The Age of Awakening — The Division of the Elven Nation
In the very early times of our world, great giants proudly strode across the mountains and plains. These monsters of untold enchantment were the masters of all their far-seeing eyes could behold. They hunted the beasts of the forest and the sea. They took from Mother Beade as they pleased and gave little concern to questions of balance. They stood unchallenged for the most part as they worked the land with their archaic majicks and mighty fists. Reshaping the world to their often chaotic whim, the giants had carved out grand empires from the cold barrens of distant Noskalv to the humid jungles of southeastern Indrejan.
They were the undisputed rulers of Thrael. It had been many centuries since their ancestral foes, the dragynkin, had been more or less banished to the dark continent of Ziguran in the deep south. Few of the great lizards remained upon Thrael to stem the ambitions of the giants. Those dragyns who did manage to eke out small territories here and there made a ceaseless war against Thrael's newest kings and queens.
These were sad times for Mother Beade. Ever since the appearance of the dragyns, she'd endured eons of mass destruction. Valiant were her efforts to renew herself amidst the constant turmoil taking place upon the terra ferma. Every now and then, she would forge immense cataclysms to halt the tide of her own demise. The last Great Cataclysm of the Age of Beginnings had completely reshaped the landscape into the world we know today. This mythic event had done well to quell the savagery of the warring near immortals who dwelt upon her surface.
The appearance of the Fasul in the heavens had also worked to slow the approach of planet-wide Armageddon. The giants reluctantly took to the worship of Serene, Gond, Vaen and Maluk. In doing so, they edged toward a greater balance with Mother Beade. Even the scions of dragynkind who never openly recognized the sovereignty of these immortals, had tendered a tenuous peace with the planet out of a begrudging respect for entities even more powerful than themselves. Still, the combined transformative effects of these events weren't enough to truly tip the scales in Beade's favor.
Beade's surface had been turned into an epic battleground. Mountains crumbled beneath the angry footfalls of the enormous titans. Seas boiled from infernal dragynkin magicks. The forests blazed night and day, leaving her surface marked with the black scars of an eternal hatred. It was clear that the Mother was in dire peril. She could not sustain the increasing severity of the damage wrought her. The outlook was bleak indeed as the once lush and fertile planet rushed headlong into oblivion.
Up to this time, change had been wrought in grandstand strokes upon an equally broad canvas. Moments were measured in centuries. Whispers were as thunder. The scales with which all things were balanced were as immense as the universe itself. Who would have thought that the diminutive chirp of a single cricket could silence the cacophony that had rumbled across Thrael for so many centuries before?
Somewhere deep within the great Syl'Wydde forest of Central Peregorne, a pair of almond-shaped eyes peered from the safety of a dense thicket. An exquisitely delicate hand slowly emerged from the darkness to gently lift a small cricket from its perch. The smooth, silken hands formed a cup around the tiny insect and raised it upwards to behold the inquisitive gaze of a creature unlike any other. The timid cricket regarded the stranger with equal curiosity and hopped towards this magnificent being.
Landing on the creature's slender shoulder, it gingerly crept towards one gracefully pointed ear. The creature tilted its head towards the insect giving the impression of a lithesome willow bending its tender branches to the terra. In response, the cricket made a singular salutary chirp. "Welcome," it said in the universal language of Living Nature.
Having uttered this utterly distinctive sound, the cricket leapt effortlessly back into the darkness of a warm midsummer's night. Thus began the dawn of a new age for this world... The Age of Awakening.
In those days, the elves were known as the Vala Maelon or "Chosen of the Goddess." It was obvious to the ancients who'd long held sway over the world that these new creatures were wholly unlike the mundane beasts of earth, sea and air. Both the dragyns and the giants recognized the hand of the Fasul in these small, fragile beings. These seemingly weak and delicate creatures were highly intelligent and extraordinarily adaptable. Thus, the elves were easily positioned to become challengers to the rulership of Thrael.
The first of their kind were not as primitive as one might expect. Perhaps it was their link to the pantheon of eager gods and goddesses that hastened their development from mere forest dwellers to the builders of bustling villages. Their culture was one of deep reverence towards the mysteries of life upon Mother Beade. They pursued a harmonious relationship with the planet as a whole. They were moral beings with an unprecedented respect for the forces they knew they couldn't possibly control.
They developed a civilization focused primarily on maintaining a careful balance with nature. The terra seemed to reach out and embrace these beings. This was a marked contrast to the struggles encountered by the giants and dragynkind. Beade appeared to favor the Vala Maelon in a way that both worried and angered the ancient creatures who'd warred with her for so long.
