So They Called Him Darke
rating: +23+x

“Grandsire?” Iris Dark called as she stepped through the Way from the London Office into Percival Darke’s private sanctum. She had heard Marshall and Carter call it the ‘The Museum’, presumably because they saw Darke as a relic. It was appropriate nonetheless since, in addition to being Darke's home and workspace, it also held his private collection of curiosities that he had accumulated over the centuries. Whether they had been purchased, stolen, discovered or invented by his own skilled hands, these were the few rare objects that were worth more to Darke than what they'd fetch on the open market.

It was a strange place, to be sure, and Iris didn’t even know where it was. It was windowless and she never heard any noises from outside, so she assumed it was deep underground, yet it was utterly lacking any sort of ventilation system. It was obscenely ornate, yet rustically antiquated, not even possessing electricity. All electronic reports and messages had to be printed off and translocated to him via ravenwave.

The entrance hall was lined with braziers that burned with spectral, smokeless flames, their sepia light dancing on the marble walls and pillars. The echoes of her bootsteps were the only noise as she set out seeking for her living forefather.

It had been a little over three years now since she had become Percival Darke’s proxy, the end result of a complex chain of events set in motion by a clause in a will and a (temporarily) successful assassination attempt. Darke was by far the most reclusive partner of Marshall, Carter, & Dark, and preferred to be represented by his proxy as much as was practical.

Iris was aware that she wasn’t the first of Darke’s descendants to hold this position. She had been preceded by a Benjamin Phineas Dark, and an Abigail Agnes Dark before him, and a Johann Dark before her. The position obviously had its perks. The shares she had been given had made her an instant billionaire, and the company health plan included various forms of life extension and resurrection. Darke also allowed her mostly free rein to do as she pleased, since he was well aware that a being as ancient as himself was out of touch. She was currently using MC&D’s inexhaustible resources to finance several anomalous tech projects, and had plenty more ideas on how she might spend her billions of dollars and very long life.

An interesting consequence (though not necessarily a downside) of her new position was that people frequently thought she was Darke, just as they had with her predecessors. Staff and clients alike often viewed her as a centuries-old sorceress of unknowable power. Some people whispered that Darke was like a Time Lord, and rejuvenated into new forms every so often. Others said that he had never been anything remotely human, and his ‘descendants’ were only those who had pledged their lives to him for the assurance of a tolerable afterlife. Iris had even caught wind of a rumour that she had been a call girl whose body Darke had desouled and possessed. She could hardly blame people though, since nobody knew what Darke was.

Not even her.

She had a theory though, one she had compiled from three years of interaction with him and her newfound expertise on the anomalous world. She believed that Darke, who she knew to be an alchemist and thaumaturge of great skill and power with deep knowledge of the Ways, had phased himself slightly out of this reality and into the Darkness Between Dimensions. The way he moved made it seem like he wasn’t fully corporeal, and he was always shrouded in a dark aura. The void’s inherent lack of entropy kept him from ageing, and its low Hume level would afford him powerful reality bending capabilities. He never faded because of the living creatures he consumed (not ate, consumed). In addition to their matter and their EVE particles replenishing his own, their Hume field replenished his. It made a weird kind of sense. He immersed himself in the Darkness, sustained himself on the Darkness, empowered himself with the Darkness.

So they called him Darke.

It was only an educated guess at best though, as she knew better than to ask him.

She poked her head in his workshop, and found it empty. The antique alchemical laboratory, the spectral forge, and the electro-thaumic workbench were all unused at the moment. She checked his study next, only to find the divination circle unlit and the and the vellum codex's all in their proper places.

She was just about to work up the courage to try his bedchamber (where she would at best be disturbing his rest and at worst interrupting as he attended to whatever carnal needs a being of his nature possessed) when the study door slid open. Iris exhaled a sigh of relief as the tall, cloaked form of Percival Darke glided in with several books clutched in his hand.

“Grandsire, there you are. Just got back from the Library I take it?” Iris asked.

