Five Rings – (day 5)

by

Paul Anderson

You ask me what the five rings are? By asking you have begun to seek them, so may whatever gods you pray to protect you. I would take pity on you, though pity is far beyond me now.

They are a gift, a prize, a curse. They test the will of those who seek them. For the successful, the rings grant a boon; they shall free you from all the ills that men suffer.

 

Only those already lost shall ever hear of the rings, for the first ring is despair. You must know complete despair, and prepare for more as you begin your search.

Say farewell to those you love most; they will be lost to you forever once your journey begins. Some you will see broken, destroyed, rent asunder before your eyes. Others will denounce you before the world, spit in your face and exile you from their hearts. You shall be cast out of the society of men, despised and alone.

This is the first ring, a band of silver inlaid with garnet. It will forever more keep you alone. Weep now for all you have lost, and which can never be regained; you will never again know love, affection or companionship.

This is despair. Embrace it, and it will deliver you from the vulnerability of caring for others.

The second ring is terror. For every hundred fools who seek the five rings, ninety-nine fall here.

Here is the path to the ring, and here along the path are the shades of those who came before and failed. They will whisper in your ear stories of all that they have seen beyond the veil of this life. One hundred stories for every footstep you take. Every story is unique. Every story will burn into your heart and become yours forever.

It is a year’s journey by foot to reach the ring, a year of mortal terror clinging to your bones. Be strong and keep walking, for if you stop, you will become one of the wraiths, whispering your terrors to the next brave fool.

When you reach the ring your hair shall be white, your skin sallow, your eyes bloodshot.

The second ring is a band of gold set with a stone no man has set eyes upon. Some say it is a translucent pearl of swirling mists, within which can be glimpsed the future. But none can say for certain, for to look upon the stone is to summon that which you fear most of all. It will appear, and you will recall in a single breath every horror heard on the path. And that shall be your final breath.

Take the ring, but do not set your eyes upon it, and you will never know fear again.

The third ring is pain. You have known pain; the pain of despair, the pain of terror. In the years to come, you will remember these, and yearn for their gentle respite, for they are nothing compared to what you must endure at the hands of The Inquisitor.

You will shed more blood than mankind has shed in the history of warfare. You will know every injury possible to sustain, and more than once. The flesh will be flayed from your bones, piece by piece and all at once. You will not die from your wounds, though you will pray for death always.

The Inquisitor wears a hood, through which you will glimpse dead eyes that betray no pity. They wear a ring on their right hand, a band of silver in the form of a snake devouring its own tail. This is the third ring.

Once a year on Christmas Day, The Inquisitor will cease your torture, and offer you the chance to take the ring from them. Succeed, and it will be over. Fail, and you must endure another year of torture. You will not succeed the first time, nor the second. Perhaps, as one did, you will take the ring in your fifteenth year of pain. Perhaps.

Kill your torturer, and your body will never again be at the mercy of pain.

The fourth ring is guilt. Alone in the darkness, as you recover from your tortures, a whisper begins. You will struggle to understand the indistinct words, until the whisper grows in strength. The whisper becomes a chorus of voices, and you recognise them from the path, becoming louder, the words clearer and their dark import more terrible.

In the depths of your despair, as you gained the first ring, you believed everyone you loved lost. But the one you loved remains and can end this nightmare, restore everything to how it was before.

The darkness will ask if you wish to know where to find this person, and you will beg to be told.

The darkness will tell you the one you loved the most became The Inquisitor. You killed your only hope of salvation.

The fourth ring is a band of iron. Sharp spikes line the inside, and as the ring is pressed on to your finger these spikes pierce you to the bone. You will never forget what you have done.

The fourth ring is a mark of guilt. Never more will you be held back by shame, for your own shame is too great to allow you to bear any more.

No more can any man hurt you. Fear and pain are no longer your masters. None can every shame you. Are you not now free? Are you not now glad that you began this journey?

What is the fifth ring? It is the end of your journey, and the end of who you once were. It will release you from the suffering of this world. It will truly make you free.

The fifth ring is death, a noose of hessian I place around your neck. As I tighten it you will feel all those mortal fears pass, as you too pass on. Embrace me, the darkness without name, for in dying you shall at last be free.

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10 Responses to “Five Rings – (day 5)”

  1. Tony Noland

    Amazing. Vivid in detail, piercing in exploring and rooting out everything it means to be human.

  2. Jim Bronyaur

    Amazing Paul… one of my personal favorites so far in both 2009 and 2010 #12days projects.

  3. Icy Sedgwick

    Bloody hell, this is amazing. I can’t actually think of anything else to say in case I burst into fits of gushing. Fan-frigging-tastic.

  4. Patti Larsen

    That was brilliant. Well crafted, riveting… wow. Great writing!

  5. Cecilia Dominic

    Freaky and vivid! The dark side of humanity that gets squelched during the holidays. If your true love gives you those rings, run!

    CD

  6. Kandy

    The final ring goes great with a black suit. Remember the good shoes.

  7. Chuck Allen

    A very intriguing tale… And a bit haunting. Thanks for sharing it!

  8. Once Upon a Time in the West of London | Scrivenings and scribblings by writer and artist Paul Anderson

    […] one day Five Rings crawled out of the dark recesses of my […]

  9. Christopher Chartrcand

    Amazing Paul, just amazing.

  10. Annie

    I too, like Icy, fear I will erupt into a gushing mess if I start….. so umm… love it….

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