A History Lesson, or Of Demons and Elves
Disclaimer: The world of the Hollows and the characters therein belong to the fabulous Kim Harrison and the folks who own the copyright. I play for fun, not for profit.
Spoiler Alert!-This fic contains spoilers for Pale Demon.
This fic is pure speculation. I've had this idea in my head for the last few books, and it almost, kind of seemed like a real possibility by the end of PD, so I had to explore it a little.
It didn't end when a handsome prince kissed a sleeping princess and brought her back to life.
And it certainly didn't start there.
You see, once upon a time, a very, very long time ago—so long that the history books of demons and elves alike only record the folk tales handed down from the authors' many-times great-grandparent's; long, long before even fairy tales begin—there were two kinds of sapient, bipedal creatures on Earth. One kind could do magic and the other could not. The latter were humans—homo sapiens. The former…well, they were something else. Homo arcanus. Not even the best paleontologist will find their bones. They were smart enough to burn their dead and scatter the ashes. Look at Atlantis if you don't believe it.
Atlantis, in fact, is a good example of the power of the descendants of homo arcanus and the damage they unleashed. But in fact, you have to go back farther than that to find the species itself. Back before the pyramids were envisioned, before the grassland of northern Africa became a desert, before anything remotely human were out of their caves, that's where you have to look. Back to a time when the only civilizations in existence were built by something other than merely human, back when members of h. arcanus were worshiped as gods for the power they could wield. At times generous, at times malevolent, always capricious and unpredictable.
But, like all good things, their days of peace and casual dominance over the hide-wearing savages came to an end. No one remembers anymore—no the oldest demon, not the most learned elf—what exactly started the rift.
It could have been like this: One group of h. arcanus came to believe that wild magic was too unpredictable, too dangerous for common use. And who wants a product that isn't easy to use? (This group had always had a flair for business, you may imagine.) So they began experimenting and found ways to make the power more accessible and more easily managed but only by creating a greater imbalance in the natural forces than the raw stuff did. That imbalance showed up on their auras and was a ghastly sight for those traditionalists who preferred the wild magic they were brought up with, not understanding that with a little business sense and a lot of time, the smut could be gotten rid of before the bearer died.
On the other hand, this is what might have happened: Upon seeing what a group of their compatriots were doing to themselves in their quest for power and fiscal security, those who were raised to respect and revere the force they used were appalled and started to speak out against the practice of twisting raw magic into curses and spells thus creating the smut that covered a persons' aura and might very well drag a person to who-knew-what kind of end when they died. It was, after all, a perversion of the natural balance and surely something dire would befall someone who died with his or her aura, the connecting agent between his/her body and soul, so besmirched. It wasn't just a moral issue. It was out of concern for lives and soular well-being.
Time passed—less than a decade, in fact—and what started out as an academic debate heated into a political argument which transformed into a deadly feud and finally transmuted into war.
The difference of species didn't come first. The difference in opinion did. Because something neither group understood until much later was that magic itself was an imbalance of nature, and it can and did act on the physical plain in large and small ways. It could help build monuments that baffle skilled architects as to their construction. It could also rewrite a genome with surprising skill and efficiency, in almost no time at all, in a large population of people, if those people persisted in only one kind of magical use. Just as muscle memory can be burned into neural pathways, so too can magic use be soldered onto a double-helix.
It was a complete fluke that the loudest voices amongst the first proponents against twisting curses had slightly pointed ears. They were all from the same wealthy, greatly-respected, and highly influential family, and pointy ears happened to run in that family. But from the moment of the rift, the pointed ear became a political statement of Traditional Values and Pure Magic (the family's campaign slogan, of course.) A pointed ear-shell was both very trendy and a mark of status amongst the elves-to-be. This was even more true after several centuries of fighting and the elves decided to take a hand in their own genetic diversion and used a touch of magic and a splash of technology to combine all the best of homo arcanus with the breeding success of homo sapiens, who by that point were well on their way to populating the entire globe. In the process, they lost the distinctive h. arcanus side-ways pupil, further distinguishing the two groups—in case someone was wearing their hair down one day and thus covering their dramatically tipped ears.
The proto-demons, of course, saw this genetic dilution of noble and superior genes as utterly disgusting and disgraceful. After all, why go so far as to change the whole species into something inferior when, if you just wanted a cosmetic change, you just use a nice spell that lasts a while before you dunk it in salt water, or use a curse and change just one feature or one person to suit your liking? Just so the "elves" could breed faster? Was it worth it? Only prey animal bred quickly because so many turned into food. Predators had small broods, and only the strongest survived. And so they divorced themselves completely from wild magic so much that their bodies became unable to tolerate the force of the unbridled magic they could once call. It forced the demonesses to become very clever and very cruel, cursing their children in the womb to allow them to survive birth. Birth is wild magic. (So is death, but demons can use that since the magic goes in the other direction.)
Millenia passed, and the two groups that had once been homo arcanus were now arcanea daemona and arcanea aelfarus.
You know some of the story from here on already. The demons wanted to get rid of the competition. They were always very aware of supply and demand, and magic was just another commodity. So they created the Ever-After and accidentally got stuck there as well. Then the elves found a way to weaken the children of the demons, to stunt their magical abilities when it didn't out-right kill them. The demons retaliated in kind. The newly born witches and warlocks—those that survived first the elves' tampering and then their demonic parents' culling—found a way to escape back to reality and hid amongst the humans. After all, they couldn't twist curses, so their auras were lighter. They didn't get dragged back into the dark when the sun came up. And two thousand years later, the elves figured it out, too.
Here's the part you don't know. It was only ever known to a few of the elves, those who constructed the retrovirus that they unleashed into the demon population. The demons never figured it out because they were too busy killing their defective children. So before long, the secret was forgotten.
This secret is this—what the elves did to the demons was not the same as what the demons did to the elves. The demons released a curse to slowly weaken key amino acids that hold a double-helix together so that each successive generation of elves (who were breeding nearly human-fast by then, thanks to their own genetic splicing) became slightly less stable, slightly weaker. But the retrovirus the elves released invaded only the male demons and almost instantaneously rewrote their gene code, reactivating now-dormant homo arcanum—elfish—gene codes that made kindling the curses impossible since those genes were not designed to work that kind of magic, having been all but discarded as the species split. The children born of their fathers' changed genes were, therefore, slightly less demon, slightly more elf than any creature had been for several thousands of years. When the witches grew up and had children of their own, those children were even more hybridized, and those that had genes too closely related to demons, too attuned to those particular magical pathways etched into the gene code, died in infancy.
When Rachel Mariana Morgan was born and the elder Kalamack did his friend a great favor by saving his daughter, he quite unknowingly created the first true homo arcanus in nearly a million years. Rachel, like all witches, had some elven DNA thanks to the original virus the elves themselves created. But now her demonic genes were rehabilitated as well. Rachel Morgan was what both species were meant to be—not an elven lady, not a demoness. A goddess.
She doesn't know it yet. But someday she will find out: wild magic is in her, and she can call it up and harness it like a well-trained horse every bit as easily as she can kindle demon magic.
Trenton Kalamak woke her up in more ways than one with that kiss.