Trench Wars by WantedHero | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

CHAPTER 11 - Cheap Trinkets

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Anyone can pull a rabbit out of a hat.  …pull a hat out of a rabbit, then we’ll talk.

 

 

“That was it?”

“That’s all he had to say—then the butler showed us to the front door and I’m gonna say slammed it shut.”

“It was a huge door, Alhannah,” Nat called from the other room, “he didn’t slam it shut.”

“He definitely slammed it.”

“Will it be enough money? You seem worried.”

Taking another sip of coffee, then, “I don’t know, probably, but we’re going to have to do this old school. Cut any corners we can and try to make up for it in skill. Like the first couple seasons, when I won. It was simpler then. We all had huge machines wrapped around us, but we had to use mundane weapons. Swords, clubs, bars, chains—even guns, but they were basic. Not like now.”

Wendell took the last bite of his sandwich, “What do they use now?”

“Gadgets,” she scoffed, “lasers, radio controlled do-dads and heat seeking whatchamacallits. Doesn’t take much talent when all you have to do is pull a trigger and the weapons find you. I heard they even have robotic pets now!”

“Not yet,” called Nat, “they haven’t ruled on it yet, but it is under consideration.”

“What’s the point?!” she shouted back, “This was supposed to be about combat, pilots fighting against one another. Not some freak show!”

“I don’t know,” said Wendell, wiping his face, “I think Mr. Bellows might be right.”

“Not you too?”

“Well it’s not like this is for honor or glory, is it? It’s a sport, with fans who can’t really appreciate the skill you have or the danger pilots go through—they’re interested in the event itself. The conflict, the action…the entertainment.” Sitting back, he strummed his fingers on the table, “They just want a good show.”

With a heavy sigh, Alhannah stood up, “Then we better learn how to give ‘em a good show, or we’re just putting you at risk for nothing.”

Wendell grinned, “Naw, not nothing. If nothing else, we’re buying time for Chuck to find the last seal. That’s really the most important thing right now. Find it and make sure it stays safe.”

“Hmmm. Speaking of safe, where’s the boys and Lili?”

Wendell let out a snort and slapped a hand over his grin, “Sorry. I think Lili is trying to keep Dax from strangling Chuck. Something about backfiring magic?” The smiley face on his shirt started laughing.

Alhannah giggled, “Come on, let’s go save him then.”

 

****

 

With the Gnolaum joining forces with the G.R.R., each of the party were given permanent rooms and accommodations. The rooms were clean, but sparsely furnished, centered around a common area. Each had a steel bed frame, mattress, dresser, small mirror, night stand, lamp and a mini bathroom containing a sink, toilet and shower. All the comforts of an upscale prison.

The common room had a few book shelves, though most were broken and devoid of books—a couch, a chair with three legs and a television mounted to the wall.

Wendell and Alhannah arrived just in time to stop the old wizard from knocking Dax’s head clean off with his staff.

“Woah, Chuck,” snapped Wendell, jumping in between them and grabbing the wizard by the arm. He pushed the old man toward the couch. “Calm down…” he looked over at Alhannah, who was also struggling not to laugh out loud. “What’s going on?”

“Let me go!” Chuck cried, flipping around and swinging wildly. Wendell pushed him firmly on the chest and the wizard landed softly on the couch.

Lili was kneeling was kneeling next to Dax, inspecting a rather large bump on his skull.

The elf flinched in pain, then waved an oversized index finger at the wizard. “That PSYCHOpath over there tried to cave my head in!”

Chuck spun around on the couch, dropping his staff, “He’s an ungrateful child who needs to be spanked! SPANKED I tell you!!”

“I’m over six hundred years old—you can’t spank me!” Dax yelled back.

Chuck jumped to his feet and started rolling up the sleeve of his robe.

Wendell burst out laughing and grabbed the wizard, “That’s enough! Wow. What’s gotten into you two?”

Chuck’s expression changed from night to day. His bottom lip protruded out from under his bushy mustache and he snatched the hat from his head. He pulled a handkerchief from the hat and wiped his eyes. “He called me a hack.”

Alhannah scooted next to him on the couch, “Well that’s a nice compliment!”

“Oh he didn’t mean in the blippity-blip gnome computer way…OH no! He meant it as a negative, as in hack it, informal manage; cope: lots of people leave this job because they can’t hack it.” He sniffed again, “He meant it to hurt me.”

The gnome gave Dax a scolding glance, then threw her arms around the wizards neck and gave him a tender hug. “Bah! You’re no such thing. You’re brilliant.”

Chuck wiped his nose on the sleeve of his robe, “Right? Clever as they come, that’s me.” He looked up at Wendell, “I’ve always been rather fond of myself, you know.”

The smiley face bit its lower lip. “What started all this?” Wendell asked, but Chuck went silent. Instead, he turned to Alhannah’s pity.

