Here’s a short story set in the Vestiges of Magic setting.
Ever since she was a girl, Ilda had a thing for elves. She watched all the classic movies starring Helianthus Lindarien Variel—A Sword at Sunset, The Heroes of the Hawkbow, The Wanwood Queen—until her video tapes wore out. She collected inter-hominin romance novels, where an elf would take someone back to the treetop village and show them just how superior elves were to humans.
She tried not to stare too hard at the elves when she saw them on the train, or in the many public parks, performing mysterious religious rites for their nature gods. They stood out amongst the humans—taller and more slender, androgynous, their hair often worn long and loose. They had high cheekbones and never went bald. There was just something about an elf that made them more appealing than regular human men. But they were in their own different world. Visible but remote.
As a teenager, she had thought about exploring her thing for elves. Studying their language and literature at university or becoming involved in elven/human diplomatic relations. But Mother pointed out that jobs working with elves were limited (their clans were picky about the non-elves they worked with). Mother also drummed into Ilda’s head that she needed to focus on her Life Goals: to obtain a six-figure salary, an equally wealthy husband, and a house in the suburbs with two well-behaved children.
And so, her thing for elves remained dormant until she met him.
Tired of waiting for the IT support desk to install her new software remotely, she went to visit them in person. And her heart skipped a beat because the guy behind the counter was elvish. Not a full elf, but one of his parents had been. He had high cheekbones, pointed ears and long dark hair that he wore tied in a ponytail. But his face was rounded, and his eyes were a deep brown with visible whites rather than completely green.
“Can I help you?”
And his voice was warm honey.
“Uh, I need GraphixChampionPro installed on my laptop.”
“What’s your barcode?”
Ilda read it off the back of her hand.
“I’ll queue it up for installation now.”
“Thank you,” she managed. “What’s your name?”
Heart racing, she waited for him to pronounce his elven name in the mellifluous language of Kytharien.
Ben. Ben? Did he have a proper elven name, like Gladiolus Sevarien Kalpesh? What was Ben short for?
She remained there too long, staring.
Ben gave her an odd look. “Uh, you don’t need to hang around. It’ll load when you restart your machine. Do that when you get back to your desk.”
She burbled something unintelligible and fled to the elevator.
“Are you paying attention?” Sessi asked her at their morning coffee, snapping her fingers in front of Ilda’s dreamy face. Slightly older than Ilda, she’d been at the office for years and had far more boyfriends.
“There’s this man in IT. An elf. Well, half-elf.” Ilda swallowed.
Sessi nodded, familiar with Ilda’s thing for elves. “Blended. I hear no-one calls them half-elves anymore. You sure you want to get involved?”
“Yes.” Ilda thought of Ben’s smooth voice. Despite years of progressive media and endless books and movies, the conservative elements of society frowned upon inter-hominin dating. But Ilda could handle anything for that voice and those eyes…
“Then ask him out. Before Anita from Sales does. She moves on to anything new in the company.”
“He might already be with someone.”
“He’s a man in IT. Not likely.”
“I suppose I could tell him about some computer problem I’m having at home and then—”
“He’s a man in IT, dear,” Sessi repeated. “Be direct. Otherwise, he’ll never get the hint.”
When she got back to her desk, Ilda steeled herself and called IT.
That voice. “Hello? IT Support.”
“Ben? It’s me. Ilda. From earlier.”
“Yes. GraphixChampionPro. Is it installed properly?”
“It’s fine. What do you think of coffee?”
“What about it?”
Oh, stab it, I’m going to have to be super-direct. “Meet me at the work café at 3pm for coffee.”
She got there at 2:50pm, hands sweating and staring at the flood of incoming people. She waited until 3:11, growing more certain with each passing moment that Ben had stood her up and—
“Hi.” Ben arrived, out of breath. “Sorry, I just had to tell someone to reboot.”
Ilda talked about the weather while Ben sipped at his expresso, fidgeting. He drummed his fingers and looked up at her.
