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A Novel Technique for Explosive Disenchantment (F, 3/?, updated 12/30/2016)


Blue Alphonse

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All of last month I've been doing NaNoWriMo, and now it's over and I kind of want to keep writing, so I did this. I pretty much haven't written any sneeze stuff before this, so, er, bear with me here while I find my feet. :)
 
 
A Novel Technique for Explosive Disenchantment
 
Chapter One: Confirmation of Hypothesis
 
Anton's workshop was on fire.
 
It wasn't an uncommon occurrence, though this time was admittedly worse than most. The flames danced across every surface, a thousand tiny embers smouldering and sputtering. They crawled up the spines of the heavy, leather-bound books on his bookcases, and they weaved around the intricate glass flasks and tubes that covered his countertops. Something, somewhere, bubbled noisily as it boiled away.
 

Nevertheless, Anton considered today to be an unqualified success.

 

He was a stocky man, just on the cusp of middle age, when the first signs of grey hair would have started to show if he didn't keep burning them off. Today, his eyebrows were on fire, though he didn't seem to have noticed. He held in one raised hand a thick book, the Elements of Enchantment. It had been his magnum opus, in his younger years. These days it was still considered the authoritative work on the subject.

 

The book was, unsurprisingly, also on fire.

 

"Magnificent!" he announced to the room, with almost childish glee. "The results are reproducible! Eliza, you are an absolute godsend!"

 

The young woman named Eliza was, for today at least, his assistant. On other days she was a ranger, young and lithe and athletic, with blonde hair worn in a long tail and a body that was all curve and muscle. She wore loose-fitting leathers and held a bow in one hand, dangling loosely by her side. She stood in the centre of the workshop, and beside her was a small table. On the table was a small glass vase of flowers. The flowers were on fire.

 

"Haaah...?" she said, distantly. Her eyes were half-lidded, her head tilted back slightly. As she spoke, her nose quivered and twitched.

 

Anton looked at her. "What?"

 

"Uh..." Eliza continued, squinting at him. Her breaths were coming in long, slow gasps, and when she tried to form actual words, her lips trembled so much she could barely speak. "I... I st-st-still ha-haaah...!"

 

"Oh," Anton said, realising. "Yes, yes, of course. Carry on."

 

She tried to smile, but her face fell slack, head tilting further towards the ceiling, eyes squeezing shut. Anton watched her as she drew in three sharp, desperate breaths, each stronger and more irresistible than the one before it. "Th-th-than... Hah! Haaah... HaaaAAAh!" For a moment she froze, every inch of her body taut, and then, "HaAAAISHooo! Hishoo! Hishoo-SHOO! Hih! Hih hih hihhihhih heEEYASHOO!"

 

The final sneeze doubled her over, ponytail whipping up and over her head, but when she stood up again she was smiling widely, fighting back a giggle. "Oh, wow! That was... that was something, all right!!"

 

"That it was, my dear," Anton said appreciatively. "That it was."

 

She looked around her, taking in the sight of the workshop for the first time, and her face fell a little. "Oh. This is worse than yesterday, isn't it?"

 

"Somewhat," Anton admitted. "But no matter! What you consider a worse conflagration, I consider further evidence that our hypothesis is correct. Behold, a simple fire augmentation, effortlessly applied over a large area." He beamed, evidently pleased with himself, and with her. "Now, given the evidence here, I know exactly how to fix this. Give me a few moments to cast an appropriate water ward on you, and then you need but take another good noseful of our flowers over there, and then..." He stopped, catching sight of the charred and withered blooms, now little more than burnt twigs. "Oh."

 

"No sneezing this one out, then?" Eliza said with a shrug.

 

"It would appear not."

 

"Abandon workshop?"

 

"Abandon workshop," Anton agreed. "With all due... hm?"

 

Eliza had raised her free hand in a 'stop' gesture. She was no longer looking at him but through him, and her nose was twitching again. Not much, but to an academic like Anton who had spent time researching the signs, the subtle shivering was unmistakable.

 

"Oh, wait," she said, and stopped for a moment. "I think... I th-think I've -- huh! -- still got o-o-one mooore--haaAAAh!"

