The Elves of Althea are perhaps the most culturally developed race across all Althea. They were the first race to have a written language (although the Dwarves were not far behind) and things traditionally described as “art.” This race is the most rigidly religious out of all of the races, being governed by a central church on the main continent of Elanoar.
Elves have the same height range as humans, but default typically taller. A “short” elf is in the 5’6, while it is not uncommon to have elves 6’5 or 6’6. Height normally caps at around 7 feet. Elves have long ears that stick out of their hair in acute triangle form. Their eyes are slanted and have distinct pupils. Elves dislike facial hair and both genders wear their hair long. Lithe and graceful, its no wonder they have always possessed an elitist attitude towards most races, especially after the Great War.
Elves are ruled by a theocracy. On the central continent, the capitol is The Blessed City of Wastow, or Wastow for short. The elves are ruled by a hierophant named His Grace Jarlath the Prestbyter of the Church of Saal. Each city is ruled by a mayor who is an ordained member of the clergy of the Church of Saal. There is no system of central democracy or voting system. All elves are immersed in the Church, so there is typically no dissent among the people. Brainwashed would be an extreme term, but the church does have it within the liturgical text to dissuade differing opinions…
“The sea is eternal and, through her, so are we. Her mystery is our life and, because of her, we are alive. Everything begins with her, everything ends with her. See her–feel her salty fingers caress your face and listen as the tides whisper her name… we are but little boats, and she will see us to her watery halls in time.”–excerpt from a sermon of Malatitious IV, the sixteenth Hierophant, Defender of the Faith, and the Great Redemptionist.
Malatitious IV began that sermon on the shores of the singing sea several centuries ago. At that time, he was known not the Great Redemptionist–he was a polarizing figure who violently seized power from his predecessor. Now, he is lauded as the one who singlehandedly lead the Althean elves through their greatest time of crisis: The Schism. He took a broken people and reunited them.
But not without consequence–the Althean elves are a very insular, isolated people. The races of men and the dwarves wanted to explore the world: to see Althea’s far-flung forests and its cavernous, luminous underworld. To return to tell tall tales of the sun burning black over the goblin wastes, how the dead danced under the gibbous elven moons, and whisper of other things lurking in benighted sepulchers on strange and distant shores. All this and glory, they wished to return with.
The elves, however, turned their sights inward. It seems that they wanted to know why they existed from the very beginning of time and so, when they emerged from their forested isles and saw the sea, brimming with new and strange forms of life, they found their answer. The waves whispered to them, telling them stories of ancient times when little lived and there was only the boundless, ceaseless sea. Then, she (suddenly developing gender) smiled and told them how they came to be.
The wedding of the sky and sea marked the beginning of everything. The sky was unfaithful to his new bride and his philandering resulted in stunted, misshapen or short-lived spawn. The sea’s boundless fury threatened to destroy the planet and all the sky’s bastard children. But, as the continents cracked and the mountains moved, she chose to create life without his interference. She pushed her children ashore and breathed her life into them. They did not have the sky-spawn’s flaws: they were her “perfect ones”–wild and beautiful and unpredictable as the endless sea. They are as much a part of her as she is of them.
When the sky learned of this, he grew stormy and broke with his new wife and fled for the deepest vaults of his starry realm. However, the sky did not know that creating life exhausted the sea. She was not broken or beaten, but merely tired–she chose to sleep. She dredged lush islands from the deep to keep her children from the sky-spawn and retired to her remote chambers. But, she did not leave them alone. She speaks to them in dreams and while they are awake. They named the tides–the endless inhalation and exhalation of the sea–“saal,” and bestowed that name upon their mother, “saal.” It is the holiest word in the elvish tongues.
The sky smolders to this day–he swirls with fearsome storms, screams in the driving rain, and trembles with lightning. He dares not strike at her, but as soon as he discovered her “perfect ones,” he found a victim that could not strike back. The elves reserve the vilest of words for the sky–I shall not defame this history with its blasphemous, cruel import. The sky makes his wife’s children suffer for everything that their mother gives them and flees back into his vaulted heavens should she awake. Their wedding signaled life, but their separation signaled doom and chaos.
