So you want to know about the elves? Yes, they were real. What are they teaching in school these days? They were as real as the grass under your feet and the yellow daisies in the field.
I knew elves — was closer to them than most were. I was a young lad, newly drafted into the army. I was ready to fight the Darklings, but couldn’t handle a sword. My balance is worse than a donkey on a log and my hands shake under pressure. But I was good at organize’n ‘n figures, and my commanding officer took notice of me and made me his aide. I knew where his misplaced sword was more often than the aides who had served him for ten years, no boast.
Anyways, the elves. My commander worked his way up the ranks, and soon I was rubbing shoulders with elf generals as they met with the humans and dwarves in war councils. I even made some friends. Yes, I knew the elves.
They were so beautiful it hurt to look at them. Arched cheekbones and piercing emerald eyes. Most had bleached blond or inky black hair, no in-between with browns or reds. A couple had sea-green hair, which seemed to mean somethin’ to them, but I never quite figured out what. The beauty was so bad that when things got real serious they would wear veils so as not to distract the other races. I knew of more than one man who was struck dumb for a day after see’n an elf.
But at night, oh you wouldn’t want to see ’em at night. Under the moonlight, they looked gaunt and pale. Shadows in all the wrong places. They looked like living skeletons. It was like everything beautiful about them turned dark. But they always acted the same, so it wasn’t like they were werewolves or something.
They were the maximum amount of dramatic about everything. Annoyed the sunshine out of everyone else. News that lunch would be late was met with the same amount of despair as news that an entire army unit was wiped out. You could never really tell when they took something seriously, although the elves themselves could tell the difference.
They were perfectionists too. Living that long gives them a long time to get things right. If even a hair was out of place on your uniform you would suffer the distaining glances they gave. You could never match their standards. Eventually, you stopped caring, and after even more time you realized it was more a formality than anything else. The elves I knew, at least, knew that war was not the time to be bickering over a hair.
I think that’s what made ’em such great artists. Their music was mesmerizing. It was rumored that their lullaby would put you to sleep for a hundred years. When I asked my friend if she could do that she scoffed and asked how I could believe such a thing… then she told me she hadn’t learned that song yet.
I’ve heard their songs and I could believe it. They throw themselves into their music, even though it never affected them as it did everyone else. But as beautiful as the songs were, it always took something from the elves in return. They were shaky and weak after a song. It wasn’t something to take lightly.
Everything they did was art to them, even war. It was competitive art too, against the dwarves. Putting an elf and a dwarf in a room together was a guaranteed way to get things done because they would race to prove they could do it better than the other, but it gave you a headache to deal with it.
They were great warriors, and they probably could’ve been even better if they didn’t have so many flourishes. My commander spent many an afternoon trying to convince them to just stab and slash without all the extra stuff. It was just incomprehensible to them to drop the flashy moves.
Where did they go? By golly, what do they teach in school these days? Don’t ya know what they’ve done for us?
Well, we won the war against the Darklings, but not before they poisoned the Great River. And this wasn’t a small dump in a forest stream either. The Great River feeds all the earth. They taught you that part, right? Good.
Formerly green fields became yellow and sickly. Within hours, even plants on the other side of the country were shriveling up. I remember climbing on top of a hill and realizing the only green thing for miles was my shirt, an’ even that was looking a little pale. Walking through a forest was like walking through a graveyard. Every step strayed up the ashes of dead plants.
Scout after scout returned with reports everything was dead. Everywhere in the known world, food supplies rapidly disappeared. Somehow, the Darklings made even the food stored for winter spoil.
I don’t know how they did it, but that’s the Darklings for ya. It would take fifty years before the world was livable again. It was a complete famine for sure.
That’s when the elves came up with a plan. They would sing us to sleep. The whole earth. The humans, the dwarves, an’ even the orcs down south. We would sleep for a hundred years, then wake up when the world was normal again.
Well, this was the best plan anyone could come up with, so we all settled down and prepared to listen. At the last moment, my elf friend came and told me goodbye.
“Goodbye?” I said. “We are gonna sleep for a little while, then wake up again. You’ll be there too.”
She just looked at me sadly, and I realized that the elves weren’t fallen asleep. The song didn’t work on them. They were going to die.
“Wait — ”
Then she started singing, and the song hit me so hard I staggered.
There are no words to describe it. It was beautiful and terrible and wild and soothing and although I fought against it with everything I had I soon slipped into sleep and dreamt of the elves.
Then we woke up and they were gone. The world was green and the animals were healthy and grow’n, but they were gone. Even their structures, buildings that seemed so strong and beautiful had all turned to dust. The only way we even knew they ever existed at all was our memories of them, which all seemed to match up.
My personal theory was that they threw themselves into singing the world back. They never did anything by halves, and their civilization, their art and buildings, wasted away when the elves did. They had poured their hearts into everything they created and without them sustaining it, it crumbled away.
Now I’m old. I reckon I’m the only one alive who knew the elves. The dwarves disappeared not long after the Big Waken’ing, and the desert became too impassable to check on the orcs — not that we would want to. People have started think’n that the elves never existed at all, that the stories of them were dreams.
Sometimes I’ve wondered if they were dreams. Sometimes my memory of ‘em seems too beautiful and otherworldly to be true. But then I remember the fierce smile of my elf friend when she beat our dwarf friend at chess. I remember laugh’n with the dwarf until our sides hurt when news that a wagon stuck in the mud was met with an elf face so stony you’d think the sun had gone out. I remember see’n an elf under the moonlight for the first time. I’m not embarrassed to say I screamed, although I sure was embarrassed at the time.
And I remember the song. The terrible, beautiful song that meant the death of my friend. An’ I know that the elves were real.
Yes, I knew elves. And though the humans may cover all the earth and back and find no trace of them, as long as my words are remembered, the memory of the elves live on for a little while longer.