Dark Science
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A sharp pain pierces my skin and coils around my spine like lightning striking a dead tree. It burns, spreading from my very center until it reaches my body’s last fiber. My stomach retches and I taste acrid bile and tainted blood. I choke, and a slight trail of the putrid substance leaves my lips. It drips, like a snake slithering through dead leaves, and reaches the cold surface over which I am prostrated. I am naked and vulnerable, my being aching at the mere contact of the metallic floor.

Able hands work my back, tearing, digging deeper into the ruined skin and blackened flesh. They pierce my bones with nefarious machines, with medical apparatuses repurposed into torture devices. This is the means to my end. My sacrifice, my penance. I am dead. I am alive. I am earth and fire. I am water and wind. I am a corpse. I am a god. I am none and I am all.

The woman’s long, spindly fingers reach my vertebral column. Her hands move quickly through the exposed flesh, gently yet painfully. Her naked body is covered by the blood of a freshly slaughtered lamb, arcane symbols painted on her with ash. She makes an incision with a cruel, metallic glaive that extends from her index finger. She works with a surgeon’s precision, but even she cannot stop a spasm from surging through my form when she perforates the bone. She recoils as I shake, trying not to ruin the procedure and leave me paralyzed forever.

“Hush,” she says, not reassuringly, not kindly, but sternly, like a teacher disciplining a student. “I am just beginning, so stop your whining.”

It would be useless to reply. She gave me a chemical to temporarily take away my voice before the procedure began. It was the only way I would not tear my vocal cords screaming. No anesthesia, she said. No painkillers afterwards either. Such is the price of power; such is the price of darkness. Such is the price of magic.

When I came to her, she was skeptical of my designs. She tweaked around, modified them, like the professional she is. She pointed out errors I had overlooked, details that would have killed me or torn my soul apart. In time, a new design had emerged: an array that would turn me into my own source of dark power.

When I mentioned magic, she laughed.

“Only those who follow the Broken God request such things here,” she said, “but you do not look like a zealot. I will agree to your request, and perform the ritual, but you will be in my debt. One day, I will ask of you a favor, and you will not deny me.”

I agreed to her terms, and we signed our pact in blood and oil, as is the way of this new magic. I had heard wonders about her: one of the best techno-thaumaturgists outside the Immortal Empire, specialized in invasive surgeries and modifications. She had no magic herself, but she was knowledgeable in the Old Ways. Her procedures were widely sought after in the galactic underworld, and results were beyond spectacular. No price would be too much to pay; I would trust her, and her alone, with my upgrades.

The woman would have preferred to go full cybernetic with me, but I insisted on remaining more man than machine. In the end, she agreed to keep me as organic as possible. Only one prosthetic. Minimal cybernetics. Bio-hacked flesh where possible instead of a polymer substitute. And no tampering with my wetware beyond the strictly necessary.

The woman laughed as she pulled out her instruments.

My eyes open through the tears, slowly focusing on the room’s only light sources: black candles, placed all around us, slowly dripping melted wax upon the metal floor. I am chained to this cold plank, to this modern altar, immobilized in a way that allows my benefactor and torturer to work unimpeded. Thick red lines crisscross throughout the room, a candle placed at each vertex, at each crossing point. I cannot see it, but I know they form a sigil, a seal of the darkest magic.

My eyes reach for the sigil’s edge. Surrounding it, equidistant from each other, small stone idols cast their gaze upon the center, where the woman works on my mangled form. In the room’s dim light, I can only make out their silhouettes, but I know exactly whose faces are chiseled on the obsidian surfaces: the gods of my ancestors, the lords of the Earth, they who have watched over mankind even as we reached for the stars.

They look on, and I can almost tell they are pleased. For these are not gods of the sun and the moon. These are not gods of joy and kindness. These are gods of death and oblivion. These are keepers of the dead and lords of the Underworld, demon-kings and dwellers of the Void. Some fair but stern, some cruel but giving, some monstrous yet wanting. I can feel their presence through the pain. Tonight, they are our guests and our patrons: our divine benefactors. My blood is their toll. Blood for their magic, pain for their favor. Mute and immobile, I pray for them to grant me their blessing.

My sight drops, and I am met by my own reflection. My eyes have sunken further into my skull, receding into their bony cavities, as if afraid of facing reality. For a moment, I wish my corpselike visage was not the only thing dead about me.

