The Collapse changed everything.
What was once the final, inalienable truth of life, that it ended, was suddenly thrust into chaotic uncertainty.
Thislan had long known magical cure-alls and the ability to pull the nearly departed back from the brink of death (or even just past it). And likewise, Janeth Prime with its soaring technological advances, had placed death somewhere on the shelf a little to the left of the common cold.
Yes, people died. It was inevitable. The mind and body became weak, accidents happened, cruelty existed. But like the sun rose, like tides flowed, like taxes, Death was a constant. Death was part of life. Death… was the end.
After the Collapse, after magic and technology alike failed and people had to learn to live with Death’s pale hand constantly on the back of their necks once again, another change happened. People started coming back.
What must have gone through the mind of the first person to walk down the warm stones of the Black Path? How did they know to follow it, the only scrap of solid reality, through the mist and blinding nothingness around them until coming to The Apothecary’s door? What surreal terror must they have felt to realize that they were not in a twisted afterlife nor comatose dream, but instead literally opening the door between life and death?
To their credit, The Apothecaries were also shocked. What new customers had come to ply their wares? Mortals, Humans… with spirits so fragile and beliefs so strong. The Apothecary that waited at the end of the Black Path was not the face of one’s god, and it was not blessed rest, and it was not always Fair.
It was chance.
Whatever power these Apothecaries possessed, they seemed content to listen to the dying and offer them the ultimate gamble: a chance to return, or, the death they’d expected with their last, gasping breath.
And mortals like nothing more than to try and control their odds.
Religious sects and mages and scientists alike did their best to unravel this new mystery of life, to understand what occurred within The Apothecary, to understand the Black Path that a soul would find themselves upon. To speak with the dead and understand what brought them back. And what didn’t. Despite funerary rights and medical advances, superstition and experimentation, to this day we know tantalizingly little about the Black Path and The Apothecaries that speak with us when we are too careless with our fragile, beating hearts.