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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Denizens of Finiens: Elves

At Finiens's dawn, after the Lost War, there were no Elves.

The Aspects forged the first races from the dust of the earth after the Schism, but long, long predating them, eons so in fact, the Elves came to be. There is no recording where they began, save to assume they were born at the beginning of creation. For at that time, the Elves were among the greatest of the Fey, and once ruled as a Court of their own in the realm of FaeReie, dwelling in the Infinite Forest of Sentara, which has existed since time began.

Most Elves do not call themselves "Elves", even amongst other races. Rather, they call themselves tuatha dé Danann, "the children of the Grand Queen Danu". In their height, the tuatha were among the greatest of the Fey Courts, and their queen Danu as mighty as her counterparts - Ophelia, queen of Winter; Miranda, queen of Summer; and Cernunnos, lord of the Wyld. The name "Elves" was concocted by the first mortal creatures to encounter the tuatha, the Kobolds; the name was initially rejected, but when the weaker, devolved, mortal members of their race began to appear in greater and greater numbers, the dwindling number of remaining true tuatha assigned this title to them.

Little is known of what exactly occurred with the tuatha in the end, or why they were cast from FaeReie. There is no written record of it - at least available to outsiders - and the Elves refuse to speak of it. Several theories have been presented though. Some say Danu managed to anger Miranda and Ophelia enough that Summer and Winter united against her. Some say that when the time came for the Queens of FaeReie to abdicate to their successors, as Miranda did to her daughter Titania and Ophelia to her daughter Mab, Danu refused to yield her throne to her own heir, Amaerallae, who later perished then was elevated to a position among the Avatars. Some say she and her people were defeated in a grand battle by their ancient enemies, the Fomor, who now stalk the dark pathways, deep seas, and endless voids between worlds in FaeReie. And some say the tuatha – or perhaps just a small faction within their number – had attempted to make contact with their predecessors in exile, the banished Lost Court of The World's Shadow, for either power and alliance or in a misguided attempt at redemption.

Whatever the cause, the tuatha were driven, all but a very few who were swiftly integrated into the other courts, onto Finiens from their homeland. Across the border of the Between, their grand forest of Sentara was shunted into the woodlands of eastern Stormwind. Cut off from the life of their homeland, the ravages of time took their toll on the tuatha, stripping their timeless nature down to a dreadfully-short (for them, though immensely long to most of Finiens's other denizens) mortality. In time, all that remained – save a dwindling few exceptions – were the Elves known today. They are now a race in decline, looking back on the eons of their once-ascended status, an ancient, wizened, and learned people watching over a world filled with young, growing, rising cultures.

They are not, however, a people who have given up. Even in their new, lowly status, the Elves have sworn to retain or regain prominence, if not in their original home then in this new realm in which they now must reside in exile. Sentara, cut off from FaeReie and exiled with its masters, now exists in seclusion deep within the woodlands of northern Stormwind, preserving Elven culture and, if rumor and legend be true, housing Danu herself - still alive, still possessed of some or all of her once-Queenly power and majesty, or so the few remaining tuatha claim - at its deepest heart, the hidden city of Abartach. Other clans, separated by the ravages of time, nature, and the Children of Perdition, roam strange new lands. A tribal sect of their kind, the Painted Elves, live a nomadic life in the sands of Denvushain, having once raised a sand kingdom of their own in times past, only for it to fade into dust like the Leoni before it, and many of their people are prominent and influential in the mingled-race regency that followed. To the north, in the evergreen Frozen Forest of the eastern Ice Claw, live the Frost Elves in their magnificent cities of ice and crystal glass.

