Welcome to Flavortown - Ich-Tekik & Keskit
Ich-Tekik, Salvage Splicer and Keskit, the Flesh Sculptor | Illustrated by Aleksi Bricolt and Yongjae Choi
The Phyrexian Usurpers
Content Warning: This story contains elements of body horror
There were eyes and ears everywhere. Sewn throughout the tangle of flesh and bone was the very essence of corruption. What was once an ally or even an aspect of the world around them could turn traitor at any second. Phyrexians had seen comrades come apart at their literal seams, unmade to fit the image of Elesh Norn.
They felt it. Everyone on New Phyrexia felt it. The slow encroaching hold of the Machine Orthodoxy. Its edicts gripped them by the throat, the teeth of Norn's porcelain monstrosities sinking into their minds, draining them of all sense of self. Once Phyrexia was the praetors' battleground. Wars were waged over the spheres in each attempt to gain just a bit more land or resources. There was no such war now.
Resistance was a myth when all of Phyrexia kneeled before Elesh Norn. Once they believed the praetors would rise against her. A foolish thought, in hindsight. The Whispering One led her crusade on Dominaria by order of her master. The spider had become the lapdog. The Voice of Hunger was as mindless as ever, his unceasing gluttony set wild upon the unsuspecting multiverse. And the traitor praetor was nowhere to be seen. When the supposed paragons of compleation failed to take a stand, their underlings rose up. Here was the product of that festering hatred, where two Phyrexians joined together.
Neither of the two dared speak louder than a whisper. Ich-Tekik eyed the skittering artificer with some trepidation. Keskit had contacted him with only the bare details: coordinates for their meeting in the Dross Pits, and a manifesto calling for the usurping of Elesh Norn. Ich-Tekik had to make his way through the Surgical Bays without being detected, something he was worried about before he realized Gitaxis' subjects were too engrossed in their "experiments" to notice him. Now, he sat as Keskit fiddled with various bits of machinery, glistening oil pouring through the tendrils that sprouted from his back into the walls.
"You may speak, scrapper. My lair is protected from the sycophants' meddling," said Keskit, his mandibles clicking together. "None would dare attempt to breach the Dross Barriers."
"I've fought my fair share of Orthodoxy scum. What I'm worried about is the mysterious mechanist who called me here in pursuit of some sort of revolution." Ich-Tekik scanned the room around him, trying to make sense of what was being built here. The laboratory was within one of the spawning pits of this layer, steeped in viscous oil that pooled above them. Steam hissed with each step Keskit took, his body powered by whatever resources he was siphoning from around him.
"You've felt it, no doubt. The hatred for Norn. The people of Rey-Goor call for her head. It falls to those such as us to act on those passions." Keskit's pincers clinked together. "I've assembled allies amongst the nine spheres. They've brought me machinery, oil samples, and schematics on how best to attack Norn's domain. You are the last piece I need."
"You're mad. Attack Elesh Norn's domain? You'd be executed for thinking such a heretical thought, let alone attempting to breach her defenses." Ich-Tekik suddenly realized how disturbing Keskit looked. The way his wiring seemed to pulse against flesh. How ribs looked to stab into his heart. He'd clearly modified himself somehow, but in a sloppy way. "Tell me, how do you expect to kill the Mother of Machines?"
"I told you, insolent one. With your assitance." Keskit gestured to a nearby operating table. Various pieces of biosynthetic flesh stood suspended in rigs. "I have seen your work under Vorinclex. You construct magnificent golems that have destroyed Mirrodin's defenses. I have a bioweapon that I believe will be able to destroy all of the Fair Basilica, along with killing its inhabitants." Keskit held aloft a pulsing vial, filled with a swirling black mist. Ich-Tekik recognized this from his studies. The original Phyrexian leader, the Father of Machines, had taken the form of such a substance. The Death Cloud, a weapon that once eradicated the forces of Otaria. "You will construct a golem that can transport this into Norn's domain. Once there, I will detonate the device. The contagion will then serve the same purpose it did on Dominaria."
Ich-Tekik had created servants like this before, artificial constructs capable of fighting for the Phyrexian forces. This was another matter entirely. "Think of what you're asking me to do!" he said. "Even if I were to agree to this inane mission, where would we acquire the parts?"
