Why the Elves Run

Elves. Perfect, immortal spirits. Wise and tall. The first-born of the Rebirth — the time when those halflings who were not among the few who fled into hiding in the distant wildernesses, entered the Pristine Tower to emerge changed, as the Reborn…who could live and survive upon the new face of Athas in the Green Age.

They were the kings and city-makers among the races — life-shapers bound to the essence of the spiritual earth, knowing it as a mother knows her child, or as lovers know the touch of each child’s too-familiar hands. They were those who were to guide the Reborn via their inborn intimacy with the new land, to bring them together in cities of crystal and oak.

In those times, when an elf’s days had grown long upon the holy earth, he would feel a call “to the edge of the world”, and would be compelled to set forth on a journey, to walk into the mists and shadows at the edge of the world to reach the Undying Land that they called Shallahakri: a place of purification and mingled thoughts, of eternity and what mortal peoples could only describe as palaces of jeweled lights. To reach Shallahakri, the elves would walk upon paths, guided by the lost sprites of the wilderness — who were the children of the spirits, path-finders, and soul-keepers.

Then, at Rajaat’s hand, the blood of the Reborn washed across the land like a drowning ocean, and a fate was spoken: it was said out from Shallahakri would come the Wrath of the Elves, to bear down upon Rajaat the Unclean, to sweep the filth of the Warbringer from the land, to crucify his Champions and with their blood replenish the holy earth they had defiled.

To Rajaat and those who followed him, the Wrath of the Elves was the Devil, a power that would trap them all in the unclean hell of the Green Age to which they had been consigned when the Blue Age ended. To the elves and the loyal races of the Rebirth, the Wrath of the Elves was the Savior, a protector of the living and holy world their ancestors had bequeathed to them from the ruin of the Blue Age.

And so Rajaat ordered the sprites slain, so that the Wrath of the Elves would never be able to challenge him, that the Land’s Champion could not interfere, would not salvage the Green Age and the Reborn Lands and keep the Blue Age from its Restoration. For without the guides, the elves could not walk between the worlds and bring the Wrath of the Elves back to Athas — the way would be confused with shadows and false paths and none to untangle them.

With no paths left to follow, hunted and crucified by the savage Andropinis, legs broken and feet cut from them, the most ancient elves went mad and died. The young survivors were led by the last of their kings, those who had not yet heard the call, or led by the longing that was left in them to traverse the world to Shallahakri, so they kept running in order to escape the terrible armies of the Betrayers, to run until the sands ran out, to run to the edge of the world, to run until they met the sky and their souls could once more reach the lost land of Undying Light.

The elves were like fallen angels, once shining beings severed from their source, longing for and yet unable to know it. And so they wandered, feeling the call of the other realm in their blood and breath, though they could never find it for the ways had all been lost and sealed, the path across the world curved so that they could no longer run to the Far Land, into the Faerie place, where they were to dwell at their appointed time.

Today, the elves have a saying, “I run like the wind that I may join it,” for if they believe that if they can run fast enough, they will be released from the earth, like the wind, and can run the straight path to the Undying Land, to Shallahakri. Perhaps this is why elves burn the bodies of their dead and release the ashes into the wind, to set the soul free upon the wind, to unbind it from the earth, and allow the empty place to fill as it makes the straight run over the horizon and escapes to Shallahakri. To run like the wind is to escape the death-clutch of the empty earth upon their soul.

Born with an intimate connection to the green lands of the Rebirth, they are still bound to that land, bound to the dying and empty earth; the elf looks out across the wastelands and knows it as one knows and yet knows not the corpse of a loved one. Perhaps this connection might explain why necromancers are so common among elven wizards, as they are the only possible expression of the race’s once vibrant connection to life, the results of an intimate binding with to the world even as it dies. Among men, it is whispered, “If you wish to know of the unquiet dead and the spirits that wander the wastelands, speak to an elf…but mind your soul or it too will soon be stolen.”