Elves are, despite their troubles, an adaptive species. Though they strongly prefer the woodlands of their ancient home, Elves are capable of surviving in nearly any climate, and their fey nature allows them to adapt in more ways than one to the region they make their home in as short a time as a few decades, manifesting most noticeably in a change of their overall physical coloration. An Elf who dwells in woodlands or temperate plains will usually have skin the hue of pale wood and hair of earthy brown, gold, or green; however, should she relocate to a warm, dry region, her skin will darken, taking on the browns or reds of the Painted Elves, while her hair darkens to red, black, or rocky brown-grey. An Elf in tundra's skin turns pale, almost snow-white, and their hair becomes white-blonde, silver, grey, or one of many shades of blue. An island-dwelling Elf gains bronze skin and metallic brass or golden or pale green hair. Though exceptionally rare, Elves who choose to dwell in subterranean environs – within caverns, tunnels, mines, or other such underground demesnes – take on gemstone hues, obsidian-dark skin and pale hair in diamond white, topaz blonde, or ruby red. This metamorphosis is more than just changes of shade, however; their physique and physiology changes just as swiftly, adjusting their biology, their muscle mass, and their internal processes to best survive in whatever climate they find themselves in. The change is slow enough that sudden extremes can still drive an Elf to danger from exposure, so this ability is hardly protection against the fury of the elements, and more a simple biological imperative for comfort wherever an Elf chooses (or is forced) to reside.

Not all Elves have been willing to accept their exile and look to the future of their people, however. History reports at least one large segment of Sentara's population attempted to return to FaeReie, whether to reclaim their place as the tuatha or to carve out new lives for themselves in the land of wonders, or for reasons at which scholars – Elven and otherwise – can only guess. FaeReie, however, remembered their crimes in times past and executed swift judgement upon the infiltrators. These Elves were twisted, changed and malformed, many taking on alien or monstrous traits and scattering to the wilds, driven mad or horrified into seclusion by their new shapes. A large number of these wanderers, however, escaped with only minor and surprisingly consistent transformations: their forearms and lower legs transmuted into avian talons, birdlike wings grown from their backs, and their eyes enhanced to the precise vision of a raptor. These avianized Elves were then cast out of FaeReie en-masse, far from their homeland in Sentara, across the sea in Wachara in the mountains and forests of its southwestern lands. This new cousin-race of Elf-kind named themselves the Ael-Vari, and settled in the lands that would one day become the empire of Divus, where they crafted a new life and culture for themselves.

As for the Elves, other than occasional conflicts with neighboring Humans, Orcs, and Yuan-Ti, they have continued on their reclusive way and little more of their culture – what is left of it – has changed in the centuries since. And interacting with these species has led to encounters both hostile and friendly... and in some cases, more than friendly. Elves are capable of interbreeding with almost any other species whose physique is relatively similar to their own. This includes all three of the previously-mentioned species, Ael, the other races of the nagastrani – the original Naga and the cousin-races of the Yuan-Ti, the Rilkans and the Skarn – and even certain Goblinoid races, as well as fellow Material-dwelling feykin, such as the Glaistigs and Leanaí-Dubh. With the fey races and their Ael cousins, the offspring are usually full-blooded members of the mother's species, though sometimes bearing a few unusual traits of the father's; the exception to this rule is Ael, where the child of an Elven mother and Ael father will simply miscarry, while the inverse will produce a normal Ael egg. With the mortal races, however, the result is a blend of the races, a Half-Elf with traits of the other species. By and far, the most common Half-Elves are Half-Human; however Half-Orc and Half-Nagastrani (of at least three of the four subspecies) Half-Elves have been recorded. The Elves' fey nature is considered universally to blame, as many of these other species are not otherwise genetically compatible with one another without the aid of powerful magic.

Perhaps interestingly, Elves do not seem to be able to produce Half-Elves with Leoni, Fenrin, Gnolls, Ti'Larinn or other races of Lizardfolk, Tengu, or Children of Arachne, despite their basic humanoid shapes (or, in the case of Arachnes, their ability to transform into Human shape). And, like all other races, they are incapable of intimately interacting with Entomorphs due to their incompatible insectoid physiology. Half-Elves of all sorts will be elaborated on further in the future.

