The Elves are one of the most ancient and powerful of all the intelligent races of the Warhammer World. They are tall, slender humanoids who are inherently magical and live for millennia. There are three main factions of Elves in the world: the High Elves, Dark Elves and Wood Elves.
Compared to humans, Elves are taller on average, fair-skinned, and slender. They possess high cheekbones and slightly angular faces and slanted eyes. Some depictions show them with completely black eyes, while in others they possess human-normal pupils and irises.
High Elves are often shown with blonde hair, Wood Elves with brown and Dark Elves with black, but these changes are minor and cosmetic and the three groups are for the most part physically indistinguishable and all members of the same species. What defines each kindred of Elves more than anything else is their different cultures.
Assuming they do not die a violent death, Elves are capable of living for several thousand years. It is not considered impossible for an Elf to live seven thousand years or more, although only Malekith, the Witch King of Naggaroth, could claim such an achievement at present. Most often an Elf will not die of old age in the human sense, rather he or she will simply grow weary of the world's troubles and lose passion for life, eventually slipping away into death.
Elves are inherently magical, and their long lives provide magically-gifted elves more than enough time to train their skill at controlling many of the Winds of Magic. This is in contrast to human wizards, who can usually only hope to wield one form of magic during their lifetimes. Elves are resistant to disease and to physical mutations caused by Chaos, although notably they are still vulnerable to Nurgle's Rot.
There is also some evidence that Chaos can affect Elven minds in more subtle ways. Elves experience emotions and thoughts more intensely than most other intelligent races. At best, this can result in them spending centuries obsessively training or honing a skill to perfection. At worst, they can become "lost" in their experiences, over-indulging and losing track of reality, which makes them a favoured target of corruption by the Chaos God of pleasure and excess, Slaanesh.
The ancestors of the Elves, along with those of the Dwarfs and Humans, were introduced to the Warhammer World by the Old Ones. The Elves were put under the care of the Slann, and learned much from their reptilian mentors, quickly achieving a high level of civilisation, as well as an understanding of the dangers of Chaos. The Old Ones eventually transferred the Elves from the Old World to the island continent of Ulthuan. The Elves have various creation stories regarding Asuryan the Phoenix God. They eventually adopted Ulthuan as their homeland and lived mostly in peace for a long time, recording this as their Golden Age.
The Coming of Chaos
During the Coming of Chaos following the destruction of the Old Ones' polar star gates, the Elves fought valiantly against the onslaught of Daemons who invaded Ulthuan as the winds of magic blew without restraint across the world, but slowly they were driven back and threatened with annihilation. A hero named Aenarion arose, and walked through the flames at the Shrine of Asuryan. Emerging unburnt as a sign of his favour in the Phoenix God's eyes, he was crowned as the first Phoenix King of Ulthuan and the united elves drove back the Daemons temporarily.
The Keeper of Secrets N'Kari killed Aenarion's wife, the Everqueen Astarielle. Aenarion's children Morelion and Yvraine had been saved, but he did not know this at the time. In his grief Aenarion drew the Sword of Khaine and fought back the Daemons once more. During this time, Caledor Dragontamer made contact with the Dwarfs and learned from Grimnir of the Portal at the north pole which spewed Chaos energy and empowered the Daemons.
Aenarion eventually remarried Morathi and she bore him a son amd heir named Malekith. Caledor devised a plan to create a Vortex to drain away the excess magical energy flooding the world and banish most of the Daemons back to the Realm of Chaos. Aenarion defended Caledor while the great spell was put in action, but was mortally wounded in the process. Before death, he returned the cursed Sword of Khaine to its place in the Shrine of Khaine on Ulthuan.
When it came time for the Elves to rebuild their civilisation and elect a new Phoenix King, they chose Bel Shanaar of Tiranoc rather than Malekith, due to the concerns of some of Ulthuan's princes about Malekith's temperament and Aenarion's altered personality after he drew the Sword of Khaine. Malekith instead became the leader of the Elven military and prince of Aenarion's own kingdom of Nagarythe.
It was at this time that the Elves explored the seas and shores of the world surrounding Ulthuan and established several colonies, most of them in the Old World to Ulthuan's east. They fought battles against Orcs, Goblins and Beastmen, and also re-established contact with the Dwarfs. Trade flourished between the two peoples, for a time.
