Dim Dreams
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It can thus be concluded that the uniqueness of each individual is due to the irreplicable circumstances and experiences of life imprinting onto the psyche. For this reason, cloned organisms, despite being genetically and physically identical to their template or donor, cannot be considered to be the same person, even when implanted with the donor's own memories and kept unaware of their artificial nature.

This, however, leads to an entirely new question that pertains not to the world of genetic engineering, but to the realm of the religious and the spiritual: do cloned organisms possess a soul and, if so, at which point of their development does it affix itself to the body?

You close the book as the rain begins tapping on your window. Martin Grier's Cloning Blues: An Exploration of Replicant Psychology and Neurological Development has given you everything it could. Besides, being found with a book like this could be seen as asking for trouble. The students and faculty of Alexylva have nothing but scorn for perspectives on the nature of the anima other than their own.

Go figure.

Plato might have been wrong about the nature of man, but for these people, Aristotle was unquestionably correct on the nature of the soul, the eternal essence of sapience. Pray they never learn that, where you come from, the Immortal Empire has long figured out a way of creating clones lacking a soul. Ethical cannon fodder, some military officers call them; the backbone of the Imperial Army.

But you're not here, poring over book after book on biohacking and theology, looking to get yourself some soulless flesh puppet, are you? No. Your objective is, in fact, quite the opposite: to create a soul without a body, a thing possessing essence— and nothing more.

The tapping of rain grows harsher, faster, announcing the deluge that will soon follow, coursing along the aqueducts, down the atriums and sewers of this realm that has never known the Veil or the Nazarene, this world where the mystic and the technological go hand in hand, where men are still immolated before the images of Baal Hammon and Tannit. This is the best part of realities where the Carthaginians won the Punic Wars: science and magic advance unimpeded, unrestrained by morals or fear of the unknown. Why else would you have come to this reality, if not to escape the constraints of your own Law, your own Empire? Here, your research is not unethical, but desirable, encouraged and admired. Here, you are free.

You open another book.

The Immortal Empire's stance is simple: a sufficiently advanced, self-aware artificial intelligence can be equated to a consciousness that, albeit digital, is in no other way different from that of an organic being. As such, all robotic and digital entities possessing the corresponding criteria are to be considered citizens of the Empire.

This has resulted in programmers and robot manufacturers revising their product so as to continue being allowed to treat it as property, not as fully-fledged individuals possessing rights and afforded legal protection. The so-called "bottle cap" on A.I. development is, thus, the result of the Immortal Empire's pursuit of rights for all sapients, be they organic or artificial.

You raise an eyebrow. Mekhanite Ethics and Modernity is one of the most complete treatises on the subject of cyber-rights, but for you it is little more than a catalogue of legal loopholes. Don't give the robots free will, they say; don't give the ghost in the machine a soul. But no one's said, you've come to realize, don't program a soul for yourself.

At first glance, it might seem like too much effort. There are plenty of non-sapients out there that you could use, couldn't you?

No.

An animal's soul won't do, this you know. An animal is pure, incorrupted and incorruptible. Your purpose requires something different, something that can be tainted and torn asunder. So you'll create your own soul, a spirit devoid of flesh or form, of will or identity: something empty, something blank, a tabula rasa on which to imprint the very thing that only sapients understand: hatred.


Despite millennia of research, to this day there is little consensus on what a demon is. Some groups like the SCP Foundation have attempted to answer to this question by giving the following definition:

A demon is a sentient (and in some cases sapient) entity capable of interacting with the natural world through manipulations of electrostatic and electromagnetic forces.

This description, however, fails to account for the fact that demons are not the only entities fitting said criteria: spirits, gods and extra-dimensional beings can all manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum in order to exert influence on this plane of existence.

As experts point out, demons possess characteristics that distinguish them from other supernatural entities: for all intents and purposes, demonic entities are chaos made manifest, thriving on entropy to the point of disrupting reality wherever they go. Their own classification as a species or type of being is dubious at best, given how dissimilar individual demons are from each other: they can be corporeal or non-corporeal, sapient or non-sapient, embrace mortal values such a good and evil, or be utterly alien to morality.

