Professor Waylon Sparks finds an odd (and dangerous) ring in a long-forgotten mansion.
| A figure stepped out of the shadows into the clearing, cautiously glancing around. Well-built, well-groomed, and well-traveled, professor Waylon Sparks knew he had finally found it. Gresham Sanctum, a mansion lost to legend a few hundred years ago. The locals in nearby Brassington believed that the building had been leveled by a powerful mage. As professor Sparks’ intensive investigation indicated, they were half right. To test his theory, the professor picked up a rock, throwing it into the clearing. In a flash of sickening purple light, the rock was destroyed mid-flight. The professor smirked. So, it was true then. Someone used an enchantment to conceal the mansion and destroy anything that approached it. But to what end? What was it they were so desperate to conceal in this mansion? That was what the professor had spent twenty-five years of his life trying to find out. And at last, he was on the verge of an answer. What the mages responsible for the concealment of the mansion failed to anticipate was someone, namely a certain dedicated professor, figuring out how to break their enchantments. Professor Sparks lifted his hands, ready to cast his counter-enchantment, perfected over the years in anticipation of having to break this very type of barrier. He waved his left hand, whispering “Dangelu”. Almost instantly, the barrier responsible for destroying the rock appeared, a wall of purplish light. The professor formed a fist with his right hand. He swiftly punched forward, intoning the word “Agenna”. With an ear-splitting crack, the wall started to break. Pushing forward with both hands, the professor shouted “Dinistrio”. The wall shattered, disappearing into the night sky. Out of thin air in the clearing, a building distorted into view. The professor smiled, a tear in his eye, and fell to his knees. “At last”, he muttered. “At last, I have found it”. After what seemed like an hour staring at the proof of his success, professor Sparks stood up and approached the decrepit building, admiring its beauty. The building seemed quaint, with gingerbread latticework and witch’s hat cupolas. It was a wonder such an innocent-looking mansion could possibly be worth hiding with such powerful magic.
As the professor pushed the large oak door open, he noticed how pristine the inside of the mansion was, even after all of these years. Looking around, he noticed over-stuffed chairs surrounding a beautiful, dust-covered oak table, obviously the sitting room. What surprised him was the appearance of a bony hand on the arm of one of the chairs, the chair’s back facing him at the door. The hand’s owner had not noticed the professor enter. Pulling out his pistol, on the off-chance of being attacked, he cautiously approached the chair. As he slowly came to the chair’s front, he was shocked at what he saw. The hand’s owner had his reasons for not noticing the visitor. To professor Sparks’ knowledge, corpses couldn’t exactly notice anything. The professor started to turn his head away from the corpse, but not before noticing a note on the table. The professor only just now noticed that there was a quill resting on the floor next to the chair in which the corpse sat. He picked up the note, curious as to its contents. It was written hastily, judging by the calligraphy. Obviously, whoever this man was sitting in the chair next to him had tried to write this note before meeting some horrible demise. He read the note to himself.
“The master and his damn ring. I should have known it would be the death of me. He has already begun concealing the house, hoping that the ring will be safe. That cursed relic. I miss the days before it came into our lives. It has caused so much suffering. And now master Gresham has reached the height of his obsession. I can only imagine that once the enchantments are prepared, that he shall put me out of my misery before taking his own life. It’s as if the ring has commanded this of him. I suppose my ramblings are of no great significance, however. I should be grateful that I no longer have to suffer the misery of that damn ring. So these will be my final words, I suppose. It has been wonderful serving master Gresham. I die knowing that I have served with the utmost loyalty, and for that, I am not ashamed. I did my job right up until the end. I just hope there’s enough sense in master Gresham to realize what I’ve done for him. With any degree of fortune, he shall give me a swift death.
Jenkins, butler to Master Randall Gresham”
So, this is what the mansion was concealed to protect? A ring? Curious as to why a simple ring would be worth concealing an entire mansion, professor Sparks began to explore the building, searching for the body of Randall Gresham. Surely the ring would be on or near his body, if he had been so obsessed with it. As he explored, he noticed the tranquility of the mansion, with its comfortably overstuffed furniture, beautiful pressed-tin ceilings, and intricate bow windows. Surely no true evil resided in such a place. Perhaps someone put the note on the table, as a deterrent to ward off treasure hunters? Whatever the case, finding the ring was the only answer in the mind of professor Waylon Sparks. He pressed on, searching the first few floors and finding nothing.
