In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.
Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, “In Western Lands”
MV’s referenced: VIXX’s Voodoo Doll, Fantasy, and The Closer; Xia’s Tarantallegra; Oh My Girl's Windy Day; EXID’s Every Night
In a remote corner of a faraway dimension, there stood a mansion on a wooded island in the middle of a deep, dark, fast-flowing river. A man – tall, well-dressed, dark-haired – went about his business in the expansive workspace within the mansion’s basement, stirring a bubbling vial here, removing a beaker from a flame there, taking a jar out of a small freezer and emptying the contents into a bag which he then placed on a high shelf.
The man went by many aliases. Mobius. Pavlov. Pluton. Ravi. To most, however, he was known simply as the potion maker, his true name a mystery to all but himself, which was exactly the way he preferred it. His services were often sought out by all manner of cunning and powerful individuals for specialized potions, many of whom would jump at the chance to forcibly press such an innately skilled crafter into their service through the power of his true name. The potion maker had not survived as long as he had in such a potentially perilous industry by being injudicious.
A soft chiming of bells came from his left. “You have a customer, sir,” announced his watch-stone calmly. “Shall I send them in?”
“Too late! I’m already here!” proclaimed the dramatically posing figure standing at the top of the stairs leading down into the potion maker’s workroom.
“Xia,” the potion maker said flatly, folding his arms and leveling the faerie with his best unimpressed look. “It’s been awhile.”
“Indeed!” Xia swept down the stairs with the effortless grace befitting such an otherworldly being, bejeweled rings aglitter and necklaces clinking against each other merrily. “Too long, apprentice! I’ve missed you.”
The potion maker rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’ll bet you have. Here for a potion, I assume?”
“How do you know I don’t want to just spend some time with my favorite pupil?” Xia retorted, putting a hand on his heart dramatically. “You wound me, apprentice. Deeply.”
“So you don’t want a potion, good to know-”
“I didn’t say that,” Xia cut him off quickly. “I can come here for more than one thing, you know.”
“Then get to the point. I’m a busy man, and time is money.”
“Tsk. Impatient as ever I see. Well, it just so happens that Rain’s become too big for his britches recently. He seems to be of the erroneous belief that just because I helped him take care of Venus and her pets-” His lip twisted up into a derisive sneer, “-that means that he can encroach on my territory simply because it’s right next to his. That’s water elementals for you; give them an inch, they think they can trickle out and claim everything in a ten mile radius around them. I thought a water’s bane potion might do the trick to remind him why he shouldn’t be actively trying to piss off the local archfae. Alas, I’m all out of wyvern venom at the moment, so I’m having to turn to other sources, I’m afraid.”
“Ah yes, the Venus and Rain debacle, I do remember hearing something about that.” The potion maker thought for a moment and then gave Xia a narrow look. “That wouldn’t happen to coincide with the time you commissioned a polymorph potion and paid me in seagull feathers absolutely saturated with elemental magic, would it? Those aren’t something one just happens to stumble across by accident.”
Xia smiled, the expression baring every one of his teeth. “I’m a busy man, apprentice. I can’t possibly be expected to remember every transaction I make with my associates, can I? Speaking of which, my potion, please, and make it snappy.”
“I have previous orders waiting,” the potion maker said, irked at being ordered around so flippantly. “If I move this up in my queue, you’d better be making this worth my while.”
“Don’t I always?” the faerie grinned impishly. He gestured with one hand, and a small chest appeared at his feet. “I came prepared. Two pounds of turquoise, three of bloodstone, and a vial of phoenix blood up front, and I’ll throw in five ice dragon teeth when I have the potion in my hands.”
The potion maker considered this. “That’ll do.” He retrieved the chest, set it aside for later, and proceeded to clear a space at his worktable. He selected an empty beaker from a shelf and began rummaging around for the necessary ingredients, muttering to himself under his breath. “Water’s bane, water’s bane… let’s see, two tablespoons of malachite powder, fifteen milliliters of quicksilver, fifteen milliliters of arsenic, two sprigs of water hemlock, three ounces of wyvern venom, and something to bind it all together… ah,” He snapped his fingers in realization, “you’re in luck, I have just the thing.” He paused briefly when he saw that Xia’s brown hair had turned to a garish shade of salmon in the span of about three seconds while his back had been turned. Xia blinked back at him innocently.
