The Doomsday Potion: Part Two

"Leoric, you can't!"

Leoric turned to see Galadria standing behind him, an expression of desperation on her face. As he looked into her eyes, he wondered how long she had been standing there, how much she had overheard of the conversation he and Feryl had just had. He sighed; the decision he had made was not something to be taken lightly, but it was the only thing anyone could do to help Feryl now. And Feryl himself had actually requested it in preference to the lingering, agonising death that surely awaited him otherwise. "Galadria, I don't like this any more than you do," Leoric said.

"Can't you see what's happening here? It's all been a trick!"

"He's dying." Leoric nodded towards Feryl. "There's nothing else we can do for him."

"I only just realised it, but Darkstorm planned this from the start. He knows you'd never forgive yourself if you took a life, Feryl's least of all." Her voice choked on a sob. "Please, Leoric! There has to be some other way! You've never given up before - why should now be any different? Think! There has to be something we haven't tried!"

Leoric shook his head. "Believe me, Galadria," he told her. "I've thought about almost nothing else today, but it always comes to the same thing. Without knowing what was in that potion, we can't counteract it."

At this, Galadria smiled slightly. "You're right, Leoric," she said. "We don't know what that potion was, but the Bearer of Knowledge probably does." She turned to walk away. "You stay with Feryl - I'm going to fetch Arzon."

With that, she was gone. Leoric sat down beside Feryl, wondering as he did so why he hadn't thought of fetching Arzon himself. It was probably the stress of the situation, he reasoned; he had been so preoccupied with thoughts of losing Feryl that he had completely forgotten about Arzon's Power Staff. On many occasions in the past, the Bearer of Knowledge had provided the Spectral Knights with valuable information that often meant the difference between success and failure. So he more than likely had the information that could save Feryl's life.

For the first time since his friend was exposed to the potion, Leoric allowed himself a faint glimmer of hope.

Presently, Arzon arrived at Fletchen's village in his Eagle form, carrying Galadria in his talons. As soon as he had deposited her on the ground and changed back into his human form, the others explained the situation as fully as they could. On hearing the story of how Feryl had been doused with a potion that had such a devastating effect on its victims, Arzon frowned, realising, as Galadria had done, that Darkstorm must have planned this. "So, you haven't been able to figure out what that potion was?" he asked.

"No," replied Fletchen. "And that's what worries me. Feryl's alive at the moment, but I don't know how much longer he can hang on. And it will be hard for Leoric if . . ."

But Arzon cut her short. "Don't even think it! Just let me consult my Power Staff." With that, he pulled out his Staff and recited the words which activated it:

"A whim, a thought and more is sought
Awake, my mind, thy will be wrought."

Within moments a humanoid figure emerged from the Staff and looked down at the small group of friends. This was the Bearer of Knowledge, a veritible fountain of information; ask him virtually any question on Prysmos and he was pretty much guaranteed to have the answer. And that was precisely what Arzon did now, asked him what potion Feryl had been exposed to.

The Bearer of Knowledge looked at Arzon, a serious expression on his face. "I fear Feryl has been doused with the Doomsday Potion," he said as the humans gasped in horror. None of them had ever heard of this "Doomsday Potion", but they all knew it had to be dangerous and deadly; the name alone told them as much. "The Doomsday Potion," the Bearer of Knowledge continued, "is a lethal poison. On contact with a mortal body, it causes the victim to suffer convulsions of pain. This pain increases in severity until . . ."

"We know all that. What we want to know is, what can we do to counter it?" Leoric cut in. The Bearer of Knowledge had been known to give somewhat lengthy explanations and there was no time for that right now.

"Very well. The only thing that will work is the water from the Well of Life. It lies due east from here, in the Forest of Hope. But it is guarded by the Eternal Guardians and they will not give its water away to just anyone." With that, the Bearer of Knowledge winked out of existence, his task of telling the group what they wanted to know done.

Gleering looked at everyone with a determined expression etched on his face. He knew how close Leoric and Fletchen had become and would do anything to help the Spectral Knights. "Guardians or no Guardians, we've got to try," he said. "Fletchen, go fetch my travel pack."

But, instead of obeying her father, Fletchen shook her head. "No, Father," she said firmly. "It's too far on foot and Feryl's in no condition to drive." She turned to Arzon. "It's up to you," she told him.

"I know what to do." Arzon smiled at her before transforming into his Eagle form and taking to the air.

