This day was not going fast enough. Her day job as a street sweeper was painful, hopefully her night job at the bar would be better. Her leg was killing her more then normal, guess her painkillers weren’t strong enough anymore. The sun was just starting to reach dusk. She looked out over the horizon, staring out into the armada of ships hovering by either spell or thruster over the abyssal black sea. Leaning on the railing over the ocean, she filled her lungs with air that smelled of salt and rust. The engines of Neo Babylon roared like lions behind her, slightly calming her frustration. The bell tower rang out through the port. She glanced at her wrist hologram it was time for her job. She walked past the slightly luminous rune store to the bar, ready to take up her shift.
The tavern was filled with the usual motley group. Humans, large mantis, the sentient cloth shabti, patchworks of man and machine, espers, and many others, all making conversation and listening to the bard in the corner strum on his lyre. Jerry and Sven, the other waiters, took orders and served them drinks. The wretched mass of tentacles and limbs that some called the Theban mafia sitting amongst the gambling tables. Two large gorilla men starting to get aggressive on the far side. She planned to go calm them down, but got distracted by a strange presence. A fellow with almost colorless gray skin walked in and sat down. His hair was vantablack, so dark that it looked forced on the world around it. Using her enhanced ears, she picked up his mumbling about wanting a break from it all. He pulled his gloves and ten rings from his hands and sat down. Why any mage would need so many rings was beyond her. She would have asked him what they do, but asking a mage about his craft was taboo. She used the hologram on her wrist to let the manager know she was here, then proceeded to take the strange man’s order.
“What can I get you, sir?”
This was a weird one; just by standing near him, she could feel an odd pressure emanating from, almost as if it were putting a strain on the space itself. This place got a lot of weird guests. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that the two gorilla men had started fighting. She hated it, but she should go break them up. She really didn’t get paid enough for this. How did she get here? She once saved people and stopped crime, how had she fallen so hard so fast? She tripped over some creature’s foot-like-stump. The tray of drinks should have splattered on the ground, but they were frozen in mid air. Perhaps she instinctively activated her powers. She picked herself up before the manager saw her mistake, trying her best to ignore the pain that had just flared up. Placing her hand under the tray, she unfroze the vectors, letting the tray rest on her finger tips once again. Glancing around her, she noticed that a few heads had turned at her, but they did not seem particularly concerned. Someone with a special power or two was uncommon but not worth making a fuss over. A few seconds passed and she returned to her business.
“So sorry sir,” she said through a forced smile. “Can I get you anything while I’m here.”
It didn’t seem to notice the trouble it had just done to her, as it showed no response to her. The creature was a green heap of very loosely humanoid structure. Several tentacle-like structures protruded from its body and wound their way together into makeshift hands. It sat on a stool that looked far too small to hold the mass that lay upon it. A few tendrils fell onto the floor. That was what it had tripped her with. It was with a few other oddly-formed beings, all of different colors and shapes. They passed magic seals, the kind that would contain human souls, into the center of the table and held fans of cards with their tentacled hands.
Her hands shook. She seethed with rage and disgust. She formed formed her middle finger and thumb to create a flicking motion. She took a stance to ground herself from the recoil of the blast she was about to release. Some people glanced nervously at her, until they noticed she was attacking the Thebans. Since they take no real damage and feel no pain, nobody really cared if you tried to maul one of them, not even the Thebans themselves. It was only the cosmic mages that had stopped the Thebans from waltzing their way through a cosmic conquest long ago. She could feel her hair standing almost on end. She stared directly at them and the room seemed to blur from the pressure of her fit. She was all ready to release a kinetic wave. These things were demons in all but spirit. She fought with them for years to stop their soul trafficking. She knew exactly how powerful these things were; even if she shredded them completely they would still just put themselves back together unbothered. She could have tossed them into the an exploding star, and they would be no more than annoyed. It didn’t matter.
Her senses slowed. She felt a hand on her shoulder. The presence was calming, though she did not know who it was. Her muscles lost their rigidness, but she remained in position. She turned her head slightly to the side, as to look behind her. The man with deep eyes and light gray, almost colorless, skin was behind her.
“Calm down, it isn’t worth it,” he said in a soft voice. She didn’t move for a few seconds. “You still didn’t get me my drink,” he said as he cracked a slight smile.
She lowered her hands and turned to face him. Her hair was not standing on end anymore, but it was still messy. It draped over the front of her apron and back of her vested tunic. She looked him up and down. She noticed he had an overcoat that could have been mistaken for a robe. It looked familiar. They faced each other for for a few moments, until he broke the silence.
“You okay now?”
She nodded but said nothing, then went to finish her job.
She walked up the stairs to the second floor, mead on tray. She was now calm, but in a bad mood. This would soon change. She approached his table with his drink. He had an old brown leather book tucked under his coat, it looked like one she had seen long ago. Most wouldn’t have seen it, but she had her white eyes. She was putting her sense powers to work after so long. She reached the table, then used the time when he raised his mug to get a closer look. She strained her eyes slightly to look past what was covered by his clothing. It had golden a horizontal Ichthys proportioned pointed ellipse on the cover, the shape encased a raised M over another M. Around the border of the book were various arcane symbols. She took a step back. “You’re Miracle Man!”
