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Once they were a single race: The elves say they were elves, the eladrin say they were eladrin. The drow say they were debased, unfinished, and fatally flawed, and would have stayed that way but for the help of Lolth.
In the younger days of creation, a fey race walked the borders between the world and the Feywild. Corellon and the two sisters, Sehanine and Lolth, delighted in this race, for all three gods saw in them the qualities they most valued. Corellon prized them for their artistry, their innate sense for the ebb and flow of magic, their song, and their fierce anger in battle. Sehanine loved their stealth, their gentle footsteps in the shadows of the forest, and their curiosity and wonder at the newborn world. And Lolth particularly enjoyed those who sought power and seized it, who spied and schemed to achieve their goals, who showed no mercy to their enemies or their rivals.
For this young race, like most of the fey, had a very different sense of morality from that of other races. Moradin, Pelor, and Bahamut taught their followers the noble path of law and good, encouraged them to shun evil, value life, and build societies that protected their weaker citizens. The elves, though, were as changing as the seasons and the moon, mercurial in their passions. Corellon taught them to love beauty and savor life but to kill in an ecstatic fury of blasting magic and whirling blade when they faced their enemies in battle. Sehanine taught them to find their own paths without any particular ethical code. And Lolth extended Sehanine's doctrine to its extreme, teaching the elves to place their own goals above all other cares and to stop at nothing to achieve them.
The elves as a race were neither good nor evil -- they didn't think in those terms. They enjoyed beauty and pleasure, and many of them found pleasure in kindness and beauty in every facet of life, and so acted in good ways. Still, they might inflict pain or even death, not out of cruelty, but purely out of curiosity. Others found pleasure in causing pain, and turned their path to evil.
Sehanine, god of the full moon, was fair-skinned and dark-haired, while Lolth, god of the new moon, was the opposite. As the race of elves spread and built their first cities, Lolth marked her favorites -- those elves who delighted in murder and destruction -- by matching their coloration to hers. Even before Lolth's rebellion, these dark-skinned elves began to claim the name of drow, an ugly Elven word that refers to the things that haunt the night.
Up to this point, the legends and histories of the three races mostly agree. Some details may differ -- most notably the name by which the unified race was known -- but the broad outline is the same. With the rebellion of Lolth, however, the histories diverge. They agree on the fact of Lolth's revolt: She turned against her sister and Corellon and led her chosen ones in battle against the other elves. The reason for her revolt is less clear. The most common legends include the following:
-Lolth grew tired of sharing her power and authority with Sehanine and tried to kill her sister, to claim the shadows and the moon as her exclusive domain.
-Lolth was jealous of the affection between Corellon and her sister and tried to kill one or the other of them.
-Lolth descended into the Elemental Chaos and even plumbed the Abyss in a search for knowledge or power, and she made alliances with demons -- and then Corellon and Sehanine sought to punish her blasphemy.
-Or Lolth believed that her chosen people should rule the elf race and led them to seize power, which only then resulted in conflict among the gods.
Whatever the reason for the revolt of Lolth and the drow, the consequences were devastating. War tore through the shining fey cities and consumed the woodlands of the world with fire. Some say that the world and the Feywild grew more distant from each other, making passage between them more difficult and driving a wedge between the elves who favored one over the other. Ultimately, the drow were cut off and banished from elf and eladrin communities, driven into the dark places of the world, the Feywild, and the Shadowfell. Lolth made her home in the Abyss, taking the title of the Demon Queen of Spiders.
By the end of the rebellion, the elves, the eladrin, and the drow were three distinct races. Each was shaped by the nature of their home and the favor of their gods.
Elves: A Closer Look
Whatever the history and legend of their origin, the elves of the present day are very much creatures of the world. Though still fey in their nature, they are attuned to the world and its primal power, at home in the woodlands, and they live in harmony with the beasts and trees that share their home.
Since the revolt of the drow, the elves have walked quietly over the earth, leaving little trace. As kingdoms and empires grew and collapsed -- the human realm of Nerath, the dragonborn Arkhosia, the tiefling Bael Turath, and countless nations before them -- the elves remained in their woodland homes, mostly unaffected by the rise and fall of nations. On a few occasions, the eladrin built kingdoms in the world. Sometimes these kingdoms sought cordial relations with their elf neighbors, and elves and eladrin lived as close as they ever had since Lolth's rebellion. At other times, the eladrin tried to force the elves into a reunion of the races and met bitter resistance. There can be no doubt, now, that the two races will never again be one.
