I couldn’t tell you the history of the elves or the Alfa, to use our true name.
I don’t know it.
It’s that simple.
I could recount events and occurrences that have happened to me, those that lodged in my mind for one reason or another, but those that were really significant?
I might be able to guess at a few, but the defining events, no – I couldn’t say, not with any authority. My grasp of history extends only as far as a list of people to whom I’d defer. I can’t use that approach any more, but it no longer matters: no one asks these days.
You’d be thankful in this case, that I’m not here to lecture you on our history, it was never my intention.
I’m here to warn you, to tell you that it is the beginning of the end. For you to understand, you have to know what I am.
In appearance, I am no different than the average human.
Of all the myths and legends about our kind, the truth is but a distillation, vetted by common sense and filtered for propaganda. There might have been an elf that had pointed ears, but I have never met one.
Imagine that you are barely into the prime of your life, healthy and strong. If I were to pass you in the street, we’d be comparable. The same gleam and zest in both our eyes. In fact, you wouldn’t notice anything unusual about me. Not the first time anyway, nor even the twentieth, nor the fortieth, but in forty years’ time when I were to walk past, if the passage had been kind to you and you were still able, I would appear exactly the same as at our first meeting.
While sixty years is a lifetime for a normal man, it is nothing for an elf. If the times are good, then sixty years can pass with the same ease that leaves fall from trees. Without the degradation that humans suffer, violence and accidents govern how long we live: without them, we are immortal. Disease and injuries do claim a few lives, but those cases are rare.
My kind thrived for many ages, prospering in knowledge, wisdom and arcane lore. As is often the case, the tools of our downfall were our own creation. We discovered how to manipulate kae energies to form gateways between places. The gates, great stone arches, burned with a black light. Anything that passed through would appear through a twin, even though they were many miles apart.
Stone builders constructed these arches in every town and city throughout our realm. The grandest was taller than the cathedral at Erfarinan, if its twin were active; it allowed two hundred men to walk abreast through the portal.
The arches were as much a part of our lives, as our homes were touched by their shadows during the day and eerie light by night. Even when they were out of sight, their effect was pervasive: commerce boomed.
Market stalls could stock wares from all over the continent; snapper fish from the Wyndy Isles; mandarin and limes from the slopes of Ithos; silks, teas. If we’d found it anywhere, it could be bought locally.
For one hundred and sixty years my people enjoyed the freedom that the gates offered, and it did not take long for this new freedom to be absorbed into our culture.
We never really understood the mechanism, I suppose in that respect we were like blind men stepping over a cliff and hoping that the gate would take us to where we wanted. Navigation was a fine art, usually from memory of an ancient plan, similar to an astrological chart. Some combinations, of the orange and blue kae stones, were known and safe, others weren't. When a new gate was provisioned, the architect would send one of his men through to prove that it was safe. Usually, the assistant returned with a note from the gate on the other side, usually.
Throughout the land, we built cities, dwellings of stone and timber while other races were digging holes and sheltering in caves. The human tribes, though matching our number, were disparate and uncoordinated. They lacked our smiths to produce fine wrought steel; their craftsmen had only just mastered how to forge brittle weapons of cold iron. The Grell and their kindred had not ventured further than the Truan marshes, scaly humanoids that while brutal and bestial, lacked the intent or desire to invade our territory.
Vigilant as we were, it was only our borders we watched. So far, we only had tangible enemies, those that we knew about. We had spread until only the oceans or inhospitable places surrounded us. We were prepared. Border patrols acted as a deterrent to our enemies, and if they failed, then any attack would have to breach our stone walls, or so we thought.
In our ignorance, we became complacent. Political unrest was unheard of, so why should we have looked for the threat within our own land?
We were attacked at night, the hour that most good watch captains usually make an extra round, to keep their men alert. The arches spewed forth a tide of formless, inchoate shadows, chaotic masses of madness that was the Draugr. The watch and army were at a disadvantage; the high walls that were to protect us slowed our escape. Battle lines were known by street names, morale dropping each time a landmark or significant place fell to under their control. What made it worse was that the recently slain rose, swelling the ranks of the enemy.