He coughed on his mead. While he was still sputtering, she looked at her watch. “I have an hour left on my shift. We’ll talk after that.” She ran off to finish her work before he had even finished coughing. He gathered himself. He hadn’t heard the name Miracle Man in years, not since the galactic war. He decided to wait and here what this girl had to say. He ordered a bottomless chips and dip.
She thought back to her childhood. Back when her walls were covered with posters of heroes, she would read the stories of his exploits by the light of lamp.
She pulled the coin out of her pocket. It had M over M on one side and an eight pronged star on the other side. It had belonged to her great grandmother. She suddenly felt very nostalgic for her first days of heroism. She didn’t know how powerful he had grown, but she wanted to hear his story. After she wrapped up the last of her work, she let the manager know she would be staying in the joint after her shift. She wouldn’t ask him for his story immediately, she would go in as a friend first. She bound up the stairs with passion and dropped down right next to him, placing a bottle of bourbon between them.
“So what’s your current name?” She figured it was a good place to start.
“You can call me Sale.” Not what she was expecting.
“Name’s Magenta.” She passed him a glass and poured for both of them.
They continued the small talk for about an hour before Magenta felt like addressing more serious topics. “I used to be a hero. I saved the wretched port more times then I can count.”
“This.” She gestured at her slightly crooked leg. It had metal bars bound to it, holding its shape and supporting it. “It was one of their kind.” She jabbed a thumb behind them at the piles of limbs. “A member of the Theban Mafia.”
“That explains why you can’t be a hero, but why do you work two jobs?”
“That is also because of them. They control most of this port. I don’t have enough money to leave this rock and I can’t get a decent job because those devils want revenge for all the years I fought their trafficking.”
She was about to pour out more of her problems on him when Jerry, one of her colleagues, came up behind them. “Hey can you give me a hand with that table? I know you’re off but it’s getting pretty busy in here.”
God help her. She was about to ‘calmly’ explain the situation to Jerry. Sale stood. “Hey buddy, why don’t you just manage on your own.” He put his arm around Jerry, mocking good will. He opened his palm and revealed a brass ring etched with prismarine markings to Jerry, who looked more confused than anything. “This is is a bigger night than you could possibly imagine.” Jerry’s pupils turned crimson and, saying nothing, turned and rambled back to his job.
She felt slightly uncomfortable. Using your powers on uninvolved civilians with no powers, especially those far weaker than you, was frowned upon. Even many villains followed this code. Despite that questionable act, she put these feelings aside. Any time she didn’t have to talk to Jerry was worth celebration, so she poured them both another glass.
Forty-five minutes passed. Her eyes were getting tired but she tried her best not to show it. It wasn’t intentional, but by the time she got to the question she had wanted to ask from the beginning, her hero was smiling and talking with a slur. Apparently even if you spend time in higher planes, you lower dimensional self can still be a light weight.
She let out a quick yawn. Sale’s smile lessened by a hint. He casually took a ring from his pocket and showed it to her. Luminous, blue, like the untouched ocean depths. “I got this ring as a gift from the Pharan Orthodoxy. They cut it from foundation stone. It is still one of my favorites.” As she looked at the ring, her body filled with energy. She was more awake than she had been in years.
“Do you feel it? That’s the power of the Energy ring. Matter, energy, motion, life, and more all bend to its power.”
She had that feeling one gets when her friend tries to sell them something, that feeling when they call you out of the blue just to ask for something. She put that aside.
“So what’s your life been like? What’s your story? Won’t you tell me?”
He looked up from the table and looked at her with a sideways grin. “Why would I need to tell you when I can show you?” She looked back at him confused. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said with a smile.
It should have been a cold night but it was a bright spring with a clear sky. She spun around in confusion. He put his hand on her shoulder and pointed over at a hill side.
A boy sat at the crest of a hill. Petal blossoms played in the air. The boy looked down at his hands. The boy’s muscles glowed.
“Do you remember what power I had when I started out?” Sale asked her. The boy apparently could not see them.
“Other than magic and swordsmanship, it was--super strength, right?” He nodded. “How did you get them?” she asked.
“Perhaps it was a lab accident or a stray bolt of lightning. maybe a cosmic incident cast rays on me In the end it doesn’t matter.”
He placed his hand on her forehead and flash his entire life in her mind. She watched Sale’s whole life flash by. He fought would defeat foe after foe, only for the next one to be more powerful. Even if he died he would inevitably return to life somehow.
Suddenly it all stopped. They were in a colorless void.
“I need to show you were this cycle takes you. Do you want to see?” He took her hand, and asked her if she wanted to continue. He slipped rings back on his fingers. They no longer spoke by sound but by thought alone.
“Of course I do.”