Dax sighed, exasperated, “There are reasons I get paranoid when the old man wants to use magic, kid—it backfires. A lot. Oh, he don’t mean it to, I know that, but that don’t mean it hurts any less. Or causes any less damage to friend AND foe!”

“I think,” Lili piped up, “that Dax is afraid of putting on the charms Morphiophelius has for us.”

“Dang straight I am! Who knows what ugly things we could become…or worse, get stuck as!” He slapped a hand over his chest and made a mock fainting motion.

“You stop it I say!” growled Chuck, “I have crafted some of the finest charms ever known in the world of magic, I’ll have you know. I was known from the North Country to the highest societies of Äsä-Illäriu, catering to kings, queens and a lot of pudgy little merchants!” He wiped his nose with a handkerchief, “Oh I know I forget an occasional thing or two, but can you blame me? I am over…” he paused, “…over,” a few moments passed and he simply shrugged, “let’s just say I’ve aged some.”

Chuck reached in and pulled out four crystals on long silver chains. They sparkled and shimmered in the artificial light. He handed one to Wendell, “This is one of my finest creations. It will change you into whatever race you ask it to. You will still be you, still sound like you…nothing will change except your physical appearance.”

Wendell took the chain, dangling it in front of his face. Wow. This is beautiful. The metal chain was intricately braided, weaving down to tiny hands and slender fingers that held onto a round, clear crystal. Lifting the jewelry up to the light, Wendell could see small smokey cracks through the crystal…tiny twisters, trapped forever in place. “It’s lovely, Chuck.”

The wizard smiled meekly, “That’s our ticket, right there. Put it on, speak the words and it does the rest.”

“It’s never that easy!” Dax scoffed.

Chuck glared, “Shut it, you. I’ve put you on the not-so-nice list!”

Dax stuck his tongue out in reply.

“Very mature,” smirked Alhannah.

“Show me,” Wendell said, looping the chain up and over his head. “I’ll go first if Dax’s is too scared.”

“Hey—no one said anything about me being…”

“Alrighty,” beamed the wizard, hopping to his feet. Looping one over his own head, he said, “All you have to do is hold the crystal up to your lips and whisper kute minuä. It means hear me and gets the enchanted item to listen to the next words you speak. Then clearly say the race you desire to look like. So you would say ‘gnomes’.”

Wendell smirked, “I guess vallen is out of the question, huh?”

Chuck frowned, “You only have one charge, so I wouldn’t waste it.”

Wendell cleared his throat, “Right.” Holding the crystal to his lips, he whispered, “Kute minuä.” The wizard nodded. Ok Wendell, gnomes. You want to become a gnome. But he hesitated. Wait a sec. He looked around the room. Everyone was watching him in anticipation. I just volunteered to be the guinea pig and I didn’t even think it through! He took a slow, deep, quiet breath. It’s ok, Wendell, you moron. Too late now. He closed his eyes. Here goes nothing.

“Gnome,” he exhaled.

The first sensation was a light tingling, almost tickling at the end of his nose. The feeling spread over his skin, across his face and he had the sudden urge to scratch. Behind the tingling wave was warmth. By the time the sensation had reached his shoulders, his face felt like it was being caressed with warm water, dripping down his skin.

He never noticed his legs giving out from under him.

“I gotcha!” chuckled the wizard. “See? I told you it would work without a hitch.”

Wendell opened his eyes. Chuck was staring down at him. His bearded face looked quite a bit bigger than he remembered.

Alhannah leaned over, grinning down at him. “Hmmm. You actually make a cute gnome, kiddo.” She laughed and held out a hand to help him up.

“Well I’ll be,” Dax mumbled.

“Is that it?” Wendell asked, looking down at his hands and feet. They look normal, so what was the big deal… But he stopped himself mid-thought. Everything around Wendell had grown! Chuck now towered over him, the TV hanging on the wall was huge and mounted higher, but…Alhannah was the same height. “Where’s a mirror? I want to see.”

Chuck pulled one from his sleeve and handed it over.

The initial image was startling and his hands quickly ran over his face, pushing and pulling to see if it was all real. His ears stuck out like radar dishes, several times their original size. Okay? That is definitely bonkers. His head was too big for his body. Yet, when he rotated his head, It doesn’t feel heavy or awkward at all. His dark eyes looked like huge glossy bulbs on his face…and he had a nose the size of a watermelon. Well, ok…that was a lie. His eyes didn’t really look like huge glossy bulbs. Even his clothes were gnome size—the yellow smiley face grinned at itself in the mirror, then laughed in silence.

“What do ya think?” Chuck asked.

Wendell grinned. “Cool.”

Lili put her hand over her mouth.

Wendell looked at her perturbed. “What’s so funny?”

She quickly withdrew her hand, bitting both her lips. “You’re so…little.” She smiled.