Keskit gestured again to the workbench. "That will not be an issue. I've acquired most of the requisite parts for such a creation. Anything else, my contacts can acquire for you. I just need your schematics." He stared into the swirling mists of the Death Cloud. "We must act. Norn has already acquired two planeswalkers. She has her eyes set on the gorgon. If she seizes any more, we will surely be lost. Let us strike now."
Ich-Tekik felt the oil within him bubble. Ever since his compleation, the embrace of Phyrexia had been his only love. If Norn took that from him, he would have nothing. He would not allow himself to bend to her whims. "Let us begin the new Great Work then."
The delivery device's construction began beneath the cover of the Dross Pits. Ich-Tekik had moved his equipment into the sphere in order to better continue the work unimpeded. Each day, he and Keskit would take turns canvasing the perimeter in search of new materials or spies from Norn. As he wandered the surface, he slowly became acclimated to the sights and sensations of this sphere of Phyrexia. Its lands were less organic than his home. A stitching of flesh seemed to weave its way through the oil-stained dirt. Sometimes he would place his hand to it, feel the pulsing, rhythmic hum of the vessels below. Whispers of Sheoldred's machinations poured from beneath the grains of sinew. Her every word pooled into Ich-Tekik's mind. These edicts seemed to worm their way into his work. His designs took on graces of the Thanes' designs. This pleased him. His work felt more compleat this way.
There was some trouble with it, though. Part of the design was giving him an issue; namely, the Flesh Battery that powered the device. In order for the device to not fall apart upon exposure to the Death Cloud, its power system needed some resistance to the substance. However, the flesh he had used in constructing the battery deviated too much from baseline compleation. Any heretical flesh would easily be flagged by the Basilica's defense systems, leading to the device being shot down before it would get the chance to detonate. Worse yet, Norn might turn the Death Cloud against them in an act of revenge.
Perhaps the answer lie within the myriad of biosynth in the surrounding fields. On one of his scouting missions, Ich-Tekik took it upon himself to scour the area in search of any useable samples in constructing a new casing. Far beyond the pits of Rey-Goor, there were rumors of an ancient Phyrexian temple constructed from the subconscious of the plane's creator. While Ich-Tekik wasn't willing to believe any random rumor, he figured there was no harm in investigating something that could offer insight into his problem.
Constructed out of ragged spikes, the walls of the temple seemed to wrestle against one another, the building taking the form of a twisting helix. An ancient dialect of the Phyrexian language was carved into the ground outside. It deviated slightly from Ich-Tekik's native tongue, but with some work he was able to figure out a rough translation. The temple acted as an archive, samples of prior flesh mechantists' works stored and put on display. This seemed exactly like the type of thing Ich-Tekik would need for creating the bomb's casing.
The inside of the temple had a heartbeat. An actual heartbeat. Suspended from the ceiling was a massive orb of flesh that dripped glistening oil onto the ground below. Veins tethered the organ to the roof, each one pumping and contorting with the heart's rhythm. The floor of the temple also seemed to have some life within it. The ground drank in the oil, like a baby bird being fed by its mother. It then pushed the oil back towards the ceiling and into the veins of the heart. Over and over. A self-sustaining, compleat organism. Fascinating.
"What is it that you seek?" A voice crackled from all around him, the very building itself seeming to speak to him.
Ich-Tekik quickly summoned an incision tool to defend himself, the screwdrivers melded to his wrists whirring in preparation. "Show yourself. I'm just here for some materials."
The heart above Ich-Tekik pumped oil in front of him, which began to pool and rise up towards the ceiling. The voice started up again. "Allow me to take a more relaxing form for you then." The oil then formed a humanoid silhouette, then slowly seemed to grow physical features, textures in the oil that began to appear human. Ich-Tekik recognized this person from his readings of ancient Phyrexian history. The temple was taking the form of the original father of machines: Yawgmoth. A slick voice poured from the simulacrum. "Now, what brings you here in pursuit of my resources?"
"Machine Father, there is an impersonator to your throne. A vile dictator who has contorted your great edicts." Ich-Tekik knelt before the oil. He knew this was not the true Machine Father, but he felt a sense of grandiosity from him. "Myself and others plan to assassinate her and her loyalists
"Oh? And who might she be?" asked the Pseudo-Yawgmoth. "You plan to do this, how? Surely a new ruler of Phyrexia has intricate defenses."
"With a weapon in your own image, Lord of Wastes. The Death Cloud unleashed on Dominaria. We will be transporting it with one of my own golems. I only require a sample of flesh that will go undetected by Elesh Norn's defense systems."
