“The Terrible Thirsts of Mankind”
It all came down to this. In his gnarled fist, he gripped a mangled stub of chalk, which he guided shakily along the wooden planks of his study floor, bent down upon scuffed corduroy knees. The luxurious rug that usually added a warm and scholarly comfort from the center of the room was thrown aside, residing in a crumpled heap. Candlelight flickered shadows over this man’s face, despite the fact that electricity ran wired within every wall of his six-room domicile. Under his breath, this man spoke many things inaudible, and certainly incomprehensible to the average ear. “A point to the north, a point to the south,” he uttered as he finished the diagram upon the wooden floor. Arising to his feet, he hastily snatched a book off his desk, littered with disheveled piles of paper, this book being the only one in his study that had known the touch of his fingertips for the past several months. Cracking open the leather-bound guide and running wild eyes across dog-eared pages, a smile spread from one side of his face to the other, slightly twisted as the situation called for. Running his powdered right hand through dampened, raven hair that stuck to his forehead like webbing, an excitement flashed in his eyes. Before proceeding, he remembered all that brought him to this point…
His name was Darien Sutafi, and he was a 35-year-old professor of Theoretic Science at the local Miskatonic University. He lectured at this particular university, despite the fact that his hometown was far from the region. He had actually grown up in the “barren nothingness that is Kansas”, or that is how he put it whenever asked. Who can be blamed? Vast expanses of golden (though he preferred to call them brown) fields just are not proper food for a scientific mind, and that is surely what drove him. It is what drove him away from that state many years before, to which he would rarely return; that, and one of the last conversations he had with his father before departing.
“So, this college you’ve taken an interest in, Mish-ca…Mish-ca…what is it again,” his farmer father had asked him, and not even close to the first time.
“It’s pronounced Mis-ka-tonic. You know, tonic, your favorite alternative to water,” Darien responded with sarcasm. There was a definite agitation he held towards his father, especially in regards to his drinking. What Darien didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, understand was the complex difficulties of farming once industry and politics had been introduced into the community. As many other troubled farmers had been known to do, his father hit the bottle, hard and often. He did not drink gin and tonic, as the notion Darien played with suggested. He pretty much went for whatever he could get his hands on; and once he got his hands on a drink, he put his hands on other things, usually his family. This, too, added to Darien’s exodus from the farmlands.
“Yeah, Miskatonic University. I’m going to go check out the science program, I hear it is one of the greatest in the country,” Darien continued.
“Well, fer being the greatest in the country, you would think it might be kinda spendy…” his father said, hinting at the reality of their situation. Farmers’ sons were unlikely candidates for things of financial matters.
“That is all taken care of; remember, I got scholarships to cover for what we can’t provide. I told you before, but I don’t expect you to keep that in mind.”
“Oh, okay…well, do you really have to go all the way out there? I mean, I never really introduced you into the farming lifestyle,” his father said with a certain desperation, “Science isn’t gonna provide for you in life, Darien. If you can’t do real work, you won’t amount to nothin’.”
“Oh, yeah, and I see that knowing physical labor has really taken you places,” Darien retorted with a roll of the eyes as he waved his hand over the two bedroom farmhouse.
“Hey! You watch that mouth o’ yers! I’ve at least been able to provide for those who are put under me,” his father shot back, getting heated, “I brought food here, and we still have a place to live. Tell me that isn’t enough! What has science done for us? Oh, that’s right, they gave us the medication that did yer mom in. Yer mom, lying there sick with God-knows-what, and all these ‘science-folk’ just start fillin’ her with pills and poisons, right up until she died. Yeah, that is what science does! It kills people; it ain’t worth any good, Darien. I don’t know why you want to get mixed up in it.”
“Don’t you understand? If I can go and study science and medicine, maybe I can prevent things like that from happening to other people. There is good to be found in science, and that is where my heart is,” Darien replied. He said that he wanted to go to Miskatonic University for the medicine, so he could help the sick. What he failed to mention was the fact that his attention was drawn to the university in the first place by all the infamy that surrounded it. With various events occurring there involving a book called the Necronomicon, and many other cases of “horrible science” bringing about “terrible power and results”, his interest was captured. Even at that age, this para-science was certainly Darien’s ultimate desire, for which he was surely willing to shuck off family ties. And that is exactly what he did.
Becoming situated on campus was not much of a problem for him; friends were not something he had much of back home, and he did not seek any friendships at the university, either. Right away, he became enthralled with the on-campus library. Walls adorned with an obscene amount of books, ranging from old English literature to calculus textbooks. His appetite was certainly whetted upon his first visit to the antiquated building. Oddly enough, he found that the greatest amount of his time was spent there while it was nearly empty. This was not on purpose, there just rarely seemed to be anybody in the library. “Odd,” Darien thought to himself, but he definitely was not complaining.
