A Tale of the Ringbearers by Brother Grimace
(Continuity note: This takes place between the events of The Cynic and the Defender, Chapters 8 and 9.)
"Easy on that soup there, Jane."
Jane Lane looked up from the very large bowl of meat, thick broth and chopped vegetables, a huge smile on her face as she hefted her spoon to her lips and enjoyed the mixture while Robert Nelson watched from the other side of the kitchen table. "No wonder you've always been a long-distance runner – if you're going to eat like that, it keeps the pounds down."
The raven-haired girl looked up from her bowl. "This tastes just like the oxtail soup Old Socrates made when I was living at the commune," she said, barely able to keep the smile off her face as she dipped the spoon back into the fragrant dish. "No wonder you and Daria get along so well – and if you can make any type of food with that ambrosia, even Mrs. Morgendorffer will like you a lot. God, even this cornbread is just like I remember it – crunchy on top and bottom, with just a touch of sweetness..."
Robert smiled as Jane demolished a wedge of warm cornbread crumpled another wedge into her soup, almost childlike as she half-stirred, half-chopped at the thick ingredients in the heavy earthenware bowl for almost a minute before taking another heaping spoonful and devouring it. "Yeah. That's good. This ambrosia stuff rocks."
The Ringbearer glanced over from the teenager enjoying her supper to the very large iron pot of soup warming on the stove in the kitchen of Casa Lane, and Jane shrugged as her eyes followed Robert's gaze. "I wanted to have enough for Trent and the rest of the spiral – they always show up when there's food in the house. I think they traded their musical talent for the ability to track down all-you-can-eat supplies of free food."
The large kitchen rang with the sounds of Robert's laughter. "Daria's mentioned your brother and his band once or twice. Tell me something – did she have a crush or something? Not jealous; she just gets this very tiny little blush when I mentioned that Julie's always been into guys that look like that."
"Well, it didn't go anywhere because my brother never went anywhere besides his bedroom. To sleep, I mean. He probably wouldn't have been able to stay awake for anything else. You know what I mean."
"Yeah. Just the way Julie likes them."
The room was silent for a few minutes as Robert watched Jane eat. "So, how's life going as you're 'protecting us from the alien scum of the universe?"
"That's the Green Lanterns. Our charter deals with protecting you from the supernatural scum of the universe – but if we happen to come across alien bad guys, we're allowed to kick a little boo-tay in defending ourselves or stopping the threat. We don't get big press coverage like they do, but people who've heard of us basically stay out of our way."
Jane looked at him. "There's really Green Lanterns – like in the comic books?"
Robert looked at her for a moment, and then began to laugh. "No. That's just in the comic books."
"So, your rings don't work like that?"
Robert turned to Jane. "Like what?"
"Well, all the rules and stuff – and do you have a costume? Something tight and Spandexy, with a cute little mask?"
"No costume, no Spandex and no mask – although I've noticed that a lot of Ringbearers tend to wear the color blue when they're off doing Ringbearer duties on worlds where we've able to work in public, and on the ships." Robert smiled. "Some of us just wear whatever, and then there's Beavis..."
He shook his head. "I'll just say this – some people read too many comic books and watch entirely too many of the wrong things on TV. "
"So there's no weakness against, I don't know, the color of mandarin orange?" Jane winced at the gaze Robert gave her. "You're not going to turn me into a turnip or a loaf of zucchini bread, are you?"
Robert took a fork, speared a large potato chunk, and held it up for Jane to see. "If I give you this and turn it to gold, will you not act like that?"
Jane laughed at the teasing tone to his voice. "All I gotta say is that you'd better never do anything like that to Daria, or she'll roast you – whoa." She saw the look that suddenly crossed Robert's face. "You offered her something like that and she went ballistic, didn't you? Oh, I bet that was fun!"
The young man was about to put the potato back when Jane caught his hand. "Hey – a deal's a deal!"
A look of bewilderment crossed Robert's face. "But – I mean, you just said about Daria-"
"Daria's mom's a big-time lawyer, and they've never really wanted for anything," Jane replied; Robert suddenly sensed the sharp pang of pain that the young woman, he realized, kept suppressed the majority of the time. "She doesn't know what it's really like to be without, so of course she's going to get offended if someone gives her something like that. She's also so into being seen as different from Quinn – well, you know what I mean..."
Jane looked at Robert, who had understanding on his face. "Don't get me wrong. She's my best friend – I love her like a sister – but she sometimes doesn't understand just how easy she's had things..."
She looked down at her soup, suddenly at a loss for words; Robert looked at her for a long moment, and then stood up from the table. "Come on – let's walk some of that food off."
"Hey – Daria's going to be back in a half-hour, she said-"
"Come on – I'll buy you an ice cream cone."
The Ringbearer stepped through the large, gleaming purplish-white ring of energy, followed by a wide-eyed Jane. "I don't think that I could ever get used to that," she said, looking around her at the beautiful body of water they appeared next to. "Where are we?"
