Alexander awoke to the sound of explosions.  Opening his eyes, he couldn’t imagine a better alarm clock. Excepting of course the one at uncle Fliffle’s. He wasn’t an actual uncle, but he was EVERYONE’s uncle somehow. He made it from old beakers and vials connected by thin tubes running everywhere.  The claimed the contraption was filled with wyvern venom. He captured by grabbing the creature by its toe with a huge clamp. As it screamed he climbed the tail and juiced the poison into a jar. The story was fake, of course. It was better than what really happened so everyone went with that.

Another explosion shook the wagon his family lived in.  Alexander popped his head out the window. His azure bedhead was crushed into a shape, much to his annoyance.  Peritentle was tossing gunpowder bombs in the air and hitting them with a bat. “What are you doing?” Alex yelled, curious.

“I’m trying to hit one into the pond behind the wagon to see if the waterproof fuses I invented work!”  came the swift reply, his words blurring together.

“Well, don’t blow up the wagon if you can help it, and if you do wait til I’m not in it,”  Alexander laughed “Mind if I hit a couple?”

“Sure! C’mon out!” Peritentle responded and went back to hitting.

Alex ran over to the mirror and looked himself over.  He had slept in his red jumpsuit and it was crumpled. He admired his tomato nose and huge almond eyes, one green and one purple. Beside his mirror sat his pride and joy, his red and blue swirl hat shaped like a duck.  It was the strangest hat in camp and everyone wanted it.

As he pulled the hat on there was a loud thunk on the wall, followed by “Uh Oh!”  Uh Ohs were usually fun in camp, but there was such a thing as too much fun. He leapt out the door, as a thoom blew in the wall of the wagon, sending wooden shrapnel everywhere.

Alex landed outside covered in sawdust, laughing hysterically.   He hopped up and wandered over to Peritentle “Ok, give me a shot, let’s see if I can YOUR house out!”  Peritentle handed over the stick and Alex picked up a bomb, lit it and hit it with everything he had. He was strong for a gnome, be he failed to clear the wagons.  Instead the bomb thunked in the wagon of the chief, Wikila. The bomb exploded with a dull thud, blowing a large hole in the wall.

Inside, the chief was half naked, the bottom half. He struggled over his ancient gut to pull up hit potato sack pants.  He spun, wide eyed and twisted his legs in the pants. Screaming, the old gnome tumbled over, rolling out the hole and landing with a thus on his back.  He struggled like an upturned turtle. Peritentle and Alex doubled over with guffaws.

“You two, get over here and help me!” Wikila cried.  The two ran over, eyes watering, cackling. They each grabbed an arm and pulled the ancient chief to his feet.  The chief shook his head and yelled “Which one of you did this?”

They looked at each other and Peritentle said “Alex!” while Alex said “Peritentle!”  The chief looked them over for a long time.

“Finally he yelled “Alex! Come here!” the boy did as he was told and walked over.  The chief snatched his wonderful duck hat and put it on. The old man did a jig and laughed.  “Nice hat, I think I’ll keep it.”

Alex yelled “that’s mine!”

“Tell you what, if you can steal it back you can have it.” Wikila laughed, and held his gut.  Alex leapt at the old man, who hopped to the side. “It won’t be that easy, Alex. In my day I was the best and fastest sneak in the whole village.  I may be old, but I’ve still got it. Whistling the old man walked away while Alex seethed.

Alex spent a long time throwing curses at the old man.  The mayor blocked the hole in his wagons with boards, still not wearing pants.  Alex considered throwing a bomb in the hole and blowing the old man to smithereens. It was a fantasy, however. Gnome punishments for murder were creative and often painful. No gnome ever dying the same way, as someone will have invented a new way to kill them.  The last machine tore the gnome in half lengthwise. Alex shuddered at the memory.

With new purpose Alex walked into his wagon and hung a blanket over the hole. Pulling out some paper he began sketching ideas to steal the hat back.  His favorite were training a monkey to hang over the chief’s door and grab the hat. Another was a cool piece of a machinery near his door. This would cause him to fall into a pit high enough for the hat to stick out and training to outrogue the old man.

Alex realized none of them were possible and though some more.  He realized to beat the old fox he would need to become trained.  His mother had been on him about this anyway so it would kill two birds with one stone.  Dropping back onto the floor he landed with a thunk.

