“There are only two types of magic, Mr. Lauds. The magic of perception and the magic of dexterity.” The man who had spoken these words pulled on his pipe without moving his lips. He sat in a Queen Anne chair with feet flat on the floor in a coiled posture, as though he might launch like a spring. Yet he vaguely caressed a bronzed pocket watch, in a day when you didn’t see them much, as though he was two people, one also quite relaxed. It was not the type of watch you carried as an affectation – it was dented and darkly oxidized, and his hand did not turn it over and again, flipping the lid open and closed like a pocket lighter. His fingers moved on it gently, as though it were a pendulum of concentration extended from the pivot point of his otherwise still body. He had just finished lighting a pipe. That prop is not enough, then – he is a man who thinks about more than one thing at a time.
“Aren’t there many kinds?” a younger man asked. “Man, I’ve heard of quite a few forms of sorcery and seen at least some pretense of a handful up close.” He sat in a chair that was identical except for a blemish on one arm, where the leather flaked, that looked as if generated by accidental heat. He was taller, though both men were tall. His sweater was pale grey, where the other man’s coat was black. He wore a wool muffler, but no other ornament. He had no beard, where the other man did. His skin was almond, where the other’s was buttered milk, though both had coal hair. He moved more too, turning his head as he talked, and gesturing easily with his hands. He also smiled, and the other man, thus far, had not.
“Mr. Lauds,” said the older man. “I would not assume the vanity of bourgeois forms of address, such as master or sir between us, but do at least call me by the name with which we were introduced. I am not a generic ‘man’, and we will get along far better.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. None,” the young man said simply.
“Also not necessary,” said None. “This will be your first lesson in magic, though not the first lesson *of* magic. Before you are ready for that, you must learn what magic is.” None’s middle finger pressed the lit tobacco further down into his pipe, and he drew another slow train of smoke, taking a long moment to let it swirl around the cavern of his open mouth, while a tendril of it snaked out like a tongue. It was enough smoke to settle on them both as a haze when he finally let it go.
“The trick is not minding,” Lauds said, grinning.
“Tricks are for G. Gordon Liddy,” None replied. Pop culture too. “But we frown on tricks, except perhaps on All Hallows. We’re not above mirth.” He does not identify ‘we’. None puffed again on the now billowing briar, speaking didactically as he did. “Distinguish, if you like, between clairvoyance and precognition, remote viewing and telepathy, psychometry and reading of omens, clairsentience and clairaudience, and you are still talking in each case about perception. All forms of divination are perception.”
“Whereas psychokinesis, pyrokinesis, levitation,” said Lauds, “these are sleight of hand. Manipulation.”
“Manipulation, yes, but I did not say sleight of anything, Mr. Lauds,” said None. “I said dexterity. There’s a difference. Do you know what it is?”
“One is… real,” said Lauds. His smile faded. He pressed his fingers around his thumb. “The other is fooling someone.”
“Real is an interesting notion,” said None. “But you’re correct, more or less.” He stroked the watch. “Both are real, but one is the realness of fooling people, and the other is the realness of achieving something ordinary but beyond what is considered normal…”
“It sounds like magic is mainly a form of being weird,” said Lauds.
None‘s eyes opened a little more widely. “How perceptive. Quite. Weird, freakish, bizarre, but not for show. There’s a rule, actually…”
“So other people,” Lauds cut in, speaking more quickly, “aren’t the point of magic, then.” He leaned forward, both arms on the chair. It was the posture of hunger, when one has eaten only rice and is entertaining the possibility that there is such a place as Veselka in the East Village with sandwiches of Ukrainian salami, or Amy Ruth’s in Spanish Harlem, with honey-smothered chicken and waffles. Rice ceases to be *as* real.
“Oh magic can be for other people. When you walk into a person’s dreams, it may well be for her sake as much as yours. But the point is not creating an audience, but merely living in the world.” He glanced outside. “Such as it is.” He said “her” instead of “their”. He moved the pipe to the opposite side of his mouth, and the watch changed hands in the same instant, still closed.
“What about the magic of communication? Of speaking to animals, for instance, like familiars – or snake charming and the like. What of curses and amulets, potions, stargazing, kabbala, incantation of spells….” Lauds’ litany was part question, part staccato. “What of channeling and raising the dead?”
“Those are the same thing, Mr. Lauds,” said None. “Dexterity. If you think about each one long enough, you’ll see this is so. And communication is perception, as well. To communicate with animals, you must first perceive how they communicate.”
“Shape-shifting?” asked Lauds.
“Now that’s sleight of hand, unless you know something I don’t. But there is perception in it,” said None. “There is a totem in every man, an animal reality that is the shape of our lives as we used to paint it on cave walls when we first came down from the trees.” He pressed his thumbnail slightly between the watch and it’s lid. “One doesn’t have to pretend to turn into an actual goat or wolf or cow or lion to *be* a goat or a lion.” He let out a ring of smoke. “To so perceive the subtleties of how the lion, for instance, approaches the world, equips one, does it not, with the possibility of adopting those qualities?”
