At the bottom of the basement stairs he shoved the door open, and stepped into the dungeon. It was pitch dark inside. Crossing to the workbench, he fumbled for the desk lamp and switched it on. There on the table lay The Life and Times of Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. He threw himself into the chair and opened the heavy volume.
The first thing to meet his eye was a large illustration: a sixteenth-century woodcut depicting a short, bald, grim-faced man wearing a high lace collar and holding a long two-handed sword. The sword had a spherical pommel and an ornate crossguard. Both blade and quillion were inscribed with what appeared to be strange letters. Beneath the picture was a caption: Azoth, the fabled Sword of Paracelsus.
The Sword of Paracelsus! Morgan had to read the words over to make sure he’d seen them correctly. Paracelsus had a sword? A “fabled” sword? A sword covered with weird markings? He’d never heard of that before.
The wheels of his mind whirring, he reached under the table and retrieved the blue bundle. Once more he undid the wrappings and drew the shining blade into the light. It was impossible to be absolutely sure—the picture was a bit fuzzy and far too small for the characters inscribed on the blade to be legible. Still, thought Morgan, the sword in the woodcut and the sword he was holding in his hand might be one and the same.
Scanning the surrounding text, he discovered the following sentences near the bottom of the following page:
For many years Paracelsus never took off a giant sword he wore—not even when he slept. Various accounts have been given of the nature and significance of this sword. Some report that it possessed the power to deflect the hatred of his enemies. Others say that in the sword’s hollow pommel Paracelsus kept a miraculous powder capable of transmuting metals, healing diseases, transporting bodies from one place to another.
Hollow pommel. Miraculous powder. Morgan’s brain was spinning. He thought of his grandmother lying in bed. So much had happened over the past few months. He hadn’t thought about the Philosopher’s Stone for a long time. Lately his keen interest in finding his father had driven every other concern clean out of his mind. But now he couldn’t help wondering: what if the Elixir of Life were to fall into his hands when he wasn’t even looking for it? What if Paracelsus had actually succeeded where so many had failed?
He held the hilt closer to the lamp. If the pommel were hollow, there must be some way to open it. It must have a seam or a crack or a hinge somewhere. He eyed it closely. He ran his fingers over it. It was as smooth and even as a ball of glass. Opening a drawer, he drew out a big magnifying glass and looked closer. Still nothing.
Maybe it screws off, he said to himself. Placing the crossguard firmly between his knees, he gripped the golden orb with both hands and strove with all his might to twist it off. When that didn’t work, he clamped the hilt in a vice on the workbench and pulled at the pommel until his hands were raw. After that he wrapped it in cloth and attacked it with pliers. It never budged.
At last he thought of consulting the book. Perhaps he’d find instructions of some kind somewhere in the text. It was worth a try.
Putting the sword aside, he plunged into the musty old volume, searching feverishly for something, anything at all, about the construction of the sword’s hollow pommel and how it might be opened. There was nothing. Instead, the passage he’d been reading turned an abrupt corner and proceeded to discuss Paracelsus’ theory of toxicology.
He skipped ahead, ten pages, fifteen, thirty at a time. He scanned the subject headings for clues. He jumped to the index in an attempt to locate the information he was seeking. And then it happened.
As he turned over the last fascicle, something slipped out from between the pages and tumbled to the floor. Morgan stooped to pick it up. It was a small notebook—a slim, narrow, thin-ruled, staple-bound notebook with a faded green cover. Flipping it open, he found it filled with writing. Its pages were covered, front and back, in a neat, closely written cursive script in blue ink. At the top of the first page stood the words, Notes, Thoughts, and Ponderings: January 19__ to October 19__.
Morgan recognized the handwriting. It was his father’s.