As Arzon flew off on the mission that would hopefully save Feryl's life, Mortdredd, lurking nearby in the shape of a Beetle, heard every word. Changing back to his human form, he hurried off before anyone saw him and was reporting back to Darkstorm within minutes.

If anyone had been asked to state Darkstorm's biggest weakness, they would probably have said he was one of the worst megalomaniacs on Prysmos. As soon as he heard there was a chance Feryl could be saved, he flew into a towering rage and started ranting at his followers. He thought he had finally found a way of deposing Leoric (by tricking him into doing something he would never forgive himself for) but, like Leoric, had forgotten about Arzon's Power Staff. He should have known, should have realised the Spectral Knights were bound to find a way to counter the effects of the Doomsday Potion. "Blast that Bearer of Knowledge! Now those meddling Spectral Knights know the cure!"

"But, Master," Mortdredd said, trying to calm his leader down, "you said there was no antidote to . . ."

Darkstorm whipped round, his face resembling a thundercloud. Instinctively, the other Darkling Lords backed off, past experience having taught them that it was best to steer clear of their leader when he was in such a foul mood. "I said there was no known antidote, you moron! We'll have to do something . . ."

"Something about what?" asked Cindarr, slow on the uptake as usual.

Darkstorm locked eyes with his slow-witted follower, wishing as he did so that there was a spell that could make Cindarr . . . Well, not smart; Darkstorm still remembered the time he tried to steal Merklynn's magic and planned to make Cindarr intelligent - until Merklynn's Orb showed him questioning Darkstorm's policy on slavery. But he would settle for making him a little less dim-witted than he was. "Something about Feryl, you dunderhead!" He pulled out the bottle of Doomsday Potion and held it up for the Darkling Lords to see. "This was left over after I doused him," he told them. "And a second dose is instantly fatal!"

At this, the Darkling Lords laughed evilly; finally, things were going their way.

Back at Gleering and Fletchen's cottage, everyone was grouped around Feryl, praying that he would survive long enough for Arzon to complete his mission. Leoric hardly dared to take his eyes off his friend, fearing that, if he did, Feryl would not make it. The young knight was still conscious, but, unable to move without suffering spasms of intense pain, he lay still, giving no signs of awareness save for an occasional glance in Leoric's direction. "Leoric?" he ventured at length.

Leoric placed his hand over Feryl's. "Don't try to talk."

Feryl ignored him. "Leoric," he repeated, "when is Arzon . . ." Another pain gripped him. ". . . coming back?"

"I don't know," Leoric told him honestly, wishing all the while that he could give a more definite answer. "Just . . . just try to hang on until he arrives."

"I - I'll try. But . . ." Feryl was cut off abruptly as the effort of talking caused him to pass out.

Galadria, who was directly opposite Leoric, gasped. "Is he . . .?"

Fearful of what he would find, Leoric quickly checked his friend over. "No, he's just fainted," he replied. Nonetheless, he couldn't help feeling a pang of fear; if Arzon didn't return soon, it would be too late. But he dismissed the idea almost immediately, reminding himself that, as long as Feryl stayed alive, there was still hope. It was ironic to think that, not long ago, he and the others had been on the verge of giving way to despair.

At length, Fletchen approached Leoric and stood beside him. "Leoric, are you all right?"

Leoric sighed and turned to look at her. "As well I can be under the circumstances," he said, glancing at Feryl.

"I understand." Fletchen's tone was sympathetic. She wished there was something they could do besides wait for Arzon, but there wasn't; even trying to ease Feryl's pain was no longer an option.

At that moment, the door to the cottage suddenly opened and Darkstorm strode in, followed by Cindarr. Darkstorm was holding a corked bottle in his hand and Leoric tensed at the sight of it. He had not seen the bottle that held the Doomsday Potion, but he knew instinctively that he had to get Darkstorm away from Feryl. "Gleering, you and Fletchen run for it!" he yelled, leaping into action. "Galadria and I will try to hold them off!" With that, he assumed his Lion form and charged headlong into the two Darkling Lords, knocking them off their feet. Then, keeping a wary distance from Darkstorm and the Doomsday Potion, he resumed his human form and grabbed a nearby chair, which he hurled at his enemies as Gleering and Fletchen made their escape.

In the meantime, Galadria threw herself at Darkstorm and snatched the bottle of Doomsday Potion out of his hand before he could react. "I'll take that, thank you!" she told him. With that, she uncorked the bottle and poured its deadly contents onto the ground outside the cottage. Slowly, the Doomsday Potion soaked into the soil, where it could never harm anyone. For only if it was thrown directly at a living being did it have its devastating effect - and Darkstorm knew it, judging by the furious expression on his face.

