It’s widely known that a competent wizard is able to solve nearly as many problems as they cause. For every marauding band of orcs they scare off, a typical wizard creates two new species of poisonous goats and opens one portal to hell. Also, it was a wizard who originally created orcs, but they don’t like to talk about that.
Usually, the bad stuff they create is by accident, which was the case with the orcs, and even more so with the exploding ant. The wizard who created it was named Bramblebuck and he was trying to make a potion that made it so you could sneeze any time you wanted to, even if you didn’t have a cold or allergies. As with the first draft of most wizard potions, he made it far too powerful and stirred it way too vigorously. As a result, his cauldron inhaled deeply and blew snotty blue goop all over the inside of his cottage.
This kind of thing happens to wizards all the time, so Bramblebuck simply wiped himself off with a damp cloth and got back to work. He was just dumping the second cup of vampire hair into the cauldron when he heard a tiny “achoo” followed by an explosion the knocked over his ash bucket.
“What the what now?” Bramblebuck said to himself as he walked over to examine the damage. There, crawling along the baseboards, covered with ash and soot, was a glowing black ant. He tried to stomp on it, but it crawled through a crack in the floor before he could bring his foot down. Two seconds later there was another tiny sneeze and two of the floorboards popped up and flew through the air.
“Welp, there goes my afternoon.” thought Bramblebuck. He spent the next several hours chasing the ant all over the cottage while it destroyed his furniture and sanity. What he couldn’t figure out was why they ant didn’t die. That is, after all, what ants typically do when they explode. Hence the old saying “An exploding ant is a problem you only have to worry about once.”
When he finally did find the ant, he made the mistake of trapping it under a jar, which it immediately sneezed its way out of, sending shards of glass everywhere and completely ruining his newest hat. Eventually, he was able to cast a containment field on it, trapping the ant in a baseball-sized bubble. Every few seconds it would sneeze again, filling the bubble with an eerie blue light. Bramblebuck examined the little sphere with interest, wondering what exactly he should do with it when a local farmer poked her head in the widow of the wrecked cottage.
“Excuse me sir,” she said, clearing her throat, “I don’t mean to be a bother, but there’s been a lot of sneezing and explosions coming from over here and it’s quite upsetting the cow. She’s knocked over her milk bucket twice already today and my hands are getting tired, to say nothing of the strain on the poor girl’s udders. If it’s not terribly inconvenient, could you perhaps try to keep it down a bit?”
“Of course, of course,” said Bramblebuck, barely looking up from the glowing orb.
“Eh, what’s that you got there?” the curious farmer asked, leaning further into the window.
“Oh, um, this?” said Bramblebuck, “It’s, um… a special light to help you find objects in the dark! Not only does it emit this pleasant blue light every few seconds, it also comes with a built-in sneezing sound, in case you have to find it strictly by hearing.”
“Oh my!” said the farmer, “and it is a pretty blue light indeed. How much you want for it?”
“My good lady you’ve stopped by at a most opportune time!” proclaimed the wizard, “I’m running a special today. You can take this little beauty home for a mere… three silver pieces! For an extra copper I’ll wrap it in a nice cloth with a bow and a card saying anything you’d like. You know, in case you’d like to give it as a gift.”
“Yes please!” said the farmer “Make it out to Agnes, and say ‘best wishes on all your future endeavors.’” The farmer had no intention of giving the ball away, but her name was Agnes and she really liked seeing it written out.
As soon as it was wrapped up she took the ball home and showed it off to her husband and son, who were suitably impressed, although no one could think of a practical use for it.
Of course ants are rather short lived creatures, explosions or no. After two weeks it stopped sneezing and died, leaving Agnes with a clear ball containing one dead ant. The cat had a good time batting it around every now and again, but otherwise, it was useless (not that it had been all that useful to begin with). Agnes had been around wizards enough to know that she wouldn’t be getting a refund, plus she decided two weeks with a magic ball was probably worth a couple silvers anyway.
As for Bramblebuck, he kept tinkering with his potion but never got further than making his nose run on command. He thought it might make a good party trick but his friends informed him he was incorrect about that. He did go on to make a potion that caused bat farts to look like wild flowers, but that’s a story for another time.