Monday, March 18, 2019

The Coition of the Mayfly Elves, and their Red Form

In my previous post I have talked about the idea of elves who die and are reborn every week, giving birth to themselves asexually again and again through parthenogenesis, passing on their knowledge and memory to live on in their sequence of daughters, creating a immortal individual consisting living through a string of thousands of bodies.

I mentioned that by giving birth to multiple selves the elves used to be legion, living in incredibly great numbers in a fairy time, when the world was still a romantically imagined semiphysical realm, a pre-birth amniotic dream of the earth-to-be. However, this reign lasted not, once from dream was born soil and fiber and flesh and above all, a new law which held the earth in its hands. And the new law was a flesh-ripping, bubbling, grinning crocodilian protist law. It had the mercy of a pound of worm eggs in your lungs and it was as considerate as fucking dinosaurs trampling an ant colony. It was the law of the arms race between parasite and host, and between predator and prey. It was the Red Queen, who puts cysts in your flesh and worms in your eyes and smashes your eggs and rips off your meat and nibbles your bones if you don't do all the running you can do. And it took sex to survive her.

Don't confuse elves with Fairies by the way. When the Red Queen came to the elves they had to bow. When she came to the Fairies they giggled, laughed and told her to go home or else, and she did.

Art by Stephanie Sonhj

So, Elves were faced with a crisis in the new, physical world, marooned from their previous existence where they didn't need to worry about things like genetic diversity. They were dying, and fast. Pale white corpses, like dead clone armies, littered the earth in ghastly mounds. Disease and parasites were killing them by the hundred-thousands. So the elves had no choice but to bow to the Red Queen and her insidious gift of sex. However, they were stubborn and vain, and accepted only the least possible perversion of their clonal beauty. A final trick, for when the need is at its most and the Red Queen is claiming her due, to escape their outdated immunity. A sexual generation, a sudden and powerful mixing of the existing genomes, empowered with mutagenic and DNA-twisting magic, the products of which throw off all insidious viral and parasitic invaders for a long time. 

Elves only ever revert to giving birth to a sexual generation when they really, really need to, since they find it debased and below them, and they still bear a terrible grudge towards the Red Queen for forcing them to pollute themselves with carnality. Not to mention that the Red Form elves are terrible and have no respect for anything. Bah! 

In addition to this, given that elves transmit their memories to their next self through gene-tied magic, the new elven individuals that result from a sexual union are indeed that. New. They have only jumbled and intermixed memories, confusing mysteries to figure out. Other than that they must learn everything anew. White Form elves always try to leave immense bodies of written records and instructions before they give birth to the Red Form, but need to make sure that accessing them is beyond both the reach and attention span of said gaudy, puckish Red Forms, safe for the new White Forms that come after. So, their treasures of knowledge are always locked away in vaults behind both locks and riddles. The new generation always has their hands full overcoming the barriers that guard their heritage.

Art by 우진 오
So, what are Red Form elves actually like? Well, they're red, kind of. They're pale like White Form elves but they exude the colour red onto everything around them. They don't seem silvery white like their progenitors because the red shade they spread colours their own white a gaudy, oversaturated scarlet. Everything around them becomes more vivid, more pronounced, more sensuous. The clothes they wear , if any, do not conceal, but rather accentuate their forms. And these forms are something between adonis, animal and abstract. The point of this sexual generation is to optimise the gene pool for resistances and so on, but since that is both complex genetics and complex magic, it would appear that the Red Form elf exhausts pretty much all imaginable visual elements in order to somewhat accurately map its terribly complicated genome on itself. Each of their bizarre appearances is a mishmash terror to us, a detailed gene chart to them.

The complexity of their beauty ideals, their bodily symbols of potency, their romantic rituals, no one understands, but the elves know the game they play intimately, and care only for that and little else. Everything around them is a mere vehicle of foreplay, a tool or stage to woo and court. This makes the Red Forms of puckish whim, irrational to anyone not following the social puzzle playing out between them. Oh, and they come in male as well as female. They're very clearly sexually dimorphic, absurdly so, and the way they act only makes it worse.

Combat and murder are trivial: the courting hypercube eliminates undesirable traits mercilessly and has thousands of taboos punishable by death. Probably. We hope. Otherwise it'd be really senseless. And they make a play of it too. A Midsummer Night's Dream (or, if you are less abashed by mentioning sex out loud than the average wizard, elf natural selection death orgy) is a baroque collage of an open air opera, gladiator fight, obscure porno, ritual disemboweling and rococo ballet, acted out by the residents of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, through a bright red lens, after half a bottle of absynthe. Abhor it as they may, the elves harbor the Red Queen's vulgar and garish skeleton in their reserved lily white closet.

Detail of the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch
So, after a week of, ahem, Midsummer Night's Dream, the Red Forms die. But, not before giving birth to a new era of White Form elves, who have fully renewed their virgin white glow, are immune to everything going around for a good few years (after which the cycle of steady decline, denial and refusal up until an unsustainable crisis, and eventual acceptance of sex, starts again). However, the Red Elves always leave a mess, as you might expect, so the birth of a new elf is in a way as bloody (a lot bloodier in terms of sheer volume spilled all over the place) as a human's. Small elven enclaves have the awful tendency to turn into Red Forms somewhere where they won't have to deal with the cleanup, like some forest glade where an unsuspecting fellow may witness the whole thing and either go insane or write a play about it.

This is the point in their lives at which elves are most likely to interact with humans, because they are both immune to everything (for now), have the expected curiosity of newborn individuals, and also can use all the help they can get figuring out access to the wisdom of their White Form ancestors. It comes as no surprise that this is also the point where it is most common for elven wisdom to get stolen. In addition, it is very common for elves of this fresh age to travel, and see the world before having to inevitably return to their protected enclaves.

