It began like every one of our quests.
We were fighting a marauding tribe of orcs and, naturally, I was the first person to be brought down. It was just like clockwork–the clockwork that I, as an artificer never truly mastered–in that my companions charged into the fore and I was left on the ground with a gash on my side and a deep cut across the flesh of the tendons of my left hand.
Perhaps I was too used to it by now. The captain of the current company I joined at least had the decency to cut down the orc that slashed into me as the repeater crossbow in my hands jammed: as it repeatedly did. I remember the orc lying there: its purple-tattooed green face glaring sightlessly at a man that killed it without a moment’s glance and ignoring my semi-conscious form lying beside it forever.
My fingers were shaking as I reached for my pouch … with my healing potions. Most of my pay often went into buying those concoctions. Sometimes I had enough coin to purchase some raw ingredients, but the cost of the equipment and the process of making them took ages and even more resources to upkeep.
It was amazing that such mundane details were flitting through my mind at the time as I struggled to take out a flask of potion: along with thoughts of how my current commander, like many others before him, wouldn’t even let the company healer touch me: as a pettiness for my fumbling in the heat of battle.
So I had to keep stocked up on healing potions and my own food or I wouldn’t have survived even half as long as I already had. My hands were so numb and cold as I forced the potion to my lips. I could feel the familiar burning warmth of the healing fluid churning down my throat, heightening my sense of my surroundings followed by a deep coughing fit coming on.
I feel this so many times. It is a pure, cleansing fire in my blood. And then I finally coughed. It was a long racking cough that splattered out some of the potion I was trying to keep down. I couldn’t even swallow a healing potion right, it seemed.
But then my self-disgust was interrupted something else. To this day, I am not sure how I even noticed it. Perhaps it was the heightened state of regeneration that I always felt when I drink a healing potion: a thing that temporarily augmented my eye sight, or cleared my brains enough to focus on minutiae.
Half of the liquid I spewed out had splattered on the orc: or, more specifically, on its severed arm. I hadn’t noticed that my commander had amputated my attacker before killing it. As far as impromptu battle amputations went, it was fairly utilitarian: in that it wasn’t a clean cut. I saw the ripped pieces of ligament and flesh on the cut part of the limb. It was an ugly and jagged hack-job: one that I was glad none of my limbs had experienced as of yet.
But I didn’t expect what happened next.
Allow me to clarify, if you will pardon the pun: for I had not, in fact, drunk a Potion of Clarity. My powers, such as they were then, did not come back to me: especially since I hadn’t even had time to use any of them before being cut down. That was why I could see so clear-headedly at that moment. Maybe I had one too many healing potions over the years and I’d built up a tolerance. Certainly, the little tinctures I drink every day now help me deal with the headaches. To be honest, I’m actually surprised that I never noticed what I saw sooner.
The mutilated flesh and sinew on the ragged end of the orc limb was slowly, and very gradually, knitting itself back together. I just … looked at it. Maybe there was a time where I might have thought it a trick of the eye or a hallucination from trauma. I might have even considered that the dead creature could have had some troll blood in him. But it was like watching fleshly grass growing back, creeping back, at a steady and accelerated rate. I remember not knowing what to think, but being utterly fascinated by it. Yet it didn’t last long. Then.
It must have been only a few seconds at least. Now, this in itself might have–again–proved nothing to me: just some bizarre residual effect of a substance that perhaps all apprentice healers and alchemists may have learned about in their respective guilds and academies, or at the knees of their masters. But then…
At the time, I still had doubts. I knew enough of healer-craft to know that there was enough blood and energy in a limb–if freshly cut–to still have a brief semblance of life. As it was, I didn’t even know how long ago the commander had cut it off: with everything still feeling like it was in this heavy kind of eternal present.
I immediately started looking around at the corpses now littering the field: afraid that the orcs were being led by a dark priest or a necromancer. But none of the other bodies stirred. Just the arm. And when I looked back, it had stopped moving.
But that sight never left me. I looked down at the empty flask in my hand, at the limb, and back again. And I experienced more … clarity.
I quit that adventuring company with little money to spare, but I joined many others. The transition was not as difficult as some might believe. As an artificer, you learn that there are mechanisms that function well and smoothly due to the interconnection of different parts. I kept up my skills in making devices and imbuing power into artifacts, but my main focus had shifted to surround the art of alchemy.
I stayed out of combat: save when my company was often finished with the initial assaults. Eventually, I saved up enough coin to study under an alchemical master or two. Though my skills as an artificer were poor in battle, they were invaluable in maintaining the equipment of my teachers, and I could effort to continue my studies with them.