Ilda noticed his nerves with growing dread. This is where he tells me he’s not into human women, or already has a person in his life, or—
“Do you like fantasy movies?”
To Ilda’s relief, Krothar the Mighty wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be, and neither was Darkblade III: Vengeance Calls or The Labyrinth of Doom, where they kissed for the first time. Ben didn’t want to talk much about elf-stuff, and quickly changed the subject when she asked if he’d been to the legendary elven kingdoms of the Wanwood, or the Windward Isles. However, he ordered in the entire series of The Impossible Archer for her, which starred Phyllanthus Lenandrum Selvi performing endless trick shots as she defended the village of Grassholt from a new threat each episode.
Their first formal outing was at ‘The Grand’, an expensive four-star restaurant which overlooked Shadow Bay. In turn, Ben arranged a surprise date where they bunjy-jumped off the giant historical statues of the Great Kings of Old that bracketed the Shatterwater River.
She played console games with him, which were fun, provided that she could button-smash her way to victory. She took Ben on her weekend cycling trips, starting on the simple River Ride, with the goal of trying out for the annual City Cycle race. He was so different from her last boyfriend, Gary the Lawyer. Ben didn’t demand that she look a million dollars before she went out or spend all night complaining about his expensive clients.
Ilda wouldn’t call things magical, or true love, but it was fun. Only, something was missing. The spark promised by years of soaking in elven-themed media wasn’t there.
And of course, there as the Other Problem—that blended people weren’t fully accepted by modern society. A crazy fact given that the continent was full of socially integrated hominin subspecies, and countless movies and books spoke of romance and relationships.
No one spoke about the real fact—that these relationships led to children, and that these offspring weren’t fully welcomed. Ilda hadn’t worried about it at first, given that they were living in the twenty first century.
Only the universe disagreed. Some of her old, high school friends gave her odd, shocked looks when she introduced Ben. Occasionally waiters refused to serve them, and old people grumbled on the bus,
“Does this happen all the time to you?” Ilda groaned as the rain battered down one evening after a movie date, when a cab driver with a ‘on duty’ light and an empty vehicle slowed down, and sped up when he had a good look at his fares.
“Yeah.” Ben tucked his hands in his pockets. “But you can’t let it get in our way. There’s been a lot of civil rights victories in the past few years, but a lot more has to change.” His voice hung there: an invitation for her to talk about this with him. What it was like to grow up blended, the world of civil rights and social justice… But then a cab pulled up and they got in. And civil justice sounded too heavy for Ilda to handle.
And the final straw was when Mother found out.
“Your cousin tells me you’re dating a half-elf.”
“Blended,” Ilda corrected. “No one uses the term ‘half-elf’ anymore.”
“You can’t date a half-elf,” Mother insisted, her voice sharp over the phone. “You’re my only child. Half-breeds are sterile, and I want grandchildren.”
“I’ve checked the internet, Mama. It’s a myth. There’s lots of blended families.”
“Even if you have children, they’ll have all sorts of medical problems.”
“That’s not true—”
“They won’t get into good schools, that sort of thing. Your second cousin Pat—”
“She married a dwarrow. Can you believe it?”
“It’s the modern age, Mama, and—”
“The child, all sickly, poor dear. In and out of hospitals, and all covered in hair—are you listening?”
“Do I have a choice, Mama?”
“Imagine waxing while in primary school. The Precursor made us different species for a reason. We’re not supposed to mix in that way.”
“We’re all subspecies, Mama—”
But Mother wouldn’t stop. Ilda thought about it more—perhaps Mother was right. Ben was a comfortable, battered sedan car, but she needed an expensive sports model with fire in its engine. He wouldn’t help her achieve her Life Goals.
Time to get rid of Ben.
“It’s not you, it’s me—” she began, having chosen the work café for the ‘I’m dumping you’ conversation.