The Sundering and the Dark Elves
Though he had outwardly accepted being passed over a Aenarion's heir, Malekith had internally seethed with rage and resentment against the other princes of Ulthuan, and sought to bide his time before making his move to seize the throne of the Phoenix King. Malekith used an inquisition against the Elven Cult of Pleasure dedicated to Slaanesh (secretly headed by Morathi) as a cover to murder his political opponents and enemies across Ulthuan. Eventually, he poisoned the Phoenix King Bel Shanar, dismissing the king's death as a suicide.
Malekith proceeded to massacre many of the princes who opposed him for this act and then walked through the flames at the Shrine of Asuryan to claim the Phoenix God's blessing. However, Asuryan rejected Malekith's right to rule and he was horribly burnt in the fires.
Malekith was slowly nursed back to health over many decades by his mother and grafted to a suit of magical armour to reduce the constant pain he now endured as a result of his burns. Malekith launched a massive civil war, attempting to claim the Phoenix Throne by force using his partisans among Ulthuan's nobility and the military of Nagarythe.
Eventually, facing defeat, he planned to undo the Great Vortex to wipe away the forces of his enemies. However, loyalist mages interfered with this plan and the resulting magical cataclysm sank much of western Ulthuan into the sea, an event known as The Sundering. Malekith and his followers fled northwards across the ocean, founding the new kingdom of Naggaroth on the western continent and becoming the Dark Elves. The loyalists of the Phoenix King remained in Ulthuan and became known as the High Elves or Asur while Malekith's people revelled in the appellation of Dark Elves, known in their own tongue as the Druchii.
The War of the Beard
After the Sundering, the Dark Elves, seeking to stir up dissension in the growing alliance between the Asur and the Dawi, posed as High Elves and attacked a Dwarf caravan. Outraged, the Dwarfs sent a messenger to Ulthuan to demand recompense from the Phoenix King.
The High Elves, always arrogant, responded by shaving the Dwarf's beard and sending him back to the mountains of the Old World, claiming they knew nothing of the attack. This angered the Dwarfs even more and they began to attack High Elf colonies in the Old World in what became known as the War of the Beard.
The war raged for many years and finally culminated in the 14th siege of Tor Alessi, where the Dwarf monarch Gotrek Starbreaker killed the Phoenix King Caledor II. The Dwarfs took the crown of the Phoenix King and retreated to their holds, while the High Elves abandoned their colonies in the Old World as assaults from the Dark Elves on Ulthuan intensified. Relations between the two races have never fully recovered from this tragedy.
The Wood Elves
During the reign of the Phoenix King Caradryel the Peacemaker, the Dark Elves launched a new invasion of Ulthuan. In response, Caradryel recalled the Elven forces from the Old World to deal with the Dark Elves. However, some High Elf colonists living in the Old World refused to leave as they had grown attached to their new home. Without the protection of the High Elf military, these colonists were vulnerable to attacks from Greenskins and Beastmen as well as Dwarfs.
Over time they retreated further and further into the mysterious enchanted forest of Athel Loren on the eastern border of what is now Bretonnia. The spirits of the forest were wary of the Elves at first, however they soon discovered that the Elves could protect the forest during the long winter months when the forest spirits were dormant.
Eventually two Elves, named Orion and Ariel, became the mortal avatars of the Elven gods of the hunt and fertility Kurnous and Isha, respectively, and they rule the Wood Elves to this day. Over time the Wood Elves became inextricably linked with the fate of Athel Loren itself.
The Elves worship a wide variety of deities of varying power and temperament. These beings are divided into two main spheres of influence, with neither having dominance over the other. This is encapsulated in the belief known as Yenlui, or "balance"; a philosophy that dictates that there must be a harmony between the intense light and dark natures of the mercurial Elven spirit.
The most widely acknowledged Elven gods are the Cadai or the gods of the Heavens, who represent the more positive characteristics of Elven culture and the natural world. These are ruled by Asuryan, the greatest of the gods. In Elven belief many of the unsavory aspects of their nature and the world at large are also represented by gods known as the Cytharai,or gods of the Underworld. Of these, Khaine is the most well-known, being the god of murder and war.
- Warhammer Armies: Wood Elves (8th Edition) -- pg. 7