 

She gasped involuntarily, her eyelids drooping and her mouth falling open. Her shoulders rose, and for a moment every inch of her was held tight, longing for the inevitable release... but then she desperately thrust a finger under her flaring nose, and that release was held at bay.

 

"Ah!" said Anton, brightening up. Rapidly he began thumbing through the pages of the Elements, beating out the flames as he went. "Splendid! Hold that thought!"

 

"H-h-holdiiii--hiiih!" Eliza stammered. "H-h-haaAH! Oh... hurry! Heeehhh... ohhh g-god..."

 

Muttering frantically under his breath, Anton began to sketch a series of runes in the air with a fingertip. "Mahmet... Narokh... Enteleth... Pargon damn damn damn not that one yet..."

 

Eliza barely heard him. All of her focus was on her own breathing, long, shuddering breaths interrupted by rapid gasps as the tickle waxed and waned. There was an irresistible heat deep within her nose and spreading across her cheeks, making her eyes water and her nostrils flare wildly. And the more she fought it the stronger it became, the more necessary, until it seemed that her entire being was centred on this fire inside her and its driving compulsion to sneeze, just sneeze and sneeze and sneeze until there was nothing left.

 

"Aegeaon..." Anton continued frantically. "Nereihar... Utleth... Pargon?... Oh, haha, yes, Pargon Pargon Pargon!" He flipped the book shut with a snap. In the air around Eliza, a fine mist of crystal-clear water shimmered into being, settling on her clothes and skin. She shivered, without noticing. "There! Enchantment's on you, my girl! Do us proud!"

 

Eliza let her hand drop from her nose, and she felt a moment of pure, utter relief before the sneeze completely took hold, and she let herself surrender to it and lose herself in it. "Oh, thank gooooaaaaHHHh! Huh! HuuAAAH! HaaaAAAAHhhh... ah... oh, c-c-come oooonnhaaaAAAHHH --"

 

The door to the workshop opened. A tall woman strode in, strong and imperious, in full armour and with a broadsword at her hip. "Anton! I need... what in the --?"

 

"HaaIIISHOO!" By now, Eliza couldn't have stopped herself even if she'd wanted to. "Hessh! Hishoo-SHOO! Huh-HUH-HEEASHOO!" They came in mad succession, bending her farther and farther at the waist each time. Her hands hovered near her face, fingers splayed, doing nothing to hold them in. "Haaishoo! HaAAYISHOO! Hah... haah... ohhh g-g-goooAAAEEYASHOO!"

 

With every increasingly violent, cathartic sneeze, a torrential wave of water cascaded out from Eliza's body. It rolled out like a tsunami, glittering and sparkling in the light of a thousand tiny fires, and broke against the walls and shelves and worktops with a crash. The flames fizzled out. Several of the glass flasks toppled over and shattered. Whatever it was that had been boiling earlier, stopped.

 

As the waters settled and gradually drained out of the workshop through the open door, Eliza straightened up, flipping her hair out of her eyes again and rubbing at her still-itching nose. "Whew! You have no idea how good that..." Her gaze fell on the soldier in the doorway, standing there with arms folded, water dripping from her hair and skin and armour. "...felt..."

 

"Eliza," the woman said, nodding to her.

 

Eliza went a fetching shade of pink. "Hi, Katerina."

 

Katerina Ana, Provost of the City Watch, unfolded her arms and made a great show of wiping the water from her face.

 

"All right," she said slowly, "maybe someone here would like to explain to me what just happened."

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Hey, wow, this is pretty creative! An awesome scene that you've set up for some exciting future installments, I'm sure. And excellent sneeze-writing, from spellings to descriptions. Great fits. Great all around! I'll stay tuned! :yes:

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Wow, what an unexpected treat. I really love this already, and I hope it becomes another series to follow. The characters are so much fun, and I feel like I can picture all of them in great detail. I also go totally head over heels for scenarios like this, so I'm basically an instant fan from the beginning. The mad scientist/magician angle is really fun, and the repeated reminders that everything is on fire were more amusing than I expected.

 

Thanks for sharing, and I hope you'll do more in the future!