“It’s your mother.” Ben stared at her.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“I thought you were ready. That you saw past society’s bullshit—”
“It’s not that—” Ilda shook her head. “I want someone progressive, someone who’s going to make six-figure salary, and help me afford a house in the Diamond and—”
“We had something good, and you’re killing it for something that doesn’t exist.” He got up and left, his untouched coffee curling steam in the air.
I have my Life Goals, she reminded herself while hugging her pillow close to her chest that night and feeling like the worst person in the world.
“Ben left me,” she told Sessi at morning coffee, giving her friend a fake version of events. After a few weeks, she had almost convinced herself that dumping Ben was her decision, and nothing to do with keeping Mother happy.
“I’ve just dumped Kallen,” Sessi said. “No sense of fun. Listen, I suppose you’re over elves now—”
“Well, no,” Ilda managed.
“How about we have a holiday? See some real elves. How they’re supposed to be.”
Sessi showed a website on her phone: “Elven adventure tour. Experience the traditional village of Illandrellan!” An elf dressed in robes aimed a longbow at some imaginary figure in the distance. A place that Ilda had always wanted to visit but never found the time.
“Sign me up.” Ilda closed her eyes. She needed that elven fantasy, as way to wash away the grit of her relationship with Ben. A world where everything between humans and elves was accepted, rather than one where cabs wouldn’t stop for you and where mothers complained incessantly about your doomed offspring.
Sweeping arches of ancient oak trees covered the forest road. As the electric bus rattled along, Ilda wished their blended elven tour guide didn’t remind her so much of Ben.
Stop that, she told herself. You have your Life Goals. You are completely over Ben. Now shut up and enjoy your holiday.
The guide wore traditional robes, woven from a shimmering white silk embroidered with tiny silhouettes of leaves. His badge announced his name as Laurel. “On your left, you can see the greeting tree.” He pointed to a flowering sapling festooned with garlands. “They act as guideposts to the settlements within the Wanwood.”
The bus passed through a large clearing, and they were in the village. They parked and Laurel escorted the pool of tourists outside. “This is the gathering space the clan uses for cooking and social activities, but everyone lives in the homes above. Over there is the communal crafting area, where you can see people weaving.”
Set up under the canopies were large wooden looms, where elves in their shimmering robes labored, producing intricately woven cloth.
Next, Laurel pointed to the lofty treetop houses connected by walkways.
“How do they get up there?” an old man from the Seastrider Islands asked. “My knees aren’t too good.”
“There are rope ladders, or a basket we use for taking goods up.”
Ilda struggled up the ladder (which looked suspiciously like nylon cord) while Sessi rode the basket, meeting her at the top. Did that pulley mechanism really exist in ancient times?
A pleasant blonde, blended elf escorted them to the festival hall, where they were served setharies—elven mead, or honey water, depending on one’s age—and ornain, the filling food used in epic journeys in ages past.
“The Heroes of the Hawkbow ate this as they crossed the plains to fight the Dark Emperor.” Ilda gestured at her bowl full of nuts, dried berries, and leaves in front of them.
“It tastes like ordinary trail mix to me,” Sessi muttered. “I bet this all comes from the Cubermarket.”
After morning tea, Laurel showed them an elven family house, and they watched a dance on the ground below. Before she boarded the bus, Ilda bought a souvenir tea towel from the gift shop.
“This is so dull,” a bored ogre tourist complained. “I wanted to visit the Pits of Oblivion and the Stormfort—where Grimtusk had her last stand—but nooo, my wife had to see elves.” An ogre woman held up her elven silken scarf and smiled.
“You can’t get to the Stormfort at the moment,” a human woman from the Lionmarches interrupted. “They’ve had to close off parts of the Volcanic National Park. Too many tourists.”
Ilda wondered if the Heroes of the Hawkbow had known that the sites of their ancient struggle against the forces of darkness would become tourist attractions.
After watching an elven bird-calling ceremony, Laurel head-counted the tour group and gestured at them to get back on the bus. As they drove away, Ilda peered out the rear window. The elves had stopped their industrious weaving and were sitting around, talking and smoking cigarettes.