Shunning kingdoms of their own, the elves no longer build cities as their ancestors did, but make their homes among the trees. They live in family or clan units, sleeping in tents or under the stars as they range through the forests and gather what they need to survive. At other times, they in temporary villages built on platforms in the branches, linked by vines and ropes -- almost a natural part of the trees themselves. They roam with the seasons, following animals on their migrations or journeying to where fruits and nuts grow in greatest abundance. At least twice a year -- at midsummer and midwinter -- elf families and clans gather together to observe the turning of the seasons, share stories and news of the recent months, and celebrate marriages, births, and deaths.
In the darkness that has been growing since the fall of Nerath, the elves find it more and more difficult to maintain their traditional ways. Many of their forests are no longer safe even for their keen-eyed archers and hardy warriors. Some forests have burned to their roots, driving the elves to find safe refuge in the better-defended settlements of other races. Where, in the past, it was unusual to find elves in human towns except as traders, now many elf families have taken up permanent residence among humans, halflings, and even dwarves, joining with these other races for protection against the darkness.
As a race, elves are fleet of foot and agile. Though they are by no means stupid, they do not place the same value on learning and intellect that their eladrin cousins do. Rather, they value the wisdom of years and the truth of intuition and insight. Their more comic legends are full of eladrin who are puffed up with their own knowledge but lack even a modicum of common sense, and cunning elf heroes who trick their foolish cousins.
Elves share a passionate and emotional nature with many of their fey cousins. They experience feelings deeply and intensely, and their emotions are often mercurial. An elf can swing from wailing grief to heartfelt laughter in a moment, and as quickly to burning rage. They make bitter enemies, sometimes clinging to grudges through long generations, but they are reliable and compassionate friends who remember gratitude longer than wrongs.
Many elves still revere Corellon and (particularly) Sehanine, but many others worship Melora, god of the wilds where they make their homes. Even those elves who drift toward evil rarely turn to Lolth. The legend of her rebellion stings too much. Instead, they worship the Raven Queen, Zehir, or occasionally savage Gruumsh.
For many elves, the gods are not much different from the clan elders who have moved on from this life to another. They remember the gods in thanks and might pray for insight, but not many elves become champions of any god's ideals as a cleric or paladin. They are not as fascinated with arcane magic as their eladrin cousins, often growing impatient with its intricacies and precision. They are drawn more to mastery of primal power, which keeps them attuned to the natural world with its spirits and forces. Elf rangers, rogues, druids, and barbarians are the most common adventurers.
Eladrin: A Race Apart
The eladrin claim to be the original race from which both elves and drow split, with the (usually) unspoken implication that both other races fell away from the state of near-perfection that the eladrin embody. Certainly, the eladrin are still the most fey of the three elf races, still steeped in the magic of the Feywild and still the favored children of Corellon. Arcane magic suffuses their bodies and souls, sometimes emanating from them in a soft nimbus of fey light.
Many races of the world can look back in history to a shining example of their ancestors' accomplishments: the dragonborn empire of Arkhosia or the human realm of Nerath, for example. When the eladrin reflect back on their days of glory, they think first and foremost of the time before Lolth's rebellion, when the whole Feywild shined with the light of the eladrin cities. Those cities now lie in ruins, still hauntingly beautiful among the fey forests with moonlight shining on their shattered spires and ivory walls, but haunting in their testimony to the violence of the rebellion.
Eladrin still build towers of graceful beauty in the grandest places of the Feywild -- breathtaking gorges and verdant glens -- and sometimes even among the ruins of their ancient cities. But no eladrin city of the present day, or of the past hundred centuries, can compare to the heights of the eladrin race in that mythic time before. Eladrin cities of the present day are usually little more than a single ivory spire rising above a scattering of smaller homes, all built in perfect harmony with their surroundings as if carved from the earth by wind and rain.
There have been times in the history of the world when eladrin tried to rebuild the ancient glory of a united race, extending their city-states into the natural world and making overtures to nearby elf communities. These dreams of kingdoms that would bridge the worlds have always crumbled to dust with the passing of years, usually within the span of a single generation.
Eladrin society has more in common with the human structures of nobility and rulership than it does with the family-based society of the elves. Noble houses ruled by eladrin with titles such as Bralani of Autumn Winds or Ghaele of Winter govern tiny princedoms scattered across the Feywild. The eladrin swear loyalty to their noble protectors, who promise to help defend them against fomorians and other dangers of the fey darkness. Unlike human rulers, these noble eladrin wield tremendous power derived from a close connection to the magic of the Feywild, so their tiny city-states do remain as lights, however dim and flickering, standing against the encroaching darkness.
