The Elixir of Life

The aged philosopher Aboniel inhabited a lofty tower in the city of Balkh, where he devoted himself to the study of chemistry and the occult sciences. No one was ever admitted to his laboratory. Yet Aboniel did not wholly shun intercourse with mankind, but, on the contrary, had seven pupils, towardly youths belonging to the noblest families of the city, whom he instructed at stated times in philosophy and all lawful knowledge, reserving the forbidden lore of magic and alchemy for himself.

But on a certain day he summoned his seven scholars to the mysterious apartment. They entered with awe and curiosity, but perceived nothing save the sage standing behind a table, on which were placed seven crystal phials, filled with a clear liquid resembling water.

‘Ye know, my sons,’ he began, ‘with what ardour I am reputed to have striven to penetrate the hidden secrets of Nature, and to solve the problems which have allured and baffled the sages of all time. In this rumour doth not err: such hath ever been my object; but, until yesterday, my fortune hath been like unto theirs who have preceded me. The little I could accomplish seemed as nothing in comparison with what I was compelled to leave unachieved. Even now my success is but partial. I have not learned to make gold; the talisman of Solomon is not mine; nor can I recall the principle of life to the dead, or infuse it into inanimate matter. But if I cannot create, I can preserve. I have found the Elixir of Life.’

The sage paused to examine the countenances of his scholars. Upon them he read extreme surprise, undoubting belief in the veracity of their teacher, and the dawning gleam of a timid hope that they themselves might become participators in the transcendent discovery he proclaimed. Addressing himself to the latter sentiment—‘I am willing,’ he continued, ‘to communicate this secret to you, if such be your desire.’

A unanimous exclamation assured him that there need be no uncertainty on this point.

‘But remember,’ he resumed, ‘that this knowledge, like all knowledge, has its disadvantages and its drawbacks. A price must be paid, and when ye come to learn it, it may well be that it will seem too heavy. Understand that the stipulations I am about to propound are not of my imposing; the secret was imparted to me by spirits not of a benevolent order, and under conditions with which I am constrained strictly to comply. Understand also that I am not minded to employ this knowledge on my own behalf. My fourscore years’ acquaintance with life has rendered me more solicitous for methods of abbreviating existence, than of prolonging it. It may be well for you if your twenty years’ experience has led you to the same conclusion.’

There was not one of the young men who would not readily have admitted, and indeed energetically maintained, the emptiness, vanity, and general unsatisfactoriness of life; for such and ever been the doctrine of their venerated preceptor. Their present behaviour, however, would have convinced him, had he needed conviction, of the magnitude of the gulf between theory and practice, and the feebleness of intellectual persuasion in presence of innate instinct. With one voice they protested their readiness to brave any conceivable peril, and undergo any test which might be imposed as a condition of participation in their master’s marvellous secret.

‘So be it,’ returned the sage, ‘and now hearken to the conditions.

‘Each of you must select at hazard, and immediately quaff one of these seven phials, in one of which only is contained the Elixir of life. Far different are the contents of the others; they are the six most deadly poisons which the utmost subtlety of my skill has enabled me to prepare, and science knows no antidote to any of them. The first scorches up the entrails as with fire; the second slays by freezing every vein, and benumbing every nerve; the third by frantic convulsions. Happy in comparison he who drains the fourth, for he sinks dead upon the ground immediately, smitten as it were with lightning. Nor do I overmuch commiserate him to whose lot the fifth may fall, for slumber descends upon him forthwith, and he passes away in painless oblivion. But wretched he who chooses the sixth, whose hair falls from his head, whose skin peels from his body, and who lingers long in excruciating agonies, a living death. The seventh phial contains the object of your desire. Stretch forth your hands, therefore, simultaneously to this table; let each unhesitatingly grasp and intrepidly drain the potion which fate may allot him, and be the quality of his fortune attested by the result.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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