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The Alchemist

The Alchemist by Donna Boyd
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In a sweeping epic of dazzling magic, soaring suspense, and dark longing, three immortal souls are united by fate and a fearless ambition that will change the course of history–even as it destroys their own way of life. . . .

On an upper floor of a plush, high-security building on Central Park West, an elegant man sits in the office of Dr. Anne Kramer, confessing to the heinous murder that has horrified the modern world. Randolf Sontime is renowned for his personal charm, and Dr. Kramer is fighting to keep from falling victim to it. For the first time in her life, she truly understands the meaning of the word “charisma.” Not knowing that her own destiny is irrevocably tied to his, Anne Kramer listens to the story of Sontime’s life.

“It began with the magic, you see. And so, perforce, must I.” As a boy named Han at the House of Ra, an isolated oasis in the Egyptian desert of a far ancient time, Sontime lived in privilege. There the chosen were trained in the science of alchemy–magic, philosophy, miracles. Only two other initiates were as skilled as he: Akan, quiet and studious, a boy whose thirst for knowledge was matched only by his hunger for truth; and Nefar, beautiful and brilliant, a girl as filled with wonder and unfathomable ambition as Han himself. Together they discovered that in union, theirs was a power unmatched in the physical world.

But even in the House of Ra, there were boundaries to be observed, knowledge that only the masters understood and feared. As the threesome’s thirst for answers–and for each other–deepened, they were tempted by the dark arts that they had sworn to avoid. “Look at three magnificent youths who stand astride your world and scoff at the rules you must obey. . . . Look at us, and call us gods.” Their power was palpable, their desire total–until the fateful moment when their alliance was forever damned, their gifts horribly corrupted.

A seductive work that seethes with mystery and passion, The Alchemist hurtles readers back through time to an era when magic was sacred and the workings of the world lay in the hands of a few gifted, but tortured souls. In a stunning feat of unbridled imagination, Donna Boyd has created her most hypnotic novel to date.

From the Hardcover edition.
Random House Publishing Group; March 2002
ISBN 9780345454836
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: The Alchemist
Author: Donna Boyd
Imagine if you will the days spinning backward: a millennium ends here, a
century turns there, a year ends now, and another, and a thousand others,
and finally there are so many days, so many years ending and beginning
that you can no longer remember why
it seemed important that you keep count of them at all. And yet I have
counted them. I have counted every one, marking the beginning of each new
year, of each new century, in my own quiet fashion: a glass of wine,
perhaps, a silent toast. The world revolves, the view changes. Now I stand
atop a castle turret, now upon the deck of a sailing ship. Here I gaze
upon an ageless river, there a body-strewn battlefield; now I see the
dancing lights of the Champs d’Elysée, now I see the smoldering fires of a
fallen civilization. The years change, but the question does not. Will
this be it? I ask myself. Will this be the year I tell my story, the whole
of it, from beginning to end, at last?

And what a lovely entertainment it has been, all these thousands of
turning years, to imagine the telling, the circumstances of the telling,
and the reason for the telling. I have created the scenario and variations
upon scenario over and over again in my mind. Where to begin? How best to
glorify or debase myself in the telling, how to find the thread of truth
that, in the end, must be the summation of any man’s life–even if that
life has been as long and as tangled as mine. So now the time has come,
and the moment is–as so many greatly anticipated moments
are–disappointing. For I realized some time ago that the whole story
cannot be told, not today, perhaps not ever. Every man’s life is simply a
sum of parts, and these are the only parts I can tell you now.

But the beginning, where was that? I think sometimes it began with a lithe
young girl of grand ambition and laughing eyes. At other times I am sure
it all started with the wistful longings of a poet-priest I once called
friend. Was it a woman’s power, or a man’s dreams? What dark god fashioned
this unlikely tale and sent it spinning into space with a single smiling
breath? And dare I think I ever, at any time, had any control over it at

It began with the magic, you see. And so, perforce, must I.

I had a name in that long-ago time, but I have forgotten it centuries
since, so let me call myself as I was in those days: Han. Perhaps I had a
mother, a father, and an early family life but I do not recall those
either. Life began for me, as I remember it, in the House of Ra.