"Stop that, you stupid bitch!" he yelled, making a mad grab for the young woman.

But Galadria only smiled at him. "Too late, Darkstorm!" She tipped the bottle upside down to show that it was now completely empty.

At this, Darkstorm's temper snapped completely. The Doomsday Potion was gone and Heskedor had told him there was only one chance to pull this scheme off, one chance to make Leoric and Feryl suffer as they had never suffered before. All he could think of was making Galadria pay, but how to go about it? Should he use his Power Staff to turn her into an aged crone? Or should he . . .? He shot a sideways glance at Cindarr, who was leaning against the wall, as a plan for burying the three Spectral Knights entered his twisted mind. "The Beast!"

Slow-witted as he was, Cindarr knew exactly what was required of him and, before either Leoric or Galadria could stop him, he had drawn his Power Staff and was shouting the words which activated it:

"By nature's hand, by craft, by art
What once was one - now fly apart!"

In an instant a huge creature resembling a bipedal dog emerged from the Staff and began bashing at the walls of the small cottage, bent on creating as much devastation as it could in the short time it had before it winked out of existence. As he ducked to avoid the Beast's flailing arms, Leoric realised they were in serious trouble; the cottage was about to collapse around them. They had to get out fast, before it was too late.

"But what about Feryl?" asked Galadria, knowing that, even if the young knight had been awake, he couldn't possibly run in his current condition.

"We'll take him with us," Leoric replied, lifting his friend's motionless form. As he and Galadria ran from the cottage with the unconscious Feryl, the Beast of Destruction winked out of existence. But it had already caused considerable structural damage and, even as the three knights got clear, the building collapsed into a heap of rubble . . .

Arzon's flight to the Forest of Hope proved uneventful. As he landed and changed back into his human form, he hoped he would be able to complete this mission in time. From what the Bearer of Knowledge had said, he knew facing the Eternal Guardians was not going to be easy. But he had to try. He had to persuade them to give up some of the water they guarded; it was the only hope of saving Feryl . . . Arzon paused, thinking of the young knight. Feryl had always been loyal to the Spectral Knights in spite of his slightly impulsive nature and would not desert the others in a time of trouble. Even his brief split from the team had been motivated by a feeling that he was letting the others down, that he was . . .

Arzon shook his head. This was no time to be thinking. "Feryl," he whispered as if the young knight was there with him, "I won't let you down."

With that, he stepped into the Forest, keeping a tight grip on his weapon and ever alert for the slightest sound. The trees crowded together thickly, sometimes so thickly that all light was blocked and the Forest was plunged into a eerie dimness. Arzon, if he was honest with himself, much prefered the vast open plains, since they seemed to fit his Eagle Totem. But this was something he had to do and, as he made his way along the only visible path, he kept his weapon drawn ready to fend off any wild animals that might try to attack. But he would not kill anything unless he had no other choice; that was not in his nature.

At length, he found what he was looking for, an old well with ancient symbols carved on its sides. Those symbols obviously meant something, but he would have to try and work out what it was later. Right now, he had a job to do, a job that was too important for him to waste time interpreting carvings. He began to search the area around the Well of Life for something that might serve as a water-carrier.

Finding nothing, he walked over to the Well and peered down into its murky depths. Why hadn't he thought to take a water-carrier with him when he left Fletchen's village? At the bottom of that Well lay the one thing that could save his friend, but he had no means of getting to it and his Power Staff's magic was spent so the Bearer of Knowledge couldn't help him now. Normally the sort of person who looked on the bright side no matter what, he leaned against the Well and sighed deeply, cursing himself for his oversight.

Suddenly, three shadowy figures drifted out of the depths of the Well and lined up in front of Arzon. "We are the Eternal Guardians," they said in unison, their voices ethereal but powerful at the same time. "We guard the Well of Life against those foolish enough to drink its water."

Arzon sized them up. It was hard to tell if they were solid or not. They resembled shadows, but it never paid to judge by appearances in this Age of Magic. He drew his weapon and slashed at the nearest Guardian. It dodged out of the way and began to glow red . . .

The next thing Arzon knew, he was being levitated into the air, his body surrounded by a red glow. Instinctively, he tried to assume his Eagle form in order to fly away, but nothing happened; his chest plate didn't even start to glow. This was not going well; the Guardians had the upper hand and were determined not to let this intruder get away with stealing the water they guarded. "You want our water?" they asked, with mocking laughter. Arzon suddenly felt himself being carried through the air before coming to a halt directly over the Well. "You got our water!" the Guardians taunted. "Enough to drown in!"

