Often mistakenly used synonymously with "wild elf", the term "wood elf" only refers to elves of the Alphorian colonies on the Foringean continent. Historically it has been used of colonists that used to build their houses primarily from wood and tended to live close to or even surrounded by forests. Though the term has never been in official use in the empire, it does seem to be wholly elven in origin, only later adopted by humans.
Wood elves are mostly descended from lowborn elves that moved to the continent to gain more freedoms, even pardons from criminal charges, afforded to those that willingly became colonial pioneers. Some also share mixed heritage with elves that had been exiled from Alpharion during the Cold Aion, before the forming of the first colonies. Those few survivors and their descendants that were willing to reintegrate to the empire passed on valuable survival information to the newcomers, though for a large part they were written out from official history.
One reliable way of recognizing a wood elf is a tattoo on the right temple, a symbol of the rising sun. This was given to all who left or were forced into exile from the island of Alpharion so they could be identified if they attempted return. This became known pejoratively as the Colonist Brand. Many colonists altered their tattoo to make it look like a tree, which has been suggested as an alternate origin for the term "wood elf". Though never enforced or even officially recognized, this sun-tree has become a cherished symbol among colonial elves and is often given to colonial children at an early age.
Otherwise wood elves are very similar to their insular cousins, though due to a different lifestyle tend to be more tanned and muscular. They also more often have brown or red hair. Wood elf clothes can also be a giveaway. Colonial elves wear mostly wool, linen and leather rather than fine spider silks. For most humans wood elves appear incredibly advanced in most ways, but are seen as earthy and a bit backward by the elves of Alpharion.
All modern dark elves are descended from the people of Morantia, an Alphorian colony that rebelled against the oppressive laws and heavy taxation of the empire and declared independence. After a military intervention failed, the Kyrkos did something unexpected: a greater spell known as the Branding was cast, changing the hair color of almost every Morantian. It is suggested that this was intended to scare Morantia into rescinding its independence or to discourage any other colonies with similar plans. Morantians certainly did not falter, and no further harm came to them.
Due to the Branding, most dark elves have raven black hair, though other shades exist largely due to intermarriage with non-Morantians but also a minority of Morantians that escaped the Branding. Rarely dark elves are born with a slightly purple skin hue, though not as extreme as seen in ogres and some hobgoblins. This appears to be tied to the Branding rather than a novel mutation, though it only manifests rarely. Curiously albinistic dark elves always have a light purple skin despite lacking normal human pigmentation.
Otherwise dark elves are most similar to the wood elves, both physically and culturally. However they are proud of their independence from Alphoria and its strictures, and have repealed all areteicity laws and marriage and childbirth limitations. Despite the official statements of the Kyrkos, this has not lead to an increase of goblinistic traits among dark elves. As a result of this relaxed atmosphere most mixed marriages between elves and other human races on Gea take place in Morantia, and this intermixing has resulted in rare dark elf individuals with traits not seen in other elves, such as facial hair in men.
After the Branding dark elves began to see the traditional elvish tattoos as an extension of Alphorian tyranny, and the tradition has since lost much of its popularity. With the areteicity laws gone, the state no longer requires any types of markings to denote social status. A large portion of dark elves now has completely untattooed temples, which sets them clearly apart from other elves.
There is some debate on the exact origin of the wild elves, but what is agreed upon is that they are the descended from Alphorians exiled to Foringea during the Cold Aion. In the early Cold Aion this was almost a guaranteed death sentence, but as the climate began to warm, more and more exiled elves survived and gradually built their own society on the continent. These survivors became the first wild elves, but their ranks were later bolstered by colonists that fled into the wilds for various reasons. During the Colonial Era wild elves that refused to submit to the authority of the Alphorian Empire were driven further towards Goitia, and today they are the only elves to make permanent residence beyond the Goitian Wall.
Wild elves tend to be shorter in stature than Alphorian elves, as well as stockier and more muscular, though may still appear slight in comparison with humans. Their hair tends to be tinted red, though they are known to dye their hair which can obscure the natural color. Wild elves commonly have noticeably larger noses than other elves, and their skin is often freckled. Although these traits are often seen as signs of goblinism by high elves, there is no evidence that wild elves are any more goblinistic than the average Alphorian lowborn.
While the first ancestors of wild elves were marked with simple tattoos as exiles, their modern descendants they now sport far more tattoos than any other elvish subpopulation. These aren't limited to the temples and forehead either, but can be found on practically any body part. Many wild elven tattoo designs resemble those of the Goitian Tribes rather than those of Alphorians, but is is unclear which group has inspired which.
The most areteic Alphorians, termed highborn, function as the privileged ruling class of Alphorian society, similar to the nobility of human cultures. However they only have to prove their lack of detrimental or undesirable goblinistic traits to be counted among the highborn, even if their parents were not. Thus high elves are less a people and more a social caste, although this is often lost to non-Alphorians.