Crouched over me, the woman keeps working. She tears and makes whole again: a sculptor with fresh clay.

Another cut pierces me, and I black out.

New Gomorrah is not a place where magic thrives. It is the utmost expression of technology gone wild. What little magic there is, it is always subjugated and subservient, made in such a fashion that it is nearly indistinguishable from cold science.

Cyborgs and bio-hacked individuals prowl everywhere, but magicians, or the scientific term, “thaumaturgists,” are a rare sight. The traditional magicians, that is. New Gomorrah's neon streets are filled to the brim with those who would claim to be practitioners of Old Ways. This planet is infected by demonarcotic traffickers and Neo Maxwellists, androids with artificial souls and freaks who leech off mana the same they prey on data.

But this is not magic. This is a perversion: techno-sorcery taken to its full extent.

The most orthodox mages belch hellfire at the mere mention of techno-sorcery. A vocal minority would even reject science itself, going back to the days when magic was wild and pure, a holy force of cosmic proportions, not a tool for vain desires. Even those of us who embrace this modern magic for the sake of progress understand that New Gomorrah is a land of technological perversion and moral decay.

The whole planet is like the underbellies of Eurtec, Neo-Seoul and Tokyo thrown into a cosmic blender and spat out, taken to their logical extreme: science and technology over man and god alike. A whole planet infected with a virus made of concrete and steel, silicon and neon.

When I came to the woman, I knew I would have to bring my own magic. With me came my scrolls and grimoires, my idols and rituals. I brought them to a world without true magic, to an empire of bioengineered flesh and advanced cybernetics.

It was simple. I had the ancient knowledge and arcane symbols; the woman had the surgical and technological skills. Magic and science brought together in a fashion that would make my ancestors sick to their very souls: a ritual involving dark magic and invasive surgery.

The woman and I went over the ritual again and again. Every single step needed to be perfect, or disaster would rain down upon us. She, more mechanical than organic, would perform it better than any traditional magician ever could.

At the time, I was sure that I could take it. Now, I have my doubts.

The next hours seem like an eternity. I drift between pained dreams and agonized awakenings, as the woman rearranges my nervous system. Strange machines and metals, cables and silicon polymers are inserted into the gaping wound, slowly assimilating into my body, wrapping my spine, digging into it: a snake coiled on the Tree of Knowledge.

At one point, the woman reaches out for my head, for my shaven and still untouched skull. A thin, almost invisible blade emerges from her thumb, sizzling with energy. She places it on my left temple, and pushes in. Tears flow from my eyes as she reaches my brain. Then she grabs a device that can only mean I am about to black out again. A small silver cylinder the size of bullet, it almost seems to vibrate as she places it against the open wound. I suddenly feel as a cold, viscous substance emerges from it and burrows into my skull, closing the opening as it permeates my brain.

I know what those are. Nanobots. The best, most expensive cyberware in the market. Without opening my skull, the woman is unable to insert larger, more traditional implants. I have paid an extra sum for these. They will allow me to better control my new upgrades and will better interphase with my organics. For a moment, a menu blinks before my eyes, meaning the nanobots have successfully integrated into my wetware. Then everything goes dark. A full system reboot is in order.

Over the course of the next hours, bioengineered muscle and tissue and nerves start growing and connecting with their natural counterparts. The pain is unbearable, and I cannot scream. I black out and come online a few more times, each accompanied by the feeling of my new flesh burning as it becomes integrated with the old tissue. That is good. Once the procedure is finished, I will be unable to feel the difference between the natural and the bio-hacked parts of my body.

Slowly, my wounded, torn back is covered in healthy, living flesh. It still aches and itches, but the pain is nearly gone.

I have paid my toll, I think, until the woman reaches forward and cleanly amputates my left arm below the elbow.

The woman brings forth a small sacrificial bowl made of clay, decorated with arcane symbols. It is full of aromatic herbs and oils. It reminds me of the bowls used for burning of copal back on Tenochtitlán.

The woman breathes in the powerful odors emanating from the bowl. Her eyes roll back, exposing their whites as her body trembles in a divine trance, her mind lost to the infinite knowledge of the gods.