This is how, despite all this craziness, you can make the race playable if you want. Your player is then either a young elf whose immunity is still intact and is traveling the world, but who suffers from the issue of her parents' jumbled memory relicts buzzing around in her brain, or some older elf who is exiled, mad, or both, abandoning her secret gardens for a taste of the wide world- which will probably kill her. This latter option would not suffer from memory jumbles, but have an immense disadvantage to save against disease. A trade-off, a jumbled and distracted mind versus a crippling weakness against sickness and parasites.

Art by 우진 오

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Parthenogenesis of the Mayfly Elves, and their White Form

Are elves like the enduring trees? Timeless, seeing history through aloof and distant eyes, the water of time flowing around their feet as they stand still in the river of causality? Are they imperishable? They might be. They very well could be, if you want. But not here. This light on elves is different, and it is not as seamlessly timeless.

The conception that sex is the undisputed, ever-present form of reproducing in nature, is wrong.  Sex is very costly, in terms of evolution. Many, many organisms reproduce, at least in part, asexually. They clone themselves. A child is no intermixture between two lines of mingling genes, but a genetic carbon copy of its mother. Hence why said child is normally a daughter, so she can do the same, and the genome is carried on, with no alterations but the rare spontaneous mutation. Cladocera, aphids, algae, slime molds, and plants, to name a few, all have asexual and sexual forms, which in some alternate each generation, and in some remain asexual to proliferate a population and then turn to a sexual cycle when there is need for genetic variety. Such asexual reproduction, where all individuals are female and give birth to only females, is called parthenogenesis. Virgin birth.

Elves are not an enduring tree, but they are in fact a chain of aphids. 

Art by Jana Heidersdorf
They live but for a week or so, which is why I called them mayflies in the title. And just before an elf dies, she (for it is always she) has a child, which grows in mere hours to her spitting image. It is people's impression that elves do not grow old, and they don't, but not in a timeless way. They are simply birthed from themselves, again and again, preferably in the privacy of their hidden bedchambers. 

Most humans never see this, they do not know of it, so they simply assume that elves are forever young, for single elven 'individuals' bridge many human generations without seemingly aging a year, because they turn adult the day they are born, and so present always the same visage to the outside world. An elf individual is rather a genome, than she is a physical creature, because the wisdom of elves crystallises on their double-helices by arcane spell, and a daughter has all the accumulated lives of her mother and her mother and her mother and so on in her head. This makes elven children, for the few hours that they exist, very unnerving, because they grow visibly through their young years into the exact likeness of their only just dead mother, and they speak with the same wisdom of centuries. Since they need a great amount of energy to grow so quickly once they are born, their mother/previous self always dies at birth, passing on the energy of her body and turning to chalky pale carbonised ash.

Art by Alan Lee

This form of the elf, this part of her life cycle which she takes in almost all of her generations, is her White form. It is called this both because these elves are silvery white in both hair and skin, and because of the colour's association with virginity and purity, something these elves find pride in when comparing themselves to the frothing, crawling, carnal lesser races. There is an evolutionary reason for this reserved isolationism too, which I'll speak of later. However, this aloof ivory tower has a hidden scarlet room. More soon on the Red form. The sexual one.

Among elves it is taboo to have more than one child. This because a careful equilibrium is maintained in their society as to not create an imbalance of power by numbers. This is not easy, for an asexual lifecycle usually excels at proliferation, creating myriad progeny. But the elves, with their feyish minds, do not hold back on violence when the balance is upset. If an elf splits herself into multiple daughters, she will soon find all but one of them murdered tenderly. The exception for this is when they are provoked into war. Then they briefly become as legion as they were thousands of years ago, when mankind was still to awake and the elven world was its psychedelic dream. Before they lost their dominion to the law of the Red Queen. 

Art by Yizheng Ke

A trait of asexual species in general is that they have a hard keeping up in the arms race between parasites (or disease, which is a very small parasite) and their hosts, which is one of the great advantages of sex: a constantly reshuffling genome, to which a virus has to adapt again and again and again with considerable effort, and which is pretty good at adaptation itself. When you reproduce clonally, this is different. Your genome doesn't reshuffle, so any virus to which you are susceptible, your daughters will be susceptible, and their daughters will be susceptible, while this virus has all the time in the world to finetune its methods of exploiting you as its bearer.

Therefore, elves are very, very afraid of getting sick. This is a second reason for the one-child rule. They must prevent their populations from being so homogenous that they'll be completely decimated by a stray illness, since their body's adaptation to disease is always outdated. If an elf gets sick, the older they are as a clonal line of the same individual, the more likely it is to absolutely cripple them, because the older they are the more outdated their defence is. 

This is why elf matriarchs, age-old despite their appearance, are unimaginable germaphobes, and this is reflected in elf society. Elven communities are isolated and hard to reach, protected by many misdirecting and abjuring wards of magic, against disease and anything that may carry it. Elves who leave the safe borders of their enclave can never return, they become exiles. Disease and parasitic infection is the great weakness of the elf.

If an elven community is truly struck by plague, or when their defenses against disease have become so woefully outdated that the force of cleanliness needed to maintain their safety becomes unbearable, then the elven race has another trick up their sleeve, but they prefer to avoid it for as long as they can, partly because they think it's icky, partly because it completely reworks the existence of the individuals involved. I am talking about the second cycle of the elven reproduction, namely sex, and the Red Form. Or rather I will be, in the second post about these elves.

Art by 우진 오