Heart’s Desire, Part Three

As panic properly took hold of Odd & Ends’ unaffected patrons, Malleus Silverscale positioned himself to protect those hiding in the Wonders of Solkin exhibit and ensure nobody got in or out of the back room. With Linda using her similarly powerful stature to block the front door, this left the exhausted Nestor Pinkly to jump into the fray to retrieve the brooch that was causing all the mayhem.

All around him noses were bloodied, customers were shoved, and merchandise was destroyed. Nestor blocked out all the horror and focused on the brooch as best he could – if only he could get that, he could end this. The troll at the center of the brawl was no match for the enchanted Karessa’s practiced second story work, and she claimed the brooch after a brief struggle. Now if Nestor could just manage a containment spell…

The edges of his vision pulsed in pain as soon as the first syllable left his lips. The spell failed. “Karessa,” Nestor croaked, “give me that back.”

“It’s mine!” she snapped. “You’d probably just give it to Donovan or do something else boring. Something this beautiful ought to be worn!”

“You’re not yourself, K-” Nestor started to say, before being knocked aside by a troll’s greasy, bulbous hand. He found himself lying among the splintered ruins of their Enigma Cube display; each slate box had a mystery item inside, but Nestor enchanted them himself and knew that only a key or tremendous force would open them. The troll stepped over him harmlessly as they grabbed Karessa by the throat quite harmfully. She clutched the brooch to her chest even as the color drained from her face.

The very act of standing upright was at this point too much for Nestor, but even an enchanted Karessa was too scrappy to be deterred. She chomped down on the troll’s engorged thumb with all her might, making all six of the troll’s eyes water with pain as they bit back a scream. Karessa held on, but so did the troll as they stomped about in anger.

Thinking quickly, Nestor slid one of the cubes under the weight of the troll’s foot. It came apart in two stomps, adding to the troll’s fury and leaving behind a watch that remembered appointments you told it about. Useful for getting to brunch on time, less useful for fighting trolls. The massive creature crashed into a clothing rack and hit the ground hard, taking out a shelf of magical bathrobes. As they rolled over onto their back, Nestor slid another cube beneath them, destroying it. Inside was an adhesive hand with a rubber cord, which stuck to the troll’s lower back as they struggled to their feet.

Nestor did the same, hobbling in the troll’s direction and using both hands to wrest the sticky hand free, landing himself back on the floor as he yanked it off. Staring up at a Karessa who was starting to turn blue, Nestor was seeing double. He could just make out the glow of the brooch in her hands, and with what strength remained he whipped the hand toward it, only to miss not just the brooch, but also Karessa and the troll and the sign indicating the Bewitched Flatware section. The hand made contact with the ceiling of Odd & Ends and the elastic cord gave way, yanking Nestor off the ground and up over the troll.

He let go when he was just above the massive creature, hoping to knock Karessa free, but the troll threw Karessa up at Nestor, sending the two of them tumbling painfully onto the store’s main counter. The pair rolled behind it, landing in a heap on the floor.

“Are the two of you alright?” asked Malleus, kneeling beside them.

“She’s unconscious,” said Nestor, “but she’s mighty. Take her into the back, I’ll fix the rest.” In the middle of the now-ravaged salesfloor, entranced customers were climbing and being knocked aside by the enormous brooch-wielder.

“You can hardly stand, little fellow.”

“This is my responsibility. Besides, you block a door much better than I.”

Malleus looked down at Nestor and up at the madness before them. “Very well, but if I see you in danger, I’ll be by your side in an instant.”

From within a drawer beneath the register, Nestor withdrew half a dozen golden keys, and he called out to Linda for an Enigma Cube. She couldn’t hear him, however, as she was busy using the shop’s display of unnaturally heavy paperweights for the restraint of sentient paper to barricade the door against the increasingly thunderous battering from without.

This left Nestor with no choice but to re-enter the fray, sluggishly dodging a violent stampede for the second time today. One of the troll’s massive steps knocked the gnome off his feet and sent him tumbling onto his belly amongst the cubes. He was completely spent now of his physical energy. Rising to his feet felt like a feat of unimaginable athleticism. As the poor customers were thrown this way and that by the mountainous troll, the supine Nestor fumbled with the Enigma Cubes, opening one after another with the golden keys which vanished with a zing as he used them.

A few cubes deep, Nestor uncovered a handheld pump that sprayed color-changing liquid, and a glass that instantly froze any liquid held within it. Unbinding an enchantment from one object and placing it on another was almost no effort at all to Nestor Pinkly. It was like moving a sticker – once he’d completed the delicate work of removing it, replacing it was a breeze.

