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76 New Potions

 Across the Warty Tidal Flat, the players were preparing to meet the Society of the Secret Eye in battle. Meanwhile, many miles away, dark plots were afoot in Lancaster City.

Black Ferret Lane ran through the southwestern quarter of the city, along the outlying regions, near the city walls. At first glance, there was nothing remarkable about it.

However, those in the know could tell you that this was where you'd find the largest black market in all of Lancaster City. No. 58, 'The Golden Rose', was a name known far and wide. Its proprietor, Manager Alvankent, was an influential man, and his friends procured illicit goods from every corner of the world.

It was said that the Golden Rose was the sort of place where one could buy anything provided they had the money.

Few were those who were aware, however, that Alvankent was a devotee of Sothos, the God of Herbs and Poisons. He'd originally made his fortune selling potions that were cheaper than what all the other churches were offering.

The God of Herbs and Poisons was a subordinate of the God of Alchemy, and was roughly equivalent in standing to the Skull God. He was far more powerful than a newcomer like Xi Wei.

Like the God of Alchemy above him, the God of Herbs and Poisons never got involved in the quarrels of other gods. As long as there were people who gathered herbs or concocted poisons, he had no need to fear extinction. As such, he mostly kept to himself, and only commanded a modest following of worshippers.

However, just because a particular god was a conservative loner, that didn't necessarily mean the same was true of his followers. Take Manager Alvankent for example:

Using the lack of religious colleagues to his advantage, he'd easily secured a high rank amongst the faithful, thereby taking over all operations for the benefit of his own business and connections.

If business continued to go smoothly, he could even become one of the great rich men of the eastern continent.

However, this was not a world you could conquer with business savvy alone. The methods by which he conducted business often clashed with the interests of other parties. Once, he'd crossed somebody who preferred action over words, someone with limitless power and zero patience... Alvankent hadn't even been given the chance to offer an apology before they ruined him completely. Fleeing with his tail between his legs, he could only eke out a wretched existence in the shadows of Lancaster City now.

Fortunately, those early years of hard work had not gone completely to waste. With his connections to his fellow faithful, materials could be acquired cheaply. With a widespread network already in place, Alvankent had even managed to do well for himself, drawing enormous profits every day. Among his various products, the curative properties of the Elixir of Life and the invigorating effects of the Elixir of Will were by far the most popular.

And yet, business had been slow these past two days.

Seeing constipation in his golden goose, he naturally couldn't stand idly by. He'd already commissioned the best people in Lancaster City to find out the root cause of his problems.

Two days passed in the blink of an eye. Alvankent was dozing off in his shop when the bell over the door rang out.

Lifting his head, he saw a skinny youth in a black leather coat and a large fur cap walking in.

Alvankent's eyes lit up. \"Lang, have you managed to find out anything regarding that matter I asked you to look into?\"

Brushing the snow off his sleeves, the young man gave him a sly smile. \"Naturally, otherwise what business would I have coming back here to see you, manager?\"

His expression became serious as he took a seat before Alvankent, and laid out an overview of the situation. \"According to my investigations, two new potions have suddenly been introduced to the market, with effects similar to those best-sellers of yours-except that they're available at a lower price. That should explain your sudden loss of customers.\"

The young man fished out two small bottles from within his coat, one filled with a red liquid, the other with blue. The contents of both were effervescing gently.

\"Here, these two potions,\" the young man named Lang declared. \"The red one is called 'Individual Dosage, One-Use Tactical Healing Potion', or 'Coca-Cola' for short. Like the Elixir of Life, it can heal a certain amount of damage in moments. However, it has no effect against curses, diseases or poisons.

\"The blue one is called 'Individual Dosage, Consumable Mini-Stimulant', or 'Pepsi Cola' for short. It's similar to the Elixir of Will, but has no noticeable effect for most people. It's mainly sought after by mages.\"

\"I fail to see any connection between the proper names and the nicknames...\" Alvankent muttered.

\"I think the one selling these potions was going on about how, 'That's just what they're called.' I don't have any explanations to offer you in this respect.\"

\"Hmph. Cheap tricks.\"

Although he said so, Alvankent was thinking to himself, no wonder the Brilliant White Church, a purveyor of potions, seemed to have made no response to this matter. With the limited nature of these potions' effects, in fact making them inferior to his elixirs, they were no threat to the upmarket potions trade. It was no surprise that the blue one was well-received by spellcasters. Even his own Elixir of Will had never been in universal demand-only mages were willing to pay for any real amount of the stuff.

Alvankent placed the potions upon the counter-top, then brought out his crystal loupe to have a closer look.

As a high-ranking devotee, one step away from being the high priest of the God of Herbs and Poisons, he had an innate ability to discern the ingredients of any mixture. The crystal loupe he wore over one eye was also an enchanted item in its own right.

Strangely, no matter which of his analytical techniques he employed upon these two potions, all the results he got were baffling.

The feedback from the red potion read: 'Medicine Grass, Honey, Water'; from the blue potion, he got: 'Mana Flowers, Honey, Water'.

Alvankent was familiar with Medicine Grass and Mana Flowers. Medicine Grass was a beneficial herb with blood-clotting and pain-relieving properties, and was the first herb anyone learned about. It was used in almost every curative potion ever created. Mana Flowers were similar to mint, with subtle calming and stimulating properties.

No need to discuss honey and water.

Putting it all together, all you had was herbs in syrup. It shouldn't be able to produce such potent effects.

\"How much does each one sell for?\" he asked, removing the loupe at last.

\"Both types are 150 Rions a pop,\" Lang replied.

\"Not that much cheaper,\" Alvankent muttered. \"How did it become so popular?\"

Considering typical consumer behavior, if two products were roughly equal in terms of price and quality, most people would just stick with what they were used to. Something like this shouldn't have been able to displace him in the market so easily.

\"Well...\" the young man seemed a touch nervous as he whispered, \"I hear it's pretty tasty.\"

\"Tasty?\"

Alvankent frowned, and opened up the blue one. First, he held it up for a careful sniff, but nothing seemed out of sorts. With a sudden surge of daring, he quaffed the whole thing in a rapid series of gulps, and then released a long, powerful burp.

In addition to the typical stimulating effects of such a potion, Alvankent's expression was one of pure bliss.

A moment later, the look on his face soured again.

The taste and sensation were both excellent, and its beneficial effects were undeniable. Now he understood how the product had gained such a lead over him overnight. Worse, it would be difficult for him to duplicate such a thing: Flavors could be introduced with various herbs, but how had this refreshing effervescence been achieved? Even if he managed to replicate the process, it would probably raise production costs through the roof.

When he thought about how this competitor was actually selling these items at lower prices than his... If he raised his own prices just for the sake of improved flavor, he would surely be digging his own grave.

But something had to be done!

At this thought, Alvankent waved the young man over. \"I have a new task for you...\"