A Tale of the Ringbearers by Brother Grimace
"It's not uncommon for the family members and significant others of Ringbearers to have questions about their loved ones," the woman said, a smile on her face as she sat down at the dinner table in Schloss Morgendorffer. "Questions that they don't feel uncomfortable with asking, especially with the covert nature of our work on most worlds. Little things, or things they think are silly or just inappropriate to ask."
"So some of you are, what, outreach workers?" Daria Morgendorffer was still a little star-struck (not to mention being annoyed at herself for being so) at having a celebrity – someone who'd she'd watched on television ever since she was a girl, although she'd NEVER admit to watching Charmed– sitting in the kitchen of her family home.
"Not exactly. Sometimes, people just need a little more explanation about all of it and don't feel that they can open up fully. Sometimes, they don't ever realize that's exactly what's happening, and it causes a bit of stress in the relationship. That's why someone else comes along and has a conversation, does a bit of a demo on things, and explains as much as they want to know."
"In the Navy, they call this a 'Tiger Cruise' – you know, when family members get to come aboard the ship and spend a few days seeing exactly what their loved ones actually do in the uniform. Usually, Robert would be doing this – but seeing as how your relationship is still kind of new, they thought that it would be better for someone else to show you all of the different things – that way, you won't hold it against him if something went wrong, or if he did something to embarrass you."
"Hmn. Why you?"
"Well, one of the senior members asked, and I thought it would be a good chance to actually get to meet the real Daria Morgendorffer – my world is one where you existed only as a cartoon character on MTV, even though you got a great run. Lifetime picked the show up the next year and brought a new producer in; some guy named Lobinske. They did two new seven-episodes miniseries about your first and last summers in Lawndale, a seven episode 'Season Six', and a year later, started the new spin-off series – 'Daria: Falling Into College.' It was a big thing, and they were about to premiere the third season of 'D-Fic' – that's what the fans call it - when the world fell in on everyone."
Daria put her head down on the kitchen table. "Is there any world where I'm not a cartoon character or constantly in either more drama that a soap opera or more action than Indiana Jones?"
The woman nodded. "If it's any consolation – it turns out that on every Earth I've been to so far, they always start off by calling me 'Phoebe.' Aaron Spelling is on EVERY Earth in existence, it seems, and on every one, he's making the same shows. It's kind of weird; there's a hotel in San Francisco that's also on each Earth you go to, as well as this old man with a white beard, who's always a cabbie that works in that neighborhood..."
A look of distaste went across her face. "Oh, yeah. I've also met a real-life Beavis, too. From Robert's Earth; he was one of the major characters on the other show you were in – 'Beavis and Butt-Head?' God, what a walking hormone - he's always staring at my 'thingies'". She drank half of the glass of water in her hand. "Even with the way he chews through Zack, I've always wondered why no one's ever used their Ring to draw the uranium out of his body and heal the damage done by that and the drugs his mother was on before he was born – make him a normal person, you know?"
Daria sighed, why don't you do it? quickly disappearing through her mind as she still focused on her earlier question. "No – I meant, 'how did you get picked?' For the Ring?"
Alyssa Milano smiled. "By sheer luck. I got my Ring the very first day that the Ringbearers arrived – and they showed up just in time to stop the riots and save me, along with a lot of other people. Los Angeles was one of the last major cities in North America to deal with Zack infestation – we don't call them..."
The woman shook her head. "We try not to use that word. Anyway, L.A. was swollen in size – the city was home to over twenty million people from all across the continent who were trying to get away from the threat. The East Coast was overrun with Zack and they had spread down through Mexico, all the way to the Panama Canal, and up into Canada – all the way to Manitoba. People still talk about the 'Burning of the West Edmonton Mall'."
Daria's head jerked up as Alyssa continued on. "The Canadians lit up the entire place and had sound blasting through 24/7 for two weeks straight to lure as many zombies – as many Zack - in as possible – by the time they were ready, the satellites showed that they'd lured in over ten million of the things."
A chill went through Daria. "By the time they were ready?"
"They used neutron bombs – four of them. Three went off in a triangle pattern, each six miles away from the Mall – and one went directly into the Mall itself. It all but cleared Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the problem; they had infected, but were smarter, quicker and way more ruthless about dealing with the problem than anyone else - even more than the South Africans and the English. Most of the problems they had were from Americans trying to escape north and taking plague rats with them, especially through Detroit into Windsor-" Alyssa cleared her throat. "That's what they called infected people who were hiding it. After the first Ringbearers arrived, that stopped being a problem because they could detect the infection and heal them, but before that, Zack traveled around the world that way, big-time."