He first went to the most common gnome pursuit, engineering.  A machine could steal the hat back. Every time Alex tried to build a one it went wrong.  His machines let out huge screeches and the magic blue smoke would come out, making it useless.  He could train to be a better sneak then the mayor, but he was not coordinated enough for that. He dismissed cook and fighter as useless for his situation.   He considered becoming a priest but that was dull.

The only thing he could think of was to be an alchemist.  He was handy with potions, so it made sense. He decided to march over to the alchemical tent. Entering, his nose burned at the smell of the chemicals within.  He marched over to Fingle, the alchemist. “Old man!” Alex shouted “You’re gonna teach me to be an alchemist.”

The old man looked up, surprised.  He walked over to Alex and scanned him head to toe.  “What makes you think I would train a child like you, you rude thing.”

Alex thought for a moment “I’m clever” he muttered.

The old man said “So are many gnomes.”

“I’m nimble,” he lied

“Nimble enough to blow a hole in that old bastard’s house? Try again.” Alex thought hard as the old man stared at him.  “So you’ve got nothing. Figured.”

The gnome was about to go back to his work when Alex yelled at him.  “I want to pull a massive trick on the chief and steal a hat from him!”

Fingle’s eyes lit up. “Now that’s a reason to train you.  Be aware it will take several years of training to learn enough to fool that clever old gnome.”

“I’ll learn like lightning” Alex said

Fingle waved him to a short table.  “Let’s start with potion basics,” he stated as Alex followed.

The next year was dull as far as Alex was concerned.  He studied as hard as he was able. Fingle had him making the same basic potion over and over for weeks before he let him learn something new.   Potions were very exacting, and basic alchemy took a lot of effort. Still, he took a certain amount of pride in what he was learning.

There were a couple of highlights though.  Miss Pikari had started marching into the center of camp each morning. She chanted nonsense and told everyone how terrible they were.  She claimed she had found religion. Everyone else thought she had become a buzzkill.

After weeks of this Peritintle came to him. “It’s time miss Pikari had a real religious experience,” he said, grinning.  A small team of youths gathered and joined in various rolls. After a few weeks everything was ready.

Peritintle built a small lift that twisted and turned wildly.  Another boy had perfected his “goddess” voice and had a large megaphone ready for action.  Another young mage was set to cast several basic illusions at the windows. Alex was recruited to make “perfumes”  of various scents needed for the trick.

At midnight the team snuck over to her wagon.  Being smaller than the others Alex was chosen to place the lift.  He shimmied to the center of the wagon and placed the base. He used a handle to raise the top. It touched the bottom of the wagon in silence.  He then extended arms to each corner and shimmied out.

They all began to snicker, but Peritintle raised a hand and they stopped.  “It’s time,” he whispered. The mage cast dancing lights at the windows, followed by an illusory sound of organs. Peritintle started this machine, setting it to spin the wagon. Alex threw his first potion, filling the air with the smell of frankincense.

As they heard her scream and it was time for the voice. “I am your Lady Irori, come to speak with my loyal servant.”  the boy’s voice was impeccable. The mage cast another illusion to make a shadowy lady with glowing red eyes appear in a window.  Alex tossed his second potion, releasing the smell of roses and lilacs.

By this time many gnomes had exited their houses to see what the ruckus was.  Seeing what was going on, they all sat giggling behind their hands. The boys grinned and continued.

“You have been doing my work” the ‘goddess’ continued.  “You have worked to let the heathens know their imperfections.  That is good work, however” the mage cast a new sound, the sound of a howling hurricane. Alexander threw a sulfur potion under the house.  The audience applauded quietly.

The boy continued “You have not found perfection.  I know your secrets you try to hide. Your knees are immobile.  How dare you preach to other of perfection and don’t seek it in yourself.” Peritintle changed the machine to shake the wagon.

“I am sorry, m’lady” came miss Pikari’s screams and they heard her head thunk on the floor.  Alex glanced around and gnomes were pounding the ground, tears in their eyes.

“You will fix yourself in my name!” the “goddess yelled “or you will face my wrath!”.  One final illusion of fire. Alexander tossed in a smoke bomb, filling the wagon with smoke.  Peritintle dropped the house to the ground. Pikari’s screams and coughed echoes out of her house.  Alex crawled down and recovered the lift. They ran behind a nearby wagon to watch the results.

The old lady ran from her home screaming for a cleric to heal her.  She looked around at the crowd, which had burst into laughter. She was confused for a moment then began to laugh too.  “Ok, who pulled that?” she said.