“I was able to locate some Erikeshan texts from a reality where they were a little more empirical than they were in our history,” he replied as he shut the door and set the books down on his end table. “I suspect I may be able to synthesize the substance they used to forge the Chains of Jaspetar. One never knows when one might need to imprison a colossal Elder God. But that can wait. What did you need?”

“Chan said he found a vendor selling Astrakhan Springwater at the Utterly Bazaar, and brought back a sample for testing. There is a sizable market that could afford to use the ‘soul sucker’ but refuse because of moral objections. We could stand to make a lot from ‘cruelty-free’ life extension.”

Iris took the vial out of her pocket and handed it to Darke. He clasped it in his boney, ashen, slightly translucent hand and meditated on it for a moment.

“It’s giving off a lot of Akiva radiation, indicative of a divine origin.” He then squeezed a single droplet onto his tongue. “It’s not pure. They’ve watered it down. I can hardly blame them, since most of their customers would have no way to tell the difference. If they’re willing to sell us the pure stuff then we can make a deal.”

Darke handed the vial back to his heir, and then suddenly grew pensive.

“Chan’s the one we assigned to the Circus of the Disquieting, correct?” he asked.

“Yes, we recently came to an agreement with them allowing us limited use of their Way generator,” Iris replied.

“The Kaleidoscope, yes. A truly astonishing invention,” Darke said as sat down in his reading chair, gesturing for Iris to sit beside him.

He rung a small silver bell and an imp of a creature dressed like a renaissance period servant with its face hidden behind a brazen mask appeared from around the corner. It carried a silver tray bearing a hot chocolate for Iris and a chalice of cold, condensed miasma for Darke, so heavy it was almost liquid. The servant, or slave, or whatever it was immediately retreated from sight so as not to disturb its master for any longer than was absolutely necessary.

“Herman created that contraption a hundred years before the Foundation invented their first Multi-Universal Transit Array. He was a genius with the Ways,” Darke reminisced as he both inhaled and sipped his beverage.

“You knew Fuller?” Iris asked, blowing on her hot chocolate.

“We met in the Library, when I first discovered it late last century…sorry, no, the century before last. Most of the other patrons like to keep their distance from me, but Herman couldn’t resist the opportunity to pick my brain. He was ravenous for arcane knowledge. He must have read thousands of books on the supernatural, spoken with hundreds of otherworldly sages, explored countless other realities. To tell the truth, he was so intelligent and well learned I suspected he was one of my many unaccounted for descendants."

Darke smirked as he observed Iris trying to hide her revulsion at the thought that she might be related to some kind of carnival freak.

“As a man of means with a fascination for the occult, he was obviously a good customer. As a cunning entrepreneur of dubious morals, he was a good business partner. If I was feeling generous, I would even go so far as to say he was a good friend.”

“Until he tried to steal from you.”

“Until he tried to steal from us, yes,” Darke nodded, chuckling at the memory. “He actually created a Way into the soul-sucker’s room, despite my wards, only to realize it was too big to fit through the door! We walked in on him trying to disassemble it. He said he was doing a service call, had to make sure the machine was operating at tip-top efficiency. Amos was furious.”

“Understandable, given how reliant he is on that thing.”

“True, but we were perhaps needlessly cruel to the Circus in the years that followed. I regret that, and am glad it’s behind us now. Herman Fuller’s Circus is a wondrous place Iris, and their Kaleidoscope an invaluable resource.”

“Yes, I’d thought you’d have some ideas on how to capitalize on that,” Iris smiled, an avaricious gleam in her eyes. “You must know about some hard to get to places worth visiting. Where should we send Victor next?”

“Mr. Chan, even with a Clown at his side, may not be fully adequate for what I have in mind,” Darke replied. “I think it would be best for my proxy to accompany him. It would be good for you too I think, to experience the anomalous ‘in the wild’ as it were, not safely confined to our cages. You’ve mastered your occult studies with me enough to handle yourself in the field, and I have foreseen you will come to no harm.”

“I’m not worried about that Grandsire. My only concern would be that our agreement with the Circus made it very clear that Victor was to be the only one allowed through the Kaleidoscope.”

