Moondust

    Seven witch’s fingernails, three dashes of blood from a rabid hound, and of course the pollen from a moonglow plant. These are the ingredients for moondust; a powerful psychoactive powder that can be imbibed in any fashion imaginable. And I, Ricktus, sell it. But anyone who has ever met me simply knows me as The Apothecary. But I’m not a real apothecary, mind you; I don’t help anyone or heal any ailments. I simply concoct and sell vials of Moondust for quite a bit of coin.

    I go from town to town, set up shop for several weeks, and leave. By the time I’m gone most of the inhabitants are addicted to moondust and their lives are reduced to nothing. But that doesn’t bother me, so long as I have enough money for more ingredients and another horse to travel by.

    Nothing smells better than the scent of a finished batch of Moondust. Typically, I sell them in small vials that are no longer than the length of your hand.

    With a mortar and pestle, I grind the nails of a witch until they are a powder. “Why?” you might ask when you think of witch’s nails, but you should know that witches work with much more powerful herbs and drugs than I usually do. Witches are so high off their own potions, they’re probably more lame in the head than I am. So imagine, for a moment, what is under their long, grimy nails. And for that reason, each batch of Moondust is just as unique as the other!

    Once the nails are nothing ground to powder, I mix it with several droplets of blood from a poor hound, a rabid one. It doesn’t cost much of anything to get a crate of blood from a rabid dog, no one wants them. But I have to pay whoever does it for me. Those people are subject to getting the Black Plague, and I wouldn’t dream of touching even their bodies.

    And of course, moondust would be nothing if it weren’t for the plant moonglow. It grows in only the densest of forests and caves; I have to pay adventurers and explores to find them for me. Interestingly enough, the only creatures insane enough to find the damned flower are high off my own concoctions, so the cycle works quite harmoniously.

    You might begin to wonder how I got into the business. I suppose one could say it was a stroke of luck. Once when I was purchasing moondust from another apothecary such as myself, I realized he had not given me the correct amount for what I had payed him. When I confronted him, he disagreed, and I killed him right on the spot. A quick knife in the back was enough. After using almost everything of what was left in his shop over the course of a week, several crates of ingredients had been delivered to the unfortunate fellow’s doorstep. Luckily enough, lying around in his library was the list of ingredients. From then on I took his position and became an apothecary. The addicts don’t care who they get it from, so long as they get it, so there were no discrepancies there.

    The mixing process is controlled chaos. A array of fumes rise up from the vials and fill the room. The mixer gets a small high from it and begins to see hallucinations, gets sudden bursts of energy, and is completely out of his mind by the time he is finished making the batch. Most of the people he meets look like goblins, ghouls, and spectral phantoms in which he has no explanation for their existence. By the time the sun has gone down the residual effects of it are not enough to keep him awake, and he falls asleep.

    Nothing is more addictive than moondust. Hallucinations, euphoria, and psychedelic experiences keep the user coming back until his coin purse is empty and he is selling his clothes for another sniff.

    Once during a slow afternoon in a town known as Rookshire, a young woman approached the shop. In my eyes, she had feathery wings coming out of her back, and a small shortsword at her side. Though I must admit the latter could have been real. Her skin was ghostly pale and she had dark bags under her shimmering grey eyes. Her hair was quite peculiar, I noted, consisting of a large nest of snakes.

    “Excuse me,” she said politely.

    I shook my head until the hallucinations ceased. “What can I do you for?” I asked pleasantly. It was a wonderful day, after all, and she was quite pretty.

    “I need an elixir, I’m quite ill.”
    “An elixir? An elixir for what?” I asked.
    “For healing. You’re an apothecary, aren’t you?”
    I peeked my head over the stand of the shop, and there it was on a large wooden sign, the word Apothecary.

    “Well . . . yes,” I said, nervous that this poor women would die. The old Rookshire apothecary could’ve probably helped her. “So will you do it?”

