Tales of the Inner Sea
The elves originally made their home far to the south, beyond the Red Mountains. Much like the dwarves, their stories make godlike beings of their earliest ancestors. Called the Anahon, or in some texts the Unborn or the Undying, these first elves arrived as refugees, seemingly from another world that had been destroyed or perhaps conquered by a mysterious force that remains unnamed even in their oldest legends. The Anahon were mighty, eternal beings, but have long since passed from this world. Many now make their home on an outer plane known as Arcadia. Elven scribes call the lands they once ruled the Summer Kingdoms, but these lands are now long lost.
The children of the Anahon were powerful, transcendent beings much like the Anahon themselves, though not quite as strong. Called the Firstborn, they were once great in number and were the parents of the elves. Late in the Summer Kingdoms period, fractures occurred amongst the firstborn that led to divisions within elven society that exist to this day. They became obsessed with what they called The Waning – the gradual weakening of each successive generation of the children of the Anahon. We now know that these generations were simply becoming more like the natural denizens of this world, and that the changes would essentially stop after four or five generations, but at the time the ancestors of the elves believed they were watching the extinction of their people. The different responses to the the Waning resulted in a number of divisions within elvenkind that persist to this day.
Wild Elves (PHB Wood Elves; can actually be any natural environment): Most of the firstborn recognized that their kind was being twisted and changed by the alien environment, and they sought to use their magic to reverse that by finding new ways to live in and interact with the world around them. They left civilized lands and sought places where they could interact with the natural forces of the earth in their most raw, primal state. They then began what they called a conversation with the land. What began as an attempt to create places in the world where their kind could maintain their nature evolved into the forging of the material echo plane called the Feywild. Though the firstborn themselves were stronger and changed more slowly within the Feywild, they still gave birth to children that were lessened. There were many attempts to create children that were like them rather than giving birth to them through natural means but these were ultimately unsuccessful as well, giving rise to the myriad races of the fey rather than a rebirth of the Anahon. In time, though their life force had been preserved, the physical forms of the firstborn faded from the world and they became one with the land, giving birth to the glades and hidden places that the Wild Elves now call home, natural places that embrace the resting consciousness, power, and even personality of the faded firstborn that once lived there. In these places, the feywild and prime material plane overlap and denizens of one can easily cross into the other and become lost.
Annathan Elves (PHB, High Elves): The high civilization of the Summer Kingdoms slowly faded as the Anahon gradually ascended to their heavenly realms and most of the firstborn scattered to the far corners of the earth. Most of the third and fourth generations remained behind in their ancient homes, but they had relied heavily upon the wisdom and power of their parents. The old cities, the old ways and the old magics fell apart, and the elves clung desperately to those few firstborn that remained. Among those firstborn, a new philosophy called the Path of Ascension was becoming popular. They believed that they could achieve the transcendent state of their parents through religious devotion to them. Massive temple complexes were constructed in locations calculated according to complex astrological algorithms, each dedicated to one of the Anahon, and the firstborn acted as priest kings within those temples. Cities grew up around the temples, the Anahon to which the temples were dedicated became patrons and city gods to the elves, and the Golden Cities period was born from the ashes of the Summer Kingdoms at around the same time the Feywild began appearing as a dreamlike shadow in the wild places of the earth. The golden cities and their great Anahon temples thrived for many thousands of years. The fate of these firstborn priest-kings is not known; though most records and much of the history of the elves was lost to fire and neglect during the dark times, most elven scholars believe that the scribes of the time never recorded what became of them for political reasons. It seems that the vast, intricate bureaucracies that did the work of governing the golden cities continued to act in the name of the priest kings long after their wild brethren had faded and become one with their glades and hidden places. Perhaps they achieved their sought after ascension, perhaps they fused with their temples in much the way the firstborn of the wild fused with the land, or perhaps they suffered some other, stranger fate. Whatever the explanation, by the time of the dwarven slave revolts and the years of darkness, the firstborn were no more. The youngest of their children, the third generation, survived, though, and it was they that pulled the elves back together, named themselves Archons, and founded the kingdom of Annath. The Archons aren’t godlike beings like their parents and grandparents. They seem much like ordinary elves, if generally more gifted in various ways. However, they have a much greater lifespan than elves of later generations. All living Archons appear ancient, and indeed the youngest of them is whispered to be more than seven thousand years old (it’s interesting to note that this would place a boundary on the disappearance of the last firstborn who followed the path of ascension at somewhere within the last seven thousand years). Of the 22 members of the original council of Archons, only three have passed since the founding of Annath, suggesting that the Archons will continue to rule the empire of Annath for some time.
