Game of Realms
Realm & Rulership
Once the masters of the World, the Elves have been reduced to vagabonds and wanderers, the mournful descendants of their broken Empire. Arrogant, decadent, and cruel, Elves are still masters of the magical arts, but lack the discipline and organization to re-conquer all that their former slaves, the Sons of Men, have taken from them. What few Elves still remain are distrusted by all and treated as outcasts rather than Kings - their legendary immortality now a curse, they wander through the ruins of the World their elders made, watching them crumble and waiting to die. The remnants of the great Elvish nations can still be seen, borne out in each elves' skin tone: White in the oldest families, who ruled in the cold Northlands; Brown for those born to the Lords of the wood; and Green for the coastal families who once mapped the great Seas.
The most beautiful of all the Children of the World, Elves are tall beings, lithe and graceful, with slight frames and long, delicate fingers. Never renowned for their physical strength, Elves are fair and frail, yet possessed of keen minds. No other race can match the Elves in intellect, and only the bird-boned Aracoix are their equal in speed and agility. Born in the Age of Twilight, that dimly remembered time before the kindling of the Sun, Elves can see quite clearly even in the dimmest light, and their large, haunting eyes are as keen as any cat's. Elves' pointed ears are instantly recognizable, and grant them superior hearing.
Though the distinction is lost on most other races, three distinct types of Elves have emerged over their long history. Only the wisest Human mages have learned the names of the Elvish peoples, though to Elves the distinctions are painfully distinct. The Dar Khelegur, or 'High Ice Lords' in the old speech, dwelt of old in the frozen mountains of the North and founded the Deathless Empire. Their fair skin is as white as alabaster, white as the snows of their homelands. Tallest of the Elves, the Dar Khelegur are known for their mastery of magic and their limitless cruelty. The second Elvish race call themselves the Gwaridorn, 'Masters of the Sea,' and in their skin the green of the seas can faintly be seen. Of old they dwelt by the shores of the great Western Sea and built mighty ships, and were the strongest of the Elves in battle. Last of the Elvish peoples are the Twathedilion, the 'Elves of the Forest,' whose faces are touched with the brown of the trees of their homelands. Stealthiest of all the Elvenfolk, the Twathedilion are also their greatest artists, and are known for their mastery of the bow.
The first Elves were born before the creation of Time, and are thus immortal, though few of these Firstborn have survived the tumult of the Ages unto the dark present. Every Elf born since the beginning of the Age of Days was born mortal, although their lifespans measure many centuries. Of all the peoples of the World, the Elves have had most cause to accept the Turning, for with it their immortality has been restored. They greatly resent, however, that in this dark age they must share their immortality with the lesser races of the World.
Most Elves believe that they are the most perfect of the Children of the World, and their arrogance knows no bounds. The Elves remember that they were the first to walk beneath the twilight, and try to ensure that no other race can forget it. Every Elf regards their culture and civilization as naturally superior, having matured for millennia before the other races were even born. Elves are creatures of passion, and tend towards the extreme in everything they do. Elvish songs are almost hypnotic in their intensity, their revels are unrestrained, their loves fierce, and their wars are grim and terrible. Lovers of wine, starlight, and music, Elves appreciate all forms of art, though their tastes tend toward the decadent.
The Twilight Kingdom once reached a pinnacle of refinement and advancement, but the Ages since have seen Elvish society grow corrupt and cruel. Grotesque magical experiments, torture, and debauchery became commonplace. Assured of their innate superiority to all of the so-called "Lesser Races," the Elves have, over the course of their long history, enslaved many and fought bitter wars of extermination against the rest. The grim outcome of the War of the Tears has fueled the resentment of the Elves even further, and most Elves today are bitter and spiteful.
Once the undisputed masters of the World, the Elves built mighty cities of alabaster, silver, and crystal, or dwelt in hidden glades at the heart of the great forests. Now their glorious towers have all been shattered or pulled down, and the forests dwindle as the kingdoms of Men expand. Their numbers decimated in the War of Tears, what few Elves remain are prone to melancholy, and wander as outcasts in the wild, far from the eyes of Men. The Sons of Men remain implacable in their suspicion and hatred of all Elves, and the Temple of the Cleansing Flame has proclaimed a perpetual crusade against all of Elvish blood. Their long lifespans and immortal beginnings leave most Elves unconcerned about the problems of the present or the immediate future, and Elves seem therefore easily distracted, lacking the focus to carry a project or an idea through to completion. Once an Elf becomes convinced of a course of action, however, their pride gives rise to an implacable resolve.
