When the Elves are Gone
Part Three of Three
By: Melissa Ridley Elmes
You are growing restless. I ask you again to bear with me; we are near the end of my story. But brace yourself as well; you already know it is not a happy ending. Let us move to another location. I will take you to our temple district and show you what faith did for us.
These are the temples of the gods we elves revere. They are beautiful, are they not? Beautiful and empty. The gods are not here. Come, this is the one I most wanted to show you; this is the temple of our healing order. You see there are no healers or clerics here. They are gone. But look at the altar. Do you see the offerings lying all about? An abundance, an embarrassment of wealth, the kind of wealth that can only be accumulated by the already rich over the course of generations. Those tithes have sat there, offerings to indifferent gods, doing no good, for a decade. Ah, you had a sudden start just now, a moment of recognition. Yes, a decade. The same length of time it has been since the shop keep of the jewelry store we visited earlier last graced his business with his presence. What you see before you was his last act. You look upon his efforts to still the rising tide of illness sweeping through our people. He organized the event, paid for the ceremony, called the clerics together to call on the gods for succor. The Great Ceremony of Healing, we called this event. Those involved in its planning were so certain that the gods were on our side, that they would hear our call for help and attend to us, when they saw the wealth we offered in return.
These offerings did not please the gods, and they did not come to us. Why? The gods do not explain themselves, but I imagine it is because they watched us walk with such arrogance down this road that it was clear we would never learn from our errors and mistakes, and if we could not learn from our errors and mistakes we were doomed to repeat them, and perhaps the gods were tired of this incessant cycle. Obviously, that is only my interpretation. We cannot know what the gods think and feel, only that our hope of salvation through their grace was not realized. What did happen, is that everyone at the ceremony who drank from the communion cup fell deathly ill and died, alerting us that our water supply was now fully poisonous to us. You can imagine the panic.
That was the beginning of the exodus. At first, when they left, our leaders told us that they were journeying to meet with the Union of Nations and seek answers to our plight. When they did not return, we knew they had abandoned us and were either dead or living elsewhere. Others left, eventually most of us. We never heard again from those who left. As for those who stayed, we made do with what we could manage, those among us still engaged in merchant trade importing as much water as they could from other locations—still tainted, but not to the deadly levels of our own water supply. We rationed every ounce of liquid. We hoped, perhaps, that we might simply wait it out, that the river would eventually flow clear again. This has not happened. It no longer matters. We are doomed whether the water flows clean and clear again or not.
I come now to the end of my sad story. But I cannot bear to be here any longer in this temple among these failures of faith and hope. Let us walk. We will visit the medical center, and there I will show you the final, irrevocable evidence that elves will truly vanish from this world.
Here we are, at our final destination on this tour of the city: the medical center. Another building no human has set foot in until now. Again, please, I beg you, do not concern yourself with your reception. If there is anyone here besides us, they will be busy trying to solve a puzzle they know they are missing the final pieces of and will never complete.
Come, just down the hall and into this office, the records room. I want to show you some medical files. Look here, this is the first one, the file of an elfwoman born several hundred years ago. Note that she is recorded as having difficulty conceiving. The doctors were unable to determine any specific cause; she is listed simply as being infertile. And here, again, another file, a different woman, the same inability to conceive, the same diagnosis of unexplained infertility.
And another. And another. An entire generation of elven women unable to conceive and give birth. It was inexplicable, and our doctors worked feverishly to determine the cause, even as our government worked feverishly to prevent us from learning it. For they knew. They knew, and once they realized what they had done they could not bear to face it. That is why this city stands empty, with no one governing or seeking to turn things around. This cannot be turned around. Have you guessed yet? No, not even now? Here, one last medical file—my own. I shall tell you what it says:
Mine was the last recorded live birth of a female elf, and I, too, am infertile. The infertility stems from the genetic mutations caused by the toxins of dragonfire, and it is irreversible. There will never again be an elven child born from the womb of an elfwoman. When the few elves left of my generation who have not succumbed to the various diseases introduced into our population die, that will be the end of the elves. I cannot say how long that will be. I am young yet, only a hundred and fifty, but I may still grow ill and die early. I do not know how many of us are left, or the health statistics of those yet living. There is no one left to keep such records. It does not matter whether those records are kept. It will not alter the outcome.
Ah, you are thinking, now I know why you have told me this story, it is to discredit the government that betrayed you. You want this story to be shared so the world will marvel at how corrupt they were and be angered by their indifference to the effects of their actions upon their constituents. But no. For I am the daughter of the Speaker of the Upper House, and I feel neither joy nor vindication in relating how he failed me as father as much as governor. I do not share this story to discredit my government, but because I watched these events destroy my family, my community, and my society, and if I can prevent them from escalating to destroy the world, then I am duty-bound to do so. I have learned the hard lessons my people did not learn in time: that we cannot live in the world and apart from it, and that the world does not need us.
No, the world does not need elves, and it will go on when we are gone. But those who remain in the world when we are gone may benefit from what we leave behind.
We leave behind lessons in what befalls even the most revered civilization when it lacks humility, the need for cooperation and shared governance, and the importance of being open to change.
We leave behind a warning to stay connected and never turn away from others, and a hard-won understanding that honoring our traditions and the past as we elect to remember it must never supplant living in the present as it is and looking toward the future as we are shaping it.
We leave behind this city of our design, filled with our artifacts and wealth, our sanctuary-turned-mausoleum. There will be no one to guard it from the world. You may choose to enter and live within it, but I suspect you will not want to. Beautiful as it is, without the presence of elves it is merely a real place, and you wanted the dream.
And that is perhaps our greatest gift to the world, and our most significant legacy when we are gone. We leave behind the dream of elves, the story of a race of beings so pure and beautiful and remote and mysterious that it can never be understood, or equaled, or replicated.
May these dreams bring you whatever hope and comfort you seek from them.