The Nature of the Beast

Part One

He is not Yosha. I must keep telling myself that.

But he could be. In time. With luck.

He is making remarkable progress. When he first awoke he could barely control his limbs, yet within hours he was walking unaided. He can mimic simple words – more, he seems to understand what they mean. When I point to myself he beams and squacks “Mel” like an excited child, and a grin lights up his ravaged face.

He looks so much like Cricket when he smiles. Why did I never really notice that before?

He’s not Yosha. Not yet.

But he can be taught. He can become more than a mute beast. In time… perhaps I can reach some small part of Yosha. Even if only an echo or two. An echo is better than nothing. It means the sound still exists.

And until I can restore him further – I will document all I can. There are lessons to be learned everywhere, even in teaching a halfwit to put one foot in front of the other.

* * *

He clung to me, whimpering, when it was time for me to leave him. I couldn’t make him understand that I would return. He would have followed me out onto the sand if I hadn’t put him to sleep. A jackwolf pup whining for its mother.

It… disturbed me. I cannot say why.

Bloomtide – second day since revival

I am keeping this record on flowstone, at the base of my cave. Words etched into the rock will remain forever, even as I coax fresh flowstone to cover the glyphs. Like pages in a pirate’s book, the writing will endure. I can extend my senses into the rock to re-read each entry when I need to refresh my memory. My own stone Scroll of Colors. Not as elegant as the Egg, perhaps, but far more precise.

I returned to Beast as soon as I could. He was still fast asleep on the stone pallet where I’d left him. There are advantages – however slightly – to his crippled mind. It seems I can still it at a touch, and it will stay dormant until I reawaken it. Leetah taught me a calming sending that can help ease an elf to sleep, but with Beast it is more a matter of clapping a lid on a jar.

I feared he would not recognize me. But he sprang up and clung to him as if he hadn’t seen me in years. He babbled in his own broken language: the grunting, hollow outline of words. I tried to teach him to say “Good morning” – why not begin with common courtesies, I reasoned. The best he was able to approximate was a cawing that sounded like “gaw-maw-ni.” Clearly we will need to restrict ourselves to simpler words.

But he does love the sound of his voice. It was oddly touching, watching him start in amazement that he can make sounds, then laugh in triumph and applaud himself. He takes a baffling amusement in his capacity to make noise: slapping his hands against the many surfaces in my cave, stamping out rhythms with his feet, humming and whistling and generally making quite the fool of himself. So why does it make me smile?

Sentiment won’t be of any use. Precision is what is called for – a precise, calculated regimen. Beast needs a strict routine.

I have it all devised. I will leave Oasis in the early morning, after sharing a meal with my lord and my lady. They will not question me if I say I wish to go exploring in the Thorn Fields. I am a grown maiden now.

I reckon I can spend the better part of the morning with Beast. Then I will have to leave him to attend my own lessons. Grandmother Leetah insists on watching me prove myself. One would think the old mare could sense I’ve already surpassed her by leaps and bounds. But I must humor her, for now. She could cause a lot of trouble for me if she starts braying to the wrong elves.

It’s just as well. Beast tires easily. A long daysleep will benefit him. And I can be back at the cave after sundown.

Lady Chani used to always check on me to say goodnight, but after finding my bed empty enough times, she has let me be. I pride myself on having so earned their trust. Really, I could disappear for days and they wouldn’t fret about me. Yosha could never have managed that. One missed meal and Maleen would have screamed down the walls of Oasis. One empty bed and she probably would have sent all across the Vastdeep to Cricket, and demanded he come to the rescue in the Palace itself.

Really, I’m far more fortunate in my guardians.

Bloomtide – third day since revival

Beast’s spoken vocabulary has passed fifty words. Would that he could learn how to chew with his mouth closed.

Bloomtide – fifth day since revival

I got Beast to bathe for the first time today. It was quite overdue; like any infant, he has a talent for attracting filth.

He was terrified for immerse himself in the spring, but after I took off my clothes and got in the water first, I could see a glimmer of curiosity in his eye. He started pawing at the water’s surface, first in mistrust, then in excitement. He submerged his hand, then his arm, then he finally let me help him into the pool. Within a few moments he was splashing and laughing in his strange, breathless way. Before I knew it, I was laughing too.

