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Potent Potions part 1


It shouldn't be possible for a mere test paper to look smug, yet this one definitely did. Young Edwin Odesseiron stared at the offensive piece of parchment, his brow deeply furrowed in thought. The test concerned common magical potions, their ingredients, preparation and traits. Edwin had tried to study for it. He really had. He just couldn't see the use of it. Why did a wizard need to know about boring old potions when he could cast spells? And so the subject refused to stick in his unreceptive mind despite all his efforts. Edwin sighed deeply and studied Question Number Three again. This was as far as he had got after half an hour.

Describe in your own words the result of combining a potion of Clear Thought with powdered mandrake root.

Edwin sighed again. He'd been staring at that question for quite some time now, and the answer still refused to come to him. It certainly hadn't been in Potent Potions Made Easy, he could swear to that. That meant it was something his tutor had only mentioned in passing during one of the past week's lessons, and it really didn't seem fair that Edwin was expected to remember a thing like that. But then, his tutor had once expressed the opinion that since life wasn't fair anyway you might as well get used to it early on. Another deep sigh from Edwin almost toppled the ten small potion bottles neatly arranged on his table and caused his teacher to look up.

Vadrak Dekaras, the Odesseiron house tutor, was a tall, thin man with a habit of dressing in black. This, combined with a pair of sharp black eyes that rarely blinked, and a rather too long nose, made him resemble nothing so much as an ill-tempered crow. He was currently comfortably seated in a red velvet armchair, reading some letters.

"If you choose to destroy the equipment in a fit of childish temper, you may expect an appropriate number of points to be deducted from your final score", he stated dryly.

"I don't see why I need to learn this anyway", Edwin sulked. "Real wizards manage without stupid potions."

Dekaras shook his head slightly. "Thank whatever lucky star watches over drunks, fools and small idiotic children that you made that remark in front of me, and not my good friend Septimius, the potions specialist", he said. "You would be surprised at how many necromantic potions contain human components, and my friend does get rather upset at any insult to his craft." He paused to give the wide-eyed boy a bland look. "You have forty more minutes at your disposal", he said. "I suggest that you not waste any more of them on idle chatter." With that he returned to his reading.

Edwin stared at the test paper again. Perhaps he should skip ahead a bit? The final question was a practical one. Ten small identical bottles containing potions that needed to be identified. They were all different colours, and the question clearly stated that he was allowed to smell them if he wanted to. Edwin carefully studied the bottles. He could easily identify three or four, but the others were a mystery. One of the ones he could identify gave him an idea, however. It was a deep purple potion, smelling faintly of lilacs. It had to be a potion of Increased Intelligence, Edwin was sure he'd recognise that colour anywhere. Now, a potion to increase his intelligence was bound to strengthen his memory as well, wasn't it? If he could just manage to drink a little he should be able to remember enough about potions to ace the test.

Dekaras was still reading, paying no apparent attention to his pupil. Edwin carefully pulled all ten potion bottles closer, so as to confuse the issue. Very quickly and as sneakily as he could he swallowed a small quantity of purple potion. For a moment nothing seemed to happen. Then everything suddenly became very, very clear. Edwin felt as if a ray of light had been turned on inside his head, illuminating all the dark and dusty corners. He knew everything, he was omniscient. The mysteries of all creation lay bare to his penetrating gaze, and he could see a lot of pretty colours that hadn't been there before as an added bonus. Confident of his triumph to come Edwin picked up his quill and prepared to make an impression through his show of new-found brilliance.

On the following morning Edwin was waiting in the school room bright and early in order to savour his success. The minutes dragged by like hours, but eventually Dekaras walked in, black cloak billowing behind him like a thunder cloud. In addition to the usual assortment of books and scrolls he carried a roll of parchment. It had to be the test. Dekaras nodded briefly at the expectant boy, deposited his books on the table, and then smiled a thin and highly unpleasant smile.

"Young Master Odesseiron", he said, his voice soft as the hiss of a dagger unsheathed. "I believe some congratulations are in order."

"Er - really?” Edwin asked, nervously trying to meet his tutor's gaze and succeeding about as well as a tiny bunny rabbit trying to outstare a snake.