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I am very intrigued, this was written incredibly well and I can honestly say I'm very excited to read more!

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Wow that was pretty incredible! It was very well written, and I hope you continue it as I would be very interested in reading more of your work.

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Thanks for the kind words, everyone. :) I've got a few ideas already for later instalments of this, so I'll totally see how far I can take it before I run out of steam.

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Right, let's try some more of this nonsense. Advance warning: this one's rather longer (by which I mean I ended up waffling for quite a while before it, er, gets going). But I figured I've got to explain what's going on at some point.
 

Chapter Two: Summary of Conclusions

Later that afternoon saw the three of them in Anton's single compact kitchen-stroke-dining-room-stroke-bedroom, seated on low stools around his one remaining table. It was old and battered, and the wood was stained with beer and acid and aether and a dozen other, less identifiable substances, but it hadn't fallen apart yet and it was big enough for three tankards, which was all that really mattered.

 

"All right," Katerina said, with the resigned air of a long-suffering mother. The outer layers of her armour now hung untidily off a straw-stuffed mannequin that Anton owned for experiments too risky for live subjects, but even her underarmour was thick and heavy and was taking its sweet time drying out. She was now, at least, merely annoyingly damp rather than sodden. "Let me see if I've understood what you're trying to tell me."

 

Anton took a long draught of his beer and gave her an encouraging look over the top of it. "Go ahead."

 

"You reckon that the two of you have discovered the -- what was the phrase again? -- 'most significant breakthrough in enchanting technology in the last five years,' and your evidence for this is that Eliza here can sneeze and set you on fire."

 

"Well, if you must put it so prosaically," Anton said grudgingly, "I suppose that's technically accurate."

 

Katerina sighed and rubbed wearily at her eyes with the heels of her hands. "You're going to have to run this past me again."

 

"With pleasure!" Anton said, sounding genuinely thrilled to do so. Beside him, Eliza met Katerina's gaze and rolled her eyes dramatically. "Where should I start?"

 

"From the top."

 

"Even better. So." Anton sat up in his seat and steepled his fingers, looking for all the world like an old schoolmaster. "You are no doubt familiar with the basic principle of layering that underpins all standard enchanting techniques."

 

Katerina glanced back towards Eliza, who shrugged.

 

"Pretend I'm not," she said.

 

"Not a problem! So, every enchantment we see in our daily lives, from, say, durability auras on our farm tools, to our soldiers' flaming or electrified swords, to indulgent spells for the rich to boost their attractiveness or virility, is composed from the same set of component runes. A skilled mage such as myself applies the active runes to a single object or person in the correct order, and then appends a series of stabilising runes to cement the effect. A sort of fixative, if you will. Without the stabilisers the enchantment is, well, unstable, and will generally fail to maintain its effect for more than a few minutes."

 

"All right..." said Katerina, already regretting asking for details.

 

"Now, an obvious problem with this approach is that enchantments can only be applied to one thing at a time. If you want a hundred flaming swords, you have to do the work a hundred times over. It's pointlessly inefficient and labour-intensive." Anton leaned forward, lowering his voice in a faux conspiratorial tone. "But what if I told you that we have discovered a way to apply an enchantment once and then subsequently disperse its effects over a wide area?"

 

"By sneezing?" Katerina said hopefully.

 

"Exactly!" He grinned at her. "We discovered it entirely by fortuitous accident. You construct your enchantment, you omit the stabilising runes, and then you take a suitable incipient agent and introduce it to your subject, or in the case of swords and whatnot, to a volunteer willing to hold them a moment."

 

"'Incipient agent?'" Katerina repeated.

 

"Oh, you know the sort of thing." He waved a hand dismissively. "Pollen, dust, fur, spices, physical stimuli like feathers, or whatever. Something to induce as strong a sneeze, or sneezes, as possible."

 

"Lilies, in my case," Eliza piped up helpfully. "They completely set me off, every time. One good sniff and I'm gone." She shrugged. "Most other flowers too, actually. And some animals. Cats especially. But lilies are really what you want to get me going."