"A place that's slightly stranger than you'd imagine," was the reply. "By the way – in case we get separated, just remember one thing. If anyone asks you, in case they need to send you home, your address is 'D-320'. Remember that."
"Okay..." She took a better look across the vast lake – it's got to be a lake, and a big one, because I don't taste the salt that would mean that this was an ocean – and saw the unusually high line of five skyscrapers, each easily the size of the old World Trade Center. "Whoa. That's just – I mean, look at them-"
"If you think that's impressive, look a little further to the west," Robert said, pointing across the waters at something in the distance. "See that?"
"What – what the hell is that?"
"That's a Sky Bridge – it's about a hundred miles away," he told her, as she stared at the shining, ropelike construct that seemed to hang impossibly in midair as it went into the upper atmosphere and beyond the range of the naked eye. "It's basically a tourist thing, and a way to move lots and lots of freight without paying as much as you would any other way. The whole thing's a giant transit tube that uses antigravity to let people and cargo head into outer space to the Construct, where they can travel anywhere in the universe. Oh, and the place is basically a huge Disney World in space. I'll probably take Daria there for her birthday."
"Oh, man," said Jane, realizing just how big the Sky Bridge was, if it looked that big and was one hundred miles away. "I've GOT to remember that and make a painting of it!"
"What if I were to tell you that you wouldn't have to remember it?"
Robert sat down on the soft grassy shoreline. "First, would you believe me if I told you that we were now on a different Earth – but on the Earth we're on now, we're inside a hotel in New Orleans, and this lake isn't a lake per se... well, it is, but it's also the way humans perceive a very big natural interdimensional interconnection that humans and other beings use to travel all over through all of Creation?"
"Why not? All you have to do is give me and Daria Valley Girl accents, a phone booth that travels through time and keep the Daleks from getting us before we get the historical figures back to Lawndale and our history report, otherwise, Daria's dad is going to send her to Buxton Ridge Military Academy in Alaska – and we'll never be able to start up our band!"
The Ringbearer began laughing so hard that he could barely sit up. "What the hell's wrong with you?" Jane asked, as Robert finally managed to stop laughing and wiped tears from his eyes.
"Just something I remember from when I first got the ring," he told her, recalling the look of absolute disgust that Priscilla Henry – Valkyrie, he corrected himself – had on her face when she told him about meeting the two young men who were just film characters in most realities, but were the real thing and the saviors of their world in another. "They did get better'..."
Jane felt the urge to reply to Robert's last words, or at least ask if he meant what she thought, but fought it off valiantly. "You were asking be something?"
"Yes." Robert's face grew somber. "Daria's told you what's been going on, right?"
Jane's face took on a similar expression. "Yeah, she did."
"Jane – I can't be selfish or deluded enough to think that I can always protect her." He looked over at Jane, who sat down beside him. "She told you about the shield – and what happened at the restaurant?" Jane's expression answered for her. "Well, she'll have to do that. In any case – let me tell you something else about the Rings. Something I didn't tell Daria yet, because – what you said about transmuting things for her? I did that – I changed a rose into gold, and she was offended-"
Jane chuckled as she shook her head. "That's my Daria. Probably thought you were trying to buy her way into her pants, and didn't think that you were just giving her something nice because you liked her. Eh. She gets that way – and as I saw, you both got past that, not to mention several other things, like second and probably third base..."
"You do realize that I can toss you into high orbit with my TK, right?" He smiled at her. "There's a way that she would be able to protect herself – but I'm afraid that if I offer it to her, or even bring it up, it'll be a sticking point."
"What – you can give her one of those Rings, too? Cool!"
"It's not like that. The Rings – well, they're not alive, but they – bottom line, very few people can wear a Ring. You have to be a certain type of person – and even then, the Rings won't let you do anything that you personally know to be an evil act. Things that are distasteful, or even things that you consider morally objectionable, if absolutely necessary – but it will not let you commit an act of Evil. Problem is – people do things they know to be just that in order to survive, get a mission completed, or just because they want to – and most people fit that description. That's why one of the first endowments placed upon the Rings was the morality inhibitor; a Defender Ring without one, even in the hands of an average person, would be..."
Robert shuddered, thinking of what he'd seen done with Defender Rings. "It would be - unpleasant. Thing is, when a Ringbearer arrives on a world, he might need backup – and even finding people the Ring would accept, it can only duplicate itself once per day – another safety feature. What if you need a lot of assistance, right now?"
"Well, what do you do?"
Jane felt a shudder as Robert turned to her. "The ring has the ability to give people powers, Jane. Almost any power that the Ring can manifest, it can give someone – any three powers the Ringbearer wants to give that person. Plus, you can also be given the ability to fly."