In the wake of the War of Tears, some Elves have been consumed with hatred for the Sons of Men, and are marshalling their forces for a renewal of that bitter conflict. Others, more fatalistic in their view, mourn the loss of their great empire and have decided that it is far better to outlive their enemies than engage them. Many of the oldest Elves have withdrawn from even Elvish company, vanishing into the wilds. Their destination and their plans, if any, remain a mystery.
"I greet you, Children of Twilight, all of you who have come so far and gathered here beneath the stars to hear my words. It stirs my heart to see so many young ones, for I have witnessed three great cullings of our people, when the flower of Elvenkind's youth was slaughtered, and it seemed all our race was doomed to death. Many of you are too young to remember much of the glorious history of our kind, and few chronicles of that lore remain. Why should we, the Elves, ever write our history down, we who are blessed to live through so much of its great span, and doomed to always remember it?
It is the cruel whim of Fate that the Deathless Empire was cast down, that so many of the old and wise were killed, and their wisdom lost to the young forever. The Sons of Men write great volumes of history, but do not believe them. It is the doom of Men that they forget, and their chroniclers compile only rumors, legends, and half-remembered tales. I am Teldaniel Thilandrae, son of the grandson of one of the glorious Sidhe. I was birthed in the Age of Twilight, during the great glory of our people. I shall recount for you now the long history of the Firstborn, a history I myself have witnessed firsthand. Listen and remember, for I shall only say it once.
Elvish history is a complicated dance of achievement and loss, tragedy and triumph. Most of the World's civilized folk have grown mightier over the long march of the Ages, but we Firstborn have waned in power, and now our civilization is little more than a shadow of its former self. Indeed, the great Loremaster Tophalion once wrote "the true extent of Elvish greatness can only be measured by understanding what the Elves have lost." He was a dear friend and colleague of mine for centuries, and alas, he proved himself correct when I saw a so-called "Champion of Virtue" dash Tophalion's head against the walls of Kierhaven. We Elves take great pride in our knowledge of ancient lore and Ages past, for we the greatest of all historians. The oldest of us have memories that stretch back five thousand years and more with perfect clarity: what other "historian" would dare dispute us?
The first Elves, the great Sidhe of legend, were born of Braialla just after the flowering of the World. Fierce and fair, they were nearly as powerful as the Gods themselves, and all the race of Elvenkind sprang from them. The Sidhe and their children reveled long in the mingled light of the two moons, and wrought the Kingdom of Twilight, remembered in Song and Legend as a realm of unsurpassed tranquility and beauty. The Gods themselves dwelt with the Elves in that bygone Age, and taught the Firstborn much lore, skill, and wisdom. Volliandra taught the Sidhe to sing and love music, and Saedron revealed the ways of magic to the wisest. Malog taught the Sidhe skill at arms and the arts of War, and they quickly learned Kenaryn's love of the bow and the deep forest. The mother of the Sidhe taught them the lore and love of growing things, and the Elves were content to live in their paradise. Only two of the Gods, Thurin and the All-Father Himself, remained strangers to the Twilight Kingdom, and from them the Sidhe learned little. Many tales of that glorious Age survive, describing the fabulous cities that grew in the Kingdom of Twilight, with towers of alabaster and crystal taller than the trees. I recall the sight of those cities, more wondrous than any tale of words can ever describe. There was as yet no concept of Time in that sunless, bygone World: only peace, beauty, and splendor, mingled all together and suspended in eternity. The Elves were born in the fullness of their power, and wrought the greatest realm the World has ever known. It would not last.