So it was that Nestor came into a handheld pump with hyper-chilled, color-changing liquid. His first spurt went over the troll’s arm and arced onto their face, forming a tie-dye crystalline chunk of ice over one of their eyes. The troll bellowed and ignored their many climbers to focus on Nestor, raising their foot in preparation for an undoubtedly lethal stomp.

Nestor released another jet at the troll’s leg, freezing it solid. In its surprise, the troll lost balance, and the weight of the climbers sent it toppling onto the ground in a loud, painful event that was unpleasant for all involved.

Using the sticky hand, Nestor grabbed the brooch the moment it hit the ground, clutching it tightly in his actual hand. “Linda!” he shouted, “could you keep these poor people away while I – Linda?”

Odd & Ends’ front door was empty, save for the paperweight display that couldn’t possibly hold much longer. It was empty because Linda Arterford was now charging across the ruined salesfloor in a possessed fury, desperate to get her hands on the brooch.

Nestor pocketed his prize as soon as he took in the situation and grabbed one of the Enigma Cubes. The crazed minotaur raised her closed fists above her head and brought them down upon him like a mallet. He placed the cube in between them, and the One with Strength of Twenty smashed it like a clod of dirt. But the cube slowed her blow enough for Nestor to roll onto his side, buying him time to think of what to do next.

Unfortunately, his mind was as tired as the rest of him, and Nestor had gotten as far as “Linda = minotaur = hair = flammable = bad” when his co-worker grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and stared at him with angry, contemplative eyes. Or stared past him, rather, at the imposing and heroic figure of Malleus Silverscare, who had stepped into the center of the store.

A lot happened at once, then. The world whipped and whirred around him as Linda wound back, preparing to throw Nestor at this new threat and take the brooch all at once. At the same time, the door to the back room burst open, as newly charmed victims charged toward the brooch. Meanwhile, Nestor caught a glimpse of the front door, which had come off its hinges and was now supported solely by the paper weights. Lastly, there was Malleus, who was inhaling deeply as the sound of magic bubbled and hissed in his throat.

“Wait, Malleus,” Nestor warned weakly, “you’ll incinerate the whole-”

Malleus exhaled.

In lieu of a jet of flame, a cloud of purple, glittery gas was expelled from the dragonkin’s throat, expanding to fill the room. Malleus spun in circle as he spewed, covering every inch of the store in the cloud.

“Not all dragons breathe flame,” he said. Subsequently, every person in the shop, enchanted or otherwise, began to collapse onto the ground into a peaceful sleep (to be followed by a less peaceful awakening, based on the painful thuds that ensued). Nestor was left awake thanks to gnomes’ natural proclivity for resisting magical effects, and his fall was broken by a sturdy, fluffy minotaur.

“Thank you, Malleus,” Nestor managed as the dragonkin helped him stand “This will give me the time I need to work on dispelling the…dispelling the…could you fetch me a watermelon potato smoothie? I’m going to need my strength for this.”

Before Malleus could properly process the horror of a watermelon potato smoothie, the paperweight display in the front of the store toppled over, and two-dozen ensorcelled outsiders became ensorcelled insiders.

“Got another of those in you, Malleus?” Nestor squeaked. The gas had largely dispersed by this point, and the glitter had settled on the floor.

Malleus shook his head. “Perhaps I can contain, them. Maybe if one of those cubes…”

But Nestor knew that it was too late. Removing an enchantment may have been a simple enough task under normal conditions, but Nestor had been reckless and created a spell that was too unstable to remove quickly. And he hadn’t the time for anything but quick. So, for the second time today, Nestor did something artificers ought never do: he poured excess magic into a completed artifact. The effect was akin to adding air to a perfectly full balloon animal. First, it will misconfigure, leading to Nestor’s current predicament, and then eventually…

As a sizable percentage of Nestor’s remaining strength left his body, a shatteringly loud static crack tore through Skymoore’s docks. The brooch crumbled to nothing in Nestor’s hands as an erratic, silent, colorless beam of raw magic tore through the storefront and proceeded for a good mile off the edge of Skymoore.

The beam was so eerily silent that it drank up the surrounding noise. The splintering of the shop’s façade, the screams of the bystanders on the dock, and the sizzling as the magic boiled the moisture in the air were all stripped of audio. Fearing for the safety of his fellow Skymoorians, Nestor redirected the energy toward the ceiling, vaporizing the shop’s roof in an instant.

Nestor took in the fraction of the store that remained, fizzling and crumbling in silence. Even looking upon the ruins of his dreams, Nestor Pinkly was too tired to feel horror. And too tired to stand. He fell once more onto his back, reveling in the softness of Linda’s body, which might have been the finest mattress in all the world at this point.

As the color and then the light drained from his vision, Nestor saw Donovan Allman step silently into the store from the backroom. For his last nanosecond of consciousness, Nestor was able to manage a tiny bit of horror.

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