“Penny for your thoughts, Ravenna?” asked Professor Naomi.
Ravenna looked up from her salad. “Huh?”
“You seem rather pensive,” Professor Merlin asked.
It was odd how they echoed each other like that — it was as if each partner in the pair thought the same thoughts and they merely took turns voicing them. Ravenna had never before met a couple quite like that; certainly her parents never acted like that. They loved each other, she knew that, but they were still very different people.
Ravenna bit her lip. “Professors,” she asked, “how is it that my mother manages to remain the same age as my dad?”
The professors stared blankly at her for what felt like a full minute before Professor Merlin chuckled. “Well. This sort of thought seems like it’s worth a full silver. Pray tell, Ravenna, what brought this on?”
“I — um, well …”
“You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to,” Professor Naomi replied.
“It’s — well, it’s just rather convoluted, that’s all. Do you — do you remember when Garnet dropped by, the other day?” They certainly ought to; they had tailed her and Garnet for about ten minutes, staring fixedly at Garnet. Then, all of a sudden, they had exchanged glances, nodded once, and left the cousins alone.
Odd. Very odd.
“Yes, indeed, we remember,” Professor Merlin answered. “A fine young lady. What about her visit?”
“Well, she told me about the practice she was doing for the entrance exam to Camford, and some of the essay questions she had to answer for them — or really how she couldn’t answer them, because if she actually answered them, the examiners would realize she was a witch and flunk her.”
“Unfortunate,” Professor Merlin remarked, “but all-too-common, I’m afraid.”
“I was afraid of that — but, anyway, when she told me about the questions, I was feeling a bit smug, you know? Because the monks and nuns think they know everything — or at least everything that matters — but we know a lot more.”
“In some things,” Professor Naomi answered.
“Er — right. That’s, that’s kind of what I thought next. About what I don’t know. And while I understand that a lot of it is because I’m only beginning my studies, but some things, I mean …” Ravenna bit her lip. “I — I don’t remember growing older. Ever. She’s always looked the same to me. How does she do it?”
The Professors exchanged glances. “Well, you might ask your mother about it …” Professor Naomi began.
“But surely you know! You’re — you know everything else! And of course Mum is doing it magically — and using light magic, too!”
“We do know,” Professor Merlin replied. “Or at least, we can guess — it would be rather rude for us to ask your mother about this directly, you know. Though you could get away with it … we are comparative strangers.”
Ravenna flushed but nodded.
“There are, you understand,” Professor Merlin continued addressing himself mainly to the salad, “only two ways to procure … er … well, most people call it the ‘Elixer of Life,’ though in truth they are two rather different potions.”
“Keep eating,” Professor Naomi added, since Ravenna was dangerously close to putting her elbows on the table, pushing her food aside and forgetting that she was supposed to be having her lunch. “I assure you Merlin will not find it rude.”
“Indeed, I would not,” Professor Merlin continued with a wide smile. “Anyway, I was — er — where was I, dear?”
“The two different forms of Elixer of Life.”
“Ah, yes, of course! The weaker one comes from the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii.”
“The cowplant?” Ravenna asked.
“I told you she’d been peeking through those alchemical texts,” Professor Naomi remarked.
“Indeed, you did, my dear — as I was saying, the weaker Elixer of Life comes from the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii. I can guarantee you, though, that this is not the form your mother is using.”
“Why?” Ravenna asked.
“Because of the way it works,” Professor Naomi replied. “The Laganaphyllis Simnovorii, you see, is a — well, rather unique plant. It produces the Elixer of Life, that’s true, but it — well. To put it bluntly, it has to eat a Sim and digest it in order to distill the Sim down to its life essence, which can then be ‘milked’ from the plant and drunk.”
Ravenna’s jaw fell. “Eat — a — Sim?”
“Indeed,” Professor Merlin answered. “As you can well imagine, this is fatal for the Sim involved.”
“So I suppose there’s a cowplant in every dark sorcerer’s back garden?”
“Oh, no! Quite the contrary,” Professor Merlin replied. “There has never been a recorded dark sorcerer or sorceress who was able to grow and utilize one of the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii.”
“And I assure you, had there been one, somebody would have heard about it sooner or later,” Professor Naomi added. “Perpetual youthfulness is one of those things that the neighbors will pick up on.”
“To say nothing of the disappearances,” Professor Merlin remarked.