"Indeed. I must say I have never had the pleasure of reading of anything quite like this - creation - of yours. Very original. It kept me amused for quite some time." With that Dekaras threw the parchment down on the table in front of the by now trembling boy, who unrolled it to stare at the hideousness contained therein.

Every single question had been answered, and not briefly either. On the contrary, every blank spot on the paper had been filled in. That was the good news. The bad news was that all the writing consisted of a single sentence, repeated over and over again. Edwin could recognise his own handwriting, even though he had no conscious memory of writing this. He felt pretty sure he ought to remember answering every question with the statement that All Work and no Play makes Eddie a Sad Boy.

At the very bottom of the page Dekaras had scrawled his comment with the particularly glaring red ink that Edwin was privately convinced had been manufactured from the heart's blood of previous unfortunate students. A creative effort, it read, but had you been paying proper attention in class you would have remembered that Intelligence potion smells of liquorice, whereas a purple potion smelling of lilacs is clearly a potion of Confusion. Such a tiny mistake, and yet so fatal.

"I sincerely hope", Dekaras said in an ominous voice, "that you intend to do some serious studying before retaking this test. I do not enjoy correcting papers over and over again, you know. It annoys me. You don't want me annoyed, do you?" He was standing right next to Edwin by now, towering over him like some terrible spectre of doom.

"No, Teacher Dekaras!” Edwin squeaked and tried to shrink further down in his chair.

"Good. You show some small amount of common sense at last, contrary to yesterday's ridiculous display. Only an insane wizard or a very stupid one ever uses magic without first making absolutely sure that he knows exactly what it does. Mistakes are frequently lethal. Now, I am a bit uncertain as to which part insults me the most. That you think I would place a means of cheating at your disposal, or that having done so I would fail to notice you using it." The tutor's smile turned even more sinister. "Try that little stunt again and Eddie will be a very Sad Boy indeed", he said. "Turn to page 127."

Edwin did so and gulped.

"Precisely. And would you know, that poor unfortunate fellow thought it was safe to try out unidentified potions on himself. He does look a bit surprised, wouldn't you say? Though I assume that does in part derive from the donkey's head situated where his own used to be."

The rest of the lesson passed in a hideous blur. Edwin spent most of the morning being forced to listen to gruesome tales of wizards who dabbled in magic too advanced for them and came to horrible and messy ends as a result. He had a feeling he wouldn't want much to eat for lunch. After giving him a cruel and inhuman amount of extra homework in addition to the test he had to retake Dekaras eventually let him go, handing him the ten potion bottles as he did so.

"Perhaps some samples will aid you in your quest for knowledge", he said. "Do not think I'll go easy on you next time though. I expect you to take full advantage of this opportunity for further studies, and the difficulty of the test will be raised accordingly. We do want to keep this a challenge, don't we? You have three days. I would have made it two but for the fact of the party your parents are planning tomorrow, which I expect will keep you busy for a day or so." With those cheerful parting words the teacher shooed the by now pale and sweating boy out the door.

Edwin knew that his parents entertained frequently. He failed to understand why they used that particular word, though, since they never seemed to enjoy it very much themselves. There were usually a lot of strange adults around who talked too loud and laughed too often, all of them likely to either trip over a small boy by mistake or embarrass him by telling him how much he'd grown since last they saw him. Edwin was perfectly aware that he grew. He just couldn't see the sense in making a lot of fuss about it. It wasn't as if it was something that required a lot of effort on his part, after all. No, parties were not for him. And this particular one was supposed to be a very big event. His parents had been discussing it for weeks, fussing over who to invite and who not to, seating arrangements, decorations and similar boring things. Edwin thought it was probably going to be extremely dull. Hopefully it would be enough if he made a brief appearance and then hid in his room with some large samples of the different desserts.

The day of the party dawned, bright and beautiful, and for once in his life Edwin got up early without threats, pleas or arguments. He hoped to be able to do some early revising before the guests started arriving. Unfortunately his father, who insisted that he come help pick out the entertainers, distracted him. Even more unfortunately, Galen Odesseiron's taste in entertainment wasn't the best. An hours-long parade of inept illusionists, clumsy clowns and tone-death tenors were paraded before the miserable boy. In the end he managed to choose the Fire-eating Fops over the Juggling Jokers and he was finally allowed to escape.