Pointedly ignoring the faerie’s tomfoolery, the potion maker continued: “I recently got a hefty supply of aspendìr antlers as payment for making some awakening potions for one whose herd fell into a sleep curse. A very good deal indeed, too. If she hadn’t shown me her horn nubs, I would have taken her for a normal human girl; their home grove must be simply saturated in ambient magic to make them look so convincingly human. Their antlers have more concentrated wild magic than any aspendìr antler I’ve ever come across, since it’s all located there instead of spread throughout their bodies like so many others of their kind. In fact, I think I’ll need only one set to make the water’s bane potion, whereas it would normally take up to three.”
“How in the world did an aspendìr of all things find your humble little shop?” Xia asked amusedly, following the potion maker over to his worktable. “They don’t tend to be the most sociable of creatures outside their herds.”
The potion maker resigned himself to having an audience for the duration of the potion’s assembly and began rooting around inside a chest for some crushed malachite. “Referral,” he replied shortly, pulling a leather pouch from the chest. “Venus’ ‘pets,’ as you so succinctly put it.”
Xia let out a bark of laughter. “Well, how about that. Life comes full circle, it seems.” He looked at the taller man with something close to admiration. “Your business acumen is one of the things I like most about you, apprentice. I’ve never known you to turn down a deal if the price is right.”
“Well. There have been a few times. For instance, remember that psychotic witch I mentioned in passing awhile back?
“Ah yes. The one that kept breaking down your front door until you installed some security measures. I remember. Sounds like a character.”
“She offered me a dragon’s heart gem in return for a way to unfetter her soul-ties to her abode.” He snorted. “The amateur fancied herself an artist, apparently. Kept making such detailed, time intensive constructs and poured so much of her magic into them that she physically couldn’t leave her house anymore. She had to create an astral doppelgänger just to come see me. Can you even imagine any self-respecting enchanter so incompetent that they become soul-tied to a single building by accident?”
“Shameful, what passes for talent these days.” The faerie shook his head mournfully.
“Needless to say, I declined the deal, regardless of what she was offering. I have my professional pride, after all. She made her bed; she needed to lie in it or find a way out of it herself. Of course, she… took that news rather poorly.” He grimaced slightly. “Thankfully she finally seemed to get the hint after I installed some deterrents, but the fact that it came to that at all was irksome.”
“You know, I bet if she had offered you, say, five dragon’s heart gems you would have done it, professional pride or no,” Xia observed knowingly, grinning wider when the potion maker declined to respond except for a frosty glare aimed in his direction. “Anyways, you haven’t seen her since then?”
“No. Funny you should mention that, though.”
“Oh, do tell.” Xia rested his chin on his hands and leaned forward on the table attentively.
“Her magic tripped my security measure a little while back, but it wasn’t her that did it. Remember the aspendìr I told you about? There were some constructs accompanying her. Dolls.
“Dolls, you say?” Xia’s eyes glinted in acute interest. “Your witch started sending out her creations to do her dirty work since she couldn’t leave her house herself? Hm, apparently I didn’t give her enough credit.”
“No, you gave her enough.”
“There’s only two ways a woman like that would let any construct of hers wander about freely.” The potion maker glanced over at Xia, one corner of his mouth rising briefly. “Either she died, or they killed her.”
Xia snorted. “Given your description of her, I can’t say I'd exactly blame them if it’s the latter.”
“Hm. Well, regardless, there were two in particular that tripped the alarm. One was so drenched in binding hexes that I was honestly surprised it was even remotely lucid, let alone capable of coherent speech. As it stands, I’m sure it has some form of brain damage or permanent disability by now. Probably both. I’d almost feel sorry for it if I were given to that particular brand of sentimentality. The other… well, she apparently decided that if she couldn’t see me in person, she’d make an effigy of me instead.”