When he reached the eastern cupola, he noticed a trail of blood leading to a cracked door. Holding out his pistol, he approached the door, pushing it open. Inside rested the body of Randall Gresham, with a scrawled note in his right hand. The trail of dried blood led to his left hand, which had been severed. The ring must have been on that hand, left in another part of the mansion. But why would Gresham cut off his own hand with the ring on it? Increasingly curious, professor Sparks read the note. It was even more hurriedly written than the butler’s, so quickly written that the few lines were mostly illegible. All the professor could make out were the words “Poison setting in…left it in the attic…”. Professor Sparks crumpled up the note, now knowing where the ring was.
The professor stepped out of the cupola, following the trail of blood back to the source, where Gresham had severed his hand. The attic, where he would likely find the ring. The trail of blood led to a door. Testing to make sure there were no further enchantments, the professor threw a spare bullet from his satchel at the door. The bullet bounced off of the door harmlessly, indicating that there was no danger. The professor made his way up to the attic, at the center of which sat a decorated box, with blood running down the front. He stepped forward and opened it. Inside rested the left hand of Randall Gresham, with a beautiful golden ring on its ring finger. Set in the band of the ring was a gleaming red gem, unlike anything the professor had seen on his myriad adventures. There was an insignia carved into the gem, a circle surrounding a diamond. He had never seen this mark before.
Entranced by its beauty, he slipped the ring off of the finger, holding it in his palm. As he did, the ring began to glow faintly. Perplexed, the professor held it closer to his eyes, observing the pulsing light. As if by some strange instinct, he then put it on his own ring finger. Almost instantly, the ring flashed a brilliant red light, burning into the professor’s flesh. The pain was unbearable, as if he had plunged his hand into a furnace. After a few minutes of this excruciating pain, the ring stopped glowing, and the pain subsided to a slight warm sensation. Realizing how dangerous the ring obviously was, the professor attempted to remove it. And that was when he became aware of the ring’s dark secret. It had burned itself into his very flesh, and would not so easily be removed. Try as he might, the professor could not remove the ring. Taking a page out of Randall Gresham’s book, he pulled a knife out of his shoe and attempted to cut it off. As he tried, the ring flashed, giving off enough force to knock the knife away and send a pulse of pain through his hand. In one last effort to remove the infernal jewel, professor Sparks attempted to perform the same enchantment that had brought down the curse-wall protecting the mansion. As he intoned the word “Agenna”, however, the ring pulsated and flashed, sending a jolt of pain almost as severe as the first one down the professor’s hand, interrupting his enchantment. This had proved to be quite frustrating. How had Gresham removed it? Was the ring intelligent, realizing that it could be cut off? Whatever the case, it wasn’t going to be removed, so professor Sparks walked out of the attic, hoping to find a way to remove it through the same intensive research that had gotten him to the mansion in the first place. He left the mansion and headed towards Brassington.
Upon his arrival in Brassington, professor Sparks reserved a room in a local tavern, planning to take the first airship out of Brassington and to his home in Pickering. Once he got into bed, he quickly fell into a deep slumber. He started to dream of home, being in his study, researching. As he read through an ancient tome of undiscernable origin, the ring began to manifest itself on his finger, burning his hand. As it did, the tome he was reading began to take the form of a hideous creature, almost human, but walking on all fours. He backed up as the creature slowly approached him. He stumbled, looking over to see the corpse of Randall Gresham. The corpse turned toward him, laughing. In a brittle, quivering voice, the corpse spoke to him. “It is your turn now to suffer the curse. Only death awaits you”. Professor Sparks hurriedly staggered to his feet, only to see the creature that had once been his tome leap towards him. The professor woke up, screaming. He pulled off his covers, seeing no sign of the creature from his nightmare. Just the ring. The cursed ring. The professor lied in bed for the rest of the night, unable to sleep after his disturbingly realistic-feeling nightmare. He boarded his airship the following morning, bound for home.
Upon arrival in Pickering, the professor hurried to his residence. He immediately began pouring over old, dusty tomes that contained legends, tales, and any other relevant historical information, both confirmed and mythological. Minutes turned into hours, and hours turned into days. Professor Sparks searched desperately for an answer, unable to find any reference to the ring. He couldn’t even find any reference to its insignia. He had stopped sleeping, as he continued to have nightmares. He was beginning to suspect that the ring was the direct cause of his nightmares, as it was always a central theme in them. He wasn’t overly concerned, as it gave him more time to research. He was able to sleep for a few hours every once in a while, when he was at wit’s end. It was as if the ring knew that he couldn’t survive without sleep, and granted him just enough before waking him up with a nightmare. The torturous little demon wanted him alive, but for what purpose?
