Friday, February 21, 2020

Crypt-Cities: The Greenherders.

Islands of Green in a Sea of Death

You wouldn't expect there to be much of a rapport between Nomads and Holt-Dwellers. Their borders were fluid yet haphazard and cause for tensions for centuries, and that was before the curse of the Awakened gripped the land, before your kind started shambling about and the soil started to die beneath their feet.

And for the most-part, no, they are not on very friendly terms.

But that didn't stop a handful of them from working together when the world began to die.

At first, it was just a couple of the Dwellers who were desperate to move to a healthier tract of forest. The old growth had been dying away, allowing the Nomads to expand their grazing territory. The green-wardens bought their way into a traveling band, who brought with them dozens of wagons laden with plant life. Pots, sacks, and entire troughs of rich, black earth housed hundreds of shoots, sprouts, saplings, and other young green lives desperately trying to grow. When the waste-wanderers dropped them off at their destination, they were given a few choice specimens in payment.

Over time, more nomads gave more holt-dwellers transportation and protection, particularly when an entire community was suddenly cut off from the rest of a forest by sudden natural or unnatural disaster. Some were small affairs, while others saw entire trees uprooted and safely replanted. Something of an understanding formed between the two peoples, and cultural exchange grew deeper.

It isn't entirely clear when the plants started walking themselves.

Maybe some of the old wood-shapers started to meddle in few fields of esoteric knowledge, or maybe they'd always had access to it.

What is known is that a few hundred years ago, the transitional grass belt became populated by mixed bands who herded both animal and plant. Simple words, lassos, and crooks were enough for the beasts, but it took a special kind of magic to coax a shrub into uprooting itself and squirming forward under direction on roots like so many clumsy, twisting legs.

Over time their art was honed and perfected. Soon, trees could drag themselves along by their roots. Before long, entire groves would walk or stumble at the lead of these Greenherders. They were far slower than draft animals, but comparatively implacable so long as they had water to store and good soil to root in at the end of a journey.

It was a natural conclusion of the process to weave them together. Roots not needed for movement were made to knit themselves together into vast meshes which could hold and bear the weight of good soil. Specialized roots bored deep into the earth to tap increasingly hard-to-find groundwater reservoirs. Over time this practice was strengthened until earth, stone, other plants, and even pools of water could be carried by these increasingly large agglomerations of flora.

They could even be inhabited.

Rather than subjecting them to the harsh wastes, the herders loaded their animals up onto a bed of animated earth before every major migration. The dead, human or beast, began to be buried amid those groves so that their every element could benefit their nascent ecosystems. Villages were built on the backs of those groaning forests, entire generations living and dying within view of a wasteland which they were almost able to separate themselves from entirely.

But as the earth continued to wither and resources stretched thin, the greenherders split up. Their bands ranged far and wide, each adapting to the strange and unique hardships of the region which they ultimately found themselves in, following the old paths known only to the Nomads. Roots dug deeper to pursue the fleeing water reserves. Vines as fine as hairs with fingers like cilia cling fiercely to soil for fear of losing a grain. People once at the forefront of a sociable, trans-cultural exchange have become reclusive and wary.

Now, it is vanishingly rare to see more than one or two of these walking green islands in a lifetime.

But when you do, it can be such a sight.

walking island by CoconutMilkyWay

Rot Blossoms

In their quest to become as resource-efficient as possible, a few more unorthodox innovations were made by the greenherders. Simply feeding the dead to the land is rather tame, after all- even if the idea is horrifying to the Awakened.

Their botanists hazarded to guess that a whole body could be made to benefit nature just as much as all its parts. So, they cautiously adapted plant life which could root itself directly in dead flesh without waiting for fungi and other decomposers to break it down first. A few relatively minor mishaps occurred in which calipers and pruning sheers became surgery implements and personal grooming tools, but before long the greenherders enjoyed hauntingly beautiful success.

Cropped from an image by Lora Zombie

A myriad of different plants were raised to grow from decaying flesh, but over time the umbrella term of "Rot Blossom" caught on and stuck. Normally innocuous elements of greenherder islands, Rot Blossoms have taken on quite a different character among the pained, raspy whispers of the Awakened worldwide.

You know them well, don't you? Bet you hate to hear someone confirm that all of the rumors are true, huh? Quit your knee-knocking and pay attention before you break a joint.

Yes, Rot Blossoms can infest the Awakened.