Drow: The story of the origin of the drow is somewhat inconsistent with much of the rest of elven history, as it involves a drama that included Anahon but that seems to have happened during the Golden Cities period, at which point it is generally believed that all Anahon had transcended their earthly existence. The drow simply believe mainstream elven history is false. The scholars of Annath, on the other hand, explain away the inconsistencies by suggesting that either the Anahon once regularly visited the earthly plane via their temple complexes or that those named in the story might not have been true Anahon, but were instead firstborn that had attained great power by following the path of ascension. The story tells of a lovers’ spat between two Anahon, Alwssa and Brenin. There are many version of the story, but in each of them there is a betrayal. Most of the variations revolve around the nature of the betrayal and the identity of the guilty party, but all end in the slaying of Brenin by Alwssa – sometimes by assasination, sometimes in self defense, and in the case of a version of the tale told on the island of Alfar, as a result of a suicide pact that was only honored by Brenin. A war between their cities (the names of which change from tale to tale) followed, which grew to include all of the great city states of the era. Alwssa’s armies were eventually defeated. Alwssa was captured and her fellow Anahon cast a powerful curse upon her, dooming her to dwell forever in the darkness and robbing her of her beauty by twisting her lower half into the form of a giant spider (supposedly an ironic metaphorical commentary on the many schemes she had spun). They also stripped her of her name, an act which apparently had great significance among the Anahon, renaming her Lolth, “the accursed one” in their tongue. Lolth escaped imprisonment by making a pact with an abyssal lord named Dagon, and she dwells in the abyss to this day. Lolth’s curse struck her descendants as well. Most were simply marked with grey skin and red eyes, but some became painfully sensitive to sunlight and retreated beneath the earth, and a few became strange half spider creatures like their matron. Not all those stricken by the curse had followed her to war, but all were shunned and driven out by the people of the golden cities, and to this day they live separate lives from their elven brethren.
Orcs: Another race with possible elven origins is the orcs. There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the first appearance of the orcs. The story took place during the Golden Cities period, in Carcosa which was the one major civilization to survive the great collapse. In the depths of Carcosa is a great peak called Black Mountain that thrusts three times higher than the surrounding hills. This mountain was once home to a firstborn named Frith who sought to circumvent the Waning by creating a link between Black Mountain and the ancient lost homeworld of the Anahon. Beneath the mountain was a city called Orakan, a medium sized elven city that profited both from its position on a major trade route between inner Carcosa and the coast and from the often extravagant needs of the researchers within Black Mountain. At some point, the trade along this major route stopped. After several months without caravans, lone traders began appearing. They told stories of raging beast men in Orakan valley south of Black Mountain that ambushed traders. Sarnath, the capital of Carcosa at the time, sent scouts and discovered that the entire city had been overrun by these strange creatures. Eventually, the Carcosan army had to be sent in to destroy and disperse them. What they discovered after the beasts had been driven out was strange. There were no dead in Orakan. The city had been sacked, but was empty of both survivors and of human remains. The mountain had changed, as well. The stone was glassy and strange and the entrances that had led to the inner chambers where Frith and his followers did their research were simply gone. Those who approached the mountain were filled with a sense of dread, and a few members of the expedition were taken by a strange madness. Though some today question this conclusion, and a few noted scholars have even pointed out that there’s insufficient documentation of the incident to even determine whether those called Orcs today are truly the descendants of the so called beast men of Orakan valley, the official position of Sarnath was that some sort of planar event had occurred within black mountain that had transformed the people of Orakan into the creatures that still bear a distortion of the valley’s name. One piece of evidence has surfaced recently in favor of the elven origin theory. Gorth, the half orc author famous for a series of adventurous travel logs, made a journey to inner Carcosa in hopes of learning more about his ancestry. He claims that as he grew closer to Black Mountain, the murderous rage that he inherited from his father but that he had always easily kept in check became overwhelming, and that he chose to turn back after severely beating one of his guides.