I swore an oath to keep that secret until my dying day. I lied.
No, I didn’t. I meant every word of my vow. But I was a fool who knew nothing of the ways of the world, of desperation, of the trickery that is practiced on the desperate.
She would have died. If he hadn’t healed her, Cythilia would have died. That doesn’t change anything. Her life doesn’t make up for all that suffering and death. But it’s true, and it’s why I did what I did.
I didn’t know it was a trap, you see. I thought he was what he seemed. A decent enough person, even if he cared just a little more about knowledge than people. Cythilia and I had stayed with him for a week. He was quite an interesting person, and knew more about the most arcane aspects of magic than anyone I’d ever met, even if he was a bit secretive about it. We enjoyed our time with him, the long hours spent discussing theoretical workings and near-impossible feats we had, in fact, accomplished. I mentioned nothing of my secret, of course, though I was often reminded of it in our conversations. But I did not reveal it, or even its existence.
It didn’t matter. He must have known, though for a long time I didn’t even realize it was a trap. We were returning home, along the labyrinthine paths that twisted through the jungle, when it happened. I don’t know now if it was a real snake he’d somehow conjured, or an illusion and a magical attack. At the time, of course, I thought it was a real snake, and not out of place in those parts. It bit her. She collapsed. I could do nothing; I have no power to heal. But I could tell that she would die, and soon, if untreated.
I managed to transport us back to him. I know, I know, I should have brought her somewhere else. I know healers who could have saved her, maybe. But it was close, and I knew he could heal, and he’d even mentioned something about working on certain magical antidotes to the venom of local fauna.
We appeared right in his workshop. He was working on something delicate, and was, or so I thought, not happy to be interrupted. I told him what had happened; begged him to help her.
“I’m quite sorry, and at any other time I’d be happy to, but I happen to be in the middle of a complex, unrepeatable experiment that could shed a little light on some of the great secrets of life.”
“I don’t care!” I screamed, tears running down my face. “You have to save her!”
“As fond as I am of Cythilia, the benefits of this knowledge to the greater part of humanity far outweigh-”
I should have known, by his refusal, that he couldn’t be trusted. But I wasn’t thinking, and the part of me that was knew knowledge was the only thing he valued, and I saw him as wanting it for his own sake. I admit now that I was fatally mistaken, that I committed a betrayal so terrible I will never forgive myself. But I did it. I blurted, “Cure her, and I’ll tell you the secret of alchemy!”
So I told him. I made him promise never to use the knowledge, first. And he promised. And I was such a stupid, naive, little fool that I thought it meant something. So I told him, every gruesome detail; the specifics of how the children had to be tortured, exactly how to distill the unicorn’s blood, every terrible detail of how to make the precious material that could preserve life and create gold.
I knew, even as I told him, that I was doing great evil, but I also knew there was no choice. That’s not true. There was a choice. I just wasn’t strong enough to make it.
He did keep up his end of the bargain, in healing Cythilia, I mean. She was as healthy as ever by the next day, thanks to his magic. He transported us all the way back to Majardea, as well, an indication of how powerful he was—I never would have had the strength.
He did not, however, keep his promise. I didn’t find out until after it was all over, after he’d done those terrible deeds, after he’d been discovered, after he’d been destroyed. It was too late for me to do anything, except make my atonement. I considered throwing myself off a cliff, but I knew I could never again allow myself to be so weak as that. Instead, I will live out the rest of my days with the knowledge of what I have done. And I will do everything in my power to make up for it.
The events in this story are closely related to the events in Alchemy.
I would like to add that the narrator here is neither Malexandra nor Anonymous. There were three people who knew the secret of Alchemy. This narrator is one of the other two.