Two days later I’m feeling better. Grandmaster has had me holed up in his infirmary. I mostly just slept, as the ring did most of the work, repairing the damage from the fight with Lobo. “But he never hit me. He never connected,” I say to GM, as he is checking on me.
“No he never did, did he? Interesting isn’t it?”
“I don’t understand” I say trying to roll over on the bed. “He squeezed me pretty hard. I mean it hurt some, but not enough to put me in bed for-“
“Yeah. Two days. Why have I been in bed for two days?”
“You scanned Lobo’s mind. I’m sure it’s a dark place. But you were able to move past his psychological barriers and see what really resides there. To be honest, I’m glad it wasn’t me that saw into that place. You saw, really saw, the untold pain that he has caused others. That must have been astounding- and violent.”
“Yeah, it was bad. But-“
I break off the conversation, remembering. The pain, the anguish of Lobo’s past actions. The disabling intensity of the hurt he had inflicted. Then I understood – I knew how the pain of those that had been emotionally or mentally abused could be much worse than the injury people faced through physical abuse. I knew.
“Yes, you now know. You know the hurt that beings can heap on others, intentionally or unintentionally. It’s empathy. And it gives the ring its tremendous power. And that power is also given to the ring bearer.”
I sat staring, not answering.
“If you can bear it.”
I stepped down off the bed, testing my legs to see if they could bear my weight. “I’m OK.”
“The ring also has tremendous recuperative powers. It will protect its bearer as long as it has a charge. Which reminds me.” Grand Master brings an Indigo colored staff over to me and grabs my hand, touching the ring to the lantern/staff’s face. “This has to be done every 24 hours whether the ring has been used or not.” He hands me the staff. “You keep this.” His eyes harden, and narrow. “In a safe place.”
As I take the staff it reduces down to the size of a rod, about half the length of my forearm. Grand Master shows me a sheath, which he attaches to my arm and instructs me to slide the rod in. “Now to review your first battle. I understand now why the ring chose you.”
I look at him with a stupid look. “Chose me?”
“I knew the ring would only operate under the care of a being with great compassion. Did you think I found you by chance? The ring lead me to you.”
I looked at the ring. It had chosen me?
“Rings often seek out their new owner’s all by themselves. This one did not. Collector knew another puzzle piece had to be in place. Something was missing almost as if the ring was playing a game. Since he considers me the greatest gamesman of all, he contacted me. As soon as I had the ring in my hand, it began to lead me. To you.
“Now, you understand that Lobo is a notorious, cosmic criminal. Many people would kill him if they had the chance, and I can’t say I disagree. You could have blasted him into a permanent vegetative state, but you did not. You understood the responsibility of such an action. That’s why the ring chose you.”
“But he didn’t kill me either. He could have. But he didn’t.”
“Which reinforces my point, ringbearer- I don’t believe that Lobo has ever had that response to a confrontation before. Your enlightenment affected him. Affected his response. I do not know at this moment if the response is temporary or permanent, but you altered something.
“Yes. Now, tracking your effectiveness will be measured in terms of karma- bad decisions will cost you, good decisions will add to your karma pool.”
“Things that you know are wrong. Violations of your own personal character. Short cuts. Not things that are just mistakes.”
“Karma ratings will be used as a gauge for your progress, and for your aptitude toward the handling of the ring. When you were in that fight with Lobo, and he started squeezing you, you went one more time to force him to see his pain. You used karma, that dig-deep type of extra effort that we all have inside. For progress purposes, I will track your efficiency. For that stunt in battle, you used half of what you had in reserve.”
“Don’t worry. You made the right decision when you had Lobo at your mercy. I don’t want to drag everything down with numbers, so let us just leave it at this- You got back more than you spent. You’re on the positive side.”
I put my head in my hands. “I’m confused.”
“I’m sure that’s correct, but please stay with me. You will grasp it, but it’s going to take time and effort. Lobo was just the first of many battles you will have to fight. Each one will be honing a specific skill or ability in you. The next battle is against a particularly heinous despot- the mutant Sugarman.
“What’s a Sugarman?”
“No a what, a who. Sugar Man was a student of Mister Sinister, another particularly vile Earth mutant. Sugarman learned genetics and science, and became a capable geneticist, but used his skill to regularly torment human slaves.
“Like Lobo he has superhuman strength, but also has four arms, hands with razor-sharp claws, a giant mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, and a dense, razor-sharp tongue of indeterminate length. While Lobo’s path and tactics could come under question, he had clear objectives. Sugarman however is quite mad, and utterly unorthodox in his approach, methods and goals. You will find no reason in the Sugarman.
Grandmaster takes me out into his practice arena. He shows me three mechanical combatants, all having four arms each.
“These are your ersatz Sugarmen. They are programmed for chaos, that is to say their programming is completely unprogrammed. Random instructions are inserted into each instruction stream. One moment the robot may be boxing with you, and the next moment he may be pulling up a tree by the roots and dancing with it. Don’t let it distract you. Each move is calculated toward the endgame, which objective is your loss.
I take a fighting pose. “I’m ready.”
Grandmaster laughs. “No you are not. But that is the point of the exercise.”
To be continued…