The Wizard Mokraine turning up at the front desk is something I can do without, especially before lunch.
Not that he’s a bad person, exactly. But he’s a far-from-entirely-sane First Adept Doctor of the Arcane with a habit of draining people’s emotions. While neither permanent nor illegal, it’s disconcerting. He also has a touchy temper and a really unpleasant familiar.
“Ah, Chief…” he pauses; I’m not sure whether he’s forgotten my name, or why he’s here, or both. He stares past my shoulder in a way that makes me want to look behind me, even though I know the only thing there is a wall that needs painting.
“A potion,” he says, eventually. “A potion for those travelling through portals.”
There are seven permanent portals that open on this city. Travelling through them’s often necessary, but a lot of people’s stomachs don’t like it. And doing it too much tends to do odd things to the mind.
“It’s being sold in Green Dog Way,” he says. “You need to stop it.”
“I see,” I say, not seeing. “Could you tell me why?”
But at this point a Barraklé couple come in yelling, and off he goes to absorb whatever upset they’re loudly experiencing. I wonder briefly about getting him on staff to drain emotions off the more overexcited citizens (not that I’d dare ask him). I forget all about the potion till I’m on my way home and happen to pass Green Dog Way.
I decide maybe I should check it out.
The thing with Mokraine being, he might be mad as a fistful of moons but he’s still a very powerful warlock when the wind’s in the right direction. If he’s concerned about something of a magical nature, there’s probably a good reason.
The shop has a sort of crammed, intense look about it, and some of the bottles of potion do odd things to the lamplight falling through them.
The woman behind the counter whirls about as soon as she hears the door open. “If it’s about the portal potion, you can have your money back. Why I even bother...” She’s a short fierce bony old lady with wiry grey hair, huge earrings, half a dozen necklaces and clothing so brightly coloured it shouts. She clocks the uniform and says, “Oh, I’m sorry, Officer. How can I help you?”
“You can help me by telling me about this potion.”
She sighs. “I’m happy to give people their money back, I was only trying to help.”
I’ve been a law officer in this place long enough that the words ‘I was only trying to help’ have a tendency to make me shudder.
“You’ve had complaints?” I say.
“Yes. People are very stupid.”
“And what was the nature of the complaints?” I take out my notebook.
“They said it didn’t work, but it does work! I never said it was supposed to stop people being sick!”
“That’s the main problem people have with going through portals,” I say.
“But it’s not the important one.” She aims a finger at me as though she’s about to run me through with the very long, bright green fingernail. “You must be an intelligent man, or you wouldn’t be in the Militia.” Grateful as I am for her belief in my officers, in a couple of cases I might be forced to disagree with her. “Would you want to lose your mind?” she says.
“No Ma’am,” I say, though being as I’m a were, I lose a large portion of it for about three days a month anyway.
“Well then!” she says.
“Your potion helps portal travellers stay sane?”
“Of course, they’re not going to notice the effects immediately. It only kicks in if you travel through portals frequently. That’s when people’s minds start going!”
“Did it not occur to you,” says a voice behind me, “that there might be a very good reason for that?”
The lady appears irritated at the gaunt, scruffy individual in a faded robe who’s looking at her as though she’s just crawled out of the egg.
“First Adept Mokraine,” I say hastily, hoping that even if she hasn’t heard of him the words ‘First Adept’ will stop her making any unfortunately hasty remarks.
She’s heard of him. Her face goes almost as green as her fingernails. “What…what do you mean?” she says.
“Travelling through portals is a great strain on the mind,” Mokraine says. “Inevitably. We are not, we mortals, creatures of the multiverse. We are designed to live our lives on one plane. Those who travel frequently between the planes undergo such extremes, such intense changes, such a stunning variety of experience, that the mind is shaken. To survive, it becomes flexible. Rigid, it will shatter. Your potion…your potion rigidifies the mind. And…” he stops. “You see?” He says.
“You mean it might actually make the madness worse?” she says.
“Oh no,” Mokraine says. “It is much more likely to destroy the mind entirely.”
“Oh,” she says. “Oh dear.” And she sits down very fast.
So we get together a list of as many customers as she can remember and gather up the remaining potion for safe disposal, and as I am leaving Mokraine follows me.
“So what came after ‘and’?” I say.
He gives me that high-nosed glare.
“Come on, First Adept,” I say. “There was something else you weren’t saying.”
“A rigid mind is a liability,” Mokraine says. “But under the right circumstances, it can also be a terrible weapon. Should someone survive, their mind rigidified, hardened like a diamond…”
There’s a pleasant thought to take home. “So why did you tell me?” I says. “You could have…um…dissuaded her from making the stuff yourself.”
“I could have, yes,” says Mokraine. “But that wouldn’t have been legal.” He gives me a nod, and sweeps off into the night.
I’ll never understand him. I’m quite glad about that, actually.