The Kingdom of Twilight is gone now, swept away by the tides of Time and Terror. It died in chaos, pain, and fire when the Dragon, Terror of Terrors, awoke from its slumber deep within Aerynth, and thrashed within its stony prison, shaking the World as it clawed its way free. Tremors shattered the glittering cities, and Gilliandor, first of all the Sidhe, died in that cataclysm. Countless Sidhe and lesser Elves died with him. But this calamity was only the prelude of the disaster to come. For the Dragon emerged in fury from the deeps, and all the hosts of the Twilight Kingdom marshaled against the Terror to slay it and win their vengeance. But all was for naught: for the Warriors and Magi of the Twilight Kingdom, the greatest the World has ever known, were swept away in the briefest instant by the Dragon's fury. The beast held even the Gods at bay, and the fire of its hellish breath consumed the Golden Moon, transforming it into the Sun, ending the glorious Twilight forever. At last the might of Kenaryn and the All-Father drove the Dragon back into its lair, and the Elves that had survived were left to mourn all that they had lost. I was fortunate enough to be among them. Was it good fortune? Some years it is hard for me to say. In any case, the Age of Twilight had ended, and the Age of Dawn had begun.
Students and scholars of the Lowborn Races often question the existence of the Age of Dawn, dismissing it as fiction: an Elvish invention. Nonsense! The Sons of Men, in their arrogance, dismiss all that happened before their births and the beginning of Time as one great Age, but we Elves have always known better. Who are the Loremasters of Men or Centaurs to dispute the Elvish reckoning of Ages, when the oldest among them cannot even recall the fury of the Dragon, or the blistering light of the newborn Sun? The World had changed forever, and even the Gods were mourning one of their own, for Volliandra had died in agony when her palace on the Golden Moon was destroyed. The Kingdom of Twilight was no more, and soon most of Elvenkind fled its ruined boundaries seeking new homes, far from the hateful Sun. Some say that our race never recovered from the calamity that ended its first age.
The Age of Dawn was as trying for the Elves as the Age of Twilight had been glorious. The Dragon had fallen, but the First King of the Elves and all his sons were slain, along with many of the greatest minds and artists the World shall ever know. Our race itself was not what it had been. Where once there had been one Elvish people and one kingdom, in the Dragon's wake Elf Lords debated and feuded over the First King's succession, and the Elvish people were shattered as tragically as their great cities had before them. During the Long Parting the Elvish race divided into four great nations, and reunion seemed impossible. Finally, the great Elf Lord Sillestor, King of the Dar Khelegur, waged a great campaign of conquest against his cousins, and founded a new realm that came to be known as the Deathless Empire. Sillestor decreed that his dominion should regain and even surpass the splendor of the Kingdom of Twilight, and all Elves strove to drown the griefs of the past with new wonders and diversions.
Elvish Magi reached out into the Void, calling Elemental Spirits and other things to help build new cities, more splendid and ornate than those lost to the Dragon. Many arcane secrets did they pry from the strange entities that lurk beyond the boundaries of our World. In time, the opulence of the Deathless Empire matched the grandeur of the Twilight Kingdom, though the hearts of the Elves were hardened by memories of the Dragon, and in time we grew bitter and spiteful.
As the Age of Dawn progressed, Emperor Sillestor and the mightiest Elflords began to resent the meddling of the Gods, and the Wandering God in particular. It was the All-Father's bumbling, they reasoned, that roused the Dragon from sleep to slaughter, and even His solemn word and Thurin's mighty sword were slim assurances that the Terror would not come again. Despite His best efforts, the All-Father failed to quench the fires of the Sun, which threatened to scorch the entire World into one great desert, as they had scorched the Burning Lands. The greatest Elves began to turn away from the Gods altogether, and soon found new Patrons to ask for guidance. The Beast Lords, they were called, mighty entities from beyond the Void who granted great boons to the wisest of our people, and driving tangled bargains to divulge the deepest mysteries of Magic and Arcane Lore. Well do I remember the excitement of that time, when learning and knowledge ran unrestrained, reaching dizzying new heights, and powers undreamed of came into our grasp.
It was then that we learned at last that we were not the children of the All-Father at all. Elvenkind was born of Jackal the Trickster, craftiest of the Beast Lords, who had taken the Wanderer's shape and semblance and so begot the Sidhe upon Braialla. The Elves rejoiced at the knowledge, and resented the deception we had lived under for so long. So began the Great Enlightenment, when the masters of the Deathless Empire pulled down the temples of the All-Father and we began to steer our own destiny, free of the meddling or influence of the so-called Gods of the lesser races. Here is the darkest tragedy of all: had we been allowed to follow our enlightened road to its end, we would doubtless have become Gods ourselves. But it was not to be. Our birthright was stolen from us. The other Children of the World, still blinded by the deceptions of the Gods, looked upon our actions as vile and black, and called them Treason. Who among that rabble was ever worthy to judge our vision?