The giants were the first to make war against the elves. They burned the forests and flooded the valleys where the Vala Maelon made their homes. They would slay the elves on sight with their superior weapons and potent magicks. Certain giant tribes even developed a taste for the sweet, supple flesh of the Vala. The atrocities were horrendous, causing many of the elves to flee back into the deep, hidden forest from whence they came.
The elves had a name for the giants. They called them the Jotigh Mors or "Giant Barbarians." The enmity between the two cultures has never completely subsided. The memory of the Jotigh-Maelon Wars is still fresh in the minds of members of both races.
This dark period in elven history has been called the Time of the Sundering. It was a trial by fire; a test for the fledgling race to pass so they might claim their rightful place in the world. Many brave elves lost their lives in those days. The only chance they had against their titanic adversaries came in the form of powerful spells wielded by the priests and clerics among them. Many have theorized that if it were not for the singular intervention of the Fasul, the race might have perished entirely; a long-standing subject of debate among the scholars and sages of elven history.
There is little question that the Vala Maelon had unique strengths that clearly derived form their fervent spirituality. However, they also possessed a very practical strategic acumen. They were careful observers. They studied the tactics of their foes and used this knowledge to gain more than a few notable victories. They could silently hide for hours in the cover of the forest to strike a decisive ambush on an adversary four times their size. The elves were patient warriors whose superior intelligence presented a formidable challenge to the sheer brawn of the giantkind.
In the midst of this chaos, the dragyns looked on with interest. They saw things that the average mortal could not perceive. Their inherent wisdom allowed them to grasp the shape of things to come. The elves were just the beginning. These deceivingly small and helpless creatures would survive and flourish. They would eventually humble the great empires of the Jotigh Mors. They would develop impressive kingdoms and civilizations. Presently, they were the future of Beade.
Ever since the first dragyn launched itself into the sky to gain a better perspective of on the world it lived in, these creatures had learned to be prudent. No other creature could claim a better grasp of timing and strategy than they. Powerful as they may have been, they realized that even the smallest of problems could grow into even greater ones if they were not careful. This sense of pragmatic caution is most likely what led to the first meeting of elf and dragyn.
Legend says that it was the Grand Yxiyoe'shilaz who first made what we may call 'first contact' with the Vala Maelon. The ancient brimstone dragyn was among the first of her kind to travel through the Veil into this world. She was wise beyond measure and equally as ferocious. Like all dragyns, she was innately magical and possessed arcane secrets that were the envy of many of her contemporaries. It is said that her vast knowledge could fill hundreds of libraries like the one at the Abbey in Kemstead.
We can only guess at the details of this promethean encounter. Few records exist from this very early period in Maelonish culture. What we do know has been gleaned from a few fragmented scrolls salvaged from the ruins of Helasfume towards the close of the Age of Chaos. Generally, the legend is accepted as common understanding among all the elves of all nationalities. Yet, there are many who argue that this legend is purely a work of fiction.
The story tells of a pair of fraternal twins of no specific fame of lineage who'd been assigned sentry duty outside the elven village of Kylliawoode. Deiniol and Mairead of the Somhairle Clan were scouts by trade and their vantage point high in an old leafy thaen allowed them a terrific view of the southwestern frontier of the Syl'Wydde. From here, they could easily keep an eye in the oft-used Jotigh trail, winding round the foothills of the Wyrme Sead Mountains and stretching to the northwest.
Deiniol and his sister Mairead had seen their share of conflict. This grassy corridor, consisting of a wide sloping valley bordered by heavy woods in the east and steep mountains in the west, often served as a formal battleground. The elves regularly skirmished with Jotigh raiders mounting early morning assaults from the western foothills. It was a dangerous area and the two knew to be alert at all times.
So it was that the sudden appearance of a stranger standing no more than thirty feet from their position caught the elves completely by surprise. It was as if the mysterious red-skinned woman had simply materialized from the thin morning fog blanketing the meadow before them. Both were shaken at the sight of this odd elf. She appeared to be as any of the Vala Maelon. Her graceful, sinuous frame and delicate features marked this woman as one such as they. Only the deep reddish hue of her skin served to distinguish this female as an outlander.
The woman said nothing as she stared directly at the two nervous elves. The pungent odor of sulfur wafted towards them and this served to further agitate the young scouts. This was a scent common to the brimstone giants of the southern peaks. One could generally smell it for leagues away, signaling a raiding party from that particular breed of Jotigh. Why then did they not notice it before? The two glances at one another in disbelief and decided to investigate this stranger.