Robert continued, not realizing how fast Jane's heart had begun to pound inside her chest. "There's something else. Every living being has an inborn affinity with one of the seven mythological elements – air, water, fire, metal, wood, Earth, and Quintessance – that's pure life-energy, for lack of a better explanation. The Ring can activate anyone's affinity and turn it into a actual power." He turned to Jane. "Like you said earlier – you love Daria like a sister. If I asked you to – would you protect her for me?"
"No," Jane replied. "I'd protect her for me."
The young man nodded. "Hold out your hand."
For an instant, Jane felt a flicker of fear - then held out her hand, and gasped as a blue light surrounded her as soon as Robert took her hand in his. "I gave you telekinesis and the ability to fly," Robert said, sensing the slight touch of pain that Jane felt as the Ring did its work. "The ability to heal, the Ring's ability to sense danger-"
"Cool – I've got my own 'spider-sense!'"
Robert sighed. "You'll also have the Ring's ability to create 'Glamors' - remember how I turned invisible the other day? You'll be able to appear as anyone you want, or just cloak yourself so you seem invisible...oh, and I activated your elemental affinity."
The blue glow faded, Jane smirked at Robert before crossing her legs into the yoga position she'd seen in many movies – and the Ringbearer smiled as she floated into the air a foot over his head. "I don't think I've seen anyone get a grip on their telekinesis that fast," Robert said, as Jane did a slow, easy half-turn and roll in the air that left her upside-down and smiling. "Nice control."
"Yeah – but this isn't my TK." Jane's smile grew even wider. "I'm flying..."
The Ringbearer shook his head as Jane came heads-up, and floated out over the water before turning back and stepping down in front of Robert. "First – thank you," she told him. "Another thing – you could have given me powers anywhere, like in the kitchen when we were talking earlier. Why bring me here?"
"Well, I was going to take you into Old Stanley's – that's the name of the hotel we're in right now – to their Exchange. They take currency and other valuables from all over, and can change it in for currency from wherever you came from." He reached into his pocket, and Jane saw that he had (wrapped in a paper towel) the chunk of potato he had taken from her bowl earlier. "One thing that Ringbearers can do – and many have – is help out in the areas they stay in when on covert assignments. Every year, one guy I met takes a handful of driveway pebbles and turns them into gold, takes the gold and cashes it in to buy Kruggerrands – and then, takes those and puts them into Salvation Army kettles throughout the neighborhood during the Christmas season. It helps them provide for more people, and the people who live there get a good feeling, because they know someone who has the means to help actually is helping out."
Jane smiled at him. "How long have you been doing that?"
"I figured that if I could help you out with a little gift-" He transmuted the chunk of potato into a diamond – bypassing Jane's question as he did so – before transmuting the paper towel into a beautiful piece of black silk that literally shone in the sunlight, and wrapping the jewel in it. "Then, you'd have more time to spend with Daria watching her back-"
"Robert, Daria and I aren't going to do that for you. You'll have to watch her back yourself."
Robert blushed as he handed the silk-wrapped jewel to Jane. "If you sell that in there, you'll clear enough to take care of the mortgage on your house, and support yourself through your time in college. When we get back, I can also show you where you need to go to set up a banking account where they won't ask too many questions – they cater to people in the trade, you know."
Jane looked at the jewel, and put it in her jacket pocket. "Thank you," she said simply. "This – this means-"
"I'm just glad to help," he said, ending the matter. "Now – just one more thing..."
A shriek of panic cut through the air as Robert picked Jane up with his telekinesis, and tossed her in the lake! "What was that for?" she hissed, thrashing about as she broke the surface, clearly madder than a wet cat. "WHAT WAS THAT FOR?"
"To show you that your danger sense isn't automatic," he responded. "It stays on as long as you want and it doesn't affect your powers or tire you out – but you have to turn it on and off yourself. Also – the things that you don't see at threatening won't be picked up as threats... or even worse, things that the people you care for don't see as threats. You love your brother – but be careful about who hangs out with, he trusts enough to come over."
Dripping wet, Jane fell silent as the responsibility she had just taken on took effect. "Oh, she said finally, forgetting that she was standing in a foot and a half of water.
Robert came to the edge of the waters. "That's also payback for the clothes I accidentally transmuted because of you. That was one of my favorite shirts!"
"Oh, yeah? You got full frontal of me and Daria in your apartment!"
Before the waters of a tsunami-style wave seemed to suddenly sweep over Robert from the lake, the Ringbearer could have sworn that he heard – in the back of his mind – Daria's distinctive voice saying, "Yeah. You were gonna pay for that one, anyway."
In the instant before the waters hit, a small smile crossed Robert's face as he remembered another ability he'd forgotten to mention to Daria – that the Ring could replay all of his memories and broadcast them as 3-D holographic images.
Yeah, she's right. I am going to pay once I tell her about that. Might as well start now.
Robert dropped his telekinetic shields.