 

Katerina shot her a strange look. "Aren't you a ranger? As in, 'spend all your time among nature?'"

 

"Yeah, it's a bit awkward sometimes but you work around it." She shrugged. "What can I say, I'm a trooper."

 

"It's true," Anton said, patting her companionably on the back. "Eliza here is truly exceptional. For her, initiating a sneeze is as natural and effortless as breathing."

 

"It's a talent," said Eliza cheerfully. "And to think they laughed at me when I was young."

 

"Perish the thought."

 

"I know!" said Anton, abruptly leaping to his feet. "I'll demonstrate the principles. You missed most of the interesting bits earlier." Without waiting for a response he spun and stormed off towards what was left of the workshop, mumbling to himself.

 

"Like a boy who caught a frog," Katerina muttered, watching him go.

 

"I think it's nice to see someone who enjoys their work," Eliza said, catching her eye. "I get the feeling you've known each other a while?"

 

"Since before I could lift a sword and before he could string two words together," Katerina said with a faint sigh. "You mustn't let him take advantage of you like this, you know. Is there really nowhere else you'd rather be?"

 

Eliza thought about it for a moment. "Honestly, not really? If I weren't here I'd be out in the forest, fighting off bears and kobolds and getting cold and damp all day. But in here it's nice and warm, I get decent food and drink, and all I have to do is stand around and sneeze my head off occasionally. Which, actually, is kind of fun too, in a way. Really, this is like a holiday for me."

 

"Here we are!" Anton announced, striding back into the room with a single purple flower in one hand, and in the other --

 

"That's a spoon," said Katerina.

 

He gave her a disappointed look. "An alchemical spatula, actually." He held it out for inspection, and then the flower. "And a... hyacinth, I believe? A target, and an incipient agent. Now, observe as --"

 

Without warning, Eliza gave a sudden, loud sniff. It seemed to catch her by surprise, too. "Oh! Sorry. Don't mind me, I won't spoil the moment."

 

"Observe," Anton repeated patiently, "as we apply a simple enchantment to this spatula." He stared fixedly at it and muttered something incomprehensible, and after a moment it began to glow gently with a soothing, softly pulsing light. "Behold, the first spell any novice enchanter learns: 'radiance.' You'll note, of course, that I did not add the standard Morhok or Ellerath runes to stabilise it."

 

"Of course," said Katerina.

 

"Hmmmh," said Eliza. Katerina shot a surprised glance at her, taking in her distant, unfocused stare, her slightly parted lips. It seemed she really hadn't been exaggerating about the flowers. "Oh, er, whoops." She tapped the side of her nose with one finger, and shivered suddenly. "Like I said, this just kind of happens."

 

"But you've only been around that flower for seconds! And not even that close to it!"

 

Eliza shrugged and sniffed again. "The nose wants what the... the nose wants."

 

"Indeed," Anton said. "As you can see, an element of haste is in order." He handed Eliza the spatula. "There. Now we introduce the incipient agent, that is, the flower."

 

"Kind of already ha--happened," Eliza said, her breath catching.

 

"Fair point, fair point. But we may as well expedite the process. Also: Eliza, my dear, would you mind describing what you're feeling for me?"

 

Eliza gave him a surprised look. "Sure, no... no pro-heh!-blem, but why?"

 

"Agreed," Katerina added. "Is that necessary?"

 

"Useful data," said Anton defensively. "Every detail is relevant in research."

 

"I can do that," Eliza said brightly. She took the hyacinth from him, holding it at arm's length as though it might suddenly try to attack her... which, in a way, wasn't entirely inaccurate. "It's just an... an i-hih!... itch right now. Right... right in the back. It feels... fee... f-huh!... huuh!" She froze, eyelids fluttering, but the moment passed and she relaxed again with a soft giggle. "It feels hot, and sharp, kind of. Like, I-I-I... ohhh... I don't know. Like broken glass? It comes and goes, and each time it... it... it co-haaah!... huh... huuuuh... c-c-come onnn..." Again, the sneeze held her in its throes, and again it let her go. "Each time it's stronger." She gave a shaky smile. "But it's definitely coming. No escape now, you know?"

