The Peoples of Myth
I hope this goes without saying, dearest little cousin, but the world of Alovis is predominantly populated by humans. You, myself, everyone we have ever met is a human. But as your letter inquired, it is true that this was not always the case. It is clear, from both the tales the witches tell and my own explorations into the World Before, that humans were once only a few nations among many in the world. However, at some point during the World Before, virtually all of our erstwhile companions were extirpated.
Who these other races were, why they fought, when they died, and even who destroyed them is mostly lost to time; depending on the telling, jealous and greedy humanity destroyed them for their land, vicious gods rained retribution upon them, or they even destroyed themselves in war long before woman could pose any threat to them. We know little about them but their names: the Alareun, the Meonoans, the Sea-Peoples of Ranak, the Inusannon.
But not all of these other races are thought to be completely dead. You are, of course, familiar with the crystal dwarves. In many ways, we owe our survival to them. Following the Calamity, humanity fled into the tunnels deep below the surface -- great underground highways dug and maintained by the crystal dwarves. Deep in the gloom, we eked out a way of life as the surface world recovered from a seemingly endless fire. But, then, you ask why they are posed as villains in so many childrens' tales. It is a fair question. Boys' stories often exclude such nuance, but soon you will be an adult, and must throw away frivolously simple toys.
The crystal dwarves never wished to be our saviors, or anyone else's. They are among the most alien peoples to have ever walked Alovis. Shorter and more robust of form than the average person, their flesh is gray as stone, with a rare few bodies that are white as alabaster or black as basalt. Despite this, they are not like Patrolla; they bleed, and if you stare into the uncovered eyes of a crystal dwarf, you can see this is true for yourself. (It is true that they have no eyes, only holes where such would be on a human.)
Oft-silent, the crystal dwarves do not seem to find much use for speaking, as most of their communication when amongst themselves is mental. This is often linked to jagged gem-like protrusions along their bodies, the source of their prodigious psychic powers. The truth is deeper than that: the gems are the true minds and souls of the crystal dwarves, and a single body is truly nothing more than a colony for a group of such gem-minds.
These elements make the dwarves difficult to communicate with; we share little in common with one another, and what small amount one understands of the other is rarely met with empathy. So long as humans do not disturb what the dwarves hold sacrosanct, they will tolerate us, but not engage in trade; if we cross an unseen boundary, they will rise up in war without hesitation.
Now that we have reclaimed the surface world, encounters with the crystal dwarves are few and far between; every power of the continental region has wisely chosen to give the underworld a wide berth. But every now and then, some hapless wanderer finds herself in the crystal roads...
Do not pout at me. I know that the crystal dwarves are not truly what you desired to hear about on this day, but humor me; I infrequently get to speak of my passions, and you made the mistake of asking me about a subject on which I am passionate. Flattery may get you where you want to go, but it can also take you a bit further.
You want to know about elves, the long-eared beauties whose very thoughts are magic. The oft-rumored first children of the heavens, the souls who drew first breath when the old gods descended to touch the sky. You have heard that they live tucked away in grand haven cities, far separate from those of man, with all the grandeur of the World Before and more.
I have never met an elf, I have never seen any evidence that they exist; they seem to solely be the stuff of fanciful tales the covens tell -- stories they tell rarely. With all that witches seem to be enamored of their own wisdom, why would this be the one story they are hesitant to share? I will tell you why, dearest little cousin, because it is a story that does not stand up to scrutiny. Skyships have filled the air for the better part of a century, working to build ever-more accurate maps of the Imperial territories -- and of rivals. Never has an elf city or any other such settlement been sighted.
Elves are nothing more than a fairy tale, a lie given shape by the witches to inspire hope in a downtrodden people through the long centuries we spent underground. They were invented to bring promise that one day, one day soon they would heal the land and make it habitable for humanity again. Instead, we spent who knows how long scrabbling around in the dark? And when we came to the surface, the witches -- and later mages -- had to work to render the merely tolerable land fit for settlement again.
No one healed this land for us, dearest cousin. There are no elves. The witches know this, it is their most deeply guarded secret. You will ascend to your mother's office soon. It is time you stopped speaking of children's stories for a bygone age, and put your head into more grounded endeavors.
Your loving cousin,
Laura Lynn Reighd, H.P.