    “What?” I asked. Why was this woman here again?
    “Make an elixir, for healing.”
    “Oh, oh, yes! Yes of course.”
    The girl put a small purse of coins in front of me. “There, I’m paying you in advanced. I’ll come back tomorrow at this time. Please, please have it ready.”

    “Oh, I don’t need that. I’ll have it prepared for you tomorrow. No charge necessary.” I thought about the piles of coins I had; so little was needed for ingredients. Business around Rookshire was growing like wildfire, and I’d have to leave soon before the guards caught wind of the operation. Moondust is a forbidden substance.

    “Gods bless you,” she said before snatching up the purse and running off.

    Before I could think about anything else, I knew I’d have to write the order down somewhere. My attention span was that of a fly’s. After it was scrawled I looked about the shop for a book on healing elixirs. Never once had I been requested to make anything that would help anyone. My unpopularity was due to the fact that I never advertised my presence in a village. once one person bought my product, the townspeople knew why I was there. Such was why I had to leave so quickly, the authorities do not like moondust dealers.

    By the end of that day I was exhausted. I had to battle through the psychoactive effects of moondust in an attempt to learn how to make the elixir. But the combination of being incredibly high and bored with customers left me with a new desire to learn. I had even dared to go outside the shop. Once I left it, it was another world. The whole village was active and loud. I could hardly take in all the noise.

    After hours of walking I found a shop called The Mortar and Pestle that sold ingredients for real apothecaries. A list of herbs I would need was crumpled in my hand, in the other was a large amount of coin. I bought the herbs, heavily overpaid, and left as quickly as I had come. Which, for someone as delirious as I was, took hours.

    When I got back it was a simple procedure of grinding and mixing the herbs. By the end I had a beautifully colorful concoction. Instead of grey, dull powder, it was a vibrant red liquid. It glowed and pulsated with the bioluminescent herbs ground up inside. I had no idea that my own illegitimate profession could be so beautiful. With the help of an adhesive I placed a small piece of parchment on the vial that read Healing Elixir. By then it was the dead hours of the night and the effects of moondust were lost to me. The moment was indescribably profound; and I realized I stumbled upon my true calling.

    The next morning I didn’t make moondust. I was completely sober. An hour after I woke up, the woman arrived still looking painfully ill. As a result of my sudden sobriety, my body was left twitching horribly, and I had to drink large amounts of water to keep myself from vomiting.

    “Good morrow, apothecary.”
    “It’s Ricktus, m’am,” I rasped with a sore throat.
    “Good to meet you Ricktus,” she smiled. “So is it ready?”
    “Right here.” I brought the vial into view and she gasped. When I handed it to her, she began to cry softly.

    “Are you okay, m’am?”

    She sniffed a few times and wiped her nose. She looked even more beautiful when there weren’t snakes coiling around her head. “Yes, yes I’m fine. Oh, thank you!” She leapt across the counter and embraced me strongly. The feeling was wonderful. For once my lungs were clear of that dust and my heart didn’t feel so cold.

    “Y—you’re welcome,” I stuttered.
    “I won’t forget this,” she choked.
    When she released me from her embrace we locked eyes for a moment, both of us horribly sick. And after wiping her eyes, she walked away with her head bowed to the ground.

    That day I decided to stop concocting that wretched substance. Instead I made more healing elixirs and I handed them out for free to some of the peasants in the town. Many of them, ironically, had come back to me with the money they got from selling the elixirs in the hope of purchasing more moondust. Their world was shattered when they were informed I had none in supply. In several days nearly the whole town had become enraged at me.

    One of the patrons I had serviced frequently tipped off the guards of my operation in an act of vengeance. I had gotten a whole town addicted, and now I was forcing them to sober up. And the sober life of a lowly peasant was nothing easy to bear.