In a few months' time, the professor had read through nearly every relevant book he possessed. At last, he had reached the brink of his sanity. He knew that he would have to find someone, somewhere, that knew of the ring, what it was and how to get rid of it. Overcome by exhaustion, professor Sparks collapsed into his bed and fell asleep. He dreamed of the ring, but this time seemed out of the ordinary. It was as if the ring itself was communicating to him. In his dream, he was lifted out of his home into the air, and the area around him changed. Instead of seeing Pickering, he saw a snow-covered field being whipped by a raging blizzard. In the maelstrom, he saw an imposing building, becoming clearer despite the storm. A beautiful, tall building, sitting out in the blizzard. It featured an ornate clock and awe-inspiring stained-glass windows. Spires jutted out towards the sky. The professor had seen this building before, in one of the tomes. Haywood Castle, where it was believed that a secretive mages college conducted their studies. Of course! If anyone would be able to identify this ring, it would be the Haywood Mages. The professor woke up with a start, now knowing where he could finally solve the mystery of the infernal ring.
It was off to the airship terminal once again the following morning, the billowing smoke from the steam-powered ships a welcome sign for once. If the professor was correct, this trip would prove to finally save him from the ring. At last, he would be free. He excitedly purchased his ticket and boarded the airship, bound for the nearest city to Haywood Castle, Spearford. The journey would take the rest of the day, so the professor planned to find somewhere to spend the night, and get a guide to take him to Haywood Castle, to freedom. After eating a mid-day meal, the professor reclined himself to catch a little rest before arrival.
The professor awoke suddenly, to the sound of screaming. He looked around, and noticed that the sky outside was dark. He checked his pocket watch. It was early afternoon. No where near late enough for it to be this dark. He looked harder, and noticed that a blizzard was raging outside. Even more troubling, he noticed that the ship was losing altitude. What was going on? Was the ship going down? It didn’t take long before a ship attendant came into the passenger compartment. “Please, remain calm, everyone. The navigators are having some slight difficulty seeing in the storm, everything is all rig—“. Before the attendant could finish his statement, the ship shook, and a loud ripping noise sounded from the outside of the ship. Parts of the hull were coming loose. Almost instantly, the ship began to fall towards the ground faster, as if it were a weight dropped from the roof of a tall building. The forces keeping the professor in his seat weakened, as he felt like he was floating. The ship was crashing, no doubt about that. Had the ring lured him here to kill him? Would this not have happened, thus saving the other passengers, had he ignored the dream of Haywood Castle? Before he could think of any answers, the ship hit the ground with a sickening thud.
The professor awoke in a large, ornately-decorated hall with a high ceiling, on a table. He was astonished that he had survived. But how? Was it the ring? As he pondered his surprising survival, an elderly woman, garbed in a majestic gold robe walked into the room and addressed him. “You are fortunate, friend, that our healers were able to rescue you”, she said almost arrogantly. She obviously had pride in her healers. She nodded at him, “Welcome to Haywood Castle, I am Matron Katarin”. The professor bowed to his savior. “Thank you, Matron Katarin. And how fortunate that I wound up here. I was hoping to find you”. Katarin nodded knowingly. “Yes, I can imagine. After all, you have the Bloodstone Ring on your finger”. Looking down at the ring, professor Sparks nodded. “Yes, I do, but how did you know?” The old woman smiled. “The Bloodstone Ring has been in and out of legend for thousands of years. It is hard not to recognize for us”. The professor looked at the woman expectantly. “So, do you know how to remove it?” The old woman bowed and grinned. “Yes, we do, and we have already prepared the tonic to remove it”. She waved her hand, and a younger mage, dressed in a more plain blue robe, walked in with a goblet. “Drink this, and we can remove the ring”. The professor stepped forward cautiously, glancing at the old woman, and drank from the goblet. He looked over at her. “Okay, now what?” Before the woman answered, professor Sparks felt a choking sensation. He started to cough as his throat closed up. The old woman brought him over to the table and sliced off his hand. The pain was excruciating, but not as much as when the ring first melted itself to his hand. She put the ring in a small box and handed it to the apprentice. “I’m sorry, but only through impending death does the ring allow itself to be removed. And I’m sorry to say that you can not be permitted to live after finding us”. The professor looked up at the Matron with betrayed shock, unable to form words through his sputtering. The old woman laid the gagging professor on the table, lifting a knife to put him out of his misery. It wasn’t until now that he could see the pendant on her neck, as it had been hidden in her cloak. A circle with a diamond in the center. With a quick thrust, the journey of professor Waylon Sparks had finally come to an end.
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