Welcome to Flavortown - Vorel of the Hull Clade

Jubilee Finnegan • January 25, 2023

Vorel of the Hull Clade & Plasm Capture| Illustrated by Michael Biereck and Chase Stone

 To Be More Than Human

The following is the recovered research logs of former Head Engineer Vorel. Following his disappearance, these logs were recovered from his personal datamatrix's code. All known associates of Vorel have also gone missing or have denied awareness of his location. Further agents have been assigned to locating Vorel in order to take judicial action.

Research Log - Cizarm 7th, 10,076 ZC

After many iterations in a myriad of forms, the summation of my research can be considered a failure. While the Simic Combine promotes the idea that one can evolve the self through artifice, it appears I have encountered a kind of biological barrier, an upper limit to evolution. While former guildmasters such as Zegana have theorized such a limitation on biosynthetics, I myself had never considered those ideas to be valid. Despite this, the recent results of Upwelling Initiative have led me to believe that the future of the Simic may be in jeopardy, a truth which the rest of the Combine will not take kindly to.

The earliest inklings of this initiative dawned upon me in my youth, before I had even been made aware of the Simic's beauty. I was raised in the Gruul, part of one of the remote clans nestled within the dwindling forests. Most of my fellow Simic have never felt dirt beneath their nails, nor tasted freshly hunted meat, but my time as a member of the clans allowed me the honor of such experiences. The feeling of fresh grass underfoot as one chases their prey cannot be matched by even the finest luxuries of the Tenth District. While the family I was born into were mere clade-hunters, within a few years of my initiation I had become a powerful warrior in my clan. While my youthful ignorance made me look at the position with pure excitement, I soon learned of the great responsibility that such leadership required. 

Again, my fellow Simic have a flawed view of the Gruul, one which I have hoped to rectify. The Gruul are anarchic, not chaotic. While some see these as synonymous, I can assure you that Gruul leadership is quite organized. When working with one's own clan, the Gruul are efficient. Simply allocate food, water, and clothes efficiently, and provide individuals with any resources needed to carry out their assigned goals. Not simple by any means, but the Gruul promote communal well-being, avoiding the greed and avarice that the other guilds hold.

Our greatest woes came from outside of the guild. The greater guilds loathed us, hated us for our reliance on the natural world rather than the ecumenopolis of Ravnica. The fields of the clans were crisp with razing by Rakdos cultists, our homes well-looted by Azorius intercessors, so we trained in preparation for such eventualities. We trained by sword, by bow, by ax, and by calloused fist. But most importantly, we trained by the ways of the beast.

I was taught the art of understanding an animal's natural proclivity for violence. Much of Gruul philosophy was rooted into the tying of one's physical form to their role in greater society. For example, the great hawk was meant to hunt because its wings, talons, and eyes made it so efficient. In the same way, my tactical mind and honed body made me a warrior for the Gruul. But one always experiences limits. Just as a hawk could not wield a weapon, I could not fly. Over and over, I was told there were things I could not do. Not just feats of strength or physical ability, but my role in the world began to feel stagnant. For all of the egalitarian philosophy of the Gruul, there was a lack of self-introspection. Your role in the clan was assigned almost from birth, and any associations therein were divorced from your own will. It was this conflict, along with my disagreements with how to handle the continued warfare with the other guilds, that led to my excommunication. I had stepped outside of the roles they placed upon me and had been punished accordingly. Such is the way of closed minds.

Research Log - Cizarm 9th, 10,076 ZC

I've taken some time away from my research to reevaluate my position in relation to it. While much of the reasoning for the Upwelling Initiative is rooted in my past in the Gruul, its persistence in my mind is owed to my failures within the Simic. While I have enjoyed a successful career as a biologist, even enjoying a nomination as maze runner, I have met with an assortment of what I consider to be failures in my personal experimentation. My mind has been seized by these memories as they gnaw away at my sense of self. Because of these, I have reason to believe they are related to the results of the Upwelling Initiative.

It would be an understatement to say that my current form differs from the one I was born into. Even from my earliest days within the Simic Combine, I have pursued a myriad of bodily modifications and alterations. These have taken many forms, from synthetic gills modeled after Momir Vig's own designs to safeguards injected into my bloodstream to protect against disease. I would not classify these as improvements, contrary to broader philosophy. I seek these treatments out in order to reach a kind of existence that appeals to my sense of self. There are many on Ravnica, most people in fact, who do not desire these alterations. This is not a failure on their part. Rather, it is a pursuit of the self the same as mine. The Dimir scholar who trains her mind seeks perfection in the same vein that I alter my anatomy. The research I take part in are my passions given physical form.

My closest companion in this work was Roalesk. While he underwent experimentation by Vannifar, he and I pursued the further iteration upon synthesizing biological materials. Here, I was taught what the Simic could truly be. Roalesk is the opposite of everything I feared in the Gruul clans. A ticking clockwork mind, unbound from tradition or self-doubt. We shared the same smile when an experiment succeeded. I never met anyone who responded with the same glee I did at the combination of rabbit and beetle. He was the fire for my passion for pursuit of a further form. I wished to inspire him as he did me.