 

Bizarrely, Katerina found herself fascinated, unable to tear her gaze away from this cheerful young woman, entirely at ease with her own weakness as it toyed with her. She watched as Eliza's easy smile wavered, and her gaze unfocused and her face fell slack, and then the tension faded and that smile returned.

 

Eliza met her gaze and winked. Surprised and a little embarrassed, Katerina glanced away, but not for long.

 

"Okay," Eliza said, between deep breaths that were gradually getting longer, and louder. "It's getting... gettihhh... geh... hiiihhh... ohhh... getting hotter. Across m-m-my cheeks. Gonna... gonna start soon. Here we g-go, then... Heh!..."

 

"Wait, is this really --" Katerina began, but before she could finish the sentence, Eliza had buried her nose in the hyacinth and inhaled deeply, urgently, desperately.

 

The effect was instant. She hadn't even finished that breath before her head was rearing back, eyes closed, mouth wide open. The flower slipped through her fingers and fell to the table, forgotten.

 

"HaaaAAAH!..." But it seemed even this wasn't quite enough. "Wow, I... I... haaah?... I really g-gotta... sneeze now... It's... it's so hooot-huuuuuh!... all across... acro... huh... my face..." She sniffed, long and deep, and made a breathy sound that could equally have been a laugh or just part of the inexorable buildup. "Feels like... like my whole face is just... huuuuh!... k-k-kind of... scrunching up... around... arou... mmmy nose... huuuaaah!?"

 

Again and again the sneeze drew her to the brink, and again it held her there, trembling, yearning, before it released her. She sagged slightly, giggling. "Oh g-god, this is difficuh... diff... huh... haah... p-please c-c-coooaaahhHH?" And again. "D-damnit..."

 

"Details, please," Anton reminded her, not unkindly.

 

"S-sorry," Eliza stammered, her chest now rising and falling visibly with every shuddering breath. "Even hoooh... hotte-heeAAAH!... now... b-behind m-my eyes... like... looki-hih!-ing into a c-c-campfiii..." She trailed off, breaths coming in rapid succession. "Heh... hih hih... HAHH!... oh f-heh!... ahhh?... oh... huuuh... c-can't take... any... m-more..."

 

Her eyes were squinted shut, allergic tears visible in their corners. Her head was tilted towards the ceiling now, her shoulders and arms taut, her hands in the air in front of her. Her whole body shivered with the tension, desperate for release.

 

Unable to look, she reached down to the table with her free hand, fumbling blindly until her fingers brushed against the stem of the hyacinth again. With a little noise of relief, she clenched her fist around it and brought it to her face, burying her nose in the blooms a second time.

 

"Hshoo! Shoo-sh-sh-shoo!" The first sneeze came instantly, without even a chance to breathe first, and a sudden stuttering volley followed it until there was no breath left in her. Eliza froze a moment, and then the flower fell from her unresisting fingers, she gasped for air five, six times, and then the fit began. "HaaaAAAH! Haaah... heh... heh... heeeeh?... huh haISHOO! Ishoo! Heyshoo! Huh... huuheYAshoo! Ohhh..."

 

She managed to open her eyes a little, blinking back the tears, and for a moment it seemed like she might have regained control. But then her eyebrows lifted questioningly, nostrils flaring wide, and her mouth dropped open again in a sudden, desperate breath. She met Katerina's gaze for just a fraction of a second before her eyes fell shut again, and she shook her head a little. She wasn't smiling -- she couldn't -- but there was still that ever-present hint of barely suppressed laughter about her.

 

What am I like?, Katerina imagined her saying.

 

"HuuuunhuheYASSSH!" They came faster now, free and unrestrained. "Yashoo! Ishoo! HUH-heeshoo!" Her head bobbed down with every one, only to jerk back towards the ceiling with the next breath. "Heshoo! HEH-shoo! Huuuh... hishoo! Shoo! Ihshoo! Hih... haaah?... HAYASHOO!" Every brief pause left her frozen, head flung back, a distant, puzzled look on her face. "Heh?... HAESHOO! Huuunh... hmh... HAISHOO! Aishoo! Ishoo ishoo ishoo! HeeEEH?... HARASSSHOO!"