By now there was an hour before the guests were due to arrive, and Edwin still hadn't got any closer to his goal. He sat in his room, staring desperately at the ten little bottles. And then he had an idea. A brilliant idea, a work of pure genius. Suppose he tried out some of the other potions on himself? That would at least help him describe their properties and effects, making the next test that much easier. Now, which potion to try first? He didn't want to risk hurting himself, the Confusion potion had been bad enough, and he certainly didn't want to get caught in the act, considering his tutor's opinions on magical experiments.

Edwin paused to consider a bottle of purplish-blue potion. An Invisibility potion! Perfect. That one was safe and harmless, and should allow him to have some fun. Before he had time to change his mind, Edwin tilted his head back and swallowed the entire contents of the bottle. The potion didn't taste bad at all, a bit like strawberries actually. And then he saw the potion bottle. It was still a shimmering blue, but now he saw it through his suddenly transparent hand. Edwin gaped in amazement as he watched himself disappear, inch by inch. After a minute or so the bottle seemed to be floating freely in mid air. Getting the lid back on was a bit tricky since he couldn't see his own hands, but he managed eventually. Then he stuffed the bottle in the small wooden box where he kept the rest, tucked the box carefully inside his tunic and was very relieved to see that it too disappeared from sight.

Now for some fun! Edwin moved towards the door, tripped over his own feet and almost fell before he managed to catch hold of the doorframe. Walking was more difficult than usual since he couldn't see his own feet and only had a vague idea of where they were. He tried walking with his eyes closed, and found that worked fine since he could still feel his legs. Eventually he could open his eyes again, as long as he paid attention to what he was doing.

Careful to make as few sounds as possible Edwin crept along the hallways of the Odesseiron Mansion, thoroughly enjoying his new game. Slaves hurried along on various errands, all of them with a certain hunted look in their eyes that told the boy that the party was just about to start. In the kitchens he managed to pilfer a honey-coated apple and some chocolate cake without anyone noticing, though he was also nearly beheaded by the chief cook who was busily chopping up meat. Luckily Edwin's startled yelp was mistaken for the squeak of an intruding mouse, and in the ensuing confusion he was able to make his escape. Edwin gingerly touched his still intact neck and wondered whether his decapitated head would have stayed invisible or suddenly popped back into sight. He figured he'd better go someplace safer before he found out and took a shortcut through the slave's quarters, munching on his apple as he did so.

Below a narrow staircase in the slaves' quarters one of the upstairs maids, a willowy and pretty brunette by the name of Lynette, had arranged a secret tryst with her current paramour, one of the stable boys.

"Oh, my love", Lynette cooed, closing her eyes and pouting, "I cannot resist you. Let our love flower freely! Come, give me your sweet kiss!" She puckered her lips in anticipation and was much surprised to hear him exclaim "Yuck!" in a very disgusted tone of voice. Lynette was pretty and petite, and overly fond of sneakily reading her mistress's romance novels, but she had a wicked right hook. The unfortunate stable boy slid gently down the wall into unconsciousness, a surprised look on his face. Lynette daintily rubbed her aching knuckles. "Brute!” she huffed and walked off, unaware of the rapid patter of small feet hurrying in the opposite direction.

Edwin didn't stop until he'd reached the more luxurious rooms inhabited by his family. He promised himself not to make another silly mistake like that. It wouldn't do to get caught. Eager to catch his breath he slipped into the first room he came to, which turned out to be the Small Yellow Parlour. One of his mother's favourite rooms, it had soft golden couches, beautiful gold threaded curtains and a myriad of small, rickety but valuable tables covered with ornaments. There were priceless china plates and tall crystal vases, swans with ludicrously elongated necks, wide-eyed porcelain dogs in unnatural colours and hideous geometric shapes, ornaments from hidden dimensions beyond the ken of mere mortals. The afternoon sun filtered in through the tall windows and tiny motes of dust danced about in the sunbeams like cavorting pixies.

Edwin knew he wasn't supposed to be in here by himself, there were far too many expensive things for him to break. He turned to leave, but before he could do so he heard the door open behind him and felt his heart leap into his throat before he remembered his current invisible state.