When she comes to, she places my amputated limb within and ignites a fire with a blowtorch extending from her right arm. A sweet, sickening smell fills the air, the acrid stench of burning meat barely hidden away by the bowl’s perfumes.

Thick, black smoke rises from the bowl and coalesces into a dark, almost living mass above our heads, before dissipating as if it had never existed: the gods have been given their feast of flesh and blood. Now, we can only hope they grant me their favor.

Soon, the flesh and bone have been reduced to ashes. She scatters them over me and herself.

She then brings out a metallic case. It beeps as it opens under her touch. Within is an arm identical to the one I just lost: a state-of-the-art prosthetic, custom-built and covered in synthetic, fireproof skin. Through it, I will channel my new power.

The woman engineered the arm according to my specifics, bettering it herself as she worked on its design. Indistinguishable from my own natural limbs in weight and appearance, yet capable of crushing granite in its grasp. Neural control over its functions and settings. It even has natural tactile sensation.

Even now I can feel the dark energies within. Dozens of runes and glyphs are carefully carved into the underlying metal. With them, I will be able to form magic arrays, sigils and summoning circles at will. The ultimate tool, born of alchemy and cold, precise engineering. Undetectable. Untraceable. Perfect.

The woman cleans and disinfects my stump, then places the prosthetic arm on the still fresh wound. Nerves and muscle and bone scream out in pain as the arm begins assimilating. I did not believe I had any more tears, but my eyes become watery and I twist and twitch as pain welcomes me once more.

The next step in the procedure is harmless compared to what I just went through. The woman unchains me and helps me get on my feet. I tremble and retch as she lifts my weight on her shoulders. After a while I can stand on my own, though I feel disoriented and weak.

The woman inspects her work, smiling widely at the results. She instructs me to move my fingers, and I oblige. It feels exactly like moving a regular limb: the nerves on my stump have been repaired and integrated with those on the prothesis.

I reach out with my new arm stretched and my palm facing forward. I call out to the gods to whom I have given my blood and suffering. In my mind, I see their names and idols: Hades and Osiris, Hekate and Izanami, Hel and Mictlāntēcuhtli, Moloch and Tiamat, Lucifer and Ereshkigal, and so many more…

I call upon them and focus their power.

I feel a surge of energy coursing my whole being. Its burn is different, twisted yet divine. My blood boils but I am not in pain. The implants on my spine light up and mark my skin with incommensurable power. A complex array has been burnt onto my back from within, a black tattoo with the sigils and symbols of the gods, surrounded by my newly installed circuitry. It comes alive with power, emitting a purplish hue as I channel mana towards my artificial arm.


My fingers split apart and recede, revealing the elegant mechanism beneath. The skin gives way to the dark metal and bright circutry. A convex, circular device emerges from my open palm, crackling with magical energy: a focusing crystal. More discreet than an arm cannon, occupying less space and powered by my own mana, the woman has gifted me with the best tool I could wish for: a focusing talisman integrated into a nigh-indestructible cybernetic limb. With it, I will need no wand, no staff, no magic ring to channel and amplify my magic. No more will I use nominative magic to cast spells. No more will I offer sacrifice unto the gods for their power. No more will I perform complex rituals and invocations. I myself have become my instrument.

The gods have smiled upon me.

I feel invincible.

With this weapon, I feel like I could blast a hole in the fabric of reality itself, strike down any foe who dared oppose me.

But it can wait.

The woman nods and, breathing heavily, I deactivate my new tool, my new weapon. There will be time to test it later.

The woman continues inspecting me, like I am a rare specimen. She places her hand on my back, following the array from top to bottom, from my shoulders to my lower spine. Her touch feels warm on my new skin. Her fingers caress each symbol, they follow every pattern of circuitry.

I turn to face her.

Beneath the blood and ashes, her dark eyes stare at me with intensity, with pride. There is a fire in her like I have never seen: these are the eyes of an artist witnessing their masterpiece.

I am no god, yet I feel as if I have reached apotheosis. Where I once crawled, I now stand tall, proud and mighty.

The woman, too, has sensed this: her own power to create and unmake. With her hands, she has brought forth a miracle. She is a maker of wonders… Dark, terrible wonders.

A new man has risen where another one has died.

Divine and demonic fires burn within me.

Standing before the gods of death and oblivion, I am reborn.

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