High elves are stereotypically tall (6-7 ft) and slender, the males lacking obvious masculine features of most human populations such as facial hair, a protruding brow or prominent jawline. Indeed there is little sexual dimorphism present beyond obvious sexual characteristics. This feminization of features has been explained with Elven beauty standards, but is probably equally as much a side effect of mildly goblinistic traits which have been adopted as the new normal due to their ubiquity in the population. This mild goblinization also explains the presence of pointed ear tips, along some other less obvious traits divergent from baseline humanity.
Almost all high elves are fair-skinned with light brown to blonde hair, though red and darker colored hair are sometimes seen, as long as they have been proven to to be connected to goblinistic mutations. This is believed to reflect the prevaling features of the founding population of Andirite mages and possibly the natives of pre-Ruin Alpharion as well. While the common stereotype describes high elves as blue-eyed, green, grey and hazel eyes are just as if not more common, as they are among elves in general.
High elves are the longest-living humans on Gea, though only a fraction of this longevity is innate. It is estimated that without life-extending substances highborn elves would have a maximum lifespan of about 200 years. Thanks to the alchemical formulation known as panachrest, as well as its now legalised inferior imitations, Alphorian high elves can attain lifespans in excess of 800 years. Those deemed worthy by the Kyrkos, the ruling body of Alphoria, to receive the panachrest may indeed be functionally immortal as long as they keep using it regularly.
To an outsider, many low elves or lowborn can be hard to distinguish from the highborn, apart from their less lavish attire and less elaborate facial tattoos. Indeed sometimes the difference may be merely the result of their parent publically voicing the wrong opinion or breaking a taboo, even getting on the wrong side of the sarcomancers responsible for evaluating their child. Juvenile delinquency can also be enough for an otherwise areteic individual to be classed as lowborn, and elven girls are know to have tried to take advantage of this to avoid the duty of bearing areteic children to a man they barely know.Some lowborn show their more advanced goblinistic traits more distinctly, such as a very long nose, exaggeratedly pointed and large ears, very dark hair or skin tinted towards yellow or green. Other goblinistic traits, including ones related to metabolism, immunity or digestion take sarcomantic expertise to find. Mental characteristics, such as poor attention span, impulse control or ability to concentrate can also be used to determine areteicity. During the Cold Aion both goblins and lowborn elves were considered weaker-willed and intellectually inferior to the highborn. Though the situation has improved for the lowborn especially after the Librarians' Revolt, goblins still suffer from this prevailing stereotype.
The history of the Elven race is intimately tied with the Alphorian nation. Arguably one would not exist without the other.
At the end of the War of Ruin, most of the surviving Andirite mages took refuge on the island of Alpharion and transformed it into a safe haven by erecting an enormous magical force field known as the Aegis Megas. Unfortunately the Aegis together with the fallout of the war exposed the inhabitants of nascent Alphoria to constant high levels of background magic, which lead to an epidemic of goblinistic mutations.
To combat the goblinization of the populace a new policy was formulated to screen newborns and youths for harmful mutations. Those deemed 'areteic', i.e. free of negative goblinistic traits, were given special place in society but were obligated to only marry other areteics and produce at least five children, two of whom had to be areteic themselves. Those with non-severe of goblinism were either given limited options to marry and have children or forcibly sterilized. Those with overt goblinism, especially if they showed clear mental signs, were left to themselves but banned from having children with even "lower" areteics and treated as third class citizens.
Within a few generations this policy had produced two distinct populations separated by societal stratification: the elves and the goblins. The elves were further split into the highly areteic highborn and the less areteic lowborn. When the Cold Aion drew to its end and the colonization of the continents began, elves fractured further, eventually forming a number of clearly physically and culturally different subpopulations. Although along the centuries there has been much intermixing between these elven "subraces" as they were once called, they are still often recognizable and form an important part of modern elven identities.
In Cold Aion Alphoria the areteic status of a child or a youth was marked with paired tattoos on the temples, one received at an early age and the second on the cusp of adulthood. Lowborn elves began decorating their temples with additional tattoos, and the tradition spread partially due to the religion of Telomagism to all elves. Even today the highborn carry a heptagram as their symbol while the lowborn have a pentagram. Elves exiled to the Foringean continent and later colonists who moved there of their own volition were given a symbol of the rising sun to separate them Alpharion's inhabitants.
It is worthy of note that despite their divergent features elves still generally consider themselves human. The word 'elf' (originally "alph") was coined by Foringeans to describe the first Alphorian intruders. During early Colonial Era Alphorians began using it of wild elves while humans made no such distinction, and modernly it has entered both common and offical use in the Alphorian empire as well.
While even the highborn see elves as part of the human species, they consider themselves an improvement on the pre-Ruin humanity with more "human" qualities than the supposedly more animalistic baseline humans. One of the teachings of the Alphorian state religion of Telomagism is that the entire human race will eventually evolve into elves and other kinds of humans will disappear.