Elves (Royal: Rafë) are a humanoid species that almost exclusively inhabit the Drylands. With only about 50,000 individuals, the elven community is small but very diffuse, mostly inhabiting the Drylands' coasts. For much of history, elves were the only sapient species known to the Snow Empire that they also did not rule, though the discovery of the Panthiors and Danoians in the 1700s has changed this. Though they differ very slightly in appearance from humans, elves are most known for their preternatural lifespans and their unique plant, water, and healing based natural magic. Elves are isolationist and reclusive; fewer than 100 elves are known to have left or been taken from the Drylands in all recorded history, (though there are likely more than have been recorded who chose to disguise themselves before leaving. the most famous among them being Lord of Zeminar, Lorewell.
Elves are distinguished from humans by three general features: the characteristic pointedness of their ears, the prominence of their cheek bones, and their pale grayish skin. Otherwise, all their characteristics fall within the normal human range, though they are in general taller than most populations of humans in Gera. Their skin color ranges from relatively pale to slightly dark.
All elven natural magic abilities come from the fermented Drylands cactus that they consume, though this unknown everyone, including the elves themselves. The elves attribute their abilities to the land that they live on. Elves can, once a month, perform a purification ritual. The ritual will revert their body to that state it was in a month before. In addition, all but the most worst diseases will be cured and all but the most severe wounds will heal. Elves generally begin performing the ritual at ages 22 to 25, and assuming the perform it every month (and continue eating the cactus necessary to fuel it) they become functionally immortal. They can still die from injury, poison or disease (if the disease strikes at an inopportune time and kills them before a month has passed since the last ritual), so the average lifespan for elves is about 250 years old, with the oldest known elf having lived to about 850.
In terms of offensive magic, elves can cause the rapid development of and can control plants (though they cannot produce plants from nothing), and they also have a telekinetic affinity for water that far exceeds the control that of even the best Epzinic mages.
In addition, about one in ten elves have some level of Epzin. However, Epzinic magic is shunned by most clans, as it is claimed to be "dirty magic," suitable only for humans, an inferior species in their eyes. As such, the minority of elves that do have it rarely utilize it.
The fundamental division between elves is the clan: a matrilocal family group consisting of anywhere from 50 to 1000 elves. A clan is ruled by a clan mother, who is the oldest living woman in the clan. In younger and smaller clans, the clan mother is often a direct maternal ancestor of all female elves in the clan, but in more ancient, established clans, the clan mother is merely the oldest living woman descended from the original matriarch. Elven women almost always remain in the same area for their entire lives. Elven men, on the other hand, are itinerant, and after they have begun to perform the purification ritual (the elven mark of adulthood) almost always migrate to another clan, usually in order to look for a mate, as it is taboo to mate within one's own clan. An elven man may move between several clans over the course of his life.
In elven culture, there is no marriage ceremony, and there is no formal divorce either. If an elf wants to marry, they may simply start living with their partner. If an elven male wants to divorce his partner, he must leave the clan, however, elven women have little recourse unless they can get their husband banished for a crime. In addition, relationship structures are very flexible. Pairs of any combination of sexes are accepted, as is polygyny. Polyandry is the only marriage structure that is taboo, as is marrying before one has begun to regularly perform the purification ritual.
Because the purification ritual terminates any pregnancy, elves have precise control over when they have children; if a mother wants to bear her child, she must abstain from the purification ritual and age naturally until her child is born. This period is relatively fraught with danger, and being a mother is considered a heroic and sacred duty. As such, there is a ritual in which the clan mother chooses the couple that will be permitted to bear a child. For smaller clans this often occurs annually, however, in the larger clans, a couple is chosen only when another elf in the clan dies. Though it is a rare occurrence, children that are born from couples not chosen by the clan mother are considered illegitimate, and are stigmatized by their clan; illegitimate male elves often leave their clan before they have begun to perform the purification ritual, while few male elves will marry an illegitimate woman.
Though elves do not speak a single language, the languages they speak are clearly related; there are about ten main language groups and dozens of dialects.
Elves have inhabited their region of the Drylands for an unknown span of time. They had encountered humans, almost always Netkhal, but occasionally Waioloyan several times, but the encounters were rarely amicable. The elves were fiercely protective of both their culture and their territory and defended it with natural magic. Because the Drylands were seen as relatively undesirable, most nations that were in close proximity to the elves avoided their territory.
Though there had been intermittent contact between Chela and and the Snow Empire for centuries, elves were first chronicled formally in 1366 GY, one year after the Eagle Plan had launched. To the Netkhal, these new people bore a striking resemblance to an ancient legend in their mythology. Elves were said to be a mischievous, humanoid creature with pointed ears that lived in harmony with nature. Though the elves of Netkhal legend lived in the dense inner forests of Middle Man's Creek and not the desert, this epithet nonetheless spread rapidly as the name for this new type of people. The elves themselves, who had always considered themselves separate from humans, accepted their designation as a different species readily.
The first nation to pose a true military threat to the elves was the Snow Empire. During the Eagle Plan, they attempted an invasion. The Elven War, fought from 1367 GY to 1369 GY, was a relatively small-scale conflict; the majority of the Snow Empire's troops were focused on subduing northern Gera. However, the elves put up such a strong resistance, that, in 1369 GY, the Snow Empire brokered a treaty with elven representatives from the largest and most powerful clans. Under the terms of the treaty, elves would not expand beyond the Drylands or attack any human settlements, actions they had not intended to take anyway, and in exchange the Snow Empire would leave them alone and allow them to maintain their autonomy. This treaty allowed the elven Drylands, along with the Dark Canopy and Kaybushaw, to be the only areas in Gera not ruled by the Snow Empire by 1800 GY. Though the Snow Empire could have conquered the Drylands through sheer numbers in the intervening years, the lack of natural resources, harsh living conditions, and the willingness of the elves to not meddle in the Snow Empire's affairs made the idea of conquering the Drylands unappealing.
After the Snow Empire established a firm control of what would come to be called the Bread Bin, as well as Zeminar, increased contact between human and elves began. Limited trade started between humans and elves for the first time, as traditional Elven textiles and jewellery began to gain prestige among the elites of the Snow Empire. Elves mostly given various metal tools and, something they quickly became most fond of, alcohol (which they could heal any damage from consuming by performing a purification ritual). Battlists missionaries also attempted to convert several elven tribes, though almost all of these efforts ended in failure.
By 1610 GY, Lorewell had risen to power and convinced the current king to pass a law banning trade with elves, in order to keep them from gaining too many human technologies or knowledge. Lorewell, by this point, had established a black market trading network that reached all across the Bread Bin. He kept a small group of loyal new Calpirites that would secretly continue to trade alcohol and tools to the elves, but instead of exchanging textiles or jewelry, the elves were asked for a relatively small amount of Drylands cactus.