His room is made of wood, ancient stuff. Dark, half-stained by hands and oil, and the occasional splashes of the reagents he uses, and the splashes of hundreds before him.
The service staff left something for him in the alcove near the door.
His robe is pressed and clean. It is ready for tonight, the clasp is set neatly on top, the red and white helices waiting to snap together. He picks it up and puts it on.
His instruments are stored in a rolled up pack, ready to fit inside the pocket in the robes. He picks them up and stows them.
Basically everything that was necessary for the ritual was packed and ready. He is going to become a Maiden of the Flesh.
He opened the door and strode outside, the common area was bustling, mostly with men, but there were a number of women too, the maidens had opened their door to anyone who could qualify and made it through training.
Some of them, the poorer or less qualified1 ones mostly, had rat ears, big red eyes, and shockingly white hair(fur). Their modification marks them as students receiving aid, and thus expected to take some changes. He had performed the alteration on a few of them himself, which is why they were turned into lab-rats. Symbols matter, after all.
Many of his cohort had donned the formal robes, and sat chatting quietly. He sits with them but says nothing. His personal reagents had been chosen, and he had perfected them endlessly, running them through the oracle until everything seemed to line up with his vision of perfection.
He was going to be a fleshcrafter, it was one of the oldest sciences practiced continually over the last six thousand years. It is all about altering or creating life. Most of it is believed to have originated in laboratories with scientific institutions, but later on, some traditions became occult, growing rituals with spells2 and a belief in the purpose of their method.
Fleshcrafting comes in various schools and purposes. The maidens of flesh concentrate on alterations to the human form. Others focused on military applications, others industrial, and more esoteric fields that struggle to fit into those categories on their good days. And each of the occult orders has an accompanying secular one.
After a few hours he puts on his robe. Its light color mirrors the early days of the order when they were still scientists. Before they looked deep and found the Maiden In The Flesh. That ingredient that revealed to them that it was not just a tool for building and changing life, it was a tool that could be used to help guide personal growth and change, and that it was genuinely supernatural.
The fact that others manage without believing in the Maiden or the Archon or the Warden shows that it’s not necessarily the structure that matters here, the methodology resembles the science because they are both tested against reality.
The procession of his cohort down the hallway, out the yard, and into the larger halls is silent. They pass sisters who stop speaking as they pass, giving them a respectful distance. The sisters wear normal street clothing. This is a place of worship, but it’s also a place to live and study and work, and not everyone is involved in initiation.
A foxy sister wearing a sweater grins at him, her green eyes flashing at him knowingly, he reaches up to adjust the collar of his shirt beneath the robe, red a red tinge in his cheeks.
They are in a vast hall. The floors and walls are made of chemical resistant plastic tile, white, in order to be easier to clean. It echoes terribly, and the sisters running the ritual’s whispers contribute to an unearthly air of oppressive hush borne from the random motions of those within it.
You are flesh. You are changeable, one says, holding a flask, marked with the symbol, a red and white double helix on a golden circle. Each component steeped in relevance to the task they undertake.
They are led away and he lingers, looking at the woman who had spoken, the delicacy of her features and the fullness of her goatee was suggestive of her own path here and reflected what she was on a deep level. That was the goal of the maiden, to see the fullness of the interior exposed to the world and cultivated into something unique.
The group is led to a deeper chamber, which is adjacent to a smaller one, with a table with two chairs at it inside. It too is like a laboratory, and the seats and fixtures could very well serve that purpose during the day. Music is playing, confusing music, microtonal music that might’ve been piped from a bunch of dice, with vocalizations whose most damning feature was that they were syllables instead of a feral roar necessary to overcome the random microtonal noises.
A sibling, standing tall and utterly impossible to classify led each of the group into the room, and they disappear through a door to the other side. Occasionally a scream is emitted from inside the smaller room. They like to rough up their initiates, get their blood pumping for what needs the lowered inhibitions of an aroused sympathetic nervous system.
Eventually he is led inside the room. The heavy steps of the sibling leads him to the small table, and he is motioned to take a seat before the door is closed.
They turn on a light and reveal the three different symbols of the maidens. The scope, whose insight was essential early on, the silver helix, representing the DNA, and the red one representing the RNA, the golden sphere representing the golden bullets used to implant DNA in plant cells early on before it could properly be called fleshcrafting.
The questions were simple, all about those objects, a formality before the much more substantial challenges ahead.
After that is solving the cipher, which is a substitution cipher using various CAS9 complexes to encode letters. It comes with its own order that is not the same as the alphabet for extra obfuscation.
The alphabet had never been needed, it was just considered a neat way to give credit to the primitive structures whose character informed the developments of modern reagents. But that was before the Maiden manifested.
The sibling gives a deep nod and leads him to the next room which was very dark except for a dim spot in the middle, where others of the group wait. The sibling screams as he walk out of the small chamber, it is a very bloodcurdling scream.