It was the Centaurs, blinded by their outdated conceptions of Duty and Honor, who threw down the gauntlet for their beloved All-Father, and soon the Elves were at war with Kenaryn's children. There were, as yet, no Humans in the World, or else they would doubtless have fought us as well. The Deathless Empire was strong beyond measuring, and we easily defeated the armies of the Horse Lords. Finally the Gods themselves entered the fray, when the All-Father and Kenaryn stood against the power of the incarnated Beast Lords, who our greatest Magi called to Aerynth in time of need. The All-Father brought with Him a host of Archons, and in the end won out over our greatest through sheer weight of numbers. Thurin the Shaper slew Sillestor, and then cravenly took back the sword Shadowbane, which he had freely given to the King as a defense against the Dragon. So ended the conflict the Loremasters of the Lesser Races call the Taming, when the power of the Beast Lords was cowed, but not broken.
The All-Father demanded that the Firstborn return to the paths of "righteousness," and there were some in the Deathless Empire who regretted the excesses of the past. They returned to the All-Father's worship, building a new Church to honor Him. Most Elves, however, were content to say or do anything so that the meddling Wanderer God would simply leave us in peace. A new dynasty was founded, and the Deathless Empire endured in peace until the ending of the Age of Dawn, when Time began. The shame of the Taming was difficult for us to endure, but the trials of the Age to come would prove far worse.
The Age of Days (the scholars of Men and Elves do manage to agree, at least, on the name of the new Age when Time began) was an era of endless conflict and war for our people. The Giants, first children of the All-Father, expanded into the icy North, claiming the lands of the Dar Khelegur as their own. The war that followed was brutal but brief, and finally the Magi of the North cursed the Giants, breaking their power and ruining the future of their race. Shortly after, our kind first met the Dwarves, Thurin's children, who came to the Deathless Empire seeking the strange artifacts known as Runestones. We were glad to trade the baubles for secrets of stone and metal craft, and for a time Elves and Dwarves lived together in friendship, until the greatest Magi discovered how to tap into the Runestones' tremendous power. The simple Dwarves, too greedy to share this newfound power, still demanded that the treasures be given over, and refused to listen to reason. War quickly followed. At the height of the conflict, a crazed Dwarf actually managed to abduct Lilliandra the Fair, one of the last of the Sidhe, who all Elves still revere as the source of beauty and the mistress of love. The vile Dwarves tried to keep Lilliandra as their hostage, but the Deathless Empire's retribution was so terrible that the Dwarves gave up their prisoner, sealed their realms, and would not emerge from them again until the Turning.
Another great evil that was visited upon our people in the Age of Days, and though it came no from war or strife it was the cruelest cut of all. The All-Father, unable to quench the wyrmsfire still burning on the Golden Moon, created Time so that the Sun might move, that the World might be saved from the Sun's dreadful heat. As ever, the Wanderer was short-sighted in his vision! I can recall the jarring moment when Time started, when the infinite possibility of every instant was frozen into a bleak succession of seconds, marching relentlessly, painfully forward. Those born after the Great Change will never understand everything we lost when the First Moment ended, when the magical eternity of our lives was suddenly enslaved, yoked with tedium and mundanity. Indeed, the Dwarves and Centaurs were too dull witted to even perceive much of a difference. What was it like before Time? Glorious and wonderful, and that is all the description I can give you. The beginning of Time had another effect upon our race, however, that stirred our hearts with rage. Every Elvish child born to the new Age was born mortal, a slave of Time. Though it took them many centuries to reach their end, our children began to wither with age and die. When Time began, Elvenkind was robbed of eternity. Once again, the All-Father had wronged us. At the Turning we were finally avenged.
