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


  1. This is the most interesting take on elves I have read in... Well, that I have read. You have me hooked for the next post. Fear of infection is a good explanation of the stereotypical elven love of stand off weapons like bows and magic. Congrats on making the old new again.

  2. An interesting consequence of such elves is that fighting them would be a complete nightmare. Not only can they raise a massive army with vast experience and knowledge of tactics at moments notice, but war elves would fight with suicidal abandon.
    Whenever an elf would be birthing for war, they would definitely leave one "original" offspring in the safety of a fortress, while the rest of "war" offsprings would march to battle. They would fight knowing two things: a) They cannot truly die, as their memories will live on through the original sibling, as long as they can keep the elven fortress safe. Therefore, they would do absolutely anything to protect their fortresses. And b) Even if they survive the battle, they will not be able to go back. War elves would always be killed eventually, otherwise the elven population would grow rapidly and uncontrollably. Therefore, they wouldn't fear death in the slightest, many probably preferring dying in the heat of battle than to be executed after they return home victorious. A battle with 90% losses on both sides would be a great victory for elves, as their enemies will take a huge hit and they don't need to kill off their heroes.
    And if that wasn't enough, you wouldn't be able to bring down a war elf and make her a liability to her allies in the same vein as you can injure a human soldier and make him drain the resources of his army. Unless you outright kill and elf, or injure her enough that she'll be unable to give birth, she will very soon have a new body. Elven army would have first aid, but no hospitals - and permanently crippling injuries would be less of a problem than stomach injuries.

    1. Usually when I see a long comment I get a bit worried, because they're usually not by people who get the gist of the post, but I have to say, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Fear the elves.

  3. Fantastic, very creative and though provoking, really looking forward to your next post!

  4. So elven daughters need a lot of energy to grow so quickly? I was definitely expecting the next sentence to explain the willing cannibalization of the mother by the child. Totally misread the tone.