The Marble Garden was perfect, to hear the stories. An entire city, plants an all, carved entirely from white marble.
The Marble Elves were at once its inhabitants, its curators, and its gardeners: grey-skinned, blue-veined masters of sculpture and stonework whose mastery of the art even extended so far as to let them preserve the greatest of their dead as statues in the pristine, lifeless boulevards of the Garden, creating a city that would live forever, untouched by decay or corruption.
And then the volcano came.
It’s not clear whether the eruption was brought on by the elves’ overreliance on magic, loosed upon them by a jealous magma dragon, or even whether it was nothing more than a natural disaster they hadn’t planned for. Nobody knows, and nobody will know, because the Marble Garden was wiped off the face of the earth.
The Garden is now a caldera of lava, dotted with ruined pillars and smashed arches. And the Marble Elves, so tied to the soul of their city, are now the Ash Elves, a broken people. Their skin is grey still, but the flaky grey of an overcast sky, and their eyes are weary and bloodshot, and their voices little more than a whisper.
Ash Elves are slender to the point of appearing on the point of starvation, and are often born physically frail — though, aside from a tendency towards diseases of the lungs, they are quite resistant to sickness. Those who train in battle are reliant on their impressive reach to do most of the work.
The Ash Elves took on a mission when their city fell. They saw the eruption to be a judgement upon them: the fates punishing their hubris and isolationism. They resolved to scatter to all corners of the earth, so that never again would they have a city to lose. They resolved to keep the story of their hubris alive. And they resolved to prevent any other civilisation from reaching the stasis that theirs did.
Orthodox Ash Elves still pursue this penance. They travel the world, seeking to involve themselves in every situation they encounter and bring it to a resolution. What’s important isn’t that things change for the better or for the worse (although individual Ash Elves will have their own preferences in that regard) but that things change. They will often carry news from place to place, and have an especial interest in bringing scholars and researchers together to combine their talents.
Not all Ash Elves are orthodox, though. Many have abandoned their penance: they either become convinced that they have served their time, abandon the whole prospect as ridiculous, or are seduced by the soft life. They live as well as anybody can, wherever will taken them in.
They still feel their loss, though. No matter how disillusioned an Ash Elf might become, they know that a fundamental part of them is broken and not coming back. Nobody drinks like an Ash Elf trying to forget it, and nobody fights like an Ash Elf who gets reminded