Much has been written in human history about this time in Egypt; entire
lifetimes have been dedicated to piecing together the scattered bones of
that long-ago life. As always, when what is shattered is reassembled with
no model to follow, mistakes will be made in the reconstruction, great
chunks, perhaps, will be missing and others will seem to have no place in
the whole at all. The result is, more often than not, a monstrous

So believe me when I tell you that, while historians have done a fair job
of reassembling the past, so much of what they have learned is only what
we wanted them to know, what was left for them to know. And nothing, I
assure you, of what you know or what you think you know of that time can
even begin to touch the truth of the House of Ra.

Truth is an interesting word. I cannot tell you now with absolute
certainty whether the structure itself, the temple complex in which we
lived and worked and ate and slept and studied was in fact composed of
mortar and stone, or whether it was merely an illusion of the same–or,
most likely, a combination of both. I will describe it therefore as I
perceived it to be, remembering that in the end, in almost every instance,
the difference between truth and illusion is so faint as to be almost

The House of Ra existed on a man-made oasis far from the banks of the
Nile, in a part of the Egyptian desert that is today a particularly brutal
and barren stretch of land in a place that is known for its inhospitable
nature. Soaring sandstone cliffs surrounded the oasis which, from the sky,
would be seen as an island of green in a sea of sand. Date and fig trees
grew side by side with banana, papaya, and orange trees. Waterfalls
tumbled from limestone boulders, formed deep pools and meandering streams.
The ground was covered with a lush low carpet of a fragrant creeping herb
that smelled like sweet lavender and felt like moss to the touch. Even
after all these years, I can but think of the House of Ra and that
fragrance will return to me. There is nothing like it growing in the world

The temple complex was enormous–larger, I think, than any of us imagined,
for it seemed the more we discovered, the more there was to discover.
There was a set of carved cypress doors at the entry to the temple, easily
two stories high, which were closed only on ceremonial occasions. The door
was inscribed with pictographs in the ancient language centered around the
symbol of our craft–three interlocked globes in perfect balance that
formed the points of a triangle. When the doors were open, the triangle
was broken, leaving two globes joined and the one alone. Only when the
doors were closed was the triangle complete.

The complex itself was laid out like a triangle, with long straight
corridors containing classrooms, laboratories and sleeping areas, and
large circular common rooms at each apex of the triangle. The whole was
protected by a raised roof, so that indoor gardens and pools thrived in
the artificial tropical rain-forest atmosphere that had been created
by the designers. There were many levels, some labyrinthine, some so
compact they were practically claustrophobic, each with its own internal
environment–cool in the heat of the sun and warm when the cold winds blew
across the desert.

Artificial light glowed from the walls and ceilings so that we might work
or study at night, and could be discontinued when we wished it.
Refrigeration was available, but rarely used, as our supply of fresh foods
was abundant. Our clothing was manufactured so quickly and inexpensively
that there was no need for laundering, and our food was cooked with a
method that used no fuel and gave off no heat. We bathed in warm-water
pools and used an internal, automated waste-disposal system. We had, in
this ancient, long-forgotten desert temple, every modern convenience.

The House of Ra was a secret over two thousand years old even when I was
there. Within those vaulted marble halls and sun-drenched galleries, magic
met science, philosophy met truth, wonders and miracles were merely a
matter of course. Years later a library would be built in Alexandria that
would become known as the greatest in the world; it was only a shallow
replica of the library contained in the vaults of the House of Ra. There
were never more than thirteen initiates at a time; the best and the
brightest of all of Egypt, hand-chosen by the Masters to live at the
temple and study the truths.

And what truths were those? Ah, you could spend a lifetime and still not
list them all. The nature of atomic particles and the nature of man, the
composition of chemical alloys and the mysteries of the soul. The
transmutation of matter, the source of all Power. To live in truth, and to
practice deception. Magic. Medicine. Discipline. Mastery. Good and evil.
Balance in all things.

