‘Attunement’ is the word used to describe a peculiarity of elvish physiology that makes them vulnerable to physical and mental changes when exposed to arcane magic. The quantity needed can vary from elf to elf, but usually needs to be prolonged and of a single type – practising magic can certainly provoke attunement, but so can living in an area such as a graveyard (which may be saturated in Necromantic energies) or a forest (which will attract large quantities of Nature magic).
Once this happens the elf in question ‘attunes’ to that magic, taking on the traits listed below. Once attunement has taken hold there is no known cure for it; at best, the process might be delayed or halted at a certain point with regular rituals known to the priests of Aurvandil. These same rituals can also keep the unattuned free from attunement, though the process is not foolproof.
Attunement is widely regarded as the scourge of elvenkind, due to the extreme nature of the changes it provokes, and is treated in much the same way as a hereditary degenerative disease might be. Very, very few elves seek it out, and those that do soon find themselves isolated from all but other attuned. It is not yet known why elves are so affected by arcane magic, but the recent emergence of the Manaborn has been taken by some as evidence that they are not the only race subject to attunement.
Fields of attunement
The arcane magics and their associated attunement traits are:
In the early stages of attunement elves may develop pale swirls upon their skin, or a slight lightening in hair and golden eyes. They start to exhibit signs of restlessness, never staying in once place long, and develop distinctly un-elven flightiness.
If the attunement progresses unhalted an air elf will lose all appetite as they become more and more pale and insubstantial, and their temperament more and more fickle and flighty, eventually becoming nothing more than a sprite of the wind. Most have by that point lost all interest in ground-dwellers, and they leave to live in the open sky.
In the early stages of arcane attunement elves develop a silvery tint to parts of their skin and hair, often with a slight luminescent quality. Their attitude to one of aloof coolness, a distance developing between themselves and those who take no interest in magic.
Once the attunement becomes more extreme, the silver streaks spread to encompass the elf’s entire body, their body wasting away. Arcane elves eventually lose their physical forms completely and become wisps, or small concentrated balls, of arcane energy. Though wisps are intelligent, they lack any ability to communicate with those who are not also wisps, and so seldom remain among other elves.
Dream-attuned elves are unique in that they exhibit at first very few physical changes. However, that makes this attunement regarded as one of the most dangerous, as it is difficult to halt before extreme attunement.
In early stages, the attunement may be nothing more than slight mental quirks and erratic behaviour. The few physical signs that emerge are slight and easy to miss: the elf’s eyes may shift colour or shade depending on mood, or they might experience (or provoke in others) periods of déjà vu.
Once dream elves become severely attuned, they display more extreme idiosyncrasies depending on their earlier mental quirks, to the point that most lose all touch with normal society through sheer insanity long before the physical changes cause them to fade from the world. Though it is likely that they become creatures of the Dreaming, very few elves (or indeed anyone) have ever dared venture there to find out.
In the early stages of earth attunement patches of the elf’s skin become rough or pebbled in texture and greyish in colour, their features craggy or sharply angled. Their hair and eyes darken to browns, or greys, or in some cases take on brilliant gem-like colours. The already stubborn nature of most elves becomes more extreme, with the attuned elf becoming obstinate and unmoving about even the slightest issue.
In later stages the joints of an earth elf stiffen and their thoughts as well as their movements slow. Eventually the elf becomes dormant, melding into the earth or rock where they have settled and becoming nothing more than an unusually shaped outcropping of beautiful stone. Though some insist that the soul of the elf within remains aware, it is much more likely that Earth is simply one of two known attunements that eventually end up killing those afflicted.
Elves in the early stages of fire attunement develop red or orange swirls upon their skin, with their hair and eyes becoming a similar colour. Their body temperature may rise slightly and their personality becomes more volatile – not always aggressive, but more given to extremes of emotion.
In later stages fire elves become more temperamental, unpredictable and aggressive. This is unfortunately coupled with their slow transformation into a sprite-like creature of fire, meaning that those undergoing extreme fire attunement often end up unwittingly immolating those around them.
Elves that begin to attune to nature magic start to develop animalistic or plant-like traits (such as claws, tusks and slitted eyes or bark-like patches on the skin), depending both on their own personal natures and the magics around them. Their personalities shift to, becoming either more primal or slower and more considered or aloof.
In later stages a nature-attuned elf has shifted completely to a creature of the forest – either a creature that resembles a humanoid animal, or one that has entered into elven legend called an ent. Neither have thought processes that in any way resemble an elf, or that of any other civilised race, though in the case of ents they can sometimes be persuaded to guard a particular grove by an especially diplomatic or powerful elf druid.
In the early stages of necromantic attunement the colouration of an afflicted elf blanches, similar to albinism, though their eyes gradually develop hollowness and a dark colour at odds with this. Their personalities may also be affected – elves at the beginning of necromantic attunement often become melancholy or morbid, though given the eventual results of necromantic attunement it is difficult to say if this is purely due to outside forces.
The later stages of necromantic attunement are horrific enough that the practise of necromancy in the elven kingdoms has been banned for almost as long as their written history extends. The flesh of the elf withers and they become skeletal in appearance, their mind becoming cold and grim. Eventually a necromantic elf becomes a rare and powerful version of a wraith, and more often than not the horror of the transformation drives it to seek relief by destroying those around it. As with Earth, this transformation into an unliving creature technically means that necromancy is the second of two attunements that end up killing the afflicted.
The early stages of shadow attunement cause the eyes and hair of an elf to darken, and raised blackened swirls to appear on the skin. Their personality shifts to become more secretive and quiet, and they often withdraw from society out of a desire for solitude.
Later stages cause a greyish undertone to what skin is left uncovered by the dark patterns, and the form of the elf often seems blurred, fading into the background. They become more and more solitary and introverted, often avoiding contact with those not shadow-attuned altogether unless in the direst of need. Eventually they fade away altogether, becoming creatures of pure shadow. Due to their eventual merging with the shadowlands, there have been perishing few fully attuned shadow elves in the world over the course of history.
One of the first signs of vitality attunement for an elf is the growth of their upper and lower canines, which can on some occasions cause confusion with the early stages of nature attunement. This can also be further confused by the shift in personality towards aggression and the revelry in physical activity that marks most vitality elves.
Eventually though, if the attunement progresses, the elf develops the blood-red eyes that set vitality apart as an attunement. They become ever more aggressive and bloodthirsty – eventually in an entirely literal sense as a vitality elf loses the ability to digest anything except fresh blood or raw flesh. Though the urges are not uncontrollable, they are overwhelming enough that most succumb, and for that reason vitality elves are rarely welcome in any society, elven or otherwise.
This is not helped by the confusion that often arises between vitality elves and vampires. However, vampires are a distinct form of undead that, while they sometimes drain blood as a means of drawing nourishment from their victims, usually have other methods by which to do so and almost always target sapient races. Vitality elves may need to subsist on blood, but the type does not matter and they are demonstrably alive.
Early stages of water attunement in elves cause swirling patterns similar to air attunement, though in shades of blue-green. Their personality changes to become calmer, abstract and cool, with a dislike of conflict.
Later stages changes hair and eyes to similar shades to the skin patterns, and their patterns of thought shift to complete serenity. As pleasant as it may seem, the results are often that water-attuned elves end up being unable to truly care about anything, no matter how important it might seem to others. This objectivity presumably stays with them as they eventually lose their form and become a sprite-like creature of pure, living water. This more often than not leads them to entering the nearest stream or river and (presumably) eventually finding their way to the sea, though records exist of water elves living in isolated tarns in the mountains as well as a type of nymph that enters into some elven legends as a spiritual advisor to brave questers.