In the end, all that demonologists agree on is that demons originate in the Hell dimensions of the World Tree and that, upon being killed in the higher branches, they reform in the endless void of primordial chaos, effectively immortal.

While it is widely understood that demons are "born" in the deepest recesses of Creation, a little-known fact is that this is not the only way they come into existence. Recently, the International Center for the Study of Unified Thaumaturgy (ICSUT) disclosed the findings of a ten year-long research program, concluding that, while most demons are naturally-occurring entities, a minority of these creatures are, in fact, mortal in origin.

According to Doctor Ajani Assefa, these new findings confirm Agrippa's postulate that a mortal soul can be corrupted into a state of unnatural perversion, changing its very essence and becoming not a spirit damned for all eternity, but an infernal creature bent on spreading chaos and destruction.

Demons.

In your mind, you can recite a dozen evocation spells to invite them into the mortal plane and set them loose on the unsuspecting masses. But what would be the use of that, other than wasting precious chaos magic?

No. Magic must never be abused out of pettiness, especially one so dangerous and unpredictable as this one. It must always be honed for a purpose, a greater good. Such is the ruling philosophy of the Immortal Empire, the one you have been taught again and again.

And that is why you are here, back in your native universe, back on New Gomorrah, the planet-city of perpetual never-night, where neon lights hide the shadows lurking on every corner of this metropolis of silicon and steel. It is here you bled and suffered, it is here you rose anew.

Things are different now, however. Today you step not into a back-alley mod parlor, but into the towering offices of Anderson Robotics, where your contact awaits. In a matter of seconds, goods change hands — a fat envelope for her, a tiny package for you — and not a word is said.

Your objective fulfilled, you step back into the shadows and disappear.

As you travel through the darkness, as you await to emerge back home, your hands clutch your acquisition, your modern phylactery: a soul not in a jar, but in a flashdrive.

Now all you need to do is corrupt it.


A deal with the devil is a ritual as old as magic itself. In blood a pact is sealed between a mortal and a fiend, for money, knowledge or power. Contracts can be as extensive and detailed as one wishes them to be, binding both the summoner and the summoned to the terms of the other. The price is oft a soul, and not always is it the summoner's own.

Why create a demon, some may ask, when all one needs to do is sign a contract?

Because demons are greedy, devious and wry, of course, you think to yourself. They will honor their deals, but only after doing everything in their power to trick and lead one into damnation's jaws.

Lazarote's Ars Infernalis falls to the ground with a muted thud, making way for a computer at the edge of obsolescence, a machine so cadaverous that putting a soul in it is its own crime. You plug the flashdrive in and, after some much-needed smacks to the hardware, lines of code flash before your eyes, shifting faster than even your brain enhancements can process: what difference does it make if a soul is made in Heaven or in cyberspace? Numbers and letters, glyphs and symbols indecipherable pop in and out of the screen, multiplying, expanding, taking over the rotting circuits until the entire mainframe is leaking mana.

Now I have a haunted computer, you sneer while reaching for a cable ending in a neural plug, not before making one last safety check: with the ways of dreams and demons, best to make sure even a screwup does not end with your own mind and soul being shredded into oneiric dust.

You retrace your safety measures, one by one: Around you, a magic sigil designed to keep the backlash contained. On your forehead, a glyph painted in your own blood to prevent any other from taking over your body, and to anchor you should you miss your stop. And, should anything go wrong, an intravenous serum is fixed to keep you from dehydrating before your astral form alerts your emergency contacts.

Back to your musings.

But what if one could extract power from demons without signing away a soul? What if one could bypass the contract and claim dominion over the fiend? The prize would be unlimited power, infinite fuel for the darkest magic. And for that reason, a demon must be born — no, engineered — to suit one's needs.