We were chosen at a young age, male and female, for characteristics not
even our parents could identify, and from that time until we gained
adulthood we knew no life outside the House of Ra. It was, to the best of
my recollection, a very ordinary life: we played, we studied, we ate and
slept; we had childish spats with our classmates, we were impertinent to
our teachers. We had moments of great joy and deep pain, of triumph and
failure and enlightenment and humiliation. We grew, we learned, we loved.
We formed loyal friendships and casual sexual liaisons. There was nothing
special about us, at least in our own view. We lived in the same universe
that you do today; we simply learned to operate that universe according to
a different set of rules.

Yet I don’t mean to minimize the grandeur of our time there; the majesty
of what we were becoming. Even now I have but to close my eyes and it will
return to me with breathless, aching wonder, the first time I understood
the workings of this world and the power I had over it. Let me speak the
words, with proper tone and rhythm, choosing the syllables and the harmony
they produce, let me hold the thought and say the spell, and what once was
is no longer so. Watch me now as I pluck from the air the electricity that
sparks from my fingers, for don’t you know it was always there? And now
with an outstretched arm I will lift that stone with the strength of my
intent, and see how it floats like a feather in the air! Let me touch your
hand and rewrite your memory. Let me bind you with my eyes, let me whisper
your name and capture your will. We were dealers in magic, and magic ruled
the world.

I have said we, but it is important to know that not all who studied at
the House of Ra were of equal ability. Some would never do more than
master the principles of physics and chemistry that would enable them to
control the environment in which we must live; others might dip their
fingers into the stream of the human unconscious and come away with a
basic understanding of the arcane laws that govern existence here on
earth. The study of the Art was intensely personal, and we competed
against no one but ourselves.

But there were three of us who, from the beginning, excelled above the
others at the Practice. We couldn’t help noticing. And we couldn’t stop,
no matter how we disciplined our minds, the thread of ambition from
snaking into our days. It was inevitable, I suppose, that that ambition
should bring us into conflict. But even we would not have sought conflict
within the mastery of one of the most dangerous and complex of all the
mystic arts–nor could we have guessed how deeply, in the end, it would
bind us together.

It is quite one thing to perform the mysteries on inanimate objects, to
cause boulders to melt into lava, to dry up a stream with the force of
one’s breath, for it is well-known that all things exist in all forms at
all times; it’s merely a matter of learned skills to shift them from one
state into another. But to transform oneself–that is the thing that will
tempt and terrify every Practitioner, in one form or another, for as long
as he lives. Many an adept, quite competent in all other areas, will never
achieve the state of simple Oneness that is necessary to become another
living being. But for the three of us, in that long-ago time in the House
of Ra, the gift came easily. Perhaps too easily.

There has been much debate over the millennia as to whether this
transformation was a literal, physical transmutation of matter, or an
equally literal, but far less demonstrable, transfiguration of spirit. Did
I become the frog, or did I merely cast my consciousness into the essence
of frog-ness, and did I do it with such power and conviction as to cause
others to see me as I saw myself–in the form of a frog? I tell you now it
is one and the same. All magic is illusion, and all reality is only what
one perceives it to be, and in the world in which we lived the line
between these two planes of existence was so faint as to be almost

So if it will help your modern, Western-scientific mind to accept more
easily the occurrences I describe, believe if you will that it was merely
a function of the occult mind. That we imagined, and caused others to
imagine, those things that seem impossible for you to believe. I’ll not
argue the point. Imagination can stop a heart, you know, or break a bone,
or alter the face of time, and in the end it is all the same to those
whose lives are affected.

Still, I should not wish you to think that it was a casual thing, this
shedding of one form to become another, or that it might be summoned at
random will. Quite the contrary. Most of us will never master anything
more than simple animal forms–the frog, the fish, the bird or snake. Ah,
but to attain transmutation to any form was a wonder almost too exquisite
to bear; so intensely involving was it, so deeply, singularly pleasurable,
that there was a real danger in giving oneself over to it so completely
that one lost all desire to change back, and soon forgot how. Our history
is rich with tales of such unfortunate occurrences: the prince trapped in
the form of a frog, the lovers transformed into swans, the virgin who
changed herself into a tree–and neglected to change back. Oh, believe me,
I know the temptation. I know the pain of choice.

From the Hardcover edition.