A Pound Of Flesh, A Piece Of Meat

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Carter shrieked as he was pushed through the door of the antique elevator, through a Way into the lobby of Darke’s sanctum. He threw out his hands to break his fall against the pale marble floor. As he lay there cursing, the hem of a black robe emerged from the shadows. He immediately looked up and there, towering over him in the sepia spectral firelight, was Darke.

“Ah… I’m terribly sorry to intrude. I thought this was the Men’s Room. If you could just point me back to reception -”

“Hello Ruprecht,” Darke said with a roll of his eyes.

“Damn, I was hoping you wouldn’t recognize me in this body,” Carter said as he climbed to his feet and dusted himself (despite the Sanctum’s floors being immaculately clean). “Not that I’m not pleased to see you again. How long’s it been since we’ve met in person? It was just after Marshall’s assassination attempt, wasn’t it? That was what, four years ago now?”

“Almost exactly. And it wasn’t an attempt. Marshall was assassinated because of your negligence.”

“Don’t be melodramatic. It was nothing that an experimental new soul-sucker, a transfusion of EVE from an unborn immortal and an Orphean trip to the Tartarean Plane couldn’t fix,” Carter said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You know, you glower at me exactly the same way Iris glowers at me. I didn’t realize glower was hereditary.”

“Carter, I summoned you here for a reason.”

“Summoned? That’s what you call it when that Ogre of yours picks me up by the scruff of the neck like a kitten and hurls me through the Way?”

“This is urgent, and you seldom respond in a prompt manner,” Darke replied.

“What do you need me for? What’s wrong with that uptight little proxy of yours?”

“We’re going to the Meat Market,” Darke said. Carter’s countenance immediately changed to dread at the mention of the horrid bazaar. “That’s no place for a young woman, not even one as capable as Iris. Those men, more so than any others, would prize her fertile body over her brilliant mind.”

“Yes, well, fair enough. But what is it that we could possibly need from there?”

“There’s a merchant there who sells the remains of gods made flesh. He’s led me to believe he even has the preserved flesh of Yaldabaoth Incarnate, cleaved from His Undulating Vastness by Ion himself.”

“This is for that project you’ve been working on?”

“Yes, and this is the last component I require. I have to go in person to confirm the product is authentic. If it is, it won’t come cheap, which is why I need you. You’ll talk the seller’s price down as much as you can while still making him feel like he’s the one who swindled us.”

“Well, that is what I’m best at,” Carter said with a smug smile. “But we have to go right now? It would help if I had a dossier on the seller and the Meat Market so that I know -”

“There’s no time. If it’s real, it’s priceless and I can’t risk someone else buying it before we do,” Darke said sternly.

“Very well,” Carter acquiesced. “How are we getting there? Through the Library?”

“Not exactly.”

Darke gestured to the small Ravelwood tree in the center of the lobby, where he had affixed his Ravenwave box. Taking Carter’s hand in his and placing them both on the dark tree, he began to recite the incantation.

“Imagine a market here, where butchers and merchants are one in the same. Imagine a pound of flesh, a piece of meat, both just a penny too dear. Imagine broken hearts, both figurative and literal. Imagine stomachs filled not with butterflies, but with insects far more vile. Imagine throats overflowing with spawning frogs like biblical plague. Imagine yourself there, and sell them your sacrifice.

“I, Percival Darke, demand to visit the Meat Market. I carve my own destiny, and will hold the Market and all others responsible for any attempts of harm against my person or property, for they have no power to deny me entry. I have your sacrifice, and I wish for the Flesh of a Dead God.”

The tree, or the world around it, began to spin rapidly, throwing Carter back into a stack of wicker baskets filled with shrunken heads piled like fruit. Dazed and winded, Carter struggled to grasp why he hadn’t noticed the baskets of heads when he came in, or the headless head-monger who was now furiously gesticulating in American Sign Language.

“Apologies for my associate’s clumsiness,” Darke said as he placed his hand upon the headless man’s shoulders. He pulled out a small coin of beryllium bronze, blessed to allow both the living and deceased passage into various afterlife planes. “A Penny for the Ferryman should be more than enough to compensate you for the damages.”

The head-monger took the coin, examining it suspiciously, and finally giving a grudging nod with its stump of a neck.

“On your feet Ruprecht,” Darke said, extending his hand in aid.

“I really should be used to this sort of thing by now,” he mumbled, gazing around at the massive bazaar that had replaced Darke’s Sanctum. There was no sun or sky, only an indeterminately high roof without any apparent walls to hold it up. Every merchant he saw looked depraved and heartless, and every buyer he saw looked desperate and broken. “You could have at least given me the chance to change into something a little less conspicuously affluent!”

Carter’s pants and jacket were made from Vicuna wool, and his shirt and ascot were Mulberry silk. Made to order by MC&D’s in-house tailor, a small percentage of the fibres had been coated in 24-carat gold, giving the suit an ostentatious, metallic sheen that dazzled all the more brightly amidst the damask dreariness of the Meat Market.