Your flesh may be animated, but it is most certainly decayed. And the slower rate at which you decay actually makes your kind an ideal bed for some of them. They can take root and lazily drain the nutrients from you until there is nothing left of a husk, unable to move as it overtakes your entire body in its sweetly sick tendrils, left to wait for some unlucky scavengers to happen upon you and start the whole cycle over.

Of course these aren't the ones to be feared. You can simply avoid their little boring seeds, or rip a sprout out long before it could suck you dry, resulting in minimal damage to your carcass.

No, you need to fear the ones with minds of their own. The ones released into the wastes by accident, never intended to be used on the Awakened- and therefore the ones without any well-known guards against them. The ones with the same walking-roots as the titanic green islands, but on a minute scale. The ones whose seeds can fly in on the wind, land on your shoulder, and then worm their way into your ear canal. It's just a few finger-widths of wriggling from there before they hit your rotten brain.

That's when the fun starts.

It can take over what little is left of your motor functions from there- subtly at first, of course. You'll think it's you deciding to go this way instead of that, or to lie down in the sun with your head tilted just so, despite never having done so before. But over time its control will grow more overt and difficult to resist without inflicting massive, potentially debilitating trauma upon your own skull.

By the time the first buds erupt from behind your death mask to bloom in the parched air, you'll be powerless to do anything about it.

If you're lucky, you'll have fallen for its intoxicating presence by then, and won't really mind.

What's that? 

Of course you will still be conscious.

Not even burning to ashes can fully kill you, so why would a little decomposer-turned-parasite?

With no heed given to the ever more agonizing pangs of the Need to find a crypt-city, it will lead you far astray. But it won't force you to do it alone, oh no. It knows an ambulatory host is better than a still one, and it has no use or interest in healthy, living bodies. So it will make you bring it to other Awakened, in order to grant its seeds to them. And other Awakened will come in search of you in turn, either to destroy you if they have the sense to, or to join you, damn that alluring reek.

There are tales of truly pungent flower beds tucked away in the ruins of the world; rumors of fallen crypt-cities overgrown with this aberration of nature.

Rot Farm Skeleton by Maciej Kuciara

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Records from the Court of the Smoldering King: Inis Fjall, a Camfeyn Setting.

The contents of these tablets were set in stone in the 1st year of the reign of Nöldra Iron-Ashed, the Smoldering King. Brightly may he reign.

The one who here puts runes to face and feda to corner is the púca named Gulba.

Let it be known that she serves loyally, and willingly.

Long were the King's travels above ground- far longer than for most fey-kind, and in particular for troll-folk. In this time, he learned much which he now desires to share with his formerly recalcitrant kin. For he is wise and compassionate despite the hardship his people have inflicted upon him, and he knows well how we languished under the rule of the capricious princeling.

The King, in his humility, wills it also that the full story of his ascension be made known- for too long have the nobles of the Unseelie Court of the Scintillating Gyre schemed, conspired, and blamed the deaths of their predecessors on unrelated forces.

The veracity of these facts is sworn to by Gulba the scribe, may her luck be taken from her elsewise.

Now begins a chronicle of the events leading up to and following the ascension of the Smoldering King.

Let it be known that the skógtroll named Nöldra was exiled from the Court of the Gyre 187 autumns ago this day as punishment for the deaths of 11 other fey, for which he was found responsible.

Let it be known that before his removal from the princedom, Nöldra was made to wear a shirt of mail forged from cold iron rings.

Let it be known that Nöldra was expected to die in exile, the cold iron shirt forever searing his flesh and denying him rest and regeneration.

Let it be known that the skógtroll now known as Nöldra Iron-Ashed did not die, and instead slew and deposed on this day Prince Dímaín the duine sídhe, last of his house.

Let it be known that this was done by way of a crown of cold iron, which burned the prince to ashes after he was deceived into donning it by the exile, who feigned supplication.

Let it be known that no soul in the court of Prince Dímaín lent aid to the dying prince as he ran screaming.

Let it be known that some among the late prince's courtiers laughed as he died.

Let it be known that Nöldra Iron-Ashed declared himself king, took up this crown once he had wrenched it from the princeling's scoured husk, and now wears it smoldering upon an unflinching brow.

Let it be known that King Nöldra Iron-Ashed now calls to his side Hallvardur the Many-Faced as his chief adviser and jester, as Prince Dímaín had done before.

Let it be known that Prince Dímaín's death mask has been cast and added to the collection of Hallvardur the Many-Faced.