And so they must run because the land clutches at their souls if they do not, it withers them from the inside. They cannot remain in one place long else the empty earth will take them, and they will fade into darkness, melancholy, and then nothing. As all the sorcerer monarchs know, as Andropinis discovered when he captured and crucified them, elves do not last long in prisons, for they shrivel and die, not eating, not drinking, not speaking. The elves run in an endless search for freedom and release from their spiritual burden, and they say, “Over the curve of the horizon is where we will find Shallahakri and the One.”

To find the Undying Land, to find Shallahakri is to find the completeness denied to them by their birth upon the dust-scoured remains of Athas.

The elves of today have another saying, too, “Only when Athas has burned away into cinders, when the empty land finally dies, will the elven soul be free of its weight.” Perhaps that is why their sorcerers ravage the already tortured and dying land with magic, to hasten its death and their own freedom. Perhaps the defilers among the elves, defilers among a people who were once bound so tightly to the holy earth, seek out such darkness to heal their souls of the dead weight of Athas, the hollow place each carries inside.

Time has confused all legends, blurred one into the other, changed the very face of history into that of myth. To the elves who endlessly wander the deserts of Athas, the One is lord among those who passed into Shallahakri, a wise and benevolent chieftess who waits for all her people to join her in their paradise. She is thought of as the queen who first led the run, who escaped Andropinis and spat in the sorcerer’s eye by creating an invisible fortress beyond the curve of earth’s horizon, a place in which to hide the elven people from genocide.

The One is the Creator, the first of the elves, who bore the rest. The shaper of the earth who formed the modern world from a tide of brown muck and mud, who set the laws that the druids follow, who learned the secrets of the halflings, and who birthed the new world from her mind, bringing forth life from death. Even today, mirages are called “the Queen’s Whispers” in her memory — for they are like the illusions said to hide this fabled city of the elves, which misdirect those who seek for it.

This is the Shallahakri of today: a legendary lost city in the desert, or in the mountains, or even hidden amid the silt, just over the horizon, one day to be found by those tribes who diligently search for it. The elves know this must be true, for their elders feel its call in their souls, telling them to seek it out in the shadows and hidden places on the horizon. They are drawn like moths to the flame of these last echoes, hoping to fill the hollow inside with the false comfort of the will-o-wisps that are all that remain to them of Shallahakri.

Perhaps, even more than stories of their hidden city and its illusionist queen, their ancient inborn drive to seek Shallahakri among the shadows is why elven sorcerers concentrate upon dark illusion and trickery that manipulates the shadows. Such sorcerers follow the echoes of this path, seeking their lost world and its ghostly remains.

Yet…

When Andropinis returned from his banishment in the Black, leaping from the realm of crystal and light he found there to the center of all shadows that is Athas, perhaps he used what he had once helped destroy to gain his own reentry to the physical world? Perhaps he found Shallahakri and the ancient elves…or perhaps that shadow he found was simply a twisted version of what once was; an echo whose properties were used to open a way back into Athas for the banished sorcerer, a reflection that held that memory of a pathway between the worlds, or the memory of what a man would have believed Shallahakri to be.

All pathways were lost for the long dead guides were lost and confused, and it is told that the Undying Lands vanished into a cold, horrible darkness, like that of a forgotten memory…like unto the depths of the Black.

The realm Andropinis found that took him three centuries of seeking, so long forgotten and erased from memory had it been. He sifted through a multitude of shadows to uncover it, walking from one shadow to another, back through the false reflections of forgotten ages, desperately trying to find a shadow that might contain a memory of the way back to Athas lost now somewhere in the depths of the dangerous, unreal and ever-shifting shadow worlds of the Black. Perhaps he unwound the path Rajaat had confused between the worlds with the murder of the sprites?

If that place were truly Shallahakri, then what terrible irony that the hand who slew so many of the elves would be the one to have found it once more. At least if the legends are not confused, if time has not erased their meaning, if Shallahakri is a place…and, if so, what does it mean that it was Andropinis who came forth?


copyright (c)2005-2010 Raven Daegmorgan
Athas, Dark Sun, and related properties are owned by Wizards of the Coast