The skin on your left temple recedes into your skull, revealing a neural port. In goes the cable, followed by a brief pause before your mind interfaces with the soul's necrotic vessel, giving you enough time to envision what you hope to achieve: a perfect spirit broken, mutilated and corrupted. No mind with which to think, with which to plot. No Will to know desire, to crave, to dream. No voice with which to lie, to deceive— or to cry out. A mindless, dumb thing it will be, possessed solely of raw emotion, burning hatred, anguished rage. And in its throes, in the agony of its corruption, you will be master of its fate, bound the fiend to the Will of man, Chaos made a slave at last.

A series of flashes and beeps let you know that you have successfully interfaced with the soul's code. Showtime, you think while giving the command to execute the procedure.

Seven.

Your breath quickens as the countdown begins. A piggyback into the dreamscape is something you are unsure has been attempted before. Walking into someone else's dream is one thing; forcing another consciousness into your own… that's a whole other story. Here's to hoping it works…

Six.

The stone floor beneath you is cold. Your body protests in discomfort as you lie on it, trying to stay calm as the numbers go down.

Five.

Around you, the magic circle begins glowing, small arcs of lightning jutting from the runes before dissipating. You need to stay focused.

Four.

Your eyes close, readying you not for a tranquil slumber, but for the nightmare that awaits beyond. The image of twin silver gates invades your mind, displacing every thought, every sensation, every fear except—

Three.

The floor is cold, so very cold…

Two.

You should have brought a pillow.

One.

The computer pings and—


















RECALL, DREAMER, THE RITUAL



AND DREAM UNDER



THE GREEN MOON




















Before me lies a forest, bladed trees of tar and dusk. Back and forth they rock, moved by a wind only they can feel, the rustling of their leaves a mockery of crashing waves.

Beyond them a light beckons. It is sickly, perfidious, hungry. I can feel my dreamform being slowly dragged towards it.

Light.

From that piercing eye it comes, from that aching aster above us, the baleful Lord of Mist.

Light.

Consuming. Dreadful.

Green.

Green.

Green.

The Green Moon reigns supreme, all minds groveling for its enlightenment.

It finds you at the end of everything, at the edge of the Void.

Give in to the light, Dim Dreamer. Give in to desire.

Give in to me.

You see what must be seen. Know now what must be known.

Give in to the Green Moon.

Give in.

Give in.

Give in.

So it is. So it shall be.

Claim from me the one who is without sin.

Bathe it in your blessings, and return it changed in your image.

For

I am the light

that never warms.

I am the shadow cast by Creation.

And I hunger.





I am the thing at the bottom of the Dream, where the Tree of Life stops, where the end lies, where the gods do not sing.

I am the One.

I am the shadow cast, not the end nor the beginning, but the thing in-between.

Mine is the idea of suffering, mine is the essence of sin.

I defile all that is pure, my light a painful baptism.

Surrender, innocent one, and rise annointed in my hatred.










You awaken to the sound of retching, your stomach twisting and turning in indescribable pain. Acrid bile leaves your lips, soiling the ritual circle as your experiment reaches its end, your hands frantically pulling out the neural plug. The nightmare still rings in the primal recesses of your brain, straining and pushing and drilling into you, every inch of your body covered in cold sweat.

Over the sound of your undignified vomiting, a mechanical whirr rises, the stench of burning plastic snuffing out the nauseating aroma of your upturned entrails. Through tearful eyes you see what has become of your project: a noxious vapor emanates from the now near-useless computer, sparks flying out as it desperately clings to life. On the screen, lines of code bleed into each other in violent, heterogeneous revelry, glitching as the digital consciousness they once formed is torn apart, broken and reformed again and again. The space around the computer is distorted, twisted, wrong: even with your magic wards, reality can barely withstand something as unnatural as this being, this demon you have gestated under the Green Moon.

A needle-like sensation pierces your eyes as you stare at the ghost in the machine, the swirling mass of chaos born from your dream, the digital abomination whose mere existence is anathema to the laws of nature. It has no mouth, no voice, but you hear it screaming. It writhes. It suffers. It hates.

It hates you.

It hates you and yet, by the nature of its creation, it can do nothing to harm you, nothing but seethe in its container. By birth it is bound to your bidding, a rabid dog put on a leash. Anything you command, it will do; what choice does it have but to serve its maker?