 

As she sneezed and sneezed and sneezed, waves of shimmering, golden light rolled out from her across the room. In their wake, hundreds upon hundreds of tiny sparkling motes hung suspended in the air, like a snowstorm frozen in time. Their combined light cast impossibly complex shadows across everything, turning the room into an eclectic patchwork of light and shade.

 

As Eliza's fit subsided, the glowing aura faded away, until all that was left was the pinpricks of light that filled the room, glittering like fireflies.

 

Katerina stared. She didn't mean to, but at this point, she simply couldn't tear her eyes away.

 

"This is... stunning," she said after a while.

 

"Th--HISSHOO!" Eliza said, or tried to. She sniffed and rubbed at her nose with the back of a hand. "Thank you, I do try."

 

"And there you have it," Anton said distractedly. He was scribbling notes onto a scrap of parchment even as he spoke; Katerina couldn't read most of his scrawled handwriting, but she caught the phrases, 'greater intens'y (8?) -- more eff'nt dispersal?,' and, 'try longer build.' "A basic effect, now applied over a wide area."

 

"I won't deny that," Katerina said, "but --"

 

"Hnshoo!" Eliza interrupted her, then sniffed again and blushed. "Sorry, I'll be like this for a while now."

 

"You all right?" Katerina asked gently.

 

"Oh, I'm fine, don't worry about me. Besides, n-now... heh!... now I'm ready for later, right? It'll s-speed up our ne--heh... haIISH!"

 

"She'll be fine," Anton said. "She's a professional. You were saying?"

 

"I was going to say," Katerina continued, trying not to pay too much attention to Eliza's sniffles and false starts beside him, "that you haven't really managed to apply your enchantment to multiple things here. You've just... well... you've made lights, rather than making everything glow, if you catch my drift."

 

"Oh, agreed," Anton said evenly. "Early days yet, after all. Eliza and I have plenty of avenues to explore. But you can see the potential, yes? The saved time and effort?"

 

"I suppose --"

 

"Imagine, if you will," Anton cut her off, eyes gleaming, "an army preparing for battle, and a single enchanter with them. He places his wards on a single soldier. Then, a wave, a veritable cascade of sneezing passes over the army, and in its wake, every man and woman there has had their stamina improved, and their armour reinforced, and their weapons set alight. In a matter of minutes! Just imagine that!"

 

"I am," Katerina admitted. The mental image was faintly ridiculous.

 

"Just think," Eliza added. "Every army could have someone like me. A sort of... m-military... heeeh..."

 

Anton chuckled, taking over for her as her mouth hung open and her head started to tilt back. "A patient zero, you might say, ha. But yes, we have enough to keep us at this for some ti--"

 

"HeyahSHOO--shoo--shoo!"

 

"Exactly."

 

Katerina looked back and forth between them, from the smiling young ranger already winding up for another sneeze, to the old eccentric dreaming of allergic armies.

 

"Best of luck to you both," she said, and found she actually meant it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter Three: Transference of Effects

 

A week had passed since Katerina's patrol had last taken her through the Academics' Quarter. The sky was clear and the air fresh and crisp, just on the cusp of turning from winter to spring. The day was still young, and the streets around here were quiet; the city's alchemists and sorcerers were not, on the whole, in the habit of waking early. In fact --

"HareeIISHOO!"

In fact, it was pretty much business as usual in the Academics' Quarter.

Katerina let her route take her unhurriedly towards the nondescript, slightly singed door of Anton's workshop. It was a quiet day today. She could afford a few minutes off duty. And, truth be told, she was curious as to what he was up to this time.

She knocked, twice.

"Come in!" called a muffled voice from the far side, followed immediately by a less well muffled, "hrmphsh!"

Katerina smiled faintly to herself and pushed the door open.

The workshop had cleaned up nicely after the previous week's blaze; she supposed it was probably something Anton had enough experience with, by now. The floor was clear, save for a couple of chairs set up in the middle of the room. Anton sat in one, with his back to the door. Eliza slumped in the other, face flushed, chest rising and falling with long, heavy breaths. Had she not known better, Katerina would have assumed some kind of physical exercise.

