Somewhere within the woods sits a gaunt figure in a dark, stained smock. His gangly form is hunched over a low flame, as he slowly and methodically stirs a small cauldron of bubbling liquid. He brings a spoonful of the foul-smelling brew to his pale, cracked lips and slurps it loudly. “Hmm, almost…” He says to himself inquisitively. “It could use some more spider venom.”
Most folk would likely look upon Dr. Poxil as a raving, sadistic madman. One who finds a sick joy in watching people suffer and writhe in agony after foolishly accepting one of his vile concoctions. While the state of his mental stability is indeed beyond questionable, in truth, his heart holds patience for neither malice nor an overbearing compassion. For nature is equally indifferent, and bountifully provides the tools to both give and take life. For instance, if one were to extract the oil from a specific type of mushroom and mix it with animal fat, they would have a tonic capable of staving off infection. Alternatively, if one were to boil the very same mushroom with the bark from a tree recently infested with red lichen, they would instead find themselves with a surprisingly lethal poison. To give life or to take it, “good” and “evil”; ultimately arbitrary endeavors compared to his true passion. The pursuit of knowledge.
Though he holds no memory of it, Poxil’s expertise within the field of herbology harkens back to his youth. As a young adult, he studied and strived to become a fairly adept apothecary. For indeed there was a time when compassion swayed his heart, and the fellow residents of his village took notice. No matter what their ailments, be they cuts, rashes, disease, or simple malnutrition; Poxil would be there with a warm smile and open arms to readily commence treatment. The people praised him as savior, a beacon of hope in spite of the world’s growing horrors. Little did they know that the worst was yet to come.
Conditions of the village and its people steadily declined over the years as the world slipped further into darkness. Infections would spread quicker. Flus would return much stronger and with new debilitating symptoms. Try as he might to treat them, Poxil stood baffled at the persistence and pervasiveness of these worsening illnesses. It was as if the afflictions themselves had somehow gained sentience and bagan to mock him. Worse yet, his supply of fresh ingredients grew more finite as the soil continued to sour. At times, Poxil could do nothing more than send his patrons off with a weak and tired smile, a bite of bread, and a salve that may soothe the pain for a time. The soft, muffled sounds of anguish rung through the air. The village was dying, slowly, agonizingly so. Poxil knew this, yet lacked the proper tools and knowhow to fix it. Still, something had to be done. Action needed to be taken, and what better action for a doctor than to limit one’s suffering.
One day, the villagers began to notice that everyone in town had become increasingly lethargic and weak. Several inquiries were raised to the good doctor, but Poxil would just politely wave them by and assure them that there was nothing to worry about. The next few days offered no solace however. Many continued to weaken to the point of becoming bedridden, all while enduring chronic fevers and chills. All within the village were unwell, and worsening by the hour. The residents knew something terrible must have swept over them, and they were right. Unbeknownst to them, Poxil had prepared a powerful toxin and released it into the drinking well the week prior. Shortening their suffering to a few days instead of several grueling years, this was his solution. Those with enough remaining strength to leave their homes marched their way to the apothecary, only to find locked doors and barricaded windows. Frail and sore, they pounded on the walls pleading for a response, yet the house stood stoic and still. People called out to him, begging for his aid in between coughing fits of blood. Parents shouted and cursed his name as their children spasmed and ceased in their arms. Cries of lamentation echoed all throughout the night, until the next morning when the village at last fell silent. The only faint sound could be heard from within the doctor’s room, his sad and huddled form rocking in a corner. Eyes shut and hands over his head as he quietly sobbed, “It was mercy… It was mercy… It was mercy… It was mercy…”
Poxil thought this action was just, he desperately needed to believe so, but his guilt was nonetheless immeasurable. Though the villagers had long since expired, their screams still raced heavily within his mind. He couldn’t bear it. He had considered taking the last dosage of the remaining toxin and ridding himself of these accursed voices, but in the very moment of facing his own mortality, he hesitated. For the fear of something so final as oblivion was equally tormenting. The church had always taught suicide to be a lowly and sinful act. A stray path only taken by cowards, but how could it be so? How paradoxical to be so fearful of committing to an act deemed as “cowardly”? Poxil was never one to follow the faithful so closely, but this moment had surely cemented his view of their sheer and utter ignorance. Nevertheless, he couldn’t go through with it, yet neither could he live with the regret. Once again, something had to be done about the pain.
Poxil spent the day gathering blue-green mushrooms from the nearby forest. He knew these mushrooms to be taboo amongst his field, notorious for their dangerously unpredictable effects on the mind, but these were desperate times. He collected his ingredients, prepared them, then deeply inhaled the fumes of his forbidden brew. After a minute, he thought he may have mixed them incorrectly or missed a vital step, until finally he felt his equilibrium shift. His senses dulled, his eyes glazed over, and he collapsed into a catatonic sleep. It was the most at peace he had felt in years. He awoke half a day later in a cold sweat. His head was pounding, and the voices had returned tenfold. He needed more, much more. This self-medication continued for the following days as he began to loose track of his memories, good and bad. Weeks led to a gradual deterioration of his lucidity. After months, his mind was at last enveloped in a muddled and deranged fog, for which no sense of rationality could penetrate.
To this day, Dr. Poxil exists as a broken facsimile of his former self. Yet what does remain is his insatiable curiosity towards alchemic discovery. Ask him now of his philosophies, his personal ideals of the self and the state of worldly affairs. He may answer, “The people, you see them? They hold their hands aloft and pray for expiation. FOOLS! ALL OF THEM! Salvation doesn’t wait ethereal amongst the stars! Salvation is already here, beneath our feet! It is the spores that fester upon fallen fruit. It is the vermin that scurry and propagate within the muck. The rotting log holds far more divinity than any of the musty tomes locked away in their crumbling steeples! The banquet of ascension is here before us, friend. Will you not partake with me?”