I haven’t really laughed like that since before he died.

Afterwards I tried an experiment. Since he loves making noise so much, I brought my harp to the cave, to show him what proper music an elf can make. He was immediately transfixed by the sounds the strings made. I showed him how to pluck them to make notes, and that prompted another fit of delighted squeals. Then I started to play for him, and he listened with rapt attention.

I played him the simpler pieces every child learns: “Jackwolf’s Howl” “Highsun Lament” “Skipping Stones.” They I tried more elaborate melodies. He rocked in time with the measure, and his eyes followed my fingers across the strings.

When I was halfway through “If I Could Fly” I noticed something strange. He was humming along with the notes. The song is very complex; I marveled that he could keep up with me. When I reached the refrain, he almost seemed capable of predicting the shift of notes, the cascading scales. My hands stilled on the strings, and he finished the tune himself, humming it exactly.

That was Yosha’s favorite song.

I set down the harp; I knelt down on the cave floor in front of him. “Yosha?” I asked again. “Yosha, is it you? Are you in there somewhere?” I took his face in my hands. “Please… please give me a sign you understand.”

But Beast only whimpered softly and nuzzled his cheek against my palm. I felt the ragged texture of the scar I hadn’t bothered to heal. It cuts diagonally across his face, the remnants of the gash that had destroyed his left eye. I had restored the eye, but left the scar. Fine hemming was never my strong suit, and anyway, I had larger concerns.

He has other scars – large and small, leftovers of a rushed healing. His scalp is just a patchwork of knotted tissue on his left side. His right arm still hangs a little crooked, though it seems to cause him no pain. I suppose I should finish my work. But it’s already so hard, staring into Yosha’s eyes and seeing nothing but emptiness. I don’t think I could bear it if I restored his face completely. The scars help remind me that he is Beast now.

Unless he tells me different. One day… when I teach him to speak enough…

When I steal snatches of sleep, I dream of the day he will turn to me and say “Of course I’m still Yosha. I’ve been Yosha all along – why couldn’t you see that?”

Bloomfall – ten days since revival

Success! Beast’s fine motor skills have improved enough to allow for proper table manners. He can scoop up pottage on flatbread now, instead of simply shoving his face into the bowl like a zwoot at the trough. I will not burden him knowledge of spoons just yet. Finger foods remain the order of the day.

He seems to like honeyed locusts. Strange. Yosha never cared for them.

Bloomfall – twenty-three days since revival

I didn’t put Beast into a forced sleep today. He fell asleep by himself, just before noon, and more fool I, I thought I could sneak home and back before he knew I was gone. I blame my own weariness.

Of course he awoke was I was gone, and of course he pitched a fit even a Go-Back would be ashamed of. Broken pottery, torn pillows, and Beast battered and bruised from throwing himself against the walls. But I can’t blame him. I wept with him when I realized how frightened he must have been, waking up alone in the dark.

“I’m sorry, Beast,” I told him. “I’m so sorry.”

“N-no,” he wept. “No leave me!”

Savah’s bones! Those were his last words to me before he died. Don’t leave me, Melati, he cried, as he lost his grip on the rocks.

“No, Beast, I’ll never leave you,” I want to say. But I can’t. My absences are being remarked upon, and in truth the lack of sleep is beginning to wear on me. They say elves can learn to live without it, but I have my doubts. And I can’t afford to be careless. Not when I have Beast to protect.

I’m starting to think I ought to steal Flitrin again, and have it wrap Beast up for a good month so I can rest. But of course, that’s impossible. The bug seems to have forgotten all about that secret favor he did for me three years ago, preserving Yosha’s body until I could restore him. But I doubt I can ask for another, without Flitrin telling tales to Lord Haken.

Lord Haken would not approve of this. I know it. He would want Beast put down, like an ailing jackwolf. Or he would order him kept in wrapstuff until someone could restore his mind completely. Someone – what someone – Leetah? My fool of a father? They cannot even resurrect a dead lizard!

Whatever they did, they would take Beast away from me. I know that much. And they would never trust me again. And Pool would have a few more choice words for me besides “Lifetaker.”

