The magus woke from the crow of the black pullet and greeted the sun, with silent and spoken prayers, as he moved through the positions of his exercise, shifting consciousness to the waking dream. In the yard the cockerel dipped his head to peck at the scattered corn and grubs along with his harem, and the magus busied himself turning over eggs, divined a small future, then selected three and returned to the house. Out of long habit the steps were counted and the numerological significance considered against the forces of the moment—the position of the stars and planets, the day of the week, the hour. Each combination favored certain elements and operations, and set the schedule for the day.
He stepped over a line of salt which he had laid before the threshold, and entered a living library of the Art. A dozen editions of Lévi filled one shelf, propped up by a Tibetan kapala filled with dragon bone and amber, similar artifacts and amulets hanging from pegs and filled up odd corners of each room and hallway he passed through, topping neat piles of books that would not fit on shelves.
The kitchen, by contrast, was relatively bare. Alchemical operations were best carried out in the laboratory, and there were better sources of fire than the gas stove, sharper knives than those suited for cheese or fruit, and a much more impressive collection of herbs and spices in other rooms. The larder and pantry held but scant provisions, suitable for when the hours and days required he break a fast or pursue a particular diet for a week or a moon, and he cared not if he supped from chipped cups and cracked plates from spoons and forks where the silver finish had long worn off. The only remnant of the occult here was a book on cooking-magic, a gift from a scarlet woman who had known him in ignorance; silly crap, he had kept it as a memory of her innocence.
He cracked the eggs into a cold pan, and looked at the blood swirl in the yellow yolks. Forces would move against him, on different planes. Enemies from younger, less enlightened days, before he had left the scene and apprentices and groupies behind. The magus knew this, as he stared at the bloody yolks, and in the act of perception already he mouthed the words and made the signs of the counter-forces he aligned to disperse and direct their energies in better directions. Once, he knew, he would have crushed them, but he was wiser now, or at least more long-sighted. To blast and break them would but secure and enhance a reputation, to draw more acolytes, more followers again to pester and plague him. There had been enough trouble after he published the book…
The blood continued to swirl, and the white thickened and bubbled slightly in the cold pan. The magus frowned, murmuring again by instinct, invoking the names of a few secret angels and spirits. His will felt like a living thing within him, and the human body it was attached to a mere puppet, performing the necessary motions as he pushed his senses outwards, to grasp the shape of the thing whose omen was manifest before him.
The third eye opened, the magus-self looked on the shape of the future, as he had never done before. A cosmic chessboard laid out over the solar system, with dead gods clustered on thrones on the planets, attended by their courts of spirits, and in the blackness between and beyond more subtle and dangerous players. It was a living contest where powers and forces were played out and balanced against each other by knowledge and foresight, where a gambit might take a century to play out. There were many-winged angels and burning chariot wheels hanging there, and all eyes were on him. The magus felt the board shift, the many plans and intrigues of the spirit courts alter as a new element entered their equations.
The will burned within the magus, which seemed so distant a part of him. Knowledge filtered through, as though from sleep. That part of him which had acted, on foresight, making moves to counter moves against his self, had broached into their domain. Before he had been a caller and summoner of those spirits, a visitor in their courts—a tool, perhaps, or a board piece. Now they recognized him as a player, able to operate on their level. He felt part of himself accept.
The blood in the pan darkened and curled in on itself—a shadow-picture of a man, and growing from his back a thing, like flower and caterpillar and fungus, a great dark bubbling mass. He watched it strain and stretch into a thing like a tree, a butterfly, a cloud of bloody lines against the egg-whites, held in place by a few thing strands of plasma. The man knew himself then, as the soil in which the magus had grown.
The separation was sudden. The last strands broke, and for a moment the image was clear: two entities, distinct. Man, magus no longer. Then the image faded, the meaning lost; a mess of cold eggs and cold blood, which he washed down the sink.
The man walked through a house that now felt too large and too small, ill-fitting, cluttered. His steps went uncounted, his breaths and heartbeats moved at their own pace. The signs and sigils meant nothing now, simply scraggly lines etched in wood and painted on plaster. He reached down to flip through a book, but failed to find meaning in the words. This was magic? A bunch of lines and numbers? How long had he spent on this? Years and years, he knew. A decade or more. How long did it take to master a skill? He returned to the kitchen, the one room uncluttered by occult kitsch and bric-a-brac.
The book on the top shelf caught his eye, and he fetched it down, blew off the dust. It was a gaudy thing in paperback with bright covers, a grinning black face over a sorcerer’s stew of gumbo in which pale phallic sausages swam. He cracked the cover, and began to read.