noticed that the walls weren't plain; there was a gigantic wooden panel set into the flank side of the wall to the left of her, with a gold-colored cylinder jutting out of one side. It looked rather remotely like a mammoth door. Oh, and there was one more detail in the room. Perhaps she had not wished to acknowledge its presence, but there was something else there. Or someone else there. Someone whom she could no longer ignore. Someone who, judging from the scale of the blue lines on the ground, must have been 600 feet — or yards — tall.
The giant looked away from the papers in his hands and stared at Ridiculous Sword through his thick glasses. His eyebrows lowered as he pointed at her. "YOU! What are you doing here?!"
Ridiculous Sword couldn't move her mouth to speak, but she could still use telepathy. 'You must be the Dungeon Master.'
"Darned right I'm the Dungeon Master!" he insisted, setting some of his papers down and inadvertently dropping a 20-sided die. "Brilliant deduction! You don't have a 19 intelligence for nothing!"
Ridiculous Sword glanced at her reflection in his spectacles. She looked nothing like herself. She was metallic-gray, adorned in a lifeless mockery of a magician's robe. She looked like a metal statue of some girl wearing long robes and holding her hands in a spell-casting position. Her feet rested on a circular metal base half a foot high and three feet wide. In short, she looked just as stiff and motionless as she felt.
'You undoubtedly know why I'm here, O great and powerful Dungeon Master.'
"Of course I know why you're here! Duuuuuuuuuuuuuh!" He whacked his right hand limply against the chest of his horizontally-striped T-shirt. "You wanna find out more about Gross Sword! Well, you little twit, I know everything there is to know about him!!"
He thumbed rapidly through the pages in his hand and whipped out a yellow-orange piece of parchment adorned with beautiful ink illumination and ugly pencil scratches. "Do you recognize this?!" he thrust it in her face.
Ridiculous Sword's eyes tried to widen (but couldn't, of course). 'My character sheet!'
"Exactly," his mouth grew into a sinister grin. "I control your character sheet. I control . . ." he began the teensiest of rips along the top edge, ". . . your destiny!"
Ridiculous Sword felt a terrible pain run across the rift on the top of her head. She was having a splitting headache.
"Feels terrible, doesn't it?" the Dungeon Master chortled. "You see, I know about all the ways you've been stretching the rules. I —"
"Honey," a distant feminine voice interrupted from beyond the door, "Your dinner's ready!"
"Aw, mom!" the D.M. yelled toward the door, putting the character sheet down, "I'm talkin' with Ridiculous Sword!"
"Well, hurry it up," the phantom voice replied.
The Dungeon Master turned back to his hapless audience of one. "As I was saying, I know about how you wear five, ten, or even fifteen magic rings on a single hand. I know about your percentile dice that are marked with zeroes on all the faces. I know about how you can buy magic items on the black magic market at cost. I know how you change character classes not once, but ten times. I know," his voice tried to grow more impressive, "How you kill centaurs and take their four one-million-gold-piece gems!"
'So you want us to stop doing all that, is that it?' She would have shivered nervously if she could move.
"Stop it? Are you kidding? I was the one who let you do all that in the first place!" He thrust a finger right underneath her dull metal nose. "So that means you owe me, doesn't it! I let you types get away with plenty! And you know what? It was getting boring! That's right, boring as Hell! Or as the Abyss, or as Tarterus, or as whatever other plane you want to use in a sentence! Why do you think I let Gross Sword get 80 million experience points and be a chaotic-evil killing machine, huh?! For play balance!!"
'So that's why we couldn't hit each other when we were fighting, even though all our weapons had the final word power.'
"They do?" He picked up one of the sheets just beneath her character sheet. "Wait a minute, they do, don't they? So that would mean that each of you should have hit each other after the other person attacked. I played that wr— er, uh, I mean, of course that's why I did it! I'm the Dungeon Master! I couldn't have let you kill each other then because, because . . . uh . . . because I still wanted Tiamat to die!"
'But Tiamat's still —'
"Er, Bahamut, I mean! Yeah, that's it, I had to have Gross Sword kill Bahamut!" He picked her up off the white landscape and brought her to his eye level. Ridiculous Sword's robe of eyes told her that the white landscape she'd been standing on was actually a tremendous sheet of parchment atop a huge folding table. "And you can't do anything about it!" He turned her to face the circular receptacle standing in the corner. She'd already scanned it with her x-ray vision and knew it was full of crumpled documents. "There's where Sick Sword is now! See? I tore her in half! Nyaaah! Your mom is DEAD! Dead dead dead dead dead! And I burnt her character sheet, so that not even Scotch tape could bring her back!"