Elvira Odesseiron swept into the room, dark eyes flashing angrily, raven locks artfully piled on top of her head. Her dark red robe managed to cling in all the right places, yet at the same time remained formal and impressive. "No, Galen", she said. "You are being hasty again. I told you, we will be far better served by keeping our own counsel as long as possible."

"But dearest", her husband protested, "think of the possibilities." Galen Odesseiron was a skinny, twitchy man, with a constant excited gleam in his eyes. The stately red wizard robe he was wearing looked as if it had been thrown on top of his gangly frame.

"I said no!” Elvira snapped. "We will not move until we know for sure which way the wind is blowing." She seated herself on one of the yellow couches, careful not to wrinkle her robe. Edwin decided to take this opportunity to slip out of the room. Hardly had he begun to move in the direction of the door however, before he almost tripped over his tutor's black boots. As usual he hadn't heard or seen Dekaras enter the room. Edwin hastily shrank back against the far wall, hoping against hope that his teacher wasn't aware of him either. So far it seemed that way.

"Master", Dekaras said curtly. "Mistress. You wished to see me."

"Yes", Elvira said, inclining her head. "What news have you?"

Dekaras didn't answer immediately. Instead he prowled around the room, checking the door and windows, the fireplace and all possible hiding places. Edwin froze into immobility, holding his breath whenever his tutor came uncomfortably close. Eventually Dekaras ceased his circling, but it was obvious from the dark look on his face that he wasn't satisfied.

"Something is wrong", he stated flatly. "I am sure of it. Are you quite certain the wards have been set in place as I specified?"

"Yes", Elvira said a little impatiently. "Nobody can spy on us from without, what is said will go no further than this room. Apart from that the entire house and the gardens are warded against hostile magic. Any aggressive spell cast tonight will set off the alarm, and that goes for wandwork and other magical items as well."

"Quite so, old boy", Galen laughed. "Spit it out, would you? What of Szass Tam?" Edwin watched with some trepidation as his mother's face paled with sudden fury.

"You idiot!", she hissed. "We do not mention that name! For once in your life, think before you speak!"

As for Dekaras, the way his face became devoid of all expression spoke louder than any words. "The Mistress makes a valid point", he carefully stated. "That particular name is dangerous, not in itself, but should the wrong people hear it. This room may be warded, but any spell can be broken given enough skill. Be that as it may, both factions still wish for your support, or so my sources tell me. Of course, it is actually the support of the Tharchion of Surthay that is the main prize in this particular contest. I am certain I need not remind you of the importance of the border city."

"No", Elvira said thoughtfully. "You need not. So, they hope for Galen to influence his brother Homen, do they?" She tapped her fingers against the golden cushions.

"So it seems."

"And what are your suggestions? Should we support one of the factions, and if so which one? Or should we remain neutral?"

"There is danger either way", Dekaras said. He was once again pacing back and forth, and every time he approached the corner where Edwin was hiding the boy had the dubious pleasure of feeling that his teacher was staring straight through him. "You can stall for a time, but they will press the issue. Eventually you will have to choose a side, and then the other will become your enemy. Both are highly dangerous. I cannot say yet who will prevail."

"Then we must dangle the bait in front of both their noses", Elvira stated. "We must gather what information we can before we are forced into an alliance not of our choosing."

"As you wish. In the meantime, I require some instructions for the evening. Do you wish for me to remain unseen to watch your guests from a distance, or blatantly visible to remind them of the frailty of the human condition?"

Elvira thought about this for a moment. "Visible, I think", she said. "If the danger is that great, then perhaps we should try to intimidate the emissaries just a little. Right, Galen?"

"Sorry, dear", Galen Odesseiron said in a dreamy voice. "I was just thinking about Surthay. They do have some lovely food there, do you know. I particularly remember this one course of lightly grilled mushrooms…"

"Galen dear", Elvira said in a scathing tone. "I hardly want to discuss mushrooms. It's bad enough that I'm apparently married to one. Now let us go greet our guests." With that she rose and sailed out of the room, Galen trailing after her. Dekaras remained behind for a moment, still watching the room suspiciously. His long nose almost seemed to be sniffing the air for traces of possible intruders and Edwin had to fight a violent urge to cough. Eventually the tutor left, however, and the sole remaining occupant of the room was a very pensive invisible boy.