Darke only chuckled at the suggestion.

“The Man with the Upside-Down Face may seem intimidating to an undersized Chinaman or an incontinent old dotard, but even he trembles at the mention of the name ‘Darke’. Give them a ring and tell them that the Heir of Percival Darke will be accompanying Mr. Chan on his outings from now on, and see if old Manny voices any objections. Come, let us see if we can find someplace appropriate to wet your feet.”

He arose from his chair and gestured for her to follow him. They entered into his map room, which had numerous decorative maps framed upon the walls. Globes of various worlds rotated in perpetual motion above their pedestals, and the long shelves held innumerable scrolls and atlases. This was a room from which a man from before the Age of Reason could navigate the Multiverse.

"You know, if you would let us digitize this information I could make an app that could let us plot Ways on a smartphone," Iris suggested, still drinking her cocoa.

"Truth contained in the Chaos Tongue cannot be properly represented by any other language, including the binary language of computers," Darke replied. "Besides, the information contained in this room is far too priceless to risk leaking out onto that vile noospheric web of yours."

He began to pull down various antique maps until he found the one he wanted. It was a map of the ‘Yesod’ multiverse, one of many such multiverses, depicted as a tree. It had twenty-one main boughs, representing the known hubs, each with dozens if not hundreds of branches. The ‘floater’ universes were depicted as stray leaves. The roots of the Cosmic Tree reached down into the Darkness Below (which Iris knew was not the same as the Darkness Between Dimensions, but still wished they had more distinct names) where they were attacked by the imprisoned Scarlet King. The tree was simultaneously threatened by Yaldabaoth from the Heavens, though He was contained in Mekhane’s silver web.

Iris knew such a map was neither literal nor accurate, but it was a charming piece of esoterica nonetheless.

“Let’s see. The Realm of the Unclean has His Holy Tears and some advanced technology…but it also has the Unclean. Maybe we’ll work our way up to that one. There is that Antarctic Empire…but the Foundation does have a fairly strong presence there. No, to make the best use of the Kaleidoscope we should go to a World we could never get to otherwise. Ah! Kul-Manas!”

“Kul-Manas?”

“Yes, it’s a charming little city-state in a delightful floater universe. Populated mostly by mystic bird people. I’ve met one of them on my sojourns to the Court of Alagadda. He seemed to be a man of some standing among his people. I’ll pen him a letter, see if maybe his World would be interested in establishing trade relations."

"What would they have to trade?"

"The Feathered Folk collect knowledge and technology from across all the worlds and cobble it together in a way that is uniquely their own. Their magic and technology are not only advanced but exotic. I know of nothing better for generating short-term profit than novelty. You may head back to London now if you wish. I’ll see to this, but do not forget to check your letterbox. I don’t want another incident like the one with the Eidolonic Collective.”

“I was as embarrassed about that as you were, Grandsire,” Iris said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. “Anything I should do to prepare for the assignment?”

Darke clapped twice, and his diminutive servant appeared and presented a book to Iris while relieving her of her mug. The book's title was Otherworld Laws and Universal Constants.

“That should prove a sufficient primer for now. If I think of anything else I will send it to you.”

Iris nodded, already starting to read the book as she showed herself out.

Darke glided back to his study and grabbed a quill and parchment. Before he started writing, a small objet d’art that he had paid no attention to in years suddenly caught his eye.

It was a marionette, a souvenir from when he had attended the grand opening of Herman Fuller’s Marvellously Macabre Mechanical Marionette Matinee. Fuller always did put on one hell of a show.

Darke knew what had become of Fuller, what his own Circus had done to him. He had foreseen it long ago. Still, the fact that it had only recently transpired did give it a bit of a sting. For a moment, Darke wondered if he should do something. He wondered if he should free Herman from his living hell, help him to retake the Circus, and exact revenge on those who had betrayed him.

Then he considered the cost.

Pushing the marionette out of sight, he set to work on his letter to Kul-Manas.

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