'Er, Scotch what?'
"SHUT UP, YOU STUPID PUKE!" And with that curse, he hurled her back down at the white landscape.
She hit the ground so hard, in fact, that her spirit got jarred loose from the metal statue and she continued to fall through the table and into the darkness beyond.
What she emerged into looked like the Astral Plane. It wasn't the Astral Plane, though, as anyone who had really been there could tell you. It was, in fact, the Prime Material plane; yet she was not on Central Earth. She was on her way to Central Earth, though. She found that out right quick, yessirree. Just as soon as she saw the big blue-with-white-cloud-specks disk rush toward her at a relativistic speed.
Instantly, she kicked in her permanent double-strength potions of flying and levitation as her ring of earth elemental command automatically engaged its feather falling power. That barely made a dent in her speed. The next instant she hit Central Earth's atmosphere and would have burnt to a cinder (or a plasma) if not for Artifact Prime Power DD. That slowed her down somewhat, but not enough, she calculated, to smack her into the ground subsonic. She thought about teleporting upward to give her more time to slow down, until she remembered that the $#@!ing rules didn't allow her to teleport anyplace where there wasn't a solid surface. She watched helplessly as Central Earth rushed up to greet her.
The cloud layer zoomed toward and past her in the space of a heartbeat. A normal heartbeat, that is, not the heartbeat of a disgusting character under the influence of a permanent potion of speed at twice normal strength. She could see the gridlike division of landplots beneath her now — they reminded her, ironically, of the blue lines on the Dungeon Master's map. The continental outline and the land patterns made her destination clear: she was hurling down just outside of town, aimed straight for her mother's small keep from whence she'd gone to visit the D.M. in the first place. She wished she had time to scan the castle with her x-ray vision, just to see whether or not her physical body was still in there. Just to see if this wasn't some terrible falling nightmare she was going to wake up from in a cold sweat. But the wind and the pressure and the heat all felt far too real to her for it to be a dream anyway. And there wasn't a damned thing she could do to save herself from the fall.
The next instants flew by all too quickly. She saw the keep explode into her visual field, saw the east parapet heading straight toward her, heard the loudest stony screech as her sight blacked out, and felt an impact akin to someone hitting her with a pillow the size of the astral plane. She opened her eyes some six million microseconds later, and glimpsed clear blue sky pierced by a dark gray castle tower. A bird's cheerful midday song accompanied the hurried approach of human — or at least half-human — footsteps.
"Ridiculous Sword!" Ringman's voice neared from around a corner. "Are you still alive?!"
She craned her stiff neck forward and managed to look at Jimmy's astonished face. She smiled weakly at him.
"You musta been going supersonic when ya hit the ground!" Jimmy relayed. "How come you didn't get splattered into a zillion pieces?!"
She glanced to her left at the outer stone wall of the castle seven-odd feet away from her, and understood. She smiled at Jimmy again and pointed at the masonry.
"Huh?" Jimmy huhed.
"Oh, I get it," Disgusting Sword said, appearing virtually from out of nowhere. "You didn't take any damage because you fell within eight feet of a wall."
Ridiculous Sword made the O.K. sign, as if to say "perfect," and slumped back flat onto the ground. This whole experience had just about taken everything out of her.
Ringman arrived and knelt beside his second daughter. The next moment, when he realized that she'd come through totally unscathed (as usual), he asked, "What did you find out?"
"Yeah!" Jimmy enthused. "What'd the Dungeon Master look like?!"
Ridiculous Sword exhaled deeply. "He is the most nasty, ruthless, egotistical, self-righteous, manipulative being it has ever been my displeasure to meet. It makes me sick just to think that I'm living in his multiverse."
Disgusting Sword blinked uncomfortably. "So did you find out anything about our dear, beloved brother?"
Ridiculous Sword nodded solemnly. "Uh huh. I know why the D.M. wanted him to get away with being a chaotic-evil brat for so long. And I know what I have to do. . . ."
The Sick Kids is continued in part 4.
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