So they can never know. It’s as simple as that.

And that means Beast must learn to do without me from time to time. Easier said than done.

I start by teaching him to wait and be patient while I step outside. He weeps and winges and calls “No, Mel, no!” But he stays where he is bid. I walk up the stairs and out into the sunlight, and wait a few moments. Then I return. We try it again, a little longer, this time. Then I seal up the rock door behind me.

That’s the hardest for him. I can hear, dimly, his wails of terror. As if I hadn’t spent the better part of an hour trying to explain to him that the rock would melt away again at my command. When I open the door again, he comes flying out, all but assaulting me in his haste to hold me again.

Yosha never used to hug me like that. He knew I preferred other ways of showing affection. I always found the tight press of bodies far too… constrictive. We had our own language of touch, he and I. A brush of fingertips, a rub of shoulders as we walked together. Sometimes – very rarely – he might rest his head in my lap, or against my stomach, as we lay on the rocks watching the clouds shift. But we never piled one on top of the other like a pair of tuftcats.

I’d pry Beast’s arms off me if I could. But he’s so much stronger now. All I can do is endure his affection.

It’s… not as awkward as I might have thought.

Bloomfall – thirty days since revival

Another landmark day. I coaxed Beast outside to see the stars. He was terrified of the emptiness, the lack of walls. But as his eyes adjusted, he was transfixed by the night sky. And when the moons rose, first Daughter, then Mother, he became to leap and jabber in astonishment.

Dustdance – forty-eight days since revival

I don’t feel tired anymore. It seems the body can adapt to a life without sleep.

We have a new routine, Beast and I. I spend the night with him, and the day in Oasis. He doesn’t entirely understand why I have to go away, but he has learned that if he sleeps the day will pass faster, and that I will always return in time, bearing fresh food and new games to amuse him. He is learning so fast now. He knows enough words to make an attempt at sentences, though I have to bite my tongue to keep from correcting his mangled grammar.

His mind needs constant diversions. I’ve already taught him how to play toss-stone and siege. Now I’m teaching him to shape clay into simple sculptures, and how to harden them over the fire. In time, I hope to teach to him to read.

He is growing restless in the cave, for all my games. Where the outside world used to terrify him, now he is eager to see what lies beyond the rock walls. I took him out this morning to watch the sun rise. The dust in the air from the summer storms made the colors exceptionally vivid. As the first limb of the Daystar crept over the eastern horizon, he began to tremble.

“Fire! Too big – put it out! Burns!”

He must have been thinking of his earlier misadventures with candleflame.

“It’s not that kind of fire,” I said patiently. “Think of it as… a giant lamp – far far away from us. So big we can see its light and feel its heat – but its flames won’t touch us. See, it’s rising. Just like when I string up the lantern. It will travel across the sky all day, then it will come down in the west, to be relit the next day.”

He considered it thoughtfully. He watched the clouds in the east turn every shade of flame as the sun rose higher. The heavy dust in the air made the sky red as blood. He was stunned into silence at the sight of it.

 “Beautiful, isn’t it?” I asked.

“W-what beau-ti-ful?”

“Oh.” I made a dismissive wave. I suppose I was a little embarrased at being caught in a moment of sentiment. “Pleasing to the senses.” But by his frown he didn’t quite understand. “What looks nice… smells nice, sounds nice.”

“What nice? How know what p-p-pleases?”

“Oh, there are no rules. It’s… it’s something you feel.” But as he continued to watch him skeptically, I wondered again, if he was capable of such refined thoughts. Did jackwolves understand beauty? Did humans?

“Food feeds the belly, yes?” I attempted. “Beauty… feeds the heart. You feel it – here.” I touched the glossy scar on his breastbone, where I had burned his skin in my haste to force his spirit back into his body.

He nodded. He looked to the sunrise again, then back at me. He reached out with his right hand – the one that still curled a little like a claw – and clumsily ran his knuckles against my hair. “Like you…”

“Yes, good. The colors are the same, aren’t they?”

“Beau-ti-ful. Feel… here.” He touched his heart with his left hand. And he smiled, that dazzled, awestruck smile I always mocked when Yosha flashed it.