Let it be known that King Nöldra Iron-Ashed now bestows upon the late Prince Dímaín the posthumous title of "Silver-Gilt", and that laughter returns to the courtiers of the Gyre, now louder.

Now ends the chronicle of the ascension of the Smoldering King.

Now begins his address to the fey of the Court of the Scintillating Gyre.

Troll King by Eoghan Kerrigan

"Know, O Beloved Ones, that I am not king by divine right. I am not king by rule of law. I am not king by vote or consent. I am king by seizure and bloodshed, as every ruler of this court has been since the mists first receded from the land. I have done nothing to earn your trust, or your obedience. I do not expect either. I do not expect to rule long, regardless.

So I will welcome your knives, if and when you brandish them against me.

I will welcome them, and then I will put you to a burning death.

For I am king, by strength of will and grim vision. And I will drag us all kicking and screaming into the light, lest what I have foreseen come to pass.

The world above these roots and burrows is changing. No doubt you have heard the rumors.

The selkies of the southern coast have made war upon the interloping jötnar of the broken tors, who have been pushed from their land by several flocks of sluagh from the west. The Seelie Court of the Pierced Hart has ceased all trooping, and has shut its silver gates after a recent hunting procession disturbed the cairns of several draugar.

Indeed, these events may sound like small news by themselves. But taken together, they reveal the imbalance we have been thrown into. These events and others have been plaguing our kind more and more regularly, and the need has come again to take stock of the world, and reckon the passage of time as mortals do.

For the manlings of Inis Fjall are also in a great hurry these seasons. I have heard the whispers in their homes, and seen the turmoil in their cities. I have watched them rip open the breast of the island with their tools, and I have watched them seize from it so many lumps of the killing-ore.

The humans are mining iron at an ever-greater pace.

Calm yourselves, Beloved Ones. This is not cause for fear, but cause for action.

We know not if this iron will remain cold, or if it may yet be worked to turn against their fellows. There is anger and resentment between the ones who are named Jarl. The lowland sowers of the earth look with a hungry gaze toward the hills of the red hideaways. The whale-roads bear strange ships to shore.

Our home is fast-approaching a turning point, and we will not survive if we choose to remain hidden. Look into my brow-stones and know the truth that I speak when I say that we may need to stand beside the mortals before the end.

Calm yourself, court of the Smoldering King! I command you to quiet! You forget yourselves.


I have ascended into the trackless wilds of my kin's genesis. The dwellers under root and rune have been casting their bones for seasons, yet only recently have they begun to portend doom. The arms of the Drummer are growing tired, His mallets heavy in his white-knuckled grip. Soon He Shall Rest, and with the end of his playing will come the Hunting Time.

You all know what will happen in the event that this comes to pass.

Emptiness and Silence will awaken.

I do not wish to break the pact that my people made at the Bleak Dawn. But I am king now, and a lord must also protect his subjects. I will do all that is in my power to avert this mighty doom before it reaches our people, and you will serve me in doing so. There is much to do, and Soon Skårl Shall Rest.

I summon now the heads of your clans and families, great and small, so that they may muster together here, and in sight of the throne which anchors us, talk of what is to come."

Now ends the address of Nöldra Iron-Ashed, the Smoldering King.

Now begins the First Mustering of the reign of Nöldra Iron-Ashed, the Smoldering King.

Copies of this and other pertinent chronicles shall be cast out to every distant hollow of the court of the Gyre, so that all may know the gravity and veracity of our lord's words.

It is the will of the Smoldering King to enumerate these and other events for the benefit of all fey-kind. The world of mortals is fast-changing, and we must be prepared lest the tide sweep us away.

For Soon Skårl Shall Rest.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Furt Digs Into Incursion: Halls of the Goblin King

Despite my anxiety toward OSR RPGs and my recent tendency to wilt in the face of choices with meaningful consequences in video games, I am no stranger to the genre which is about as close as you can get to a midpoint between those two: roguelikes.

Sparse in visuals, slow in pace, and startlingly sudden in killing your characters, these semi-randomized permadeath dungeon crawlers have been around for over forty years now. There are plenty of variations on the formula by now, but they generally share a few things in common: you wander through procedurally-generated dungeons in search of an important something on the bottom floor, and when you die you lose nearly everything.

I'd become at least dimly aware of their existence in the early 2000s thanks to video game pop-cultural osmosis, but I stayed far away from them because it all felt too obtuse and cumbersome for me. Also, I might have been turned off by my completely mistaken impression that the original Rogue was a semi-hard science fiction game.