As odd as it may have been, that is how he continued for the eight years he spent at Miskatonic University. Odd does not have to have a negative connotation, after all. Darien took classes such as chemistry, physics, and the usual introductory courses for any science-minded person. While taking these classes, he spent his time in the library. It did not take long for him to find and dive into the esoteric scientific texts, writings on theoretical science experiments, things often shunned by the major scientific bodies. This is the knowledge that fueled his creative fire. He devoured these books, and not once did he forget what he had read; nevertheless, he often read several books more than once through. Many of these books became the decorum of his later-to-be study, also.
Once Darien finished his primary courses (with flying colors, by the way), he began the quest for his personal niche in the scientific world. By this time, he was a good year and a half into his education, and from all his hours passed in the library, he already had a firm grip on what he thought the courses would be discussing and touching upon. The shining star of his schedule, the class he figured would be the most enjoyable and interesting, was Science in Fiction. This was a course that Darien was not only excited for, but, unlike most of the other students, a course that he approached with stark solemnity.
Entering the lecture hall on the first day, he saw that there were maybe 25-35 other students (called potentials that early in the term) meted throughout the room’s seats.
At the front, perched behind a large podium, stood a truly gaunt, old man. He faced all the incoming “potentials”, intimidating black eyes peering through bushy eyebrows. Darien immediately noticed that he carried the trend of the “old world” with hoary, white chops upon his cheeks and the rest of his grey hair pulled back neatly. Though he was leaning upon the podium, he was still a good 6’4″, if not a little more. Although he was surely an imperious figure to most of the incoming students, Darien felt that he was not nearly as caustic and dry as he put on for this first class, this day of first impressions and set expectations.
Behind him, on a scratched, aged blackboard were written the words, in bullet points:
– Time Travel
– Mental Relocation
These three points were to be the focus of the term, and the room was already buzzing with eager, or anxious, chatter about the written topics. Darien’s heart began racing at the sight of the latter: alchemy. Of the many things he had read while silently tucked away in the catacomb-like library, alchemy had enamored him the most passionately.
So, Darien bided his time through the first two subjects, mildly entertained and surely soaking up all the knowledge and theory being tossed around. He felt a great wealth of wisdom in this professor, named Holdt, and was, more than anything else, amused at the other potentials and their retention when it came to the lectures and information given. Just in the short time Darien had been at Miskatonic, he had already gained quite a pride in himself and in what he had found and grown to understand. With this newfound ego, he felt a tickling sense of superiority over the other students, as well as more of a connection with Professor Holdt. He could feel the restraint that the professor was putting upon himself during the lectures; he could sense the greater knowledge being held back for the sake of the potentials, like a great ocean being held behind a beaver’s dam.
Upon reaching the section covering alchemy, Professor Holdt asked the introductory, “So, potentials, alchemy….what is it?” A hush fell over the room, and he cracked a wise, paternal grin. “This, I tell you, is why I enjoy this course!” Before going on, he noticed Darien with raised hand out of the corner of his eye, “Yes, Darien; you have the spark to ignite this topic?”
Darien laughed slightly and spoke, “In response to your question, alchemy is, in a basic sense, the process of transmuting an object or multiple objects for one of equal mass and composure. At least, that is the form I am most familiar with.”
Either the other potentials stared at Professor Holdt to see what his response would be or they sat, mouths gaping, at the words that Darien had just spoken. The professor stared at Darien and the smile that had previously been one of amusement and light-heartedness quickly became one of intrigue. He had given the term “potential” to all of his students, but Darien was the first in this class whom he believed to have actual potential. Holdt looked at Darien through stray, grey curls, and simply said, “Indeed.” Sharing a smile, the mentorship had begun.
The discussions between Professor Holdt and Darien were spurred by a mutual love for science. As they talked, Darien saw in Holdt what he could become, a wisdom he sought to acquire. He greatly valued the time spent musing over theories, hazy anomalies and the scientifically taboo. Whatever the topic, it would ultimately lead into the favored sect, that being alchemy. “It is one thing to be shunned by the world for your work,” Darien thought to himself, “but how great does your understanding have to be to have your work shunned by the scientific community? That must be an awesome power, indeed!” To Darien, alchemy was the most prominent and obvious example of such an understanding; his heart and mind were swiftly drawn along the trail of those who had fallen in their pursuits before him.
The years passed and Darien maintained his ongoing friendship with Holdt (it being the only one worthy of mention or recollection in his mind). Holdt, knowing Darien’s desire for alchemy and its secrets, had let him in on a bit of information earlier on in their discussions. Sitting in a nearby coffee shop, he mentioned, “Darien, I can feel that you have a definite hunger for these things, much more than just to simply know of them.” He raised one bushy eyebrow beneath his derby, and Darien laughed mildly, secretly wondering in which direction the talk was about to go. Holdt continued, “Yes, you surely have it. Well, for quite some time now, I have been pondering over whether or not to entrust into your hands a certain something. It is a book upon alchemy, but quite different from those you have read in the solitude of the library, I assure you.” Darien’s eyes lit wildly with curiosity.