Unsurprisingly, the young ranger was holding something, which presumably until recently had been enchanted with gods-knew-what. A long stick with some kind of short metal blade on the end. Katerina had a feeling she should have known what it was.

"Morning," she said, resting her weight against the door frame. "What is that?"

Anton glanced back at her. "Ah! Good morning! I had wondered when we might next see you. It's a hoe."

"A what?"

He shrugged. "It's a farming tool. They use them for... er... farming?"

"I didn't know you were into agriculture."

His eyes narrowed. "I'm not. I would have thought... oh, I see. Never mind! While we banter, time wastes away." He sprung to his feet with a spryness she hadn't expected. "Eliza, my dear! Ready to test this?"

"Huh...?" said Eliza, looking not at him but through him. Katerina suppressed a wry smile at the now familiar sight -- shallow breaths, eyebrows arching, body held taut as a bowstring. Some things evidently hadn't changed.

Anton realised too. "In your own time," he said generously. "But not too much, please! We must test today's effects before they wear off."

Eliza managed a shaky half-nod before her eyes closed fully and she lost herself to the inevitable sneezes. "Th-than... thank... yoooaaaIIISHah! Ishah! Hish! Heh... huuuh... heeeyaiISH! Ahhh..." She sniffed a few times and rubbed vigorously at her nose with her knuckles. "Sorry, you kinda lost me there. What were we doing?"

"The durability test, please," Anton reminded her, gently but firmly.

"Oh! Yes! Of course." Eliza got to her feet and flipped the hoe around in her hands, holding it near the sharp end like a broadsword. She adjusted her grip carefully, testing its weight. "You're sure?"

"Abundantly," Anton said, extending one arm. "A true scientist always seeks empirical evidence. Aim for the forearm, please."

"All right..." She didn't sound convinced, but nevertheless, Eliza took a deep breath and drew the hoe back over one shoulder, winding up for a swing.

"Wait." Katerina started forwards, concerned. "What exactly are --"

"Okay!" Eliza announced. "Here... here I... g-g-goooaaaIIISSHOO!"

It wasn't entirely clear why she was trying to hit Anton's arm with the hoe's handle, but the sneeze apparently caught her by surprise as she swung down, and wherever she had been aiming before became irrelevant. She caught him full in the face with it, where it bounced off his nose with a loud CLONK sound that despite the circumstances was, frankly, comical.

Anton didn't even flinch.

"Splendid!" he said, beaming. "Again!"

"HAREESHOO!"

Eliza's second swing went as wild as the first one and had much the same effect, and probably the third would have done likewise if Katerina hadn't stormed between the two of them and yanked the hoe from her grip.

"What are you two doing this time?" she demanded, voice somewhere between bewilderment and exasperation.

"S... s... s-sim-hih-hiiiASHOO!"

"Thank you, Eliza," Anton said, then turned his attention back to Katerina. "It's perfectly straightforward. We enchanted this hoe with a standard durability enhancement -- something which, you'll note, is abundantly common practice for tools and weapons but which has never been successfully generalised for use on people despite its obvious potential usefulness. Then we applied its effects to the workshop area via the now-standard sneeze distribution method, in particular, to me. Then we tested it and, evidently, I am now personally more durable! Eliza has hit me in the head twice now and I feel no ill effects whatsoever... Hm." He paused a moment, eyes crossing. "Actually, let me perhaps revise that statemeeeent...?"

Katerina caught him by the shoulders as he toppled abruptly sideways and lowered him carefully to the floor, crouching down beside him and watching him with mild concern. "No ill effects, was it?" she said, not unkindly.

"Temporarily, at least," Anton said, raising one unsteady finger in a gesture of admonition. "For a few seconds. I will record this as a partial success." He made to stand again, wobbled, and promptly slumped against the wall. "Well, I will record it as such as soon as I can walk to my notebook."

"You sure you're okay?"

"Oh, fine, fine." He waved a hand dismissively. "I've done far worse to myself before."

"Of course you have." She looked up at Eliza. "How about you? You done there?"