Even as the War of the Stones reached its end, we Elves finally met the "true" children of the All-Father, the Men of Ardan, and relations between the two mighty peoples quickly became strained. The Humans were all too glad to bear the grudge of the so-called Great Betrayal and the Taming, events that happened long before the first Man was ever fashioned. The arrogance of the Ardani provoked the Wars of Spite, and for centuries the first great realm of Humanity hid behind the power of the Titans and the All-Father Himself, attacking and raiding the Deathless Empire with impunity. Finally, the All-Father departed from Aerynth on another vain quest, and the Firstborn were quick to strike, taking our vengeance and removing the threat to our glory forever. Or so we were wont to believe.
The greatest Magi of the Deathless Empire unleashed the Blood Curse upon the Men of Ardan. Many of the Titans died in blinding agony, and the Sons of Men were consumed with madness, and quickly became mindless savages. After all of the affronts, assaults, and atrocities of the Wars of Spite, it was a fitting end for our foes and a glorious victory for our people. Some, however, were dismayed at Man's plight, for indeed the Curse had worked too well. It was decided that Mankind should be brought under our dominion, before they died in ignorance and savagery. Thus the Deathless Empire enslaved the pitiful remnants of Humanity, and many found it only right and just that the World's usurpers should learn their rightful place, and serve Aerynth's true masters. As the Wanderer's meddling had enslaved our children to the tyranny of Time, so we enslaved His.
In time, the Humans recovered their faculties, and through treachery and deceit managed to escape from bondage. A handful of them fled to the Vast Plains, where the huddled remnants of the Centaurs quickly taught them to hate us, and to fight us. The vengeance of the Firstborn would have been swift and final, but the attentions of the Deathless Empire were just then drawn to the Burning Lands, where the last Elvish nation, the Children of the Sun who had never joined in the Deathless Empire's glory, had just transformed themselves into hideous mockeries of Elvish perfection. The true extent of their madness and treachery was then revealed, for they declared their intention to rouse the Dragon and destroy the entire World. For their treason, the Khalinviri were renamed Irekei, or "outcasts," and our people unleashed the War of Flames against them. For generations we decimated the hideous traitors, and much of the World was ravaged. But on the eve of their total defeat, the Irekei worked one last treachery. An Irekei Wizard opened the Chaos Gate, and the hateful hordes of Chaos were quick to invade, and in the war that followed the World was nearly destroyed.
All of the World's Children lament the War of the Scourge, but it was the Elves who suffered the most grievous losses. Never doubt it, and never forget it. I saw that hideous War, and though at times the horror of it made me beg for death, I was fortunate enough to survive. When the dread onslaught began, the Deathless Empire was shaken to its core. Many cities were destroyed or tainted by the foul invaders, and Elves died on a scale undreamed of since the Dragon rose. Our dire need led us to deeds I would have never thought possible. Elves, Centaurs, Giants, and even the Sons of Men came together. I know it seems an impossible roster of allies, but we saw the World's great need, and were able to graciously put aside the wrongs the other Children of the World had done to us. We led them in the Grand Alliance, fighting side by side against the power of the Dark Lords. But even with our strengths united, the battle against Chaos went poorly. Thurin's Blade returned into the World from its long exile, but when Sillestor's rightful heir tried to take back her birthright she was destroyed by Chaos, and the jealous Sons of Men nearly sundered the Alliance. Finally the All-Father descended into the World with his host of Archons for a second time, and drove the invaders back once and for all.
The rest of the Age of Days (which the Sons of men, in their pride, call the Age of Kings) was a time of cautious hope, but in the end our people found only ruin and despair. A new dynasty took control of the Deathless Empire, founding the Hidden Court in the depths of the last uncorrupted forests. For a brief span peace endured between Elves and Men, and trade even sprang up between the Deathless Empire and the fledgling Human Realm of Ethyria. The short-sighted Humans quickly fell to feuding, and Ethyria splintered into a rabble of smaller realms, but the peace with our kind continued. For centuries it seemed as if the Grand Alliance might endure forever, but no one could foresee the dark times that lay ahead.
