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Potent Potions 2


Edwin found himself in a small, sparsely furnished chamber deep within the Ravonar Mansion. "You'll both be sorry you did this", he said, aware that he wasn't exactly in a position to make threats. He was tied to a chair, trussed up with so many layers of rope that he resembled a larva with a human head. The room also contained a couple of other chairs, a table and not much else. His box of remaining potions had been taken from him and deposited on the table after Ravonar judged it of too little consequence to claim for himself. The only other occupant of the room was Horter, Rory Ravonar's apprentice. After having been subjected to Edwin's conversation for some time the young wizard was starting to look even more haggard and harassed than before and he had developed a nasty tic in his right cheek. Ravonar had wisely excused himself after his personal carriage had brought his prisoner home.

"I'll have to get back before somebody misses me", he had said after refreshing himself with a small glass of red wine and handing his apprentice another one. "We don't want the others to decide to take a hand, and they might do that if we reveal the taking of our little hostage prematurely. No, we'll wait a few days, and deal solely with the Odesseirons. They can either cooperate or set about trying to produce a new heir at once." He bent over his captive with a smug smile. "That means you'll be dead and buried, brat", he said. Ravonar then gave his apprentice some final instructions. "Don't hurt him in the meantime, though", he said. "That would lose us our advantage."

While Edwin was certainly apprehensive about what might come, the knowledge that he was safe for the moment was an opportunity too precious not to be taken advantage of. He had been keeping his own spirits up by slowly driving Horter closer and closer to the pit of utter despair.

"You'll be very, very sorry", Edwin said again. "When my parents find out what you've done they’ll kill both you and the fat one. Or else my tutor will." He paused for maximum dramatic effect. "Yes, my tutor will likely find me first", he said. "Then he'll kill you."

"He won't!” Horter almost croaked. "We left before anybody saw us, and even if he guessed where you were, this is a secret room in the middle of a mansion filled with armed elite guards. They'll have his head if he so much as dares set foot here!"

"He'll still find me", Edwin said as confidently as he could. "He can find anyone. Then he'll hang you. Or stab you. Or maybe flay you alive. I hear he knows all sorts of interesting ways of killing people. Perhaps he'll even let me choose. Do you think he might? I'd quite like that."

"Shut up!” Horter yelled, his face grey with fear. "SHUT UP! I'll gag you if you don't!"

"You can't do that," Edwin smirked. "You could hurt me. Then fat old Rory would be pretty mad at you, wouldn't he? Hey, I bet he'd kill you himself."

Horter trembled.

"Say", Edwin said, "what time d'you suppose Teacher Dekaras will get here? Only, I'm a little sleepy so I hope he'll show up to kill you soon so I can go to bed. Of course, he never sleeps in a bed himself, so I guess he doesn't pay much attention to things like that."

"He doesn't?"

"Oh, no. He sleeps in a coffin down in the basement. And I've never seen him actually eat anything, but they say the people he kills are always found without a drop of blood in their bodies. That's why he's so good at it, killing I mean." Edwin was really getting into this lie by now, he was almost starting to believe it himself, and watching the wizard's horrified face was very entertaining. "And he can turn himself into a bat", he said. "Or mist. He'll get into any house, and nobody notices a thing. You won't either. Not until it's too late."

"B-But I'm pretty sure I've seen him in the daytime", Horter stammered.

"So obviously he's a very powerful vampire", Edwin sneered. There was a soft sound outside the door, the shift of a boot against the floor perhaps. "Hey, maybe that's him!" The heavy door slowly slid open with a loud and ominous creak. Horter crouched back in his chair, trembling.

"Master Ravonar ordered us to report back here", one of the three uniformed guards who entered the room said. He was wearing heavy plate mail and a golden helmet in the shape of a roaring lion that obscured most of his face, but there was a hint of mild curiosity to his voice.

"Y-yes", Horter said and wiped his face. "An intruder may attempt to enter the premises. An assassin, armed and dangerous. I want you to round up all the men and deal with the situation, Captain Gridin. Kill the bastard on sight, then return to your regular duties."

