After such persecution and ill-treatment it was good to be received again by a fellow man of science and friend in knowledge. At his very comfortable lodgings, Dr. Hesselius gave us the kindest and most refreshing reception and respite from our investigations: in food, in drink, but above all, in the hospitality of his open and commodious mind.
After dinner, my master could but hardly resist unwrapping some specimens of note for Hesselius’ revelation. This my master did with a childish and pure enthusiasm for sharing his holdings.
Upon a sheet of brilliant damask my master rolled out seven uneven obsidian plugs.
“These are the ancient crustings of the minotaur. Scraped, they say from the sides of the labyrinth by Theseus himself and worn smooth by the hands that pass it to us from myth into history.”
Hesselius smiled indulgently at the preface, but noted with interest the skipping spin of the compass he placed next to it.
My master next rolled out a dusky brass cylinder, from whose ancient cloth sand yet slid. I knew this one well, for it was one of the first mysteries he had disclosed to me.
Hesselius knew it, too. “Ha,” he cried in recognition. “The egesta of the yellow sphinx. Once a rarity, now hocked at stalls throughout the Levant.”
“Mostly poor fakes, made from fool’s gold, wax, hair and bismuth,” replied my master, “this one has the mesmeric properties Mon-Raban describes.”
As though in rebut, my master skipped over the Etiudros Alberti and the "sweet smelling stone" of Rhazes and hastened to his greatest prize, which sat recessed in the blue velvet of a jewelry box, beneath the flip of its twin locks.
“The uric crystal of the Blue Naga!” announced Hesselius, “This one is enormous.”
“Yes, exactly. I had heard of an enormous eel being captured from the Mekong. For weeks there had been no fish; when this titanic eel was captured, it was thought to be the cause. It was a scaled a deep blue that shone like metal. The king ordered it slaughtered to replace the missing fish. Its flesh filled every pot in the kingdom and more. They fashioned armor and roofs and tiles and even clothes and combs from its scales.”
“By the time I reached port, there were unclear reports of some total catastrophe befalling the kingdom. Some said earthquake; others said darker, less reasonable things. But the entire kingdom had been wiped out overnight. In fact, by the time I made it up river, there was nothing at all to be seen: the whole city had been wiped flat into the mud. Not a thing lived.”
“However, coming ashore, in a trench of sucking mud where the palace should have been, I found an enormous deposit of this crystallized acid, stretching as long as a field. Excreted from what, none has dared say.”
“Incredible, my dear Norman, incredible and most praiseworthy. You have done rare and signal work in a field none have dared to tread, no matter how carefully. From such a collection, a remarkable new science could yet emerge –like a phoenix.”
“Ha! Hesselius. Yes, that is my intention. As you well know, the phoenix is no creature, but a riddle. And I believed I have solved it.”
At this Hesselius smiled kindly and bade my master sit with him. But my master was too excited. Hesselius reclined alone, over his glass.
“You, Magus Hesselius, know the object of all science and philosophy.”
Hesselius was silent.
“The Great Work,” hissed my master “the philosopher’s stone. These are just words, secret words we use to cover the true phenomenon. Transformation.”
“Transformation of what is without to within, to without. The phoenix from the ashes indeed. The secret of all life, the universe. And why has it eluded us, Hesselius? Because of shame! Because we have turned out backs on it, it is obvious, too obvious!”
Hesselius began to shake is his head demurringly, “My friend, my friend...”
“It is true! I have grasped it, felt it with my fingers, smelt it. Man seeks truth eternally, but in reality he flings it from himself.”
I could not follow all that was said. My master was wild and expansive in his gestures.
Hesselius silent and unmoving.
“Diogenes did his all his business in public. This is his lamp at daytime. This is the last taboo, the greatest, most primary, most buried treasure.”
“Accept it, Hesselius, the truth is already inside of you, inside all of us. Every legend of every nation has spoken of it, how we were fashioned from clay, of how the prideful, willful one was expelled, of how the gods themselves were devoured by time –only to be excreted. The ritual of the phoenix has been before us, before we had names for anything, but we refuse to name it, to speak of it.”
“Norman, Norman, the truth is not so simple. A taboo is not a proof of anything. Wisdom is not merely the reverse of common folly or practice, or simple perversion would be genius. What is high and low cannot be reconciled, transposed or made equal. Were all things equal any asshole would be as a just man. ”
“Don’t be ashamed Martin! We men of science cannot spare it! It is the source of all power. Defiance. Mastery. Will. It is the key of creation and destruction. It is what makes us human and animal -and would make us a god if we dared grasp it. All fruits were forbidden man, save one, so that he might not recognize himself a creator.”
“Please don’t ask me, Norman. I shall not. I cannot. I’ve seen it. I’ll not die a cheerful man for it, in this life or the next for having seen it.”
“But you know what it would mean. The dead poop of something not dead, but undead. The impossible poo. The soul of the unsouled. It is logical that if the creature drinks blood there must be some excreta.”
“Evil leaves a stain. A stain that seeps to the core of the earth. Don’t go chasing that stain, Norman. It’s just as deadly and as evil. The Comte is vanquished, of that I am sure. But it is still a terrible place that I would not go for any reason.”
“Hesselius, you must show me! You know the Comte’s practices. The secret was his as well. You must have seen it.”
“I did what was necessary and departed. No pillar of salt am I.”
“Shame and superstition from a man of science!”
“Fear, call it what you will. But not without reason. The sort of reason that keeps a man alive and sane and indoors on a bad night. You want to look into an abyss, Norman, but not every secret holds knowledge. Some riddles, like the sphinx, offer only destruction as an answer.”
“This would be the poo of poos, the great work, the unnamable offspring, the baphomet. I must have it, Hesselius. Where others have seen just muck and dross I have seen the trails of a great secret. And I will have that secret, Hesselius. All this, all this…” said my master spreading himself wide to encompass his life’s work.
“My God, can’t you understand Norman? There’s no knowledge here, no secret no mystery, just Scheiße, merde, shit, Norman, you’re just collecting shit!”