The team walked out of hiding and she shook each of their hands.  “That was a grand joke. I hope you can make some more, but please target someone else!” she laughed again as the crowd came and clapped the boy’s on the back all laughing wildly.

The grand prank earned the boy’s a lot of praise from the other gnomes. They walked around with puffed chest for quite some time. That is until Winkins made it rain over their heads for three days.  That knocked them back to Earth.

The other highlight was throwing a stink bomb under the gnome chief’s house.  It stunk of sulfur and skunk. It took a week to air the wagon out enough for the mayor to move back in.

The rest of that year was normal.  Boring. Plus he wasn’t any closer to getting his hat back. Wikila made a point of tipping the hat to him every day.  At least the frustration kept him on task. He would have the hat one way or another.

Then came his birthday.  His aunt knit him a new grand hat, a tricolor pointy hat with flattering ear covers.  He thanked her profusely but his eyes were still on his old hat.

Peritintle had a gift too, which he would show only in secret.  “I saw the plans you drew to get your hat back. I particularly liked the monkey, so I built this,” Peritintle gestured behind him.  There sat a mechanical monkey, steam pouring from it’s ears. It reached to grab Alex’s new hat but he jumped out of reach. Laughing, he asked when they would deploy it.  “Tonight,” Peritintle redsponded.

So at midnight they set the steaming monkey over the door of the mayor, it’s “legs” clinging to the edge of the roof.  The two boys then settled in to watch the fun, Alex applauding his friend’s cleverness.

They were half asleep when they heard the mayor’s door open.  They jumped up, awaiting the mayor’s exit. As they watched something burst out of the door.  The monkey tried to grab for the hat and missed.

The mayor stood laughing outside the door at supersonic speeds.  “IKNEWTHISHASTEPOTIONWOULDCOMEINHANDYONEDAY” he said so fast the boys couldn’t follow what he said.  The mayor moved at blazing speed. He smashed the monkey to the ground with his staff “TRYAGAINALEXANDERIWANTYOUTODOITNEXTTIME.” he blazed away to the fire, collecting a bowl of porridge.

Alex now studied even harder, determined to make his own haste potion and outfox the old man.  Unfortunately for the next 3 years he studied basic potion making. He perfected healing potions, antidotes and other helpful things.  This was great, but not what Alex needed to know.

Then came the day Fingle came in holding a small jar with a tiny snake inside.  “I have been teaching the good a alchemist can do, now it’s time to learn how an alchemist can do harm if needed.  To that end here is a gift. This is a snake named Vie. He will follow you everywhere as a companion. He isn’t clever enough to attack on command,” the old gnome stared intently at Alex. “He is protection of a different sort.  You are going to use his venom to make poisons.”

Alex was at first unnerved by the creature.  Fingle took this in stride and helped Alex get to know his strange new companion.  Once Alex was comfortable with it Fingle showed him how to milk it. With this venom he learned to make potent poisons undetectable by normal means.  He also created a thick paste which could be applied to swords and bolts to poison your foe. He also learned the antidote to this and many other poisons.  Other dark potions were revealed to him. His master made him swear to only reveal these secrets to his own apprentice.

Alex spent another 2 years learning the dark half of his trade.  Then one day the chance to test his work appeared. Late one night the camp was invaded by a group of dire rats.  The crowds climbed to the roof of their wagons. Several fire weapons, killing a few. When Alex awoke to the squeaks and screams he looked out the window at the horde.

He was about to climb to the roof of the wagons with the others when a plan come into his head.  Risking himself he charged to the communal pantry. Two rats were clawing at the door. Alex killed the unaware creatures with poisoned bolts and pulled the pantry open.  He pulled a flask out from his cloak and poured it over the meat. He then ran through the throngs of rats to seek safety. As he jumped to escape a rat bit him on the ankle.  He grimaced but it wasn’t serious.

With all the gnomes out of reach the rats converged on the meat Alex left out.  After an hour the rats began rolling over in distress, squealing in agony. One by one the rats succumbed to the poison.  Only a handful remained alive, and they were dispatched with crossbows.

Everyone cheered Alex but he couldn’t seem to hear it.  He felt cold and hot at the same time. His head began spinning and he collapsed.  The next week was a blur of faces, prayers and foul potions. Finally, he awoke feeling weak. His mother was crying nearby and Fingle leaned over him with a bowl of foul smelling liquid.  He tried to turn away but someone grabbed his head. The alchemist poured the potion down his throat and he shot up coughing.

