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The Brothers' War

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You would think that races as long-lived as dwarves and especially elves would have written records going back for many millennia, but that isn’t the case — the oldest date from around 200 B.C., and concern various tribes dealing with a series of setbacks: massive weather shifts, invasions of orcs and their ogre cousins, and all too often a clash between elves and dwarves and their gnome cousins. Some great catastrophe had obviously happened, but no written records reach back far enough and if any elves yet live that remember those days they do not speak of it.

It took six hundred years, but eventually things stabilized, with the dwarves in their mountains and the gnomes in the mountains’ valleys, the orcs on the plains, and the elves in their forests. But while elves and dwarves more or less got along, both races, but especially the elves, suffered from constant harassment from the orcs. Around 350 A.D. some particularly brutal orc tribes with stolen dwarf weapons virtually annihilated the elves living in the western Ytarrian Forest. Only the toughest, most skilled, and luckiest elves survived, and the brutalized survivors resolved to do something about the orc problem — and the dwarves while they were at it. These survivors formed the core of a movement calling itself “Defenders of the Shaded Woodlands,” dedicated to the elimination of non-elvish sentient life from Yrth.

About 600, the Defenders convinced the leaders of the elves to go to war with the dwarves of Zarak, an attack the dwarves consider completely unprovoked and have never forgotten, but the war went poorly and ended when a dwarven peace delegation faced down the Defenders’ spokesmen in front of the elven High Council. That debacle discredited the Defenders for many elven generations, and the Defenders chose to focus thereafter on the orcs and ogres. They rebuilt their reputation defending elven villages from orc invasions and spent centuries trying to exterminate the race but continually failing due to the orcs’ high fertility.

Tiring of the constant stalemate between elvish skill and power versus orcish fertility, around the year 1000 the leadership of the Defenders decided drastic measures were called for. The movement counted among its supporters many of the most powerful mages, and together they designed a massive ritual designed to either send the orcs to another world (most likely), summon creatures that would be hostile to orcs (unlikely), or simply a “wish” for something that would take care of their problem (very unlikely). The main ritual was cast on the western edge of the Ytarrian Forest, with supporting rituals performed in elven communities across the continent, and reached its climax on June 26, 1050.

The result was the most massive spell backfire in recorded history. The devastation at the center of the ritual created the mana-less wasteland known ever after as the Great Desert, while the backlash cascading into the links with the supporting ceremonies reduced many elven communities to flaming ruins, then jumped to other high mana spots, not all of them elvish.

That alone would have been bad enough, but the Defenders got their Bane as well — thousands of beings snatched from their worlds and deposited across Yrth’s surface. From the arid world of Gabrook came the lithe, short, green-skinned, curious goblins, as well as kobolds, hobgoblins, and reptile men. From the sylvan paradise of Loren’dil came halflings, giants, minotaurs, and centaurs. From the water world of Olokun came merfolk, shark men, and maybe dolphins and octopus folk. And especially, from Earth came humans—humans from England, Europe, Dar al-Islam, the Orient, and more. Nor was that the only such event — the occasional banestorm still occurs, depositing a few stunned and bewildered people in a new world, and the last major banestorm event, from 1551 to 1606, deposited thousands of humans from Renaissance France mainly on the islands of Araterre.

Over time, the newcomers adapted to their new home, learning magic from the elves and continually growing in population (especially the humans), until new nations formed, Christian, Muslim, the bizarre Oriental stew of Sahud, as well as regions of pagan tribes. While the ancient dwarven kingdom of Zarak remains as impregnable as always, independent elven communities survive in the remnants of the Ytarrian Forest (especially the Blackwoods and the Great Forest), and orc tribes fight with nomadic tribes of centaurs and humans for control of the plains west of the Great Desert, it has become obvious that the future of Yrth now belongs to humans and those races, primarily halfling and goblin, that join themselves to their destiny.

Some Defenders actually survived the catastrophe, but this time there has been no forgiveness from the rest of elven society (that have never forgotten that all the orc raids together hadn’t done as much damage to elves as their own people) and they now form their own separate communities with sympathetic spies scattered throughout the greater elven communities. They still call themselves Defenders or Purifiers (as some began calling themselves), but to the non-elven races they are simply the dark elves.