“You don’t own anything that’s not conspicuously affluent,” Darke claimed.

“I have golf clothes!” Carter countered. “Plus my shoes! Look at my shoes! They’re ruined! How can they be ruined? I haven’t even taken two steps yet!”

“Carter, your whining is somehow drawing more attention than your gilded outfit,” Darke said. “Come, we’re expected. Just stay close to me, and no one will dare harm you. Mind your pockets though.”

Despite his stubborn streak, Carter decided it was in his best interest to do as he was told. Sticking to Darke like a small child sticking to its mother, they made their way through the cobblestone paths of the Meat Market. Carter couldn’t help but sneer in revulsion at the grotesque wares being hawked. One stand sold the eyes of blind men, another the tongues of heretics. There were baby teeth stolen from under the pillows of sleeping children, smoke black lungs and fog white hair, and most disturbing of all was a collection of penises inside of glass bottles that they couldn’t possibly have fit in to, inviting passersby to ponder how they got in there.

Carter suddenly noticed that they were making surprisingly good time considering how crowded the Market was. He peaked ahead and saw that everyone cleared a path for Darke as he approached. As they walked past, Carter caught their panicked whispers to each other.

“It’s him!”

“It’s her!”

“It’s it!”

“It’s Dark!”

“… I’m here too, you know,” Carter muttered. Darke led them to the back of a warehouse and knocked on the basement door. The viewport slid open quickly, revealing a pair of sunken eyes set in a pale face.

“Does the Black Moon howl?” the being asked in a panicked tone.

“What?” Carter asked.

“Just makin’ sure you’re not Foundation,” the being replied, opening the door.

“Oy, who is it Thymus?” a voice shouted from within the basement shop.

“It’s Darke!” the first being replied.

“’Course it’s dark y’wanker, there’s no bleedin’ sun in ’ere. I asked ya who it was?”

“And I told you it’s Darke, as in Marshall, Carter & Dark!”

“Well ’ow the ’ell am I supposed to know ’at without any bleedin’ context?”

“You asked me who it was. That’s not context enough?”

“Piss off, y’gobshank, I’ll take it from ’ere. You ain’t classy enough to entertain the caliber of Darke.”

The man known as Thymus was shoved aside by an obese, balding man who leaned on a thick wooden cane to support his weight. The upper left-hand portion of his face had been turned to stone by some bygone anomalous encounter, and he wore an eyepatch inscribed with a sigil of clairvoyance so that he could still see on his left side.

“Eh there big spenders, ain’t you a sight for sore eyes?” he asked rhetorically, puffing on a cigar. “Folk call me Gups. I’m the proprietor of this ’ere establishment: Nietzsche’s Larder. ‘God is dead, so put the blighter on ice so he don’t go green before we can harvest the good stuff.’.”

“That’s a horrible slogan,” Carter opined.

“Well this stuff sells itself, so not much sense in fussin’ over the marketin', now is there?” Gups asked. “Well get in, the both of ya. Can’t be leavin’ this door open too long, else all them vultures out there will swarm the place. Mind y’head Darke.”

Carter and Darke stooped through the short doorway, which Gups locked behind them. The interior of the shop was starkly utilitarian and poorly kept. A multitude of sarcophagi, canopic jars and other similar vessels littered the floor with no real thought given to organization.

“Apologies for the state of things; we’ve got considerable overhead in acquisition, upkeep, and security. Not much left over for the fancier stuff. Still, don’t mean we need to go straight to business. Who’s for drinks? Thymus, bring in some fancy booze for our guests!”

“Too late! I’m already sittin’ down and watchin’ Wolf Blitzer!” Thymus shouted from across the shop.

“Oy, can’t you pause live TV these days?”

“You know bloody well we don’t have a digital recorder, y’cheapskate!”

“A’ight then, no drinks. Can’t get 'em myself, my foot actin’ up the way it is. A got a few cigars on me if y’like, though I left the matches in the parlour.”

“Mr. Gups, if it’s all the same to you, I would like to proceed directly to verifying the authenticity of your product,” Darke said. Though his tone was cordial, Gups knew there was no room for refusal.

“Fine, fine. Customer’s always right and all that. Over ’ere.”

Gups hobbled over to a tall shelf and pulled out a small wooden chest engraved with the Icon of the Devourer. He traced his pinkie finger (it being the only digit he had slim enough for the task) along the Icon in a very specific pattern, causing the chest to unlock.

“Feast y’eyes gents,” he said as he slowly opened the chest, revealing a nine-inch long teratoma. It was irregularly shaped and deep red, with even darker crimson veins running along its surface in jagged patterns. Bits of bone and teeth and bristles jutted out at random spots, and near the right end was a single closed eye.

“It’s smaller than I hoped,” Darke grumbled.

“It’s cancer. It will grow like mad with the right hocus pocus,” Gups assured him.

“May I examine it?”

“By all means.”

Darke took the chest into his own spindly hands and weighed it carefully.