Daria's eyes were very wide. "How many – I mean, how-"
The attractive young woman went silent for a moment. "When it was all over... just under four billion people," she said. "America was down to just under eighty million – the West Coast was the fallback for the people left, and Chicago made it because they became a walled fortress city VERY fast, stockpiled like you wouldn't believe and gave the gangs full amnesty if they would fight – aside from them, no major city east of Denver survived. Africa below the equator is doing okay, and most island nations like Great Britain, Japan and Cuba did the best. Very few infections and they stomped them out VERY fast. Eastern Europe and all of Asia, especially Korea and Vietnam - That part of the world's basically a bad memory now. On our world, people of Asian descent are almost all gone - for some reason, the virus worked especially fast on them. There's probably less than five million Chinese citizens in the world."
There was quiet in the kitchen for a minute; Alyssa reached for an empty cup on the drain board nest to the sink. "Let me show you something kind of cool," she said, noticing the way the blood had drained from Daria's face. "I bet that boyfriend of yours hasn't shown you any of the fun things that you can do with a Ring. Tasty or kinky?"
Her words worked to jar Daria out of her shocked expression. "What?"
"Tasty or kinky?"
Before she could call the word back, Daria heard herself say, "Kinky."
"I knew that you could be fun," Alyssa smiled, setting the cup down on the table. "Besides, this tastes way better afterwards. Put your hands flat on the table – and this could be a touch intense."
Slight disbelief in her eyes, Daria placed her hands on the table, and as Alyssa did the same, Daria noticed the woman's Defender Ring for the first time and how it had a very familiar symbol on it: the symbol on the cover of the Book of Shadows. "It appeared on the Ring the first time I put it on. "Holly and Rose- the only major outbreak in the West happened because some producer flew his friends back from Orlando before they stopped all flights. Too late, though – between the Zack and the riots, almost a million people died – and we got off easy in California. The Platinum Triangle, Orange County, almost all of the wealthy areas in Southern California went up in flames... I guess a lot of average people thought it was the end of the world, so it was 'payback time'. If the Ringbearers hadn't come when they did, people would have killed each other off like crazy - and then, the Zack would have overrun the planet."
Daria watched as Alyssa sat quietly, running a finger over her Ring.
"You still miss them."
"Yeah." Alyssa focused her attention back on Daria. "I do. Oh, but they would have loved this. Ready?"
Daria's palms lay flat upon the table – and the young woman felt every muscle in her body suddenly contract as an incredibly powerful vibration slammed up through her palms and through her entire body! "OH!" she exhaled harshly, half-gasping and half-grunting as she felt her entire body coming apart. "I-I-aiaiaiaaiaiai... GUH!"
Alyssa jerked her hand away as if a lightning bolt had hit her, and Daria, sweat beading off her eyelashes, turned the color of a ripe tomato as she dragged her hands, clasping open and closed over and over, away from the table. "What the hell just happened?"
"Ohhh, I am so sorry!" Alyssa said, holding up her Ring hand. "The Rings can create a field that controls all vibration inside it. It was meant to cancel out the sound of moaning Zack – that moan's their main weapon against people – but people have found a world of other ways to use it. Membership has its privileges, and I thought that you'd just get a little tingling to show you how you can have a little naughty fun – are you all right?"
Unable to even look the Ringbearer directly in the eye, Daria dashed out of the kitchen and shot upstairs! "Wow, her entire body is like one total erogenous zone!" Alyssa said, trying not to snicker as she pointed at the chair where Daria sat. "Robert is one lucky guy!"
The chair glowed with a blue light for a split-second. "Maybe not. She'll probably kill or cripple him in bed within an hour – not that he'll mind. Men are pigs."
Alyssa sat back as a glass, plate, and several piece of silverware floated over to set down gently in front of her on the table. "Think I'll have a snack while she's making herself presentable."
The smell of freshly baked foods drew Daria – still mortified at her reactions to Alyssa's vibration field – to poke her head out of the shower. "It smells like turkey and dressing out here," she said, squinting through the steam and her wet hair. "What did she do – open a portal up to Thanksgiving Day?"