Xia laughed aloud. “Oh, this I simply must see. I know you still must have the phos-illusio recordings around; you were always paranoid that way.”
“Absolutely not. I would rather not have to look at that thing anymore than I can possibly help. The knowledge that such a creature is walking around wearing my face at this very moment is disquieting enough, thank you.”
“Don’t be that way, apprentice.” Xia grabbed one of the nearby chairs and perched on it, pulling his legs up to his chest and pouting up at him childishly. “I refuse to move from this spot until you show me.”
“Suit yourself.” The potion maker unhurriedly mixed a tablespoon of mercury into the beaker of crushed malachite, and could all but feel the glare the faerie was leveling at his back. A few seconds of blissful silence passed, and then:
“Oh eh oh, get up, into the bright light~” Xia’s voice rang out across the workroom, its usual bright, clear timbre deliberately distorted and discordant, like nails on a chalkboard. An involuntary shiver went down the potion maker’s spine, both from the sound and the telltale acidic broil of fae magic that began to fill the room.
“Oh eh oh, I will leap over my limits~” No. No, the potion maker knew exactly what his former teacher was trying to accomplish with this immature display of pettiness, and he refused to cave to it. He refused.
“Oh eh oh, the time is now~” The potion maker gritted his teeth, tipped a vial of arsenic into his potion beaker, and did his best to ignore Xia.
“Oh eh oh, spread your wings and wake up again~” Which was becoming more and more difficult as the fae magic grew stronger and stronger, until the potion maker could almost taste ozone and fermented berries on the back of his tongue. He knew what fae magic would do to his potions. And Xia knew as well. The potion maker lasted two more renditions of this before he finally snapped.
“Alright!” He slammed the beaker down onto his worktable and rounded on the smugly grinning faerie. “Alright, fine, before your sour notes turn my potions into unusable bottles of sludge.”
“I knew you’d see reason eventually!” the faerie proclaimed blithely, clapping his hands and rising from the chair as the potion maker went to a hidden hollow in the wall and pulled out a memoraim crystal. Conjuring up a simple lumos spell and projecting it through the crystal caused it to throw up a holographic projection of whatever scene he wished to see of his workroom within the last three months. The image of seven figures flickered into view around them. The one in front was a small girl in a red dress, the aspendìr, while behind her stood six tall young men in a piecemeal assortment of clothing. Two were frozen on the steps leading down into the workroom itself.
“There,” the potion maker said acidly, almost completely out of patience with the faerie’s accursed capriciousness. “Happy now? Can I get back to making your potion?”
Xia apparently couldn’t be bothered to answer, approaching the doll nearest him with a look of intense fascination on his face. The noisy, nosy one who talked far too much for its own good, if the potion maker remembered correctly. Xia circled the doll closely, looking it over head to toe before moving on to the next one, the shortest among them, who still had a considerable number of inches on the faerie.
“Are they as well made as they look?” he asked absently, reaching out a hand as if to touch the doll before seeming to remember that it was only an illusion and reluctantly withdrawing it.
The potion maker hesitated for a moment before grudgingly admitting, “Better. I don’t think I’ve ever seen constructs as well made as these, aside from maybe your Angel and the…” He coughed politely. “Well, the other one…”
“I don’t want to think about that particular thorn in my side right now, thank you very much,” Xia grumbled peevishly, deliberately turning away from the shortest one to move on to the ones on the stairs. “Looks like you had an admirer, apprentice,” he observed, approaching the shimmering illusion of the potion maker’s doll counterpart. “Your troublesome customer had quite the eye for detail. He’s the spitting image of you.”
“I see no reason to stand here and let myself be insulted,” the potion maker said disdainfully, making as if to return the crystal to its containment unit.
“Oh, come on,” the faerie said mischievously, holding up a hand in turn. “Aren’t you in the least bit curious what she wanted to use him for?”
“What she did with it,” the potion maker snapped, “is none of my concern, nor do I want it to be. Now, shall we get back to your potion order, or are you going to spend the next hour ogling a bunch of dolls?”
