The Ringworld Hero
I woke up laying in a meadow looking up to the sky. I could hear the waves crashing against a shore from not too far away. It would’ve been perfectly normal if not for two things. One, the ground curved up and around into a ring, arching across the distant sky. And two, I have no fucking clue how I got here. I sat up, clutching my head.
“Fucking hell, how much did I drink last night?”
Sirens. The last thing I remember is sirens.
I remember being soaked in something warm and slightly sticky, probably my own blood.
I remember the stinging smell of chlorine as I lapsed in and out of consciousness.
I remember the taste of beer and cheap fast food from a late-night delivery order.
I remember the throb of pain as the life oozed out of my body, staining everything it touched.
I remember the fear I felt as my broken form lay helpless and intoxicated on the floor.
I remember how peaceful I felt as I sat on the edge of the abyss.
I remember how much it frightened me…
As my chin dropped to my chest, it didn’t quite reach. My chin hit something cold and hard sitting on my chest. Reaching out to touch it, I felt the edges where the object stopped, and my skin started. There was no gap whatsoever. Panicked, I pulled at the object, clawing to pull it off before I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t pull on it. Most of your throat will come with it.”
I sat up, hearing the voice of what was obviously a young woman. Turning around to face the voice.
In front of me stood the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. She had an angular face and large eyes that seemed to ensnare your very soul. Her pale skin seemed to glow ever so slightly in the sunlight. Took me a moment to notice her ears sticking out from her head at a near 90-degree angle and ending in points sharp enough to use as fucking darts.
“Deathwalker. Arbiter. Your coming was foretold many years ago.”
I scratched my head as it throbbed in pain.
“This is bad. I drank so much I’m hallucinating. You don’t happen to have any water, do you?”
She nodded, grunting in annoyance as she handed over a canteen.
“I was expecting the legendary arbiter to be a handsome hunk, not a skinny drunk.” The disappointment in her voice was obvious even though my hazy thoughts.
“Well I was expecting to wake up in my bed with a splitting hangover at one in the afternoon to the smell of two-minute noodles!” I shouted back.
"Can you at least tell me what the hell 'Deathwalker' means? I don't fancy a tango with the skeletons, thank you very much.
Her annoyance was rather plain, but she can't have expected me not to question what is happening. "You came here across the void between worlds, from another time in another place. With the stars above little more than silent specs, it is clear that your kind are not pulled from among them."
I scratched my head, confused if her comments were facts or little more than poignant prose. "So, how did I end up here?"
"I don't know. There was a large bang and a flash of light. I ran over to it and found you lying on the grass bleeding. Your back was unnaturally bent, your right leg was twisted backwards, and your right forearm was bent into a square corner. I stuck the core against your chest and it dug itself in." What really scared me was how matter of fact she was about it. From the sounds of it, I was basically dead when I got here.
"So, you brought me back from the dead?" Came my drowsy response.
"No, I heard your heartbeat when I got there. You walked across death itself and lived to tell of it. Well, walked is a bit generous, it's more like you were dragged across without properly dying."
She sighed, as I held her leather canteen in my hand. It was worn and scratched, looking as if it had seen many adventures or many hands.
“Why did the gods send you to be the arbiter? The arbiters of old were heroes of towering muscle and unbridled heroism, not weedy little shits.”
I closed the canteen, holding it out while clutching my head in my other hand.
“Arbiter, Arbiter, why do you keep calling me that?”
“You are the Arbiter. Bearer of the ancient core and walker of worlds. It has been the du-”
“Short version please.” I fell onto my back, head pounding more from confusion than anything else.
“That thing in your neck isn’t the only part. Embedded in your chest is a magic core that powered every arbiter from first to last. They controlled the elements in their hands and brought peace to the ring. The gods chose each and every one of them and they all died here for the sake of our future. I'm sure you will be the one to die the fastest. Tell me your name, I’ll be sure to remember it for your tombstone in the mausoleum.”
“Danny. Danny Walters.”
She huffed angrily, puffing her cheeks out in a rather adorable manner. “Leena Carralei, you can call me Leena while you kiss my boot. If it wasn’t for me, you’d be dead right now.”
I chuckled, looking at my hands for the first time since waking up. There were six little nodes on my hand, one on the tip of each finger, one on my thumb and one in my palm. Both hands were a perfect mirror image of this pattern, as if placed by a machine.
“So, you put this thing inside me?” I ran my hands through my hair, the new parts of my hands still not feeling right. I took another look at Leena and then it struck me.