"Yes, sir!", the guard said with a smart salute. He gestured curtly to his two companions and they followed him out of the room.

Half an hour later Guardsman Pritt was starting to get fairly bored. He'd checked his assigned areas of the mansion twice already, and there was still no trace of an intruder; not the slightest hint of any disturbance. Pritt yawned and stretched, longing to slip into deep and dreamless sleep. Idly he wondered where the others were, he hadn't seen anybody else for a while now. Suppose they'd already been relieved and nobody had remembered to tell him? Suppose they'd even done it on purpose? He knew he wasn't particularly popular, a sad consequence of being a man with chronic bad breath forced to sleep, eat and work in close proximity to other men blessed with healthy senses of smell. And they thought he was stupid too, just because he never could remember those fancy military terms. As long as a man knew how to stick another fellow with the pointy end of his sword that ought to be enough in Pritt's opinion.

"Sleeping on duty?” a cold voice hissed behind Pritt, startling him into a strange cross between a salute and a guilty twitch.

"No, SIR!” he exclaimed. "Guardsman Pritt at your command, Captain Gridin SIR!"

"Well, that's a great relief." The captain came out into the moonlight filtering in through the windows, adjusting his helmet as he spoke. "So, Pritt. You look like a man of rare intelligence. How do you propose we catch this 'dangerous assassin'?"

At last! Pritt barely could contain his joy. Here was his chance to shine in the eyes of his superior, to make a Clever Contribution! "Well, Captain Gridin SIR", he said, "I reckon we should secure the perimeter first." While he wasn't entirely certain what that meant, at least it sounded good. "Then when he appears you and I could surprise him, sir. After that the others can help take him down if necessary." His tone hinted that he didn't think anybody but himself would be necessary at all.

"An excellent plan", the Captain said approvingly, "with only two minor flaws."

"What are those, SIR?"

"Well, first of all, I'm not actually Captain Gridin." The sword of the false Captain effortlessly found its way into a chink of Pritt's armour, just where the shoulder met the throat. The guard crumpled helplessly to the floor, blood spurting out of the wound to choke off his words of protest. The last thing he heard before death claimed him was the smooth voice of his killer. "And secondly", that voice said, "by now there are no 'others'."

The sharp and military knock on the door interrupted Edwin in the middle of a gruesome, bloody and patently untrue tale he was telling Horter about his teacher. The wizard was pale and sweating by now, but he seemed unable to keep from listening.

"Come in!" Edwin yelled.

"You don't get to say that!", Horter whispered angrily. "I'm the guard. You're the prisoner. I decide who gets to come in." He cleared his throat. "Come in!", he said, trying to sound regal.

The armoured shape of the guard captain stepped inside the room. By now the armour was no longer as clean and shiny as it had been. Here and there red drops dotted the surface of the breastplate as well as the lion head helmet.

"Situation dealt with, sir", the guard said.

"You - you did it?!", Horter asked, hardly daring to believe his ears. Edwin gasped.

"Yes, sir. I'm a firm believer in duty, sir."

"Good, good", Horter murmured. Then he paused. Something was wrong. He knew that a wizard's intuition is a finely tuned instrument when it comes to mortal danger, even the one of a wizard as inexperienced as himself. There was something obvious, glaring him straight in the face. He didn't know Gridin very well, but surely the man never used to be this…tall? With a swiftness of action born of the knowledge of impending death the apprentice whipped a slender blue wand out of his robe to point its tip directly at the heart of the bound boy beside him. At the same time the man who had been posing as Gridin drew his sword with the speed of a striking snake. It pressed into Horter's flesh, gently nudging his chest. With a sort of sick fascination the young wizard saw that the sword had already been used that evening.

"Reporting back as ordered, sir", Dekaras said and removed the helmet with his free hand. "As you ordered, I rounded up all the men. I just thought I'd obey your further commands and kill the bastard before resuming my regular duties."

"Whu-what did you do to Captain Gridin?"

"Oh, I killed him immediately after entering the house. Now, what is it they say? Ah, yes. 'A man in uniform is a man without a face'. Rather appropriate quote under the circumstances, don't you think?"

