"Now, now. You must be careful with it. Don't touch it with your fingers, lest they risk dissolution--it belonged to Cyril Albusson, you know--no, no, let me open the box. Carefully, carefully,"
Two men, one young, one old, one a student, the other a wizard, were seated at a table in a candlelit room. A small wooden box, gilded at its edges, sat between them. The old man began to open the box, removing a brass lock and freeing the clasp. He paused.
The wizard spoke again, "the Philosopher's Stone is an object of great importance to us. Of course, it is only one of many such stones--it's made of pure arcanum, simply by luck, we can't purify it like this, no matter how hard we try," he laughed gently, as if sharing a joke, long forgotten, "now then, I think it's time for you to learn its power."
"Master," the student protested, "but we haven't even begun the lessons. I'm not yet skilled in chemistry, let alone alchemy, might this be dangerous?"
"Perhaps you are right, my boy, but in this case we cannot afford to wait. I have much to teach you, and not much time before I am too frail to do so. You've seen lesser objects of arcanum and the magic they contain. What I'm here--why we're here--er, I'm here to show you that those objects are mere toys compared to a genuine Philosopher's Stone."
The young man was nervous. Filled with anxious energy, his fingers danced along the tabletop and his eyes darted about the otherwise empty room. But his true attention never wavered. The box had a power, a presence, and the sooner he could get away from the stone, the better. Magic items have a way of twisting stomachs into knots.
The wizard noticed the student's reluctance. He paused for a moment, and motioned for the young man to open the box himself.
Hands shaking, the clasp was flipped, and slowly, slowly, the box's lid was lifted open.
In a flash of light and smoke, several enormous snakes leapt from the open box, attacking the student.
He stumbled back, grasping this hilt of his sword, "Wh-what manner of magic is this?" he shouted. He had sword in hand before noticing that the Wizard had fallen the floor. The old man rolled about on his back. Laughing.
Looking down, the student found that the "snakes" were no more than novelties, constructed from paper and propelled by springs, which had been carefully placed in the box to frighten any who opened it.
Red-faced with embarrassment, the student asked, "Was that--some sort of lesson? Master, speak to me, please."
The wizard howled with laughter, "It's been 250 years since I've been able to trick someone with that routine! Old Cyril's going to owe me potions for a month!"
Years later, long after the boy had become a necromancer, he still remembered the day he'd first killed a wizard.
Author's Note: That's right, I've ruined another perfectly serious story with a punch line at the end. That seems to be my style lately. Oh well. If you don't like the ending, you self-edit out the last few lines and end the story with a cliffhanger! How's the plucky student of wizardry going to get out of this one?