Ten minutes later, Daria returned to the kitchen to find a spectacular dinner waiting for her on the kitchen table! "All right – how did you do that?" she asked, her embarrassment at what happened earlier disappearing as she breathed in the heady scent of sage-laced dressing filled with finely-chopped vegetables, a thick, steaming gravy in a beautiful gravy boat made of a beautiful heavy glass, just like the rest of the serving dishes (each filled with delicious looking foods, and a large, heavy turkey that looked as though it had just came out of an oven – or right off one of those cooking shows on the Food Network during their 'Seasons Eating' shows around Christmas time, she thought.
"I have friends who were really good cooks," Alyssa said, smiling as she carved a large, juicy slice of turkey breast and placed it on a plate, then passed it over to Daria. "Have a seat. I guess I should have demonstrated 'tasty' first, you think?"
As Daria sat down, Alyssa spooned dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and corn upon her plate. "I thought that this might make a bigger impression that pizza or lasagna," she said, taking a bite of dressing from her own plate.
Daria took a bite of her potatoes and gravy, and her eyes widened at the taste. "This is – I mean – this is it tastes so, so good!"
"I wasn't sure if Robert had shown you all of the things that the Ring can do, or some of the more unusual things. Tell me – have you ever heard of 'ambrosia'?"
Finishing a forkful of turkey and dressing before she spoke, Daria nodded. "It's from Greek mythology –no. You guys can make that?"
Alyssa sat an empty saucer next to Daria's plate. "Well, the stuff from mythology is just that – but like a lot of things people wrote about in the past, it was based on things that did exist." She looked around the kitchen as Daria watched her with curious interest, until her eyes settled on a wadded-up piece of newspaper lying next to the garbage can. "That'll work."
The newspaper rose from the floor and effortlessly glided over to rest in the center of the saucer. "Robert probably told you about how Ringbearers don't have to work because they can transmute things to get money – gold, diamonds, silk and glass of superior quality, this glassware is probably worth a couple of thousand dollars – but did he tell you that we really don't need money to eat?"
A blue glow covered the newspaper, and it changed before Daria's eyes into a solid, gelatin-like block the size of a deck of playing cards. "Nice color, too," Alyssa said, as Daria held up the saucer to look closely at the way the clear, blue substance barely moved when she shook the saucer gently. "It's about the same consistency as tofu – and tastes just as bland. You can eat it and easily survive on it – but I wouldn't advise it. Better to think of something better. Seriously."
"What would you like for dessert? Just think of anything that you'd really enjoy."
Daria concentrated for a moment – and cried out in surprise as the ambrosia transformed instantly into a three-layered delight of thinly-sliced strawberries on warm slices of pound cake, with whipped cream liberally covering the dessert! "Not bad," the dark haired woman said, sitting back. "Ambrosia's psycho-active; it forms itself into whatever you want it to be, but the catch is that you have to have had whatever you want before, even if it was just once and even if you only had just a taste of it. With ambrosia and nectar and enough Ringbearers, you can feed everybody in a city. We did, too – on a number of occasions."
Alyssa held up her ring, and the glass next to Daria instantly filled with a clear fluid. "Pick it up, close your eyes and imagine what you'd like to be drinking before you taste it," she said, as Daria reached for the glass. "Think of something... exotic."
Daria concentrated; she put the glass to her lips, and her eyes flew open as she instantly recognized the taste. "This – it's the champagne that they served at my cousin Erin's wedding – the champagne my mother nagged about all the way home because it was so expensive and Quinn whined about because Mom and Dad wouldn't let her have any!"
"May I?" Alyssa took the offered glass, and her eyes went wide in as the taste of the sparkling wine captured her senses. "Wow. Your family has very good taste in bubbly."
She passed the glass back. "Nectar's just like ambrosia; it can become any drink you want it to be, but you can save ambrosia practically forever if you freeze it. Nectar evaporates after 24 hours, no matter how you try to store it."
Daria sipped again at the sparkling wine, and then started back on her food. "What else can that Ring do, food-wise?"
"I don't think you're ready for aqua vitae just yet," Alyssa chuckled, "unless you've got a family friend who's a moonshiner and let you sample the goods. The word when it comes to that stuff is 'Sip'. Slowly. Just a bit. It WILL knock you out of your chair, out of your reality, or out of your clothes." She leaned in over the table. "My advice to you about the stuff? If you and Robert ever drink it, be in a honeymoon suite, on Spring Break at the time OR have him put up the vibe-field around his apartment – otherwise, you're going to have everyone in earshot thinking he's murdering you with a chainsaw and a Bowie knife."