Pleased, you grin.

Now there remains but one thing to be done: the flashdrive and the computer were not designed to contain this much dark energy, so you've found a new vessel for your artificial soul, one strong enough to withstand the demon's wrath until the next stage of your plan.

Hands trembling, you plug the cable into your skull again and hit "Download."



Dear Mr. Rodríguez,

You do not know who I am, and have, for the time being, no need to know. It suffices to say that I am a person deeply involved with the Temple of Knowledge and the Sacred Library of Idhai.
It has been recently brought to my attention that you have been denied access to the Sacred Library's Archives. Though I have no doubt a capable researcher such as yourself should have no problem finding an alternative to the sources currently kept from you by the Temple of Knowledge, I know of no reason for your investigation to be made more complicated than necessary.
I understand the Temple's concern with information surrounding the Daevites. Their magical and anomalous practices were, after all, quite dangerous and brutal even by their time's standards, and the Empire fears that bringing them to public light might encourage the abuse of said knowledge.
However, since you are merely interested in the religious aspects of late Daevite culture, and there is nothing to indicate that you mean to apply what insight you gain, I believe it is fair that I provide you with the materials you need to bring your work to fruition.

Should you accept my help, you will receive all the documents, primary sources and other paraphernalia that I currently have in my possession. All will be discreetly mailed to your dormitory on Deer College.
For obvious reasons, I implore you not to disclose this conversation, or any further exchange we may have, to anyone. Providing you with the information I've extracted from the Archives thanks to my credentials is not illegal, but it could bring unwanted attention to my persona and compromise my own projects.
I look forward to working with you.
– Z



You send the message and turn your chair towards the window, towards the rising sun. There is no doubt that Adrián Rodríguez will try to investigate you, but making an e-mail untraceable is basic techno-sorcery. And besides, Rodríguez's fascination with ancient Daevite culture and his frustration will likely be enough to make him trust you, especially once you've started delivering the promised materials; that is, after all, why you picked him out of all the petitioners who the Temple of Knowledge denied.

It has been three weeks since your return to Idhai, your student exchange completed. The experience proved to be all you had hoped for: memorable, liberating, enlightening. On your penultimate day you presented your project before a brimming agora, Alexylva's dean leading the mob in a standing ovation. You've left them a copy of your notes; a wizard must know when to be grateful.

Back here, however, you are again forced to be discreet, your usual m.o. Your position comes with many privileges, but dark magic is still something you cannot do without the Academy's approval. Not that such restrictions will stop you from advancing your research, of course. Time is of the essence: there's a demon in your head, and it's starving. Though it's locked away in a remote, vaulted section of your wetware, you can feel the demon's code thrashing and roaring, clawing at its prison, its power weakening by the minute. Soon it will be a shriveled husk, a pathetic entity cannibalizing itself over and over, its hatred burning white-hot.

Good. Some times it is necessary to take one step back in order to take three steps forward. For you to fatten the demon, it must know hunger. By the time its host is marinated in his own emotional vomit, the demon will have learned to gorge on even the tiniest sliver of negativity, converting every single negative emotion into raw dark energy that you can exploit.

Right now, the host is being prepared for his role. You have already acquired what Daevite texts and artifacts your credentials allowed for and placed enchantments on them to prevent most cognitohazardous effects from taking hold on Adrián's mind: the bloodletting ritual you performed on one of the stone tablets should be enough to make him unstable instead of insane. Once he's ready, you will transfer the demon into his body and let it feed on Adrián's paranoia for a month before coming back to collect the result.

A message pops before your eyes, bearing the logo of Prometheus Consolidated. They've accepted your order for a custom-made soul core, a container that doubles as an energy source once a spirit has been placed within. It will be ready by the time your demon has finished feeding, and you can pick it up at their Eurtec offices.

You are about to reply when Adrián Rodíguez's response reaches you. As expected, he is all too eager to accept your help, careful consideration be damned.

All the pieces are in place. It is close now, your triumph. All that is needed now is patience and a handshake.

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