I didn’t mock it today. Today I felt something different. A hitch of breath, a claw in the belly.

Staleheat – four months since revival

I take Beasts for walks every night. He is clumsy at first. He cannot abide footwear of any kind, and he cuts his bare feet to ribbons against the rocks. He is forever catching his tunic on prickers and thorns. But he loves exploring. He always hungers to learn something new.

I enrich our nightly lessons with stories: silly childhood stories like Maleen used to tell us. How Daughter Moon was born. How the Daystar burned the desert gold. Where rains comes from. He finds “rain” the hardest concept to understand. He can picture sun and moon coupling in the sky like a pair of lizards, but he cannot imagine water falling from the sky.

He will soon enough.

[several entries eroded]

Bonedry – eight months since revival

We found a dead bird today: a cactus wren, lying untouched and very still in the shadow of a rock. The moons were bright; the perfect night for another nature walk. I had hoped to show Beast the ravine just north of the cave, but the dead bird provided a different kind of lesson.

“Why not wake?” Beast asked, all concern. He loves the little wrens; in the dawning hours he will wait impatiently for them to emerge from their spiny nests, and try to call them out with imitations of their many songs.

“He’s dead. I’m sorry.”

“What dead?”

Savah’s bones – what a question to ask! And of me! What could I do? I told him.

“It is when the spirit leaves the body, and never comes back.”

“What spirit?”

“It is… the spark inside us. The fire that keeps us warm and gives us breath. It is your thoughts, your feelings. It’s what makes you different than a rock or a piece of cloth. All living creatures are born with one – and they can lose it.”


“When… the body is broken. The spirit is like water–”

“You said like fire!”

“Well, it’s like water too,” I said, a little shortly. “And the body is like a cup. When the cup breaks, the water spills. The spirit goes… away.”


“I don’t know exactly. Many places. It’s like… like a bit of sand caught in the wind. It can go anywhere. It’s… like flying. The bird’s spirit is flying forever now,” I add gently, hoping to cheer him. “And it will never tire again, never need to sleep or to eat.”


“No… it will never sing again either.”

He hugged his knees to his chest and let out a thin wail of despair. What was he feeling? Was it only grief for the bird, or had I triggered a memory? Oh, for the power to just reach into his mind and find out. But instead I had to wait with mounting impatience for him to calm himself.

“What’s wrong?”

“Poor bird… poor bird,” he murmured.

I should have known better, but I wanted to see him smile again.

I put my hands on the bird. It was easily done; the creature hadn’t been dead for more than an hour. Its mind was like fresh tinder, waiting for a spark. The bird flew away, and Beast shrieked and clapped his hands in wonder.

“How?” he demanded.

“It’s something I can do.”

“Can I do?”

“No, Beast. It’s a special talent of mine.”

“You fixed the cup! Put back water. You said couldn’t. But you did! How-how?”

“I’m not entirely sure. It’s easy to fix the body. The spirit… sometimes it lingers near the body – it’s easy to catch. Sometimes… I wonder if I simply catch whatever happens to float by. Maybe I put the spirit of a fox inside that bird.

“Haha! Fox-bird! Fox-bird!”

And whose spirit did I catch with you, Beast? I asked the question silently, but it is almost as if Beast can hear my thoughts, for he suddenly turns and looks at me sharply. “My spirit leave body.”

I felt a chill, though I was wrapped up snugly in zwoot wool against the predawn frost. “No! No, you’re wrong.”

“I go… see things… when I sleep. Not here. I… fly on the wind.”

“Oh!” Relief washed over me. “Those are called dreams. We all have them.”

“Scare me.”

“Yes, sometimes they can be frightening. What do you see that scares you?”


I caught my breath sharply. “Falling?”

He nodded. “Falling, always falling. Sand on the wind. I go up… I come down, so fast.” He rocked back and forth on his tailbone, as he always does when he is very agitated. “I want to fly – I want to flyyyyyyyyy,” he whined. “But fall. Always end with fall.”

“Oh, Yosha,” I exclaimed, forgetting myself.

He seized on it. “What Yosha? Why that word?! Why you say that word when sad?”

What could I say? I can never seem to lie to him.

“Beast, what’s the first thing you can remember?”