“Unlike many of the texts you have thus far been exposed to, the book I speak of was written by the hands of the shunned, Darien,” Holdt resumed, “those who found the limits, tested them, and were destroyed for it. Career suicide, some may call it.” Darien’s excitement flushed into his cheeks, a semi-smile donning his face once again. His eyes followed professor Holdt’s hand as he pulled a dark, thickly-bound book from his bag. Placing it on the table, Holdt spoke again, “These are the Alchemical Chronicles. They are of an insight that most textbooks could hardly feign. I believe in your potential, and also believe that were I to keep anything from you, I would be remiss in my duties as professor and mentor.”
He slid the book towards Darien, who placed a hand softly upon the dark leather face. It felt of ancient knowledge, as if it had been pulled from some antediluvian cavern or hall just moments before. Darien looked to Holdt, the esteem apparent, saying and pouring out his gratitude. Before too long, Holdt interrupted him with a final word of precaution, “Just one thing, Darien; there is a difference between knowing of something and knowing it for yourself. That I encourage you to explore. On the other hand, there is also a difference between exploring something and being explored by something. I warn you to take heed in this knowledge. It did not lead the prior to their downfall for nothing; consume, but don’t be consumed.”
At the time, Darien heeded the advice genuinely; however, it did not take long for the book to enwrap him with the “tales” it told. The following years were not much more than a blur of feverish study and note taking. How he was able to separate this secret obsession from his professional life, and how he was able to land, and maintain, a career as professor at Miskatonic was beyond most. Then again, most did not know of his secret curiosities and studies. Were they to find out, it is unlikely that he would have been employed at all. Darien did it, though, and the years swam by him unnoticed, while he slowly became professor Sutafi, slaving away in a lush study at 2:00 in the morning.
Staring at the diagram upon his floor, he again brushed back his dark hair. “This is it. I stand upon the crest of perfection! In my hand I hold the untold lives of legendary men, upon which I shall build my name, and thereafter, fame.”
Reaching onto his desk, he adorned his left hand with a shimmering, yet dark, ring. The vacuous onyx reflected a veritable visage of madness. He laughed upon glimpsing this jewel. Again, he moved away from the diagram, into another room, from whence he emerged with an animal he used to call friend. “Come on, Bastion. That’s a good dog,” he spoke. The golden dog wagged its tail wildly, excited at the attention, not knowing or not caring why the attention was being given.
Darien led Bastion into the center of the diagram, and with a command, “Sit!” turned back and grabbed something else, a cage, housing a raven of quite a contrasting temperament. It was squawking and loosing feathers left and right. Darien scowled at the bird before he reached into the wire-frame cage and clasped his fingers around the bird. Bringing it from within the cage, he held it extended, and mercilessly snapped one of the raven’s wings, letting it dangle sickeningly. Looking closely, he whispered, “You won’t be flying off anywhere this time.” He then placed the injured raven next to the dog, which remained still and obedient.
“There we are, two prime elements, ripe for the blending! What a better example of mastery than a creature forged of a basic two! Golden fur and raven wings, and the power of an ancient rite, all in one…this is truly my finest hour,” he exhaled through exhilarated lips.
Patting the dog once more, he said, “You shall soon be a creature of more grace than the cherubim of Heaven!”
With that, he arose high on his feet, and laid the book face down on his desk. “I need no recitation, not any more,” Darien told himself. He looked stolidly at the diagram and the creatures collected there; bringing his two palms together before his trembling face, he shouted a phrase uncommon in any present-day language. From the onyx ring upon his finger, a beam of purple, iridescent light shot out, filling the room. The diagram was bathed in this luster, and smoke arose from the floorboards as this light grew blinding and an eruption threw Darien to the floor. The light all at once dissipated, leaving the study a chaotic mess of smoke and debris.
Darien, lying facedown, slowly lifted his whip-lashed neck to peer upon his trophy, his golden griffon, as it were. What lay before him in a fetid, twitching mass was truly the reward for his pursuits. Horror masked his face, and he raised a hand to veil his eyes from the mark of shame, writhing about his study floor.
There he saw his creature, not quite the graceful scion of Zion that he had hoped for and expected. Instead, he had given life to a monster. Barely living at all, but alive enough to flap a skeletal stump where feathers were to be, the creature shouted in an anguished cry; a triumphant bell of Darien’s victory, it was not.
As Faust fostered his homunculus in a sterile science lab, and was renowned for such a folly, Darien would not fall far behind. Darien Sutafi found his fame and glory, and it squirmed in ghastly swathes at his fingertips, screaming of the terrible thirsts of mankind.