"You don't dare hurt me! This is a Wand of Frost. I'll have the boy dead as soon as you make a move."

The assassin's expression didn't change, but there was a swift flicker of disgust within the black eyes.

"True", he said. "But on the other hand, as soon as you attempt to harm him I'll kill you. We seem so be in a deadlock. I suggest we attempt to find an alternative solution."

"What do you mean?", Horter asked, wary of trickery.

"We both put down our weapons on that table. Then we solve this conflict in a gentlemanly fashion. A battle of wits, if you will."

"Such as?"

"The old poison gambit", Dekaras said and pointed at the bottle of wine and the two goblets still standing on the table. "I poison one of them. You choose one. I take the other. We both drink, and the one with the sharper wits survives."

"No!", Edwin protested. "Don't do that!"

"Silence!” Dekaras snapped. "Do not attempt to interfere, whatever happens. Well, wizard? What say you?"

Horter watched the dripping sword. "Agreed", he said. He didn't like it much, but it wasn't as if he had much of a choice. And surely a mage with a highly trained intellect should be able to measure himself against a common rogue?

Sword and wand were carefully placed upon the table, the two men never relinquishing their eye contact as they did so. Then they both sat down on opposite sides of the table.

"We begin", Dekaras said and held out his hand. Horter shook it with some trepidation and winced as the other man almost crushed his hand. The assassin pulled the bottle towards him and filled the two goblets almost to the brim with dark red wine. He chose a small bottle of clear potion from Edwin's discarded box, displayed it to his enemy and then passed it across the goblets. He kept his other arm raised as he did, so Horter had no way of seeing what happened, but he could hear fluid trickle into the wine. Dekaras put the empty potion bottle down and rapidly passed the two goblets back and forth, left and right until Horter was completely bewildered as to which was which. He then placed one of them in front of himself and the other one in front of the wizard. "The game begins", the assassin said with a crooked smile. "Now it is your move."

Horter decided to try to win some time. He needed to think. "How did you trace us here?” he asked conversationally.

Dekaras mutely pointed at Horter's feet. There were still luminous white spots on his boots after the potion Edwin had poured over them. "If your intellect was sufficiently advanced to appreciate the subtle art of potion use you would have known", he said. "Not everybody realises the alternative use for a potion of Speed, but the fact that it glows faintly in the dark can sometimes prove very practical. When the wards were set off I knew where to start looking, and behold, there were footprints enough for an entire herd of kidnappers, leading straight to the place where you had left your carriage earlier. Quite elementary and goes to show the importance of paying attention in class. One never knows when little things like that may come in handy." He winked at Edwin as he said that. "Now, choose."

Horter hesitated. The wine in both goblets looked identical. It smelled identical. He had to think, to use his brain. Would the man in front of him put the poison in his own goblet or in that of his enemy? A stupid man would put it in his enemy's. A clever man would put it in his own, as a ruse. But an even more clever man would know that and act accordingly. And a very, very clever man might try a double-bluff. How to counteract that? Then he had an idea. A brilliant idea. He pulled both goblets towards him, an evil smile twisting his nervous face into the visage of a fiend. With trembling fingers he held one of the goblets to the lips of the bound boy beside him.

"Drink!" he ordered. Dekaras tilted his head slightly to one side, his eyes enigmatic. "Didn't think of that, did you?” Horter gloated. "Whether he lives or dies I will know which one to pick. And if you stop him I will still know. Now who is the one with the wits?"

Dekaras didn't answer. He just kept watching Horter, his face motionless.

"Teacher Dekaras?” Edwin asked in a trembling voice. "What should I do?" There was no answer, at least not in so many words, but by now Edwin was fairly good at reading his tutor's expressions. Had that been a minute nod? Edwin closed his eyes and took a leap of faith. The wine was temperate, harsh to his mouth and slightly bitter. Edwin waited, holding his breath. Every beat of his heart echoed through his head like a giant drum. After a minute or so it was still beating.

