Malakh stood naked in the billowing warmth of his steam shower. He felt pure again, having washed off the last remaining scent of ethanol. As the eucalyptus-infused vapors permeated his skin, he could feel his pores opening to the heat. Then he began his ritual.
First, he rubbed depilatory chemicals across his tattooed body and scalp, removing any traces of body hair. Hairless were the gods of the seven islands of Heliades. Then he massaged Abramelin oil into his softened and receptive flesh. Abramelin is the sacred oil of the great Magi. Then he turned his shower lever hard to the left, and the water turned ice cold. He stood beneath the frigid water for a full minute to close his pores and trap the heat and energy within his core. The cold served as a reminder of the icy river in which this transformation had begun.
When he stepped from the shower, he was shivering, but within seconds, his core heat emanated up through his layers of flesh and warmed him. Malakhs insides felt like a furnace. He stood naked before the mirror and admired his form . . . perhaps the last time he would see himself as a mere mortal.
His feet were the talons of a hawk. His legsBoaz and Jachinwere the ancient pillars of wisdom. His hips and abdomen were the archways of mystical power. Hanging beneath the archway, his massive sex organ bore the tattooed symbols of his destiny. In another life, this heavy shaft of flesh had been his source of carnal pleasure. But no longer.
I have been purified.
Like the mystical eunuch monks of Katharoi, Malakh had removed his testicles. He had sacrificed his physical potency for a more worthy one. Gods have no gender. Having shed the human imperfection of gender along with the earthly pull of sexual temptation, Malakh had become like Ouranos, Attis, Sporus, and the great castrati magicians of Arthurian legend. Every spiritual metamorphosis is preceded by a physical one. Such was the lesson of all the great gods . . . from Osiris, to Tammuz, to Jesus, to Shiva, to the Buddha himself.
I must shed the man who clothes me.
Abruptly, Malakh drew his gaze upward, past the double-headed phoenix on his chest, past the collage of ancient sigils adorning his face, and directly to the top of his head. He tipped his head toward the mirror, barely able to see the circle of bare flesh that waited there. This location on the body was sacred. Known as the fontanel, it was the one area of the human skull that remained open at birth. An oculus to the brain. Although this physiological portal closes within a matter of months, it remains a symbolic vestige of the lost connection between the outer and inner worlds.
Malakh studied the sacred patch of virginal skin, which was enclosed by the crownlike circle of an ouroborosa mystical snake devouring its own tail. The bare flesh seemed to stare back at him . . . bright with promise.
Robert Langdon soon would uncover the great treasure that Malakh required. Once Malakh possessed it, the void on top of his head would be filled, and he would at last be prepared for his final transformation.
Malakh padded across his bedroom and took from his bottom drawer a long strip of white silk. As he had done many times before, he wrapped it around his groin and buttocks. Then he went downstairs.
In his office, his computer had received an e-mail message.
It was from his contact:
WHAT YOU REQUIRE IS NOW WITHIN REACH.
I WILL CONTACT YOU WITHIN THE HOUR. PATIENCE.
Malakh smiled. It was time to make final preparations.