First: A New World
“All right, all right.” Halsey sighed. “Let’s go on. I think we have enough for the paper – I mean, we can’t write a paper on this place for Mr. Catalon, anyway. He’s going to blow his top.”
“We at least have to see the rest of the museum. Come on, maybe they’ll show us something interesting like where all the tools were or something. And then we can work out what we’re going to write for class. I mean. We could do something on the conflicts between the displays and the book? And then say, since we weren’t there, we can’t tell?”
“Okay, okay. we can do the rest. Maybe there’s nice souvenir in the shop that’ll prove we were actually here and not making things up.”
“Good idea Up, first.”
“Up, up. I can’t believe anyone willingly lived in somewhere with this many stairs pre-lifts.” Halsey huffed as they headed towards the stairs. Kael should get going on that herself.. but she found them far too interesting.
“Maybe they, I don’t know, just didn’t come down. Like the princess-in-the-tower stories, you know.”
“You, valet, you go and get me some groceries,” Halsey tried in what was probably supposed to be an arrogant voice.
“Yeah, like that. Why not? She was supposed to be a recluse.”
“She was supposed to be a myth!.”
“Well,” Caron tried, “a lot of things that we thought are myths have turned out to be true in the last fifty years, haven’t they? Like the One-Man-Ship and the Woman Who Flew.”
“But those were – I mean those were stories of ingenuity. And pluck. Not stories of, of someone building a tower out of – out of potions!”
“Come on, Halls. There’s supposed to be a Kael face actor up on the top floor Maybe she knows something about how they built this place. I mean, she’s the living-reenactment part, right?”
“They ought to have some of her valets, then,” Halsey muttered. “You know: ‘this is what life was really like.’”
“Put it on the comment card when we leave. Maybe you can get a job here over the summer.”
“As a valet?”
“Well, I have to admit, I don’t think you look much like Kael.”
“Yeah, but how do we even know what Kael looked like?” Halsey sounded like she was a little offended at the idea of not looking like Kael. She thought that pleased her, but she wasn’t sure.
“Um, well, we know she was native, don’t we? And then we know that there are portraits of her – um, let’s see. The Central Building, that place downtown, that has the mosaics they pulled out of the temple that was here. Temple? Something like that. So we have some idea of what she looked like. And you, Halls, don’t look like that.”
“Well, of course not. I’m not a – harrumph.” She stomped up the stairs. “You and being right.”
Kael added ‘Central building, downtown’ to her list of places she needed to see and hurried up the back stairs. The first visitors hadn’t looked all that different from people she knew – had known – and neither did Mr. Vibius. What did this people who “weren’t natives” look like? Was it even a look? Sure, the people in the north had borne bigger noses and longer chins, for instance, and the people from the south had blonder hair and paler eyes. But such differences melded out over time – didn’t they?
She made it up to her potions room and was considering her cauldron when two young adults walked into her room. “See? I told you Kael was up here.”
The male – Caron? – was tall, lanky, and very very blonde. The girl, Halsey, had a tiny nose and hair that was nearly white, along with eyes that were very pale blue.
Kael studied them over her cauldron. “Well.” She let her voice drip with the disdain she’d have for an adventurer who made it this far. “You made it through all the traps, mmm, and all the stairs?”
“Actually, there weren’t any-” Halsey fell silent as Caron elbowed her.
“And now you want a potion for your troubles.”
Caron stepped forward. “Can you do that? I didn’t think people knew how to make, like, real potions at home anymore?”
And then how did they make potions?
“Of course I can. I am Kaelingrade Torrent-Step. I built this tower with potions, after all.” She raised her chin. “I can make any potion that you want.”
“But I mean, okay, saying that the real Kaelingrade could, does that sort of thing still work now? I thought that the reasons that potions, real potions, went out of favor was that there were things that could be made in a factory or in a lab that did a lot more? Like, I mean. Well, not raising buildings, but the whole health potion market. Compared to like a home remedy or your granny’s white willow bark potion, the things you can get from a store do a lot more and they do it faster, don’t they?”
Hallsey – it had to be Hallsey – was very earnest and very much wanted an answer. Kael found that her pride was pricked.
“What makes you think that these modern ‘factory’ potions are so much better? What evidence do you have comparing them to the work of a potion-master?” It sounded like they didn’t have proper potions-masters anymore. Had that all been lost in the conquest? She picked ingredients with care from the shelf, sniffing each one. “This is white willow bark. You can smell it, it won’t hurt you. This is a plant that was once called the ear-of-sheep and is now called,” she looked again at the label, “Osteraon. Which is, of course, just another way of saying that it is soft and fuzzy. You can touch that one. And then we use a bit of this – careful, that one will burn your nostrils. It’s best used in very small doses;” she picked up her tiniest tongs and showed them the portioning. “And then here is something that in my day we called astreon, which is a tincture of a seed that only grows on the highest mountains-”
“They grow it in greenhouses now,” Caron offered. “Climate-controlled. But they have a devil of a time with it.”
“And then we add a nice neutral base.” She sniffed the bottle. “This one is distilled water. Sometimes I would use something like a distilled spirit.”
“Like… vodka?” Caron wrinkled his nose. “Doesn’t that make the end result alcoholic?”
“Yes. but it also makes for a very shelf-stable potion, the sort that you can take a few drops of every day for a year or several years.”
“What sort of thing would need that?” Hallsey wasn’t scoffing, but she wasn’t quite acting like she believed Kael, either. Where had the world come to, that potions-masters weren’t heard of except in myths?
“I can think of several off the top of my head. The first would be something for someone who had one of the wasting diseases – it would not cure it, but it would keep it in check. The second would be for a fighter, who would need a little healing or a lot over a long period of time. And the third would b for a messenger or courier, who might need a great deal of endurance once in a while.”
They were staring at her. Kael continued to mix the ingredients, sniffing each one twice to be sure it was the right thing. It required just the right amount of stirring and just the right amount of magic, and neither of those could be listed in books, at least, to her experience, not well.
“You’re serious,” Hallsey determined after a moment. “You’re saying the people who were here before literally had healing potions. You’re talking about healing cancer.”
“Keeping it in check,” Caron countered. “And you know that Pfixer has that potion that can do the same thing.”
“For like a thousand dollars a month! And they just came up with it and it doesn’t work on everyone!”