"I think so," Eliza said, rubbing furiously at her nose with an open palm. "Sorry about that. He dih... heh... wait, I'm not do-heh!... HISH! Sorry. He did ask." She sniffed sharply, squinting. "It... huh... heeeh..."

"Should I wait?"

"No, it... heh!... sh-shouldn't take... long... hih... h-here we g-hih!... hih hih... hih hih hih!... hiiiAAAH?... damnit..."

"You all right?"

Eliza managed a shaky smile for just a moment, lips trembling. "Oh, ye-heh!-yes. This just haaah?... happens... sometimes. Sometimes I... heh!... just g-get... heeeh!... get st-st-stuck... like this... heeeAAAH... ah?... heh!... oh, come on..."

It was fascinating to watch, in a strange way. With every little gasp of breath her body wound tighter and tighter, head tilting back and shoulders dropping, tension visibly building in the exposed skin of her arms and hands. Her glassy-eyed gaze drifted towards the ceiling, brows lifting questioningly, her upper lip arching as if the flaring of her nostrils was drawing it inexorably towards them. It was almost like she was being physically stretched, pulled tight from head to toe, and then in the instant before she had no more to give, the tension vanished and she was allowed to relax a moment before the whole process began again.

Katerina got to her feet, starting to feel awkward about how long she must have been staring. "You sure you're okay? Can I, I don't know, lend a hand? Would that even help?"

"Oh!" Eliza said, expression brightening behind half-lidded eyes. "That... heh!... m-miiiaaah... might h-help... huuuhhh..."

"Okay." Katerina reached out, then froze, suddenly hesitant. "Er... What, exactly, should I do here?"

"Juh... just g-give muh... huuuh?... my n-nose... heh!... a rub... or s-some-heh!-thing..."

Katerina nodded. "Sure, but... can't you do that?"

"W-works better iiiih... heeeh... if someone else d-does it..."

How does she know? Katerina thought, but pushed it to one side. She raised one hand and, very carefully so as not to be too forceful, let her fingertip brush against the quivering tip of Eliza's nose.

The effect was immediate and so, so much stronger than she'd expected. Eliza shivered, a sudden, full-body tremble that left her taut and frozen, and then her eyes closed fully, her mouth dropped open, and she sucked in one last throaty, vocal gasp.

"HaaaAAAAAAHHH!" She was still for a second or two, head flung back, chest thrust out, mouth wide as if in a silent cry. "HAAIIIYEEESSSHEOOO!"

Her whole body convulsed with the force of the sneeze, her head snapping forward as she practically doubled over. Her forehead struck Katerina's breastplate and bounced off with a loud BONG before she recoiled sharply, already desperately building up for another.

"Oh gooooaaaIISHOO! So-heeeh-HAAISHOO! Sorr-HEESHEOO! HAREESHOO!" A faint mist settled on Katerina's armour. She didn't mind, but Eliza clearly saw it and whirled away, tenting both hands over her violently flaring nose. "HEEESHMPH! Hihmph! Haaaihmph! Heh-heh-heeeh-HEEEHRMPH!"

"Let it out," Katerina said gently. "I don't mind."

Eliza gave her a grateful look, let her hands fall, and surrendered.

"Th-than... heh!... heh heh heh!... heeeh... hiiiih... hih!... h-here we gooooaaaaah HAAARAIIISSSHOOO!"

"Done now?" Katerina asked, watching her as she straightened up, sweeping her hair from her face.

"Yeah," Eliza said breathlessly. "I think?" She sniffed deep a couple of times, experimentally. "Yeah. I'm done." She blushed suddenly. "Sorry about your armour."

"What?" Katerina looked down at herself. "Oh. Don't worry. Others have done far worse to it. Your head okay?"

"Yeah. The magic really works."

"Good. But I'm going to stick around to make sure." Katerina absently wiped herself down with the edge of a hand. "Now sit yourself down, and I'll find us something to drink."

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I love this concept, and your descriptions of build-ups are truly incredible! Thanks for sharing with the community!

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Eliza is such a good sport! I love Katerina's bewildered mild disapproval and Anton's nerdy excitement. 

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