“What you’re saying,” said Lauds, smiling again, “is any sufficiently advanced ability will be perceived as magic, if…” he hesitated.
“Actually, *indistinguishable* from magic was what Mr. Clarke said,” said None.
“Clarke… I thought it was Heinlein or Asimov…” Lauds said.
“Great wizards, each of them,” said None. “Niven as well. But it was Clarke offering that rule, one of several in fact. He had a few things to say on the subject, based on experience I imagine.” None let his pipe relax into his palm. “Ask yourself what the difference is,” he said, “between prophesy and weather forecasting.”
Lauds laughed politely, but put his chin into his hand.
“You see,” None said. “Magic will make you more ponderous. Wizardry however…” He let the pipe’s bit loose from his teeth only long enough, “… that will set you free” to emphasize the second part of the sentence, and then quickly returned it.
“Is that the first lesson in magic, then?” asked Lauds. “That the use of magic will make me… free?”
None looked at the younger man a long time without speaking. The smoke curled around the top of his head. He pulled his feet back slightly against the legs of the chair. Not as tall, but not as soft. He seemed almost about to spring across the space between them, but unable to decide whether to tear out the younger man’s throat or embrace him like a sibling. “You have to find that out by experience. The first lesson isn’t a discussion, even if that’s what *our* first lesson is.”
Lauds slid deeper into the chair. He was taken to Veselka, but he wasn’t allowed to eat – only to look at the menu.
None took some ten minutes more to finish his pipe. They passed time in silence. Lauds did not move to leave, and None did not dismiss him. The old ways had a point to them, even if it wasn’t immediately clear.
Outside, a group of seven or eight people walked with signs and placards toward a larger rally that was taking place in the nearby park. The taxis made noise, busy pedestrians stopped and checked their cell phones and, if there was anyone with nowhere to be, they shuffled by the way New Yorkers do – without shuffling. No one entered the small tobacco shop, and no one looked at it or looked in, not even the pan-handlers. The people looking for petition signatures did not. It was as if their solitude were guaranteed, though Mr. None had not locked the door behind them, and the shades were not drawn. There had been no customers, and he sat with his back toward the door and smoked.
“Are you ready for your second lesson, then?” asked None.
“Now?” Lauds lifted momentarily from his seat. “You mean, I don’t have to wait?”
“For whom?” asked None. And with that, he stood in one motion, knocked his pipe on a cork knob in the middle of an amber ashtray on a bronzed metal stand, and extended his hand toward the door and the street.
“It’s some place else then?” asked Lauds, standing.
“It’s every place,” said None. “That is the point of the next lesson. Magic is banal.”
Lauds crossed the room in front of None. “The first point is,” he recited, “there are two kinds.”
“You will learn, if you wish, and you don’t decide to quit,” said None, “many lessons, often with more than one point to them, and quite a few of the rules.”
“Like Clarke’s rule,” said Lauds.
“Like that, yes, and the 25% rule, and the 80% rule, and many others. Once you learn a rule, really learn it, then you have even more need of all the rules you can learn. It’s like knowing how to climb *up* a mountain, or how to breathe underwater, but not yet how to swim. You have just learned the first of many such things.”
“The… 50% rule. Is that what it is?” Lauds was grinning again.
“Don’t be flip,” said None. “But yes, 50% of magic is perception, the other 50% is dexterity. Call it the 100% rule, if you like, then.” He smiled for the first time. “I think *I* will, if you don’t mind.”
Lauds pulled his muffler closer around his neck, and pulled open the door. “So these rules… they’re… made up?”
“There you go again, asking what’s real,” said None. He made no effort to squelch his voice, which carried out into the street, though no one turned or noticed him. The pan-handlers did not ask either of them for money, as they stepped in front of a pair of them. Lauds had given up the last of his change before the meeting, anyway. He buttoned his sweater. None did not produce any key for locking the door, but simply closed it.
The two walked steadily, though None’s pace was faster, and he turned. “You have something you want to ask.” It was not a question.
“I feel silly…”
“Why ‘me’.” None said it for him. Again, a statement, not a question, though he waited for the confirmation. As Lauds had been watching him move past people on the sidewalk, it appeared courtesy was a cloak that made him invisible to the world. Courtesy and indifference. Pedestrians stepped around them. If None took notice of anyone, he made no sign that would indicate they were permitted to notice None.
“That is what I was going to ask,” said Lauds. “I’m just fairly ordinary.”
“You will also meet some friends, when you’re ready,” None said. He spoke with effect but no hesitation. “Beginning perhaps with Mr. Prime, who will want to see you for himself.”
If there was an answer to the question, “why”, in None’s response, it also passed unnoticed.
Diary of the Academy of Ordinary Wizardry, 2011
Banal Enchantress and Common Prognosticator
Author: 0% rule
Note: for someone who might wonder, no characters are real persons. There are always elements borrowed from the habits of real people, but every story is a world, and in such worlds, each person is his or her own ‘brand’.