Britta went first, because she had no choice. Diana kept pushing her forward while making whimpering noises.
The green glow painted the basement walls, and shadows elongated in menacing fashion. It wasn’t a happy, bright green, the kind you’d see on a nursery wall or as a background to a Peppa Pig cartoon. This was a putrid colour that might be called Sewage Olive on a Dulux colour chart.
Britta would have run back up the stairs, if there weren’t a giant armed woman in the way.
She reached the bottom of the stairs and peered around the corner. They were in what appeared to be a laboratory. Flames burned in little bowls with varicoloured bottles and tubes suspended over them, their combined glow creating the lurid lighting effect. They were filled with liquids that bubbled and fizzed as foam spilled out of the tops. Small pools of liquid covered the stone floor.
The Alchemist was bent over a table measuring out a purple powder. It looked purple in this light, although it could have been bright red for all Britta knew. The potion in her hand looked dark brown.
Britta approached the Alchemist, carefully avoiding the puddles. She heard Diana splash through them behind her, and hurried to avoid getting any on her clothes.
The Alchemist didn’t look up, immersed in her work. It was like she’d forgotten she’d asked them to come down. Britta waited for the right moment to speak, but there seemed to be no let up in the scooping and weighing and mixing of ingredients.
“Um,” said Britta after ten minutes of watching. “Do you want to have a look at this?” She held out the potion in her hand.
The Alchemist looked up, the light giving her a horrifying complexion, which was saying something considering how horrifying she was to start with. “I know what it is. Taunting potion. Not much use to anyone.”
“Taunting potion? What does it do?”
“It attracts monsters,” said Diana. “Tanks use them to hold aggro. Allows the rest of the party to fight without getting hurt.”
Britta was disappointed. She recalled the tactic from the fight with Lord Jim’s party, before they turned on her. It was a fairly standard mechanic that didn’t really require a potion. One person with a lot of health and high defence took on the monster and made sure all hits were aimed at them while everyone got to attack for free.
Britta certainly had no interest in getting monsters to focus on her. It was not a very useful potion as far as she was concerned.
“Are they expensive?” she asked, hoping she might be able to make a decent profit off the Auction House.
“Not at all,” said Diana. “Very cheap. They don’t last very long, and most tanks have a bigger problem staying alive than losing aggro. They prefer to carry health pots. You get them in gift boxes sometimes, but can’t say I’ve ever seen one that colour.”
“That’s because the ones you’ve come across are nothing like this one,” said the Alchemist in a voice full of derision. “This is Royal Orange Soup. It’s the strongest taunt potion ever devised.”
“Oh, so it’s a special potion?” said Britta. Perhaps it might be worth something after all.
“Oh, it’s special alright. You drink that, and every monster in a 4km radius will come charging towards you. In a castle, in a dungeon, they’ll break down doors and dig through walls. Not so helpful in a fight if every hostile creature in the area decides to attack at the same time, is it?”
“No,” said Britta. “I suppose not.”
“I suppose not,” confirmed the Alchemist. “Especially when the effect is permanent.”
Britta put the potion on the table, afraid the top might leak and she’d get a few drops on her. To have every monster chase you wherever you went would be a nightmare.”
“What if you got a monster to drink it?” Diana asked.
The Alchemist stopped what she was doing and gave Diana a withering look. “Then you would provide them with reinforcements. Monsters don’t just attack anyone. They aren’t crazy. Adventurers are the ones who make their life a misery, not others of their own kind.”
“What if you gave it to an adventurer you didn’t like?” asked Britta. That seemed like a valid, if cruel, use for it. Stick someone with a death sentence they couldn’t avoid no matter where they hid.
“Why would you do that?” said the Alchemist. It was more of an admonishment than a question.
“No, I was just wondering,” said Britta weakly. “Does it stop once you die?”
It was hard to know how to phrase the question. She wanted to know if the permanent effect would still be there after you respawned. She assumed not. That would mean you’d have to dump the character altogether. That was more than cruel, it was downright vicious.
“It lasts forever,” said the Alchemist. “Your ghost will be a taunter, even your children, if they’re conceived after you drink it. It was a terrible invention I thought was lost—and good riddance. Now you’ve brought it back. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”
Britta hadn’t even done anything and she was being made to feel guilty. “No, no, I wasn’t going to use it. I just wanted to know what it was.”
“I’ll hold onto it,” said Diana. “You did promise it to me, and you never know when something like this might come in handy.”
Britta was surprised, but she had said Diana could have the first batch. Which was probably also the last batch.
“So,” said the Alchemist, “there’s the matter of my fee.”
“Fee?” said Britta. It felt a bit unfair to charge for a simple identification. “How much?”
“Oh, it’s not money I’m after. I need a little job doing.”