Chapter 318: Ringing Accusation

on June 23, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Suspects She’s Been Slipped A Ringer

I watched Hazel head out the door, and then ducked out of the way of it before I turned my attention towards the ring in my hand.

It was, as far as I could tell, the same ring she’d been wearing around her neck at the party, but it lacked the odd attention-getting gleam. In fact, that wasn’t all it lacked… there was no pulse of magic about it.

At least, none on the surface.

I drew my wand both to get a deeper probe and to have another magic item between me and it rather than opening myself up directly, but I couldn’t detect a trace of actual enchantment, nefarious or otherwise.

It was an ordinary ring of ordinary metal.

If Hazel had made a substitution, it was a good one… I mean, I hadn’t been able to get a good luck at the original, but this ring had the same distinctive profile with the three ridged protrusions where stones might go. While I was sure a good crafter could give a false impression of age without using magical illusions or glamours, this ring didn’t look brand new by any stretch of the imagination.

While she certainly knew enough skilled jewelers and metalcrafters among the dwarves to have had a fake ring made on short notice, I thought that was getting far afield of the realm of possibility. That kind of thing could not be put down to any subtle influence, but would move things more into the area of outright possession…

…which was certainly a possible result of interaction with a cursed item.

What if the ring wasn’t cursed because the curse had moved from the ring into her? The thought came to me, but I dismissed it pretty quickly… I was sure that anything malevolent and powerful enough to take over a person would have left behind some trace I could detect.

But it certainly could have asked its host’s boyfriend to make or arrange the creation of a duplicate ring, which would bear no such traces.

…or the ring had never been cursed, just kind of distinctive-looking, and we’d all collectively blown that up into something far more than it was.

Whatever the answer was, I’d promised the others that I’d ask someone with the necessary knowledge and standing to look into it. That seemed a little more complicated now, since rather than being able to speak of a ring that may or may not be cursed, I would have to mention that it might be a ring, or a copy of a ring, or a person.

It seemed like the simplest thing would be to take things at face value: accept that the ring in my hand was the same ring Hazel had worn at the party, it wasn’t cursed, and she’d given it up without a qualm.

If that was the case, there was nothing more to be done.

As appealing as that was, I decided to go ahead and press through with at least part of my original plan. I had the ring in my possession now. On close inspection, it definitely seemed like it could be dwarven. Those two facts would make it easier for me to approach Professor Stone.

Instead of having this nebulous, semi-hypothetical question about a friend who might have a cursed object, I could show him the ring and ask him if he knew anything about its design and purpose.

Best case scenario… at least from a certain point of view… was that he immediately recognized it as a reproduction an important artifact for locking away some great evil, or the tool of an ancient dwarven warlock, or something like that.

Failing that… well, I wasn’t really sure what my next move should be, conversationally or otherwise, but at least it would give me a reason to talk to him.

I kept the ring in my pocket for the rest of the day. Given that it wasn’t cursed, I was surprisingly conscious of its weight as well as its rigid form pressing against my skin.

I felt like its outline might as well have been glowing red-hot to the eyes of everybody who saw me.

I both didn’t feel the need to tell anyone who’d been in on the original conversation about Hazel that I had the ring… or at least a ring… and felt like it was a guilty secret because of that. At dinner that night, I started to feel like maybe I should just say something to Steff and Amaranth just to prove that I had nothing to hide, but I stopped because that wasn’t an actual reason.

Keeping them in the loop on a matter that had concerned all of us was, but I didn’t even know what the loop was, or where I was inside it. It seemed easier to wait until I had more information, any actual information… but that felt like I was hiding something.

The realization that sometimes you just didn’t want to tell people something because it would feel like a big hairy deal that wasn’t worth getting into had me second-guessing whether or not Hazel had been under any mental influence at the party.

Yeah, she’d had no reason to lie that we knew about and no good reason to lie that we could imagine, but how good a reason exactly did you need to not want to get into your business with people?

By the time I returned to my room for the night, I’d made the decision that if I wasn’t volunteering information about the ring, I wasn’t hiding it, either, so I very calmly and deliberately took it out of my pocket as soon as my jeans were off, so I could set it on the desk for tomorrow.

“You got Hazel’s ring?” Amaranth said.

I jumped, guiltily. The ring fell from my fingers, clattered off the desk, and settled on the rug. I looked down at it, then up at Amaranth, who was looking at me. Her face was uncharacteristically hard to read.