The blush that went through Daria made Alyssa change gears quickly. "Let me make it up to you for the embarrassment. Is there anywhere you've ever wanted to go before – anywhere in the world?"
"You mean, through the portals?" Daria shook her head. "I thought that you couldn't go that far before you went off course – way off course. Robert said something about ending up in a girl's shower room at Baylor, I think he said..."
"That's 'traveling through shadow'," Alyssa said. "I'm talking about 'portals' – and once you've got a really solid feel for it, you can access any point in time and space that any other Ringbearer has ever been to. Do you have any idea on exactly how easy it is to get to Woodstock if you've got one of these Rings? Woodstock, Krakatoa, Charles and Diana's wedding, the NBA game where Michael Jordan hit Boston for sixty-some points – those spots might as well be Ringbearer conventions. One thing. Do not freak when you meet yourself – because sooner or later, you will - and be careful of what you drink. Waking up in bed with yourself is a very strange experience."
She held up a hand to stave off the incoming question. "Don't ask."
Alyssa stood up, and fashioned a beautiful glass bottle out of the dust in the air. "Robert told you about how we all have an elemental affinity, right?" As Daria nodded, she added a few gentle touches to the bottle, and then concentrated, allowing it to fill with nectar before changing it to the champagne Daria created earlier. "My affinity is Earth; it allows me to work with the- oh, hell, the short form is that I'm one hell of a glassmaker. One way that I make money - now that the acting thing's not that important - is making one-of- a-kind glassware sets. This should impress any family visitors that ever come over with snotty attitudes."
She turned to the countertop, and Daria's eyes narrowed as the area was filled with exquisite glassware! "Stop trying to impress me."
A sigh escaped Alyssa as she turned to Daria. "Earlier, you asked why I was here – well, you asked me how I got my Ring, but it was still a decent question. I watched every episode of your show – both series – and watching, I always said that if I ever had the chance to talk to you, there's a couple of things that I'd say."
Daria's temper flared. "Like what?"
"Like how, if someone gives you a gift or does something for you – stop being bitchy about it or thinking that they're up to no good or trying to 'change you'," she shot back. "Just – just realize that people are trying to get you to smile. Just say 'thank you' and accept the gift with a little grace. People want you to be happy."
Remembering how she acted when Robert changed a rose into gold and gave it to her, Daria felt her anger bleed away. "Um, yeah, I guess so," she said. "What's all the champagne for?"
Alyssa fashioned a silver ice bucket out of a Styrofoam container from the Good Time Chinese restaurant, and as Daria watched (mildly impressed at how simple Alyssa made it all seem), she used her powers to chill the bottle thoroughly before filling the bucket with ice. "Well, it's great with the meal," she said, putting the bottle in the bucket, "and this way, there's enough for everyone."
The twinkling in her eye reminded Daria all too much of her younger sister, Quinn. "What's going on, Alyssa?"
Before Alyssa could answer, a large, gleaming purplish-white ring of energy appeared in the kitchen behind them, and Daria's voice caught in her throat as she saw Robert Nelson, Jane Lane – and an exact double of herself – step through the ring. "Hey, amiga!" Jane said, nodding to the first Daria as she slid over to the table and started digging in. "I've been waiting for this! I've had the munchies for almost thirty years!"
The second Daria turned and looked at the first. "Don't ask. You'll find out soon enough," she said, before turning to Alyssa. "Thanks for showing me around."
"No problem," Alyssa said, creating another ring of energy in the air. "Well, let's go. Time to show you what the Ring can do."
Daria shrugged, walked through the ring with Alyssa, and the ring disappeared behind them.
"Man, there's one thing I've gotta say about her," Jane said through a mouthful of potatoes and corn. "I never did like her show, but man, can she cook!"
"Oh, please," Daria said, sitting down at her plate "You liked her because she gave you a gallon of aqua vitae, and because you won that '67 Corvette off those guys for drinking them under the table. Where is it, anyway?"
"I portaled it to her driveway," Robert said, barely looking up from his turkey leg. "Don't think you're going to start a business as an antiques dealer, either. There's a Ringbearer in Central Illinois who's pulling that one off on this Earth, and we try not to step on each other's toes when it comes to how we make money."
"Tell you what," Jane said, a playful gleam in her eye. "You don't tell me about cars, and I won't ever ask if you and Daria have been experimenting with your vibration field."
The looks on the faces of her best friend, and her best friend's boyfriend, made the turkey dinner she ate taste better.
The great champagne helped, too.