"Yes!” Horter crowed, his scorched beard standing on end with excitement. "YES! I have it! I knew you wouldn't sacrifice the boy!" He placed the goblet Edwin had drunk from in front of himself and handed the other one to the assassin with a wide smirk on his face. "Care for a toast?", he mocked.

"NO!” Edwin screamed in horror. "NO! You can't do that, that's not fair!"

"I told you not to interfere", Dekaras said, his voice uncharacteristically mild. " I also seem to remember telling you that life isn't fair. Now, you may want to close your eyes. This will not be pretty."

Edwin shook his head. His eyes were rapidly filling with tears, but he wouldn't look away. He wouldn't. Thus it was that he saw both the assassin and the Red Wizard raise their goblets and clink them together.

"Good bye", Horter said cheerfully. "Seldom have I met a worthier opponent. Very heroic of you to go through with this."

Dekaras shrugged. "Kind of you to say so", he murmured. "Now, let us please get on with this. I'm certain we both have better things to do with our time."

Horter was visibly impressed with this show of bravery in the face of death. "Bottom's up", he said and both men drained their goblets. For a moment the only sound heard was Edwin's half-choked sobs. "You know", Horter said in a magnanimous voice, "you almost succeeded. Rather cunning plan this. You probably could have made it if it had been somebody else here. But of course no simple assassin, no matter how shrewd, could ever be a match for the intellectual power of a Red WizAAAARGGGH!"

As he spoke the last word the wizard's face turned suddenly purple. His bloodshot eyes almost bulged out of their sockets and his swollen tongue protruded between ashen lips as he tumbled to the floor, a lifeless corpse.

"Finally", Dekaras sighed. "I do so hate a wordy opponent." He rapidly peeled off the soiled armour to reveal his customary black attire, and then cut the ropes binding his pupil. As soon as he could move Edwin threw himself into the arms of his rescuer and was given a comforting hug in return. For some reason he couldn't stop shaking and his legs felt very wobbly.

"But I don't understand", Edwin sniffed some minutes later when he was finally able to talk. "I drank from the same goblet as he did. And I wasn't poisoned. You drank from the other one, and you weren't poisoned either."

"Obviously not", Dekaras said in an amused voice.

"So which goblet was poisoned?"

"Both. And neither." Dekaras smiled at his student's puzzled face. "While your excellent use of potions in emergency situations proves that you now have a good understanding of their importance, you obviously still haven't mastered question Three." He displayed the now empty potion bottle. "A potion of Clear Thought", he explained. "Add powdered Mandrake Root and you get the poison known as the Choker. Even a small dose is lethal, as you would have known had you done the extra credit problem I assigned you last week. Both goblets contained the potion, but only that klutz of a wizard consumed the fatal ingredient. He should have known better than to go up against a trained assassin when death was on the line."

"I still don't understand."

Dekaras pulled off his glove and held it out. There was still a remnant of fine, grey powder clinging to the fabric. The assassin nonchalantly tossed the glove onto the dead wizard's body. "Powdered Mandrake Root", he said. "It can be administered through the skin. Why else should I have wanted to shake his hand? This way I could be certain he would get the poison no matter which goblet he picked." He grinned again. "And to think he called me heroic", he said. "If there's one thing I want you to learn from this little experience, boy, it's this. The graveyards of Faerun are littered with dead heroes. Always pick brains over heroism and you won't have to join them for a long time yet. The most heroic of heroes are frequently too stupid to walk and chew at the same time." He held out his now bare hand and Edwin grasped it firmly.

"Teacher Dekaras?", Edwin asked as he followed his tutor out the door.


"You're not gonna die for a long time yet, right?"

"Not likely", the assassin said reassuringly. "Like I said, I'm not hero material and have no intention of developing heroic tendencies. You won't get out of doing your homework that easily, you know."

"Homework I don't mind that much", Edwin said in a voice too serious for his age. "There are worse things to be afraid of."

"Yes", Dekaras said, now matching the boy's solemn voice. "Yes, there are. But not tonight." He squeezed Edwin's hand. "Tonight there is still a party." Then he produced a somewhat sticky bag from one of the many pockets lining his black cloak. "Honey-coated apple?” he asked.

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Last modified on February 9, 2003
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