For a short while Edwin stayed motionless, trying to comprehend what he had overheard. There was still a lot he didn't understand, but obviously something very dangerous was going on, something he wasn't supposed to know about.

But that's not right, Edwin thought. If there are bad people out to hurt us, then I want to help. I bet I could do something if they only let me.

Wait a minute. Perhaps there was something he could do after all, with or without permission. He was still invisible, wasn't he? And if there were going to be bad people present at the party someone should keep an eye on them. If he should happen to find out about something important his parents were bound to be very grateful, and if he didn't he needn't tell anyone. A plan with no drawbacks, worthy of a Great Wizard.

A few hours later Edwin had decided that maybe the plan had one or two drawbacks after all. In order to get something to eat he had to be very quick and sneak the food off the plates before it was spotted floating through the air. He gulped it down as quickly as he could and saved another honey-coated apple for later. Apart from that he also had to be on constant guard in order not to get bumped into or stepped upon. Mainly he kept to the walls and tried to eavesdrop whenever he passed near a group of conversing partygoers. There were quite a few of those.

The great reception hall was packed nearly to bursting, with a lot of people drifting around the lower floor and the gardens now that dinner was over. Many were Red Wizards of course, but in the sea of red robes there were also quite a few richly dressed merchants, and some people who looked like foreigners. The constant din of chattering voices had grown steadily louder as the evening progressed and glasses were filled and refilled. Edwin was beginning to despair of ever hearing anything useful. From time to time he caught sight of his teacher. Dekaras slipped back and forth through the crowd like a hunting shark, a starkly black figure amongst the multicoloured throng. Not everyone noticed his passing, but more often than not Edwin saw the crowd part uneasily to let him through. In his wake heads turned and whispers followed him like a steady undercurrent through the human sea. Edwin wondered about that. Why should adults and Red Wizards at that, look so apprehensive at the mere sight of his tutor? It wasn't as if he was going to assign them any extra homework.

Edwin shrugged. He couldn't figure this particular mystery out, but it probably wasn't very important anyway. He was just about to give up and go to bed when he heard something. A voice, a deep and booming voice that he was pretty sure he recognised. It was trying to whisper and failing miserably.

"Have you delivered the proposal?” it said.

"Yes", another, younger voice answered. "But we should not speak of that here."

"Let's go to the garden then. Too much hot air in here anyway." The conversation by itself didn't mean much. It was the sight of the two wizards speaking that attracted Edwin's attention. The younger one was thin and rather weedy looking with a scraggly brown beard. He seemed to consist of roughly ninety percent Adam's apple and the rest was equal parts elbows and knees. The older wizard, the one with the deep voice looked more powerful. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with hard eyes and a jutting jaw. On his shaven head the tattoo of a lion gleamed in the flickering light of hundreds of candles. Edwin recognised that tattoo, as well as the man wearing it.

Rory "the Roarer" Ravonar was a Red Wizard of some repute. A man of considerable wealth and influence he wasn't on very friendly terms with the Odesseiron family. Edwin had met him once before and developed an instant loathing for the man. It surprised him that his parents had invited Ravonar, but then adults frequently did strange things, like insisting on using a fork to eat dessert when a spoon was ever so much more useful. Or insisting on fixed bedtimes. Some things were just too weird to understand. Anyway, it could pay off to eavesdrop on the two wizards.

Edwin followed Ravonar and his hapless colleague through the milling crowd, careful not to lose sight of them among all the other red robes, and was just in time to see them disappear into the dark garden. He followed as quickly as he dared, remembering to stay on the lawn and avoid the paths lest the gravel crunch beneath his feet. The wizards went inside the small gazebo at the far end of the garden and then stopped. Edwin crouched behind a bush and waited. Invisible or not, it felt much better to have at least a little cover. He had no spells to cast, and no wand. After a moment's thought he pulled out his box of potion bottles. At least it was better than nothing.

"Well, Horter?", Rory Ravonar asked. "How did the Odesseirons react to our superior's proposal?"