“How was the real elven village?” Sessi elbowed Ilda in the ribs as she stared vacantly at the forest outside. “Just like your books?”
Ilda mumbled, “It was okay.” But no, it felt too touristy. Perhaps if she had ignored Mother, she could have studied Kytharien at university, and been one of the few humans invited to see an actual village. But that dream was distant, sacrificed to focus on her Life Goals. She closed her eyes and recited them but realized that she no longer cared.
* * *
They spent the night at Far Point, the nearest human town to the Wanwood. A mix of tourists from all over the continent sat in the bar, drinking and chatting, sweat dripping down their faces in the muggy heat.
Ilda couldn’t describe the emptiness within her. If her Life Goals were as hollow as the elven village, what was she doing with her existence? What did she really want? She tried talking about this with Sessi, but after several shots of elven brandy, neither woman could communicate very well. After Sessi nearly collapsed at the bar, Ilda dragged them both outside.
On the porch, the air rippled in the muggy heat. Stars drifted overhead in the night sky and bird calls echoed from the distant bulk of the dark woods.
A figure leaned against a beam—a full-blooded elf wearing only leather pants. Long dark hair, slicked back, hanging down to his waist. His eyes were a deep green, without sclera, and his abs were a lean six pack.
“Hey.” Ilda could not stop staring.
“You ladies after a good time?” the elf asked.
“Sure!” Sessi burbled.
“For you, five hundred,” the elf said.
Five hundred? Ilda froze. She’d never been this close to an actual sex worker, let alone a full-blooded elf, before. Her desire for something genuinely elvish warred with her nervousness.
“She’s game!” Sessi said.
“Ilda, come on. You only live once. This has been your fantasy for years. She’ll do it! Who are you, elfie boy?”
“Moonweaver.” Such a romance novel alias.
“Are you licensed?” Sessi asked.
Moonweaver flashed an ID card. Having one meant he passed a bunch of health and safety certifications. Ilda scanned the license for his real name, but there was only a barcode.
Ilda dry-swallowed. Perhaps a fling with a genuine elf would reconnect her with who she was before she’d become obsessed with Life Goals.
“No excuses, girl.” Sessi pulled on Ilda’s arm. “Let’s get some extra brandy.”
Moonweaver was highly skilled, but Ilda was too reserved, despite the alcohol, to enjoy her time with him. The encounter felt like every other time she’d been with a competent lover. Good sex, and that was it. The romance of elven lovemaking died when Ilda lay back on the bed as Moonweaver counted banknotes and tucked them in his leather pants. A job, and nothing more. Ilda wondered how many clients he regularly saw.
“Is the village real?” Ilda asked as he tugged on his boots.
He smiled. “It’s for you. For the tourists. We can’t share a real Kytharien village with you, but this is a good compromise.”
“I saw a lot of blended elves there.” Ilda whispered.
“Yes. They had to fight with the clan elders to build their own place, but in the end, it has worked out well. The half-bloods have a purpose, and the tourism money has enriched our clan.”
“They had to fight?”
“Change requires struggle.” Moonweaver said. “Sacrifice, unhappiness—but all these can lead to good outcomes, in time.”
Sessi called out from the next room. “You guys finished already? Moonie, can you do another round?”
Moonweaver looked at Ilda with his liquid green eyes.
She nodded, and the elf got up and left.
Ilda had a long shower and wished the walls weren’t so thin.
About a week after she returned from her holiday, Ilda packed up all her movies and books in a crate and took them down to the local charity store.
“Thank you.” The old lady behind the counter pawed through the box. “Oh, Prince of the Treetops. I did like this one. This is a sizable collection. You must have a real thing for elves.”
“Not anymore,” Ilda said. She left the shop and found a quiet space in the park, green leaves enshrouding her. Time to fight for what she wanted.
She took a deep breath and called a number. “Ben?” she whispered, hoping he would answer.