Eladrin share the grace and agility of their elf cousins but place more value on the developed intellect than on intuition and emotion. All eladrin are scholars to some degree, versed in the history of their race and the theories of magic and more inclined to calculate possible solutions than to run with a gut feeling.
The eladrin can seem cold and emotionless to outsiders, if sometimes capricious, and they are certainly less passionate than the elves. Their grief manifests as a wistful melancholy, their pleasure as a soft smile, and their anger as a simmering glare. Much like the elves, they have long memories for both gifts and grudges.
Most eladrin worship Corellon and Sehanine. Some temples in the Feywild are still arranged as they were before Lolth's rebellion -- built as three interlocking circles, each with its altar to one of the three elf gods. In most of these temples, Lolth's altar has been destroyed or defaced. Sometimes it is draped with black cloth to hide it from view, and sometimes it is visible but simply unadorned. There are eladrin who believe that the three gods will one day be reconciled, just as the three races will again be one.
Some say that Corellon's dominion of Arborea lies in the Feywild, while others claim it floats in the Astral Sea. It's possible that it drifts between the worlds or somehow exists in both places at once. To the eladrin mind, Arborea is perhaps not so different from the court of any noble eladrin -- larger and more magnificent, perhaps, but a place where any eladrin would feel at home, even in the presence of so great a lord as the noble Corellon. Sehanine, it's said, wanders freely in and out of Corelllon's home but spends much of her time in the Feywild, where travelers might stumble across her path. Some who attend one of Sehanine's moonlit feasts are said to become lost for centuries, while others awaken after a single night to find themselves blessed with gifts and powers beyond their imagining.
More so than the elves, eladrin sometimes become champions of a god in much the same way that one might become a fey knight in service to a noble eladrin. Divine magic is not alien to the eladrin, but arcane magic is their love and part of their nature. Eladrin wizards are far more common than warlocks, sorcerers, or bards, but any form of arcane magic is a source of endless fascination for the race.
The lords and ladies that rule the eladrin are powerful fey who embody the character of the race. Their magic is tied to seasons and emotions. A ghaele might lash out with a blast of wintry cold, while a coure sows strife among her enemies. They are enigmatic and aloof and can be very capricious, especially when mortals venture into their domains. The tale of Ferrin Toth, a human wizard who ventured into the Feywild seeking arcane secrets, illustrates the nature of the noble eladrin.
Proud of his knowledge and confident in his arcane power, Ferrin Toth used a ritual to transport himself into the Feywild. After parting the veil between worlds, he found himself in a lovely valley with a crystalline spire rising beside a sparkling waterfall at the valley's head. He presented himself at the palace gate in the late afternoon, asking for an audience with the ruler of the place.
Two women escorted him into the presence of their lord Immeral, Firre of Passion. Warm braziers lit the audience hall against the approaching twilight and fire seemed to dance in the opalescent eyes of the eladrin lord. He welcomed the human wizard graciously, descending from his throne to escort the traveler on a tour through the palace. Ferrin lingered by the doorway to the eladrin's magnificent library, but Immeral told him he could explore the library in the morning. Ferrin tried to protest -- there was still enough daylight for him to read -- but the eladrin wouldn't hear him. He hurried Ferrin to a luxurious guest room, warned him not to leave the room until dawn's light burned on the horizon, and left him alone.
Ferrin couldn't sleep. His glimpse of the lord's great library tormented him, and desire to plumb its secrets consumed him. When the palace was silent and the full moon glittered in its spires, Ferrin crept from his room and tried to retrace his steps to the library. As he walked, the corridors seemed to twist in on themselves, and soon the gleaming crystal walls melted into thickets of briars. He wandered through what had become a labyrinth until dawn began to brighten the sky. Then the two women who had brought him to the lord's audience hall stepped out of the thickets. Their lovely faces and forms vanished in a flash, revealing monstrous creatures of wood and vine, swinging arms like mighty cudgels at him.
With a word of refuge, Ferrin returned to the sanctum of his own tower. But the vision of the Firre of Passion's library haunted him. Every night he tossed and turned on his bed, thinking of the library and the wonders he had glimpsed through its doorway. Every morning, when dawn's light burned on the horizon, he thought he stood again in that doorway, and hope surged in his chest -- but as soon as the sun rose above the distant hills, his vision cleared and he was still in his tower. Many times he returned to the Feywild, but he was never able to find Immeral's palace again.