No sooner had they effortlessly slid down from their perch with weapons at the ready than did the red-skinned one suddenly raise her arms in a sweeping arc. She uttered several undecipherable syllables in a language the elves couldn't understand. There was a bright flash of amber light followed by a sharp thunderclap. When the elves dared to open their eyes moments later, they found they were not at the tree line anymore.
Indeed, they were in a place they'd never seen nor even dreamt of. The scouts were standing on a floor of thinly cut diamond tiles. Each tile appeared to be crafted from a single diamond at least three hands wide. One tile alone would be worth hundreds of copper pieces. As they dared raise their eyes, they realized they were in some sort of reception hall. It was a gigantic structure bathed in a throbbing amber glow. The gilt walls soared high into a shadowy ceiling dwarfing even the tallest keaf tree.
The space was as immense as it was tall. The two couldn't fathom what manner of creature might have created it. While it could have easily been the work of some giant tribe, the overall style hinted a much more civilized race. Intricate sigils and patterns had been worked into the smooth golden walls. These reliefs seemed to be illustrations but wholly alien to any art form the elves were familiar with.
A pair of enormous double doors stood at the far end of the hall. As the elves cautiously approached, they realized that each door had been hewn from a single plank of wood. Deiniol and Mairead were familiar with every single tree and plant in their forest. They could easily identify most lumber at a glance, yet this wood defied recognition. It was this that truly terrified the young sentries. They knew without a doubt that they were a long, long way from the safety of their home.
The siblings quickly made the decision to flee through the only avenue available. They raced towards the massive portals but stopped dead in their tracks by what they witnessed next. The doors began to open of their own accord with a thundering yawn. Just beyond the threshold, the young elves saw two infernally glowing eyes of deep yellow. They were easily as large as tower shields and were most certainly focused on the small, panic-stricken elves.
A nightmare emerged into the hall, defying reason and paralyzing the two in sheer terror. This creature towered over the tallest giant. It appeared to be a lizard of behemoth proportions with huge leathery wings of deep crimson and black. Small blue flames licked and danced along its glossy scales as though the monster were sweating pure fire. Thick black whiskers grew from its pointed snout and lined a gruesome maw filled with yellowed, razor-sharp teeth. The head was crowned with spear-like onyx horns. These continued to stud the beast's thick serpentine neck and spine, giving the impression of rows of pikemen standing ready along a blood-red battle line.
As the creature slowly lumbered forward on its four massive legs it dragged a long snaking tail behind it. The appendage was easily as long as the body of the creature and sported rows of ivory barbs and dagger-like protrusions. It languidly swayed from left to right, making a shrill rasp as the bony scales scraped the diamond flooring. The cruel noise sounded as a funeral dirge to the doomed twins.
The stench of the sulfur was unbearable, making it difficult for the elves to breathe. Thick gusts of sooty black smoke wafted from the monster's nostrils. It gave off an intense heat that made the hottest summer day cool by comparison. The temperature had soared to a feverish degree by the time the creature fully emerged into the hall. Deiniol was sure that if the thing did not eat them right away, they'd both simply roast where they stood, like two quails on a spit.
Raising its colossal head high above the two, the creature spoke. It used the Maelonish tongue but the voice was clearly older than the oldest tree and had a rasping effect much like one piece of marble being scraped over another. The creature called itself Abrax Yxiyoe'shilaz or the Grand Wyrm Yxiyoe'shilaz. She explained that she was a dragyn and her kind had been the masters of this world for an untold millennia. She continued to rasp that her race was older than the giants and even older than the mountains themselves. These nearly immortal creatures had witnessed the birth of oceans and continents. They existed long before the first rabbit crept from its burrow. They could also recall the first day the Vala Maelon appeared in the forest of Peregorne.
As the great cinder dragyn continued, each syllable seemed to unravel like a loose thread from her thick, forked tongue. The rasping sound of the words squeezed through the tight rows of javelin-sized teeth as if they were trying to escape a barred jail cell. Every now and then, a brief plume of fire would roll out of her mouth to punctuate a sentence or highlight a particularly important point. The elves eventually shook the fright from their thin bones and sat as they listened to the tales of wonder issuing from this incredible being.
Yxiyoe'shilaz shared many secrets with the twins. She told them about the universe and how the giants came to roam Thrael She told them about the elements and the many forces that acted upon the world to make life possible. She revealed many things that the elves would never comprehend or remember. The dragyn even shed light on the mysteries of the powerful miracles the elven clerics received from their gods. The young elves were awestruck with this new enlightenment. Who knew what sort of greatness this knowledge might bring to the nation of the Vala Maelon?