“I’m waiting for an explanation, baby,” she said.

“Sorry, ma’am,” I said. “She actually gave it to me, and I’ve… been trying to figure out what it means.”

“You took an obviously cursed ring? Well, I am surprised!” she said. “Well… a bit disappointed, but maybe not that surprised? Still, you should have known better.”

“Except it’s not cursed, obviously or otherwise,” I said.

“…are you saying that, though, or is the ring saying it?”

“Look at it,” I said, bending down to pick it up. “I’m not at all sure it’s the original, but there’s nothing magical about this one.”

“Don’t touch it!” Amaranth said.

I snapped upright.

“Okay, but seriously, look at it,” I said, gesturing down at it. “Do you notice anything different about it?”

“Well, it certainly looks a lot less fetching down there on the floor than it did around Hazel’s neck, but… well, her neck is one of her nicer features, and it made a nice accent point between that and her chest,” Amaranth said.

“The ring she wore had a distinctly magical attraction to it,” I said. I wouldn’t have sworn to that fact before, just that it had been eye-catching, but the more I looked at this ring and compared it to my memories of Saturday night, the more sure I was. “This is just metal. You can see it. I can feel it.”

“I can see a difference, but maybe it only operates when it’s being touched, or worn in some fashion?” Amaranth said.

“Even a dormant curse would have something I could detect,” I said.

“Are you better at detecting magic than anyone else might be at hiding it?” Amaranth asked.

“…no,” I said. “But why would it stop drawing attention when it’s not held? I mean, if it wants to be used, I’d think it would draw more attention then.”

“Maybe it’s right where it wants to be,” Amaranth said.

“On the floor?”

“In your possession. I mean, maybe it… sensed… Hazel wasn’t the best person for its interests, whatever they are,” Amaranth said. “Maybe it was trying to get someone else’s attention, maybe even yours in particular, and now that it has it, it would rather not be noticed any further.”

“Okay, that’s a little far-fetched,” I said. “And I still think it’s more likely that I would be able to detect something than not.”

“Even if a curse is altering your perceptions, or subtly guiding your actions?” Amaranth said. “I mean, look at it from my point of view, baby: all I can go on is you saying that the ring you’ve been carrying around isn’t cursed. Would you have believed Hazel if she told you that?”

“I wouldn’t think Hazel was qualified to judge, but I guess I see your point,” I said.

“I mean, why on earth would she even give it to you in the first place?”

“She said she wanted to pass the luck on,” I said. “I kind of think it was to throw me off, though… I mean, it happened right after I went to talk to Professor Bohd about the whole situation. Like it was designed to allay my suspicions? That’s why I think this ring isn’t cursed. My best guess is that Hazel still has the original.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Amaranth said. “But… if that ring isn’t cursed, then you would have no problem leaving it where it is, right?”

“I guess?” I said. “I mean, I don’t think we can leave it on the floor indefinitely, and I still want to show it to Professor Stone and see what he makes of it.”

“Why would you need to do that, if it’s not the real ring?”

“Because it’s the spitting image of it,” I said.

“I guess I can understand how that’s more useful than describing it,” she said. “But why does it have to be this image? Take a picture, or have Steff come in and do a detailed sketch of it. There’s no reason you need to carry around a potentially cursed item, or even get close to it. Honestly, I don’t like how close you are to it now.”

“I’m no closer to it than you are!” I said. “I mean… not much.”

I took a step back away from it to firm up my point.

“I wasn’t carrying it around in secret all day,” Amaranth said. “And I’ve never carried a cursed weapon with a fragment of demonic intelligence in it.”

“It’s not like I even ever did get that back,” I said. “Anyway, it hurts me that you’d trust Steff up close and personal with that kind of temptation than me… she’s into tons of dark shit.”

“She has her history, baby, and you have yours,” she said.

“…I guess that’s a fair point,” I said. “But, seriously, having this ring is kind of my road in for talking to him in the first place. It would be weird to go up to a professor whose class I’m not even taking this semester to ask about a hypothetical ring.”

“Why would it have to be a hypothetical ring?”

“Well, I mean, I don’t want to go into the whole thing until I have some sense that he’s going to be cool about it,” I said. “So my thought was I’d show him the non-magical, non-cursed ring under the pretext that I just want to know more about it, and see if he recognizes the design or shows any recognition.”