When Humanity began to encroach upon the Elvish lands, building new towns in the sparsely populated woods at the edge of our Empire, the lords of the Hidden Court swallowed their pride and did nothing. When a Human madman opened the Chaos Gate a second time, allowing Morloch and the Twisted Breeds to escape into Aerynth, the lords of the hidden Court said nothing. But when, at a great feast celebrating the thousandth anniversary of the Grand Alliance, Konrad the Human King of Alvaetia insulted the honor of the Elvish race in the midst of his boastful toast, the patience of the Elves finally reached its end. The Grand Alliance crumbled, the Hidden Court expelled the Humans from its borders, and the Men of the Ten Kingdoms responded with bloody raids and slaughter. Valdimanthor, King of the Hidden Court, roused the Elvish Host a final time, and the War of Tears was joined.
I can remember the Twilight Kingdom, and Sillestor's glorious Empire that came afterward, and endured the Taming to finally fight the Hosts of Chaos. The power of each of these great realms was diminished from the heights of its predecessor, and the power of the Hidden Court was least of all. But do not think that just because the power of the Gods was no longer ours, that the Elves of the Age of Days were weak. Far from it, even in our waning days we were more than a match for the Human rabble and their Ten Kingdoms. Victory was ours, and if the cruel hand of fate had not intervened, our Empire would endure still.
As battle followed upon battle, atrocity upon atrocity, King Valdimanthor became consumed with hatred for the Sons of Men, and repented the weakness of Kings past that had led them to take pity on Mankind in Ages past and allow them to live as slaves. The error of the Age of Days would be undone: Valdimanthor vowed to exterminate Mankind outright. After Konrad the Boasting King was slain, the Elvish hosts withdrew to the depths of the forests and prepared for the final stroke, gathering strength for the last battle. Valdimanthor renewed the ancient pacts with the Minotaurs, and with their strength the armies of the Court became unstoppable. Cambruin, young upstart King of the reunited realms of Men, sent heralds to Valdimanthor asking for the return of lands lost in the War of Tears, unaware that the war was not yet over. The Elfking repaid past insults with new affronts, and goaded the so-called High King into a deadly trap. For two years Valdimanthor's armies ravaged the lands of Men, and even the High King and his Champions could not stem the tide of Elvish vengeance.
Everything changed when Shadowbane was delivered to the High King upon the field of Rennelind. There Cambruin slew Valdimanthor in single combat, and the last great kingdom of the Elves died with him.
With the Kingslayer in his hand, Cambruin was invincible. And so the Sword of Destiny, forged for an Elvish hand, was bathed to the hilts in a river of Elvish blood. Defeat and ruin fell upon our great cities one by one, and countless works of art and wisdom were destroyed. Entire libraries were consumed by fire, and ancient Elves brutally slain by the Human marauders, the light and wisdom of their memories snuffed out forever. The last vestiges of the Twilight Kingdom died, and our world became a pit of barbarism and savagery. In despair, we sued for peace, but Cambruin's thirst for blood and plunder was not sated until the last bastions were broken at Kierhaven. With that hateful battle's ending Cambruin himself was slain. But even in the death of our dreaded enemy we Elves could take no comfort, for the death of the Deathless Empire broke Braialla's heart, and her grief shattered the World itself. So began the Turning, and the Age of Strife.
Now we Elves are few in number, scattered among the fragments of the World by the winds of war and disaster. Hate still burns unabated in the hearts of Men, and what few of our kind remain have been locked in a constant struggle for survival. A few great Elflords endure, but none to date have tried to unite the stragglers and try and forge a new kingdom. Indeed, it has only been a few decades since our Magi unraveled the secrets of the Runegates, and the scattered refugees of the Hidden Court could at last be reunited. It is only through their labors that you are here now, listening and learning. Rumor has it that in recent years large groups of Elves have begun congregating at the ruins of the great city of Diveryand, talking of glories past and vengeance yet to come. Here my history ends, and to you I give the gift of knowledge, to guide the present and shape the unborn Future. The Elvish race has lost more than can ever be reckoned, but we have never forgotten who we are.
We are the Highborn, we walk through eternity. We still recall the fixed and glimmering stars, in that first Twilight before Time and Fire and Fear and Death. The meddling of Men and Gods has broken all the beauty that we wrought, and stolen the glory and power that is ours by right. But we have not been idle, and our memories are long. Where now are the Gods who humbled us of old and denied us our destiny? Where now is the invincible High King who tried so hard to destroy us? Verily, long has been the Winter of our shame, but in time, soon perhaps, Spring shall come...