The dialog continued for several days as the great wyrm eventually taught them about the Weave. Here, many, many leagues away from their homeland, Deiniol and Mairead were given the gift of magic. She performed all manner of wild and archaic magic to both the delight and astonishment of the two elves. She instructed them in the basics of theurgy and magic theory. The three spent many hours practicing simple cantrips and conjurations. Why Yxiyoe'shilaz thought to give magic to the fledgling race of elves is uncertain. We can only know that the consequence of her decision would forever change the course of history.
When the grand dragyn was satisfied that her pupils could make use of the immense knowledge she has shared, she bade them farewell. She warned them that their people might not take easily to the revelations that they were bringing home. She also cautioned that while she was indeed a benevolent dragyn, others of her kind were not. It was very likely that her actions would cause a great deal of trouble among the giants and dragynkind, focusing unwanted attention on the Vala Maelon. The elves would have to be very careful lest their foray into the mysteries of magic ignite a war among all the denizens of Mother Beade.
With these final admonishments, the dragyn gave the elves what could be considered a slight smile and whisked them back from where they'd been abducted. Deiniol and Mairead looked at each other in amazement. They realized that while they'd seemingly been gone for many days, they'd only actually been away from their post for but a few minutes. The fog still rolled across the valley and the sun hung low in the morning sky. It was almost as if the entire encounter was nothing but a dream.
The two young elves may well have dismissed the entire episode as a curious hallucination if it were not for their next startling discovery. Mairead was the first to notice it. She saw that Deiniol had aged. Several silvery strands had mixed in with the normally warm chestnut color of his hair. His eyes had lost a tiny bit of their shimmer as well. Aging is a subtle process when it comes to elves. The physical indications of maturity are less unrecognizable in the shorter lived races. What Mairead beheld in her brother was easily a span of 100 years. He had aged a century.
Deiniol saw the same in his sister. They'd apparently been gone much longer than a few days. At the same time, the sun had only moved a fraction from where it was when they left. This portion of the legend has often puzzled scholars through the ages. Some believe these elves had been taken into the time stream. Others argue that they were exposed to intense radiations of magic causing the aging process to quicken. For the sibling scouts, the details were unimportant. There was no question as to their encounter with the great dragyn or the knowledge she imparted.
Most sages agree that the discovery of magic is what eventually led to the split of the Vala Maelon, the two sides making two wholly valid arguments concerning the future of their race. Some openly embraced the mysteries of the gods and the enlightenment found within the secrets of the arcane. They saw this knowledge as the very cornerstone to the eventual success of the Vala Maelon. Not only would their people finally escape the savagery of the giants, they would be able to rise up and claim their rightful place in the world. Magic would serve as the key to a new age; an age where civilization and morality dictated the actions of all creatures great and small.
Others didn't hold such a promising view of this new development. They eschewed this fascination with magic seeing it as a dependency that could only doom their people and take them further away from the natural world; a world that had never failed to adequately see to their needs. While magic could aid and assist them in creating an even greater harmony with Mother Beade, it was not an end in itself. It had the capacity to corrupt as well as enlighten. Sadly enough, these two schools of thought found their champions in the very same elves who'd brought magic to their people.
Since Deiniol and Mairead were not due to leave their posts for a full day, they had plenty of time to consider the wonders they had been witness to. They loved each other dearly and had always been very close. The siblings nearly always agreed on points of philosophy and general discourse. They were of a like mind in many areas. One might even say that it was as if they shared the same heart and soul, as well as bloodlines.
The thoughts weighing on their minds were much different now than they'd ever been in the past. The questions were much larger and the implications of their actions could have a sweeping effect on not only their village, but the entire Val Maelon nation. The future of the race was at stake. The measures these once-adolescent children were about to take would propel them headlong into maturity well before their time.
Mairead considered the valley over which the two were assigned to watch. She imagined the long columns of Jotigh raiders who'd boldly crossed the meadow to lay siege to the homes of her people. The images of the suffering and brutality had been etched forever in her mind's eye. She was beginning to understand the nature of the bizarre chants and deadly fireballs wielded by the Jotigh shaman. How many times had she run deep into the forest to hide like a frightened doe within the bramble thickets? How many times had she returned to the modest home she shared with her family to find it burnt down to ashes?