His mother ran over and hugged him. Several others came over the next few days to see how he was and thank him for his quick thinking.  Mayor Wikila came as well. “Well boy you saved us all. I think you’ve earned this.” the mayor removed the hat and held it out to Alex.

The boy touched it, lost in thought. Smiling he pushed it away. “No, if I get that back I’m going to take it back.”

The mayor laughed and shook his hand “I love it,” he wagged a finger “I won’t make it easy for you, mind,” the mayor left smiling.

It took a month for Alex to become well enough to resume his normal routine.  He smiled as he entered the alchemist’s tent. He immediately sobered as he saw his teacher sitting at the back of the tent frowning.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing is wrong.  You have a big decision to make,” Fingle looked him over.  “You see there alchemists and there are ALCHEMISTS. You have learned all you need to live a simple life making potions,” he sighed.

“You say there’s something more?” Alex asked, voice quaking.

“Yes.  You can pour yourself into your potions.  You can add your own magic to the mixture to do great things.  You can create bombs far stronger than a simple gunpowder one. You can mutate your own body,”  he stared Alex in the eyes. “It is not easy. You could permanently mutate yourself or blow yourself up. If you want to be more than a simple potion maker I can teach you.  Keep in mind my last student,” he stopped and looked away.

“What,” Alex whispered.

“He created a mutagen incorrectly.  He warped himself into something unrecognizable,” he paused and swallowed. “I had to kill him,” he looked at the boy.  “Take as much time as you wish to think about this. This shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

Alex nodded and left.  For several weeks he went back and forth.  Was the power worth the risk? He thought over his life as a normal alchemist. Making potions and saving lives.  A simple life, shared with friends and family.

On the other hand, if he had the power he could see the whole world.  He could become a thing of legend. Or he could end up a horrible mutant, only to be put down by his master.  He could make a mistake and blow himself apart.

Then came the day he wandered away from camp thinking.  As he walked he heard a roar and a huge bear came charging out of the woods at him.  Alex screamed and ran but he was nowhere near fast enough to escape. He prepared for death when he heard a yell from the forest and the bear dropped, 4 arrows in its back.

A human in green clothing walked up to him “Are you all right?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” Alex said “I have a question though.  You are powerful. I assume your life has been hard.  Tell me, is it worth it?”

The man thought for a moment. “There are times when I wish I could just live a normal life, “ he sighed. “Then I awake to a magnificent sunrise or save another from danger.  That makes it all worth it,” he waved and disappeared into the forest as if he had never existed at all.

The next Alex went to Fingle and said “Teach Me.”

The old man nodded and began to explain the secrets of how the power worked.  I was the hardest thing Alex had ever done. The potions were far more exacting, and he had to pour his energy into each one.  There were several close calls. On more than one occasion he had a potion slapped from his hands just before it exploded. It took years to learn bomb making.

The next thing he learned were spells, mixing spells with his magic to be used on himself.  He mixed several wrong, making himself sick, and in one case purple. Still this was safer than bombs and after 2 years he master the basics.  His master assured him with practice he would even be able to share these with others.

Last was the mutagens.  For the first 5 years he mixed potion after potion, imbibing none.  His master checked each and threw them aside. Finally his master told him to take his latest one.  Frightened, Alex did as he was told. As he drank he felt his body begin to expand, muscle cording on his small frame.  In his mind things became less clear, as if a wet blanket dropped over his thoughts. He didn’t mutate, and he learned the other mutagens over the next 5 years, perfecting them.

Finally came the day his master told him he was done. “You are as trained as I can make you.  Only practice and time will bring you greater skills,” he smiled wryly. “So what are you going to do now?”

“I have an idea,” the newly appointed alchemist said.

The next day he stood in front of the mayor’s house.  He smiled at the irony of what he was about to do. Taking a flask he mixed the final ingredient in and threw it at the mayor’s house.  He then swallowed a potion as the wall exploded. As before the mayor was trying to pull on his pants.

He ran forward, feeling his body become light and nimble. He leapt over the shocked mayor and grabbed his hat from the mantle and burst out the door.  He laughed as he finally put his hat on once again. The mayor walked out laughing. “So you had to blow my house up again?”

“Of course,” Alex said smiling.

“What will you do now?” the mayor asked, sobering.

“I am going to see the world and perform greater pranks than you can imagine,” Alex stated.

The next day he left camp with a backpack of supplies and reagents to see the world.

Published by Robert C Hartwell

I live in Northeastern Vermont in the US. I am currently working towards becoming an author. I am the proud father of two great kids.

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