“Besides,” Professor Merlin continued, “the Laganaphyllis Simnovorii is remarkably inefficient, when it comes down to it. One would spend years, probably, of research — to say nothing of the time spent growing the plant, beginning again after setbacks, etc., an innocent life lost — and in the end, what do you get? A measly five years knocked off one’s age!”
“M-measly?” Ravenna asked. If one were to knock five years off her age, she would be seven!
“I assure you, by the time you’re done, it’s quite a measly number,” Professor Merlin answered. “First of all, there is a fundamental limitation to all forms of the Elixer of Life — there are certain physical changes that it simply cannot do.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ravenna, if you were to take a dose — no matter how potent — of Elixer of Life tomorrow, it would do you very little good,” Professor Naomi replied. “You see, your body has already begun the march into puberty — and Elixer of Life cannot undo that. You might be brought back, physically, to the beginning of the process, but no more.”
Ravenna made a face. “That seems like a waste of time.”
“Oh, it is, for one your age!” Professor Merlin chuckled. “On the same token, once the body has finished puberty, the Elixer of Life cannot take one back to midway or the beginning or even the very end of the process. Once you are physically an adult, you will remain so for the rest of your life.”
“Oh. All right.”
“And furthermore,” Professor Merlin added, shaking his head, “once a certain amount of decrepitude has sunk in … well, there’s no going back.”
“Well, there are lots of theories,” Professor Naomi replied, “but most researchers — magical and non-magical alike — believe that the Elixer of Life works by rejuvenating the cells, the little tiny particles that make up the body. However, there are some changes to the cells that are permanent — puberty, finishing puberty — and some that, well, aren’t. Those that aren’t, the Elixer of Life can erase …”
“And those that are, the drinker is stuck with.”
“I — I see. I think.”
“It’s a very complicated subject,” Professor Merlin replied indulgently.
“But, Professor — why is it that a dark sorcerer or sorceress has never made a — a cowplant?”
“They’re not very amenable to magic, dear,” Professor Naomi answered. “There are rumors that at the first touch of magic — not of a sorcerer or sorceress, but magic — they will shrivel up and die. And you see, most practitioners of the dark arts would try to use magic to, er, help the plant along …”
“And end up with a dead plant,” Professor Merlin finished.
“So you’re saying that practitioners of the dark arts are dumb?”
“If only it was that simple!” Professor Merlin chuckled. “No, no, practitioners of the dark arts are not dumb — far from it — but many of them, I’ve noticed, are proud and impatient. Proud of their talents, which they hold to be superior to those of the average Sim, and impatient — part of the reason why many of them turned to the dark arts is because, you see, they wanted things, and they wanted them now.”
“Of course there are other personality types that turn to the dark arts,” Professor Naomi added. “Some people are fascinated by the unknown — the forbidden. However, most practitioners of the dark arts of that type aren’t necessarily interested in immortality — or if they are, they’d much prefer to be left alone for eternity, not to have to be continually one step ahead of the authorities chasing after all the bodies they’ve left in their wake.”
“So that’s why no dark sorcerer has managed to make a cowplant?” Ravenna asked.
“Basically, yes,” Professor Merlin replied.
“So … what about the other type of Elixer of Life? How does that work?”
“You remember those permanent physical changing points we mentioned earlier?” Professor Naomi replied. “The ones that no form of Elixer will overcome?”
“Well, the stronger Elixer of Life will take a person of any age, and bring them back to that point. So, for instance, your mother — whenever she drinks it, for I would guess that this is the type of Elixer she uses — is changed back to her physical state shortly after she finished puberty.”
Ravenna’s jaw fell. “Do–do dark sorcerers have that?”
“Not in the least!” Professor Naomi laughed. “You’re aware, of course, that there are some spells that a light sorcerer can perform, that a dark one cannot? And vice versa?”
“Of course,” Ravenna answered. She was still a raw beginner and she knew it, but even she knew that. It had been one of the first lessons she had learned — at her mother’s knee, in fact, not even at the school!
“Well, the stronger Elixer of Life can only be created by a sorcerer of the light,” Professor Naomi replied.
“Because in order to create this Elixer — which, I will have you know, very few sorcerers can do — one has to understand life in all its deep processes,” Professor Merlin answered. “Sorcerers of the dark … do not understand life in that way. You see, often their powers tread the path of death as well as the path of darkness.”
“Is that — is that why only a sorcerer of the dark can create a zombie?”
“Yes, exactly,” Professor Merlin said. “You see — a zombie is a perversion of all life stands for — it is a soul ripped from the –”
“Merlin!” Professor Naomi hissed.