“Can we get on with this?” Alhannah threw her arms across her chest and glared up at Lili. “And he’s the same size as me.”

“Sorry.”

“And you look a lot more intimidating now, too,” Wendell confessed.

She smirked, “Aww, that’s sweet.”

“Well if it’s that easy, I’ll go next.”

Chuck held the charm high above Dax’s head, “Oh no you don’t!”

“Why not? You said we all needed to do this and…apparently it works, so…”

“So nothing!” He swung the charm in front of his face, eye wide, “You…have…to…say…sorry.”

Dax backed away, his massive forearms folding across his chest, “Keep it then…cause I ain’t doin’ no such thing.”

“Oh come on, Dax,” Wendell chided, “you hurt his feelings. All he’s trying to do is help.”

Chuck jabbed his finger vigorously at Wendell, “You hear that? Just like he said. Plus…I’m not a hack! I’m a genius at making charms, so there.”

Lili smiled and walked forward, “Well I think this is amazing.”

The wizard stuck his tongue out at Dax and gave her a charm. “Remember the words, dear?”

Lili nodded, “I think so. Uhhh.” Lifting the crystal to her lips, she whispered, “Kute…minuä?” Chuck nodded. She said clearly, “Gnome.”

Wendell watched parts of Lili’s body suddenly shrink, as if her arms and legs were inflated with air. Her head, however, stayed pretty much the same—with the exception of her ears and nose. Both seemed to explode at the last moment, nearly doubling in size. Her beautiful skin color and hair remained.

“Wow,” she exclaimed, looking down at her legs. Her braided hair stretched to the floor and over foot. “Um,…is my hair supposed to be this long?”

Chuck tapped his chin, “Hmmm, that’s the one thing I’ve had a challenge with. The hair just wants to do its own thing. I’d advise not cutting it, no matter how annoying, unless you want it too short when you change back.”

“Gimmie that!” Dax snapped, lunging off the back of the couch and snatching one of the two remaining charms from Chucks hand.”

“Hey!” the wizard cried. “Foul play, monkey!”

He smirked and sauntered away, “Use whatcha got old man. Use what ya got.” Pulling the chain over his head, he whispered, “Kute minuä,” then, “gnome.”

Wendell gawked at Dax as the transformation overcame the elf. He was already as tall as a gnome, and his ears were already huge. However, the points rounded out, his nose bulged and hung like a cucumber on his face, while his immense hands and feet deflated. But that’s not what got Wendell. No. The four digits on Dax’s hands and toes became five…and his green skin slowly became…pink.

“Wow,” he murmured.

Dax held his hand up to the light. Then he wiggled his fingers. Then he held up his other hand, followed by a comparison of both bands. “I’m…pink!” He spun around at Chuck, disgusted. “It made me…pink?”

Putting his fists on his hips, “That’s the least of your worries, boy…you’re also naked. Never clicked before, but you really are walking about in your unmentionables, did you know that?”

Wendell laughed, “You just noticed that?”

“Shut up,” Dax scowled.

“Of course you’re pink, silly—what, you think you’d be able to walk around green? What would we tell everyone…you have a permanent case of food poisoning? That…or you’ve gone moldy?”

“No,” said Alhannah, “just say he’s envious of the other pilots.”

“Ha ha,” Dax said dryly. “You’re up, old man.”

“Right!” he grinned, tossing the chain over his neck. “Kute minuä,” he whispered, “gnome.”

Everyone laughed as he fell over. The sheer weight and size of his beard and mustache buried the wizard. “Help!” he cried, “Death by facial hair!” His tiny hands stuck up through the gigantic tufts of white hair over three times his height.

Wendell and Alhannah propped the wizard up onto the couch, then pulled the hair away from him.

“We’ll need to braid it for you, Uncle Chuck.”

Yanking the hair out of Alhannah’s hands, “you’ll do no such thing! I’m not a girl or a sissy. This is a man’s beard, I’ll deal with it in a man’s way!”

Alhannah held up her hands in defeat and backed away.

Wendell patted his own chest, then tugged on the collar of his shirt. The chain was nowhere to be found. “Where did the chain go?”

“It becomes a part of you until the charm runs out,” said Chuck.

“Ah, ok. So how long does the charm last?”

“Oh, don’t worry—it won’t give out until we use the counter charm.”

Wendell smiled, “Oh, that’s good.”

Dax cleared his throat. “And what IS the counter charm?”

The wizard pulled off his small brim hat and scratched his tiny scalp. “You know, that’s a really good question.”

Dax slapped a hand over his face, “You don’t know the counter-charm, do you?”

Chuck scoffed, “What kind of wizard would I be, passing around charms if I didn’t know the counter to them? Of course I know the counter charm.”

They all breathed a sigh of relief.

“…just can’t remember it, that’s all.”

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