“Always so impatient,” Xia tsked, but he stepped back from the shimmering image of the closest doll regardless. Descending the stairs, he meandered across the room again, stopping for a few seconds to study both the freckled doll with a kitten on its shoulder and the tallest one. He then gave the whole set a final glance before he nodded to himself decisively. “Alright, I’ve made up my mind. I want them. All of them.”
The potion maker blinked. “…I beg your pardon?”
“I want them for my collection.” Xia fixed the potion maker with a shrewd look, one the potion maker particularly despised. “And I want you to obtain them for me, apprentice. Constructs this beautiful and intricately designed are a rare thing indeed. I don’t intend to let an opportunity like this pass me by, and I certainly don’t intend to let someone else beat me to it. Besides, it’s been awhile since my Angel has had some new playthings, and,” Xia walked up the stairs to stand beside the potion maker’s doppelgänger again, not breaking eye contact with his former apprentice, “I always have said a face like yours belonged in a museum, haven’t I, my apprentice.”
“Let’s get back to the first part of that statement,” the potion maker said frostily, dispelling the illusion with a curt wave of his hand and ignoring the involuntary prickle of pins and needles creeping down his spine as he replaced the crystal. “And the answer is no, you leave me out of this. I’m not your personal gofer. If you want those dolls that badly, you can go get them yourself.”
“Come now, be reasonable. You’re the one who knows where they come from, and even if by some chance you don’t, I know that you know where to find them. Plus, your girls are quite good at jobs like this, from what I’ve observed. I feel quite comfortable leaving the job in your capable hands.”
“First of all, they’re not ‘my’ girls-”
“Semantics.” Xia waved him off carelessly.
“Secondly, even if I did know where to find them, I deal in potions, not constructs, and particularly not in self-aware constructs. Plus, if word gets out that I’ve started to actively meddle in other realms, my business might start to suffer as a result.”
“Oh, I highly doubt that. You are quite smart for a human; I’m sure you can keep this somewhat discreet. Besides, I’m sure having an archfey referral on your resume more than makes up for any small inconveniences this might potentially cause.” Xia smiled, his incisors looking a little sharper than usual, his eyes a bit more luminous. “And fear not; I know better than anyone that you don’t work for free. I’d be sure to make this well worth your while.”
Another refusal was on the tip of the potion maker’s tongue… but he hesitated.
Xia continued without missing a beat: “It just so happens that I’ve recently come into possession of a hefty haul of mithril shards. I’ll give you twenty for every doll you procure for me.”
The potion maker froze. Finally, after a good fifteen seconds, he replied, “…Fifty. Fifty mithril shards per doll.”
“You must be joking, apprentice,” Xia scoffed. “Those dolls are valuable, but not that valuable. Twenty-five.”
“Forty, and that’s my final offer.”
“Done.” Xia clapped his hands once, looking like the proverbial cat that got the canary. “I’m glad we got that sorted out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must away!” He turned on his heel and began ascending the stairs toward the exit.
“What about your potion?” the potion maker called after him, confused.
“I’ll be back to pick it up when you get me my dolls,” Xia replied, without looking around. “I have some new exhibits to start planning! Of course, nothing can be completely finalized until I see them in person and have the opportunity to gauge what they’d be best at, but I can still start putting some concepts together. Ah, this is so exciting, it’s been so long since I’ve had this many toys to add to my museum at once!” He seemed to remember something, and turned back to the potion maker. “Oh, make a few Lethe draughts as well, while you’re at it. Constructs who’ve had a taste of freedom tend to get ornery when someone else takes possession of them, and while it can be cute at first, it gets old very quickly. I prefer not to deal with the theatrics unless I absolutely have to.”
The potion maker pressed his lips into a thin line. “Would there be anything else His Majesty requires today, or will that be all?”
The sarcasm dripping from his every word flew entirely over the distracted faerie’s head. That, or he was just ignoring it. It was hard to tell sometimes with him. “Actually, there was one thing…” Xia stopped at the top of the stairs and fiddled with one of his rings, turning it around and around on his finger distractedly. The potion maker stared. If he didn’t know better, he’d almost think the faerie was acting… shy? “If you do call your girls to help you out… could you tell Hani-?”
