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.
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