It wasn't until I was beginning high school that I became interested in giving one a shot. Somehow, I completely stumbled past Rogue, Angband, Nethack, ADOM, and pretty much every other big-name roguelike on the internet with little more than a glance, and wound up picking a fairly obscure title as my first foray into the genre.

The bane of my mid teen years. And my eyeballs.

Incursion: Halls of the Goblin King, released in 2007, is unique among roguelikes for how heavily it is inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. Of course most roguelikes ever since the first have been inspired by D&D and other high fantasy sources to some degree, but (to my knowledge) only Incursion rips mechanics right out of the d20 3rd Edition ruleset.

You pick a species and class combination, choose feats, distribute skill points, and rely upon a whole bunch of simulated die rolls which use the six classic ability scores, plus the addition of a seventh Luck stat. This makes the game a bit more complex than the average roguelike, and even gives you an illusion of control- if you can survive the early levels long enough, you can start to get your own personal character build online.

Since 90% of my experience with D&D has been through building characters to fit concepts, I find that last part very enticing.

The importance of building one's character can lead to the same wonky imbalance as in D&D 3E, of course. Mundane and half-casting classes begin with survivability or some neat tricks, but quickly fall behind with the exception of rogues, who can get by on magic items and backstabs alone. While the game does a surprising job of mitigating the power of wizards, druids are mighty on such a terrifying scale that some guy even wrote a guide on doing literally anything with them and soloing the game handily.

Once inside of the miniature megadungeon, you're faced with many of the classic challenges: monsters, traps, hunger, and your fellow sapient adventurers, who may be friendly, hostile, or completely indifferent to your presence. An unseen town above the dungeon offers you a bit of respite, including an inn to rest at and a store to buy equipment from. You can even choose to retire a character to it permanently, in case you ever decide "screw it" and quit while you're ahead.

The caves are pitch black, and characters without dark or infravision will need a whole lot of torches or other light sources to see what they're doing. Health doesn't regenerate naturally, and sleeping in the dungeon eats through your food while leaving you open to ambush. Stealthy or invisible enemies are common, and it isn't unusual for something out-of-depth to get the jump on you very early in a run. Other than a scattering of eight potions in the first room of the first floor--five healing and three short-range teleports--nothing is guaranteed for you, and anything can be taken away by a successful disarm or sunder check.

Combining these aspects together gives Incursion a surprisingly foreboding, oppressive atmosphere for a game made entirely out of ASCII visuals. When you enter that first room, a text box describes to you the bloody remains of your fellow adventurers strewn about the floor, and you can rest assured that you will join them before long.

But until that time comes, you have the damp, cold solitude of the dungeon halls in which to contemplate how you'll handle your next messy, hectic clash with the dungeon's denizens. Detailed descriptions pop up with each new chamber you discover, giving glimpses into what this ancient mega-structure was once used for.

As with a lot of roguelikes, the plot is pretty bare-bones: you are one of many adventurers who has come to an out-of-the-way cave complex after hearing about an army amassing deep below ground. Your job is to descend to the lowest level of the dungeon and kill the eponymous Goblin King.

No, not that one.

Incursion makes up for this by having the beginnings of rich setting lore. Most of it is front-loaded in the descriptions of races and deities during character creation. The entries can be pieced together to illustrate the fantasy world of Theyra, which has already seen a lot of trouble, but is on the cusp of yet another nasty prophesy coming true. I really like a couple of the snippets of lore provided this way.

One of the gods of Theyra is a being known as Kysul, the Watcher Beneath the Waves. It is an unfathomably vast, tentacled consciousness from a doomed world, capable of shattering sanity with a glimpse of its true form and spawning countless aberrations upon the material plane by mere incident of its existence.

It is unknowable. It is terrifying. It is Lawful Good.

Kysul is a being of limitless, if alien, compassion, and it wants to protect the world which it has adopted as its own. It knows that its appearance is dreadful, and so it conceals itself to mortals, even its own clandestine clergy, which operates with all the trappings of a stereotypical cult but puts the utmost emphasis on ethical conduct, both with regards to doing its work, and with initiating its new members into Kysul's mysteries.

All of the tropes of cosmic, eldritch horror are neatly subverted in this big, slimy teddy bear of a god that just wants to make sure its home world's fate isn't shared by others. Theyra's backstory references some mages starting a war when they made pacts with horrors from beyond the pale. Perhaps Kysul has known their ilk before.