There is one further blight that has plagued their people in the time since their exile. Ever since their arrival on Finiens, a strange plague has tormented the Elven people. Its cause is unknown, its symptoms difficult to discern, and its cure nonexistent, at least for now. It has many names, the most common among them including "Cruel Madness", "The Lurking Traitor", and "Soul Plague"; however, by and far the most well-known epithet is "The Shadow Curse".

The most sinister effect of the Shadow Curse is its lack of visible symptoms. An infected or even simply carrying Elf displays no physical alterations, no visible deformities or mutations, and for all intents and purposes functions perfectly normally, save except the immense blessing that once the disease has taken root, its host is rendered completely infertile. There is no traditional illness, weakness, bodily malfunctions, or other traditional symptoms. The malady is, rather, nearly entirely mental. Over a course of time, from as quick as a few weeks to as long as several decades, the Elf undergoes a steady decay of their mental state, invariably beginning with their morality. Even the most goodhearted specimen will, within a short time after the infection takes root, turn into a psychopathic monster. Sadly, it is much, much later in the progress of the disease before logic, reasoning, planning, and other forms of mental aptitude are harmed, meaning that the Cursed Elf will have quite a long time to make use of their defunct moral compass while having full capacity of almost all their mental and physical capabilities. Cursed Elves, often operating incognito and keeping themselves well-hidden, as if aware that letting their Cursed state be discovered will put an end to their crime spree, proceed to do two things with their newfound state: cause as much chaos, harm, and sadness to Elven society (or, if incapable of that due to location or other situations, whichever civilization they find themselves in), and infect at least one other Elf or Elf-kin with the disease before they are noticed and neutralized.

Cursed Elves have no culture, no society, no hierarchy of their own. They are a feral, insane, chaotic subspecies, exemplifying the worst of disorder and disharmony, and are devoted to nothing but their own individual amoral id – there is no cult, no organization, no religion, and no unifying goal behind their actions. When they deign to work together, it is only under the mutual, innate understanding that at some point when it is convenient there will be backstabbing, and the self-confidence that each individual has the skill, intelligence, and remaining mental faculties to be the one to make the first move or to fend off the attack when it comes. The only positive note is that the disease strips fertility from the Elf at approximately the same time it destroys their morality, preventing Cursed Elves from creating progeny born with the infestation in their veins. In addition, Elven clerics have confirmed that something inherent in the Curse severs a portion of the soul from the body, allowing the immortal remnant of a Cursed Elf to pass on to an afterlife due its prior behavior and not damned by the immoral activity caused by the ravages of the Curse. It is, perhaps, this severing that causes the Curse to be incurable: all that remains of the person that Elf once was is its body, leaving nothing of its prior self to be truly restored. Resurrection and similar spells have variable chances of restoring the original personality after death, but many Elves are loathe to risk exposure to the Curse, even to restore a loved one lost to the plague of insanity.

The origin (and purpose, assuming there is one) of the Shadow Curse is unknown, though there are a few theories, mostly tying into the mysterious reason behind the exile of the tuatha in the first place. It could have been a plague used as a weapon in the war with the Fomor, a punishment crafted by the other Queens of FaeReie, or a side-effect of the illicit dealings with the Lost Court. Others theorize that due to the fey nature of the Elves, this is simply a reaction of being forced to adapt to living on Finiens, a biological immune-reaction of the Elves to their new environment, or of Finiens itself to the large-scale "invasion" of a fey species. However, this theory begs the question of why other fey and feykin creatures who have immigrated to Finiens, such as Gnomes, Glaistigs, and Leanaí-Dubh, do not suffer the effects of the Shadow Curse while Elves, Half-Elves (of all kinds), and Ael-Vari do. Interestingly, it is a closely-guarded secret whether a full tuatha can contract the Shadow Curse, or what would become of them if they did.

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