Eventually the assemblage is completed, and they await, the stippling of skin and fur and robes looking like a thicket of humanity and whatever else is mixed in these days.
The quiet breathing of many creates an oppressive hush. His heart beats in his ears.
A sister starts speaking in the darkness. A light turns on, blinding them all, and bathing her in light. She’s very extensively modified, possessing claws, extra arms, and a powerful four legged lower body. Her fur is speckled and short antlers stick out of her head.
We follow The Maiden because she is the transformation of potential into the actual. The realization of beauty in whatever form pleases the body, even if it’s continual change, or a single change, the only one necessary in your life. The restoration of the wounded and disfigured.
The alteration of those who are not born as they desire. Her voice is deep and powerful. Those are who we serve beyond ourselves.
The Maiden, it is said, manifested two thousand years ago in an isolated research laboratory, discovered by a researcher at a bioengineering3 facility. That researcher’s name was deliberately forgotten. He found Her in a sample of bizarre tissue that had been grown.
When the researcher saw Her, manifested and full, the implications racing through his mind, of beauty all the way through, and the attainment of happiness.
And she resolved first to change herself, and entered the historical record, finding dozens of new techniques to guide flesh crafting towards being suitable for usage on humans, which had been taboo for a very long time.
But in her time, the governments were isolated and local, catastrophe had wiped out the continuity of large empires, leaving their cities running, but regulations left up to the cities themselves. The prohibition on using fleshcrafting human beings had never been written into a city ordinance.
And when they saw what she had made of herself, they knew that it was not something they wanted to stop.
And so, she says, you will repeat the same transformation upon yourself, as you desire.
The reagents had been prepared in advance, the initiates that had not completed it would have to repeat this on their own time. They were once again split into innumerable small rooms. Enough room for a single person to set up their equipment and use it on themselves.
A single steel table sat within, scratched from innumerable uses prior to this, a single old lab chair with a worn wooden back set in front of it.
He takes out his instruments and his reagents.
The instruments are mostly the delivery system for the reagents, highly complicated drug delivery devices. Difficult to use on others, much harder to use on yourself.
He does not worry, so his hands are steady as he attaches many fractal needles, branching out like a terribly painful stick. IV Bags are draped up above him. All the points of injection and orders are marked on his equipment and body. A few timers to keep everything on schedule, each stenciled with the insignia of the maidens of flesh, the double helix over the golden circle, he had done that himself. The little things carry a lot of weight.
Hormones and viroids and proteins and enzymes seep into him through hundreds of pinpricks. Serums containing growth factors and scarce nutrients dissolve into his veins, providing the energy and incentive to work quickly. It would set over weeks and months, but there would be something to show tonight.
Ten lines to each leg, thirty to the front of the torso, four to the back, three to each arm, two to the face. Each one already puffy with the immune response, the trauma response, the pain itself.
His breasts ache already, the needles disgorging hormones into them, growth factors to wake them up, and nutrients to gorge upon, a warm bluntness on his chest.
One of the limitations of this technique was that tissue sometimes needed to be removed. So there was a secondary set of techniques that he had practiced on.
He picks up the scalpel scissors and looks into the mirror. A set of lines are drawn onto his ears, marking the delineation where they need to be cut. A line along the helix and the lobule.
The sensation of cutting into his own ears is electric, a white hot dissuasion. He has practiced, so he continues to cut. The first one is removed, a bloody limp mangle of skin and flesh, so he moves onto the other one, cutting it off as well. Blood drips down his shoulders and head until he sutures them closed with long curved needles.
The initiator has not even been added, but the reagents are feisty things on their own. The reason the maidens use them is because they’re aggressive, you can feel them acting. The initiator is biochemical subversion on a vast and comprehensive scale. The action of the immune system inverts for certain agents, carrying them to the cells they need to reach.
That is The Maiden. She is the reason they can be so parsimonious with their reagents.
He sits there for an hour, letting his body work, he feels feverish; he is feverish. Typical application of the Maiden leads to high body temperatures, and his treatment was aggressive by any metric.
And in this near delirium, he feels the switch flip, a vision of himself changing, a slow descent into a waking dream. The cleanly tiled walls drift away and he finds himself in an indeterminate space, his heartbeat in his ears, its pounding setting the world rippling in slow motion. From the fog, The Maiden appears as The Maiden always does in traditional stories, the grammar of flesh and bodies ripples across The Maiden’s form. Faces of people he knows stare out at him, blinking in and out of Her Form.
The Maiden speaks to her in a voice of honey and gristle, The Maiden is so happy that she is ready to be a sister. She smiles as a sister for the first time, and the fever breaks.
The room gradually fades back into reality. It has been hours and hours, she is dry and aching.
She can already feel the fur starting to grow, an intense itchiness that spreads across the whole of her body. That would take longer to show, but it would suffice for the initiation. Her bones are already creaking, working on new growth plates.
Triumphantly, she gathers up her stuff and walks out of the room, to the celebration.
There would be many more years of learning before she was done with herself. This was only the beginning after all.