“Then I’m going to make you a lot more powerful then you are now.” He put palm on her skull, and she glowed golden. She took the form of a golden shape, what do you call a shape with infinite dimensions? But she ascended further. Past the very concept of dimensions and in too the outer void.
When she came to, they were sitting at the top of his tower, but this was no tower of stone like once before. He now sat atop an infinitely tall dimensional structure. The kingdom that he once ruled over was now replaced by a sprawling hyperverse. The ground he once stood on was now layers of every concept that has existed, will exist, and doesn’t exist. He used to rule over kind humans and beastmen, now his nearest subjects were eldritch horrors who would destroy anyone that would destroy anyone who began to grasp existence above dimensional archetypes.
They watched a truly indescribable form of combat. How do you describe a fight between formless beasts. It was truly a mind shattering site. One was what seemed to be a weaker version of Miracle Man’s outer void form and the other doing battle with it was an infinite army of what was best described as robots of some kind.
“That’s Great Machine, Deus ex Machina. Every version of it, possible and impossible. Even a Great Machine that isn’t a Great Machine. And clashing with it is me, or it was me, barely hanging on with my Ring of Justice’s ability to copy and be anything. This is awful distracting isn’t it?” and with that, as easily as a garbage disposal shreds a simple lettuce leaf, he absorbed them both, making them one with him. She looked at him with in confusion and concern. Seeing this, he said, “I’m beyond causality, don’t worry. Many a time traveller tried to destroy me by killing my past selves. I see no reason I cannot do the same.” He stared out into the indescribable silence of non-existence. “This is what I am now. Now you know my story.”
If a being of her stature could feel dizzy she would have. “So… your story is over then?”
“I doubt it.”
“What else is there to defeat?”
He gestured farther out into the void. “Probably that.”
Infinitely far out, there was a spiralling chaos. It seemed to be asleep right now, but it let out a terrible roar. “So the fight never ends then?”
“No, it doesn’t. Even when you exist beyond all, no matter how tiering it gets, you never escape the cycle. Even if you age out of heroism.” With those words, everything spiralled. She felt like she was being compressed, like a million different directions were lost around her. The sound of a snap called her back down, and there she sat back at the bench next to Sale. Suddenly, she felt far more claustrophobic.
“There you go, that’s my story.”
She stared down at the table. One does not simply brush off staring out into eternity.
“This used to be my wedding band,” he took another ring off his finger. “It is now the ring of Will, control the power of emotion, willpower, goals, and desire. Make your enemies lack the desire to take up arms against you.” She still did not understand why he was explaining this.
“This is the ring of Knowledge, all of knowledge is yours to govern, grant, and deprive. I crafted it from the pages of the infinite library.” Had he planned this offer all out from the beginning?
“This is the ring of Power, any form of influence or prowis are yours to govern. The ring of victory will allow you to decide the outcome of any battle.”
His words blurred into the background. She had escaped the cycle. Did she want back in? Sale was exactly what she had wanted to be her whole life, yet he hated it. Yet… sitting in this bar in her life she hated every second before today. This cycle, no matter how bad it is it could not be worse than her path to limbo she was on now.
“... and there you go. The Rings of Governance: Art, Will, Knowledge, Power, Victory, Justice, Truth, Logic, Reality, and Conflict. You wouldn’t need to worry about your leg and you could-”
“Give me time to think about it.” She stood and started for the door.
“One more thing.” She turned to face him. “Catch,” he said as he flipped a single ring at her. She caught it in her palm. It was the ring of reality.
“Use this to take all the time you need to think,” Sale said with a light smile. “Meet me by the tower tomorrow. Its Vesak tomorrow, so you don’t have work, right?”
She nodded. She had completely forgotten. Normally she would have had to work weekends, but not on a planet-wide holiday. Sale disappeared in her next blink.
The sky was black but the light of the city kept the docks well lit. She slipped the ring onto her finger, and she disappeared somewhere into the ether. She had time to think, and she was not going to be wasting it in the concrete box that she was forced to call her home.
She returned to the city. Cherry trees blossomed that were not there yesterday, and would not be here once this festival was over. The festival created a stark contrast with the metallic and stone buildings. The many people of Neo Babylon danced in the festival, but she tuned them out. She was looking for one person only. She happened to glance the sky and saw him sitting on the roof of the tower. He waved his hand to her and she warped herself up to him. “Come, sit down.” Sale patted the ledge next to him.
They both sat with their feet hanging off the tower, watching the numerous races enjoy the festivities. “I see you are wearing travelling clothes,” he said. “Have you made your decision?”
“I will take your offer. I will ride out the cycle, and take your place on this wheel. I will save many others, and start by saving you.” She reached out her hand to him. He smiled at her, and let out a sigh. “Enjoy your ride. I hope you like it, you may never get off.” He shook her hand like they had been friends all their lives, and the rings swapped onto her fingers. With that, Sale’s presence vanished. Magenta sat watching all of creation, hers to protect.