Two of ‘em.
Two big bonkers.
Staring me in the face.
I noticed they had a sort of perkiness to them that seemed to match her ears. It was almost fetishistic how she dressed; miniskirt, knee high boots, thigh high socks, and to top it off a large cutout to expose her breasts, the flat bottom and sides of the neckline line traced with a small frill, stopping just below her armpits, with some sort of cloth bit leading up to a part that wrapped tightly around her neck. Around her neck hung some sort of winged crest set inside three concentric rings, it was made of gold with gaps and chain links keeping the whole design suspended in place as it sat in the middle of her chest, the window almost making it look like a frame. Unfortunately if I was to appreciate the design, looking in the general direction of her breasts was necessary and that was liable to cause issues. I realised that if we were travelling together, she would become like alcohol to me.
On a whim, I touched my thumbs to each of my fingers. I wanted to know what this strange metal(?) sounded like. The centre of each little dot began to light up and glow. Leena looked at me with a mix of confusion and disbelief, pulling out and reading a small, leather-bound book which seemed to be very old. Nodding, she lowered the book and pulled out an artifact. It had a strange design that resembled a horseshoe magnet with a section connecting the bend removed. A curved crosspiece connected the bottom section, holding two tips apart that began to crackle with energy. It looked strangely familiar for some reason that escaped my hangover-addled thinking. She pointed the device at me and it began to crackle with energy as a ball of light formed between the two tips. The noise was extremely familiar and also terrifying, for reasons I couldn’t remember.
Then I felt my leg burning.
Looking down there was a large hole in my calf, exposed flesh and muscle leaking blood.
I clutched the wound and suddenly a mass of foam exploded from my hands, covering the wound, and completely removing the pain. I pulled away in shock as the foam hardened, becoming almost rock-solid after a few seconds.
“Alright, it seems the healing system works.” Came her nonchalant comment as she looked at the bizarre expression on my face.
“So you shot me just to test if it’d grow back? What if it didn’t?”
“The book says it would and there’s records of other Arbiters regrowing entire limbs with that foam. It took them a while, but they eventually grew back.” It was how level her voice was that scared me the most. Though she still held the gun (at least I think it’s a gun, she did shoot me with it), it wasn’t pointed directly at me.
All it took to change that was a moment and a flick of her wrist.
“Throw your hands out.”
I did as she said, thrusting my hands forward and pointing the little nubs that had shot the foam that still clung to my leg. I heard a loud discharge and waited for my second death today.
One second passed.
I opened my eyes to see a shield projected in front of me.
I stood up, holding my hand out threateningly, pointing every single nub at her face.
“Now, you’re going to tell me exactly what the fuck this thing is, or I’m going to find out by testing it on you.”
What I expected was for her to panic. What I got was a look of annoyed disappointment.
"You have no clue what you're doing. Put your hand down before you end up blowing your own arm off."
I crinkled my nose on a half-snarl, going for the intimidate attempt. "Alright then, have it your way." I tried to will something to come out of my hand.
But nothing came.
She grabbed my arm and twisted it away from her face, pulling me back to the ground.
"Stop being an idiot and I'll tell you. It’s a divine artifact, one of the most powerful ever discovered. Containing a powerful magic generator and extremely powerful magic manipulators, the one in your chest is the only one in existence.”
She let go of my hand. All I could do was rub my shoulder to try and stop it hurting.
“So, did you summon me specifically, or was it just dumb luck?”
Leena flicked through a few more pages of the book in her hand.
“It just summons whoever’s the closest to death at the time that fits the parameters of summoning.”
“Parameters of summoning?” I strolled over and yoinked the book out of her rather dainty as she squeaked in protest. I then began to read aloud from the page she had flicked to.
“When the summoning ritual is complete, an Arbiter shall be summoned from another world and fused with the Arbiter’s Core.”
I began pacing, projecting my voice.
“The summoned person will be a male human of ages between fifteen and nineteen years. Though Arbiters have been summoned up to ages as high as thirty, they tended to die within a year of being summoned.”
It sounded like the setup to a shitty manga.
Leena jumped to her feet, her skirt pulling a small amount of grass with it.
Before I even had the chance to stand up, she yanked me to my feet and pulled my arm over her shoulder as if she were dragging a wounded man.
“Now what? Are you going to blow off another of my limbs, or do I have to go and save the world?”
“Well, Arbiter, that’s something only you can decide. Come, I’ll explain the situation as we walk.”
“Where are we going?”
“The king will want to meet his Arbiter…”