“No.” The potion maker cut him off, holding up one hand. “Business is one thing, but I draw the line at getting involved in your personal affairs. You want to say something to Hani, you talk to her yourself.”
“Aw, come on!” Xia gave him his best approximation of puppy dog eyes. “I would, but Solji warded the entire facility against fey beings, and Hyojin threatened to stab me last time I was there if I ever showed up again.”
The potion maker raised an incredulous eyebrow. “Can’t say that I blame her, really. But since when have threats ever stopped you?”
Xia scowled. “You’re awful, apprentice, you know that? And normally they wouldn’t, but your girls are useful and I’d prefer to not turn useful resources into home décor if I can help it. Besides, Hani likes them. No accounting for taste, but we all have our vices.”
“They’re not my-!” The potion maker took a deep, calming breath. “My answer is still no. I’ll get the damn dolls for you, fine, but unless you plan to tack another fifty mithril shards onto your bill, your personal life is, frankly, none of my business, and I plan to keep it that way.”
Xia pouted, gazed off into the distance, and gave an explosive, dramatic sigh. “Fine, be that way.” He turned his gaze back onto the potion maker and smiled, the expression sharp and infuriatingly smug. “Well, it was a long shot anyway. Pleasure doing business with you today, apprentice. Don’t keep me waiting too long, now!” With that, the faerie was gone.
The potion maker watched him go. When he was alone in his workshop, he let out a long, silent breath and ran his hands down his face tiredly, already feeling the beginnings of a tension headache already building behind his forehead. What had he just gotten himself into?
Comforting himself with the thoughts of all he could accomplish with two hundred and forty mithril shards at his disposal (honestly, the mind reeled), he went to his worktable to make sure the water’s bane potion was coming along nicely, and then left the room for his personal office. Once inside, he rummaged around in a drawer, pulled out a vial, and went to the large scry crystal set on an intricate metal stand in the corner. He touched it and murmured a few words. The clear heart of the crystal swirled, shimmered, melted into the image of a stark, gray room. A worktable similar to the one in his workshop stood in the center, flanked by two glowing couches. A few moments passed, and then a woman dressed all in black and holding a red briefcase passed in front of the potion maker’s view of the room.
Before he could say a word to get her attention, she caught sight of him out of the corner of her eye and did an abrupt double take before a big smile spread across her face. “Ravi! This is a surprise. What can I do for you, sir?”
“Hani.” The potion maker allowed one corner of his mouth to lift in the briefest of smiles as the woman came closer to the shimmering portal that opened in the air in front of her. “I need to talk to Solji. It’s about a job.”
“Ooo, a job! Been awhile since we’ve had one of those from you. HEY JONGHWA!” she bellowed to someone out of the potion maker’s line of sight, making the man wince slightly. “COULD YOU GET SOLJI? RAVI’S CALLING ABOUT A JOB!”
“Must you inform your entire dimension of the fact?” the potion maker asked in disgruntlement as someone offscreen called an affirmative and the faint clack of high heeled boots retreated into the distance.
“But of course, sir!” Hani replied cheekily as a shorter woman in a bobbed haircut wandered into view and came closer as well, waving at the potion maker cheerily. “It’s a momentous occasion! So is the job for you or for a client?”
“A client. Xia, to be precise,” the potion maker said, before realizing what he’d just done and experienced the brief but powerful urge to smack himself on the forehead.
“Lord Xia came to see you?” Hani asked, leaning forward eagerly. Glancing to the side briefly, she said in a lower voice, “Did he mention me at all?”
The potion maker stared at her flatly. “…No.”
A wide, knowing grin spread over her face at that. “Oh, you can’t fool me, sir, I know he did! He did!” She grabbed the arm of the woman next to her and pulled at it, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet joyfully. “He did, he did, he did!”
“Who did what now?” came a voice from out of sight, and a tall woman calmly strode onto the scene, followed by the other two members of the small cadre of chemists.
“Nothing Solji, nothing,” Hani said quickly, bowing her head meekly. She let go of her companion’s arm and stepped back to give her leader full access to the portal.