Arzon knew at once that they meant business and, unable to use his Totem, he had no means of escaping. But it had to be a bluff, he reasoned; why would they try to drown someone in water that had healing properties? Didn't they know the water's magic would prevent even the weakest swimmer from drowning in it?

He decided to wait and see. If he did drown, so be it - at least he would have tried to save Feryl. But that other side of his nature, that side that nearly always refused to give up no matter how insurmountable the odds seemed, told him otherwise. Things were going to be all right. He was going to get the water and Feryl would be . . . Arzon's thoughts were cut off abruptly as the Guardians released their magical hold on him and he went plunging down the Well's deep shaft.

He landed in the water with a splash and quickly took stock of his surroundings. Light filtered in through the Well's round opening, but it only penetrated so far and much of the Well was in shadow. Even so, Arzon could still make out a few things, in particular the fact that the walls were perfectly smooth. They looked wet and slippery as well, almost impossible to climb. But that didn't bother him too much; he could fly out in his Eagle form. First, though, he had a job to do.

"Sure wish Galadria was here," he thought as he inhaled deeply and dived under the water.

At the bottom of the Well of Life lay an assortment of items, including a large pile of gold and jewels. Arzon smiled to himself, imagining the look that would be on Reekon's face if he could see this treasure; the Darkling Lord was obsessed with money. But Arzon had more important things to do than salvage treasure, so he ignored the gold and jewels and concentrated on the more mundane items. Presently, he saw a leather water-carrier, its neck stoppered with a piece of cork, just what he needed to carry the Well's water back to Fletchen's village. But, by now, he had been under the water for some time; his lungs felt as if they were about to burst and he was getting decidedly light-headed. Was he too light-headed to swim the short distance to where the water-carrier lay? There was only one way to find out . . .

But, before Arzon could move, the water-carrier suddenly floated towards him and knocked him back when it collided with him. Then, he felt himself floating upwards even though he had not made any attempt to swim to the surface and, the next thing he knew, he was being lifted into the air, his body surrounded by the same red glow as the Eternal Guardians lowered him to the ground. "Congratulations, young mortal," one of them said. "You have passed our Test."

Arzon was confused. "What test? What do you mean?"

"The Test of Courage and Honour. You not only willingly faced death, you also ignored the temptation of treasure and focused on what you truly needed. You have truly earned the right to claim some of the Well's water."

Realising the water-carrier he was holding felt slightly heavier than it had moments before, Arzon pulled the cork out and peered inside, finding it filled to the brim with cool, clear water.

Leoric, Galadria and Feryl had caught up with Gleering and Fletchen just outside the village, in a gully where Leoric had hidden while trapped in his Lion form. Right now, the five of them were all waiting anxiously for Arzon, hoping that he would not be too late. Feryl, who had woken up shortly after they reached the area, was quieter now and did not cry out so constantly. But he was very weak and Leoric knew that the Doomsday Potion was still causing spasms of pain, pain that few on Prysmos could imagine. Faint moans escaped from the young knight's mouth as he fought desperately to stay alive. But it was an unequal battle; the pain was growing ever stronger, ever more insistent, and Feryl longed for relief.

Leoric had never felt so helpless in his life. He supported Feryl from behind, holding him in a sitting position in a bid to ease his breathing. But every breath the young knight took required considerable effort and caused him to wince. And, although Leoric urged Feryl to hang on, he was only too aware of the grim reality. "He can't take much more," he whispered to Gleering and Fletchen.

"I'm sorry, Leoric," Gleering said. "It's hard to lose a friend." He sighed and stared at the darkening sky with his one good eye. The second of the Three Suns was setting, marking the end of a day filled with emotional turmoil, casting long shadows over the small group. Those shadows seemed to represent the impending danger to Feryl's life, the dark void which threatened to claim him.

"Darkling Lords!" Galadria shouted suddenly, startling Gleering out of his thoughts. At the sound of her voice, he, Leoric and Fletchen looked up to see Cravex and Mortdredd flying overhead in the Sky-Claw. Forgetting Feryl for the moment, Leoric stood up and held his whip ready to fight the two Darkling Lords. But, instead of attacking, Mortdredd moved the Sky-Claw in closer and prepared to gloat at them.