Yawgmoth held his hand aloft, the veins of the temple quickening in their throbbing bioreplication. Through his fingertips, blood and bone seemed to coalesce into a sphere. Ich-Tekik recognized these designs. A Phyrexian newt, born of pure and compleat flesh. "Install this into your device and it will carry it to the usurper's domain unimpeded. I thank you for bringing this heresy to me."
The thrashing newt floated into Ich-Tekik's hands and the projection of Yawgmoth evaporated. Ich-Tekik was left in the temple, only the sound of the beating heart to keep him company. Staring at the newt, it bore glowing green eyes and white, metallic streaks down its back. This being had been created in the image of the Lord of Wastes, and it would bring his word back to Phyrexia.
Ich-Tekik held the newt close to him as he returned to the entrance of Keskit's laboratory. The pool of glistening oil slowly parted to reveal a long, spiraling staircase, the walls of which were decorated with various symbols of Phyrexian mythology. Ich-Tekik never took Keskit to be a religious scholar, but he soon learned of his passions for New Phyrexian history. So much of his body had been modeled after the designs of the various thanes and praetors. He thought back to what Keskit had once told him as they discussed the future that would come after Norn's demise.
"I dream of a truly united Phyrexia. Compleation cannot be tamed as Norn wills it to be. Phyrexians will bow not to a godhead, but to the very nature of compleation itself." Keskit's eyes crackled with oil, the gears buried into his flesh whirring against each other. "Can you see it now? We will take our orders not from the words of a pretender, but from the oil itself."
Ich-Tekik had felt purpose once. In his past life, now a buried memory. He remembered what it was like to claim one's destiny not from bowing to a despot, but through another's presence. He no longer needed the love he held in his old life. He would love the glistening oil, he would love his creations, he would love Phyrexia.
The laboratory whirred to life as Ich-Tekik entered. Keskit was hard at work as usual, refining the chassis in which the Death Cloud would be carried. The two artificers greeted each other and began to share their spoils of the day.
"I bring good news, Flesh Sculptor." said Ich-Tekik. "You have likely heard of the Phyrexian temple, just furnace-bound of here. Well, I was able to acquire the last thing we'll need." He held the newt out to him, its newly formed body still raw. "With this, our vengeance can be completed."
Keskit's face seemed to sink into itself. The wires beneath his eyes sparked and crackled in an instant. Before Ich-Tekik could say a word, the arachnid artificer grabbed a blade and prepared to stab the newt. "You fool! That's one of Norn's agents!"
Of course. Curses. She must have wormed her way into the Old Phyrexian archives. If that was the case, then Ich-Tekik had just explained their entire plan of attack to her. The newt latched itself onto his face, its veins hooking into his flesh tightly. Keskit stabbed at him, uncaring of whether or not his knife would take Ich-Tekik with it. If this newt wasn't slain, they'd be lost.
"Ich-Tekik, I'm so sorry." Keskit backed away, the newt continuing to dig into Ich-Tekik's flesh. He grabbed a weapon from the side of the wall. A device infused with anti-oil materials, capable of tearing any Phyrexian to tatters with a single shot. "For New Phyrexia" he said, preparing to fire.
The newt lept from Ich-Tekik's face, taking chunks of flesh with it. Keskit's shot fired right after, narrowly missing the newt but finding purchase with the splicer. Ich-Tekik's modifications unspooled from his body. His arm fell apart from him, his legs collapsing into scarp. Part of his scalp slid off into a mass of metal and oil.
He expected pain. But perhaps whatever effects the blast had removed his pain sensors. Instead, all he could do was watch as the newt skittered towards the Death Cloud. Keskit tried to stop it, but the creature was blindingly fast. Its teeth sunk into the glass casing, shattering it into small bits. The noxious gas expanded, doubling by the second as it began to fill Keskit's lungs. His metal rotted in place, falling to the ground as his flesh began to boil and froth over. Ich-Tekik watched as his schematics grew weeks' worth of mold in moments, their months of work falling into disarray.
Then, the cloud came for him. He was grateful his consciousness was nearly gone at this point. There wasn't the great pain that others had felt. Instead, the toxic gas seemed to embrace him into a great beyond. Ich-Tekik embraced this death, a fitting conclusion to his pursuit of a free Phyrexia. As Ich-Tekik's flesh began to turn into a bloody soup, he thought only of Melira.