“Her father is a zombie!”
“Oh! — Oh, dear. Ravenna, I assure you, I meant no offense — er, that is to say, zombies are perversions in a sense, but not in such a way that they are to blame –”
“What my husband — whose intellect, alas, outpaces his common sense by miles — is trying to say,” Professor Naomi interrupted, “is that the magic that is used to create a zombie is a perversion. This says nothing about the nature of the zombie him- or herself, who is obviously a victim of this process.”
Ravenna shoved her vegetables from one side of the plate to the other. “Mum says that Dad was … different, before he was … changed.”
Professor Naomi shot a look at Professor Merlin, as if to say, Now look what you’ve done! She turned to Ravenna with a gentle smile. “The personality alterations are, I’m sure, a product of the sorts of spells that go into creating a zombie.”
“Ravenna,” Professor Merlin said, “you must remember the sort of people who seek to create zombies. They are not looking for cheerful, kind-hearted servants. They are looking for — well — minds as twisted and cruel as theirs are.”
“Except, of course, a truly kind-hearted person — like your father — will not be affected as much as, say, if your aunt herself were to be raised from the dead in a zombified state.”
Ravenna snorted. “From everything Mum has said, she’s already got all the worst personality traits of a zombie.”
“And then some,” Professor Merlin muttered to his plate.
“But — but why would Dad be different? From other zombies, I mean? Why … I’m sure dark sorcerers have brought nice people back from the dead before — why is Dad so much nicer than they are?”
Professor Merlin and Professor Naomi exchanged glances. “Well … I would guess that you and your mother have something to do with that,” Professor Naomi replied.
“What? Why?” Ravenna asked.
“Because you love him,” Professor Naomi answered. “You must understand, Ravenna, most zombies are terribly alone — their only companions are their creators–”
“And I’m sure you can imagine what pleasant company that is,” Professor Merlin muttered into his beard.
“Yes, dear — and their other companions are other zombies. They’re shunned, divorced from the rest of the Sim race … even their families often reject them. When was the last time that your father’s brother, or your cousins on that side, visited you or your father?”
Ravenna flushed and stared at her plate. “But Dad — Dad doesn’t even remember them …”
“Which makes the distance easier to effect,” Professor Merlin replied, “but does not make the distance go away. Besides, even though the Lady Morgause tried to erase all of his memories … she could not destroy them all. He still remembered your mother, you know.”
“Not — not really. I mean — he doesn’t remember their courtship or anything.”
“But deep down, on a subliminal level, your father knew your mother — even if the specifics were gone, the feelings remained,” Professor Naomi replied. “I daresay it might have been the same with his family — both your father and his brother and other family members can try to avoid the pain of separation, but in the end … I don’t think it goes away.”
“Yet,” Professor Naomi continued, her voice deliberately cheerful, “your father has you and your mother, and you both love him a great deal despite his — altered — physical state. So, you see, he has a reason not to give in to … whatever angry feelings he might have. He might vent them through pranks from time to time, and perhaps a bit of uncalled-for belligerence to total strangers — but so long as you and your mother still care for him, I doubt very much that he will sink to the depths as many, many other zombies do.”
“Is — is that why Mum uses that other Elixer of Life?” Ravenna asked. “So — so Dad won’t ever be left alone?”
“I daresay that has a great deal to do with it,” Professor Merlin replied gently.
“I — I see.” Ravenna replied. She bit her lip.
Then, with faux cheerfulness, she looked up and tried to smile. “Well — when do I learn how to make this Elixer of Life?”
The Professors laughed. “Not for a good long time, Ravenna,” Professor Merlin answered. “Get through this stage of life first. Then — when you’ve seen a bit of what the next one has to offer — see if you want to stay there for a while, or if you’d rather go along the path of life naturally.”
“Do you two go along the path of life naturally?” Ravenna asked.
Professor Merlin smiled a very hooded, secret smile. “That is for us to know — and maybe, someday, for you to find out.”
Author’s Note: Ok, in case you’re wondering what the heck this “stronger Elixer of Life” is, it’s the Elixer of Life that comes from the extracted potion bench from Castaway Stories. You can get it from this thread at MATY. I have it on good authority (i.e., Hat!) that this Elixer will bring your Sim all the way back to the beginning of the life state — so, that’s that. 🙂
As for why only light sorcerers can make it … well, that’s because I’m the author and I said so! 😛