“The first thing that you ever recall happening? Please – this is important.”

“Falling,” he repeated. “Fall on… rock. I look up… hurts… scared. But you there!” he brightened. “And not scared anymore. Never scared with you. Mel? Mel, why cry?”

“I’m not crying.” I wiped at my eyes, but my wet eyelashes had already betrayed me. “You... were flying… like sand on the wind. Your spirit… it was far, far away from your body,  just like that bird. Your body… it was broken, empty. It had no spirit. The one who lived in it before... he had left it. Yosha… that was his name – your name, before you died.”

He stared at me like he couldn’t understand a word I was saying. I rushed on ahead. “I healed you, just like I did the bird. I called your spirit down. I brought you back to life. Do you remember?”

Beast shook his head. Slowly, he looked down at the sand where the bird had lain. “I… dead? Like bird?”

“You were. Like the bird. Now you’re not.” I tried to smile. But I was disturbed by the way he looked at his hands, comparing the one against the other.

“How I dead?” he asked.

“It… it was a long time ago, Beast. Don’t fret about it?”

“How I dead?!” he repeated, angry now.

“You fell,” I said honestly. “You were climbing rocks, and you fell. I tried to heal you, but I couldn’t. Your spirit was already gone.”

“But you caught it. You said!”

Did I? I thought I had. He remembers me. He remembers the songs. He must be Yosha, deep down. But for all I know, he’s just another kind of fox-bird.

“Later,” I said. “I… I tried to call Yosha back to me. I caught his – your spirit.” Maybe if I say it often enough, I will finally believe it.

Beast said nothing. He seemed lost in thought.

“Come,” I said. “It’s time we get back inside.”

* * *

I keep hoping he will ask me more about Yosha – about his life before. But he doesn’t. He is far more interested in playing another round of toss-stone, or sculpting a new set of clay cups. I think he’s forgotten about Yosha, as quickly as he forgot about the bird we saved.

Five days since we found that bird, I asked him if he’d like to hear a story about his former life. “A story about Yosha?” I offered encouragingly.

He shook his head. “Why not?” I asked.

“Makes you sad,” was all he would tell me. When I tried to press him further, he turned his face to the wall and brooded silently. He’s growing quite moody lately. Yosha was never moody.

Rainsign – ten months since revival

The floods have come. Beast delights in the rain pouring down from the sky. He laughs and laps at the water spilling over his face. Even the crackling thunder doesn’t seem to trouble him. He stamps his feet in the mud in time with the noise.

He’s grown like a weed these last few months. I have to look up to meet his eyes now. His voice is beginning to deepen. Yosha was three days my elder when he died; now I outrank Beast by three years. His body was still that of a long-limbed child when I awoke him. But he’s slowly becoming a proper lad. The prospect frightens me on some deep, indescribable level. I feel control slipping away from me.

“Come out of the rain,” I told him this morning. We had to head back to the cave. The sun was already starting to rise behind the clouds. Gray light slanted through the clouds. I had to start home soon if I wanted to get back at Oasis before breakfast.

He joined me under the rocky overhang. He shook himself off like a dog, making me flinch at the spray of water. He does this on purpose, I think. Beast has become much more of a tease than Yosha ever was.

“Sit,” I commanded, and he obeyed, squirming like Longfeather’s toddling child as I toweled off with my wool blanket. “Oh, stop fussing.”

I sopped up the worst of the rain while Beast curled up against my side. It helps to think of him as a chilled animal seeking body warmth – simple bestial instinct. A cub snuggling up to its mother. Such thoughts distract me from another possibility, equally instinctive.

Yosha and I were never lovemates in the truest sense. He was too young and shy – everyone knows maidens flower faster than lads. And I… what was I? Too guarded, I suppose. The triumph of caution over instinct. Oh, I felt the fire – if not for Yosha, than for his elders: sleek Feathersnake, brash Foxtail, noble Klipspringer. But I never acted on it: not in joining, not in petting, not even in a stolen kiss and a quick retreat. It helped that  Klipspringer was forbidden sweets – and quite oblivious to any gaze but his lifemate's. It helped that Foxtail was too loud, too… wolf-like. And as for Feathersnake, I told myself I was simply biding my time to approach him.