She envisioned scores of elven warriors returning those same fireballs to the ranks of the jeering giants. She visualized a new age where the odds weren't so heavily in the Jotigh's favor. They'd know the suffering their cruelty has wrought. They would send emissaries instead of assassins to bargain with the elven people. Magic would balance the powers as it made right the wrongs of the past. The wisdom imparted by the benevolent old dragyn would usher in a time of peace... A peace long overdue.
At the same time, Deiniol was also having deep considerations of his own. Magic would surely strengthen his people. There was no question. Still, the parting words of Yxiyoe'shilaz echoed like a great ringing bell in his mind. The elves had yet to encounter the fury of the dragyns. His people had learned more or less how to deal with the marauding Jotigh, but were they prepared to deal with forces wielding a might ten times as powerful? Winged adversaries such as the dragynkind could easily decimate the entire elven race in a mere fortnight. How could this young race stand against forces such as this?
Even if the elves could learn to stave off these foes with magic, they'd never know true peace. The wars would continue as each side created more potent spells to outdo their enemy. The whole of creation would become a battleground littered with the bodies of elves, giants and dragynkind alike. Was the destiny of the Vala Maelon to become tyrant lords over the very terra that gave them life? The elven culture had long been steeped in a deep respect for nature. How can one live in harmony with something one willfully destroys?
What kind of posterity would be left for the elves if their forests were destroyed? Every fireball loosed in anger had the potential to destroy a stand of trees. What would happen if there were no more trees to burn? Where would they live? Deiniol couldn't imagine never again being able to lie in the shade of a thaen on a warm summer day, listening to these same birds singing their sweet songs.
The young elf knew within his heart that this supposed boon could eventually taint the very land he sought to protect. He reasoned that it was better to feed the forest with his newfound magic so it might grow stronger. Each new tree would put more distance between his people and those forces that sought their demise. Here in the safety of the trees he so dearly loved, Deiniol made his decision. He would take the knowledge to his people, but would ensure they only use these gifts for peace.
When at last he turned his attention to his sister, he knew they had arrived at two very different decisions. He saw the hurt on Mairead's lovely face. He knew what she was feeling. She couldn't shake the deep sorrow from her heart. She couldn't repress the rage of so many years of wanton abuse at the hands of their Jotigh enemies. Her angry eyes threatened to release a deluge of tears upon her soft cheeks. The two held each other close as the sun began to set over the Wyrme Sead Mountains in the west. They both wept bitterly as they knew it would be their last loving embrace.
Word spread quickly of the twins' adventure as well as the knowledge they had obtained. In but a few weeks, the revelations imparted by the great dragyn spread across the entire elven nation. The ensuing debates caused deep rifts between villages and families. Many took up the sword with a vengeance. They too felt as Mairead and sought to harness magic as a weapon of their redemption. It was time to stand up and claim their birthright. The Vala Maelon, Chosen of the Goddess would take their battle to the very hearths of the Jotigh and stand triumphantly upon the ashes of their foes... but first they would seek out the dragyns and plead with them to teach them even more of the lore of dragynkin. They would beg the huge beasts to adopt them and in the name of solidarity, allow them the secrets of the ancients.
Just as many of the elves followed the pacifistic philosophies of Deiniol, and entire families left their ancestral villages on the Syl'Wydde perimeter to go even deeper into the forest interior. Along the way they practiced the healing magics that strengthened and sustained their wilderness home. The woods seemed to close behind them as primitive enchantments caused the flora to grow and prosper as never before.
With the division of the Vala Maelon came the birth of the two ancestral elven nations we know today. In the elven tongue they are called the Selyf Vala, People of the Wood, or iye il'ly sylvaniae in the dragyn-tongue (Children of the Day), and the Daere Vala, People of the Castle, or as it is in dragynword, iye ll'ly tihyeye (Children of the Night). These names literally represent the fundamental schism of the two sects; those who would dwell within the interior of the great forest, and those who would travel beyond the borders of safety to establish new houses and new footholds in the western hemisphere.
And so it was that the nation of Vala Maelon found itself completely divided into two very different cultures, the sylvani and the il'lthye. It is important to note that the division was not one of anger or resentment, but of deep philosophical differences. This was not a matter of who is right or wrong, but rather a fundamental contrast between two very appropriate schools of thought. Even now it is very hard to say what would have been the better choice for the young race to have made. Is it better to forever hide from one's enemy while cultivating an insular society that preaches peace by example? Perhaps. Is it better to take up arms against one's oppressor and demand the respect that is due all people of free birth, as well as seek the knowledge necessary to command such a task? Perhaps.
These questions have fueled arguments between the elves for generation upon generation, neither side being able to fully establish a definitive answer. It is a debate that may well continue to the very end of time.