It's still thoroughly alien to the natural order of the game world, however, and both angels and demons count Kysul among their enemies. Lizardfolk, who have their own alien mindset in this world, regard it with some measure of respect and have been known to work alongside Kysul. It also appears to be fond of speaking in antiquated, flowery language, if its cleric intro is anything to go by.

"Seek now thine antediluvian progenitors that in sunken cities for eons have lain."

Another neat couple of details are about the playable orcs, because of course I had to insert my agenda into this article somehow.

The orcs of Theyra are peoples who are just throwing off the yoke of generic, villainous minionhood. They've been bred as stupid, burly slaves for centuries by demons and unscrupulous humans. But they recently initiated a slave revolt in Mohandi, an empire whose lands included the entrance to the goblin caves. The orc rebels freed all of the slaves in Mohandi, "good" races included, and now play a large role in the economy and politics of the formerly expansionist empire from within a number of anarchist communes. They've also developed their own gunpowder weapons, which is an accomplishment not even the technologically advanced but extremely hidebound dwarves of the setting can boast of.

The patron goddess of the orcs is Khasrach, who is also venerated by goblinoids goblin-speaking peoples. She is the Goddess of the Blood, and for good reason. She is fiercely protective of her children, as well as violent and demanding of blood sacrifice. Centuries of her peoples' debasement has twisted her into a vengeful and sometimes savage goddess. The bark she gives at the beginning of the game when you choose to play as one of her faithful pretty well illustrates her general mood:

"Smite now your slave-chains with the primal fire of my wrath!"

Khasrach is basically what you'd get if every orcish mother goddess dumped their chauvinist husband and then decided to help her people seize the means of production.

Presumably after hiring a couple of babysitters.

She isn't locked into this savagery, however. Her profile leaves open the question of whether or not enough change in the outlook of her people could transform her and bring her back to the more levelheaded, spiritual state of being she enjoyed in ancient times.

Recreation of the goddess is one aspect of an orcish cultural movement which seeks to rediscover the primeval society and values of their people, pure and free of influence from fiends or other species. This neo-tribal movement is currently vying for political dominance with the more cosmopolitan city orcs and stereotypical/traditionalist marauding orc hordes, and only time will tell who winds up on top and what that means for their people.

Or, actually, time won't tell. The game is actually sort of dead.

Surprise! This was actually a Things I Wish They Did More With post this whole time!

Development of Incursion slowed to a halt a few years after its first unfinished release, and it languished for a while until the creator finally admitted that they were doing other stuff and wouldn't be continuing the project. Fortunately they released the source code for the game, and someone else picked it up long enough in 2014 to patch some bugs up and convert the game to use libtcod instead of an outdated version of Allegro.

I have no idea what those last few words mean, but they feel important.

No one has stepped up to continue proper development of Incursion, though. The game's site has gone down and requires use of the Wayback Machine to access, the wiki is only partly filled out, and the Google Group used by its community hasn't seen any significant activity in the past two years as of this writing. The TVTropes page on the game, of all places, is the best source for information and download links today.

Incursion is effectively dead, and its envisioned full version, Return of the Forsaken, will likely never see realization.

Even so, I reinstalled the game a few days ago to take a couple of unsuccessful stabs at it. Being frozen in time with no end doesn't discourage me from playing as much as it would another game. It was a neat, odd idea that was executed with a lot of hiccups, and that's enough for me to appreciate. I can romp through and die every once in a while without too much worry.

I do wish the game could get a graphical tileset, though.

That little chump wrecked me, by the way.

Monday, February 10, 2020


Elves are just a fairy tale. Everyone knows that.

There are no little people living in holes in rocks, or beautiful flaxen people living in trees, or beautiful little flaxen people living in rocks in trees for that matter.

There are no elves.

Or at least, there weren't any. Not before they tried creating themselves.

No one knows who the original tribe of scavengers was, what they looked like, or what they called themselves. All that is known is that they were sick.

Sick of body, that is. They were diseased, wracked by horrible afflictions and conditions which ensured that they each died a painful, early death. Gelid bones snapped like twigs and pallid skin ripped like paper. Buboes wept across each frail, emaciated form. Every child born was mourned as if it was their funeral- and after a fashion, it was. Life was painful death.

Perhaps their homeland was contaminated. Perhaps a god was angry with them.