    At the end of the week, while I was in the peak of my withdrawals, a group of guards stormed the shop. They took everything I had including the books, ingredients, and the large amounts of coin I had compiled over the years. Thinking that was punishment enough, they left me evicted but refused to execute me as was the normal procedure.

All the wrong I had done to the world came back in a sudden, fiery revenge.

 

    By the time I was thirty I was ready to die. My health had been damaged greatly by moondust and I was left a beggar in the streets of a village near Rookshire. They treated me like the spit of a human being I was. On a particularly frosty and wet day, I sought refuge under the abandoned stand of a fruit vendor. It did little to spare me from the icicles that rained down. The village was empty, as it was cold and everyone was inside their cottages.

“Ricktus?” a familiar voice called out from the wind. I thought it was my imagination. But the voice came again. “Ricktus, is that you?”

    I sat up from my cold perch and looked around. Standing in the middle of the desolate road was a woman, about the same age I was, with grey eyes and brown hair. Suddenly it was apparent who she was. But I didn’t have the heart to address her as if I knew her.

    “Yes. Yes that’s me.”

    “What happened to you?” she walked closer to me, and I cringed, still pretending as if she was just a stranger.

    “The guards took away my shop,” I admitted.

    Immediately the expression on her face changed as her mind linked it all together. All the rumors that must have circulated finally made sense. At this age she was a clever, strong, and capable woman who could survive off her own wits. But I was cold, tired, and vulnerable. I broke down. I fell into her arms and wept. The accumulation of my punishment from the gods had finally hit me full force, and she was the only evidence of what good I had done in my life. One woman.

    “Come with me. It’s my turn to heal you,” she said. I nodded and followed her back to a modest cottage at the edge of forest. Inside there was a small fire burning, and the air was warming me with each breath.

    “I didn’t know why I left my cottage this afternoon. Something told me that I needed a good walk in the rain.”

    I sat silently in front of the fire, too ashamed to respond.

    “But now I know. The gods had a plan for you. No doubt you would have died tonight, just like I would’ve died if you didn’t help me.”

    I looked up at her and our eyes met for the second time in our lives. “You were the only person I helped. The only one. The rest of my life is nothing. All I’ve ever done is harm.” My eyes squeezed out the last of their tears and I sobbed in front of the crackling fire.

    She sat next to me and rubbed my back with tender love.

    “But at least you’ve helped me. And if the gods thought it was right to save you, it must mean you have more purpose in this world than to die now.”

    Her words shook me like lightening shakes a tree. It scorched the last of my pity for myself, and turned all my sorrowful thoughts to ash. I fell into her arms once more and was cradled like a child, feeling empty. “Get some rest. Tomorrow we choke the pity.”

She lead me to the only bed in her cottage and allowed me the only night of peaceful rest I’d had in years.

    The next morning was the start of my new life. The woman, who I learned was named Freya, supplied me with enough coin to purchase a new shop in a city that knew not of my past whereabouts; as well as all the supplies I needed to help mend the sickly. The town’s name was Westrun. By the second week I was there, over a dozen townsfolk knew me by my real name and were frequent customers.

    With increasing profit I was able to go to great lengths in order to concoct an extremely potent elixir for my own ailments that came with the years of using Moondust. Following that, Freya began to take an attraction to me and we married several years after the shop was opened. Our love was unbeatable. We both had been through countless trials, and our lives were riddled with so much pain that our marriage grew watchful of any sort of reoccurrence.

    Three years later we moved on from Westrun. Together we serviced a handful of other towns and villages; healing hundreds of sick folk.

    Yet at that point our marriage was only beginning. When Freya felt I redeemed all the wrong in my life, we moved. There was a lovely forest situated at the basin of an infamous mountain known as Kalgarath. There we constructed a small cottage next to an old elf’s who was named Eckle.

    After we raised two children, he became their grandfather. And only then did he begin to tell of some of the greatest adventures; and his story which was quite relatable to my own. He called the story, “Mount Kalgarath”.