"Diplomatically", the young wizard said, his protruding Adam's apple nervously bobbing up and down as he spoke. "If it were only him we had to deal with things would be much easier. He is easily impressed. But she is shrewd and will not act until she is certain it's in her own best interest."

Edwin anxiously bit his lip as he realised that the two men were speaking about his parents. Should he go get help? But no, he'd need to hear more before he could actually accuse the two wizards of anything.

"Besides", Horter went on, "they keep their damnable advisor close at all times. The assassin, you know. The one that poses as a tutor of all things."

"Oh, I know", Rory Ravonar said. He sounded as if he had just accidentally bitten into a lemon, and if he registered the startled intake of breath from the bushes he attributed it to a sudden gust of wind. "We had a little run-in not so long ago."

"Yes sir, I heard about that. Something about a monkey, wasn't it?" Horter didn't even have time to scream, much less cast a spell, before his thin throat was clenched tightly by a meaty fist.

"You will never mention that monkey in my presence again", the Roarer growled, his face inches from the other man's bulging eyes. "Do you understand that, apprentice?"

Horter nodded desperately, then started to take quick, wheezing breaths as the grip relaxed.

"Good. As for Dekaras, he is a clever man and a very dangerous assassin, but even he cannot be in two places at once."

"I wouldn't bet on that", Horter shuddered and rubbed his aching throat. "I've heard these stories…"

"And that is all they are. Stories. He probably spreads half of them around himself. There will be ways to get around him, and if the Odesseirons refuse to listen to reason, then that is exactly what we shall have to do. The Master wants them to help tilt the political power of Surthay in his favour, but the example of their untimely deaths will be almost as useful as their support."

SMACK! Small pieces of apple slowly dribbled down the Roarer's face leaving sticky trails of honey in their wake. From within the bushes a shrill voice called out.

"Don't you dare hurt my family or you'll be sorry, you big mean troll!" Edwin glared defiantly at the two stunned wizards, fists clenched. Then he noticed them staring back at him. Judging from the looks on their faces he was very much visible. "Oops", Edwin breathed, then turned to run.

"After him!” Rory Ravonar commanded. "Don't let him reach the house!" Edwin ran as fast as he could, but his legs couldn't match Horter's longer strides and the apprentice wizard was rapidly gaining on him. "No spells!” he heard Ravonar yell. "That will set off the ward spells!"

As he ran Edwin cursed himself for not remembering that the invisibility potion was bound to wear off as soon as he attacked anyone. Apparently even the throwing of an apple counted, even if it could hardly be considered a lethal weapon. Horter would catch up with him any moment now. Edwin just had time to fumble his box of potions open and grab two of them. One of them he hurriedly swallowed, the other he kept hidden in the palm of his hand. Then the apprentice wizard was on him and Edwin felt himself swept off the ground.

"Ha!" Horter panted. "I've got you now you little weasel! Spy on us, would you? We've got ways of dealing with spies…" Before he could complete the sentence Edwin belched. A foot-long jet of flame burst forth from his open mouth and caused Horter to shy back, dropping his prisoner. From somewhere in the distance a bell started ringing and the faint sounds of talking and laughter from the Mansion momentarily stopped. Edwin tried to get off the ground, only to find himself staring at a pair of extravagant red and pointed boots.

"Going somewhere?” Rory Ravonar asked coldly before he picked the struggling boy up by the scruff of the neck and clamped a hand across his mouth. "Oh, for Myrkul's sake, Horter. Put it out!" The younger wizard was batting hysterically at his face. Luckily enough for him his beard had narrowly avoided catching fire, but the ends were lightly singed and still smoking.

"Not bad", Ravonar grudgingly admitted. "A potion of Firebreath to set off the wards, eh? Not bad at all. Not good enough though. You're coming with us, boy. Your parents may have had warning by now that something's happened, but they won't know exactly what and by the time they find out you're missing it will be too late."

"MMPPH!” Edwin protested. He was very much afraid, but he knew he had to do something and he still held one more trump. Groaning as loudly as he could he managed to distract the two grown wizards enough that they didn't notice him tip the contents of the second potion bottle out over their boots. He only hoped it would be enough.

Potent Potions part 2

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Last modified on February 9, 2003
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