If any of them even remember, they aren't telling. It doesn't matter anymore.

What matters is that one day, they found a way to beat the hellish lot they'd been given.

Consummate surgeons as a matter of course, the wretched kin were no strangers to excision and amputation. But as these short-lived creatures honed their skills over the desperately scrambling generations, a strong undercurrent of grotesque and creative experimentation developed.

If there were only some way to unlock the true potential of their flesh, they could save their people.

Eventually, they discovered the truth. That their own flesh was irredeemable.

But the flesh of others, meanwhile...

The first grafting was done using spare parts from carcasses found in the wild. They were messy, unsuccessful affairs that ended in rejection and infection. But they sparked a desperate hope in their palpitating hearts and gave an extra glint to their knives. They honed their craft, catching live specimens for extensive study until they could determine ideal "donor" conditions.

At last, there was success. A mismatched paw grafted onto an arm's stump. It succumbed to the same diseases as the rest of its body in the end, but it deteriorated just slowly enough to give the cutters and slicers the last terrible inspiration they needed:

If enough fresh, spare parts could be kept on hand, they could be swapped out faster than they decayed. Skin, limbs, tissues, vital organs, all could be replaced. Longevity could be achieved.

The first of the truly grafted were frightening amalgamations of parts taken from whatever animals they could hunt. But they were looked upon with such hope and adoration. The plague burned slowly within them still, but it could be fought.

Life expectancy began to rise. It was a mere few weeks here and there, but that was enough to feel like a lifetime to the wretched kin. Many more of them flocked to be augmented, and the demand for spare parts steadily rose.

It wasn't long before they looked to other people as a source of parts. Those who had shunned and shunted out those anemic little creatures were now looked upon with a fascination bordering on hunger. They were a better fit, being humanoid. And while abnormality and asymmetry had been the norm for generations by that point, there was a certain aesthetic tickle to having healthier arms and legs than any of them had ever been born with.

The grafted ones stalked the wilds, hunting only the strongest and healthiest humanoids they could find at first, and harvesting them on the spot.

It wasn't long before their actions became known to the wider world, their vile handiwork chalked up to fey and capricious mythical creatures.

At first they were indifferent to their operations being attributed to cryptids. It made their jobs easier, if nothing else. But over time they grew coolly curious about these "Fair Folk" the donors kept screaming about. Curiosity turned to fascination as they pried more and more elaborate stories out alongside tissues.

These Fair Folk, these "Elves" as they called them, were as beautiful as they were frightening. They commanded the respect of the donors, and from the sound of it they lived to be centuries old, if indeed they ever died at all.

Such wonders were unimaginable to the wretched kin. They imagined what could be gained from finding these people and studying them. There were no secrets in their own flesh, but surely the tissues of the elves held the key to their future!

Unfortunately, try as they might they could not find any of these elves, let alone harvest them. No matter how deep into the uncharted and ancient wilds they crept, they could not be found.

Eventually it occurred to them that they truly did not exist.

But they did not let despair grip their freshly transplanted hearts. Doing the best they could with the dead meat of any given situation was in their nature. And so they turned the elf from an object of admiration, to an object of aspiration.

The grafted ones endeavored to become elves made flesh.

Of course, no two of these new "elves" completely agreed on what an elf should look like. Differing aesthetics resulted in highly individuated forms, each elf a patchwork of different parts fitted together into an uncanny whole.

Life expectancy surpassed their formerly wildest hopes and dreams, but that was no longer enough. Now, the long centuries were spent honing and fine-tuning. No longer was there a demand for mere healthy parts. Now they had to look and feel a certain way. They needed to be custom-fitted for any purpose.

In fairy tales, children are kidnapped from their cradles at night to live with the elves forever.

Now, in reality, this is technically true, depending on one's definition of "live" and "forever".

When a child is whisked away, they and any descendants they are made to have effectively become humanoid cattle, raised for the explicit purpose of being harvested for as many parts as possible.

How and when this happens depends on the purpose each donor is given. Some are given gilded cages and treated like pampered veal to keep their parts delicate and unblemished. Others are put through rigorous training regimens until they have reached their prime. Others still are given all manner of apparatuses and surgical "adjustments" to ensure that they grow into the desired shape and form, sometimes quite unnatural.

All are treated with the same care and borderline sacrosanct adoration, however. Not for the sum which they are, but for the parts of the whole and the potential lying in wait therein.

Perhaps it is best that most donors do not realize this, even as the knife is coming down.