“It has a strong Sarkic aura to it, there’s no doubt there. Nothing disturbs the Aether quite like Flesh-shaping. Its EVE emissions are foul and chaotic, though mainly in the dark red bands. Its Akiva is oddly mild -”

“So it’s not divine then?” Carter asked.

“Not necessarily. Remember, Sarkics don’t worship Yaldabaoth. They merely leech power from Him as a tick draws blood from its host.”

Darke set the chest down on the table and placed a clawed finger guard on his right index finger. He gently poked the creature until he drew blood.

Its eye shot open, a sickly yellow thing with a vertical pupil. Carter jumped back at the sudden show of liveliness, but Darke remained unfazed. He raised his finger to his face, with a single drop of blood clinging to the Mekhanite metal. He studied it thoughtfully for several seconds before taking a sniff of it. When that proved insufficient, he let the drop fall upon his tongue.

Immediately he shouted out in pain, clutching his stomach and doubling over. Most curiously though, he seemed to become ever so slightly transparent before returning to normal.

“Darke! Percival, are you all right?” Carter asked. Darke chuckled in the affirmative.

“That is the Ichor of His Undulating Vastness, a physical manifestation of the insatiable hunger that drives it in everything it does. This creature here was without a doubt cleaved from an Incarnation of Yaldabaoth.”

Darke closed the lid of the chest and resealed it.

“It’s exactly what I promised,” Gups said. “And it’s priceless.”

“Well, priceless just means it’s worth whatever someone’s willing to pay for it,” Carter said. “Other than Darke here, who else is going to want to shell out a fortune for an ugly little tumour like this? Karcists might have the means and the desire, sure, but they could also probably make something like this themselves for next to nothing. Come to think of it, maybe we should go to them? They could make us a pound of Demiurge flesh to order.”

“You may be a fool, but Darke ain’t. He knows better than to indebt himself to some Sarkie nutter, or to let a golden opportunity slip through his fingers,” Gups sneered. “You blokes ain’t leavin’ without this, and that means I set the price.”

“Please, I saw how terrified that little hench toad of yours was when he opened the door. This thing is a magnet for all sorts of Occult fanatics, and you aren’t set up to fend them off,” Carter argued. “You’re desperate for someone to take it off your hands. For the right price, that could be us, and you’ll be able to sleep soundly tonight.”

“Enough prattling. Name your price Gups!” Darke ordered.

Gups hesitated a moment, but soon found his courage.

“A soul, reincarnated many times over, but never reborn,” he said, eying Carter greedily.

“… What?”

“He’s yours,” Darke said without a hint of reluctance.

“Now wait just a minute, I’m not -” Carter protested, only to be ensnared by the rug he was standing on. It had closed around him like a Venus fly trap. Its thick, undulating shag blocked out all light and muffled the cruel laughter of Gups.

“Well ain’t this poetic irony?” he mused, poking the struggling Carter with his cane. “Spent your whole life makin’ sure you was always a few pounds ahead of anyone else, and now you’re worth so much it be bad business not to sell ya! Rupee, Rupee, Rupee, do you have any idea how many rupees a soul like yours is worth? Spent the past hundred and some odd years hoppin’ between stolen bodies, never under six feet tall or seven inches long from what I’ve heard. The Tartareans will sell me shares of Hell itself to finally get their cloven hooves on you. I’ll finally have a reliable supply of demon flesh, and everything that comes with it, all thanks to you. I almost feel bad for ya."

" 'At's a load of horse manure. Your heart's black as soot and cold as frostbite!” Thymus shouted from the TV room.

"Ah, ya got me there!" Gups agreed as he tossed back his head in sadistic laughter. His jubilation came to an abrupt halt, however, as Darke’s incorporeal hand reached through his back and grabbed his heart. He pulled it out in one swift motion, without damaging the body or spilling a drop of blood. Gups fell to the ground, dead in an instant.

“He was being literal? How curious,” Darke remarked as he examined the black heart coated in a layer of frost. “Thymus! It’s done!”

Thymus crept out of the back room, his eyes fixated upon the corpse as if it might spring back to life at any moment.

“He’s dead?” he asked softly.

“He is, and I’m much obliged to you for telling me his asking price in advance,” Darke replied. “The business is now yours, and in exchange for services rendered I’ll be taking Yaldabaoth’s Flesh and this little memento here, in addition to a standing agreement to have first pick of any future inventory you acquire at a 20 percent discount.”

“I look forward to our future business dealings,” Thymus nodded, still someone in a daze over the death of his master. He grabbed the body by the ankles and dragged it into the back, for purposes that Darke preferred not to guess at.

He instead turned his attention to Carter’s muffled screaming. Grabbing a solitary loose thread from the rug, he unravelled it with a single tug, revealing an indignant looking Ruprecht.

“We’re done here,” Darke said nonchalantly.

“You might have told me it was a ruse!” Carter roared.

“… But then it wouldn’t have been funny.”

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