Countless lives were lost that night. Though much of what happened went unrecorded, known only to those few survivors.
Finally the darkness was driven back through the gates, but it was not a decisive victory. The few that returned bore wounded deeper than the physical injuries they carried. They had broken the gates, shattering the stone arches or deactivated them, but looking back into the heart of the city, there was still a glow of light from where the gate had been. Its power had saturated into the very fabric of our cities.
For a year after the initial onslaught, the Draugr found a way through, though their numbers diminished, and the attacks grew less and less frequent.
Many could not stomach seeing our homeland ravaged and corrupted, left, starting the exodus.
Many claimed the Draugr signified the end, but I say it was the humans. Fearing that our nation was too weak after such an attack, and the steady stream of people leaving for unspoiled land, a treaty offered to the human tribe leaders, allowed them to populate our cities. The reasoning was that they would be able to swell our ranks, should events repeat themselves. The elders decreed that we would present ourselves as human to ease their transition.
It was a mistake; we were too different.
Instead of able-bodied defenders, the human occupancy was more like a vermin infestation; they adapted far more rapidly than expected.
Hamlets sprouted along streams, towns and cities grew and fell in years where in comparison it had taken us centuries. Teams of artisans worked on their buildings, losing the consistency of a single master. Complicated carvings simplified so that moulds could be manufactured and applied to plain blocks. The stone masons of old would have thrown away their tools in disgust.
In the one-hundred years that passed for my childhood, I had accepted that we were no longer the dominate race. I accepted this, seeing the trend of change clearer than my elders, but it still saddened me, knowing that my people faded away.
For a time I wandered through the failing society, wistful in my remembrance of what it had been, even in my lifetime. True, it was filled with vibrancy and life that had grown from nowhere, but it seemed fleeting.
I even got lost in a shantytown that appeared within the city walls below the marble gatehouse. It made me realize that it was no longer my city. The humans mimicked our architecture. They copied forms without purpose, and stole design for aesthetic appeal. I walked through the City Square a while ago to find that they had built three great stone arches that went nowhere and spanned nothing. They overshadowed the broken gateway, which they resembled.
It did not take the humans long to steal our history, renaming statues of our elders as their own forefathers, claiming heritage. Families chose a statue at random and claimed to be a descendant.
Our longevity was hidden from them, we disguised our nature by moving from city to city, and over time we were forgotten. To humans we were nothing more than myth, alongside the Draugr, which had been taken to mean anything evil.
The Alfa were no more than the shadowy existence behind the unknowing humans.
For a long time, I was used to seeing a handful of elves, when walking around Erfarinan. Even if it were someone I’d never seen before, I would recognize him or her by sight.
The few that we were, still mingled with society, keeping to the fringes, pretending to be heirs of heirs as the time passed, changing our looks and places of residence frequently as not to arouse suspicions.
I tended the lands at my father’s manor for a few years, though it didn’t help to ease the pain of his death. I kept my families statures clean, hiding mine in the pond at the foot of the orchard. I introduced a rule that welcomed travelers for the night, feeding them and seeing to their needs.
The rule was kept for a few years after I left, but the last time I ate there, I was in the company of beggars and the homeless. I knew then that the doors to my father’s manor would not remain open to strangers for much longer.
When an entire day passed without me seeing another of my kin, I grew concerned. I started to keep a record of my sightings.
Over the years the handful decreased further as those remaining journeyed away, trying to find the land where the elves had gone.
For a few years I despaired, the deceit finally became too much. I longed for true companionship, to be with someone that I didn’t have to lie to, or hide my identity. Time had become an enemy rather than a friend.
I had become a ghost pining for a lost age.
The number of elves had diminished, not from being just the occasional face in a crowd, or even to one in each city.
I realized that there was only me, Telafarium Mannagle.
"I am the last elf."