I also began to observe healers: not the ones that solely drew their power from the gods, but the ones that practised surgery and medicine. Selling them custom-made equipment and supplies–which I could make now as a working apprentice in the Guild of Alchemists– also made them a lot more forthcoming.
I’d never been so focused or so motivated in my life. I’ve also always been a solitary man and thus had no other obligations aside from my livelihood … and my other work.
So, as I said, healing potions are very expensive. It did help, however, that I was not getting injured as often and so when I did buy them–or make them–I could use them for other matters. Sometimes I missed the bitter medicinal tang on my tongue and that uniquely therapeutic burn in the pit of my stomach, but that had been replaced with another form of simmering passion.
I still had my tinctures for my usual body aches and now actual Potions of Clarity to help me with my Great Work.
I realized it was all about the amount of dosage. And on the adventuring assignments that I still undertook on behalf of my tutors, my comrades made enough corpses for my initial studies. My companies didn’t suffer for it either. I sometimes functioned as the healer of our group when there were no priests or paladins among our numbers. And everyone knows that the healer is a vital part of an adventurer group. You can literally hold the power of life or death over your entire group as a healer. Not that this had ever really occurred to me.
I had far loftier goals.
I eventually learned how to make a severed limb move by itself. I definitely began to see evidence of twitching and movement. Most of these limbs were taken from orcs and goblins: generally beings with small cranial capacity. But I did have occasion to deal with some human matter even then. And my preservatives helped make for good flesh-grafting material.
But the real work began after I retired from direct adventuring and my apprenticeships to invest in a potions cart. It helped that I joined the Alchemist Guild as a full member and became licensed to carry–and examine–various alchemical substances. I travelled through many towns until I settled down to make my Potions Shop. I realized after a time that the limbs I reanimated could only function for so long before succumbing to inevitable decay without some kind of more self-contained environment.
So I crafted and invested in vats and various apparatus. I learned how to make Regeneration Potions: essentially more augmented versions of my favourite healing concoctions. They are hard and even dangerous substances to make. Even the Guild only reluctantly makes them available to the public, with more of them being sold bootleg by rogue alchemists and I learned that healing potions are actually a scaled-down version of the substance sold at exorbitant prices in order to make a profit and prevent said danger.
I began to understand what made the Guild so afraid. I’ve always found it easier to work with orc parts. Some say it was because once, long ago, a powerful wizard made them: crafting their flesh from something else altogether. It was an incredibly vague myth and very few outside arcane circles even knew about it beyond just those simple words. But I know that I began to wonder.
Most beings believe that we were all inorganic matter before the gods gave us breath. By comparison, I was doing something far more crude. It is like trying to construct an artifact of an older era by taking it apart and attempting to reverse-engineer it. But the problem was that I was still thinking like a traditional artificer.
Finding components–and yes sometimes I still use an artificer’s terminology–was not difficult. Although I wasn’t on campaigns or battlefields anymore, my shop was in a city. In this world, brawlers and warriors of different races die all the time and their bodies are usually thrown out into those garbage pits known as public graves anyways.
Yet before I began using human material, I had to fine-tune it.
Once, I was curious about something. I knew that there are some plants in the world whose cuttings could grow roots in the right substance and become whole new plants. I began to wonder what would happen if I put even a tincture of blood or tissue into one of my vats of Regeneration Potion.
The plant analogy was an apt one, and not merely because of the cuttings. Certainly limbs were easier to use but the … things that resulted from them are limited in scope. As their brains develop, they are more used to obeying commands drummed into them than making decisions of their own. Most of these were like animals that barely lasted a day in any case. No, the best element about the flora analogy is that in every drop of blood and piece of flesh there are the seeds for something … more.
This took too much time, however, and most of these experiments happened only on a limited basis. It didn’t take much to fake my own death and destroy my old shop. People were beginning to notice that I wasn’t aging like they were and sometimes my creations became more … vocal: even in the basement of my Shop.
I managed to take all of my coin and buy new resources. There is an old tower on the farthest island off the main continent that suits my privacy and that of my creations well. I have enough vats of potion to keep us going for quite some time.
Nowadays I am less interested in cobbling together old creatures and things derived from said beings, and far more intrigued by other prospects. It is said that a long time ago the gods forged us from cold clay and stone. It has been some centuries since I placed those imbued drops into my Generation Vats. I watch marrow grow from nothing into bone with coils of nerves and sinew creeping along … and the first layers of flesh will spread over them soon …
And so I continue to drink my own delicious, home-brewed healing potions, curious to see how what comes from them will live in the land that I give them.