"We've nailed you this time, Leoric!" he called. But he spoke too soon. Seconds later, Arzon appeared in his Eagle form, a leather water-bag clasped in his talons. He had been returning from the Well of Life when he saw the two Darkling Lords and, instinctively knowing they meant trouble, elected to follow them. Dropping the bag into Galadria's hands, he flew directly at Mortdredd and began to attack him with beak and talons.

"Blasted bird!" Mortdredd cursed, trying to beat Arzon back. "Cravex!"

Cravex did not need telling twice. As soon as Mortdredd spoke, he was holding his Power Staff and reciting the words which activated it:

"Oh, mist filled pits, dark, dank, unclear
Touch all before me with frost-fingered fear!"

And a great Spider emerged from his Staff and scuttled across the Sky-Claw, over to Arzon. This was the deadly Spider of Fear; its sole purpose was to bite the nearest being and cause them to imagine that their worst fears were coming true. Leoric had seen its effects many times, had himself been targeted by it in the past, and was not about to see Arzon's name added to its list of victims. "Arzon! Look out!" he shouted, assuming his Lion form and leaping onto the Sky-Claw, directly in the Spider's path . . .

The next thing Leoric knew, he was on the ground in his human form, his head surprisingly clear considering he had just been attacked by the Spider of Fear. Then, as he glanced round to check that his friends were safe, he saw something that made him catch his breath. Feryl was lying on the ground, his head slightly turned towards Leoric, his blue eyes blank and unseeing. "No," Leoric thought as he ran towards his friend. But it took only a few moments for him to confirm his worst fears. Feryl was dead; Arzon's efforts had been in vain.

The combined effects of grief and having just been bitten by the Spider of Fear caused Leoric to lose it completely. His voice choking with emotion, he shook Feryl by the shoulders, calling his name and pleading with him to come back. "Why?" he thought as he cradled his friend's body, tears of anguish pricking at his eyes. "Why did this have to happen to Feryl of all people?" Then, the sound of footsteps behind him caused him to look round.

Darkstorm was standing there and Leoric's eyes narrowed at the sight of his enemy. This was the one who had thrown the Potion that had killed Feryl; had it not been for him, the young knight would still be alive. An overwhelming rage engulfed Leoric as his mind lost track of everything except one thing - make Darkstorm pay. All thoughts of honour and nobility, of not attacking wantonly, left him; avenging Feryl was the only thing that mattered. He leapt at Darkstorm, pinned him to the ground and began to press down hard on his enemy's throat.

"Leoric!" Darkstorm's voice was choked as a result of the pressure being put on his throat.

But Leoric did not let up for a second. "Do you see what you have done?! A young knight is dead because of you!"

"Leoric . . . please! Listen . . . to me! I'm Feryl!"

"Nice try, Darkstorm," Leoric said grimly. He pressed down again, his Spider-of-Fear addled mind focused solely on throttling his enemy. "Feryl's dead - and you know it!"

"No! The . . . Spider . . . of Fear . . . bit you - you're hallucinating!"

Seconds later, a sudden jolt caused Leoric to let go of his enemy. At the same instant, the effect of the Spider's bite wore off and he looked around to see Feryl sitting on the ground where Darkstorm had been only moments before. The young knight was holding his dagger; he had used its magical energy to force Leoric off him. Then, as Feryl staggered to his feet, Leoric realised to his horror that he had come perilously close to making a terrible mistake. "Feryl," he said, looking straight at his friend, "I'm sorry. I . . ."

"Leoric, there's nothing to apologise for," said Feryl. "It was Cravex's Power of Fear - your senses were distorted. You couldn't have resisted it."

"But I nearly killed you." Leoric shook his head as he spoke, realising the enormity of what he had almost done.

"Remember what Arzon said once about "nearly" not counting?" asked Feryl. "Now, not another word."

Bit by bit, the others filled Leoric in on what had happened.

After Arzon threw the bag containing the water from the Well of Life to Galadria, she had immediately hurried over to Feryl and poured it over him. Its magical healing properties had taken effect instantly and Feryl was soon completely free from the Doomsday Potion's deadly effects. "Although," Galadria added in an undertone, "another few minutes and . . ."

But Leoric, now standing side-by-side with Feryl, cut her short. "That doesn't matter now. The important thing is that no lasting harm was done."

Gleering was the next to speak. "Leoric," he said, "I hope you don't feel we're imposing on you, but Fletchen and I were . . . Well, we were hoping we could stay in New Valarak. At least until our cottage is repaired."

"No need to ask, Gleering," Leoric replied. "Any friend of the Spectral Knights is always welcome."