Amaranth gave a little huff and tossed her hair, lightly stamping her foot.

“Oh! Why do you have to have a pretext?” she said. “If nothing is compelling you to be dishonest, why not just go up to him and tell him that you’re concerned that a friend is behaving strangely and you wonder if this ring might have anything to do with it.”

“Well, I don’t want to get Hazel… or any of us… into trouble,” I said. “And honestly? If I’m not going to be reasonably coy about it, then there’s no reason to go to him in the first place instead of, you know, an actual authority who could swoop in and do something. Look, I’m not trying to be dishonest here, just… careful.”

Amaranth chewed on her lower lip, almost scowling and looking everywhere but at me while she thought it over.

“…okay,” Amaranth said. “We’ll leave the ring where it is for tonight, and then when you’re ready to talk to Professor Stone, you can take it to him.”

“That sounds like a plan,” I said. “I mean, it sounds plan-ish… but in fairness, it’s not any less of a plan than mine was.”

“I’m glad we could agree,” she said. She took her glasses off, carefully folding the arms over, then looked at me with a slow blink of her big, albeit slightly squinty eyes. “Now, let’s go to bed.”

I found my eyes lingering on the ring even as I obeyed, and they remained there until Amaranth let the curtains around our bed fall closed. It certainly wasn’t drawing attention the way it… or the original, or whatever… had before, but I couldn’t keep my mind off it all the same.

And I couldn’t help wondering: would it still be there in the morning?


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13 Responses to “Chapter 318: Ringing Accusation”

  1. zeel says:

    She couldn’t tell that the pitchfork had anything wrong with it either.

    I’m not suggesting any kind of link, but I bet this kind of thing operates in a much more subtle way than Mackenzie is used to expecting. Aren’t they still suit mates with a telepathic priestess?

    Current score: 10
    • euthanatos says:

      Yeah, you’d think that by this point they’d have established that “see what Dee thinks” is the appropriate first step in at least 75% of these situations.

      Current score: 18
  2. Erm says:

    It was an ordinary ring of ordinary metal.

    Maybe it IS the ring, but whatever enchantment/curse was in it has transferred to Hazel, and made her pass the empty to Mack to throw her off the trail?

    Or, more sinister: Maybe the curse started affecting her the moment she touched it, and it’s messing with her perception. I mean, remember the pitchfork.

    Edit:

    What if the ring wasn’t cursed because the curse had moved from the ring into her? The thought came to me, but I dismissed it pretty quickly…

    Heh, way ahead of me. 😛

    Current score: 1
  3. Erm says:

    I both didn’t feel the need to tell anyone who’d been in on the original conversation about Hazel that I had the ring… or at least a ring… and felt like it was a guilty secret because of that.

    Yep, it’s definitely got its hooks in her mind somehow.

    had me second-guessing whether or not Hazel had been under any mental influence at the party.

    … *facepalm*.

    Current score: 1
    • Anthony says:

      I dunno. That kinda feels like Mackenzie being Mackenzie.

      Current score: 2
  4. Erm says:

    “And I’ve never carried a cursed weapon with a fragment of demonic intelligence in it.”

    … except for that one time you totally did. And lost it.

    Current score: 13
  5. fionag11 says:

    Well! The interesting thing is, it DID have “that attention getting gleam” when she first bumped into Hazel, it was the first thing she noticed.

    Current score: 7
    • zeel says:

      I saw her just before I bumped into her. It was the glint below her neck that caught my eye, which pulled my gaze downwards and stopped me from saying or doing anything except what I was already doing…

      You’re right! It did have an effect. The “false ring” theory (which I don’t think any of us were buying) looks even less likely than ever.

      Current score: 6
  6. FuzzyTiger says:

    I may be crazy but I still think the curse is in the cord that was holding the ring and the whole ring thing is a ruse.

    Current score: 1
    • Nocker says:

      Cords are breakable and degrade over time, while a ring hypothetically lasts forever.

      Current score: 0
      • Mo says:

        You could enchant it with permanence. Not undoable. Easier if it’s just resistance to wear and tear.

        Current score: 0
  7. Zathras IX says:

    Can one be possessed
    By a possessed possession
    And come full circle?

    Current score: 4
  8. Nocker says:

    So I can’t be the only one making the obvious assumption here.

    The most prominent demony shit to happen to Mackenzie has happened when she’s asleep.

    So the ring is exactly where it needs to be.

    Current score: 1