But its been four years now, and I’ve yet to approach anyone. And I’ve fled every time some dirt-digger fool has offered me comfort. Why? Because it would be disloyal to Yosha, who so expected he would be my first and only? I never promised him such. I’m not a troll, to be lifemated by my parents’ wishes! Why shouldn’t I join with whoever desires me?

Fear, I suppose. Loss of control.

Guilt, because I do want him now – now that he is gone, and I’m left with this… imperfect copy. This mirror image who clings to me and tells me I feed his heart. Who grows a little more graceful and a little more handsome every day, whose voice is deepening to an alluring growl…

I’m glad I kept his scars. They’re quite captivating in their own way. The line across his nose calls attention to his stormy–gray eyes. The gnarls of bone on his elbow and shoulder compliment the lean muscles of his arm. And the whorl of scar tissue on his scalp makes such a striking contrast to the silver hair that still crowns the right side of his head. I often alternate, stroking his hair, then his scars, lulling him to sleep every night. I can quite lose myself in the texture of his scars.

The rain began to slacken. It slowed to a lazy drizzle, and Beast let out a whine of disappointment.

“It’s almost time for bed,” I told him.

“No, not yet.”

“It’s getting late, Beast.” So late, in fact, I could hear Lady Chani sendings, just brushing the edge of my mind. **Melati? Where are you? Don’t tell me you’ve gone wandering in this wretched weather!**

**Just watching the pod-frogs hatching out of the mud,** I sent back casually. I have found the less thought one puts into the lie, the harder it is to scent. Really, the more I practice at lying in sending, the more I grow convinced that all elves could lie in sending, if only they wouldn’t act so guilty about it.

“Where do you go when I sleep?”

His question startled me. It’s the longest string of consecutive words he’s uttered in days, and delivered in a confident tone I had not heard from him before.

“I’ve told you before,” I said. “I have to find us food. Supplies. I have duties–”

“With other elves?”

Did he overhear the sending? For a moment I could almost think so.

“W-what other elves? What are you talking about?”

“Must be other elves. Must be more than two.” The look he gave me was one of sly calculation. I’d never seen such cleverness in his eyes since… before.

“More than two birds,” he continued, logically. “More than two ravvits. More than two stars. Must be more than two elves.”

I didn’t know what to say. I’d never been at a loss for words before. When did this halfwit learn to outwit me? I babbled something – the details escape me now: The other elves don’t matter. They have nothing to do with us. They live far away. You must stay hidden. They wouldn’t understand. A dozen half-truths and evasions. Why is it I can lie to a High One, but not to him?

Nothing would satisfy Beast. He seized on every moment’s hesitation. He shouted at me, he stamped his feet. Chani’s sendings grew more urgent as she sensed my distractedness. **Melati, have you eaten already? Shall I save you something? Melati?**

Chani pestering me silently, Beast shouting loud enough to send echos off the rocks – I couldn’t begin to answer either of them.

“You lied to me!” Beast accused.

“I’m trying to tell you the truth.”

**Melati? What are you up to? I refuse to believe the pod-frogs are that fascinating.**

Thought I knew I would pay for it later, I shut Chani from my mind. Beast needed my full attention.

“You can’t see the other elves!” I commanded. “They cannot ever know you’re alive.”

“Why not? Why not?”

I had one last toss in this match, and I threw hard. “Because Yosha belonged to them!”

He flinched as though I’d slapped him. I pressed my advantage. “They think he’s dead. They think he’s bone in the ground. They see you and they’ll think you’re him!”

“I’m not! Not him! I’m Beast – Beast! Beast! Beast!” He stamped his foot in time with his cries.

“They won’t want a beast,” I said, far too easily. And from the way his face fell, I saw I had gone too far.

He turned from him and bolted across the rocky plain, running straight for the mountains to the south. Straight for Oasis.

On to Part Two

Elfquest copyright 2014 Warp Graphics, Inc. Elfquest, its logos, characters, situations, all related indicia, and their distinctive likenesses are trademarks of Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Some dialogue taken from Elfquest comics. All such dialogue copyright 2014 Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Alternaverse characters and insanity copyright 2014 Jane Senese and Erin Roberts.