Out of simple spite, the sky wracks them with war, death, famine, plagues, and, worst of all, fearsome storms. But, worst of all, he afflicted the elves with his spawn–the Outsiders. The elves kept themselves and never ventured into the holy deep waters. Since they were united against a common enemy, the elves’ faith in the sea’s love for them grew firm and undeniable. They fished only for sustenance and, when they could, returned what they ate to their mother. But, in time, their simple faith in a loving, caring ocean turned into a bloated and corpulent church of towering cathedrals and holy men bickering over the whispering of their mother. They could not hear her over their own thinking.
Then, sails were spotted on the horizon. The elves were confused: they were people beyond the holy deep waters? The sages argued over what this could mean as an Outsider delegation profaned those holy seas and made landfall: they were led by a man in battered armor, a dwarf in sumptuous garments, and a woman in shimmering white robes. They brought arms, disease and commerce to the islands and the elves rushed forth to greet them–two equal civilizations separated by oceans. They never stopped to think that they may have been separated for a reason.
The Outsiders, however, brought something more insidious with them: they brought ideas. The elves began to lose faith in the sea and thousands turned to the Outsiders’ gods, who seemed to promise more than “saal” had ever offered. The sky laughed as the islands were torn to pieces by sudden outbreak of war that his spawn had brought with them. The elves dissolved into civil war as they struggled to find their faith. Many remained loyal to their mother, but several thousand more demanded that the “sea’s shackles” be shorn. Thus began the Schism.
The islands bled both faithful and schismatic. The Outsiders saw their chance and pounced. The reigning hierophant was weak. He let the Outsiders plunder the holy sea–rampant overfishing and sport fishing led to mass starvation. The faithful pleaded with their hierophant, begging him to force the Outsiders to respect the sea, while the schismatics demanded that he control the Outsiders so that they would not starve. But, he did nothing of the sort. The Outsiders reigned over the elves for years, pillaging and raping and despoiling a broken and confused people nearly to the point of slavery.
Malatitious IV–his given name forgotten–was a commoner, but he was passionately pious. The sea whispered to him as he knelt in the tides to pray. He knew what he must do to save his people: he staged a violent coup and overthrew the coward. Malatitious cast the hierophant’s head from his apartments’ lavish terrace and called to his followers assembled in the square below,
“We cannot let the schismatics or the bloated church determine the future of the children of the sea! She did not give life to us so that we could waste it bickering or fighting amongst ourselves: we are supposed to thrive and prosper! The sky–he wants death! He has brought it to our happy isles as we forget our true selves! Come, my brothers and sisters, to arms! Let us take back our homes!”
The cheers foretold the impossible: he united the faithful and drove the outsiders from the islands in a series of carefully planned strikes that crippled their supply lines. Stunning victory, after victory, after victory led to the final battle. The final naval confrontation with the Outsiders seemed like a lost cause–their armada was three times larger than Malatitious’ beleaguered fleet. But, as a faithful being, he called his people together for one last prayer. He hoped that his faith in the sea was not misplaced.
And, it seemed, his prayer was answered. Massive maelstroms opened up beneath the enemy lines and devoured dozens–no, hundreds–of their ships. The elves quickly mopped up the rest and the islands rejoiced! They were free and the Outsiders were routed! The elves, sensing a “touch of destiny,” around their savior declared him the new hierophant. He took his new name, and immediately declared a strict moratorium on the Outsiders and had burned all the sensitive documents pertaining to them, their faiths, and their philosophies. Any Outsider who wished to trade with the elves had to destroy their articles of faith before coming ashore to prove that they were active participants in an alien faith.
Conspirators and sympathizers were either publicly executed as “sowers of discord” or never seen again. He tore down the cathedrals and demanded that the faith return to simpler days. He order patrols to keep the Outsiders from their waters until they could repopulate the seas. He did all this and more–his wisdom seemed to know no boundaries. That left only the schismatics. The islands called for them to be executed as a warning to those whose faith might still waver, while others demanded exiling them to their heathen gods. The faithful demanded that they suffer for their sins. The powerful were willing to enforce the people’s decision. Their fate rested with their hierophant.
Malatitious IV said with only this,
“Our mother forgives.”
And he redeemed them all. They were welcomed back with open arms and those who did not want to return to the faith were allowed to quietly live out their lives in peace in their homes. Malatitious commanded that the schismatics be completely trusted and never questioned again because, he believed, that everyone was capable of lapses in judgment.
One of those schismatics murdered him in his sleep.
His last words were reported to be, “Oh, my child, look to the water, not to the sky.”