Seeing the potion maker within the shimmering rip in reality, Solji smiled slightly. “Hello, Ravi. Long time no see.”
“Hello, Solji. I’ll cut right to the chase. Lord Xia’s commissioned me for a job,” the potion maker began without preamble. “I thought you and your girls might want in on it.”
Solji frowned. “Ravi, you’re going to need to give us a very good reason to take any job related to that man.” She glanced narrowly at Hani, who had the grace to look sheepish. “You have thirty seconds before I dispel this communication and we go about our respective business.”
“I’m getting paid in mithril.” All five women went very still at that, their eyes widening to varying degrees. “And I’m willing to cut you in for thirty percent. Is that a good enough reason?”
Solji thought it over for but a moment before nodding, albeit reluctantly. “Alright. We’re in. What do you need us to do?”
“Well, first off, we need to track down the home dimension of the individual this-” He held up the vial of the aspindìr’s blood, which was still more than half full, and showed it to the five women, “-came from. Once we do, I can perform a tracer spell to locate some dolls that he’s apparently set his heart on and can't live without, and you can Door in and retrieve them, wherever they are.” He’d vaguely recalled the conversation the dolls had had with the girl before they’d parted ways, and had a sneaking suspicion that wherever she was now, the dolls wouldn’t be too far away.
“Dolls?” Hyojin said incredulously. “Mr. Lord High Archfey himself wants us to retrieve some dolls? Is that all?”
The potion maker shrugged. “You know how he gets about pretty things.”
She snorted. “Do I ever.”
“Hani will be over to retrieve the vial shortly,” Solji interjected, all business. “We’ll let you know the results when we have them. Hyerin and Jongwha can begin mixing up a new batch of knockout gas in while Hyojin and I ready our equipment.” She nodded to the potion maker. “You’ll have those dolls in your possession in no time, sir.”
The potion maker inclined his head in return. “I’ll be waiting.”
The potion maker’s aliases – Basically, the potion maker has Ravi’s stage name, and Cedar has his actual personality. Don’t get them mixed up, though; the potion maker is basically an OC while Cedar is Ravi’s actual AU counterpart. As for the potion maker’s other aliases, Pavlov and Mobius are taken from two of Ravi’s solo songs, and Pluton is the original Latin name of Hades’ Roman counterpart, and Ravi played the part of Hades in VIXX’s Greek gods-inspired Fantasy MV.
Rain and Shinwha – Shinhwa (aka Venus’ “pets”) have already made brief appearance in “Open the Door,” while Rain being a water elemental is a reference to his Rainism MV. I’d love to go into more detail about them, their conflict, where Xia fits into the whole thing, and why he refers to Shinhwa as their lady’s pets in the first place, but that’s another story for another day. Maybe at some point I’ll get around to it. XD
Xia’s hair colors – Xia changes hair colors and styles like 5 separate times in the Tarantellegra MV, to the extent that I honestly thought he was entirely separate people each time it happened when I first watched it. X’D So hey, faeries have glamours, right? Why not incorporate all of them instead of sticking with just one? ;D
Aspendìr – My “official” name for Oh My Girl’s fantasy species in this AU. They’re sometimes born from female aspen tree colonies that don’t have a dryad currently living there, and emerge from their trees as regular fawns at first. Later on, they retreat back into their trees for awhile, and then emerge a second time in a form that resembles a human woman. Most aspendìr retain visible traits of their deer heritage – such as antlers, spots, fur, rings around their eyes – and some even resemble a satyr in their lower half, with hooves and a tail and the like. Oh My Girl, however, just have antlers as the only visible remnant of their deer heritage because the place where their grove resides has far more ambient magic saturating it than usual, and thus they look almost entirely like normal human girls.
“Oh eh oh~” - I needed a song with a repetitive chorus for Xia to annoy the potion maker with, and “OeO” suited those needs very nicely.
Xia + Hani – Junsu and Heeyeon dated from 2015-2016 before breaking up due to scheduling conflicts, and since both artists' counterparts happened to be making an appearance in the same chapter, I saw the opportunity and took it. ;)