But my passions have met the limits of biology. I have continued to modify myself during my time in the Combine. Some estimations posit that only 14% of my original DNA sequence remains. But these procedures have become habitual. In my earliest days, I felt I was pursuing a deeper version of myself, each addition of synthetics being another step towards enlightenment. That has dwindled into near nonexistence. The constant iteration on my body now serves as simply a way to hold off against the sense of being trapped within my form. But I do not free myself from this trap. Now when I modify my body, I am simply redecorating my prison cell.

Here arose the first steps of what became the Upwelling Initiative. During a cursory trawl through the archives, I found a series of files on a Simic project known as Project Kraj hidden deep within the records. Based on my research, I have been led me to believe that this effort was intentionally buried. All credits of the project were attributed to the infamous and secretive former guildmaster, Momir Vig. Vig's former works are regarded with distrust due to his attempted insurrections. But reading into Project Kraj, it reminded me of the feelings of wonder I felt when I first joined the Simic. Kraj was flesh and fleshless. Form and formless. A mass of every piece of flora and fauna that one could possibly access. Kraj, when activated, expanded throughout Ravnica, no longer bound to its physical form. Transcendent. Amazing. The very epitome of what the Simic wished to achieve, squashed by one man's hubris. 

But here I found the seeds of my magnum opus. If I could take the principles of Project Kraj and apply it to my own work, perhaps I could act upon the same principles of ascension that Momir Vig failed to achieve. The Upwelling Initiative was the result of this thought process. Slowly but surely, we began our work, bonding various pieces of Kraj to biomatter. But nothing that could replicate the original creation. I've admittedly lost some hope. Some of my top scientists have come forward, stating they think replicating Kraj is impossible. Perhaps the leylines had shifted too much, or the materials had decayed into obsolescence. But I cannot accept this truth. Project Kraj is my chance to free myself. I must see to its completion. 

Research Log - Cizarm 21st, 10,076 ZC

The Upwelling has been defunded. I was called to court by Zegana and asked to explain the constant failures and lack of progress. While I attempted to explain the necessity of continuing the initiative, perhaps she sensed the fear in me that this achievement is impossible. All of my staff has been assigned to other initiatives, and my current status as head engineer of the Hull Clade is under scrutiny. I suspect that within the week I will have my position stripped from me.

While most choose to simply move on, one of my former scientists attempt to console me. The young mutant, Roalesk, who I had taking a liking to ever since he was assigned to my division. In all truth, I had developed something akin to feelings for him. But circumstances of work have made exploring any potentialities impossible for me. He asked me what my plans for the future were. True to the Conclave, he's obsessed with constant iterations on the self, what could be made next.

I asked him what he thought would happen if we detached ourselves from ourselves. He felt such a sentiment was oxymoronic, but I pressed him. I told him he was the product of someone looking at the world and choosing to unwrite its rules. Biology was not like the guildpact, biology is mutable. When we joined the Simic, we took an oath to the pursuit of that. If we could finish Kraj, we would be free from all the pained us.

Perhaps something struck a chord with him. In the same way Vannifar could alter biology, I wished to alter how he viewed the world. We'd spoken of my time in the Gruul before as well as my failures within the Simic. The very nature of existence had pained me, and I only wished to seek a remedy. It was a pursuit some would consider nonsensical, perhaps rightfully so. But to us, in this moment, ascension through Kraj was the only thing worth wanting.

I'm writing this from the heart of the Kraj Research Headquarters. We stand in front of the mass of biological beauty that we have been able to create. Its sinuous mass extends from one end of the room to the other, carefully knotted bone and body sealed with the Combine's grace. I look at Roalesk with amazement. He fiddles with the machinery and magical runes, attempting to prepare for one last attempt at success. Various wires connect from my temples to the centralized biomatrix, a device connected to the heart of the dormant Kraj. Its flesh extends all throughout our territory and has only begun to grow. If this experiment is successful, my mind will bond with Kraj and I will become part of this ascended whole.

Roalesk approaches me now. He asks me if I'm sure about this. A failed attempt would almost certainly be lethal. For the first time in years, I laugh, telling him that the work I've done with him has made me feel more alive than I have in years. It is only now, where I am able to trust my life in his hands, that I understand what this transcendence we have pursued truly means. It is the unbinding of passion from the limits of the body.

He embraces me. I wish I had the strength to say more, but I am silent. Now I settle into the operation chair. My hands clench the armrests so tightly I fear they might break. If this project fails, I will die, and this will be my last recording. If it succeeds, I will never write another log entry due to my new, untethered form. So now, I choose to thank everyone. I thank the Gruul, who taught me the power of nature. I thank the Simic, who gave me a home to discover myself. I thank Ravnica, for the populous I have fallen in love with. And I say goodbye to it all now, in hopes of finding something new.

-- End of Log

Jubilee Finnegan (they/them) is a writer based out of Southern California and student of Chapman University. They've been playing Magic since Throne of Eldraine and haven't stopped since. Their work has been published in Chapman Calliope, The B'K', and Beestung Quarterly. You can find them on Twitter @FinneyFlame or Instagram @JWFinnegan.