Part Three

It was warm where she found herself. Peaceful. Comforting. She felt buoyant in a way she never had in any pool, nor any flight. She felt the sort of joy she had only known for fleeting moments in her long life. Her Recognition at Howling Rock. Her daughter’s birth. She was cradled in the serenity that came with a perfect fulfillment.

She felt the presence of another, the hum of soul apart from her own, enveloping her in purest love. A presence at once alien and achingly familiar, like the memory of a lost dream.


The answer came not in words, but in feeling. The warmth intensified to a burning glow. Melati felt the same sweet ache of being reunited with her dearest ones after a long absence. 

Where… where have you been? I looked for you… I did. But never hard enough, it would seem.

Again, Ruffel’s wordless reply. She had always been there. In every joy, every sorrow. She had been hovering just out of reach, invisible and untouchable, but there nonetheless, a mute witness to her daughter’s tumultuous life. 

Melati understood, in a way she could never have in life. 

Spirits can always find their way to you… through sorrow, through anger… only one thing can hold them away. Fear.

Is why he never found you?

The mother-presence flickered with a touch of sadness. Pool could never accept the finality of their parting. He could never find contentment in the world that was left him. He could never accept the truth before him.

Some sorrows cannot be helped, the mother-presence seemed to say. But he could not bear to be without control. He was terrified of his own fears. So he stoked his anger to hide it, until she stopped trying to reach him. Even spirits outside of time had their own sort of patience, and hers was exhausted. 

Not everything can be healed. 

No… Melati thought. Not everything should be. 

But much still could be set right. Starting in this endless moment. She clung tight to the mother-presence, turning her thoughts from the other flickering souls around her, defying the enormity of the spirit pool, until her world was once against shrunk, reduced to her soul and Ruffel’s, mother and child circling each other in a communion four thousand years overdue. 

* * *

The fires burned for hours. Rayek descended from the great starstone vessel again and again, pulling the living up to safety. But the dead were left to burn with their Tree. Psychic screams of agony flared in the minds of every elf, only to flicker out as the rocks absorbed their spirits. Some voices they recognized: Savah… Redlance… Clearbrook… Sunstill…. Others were strangers, elves so long dead or so much changed that even the hums of their spirits were wrong. 

It was near sunset by the time Aurek sent a message that it was over. Then Haken sent an air-ram onto the burning forest, snuffing out the fire as surely as clapping a lid over a cooking pot, while the spirits of the rockshaper masters made the ground crack and heave, crushing every last rootlet. Last of all, the bedrock under the Tree’s heart-root shot up like a troll’s lift, exposing a twisted, charred mass of wood and corrupted starstone. It took the merest flicker of light from their combined pod to turn the wood to cinders and the starstone to coal.

“No! No!” the trollkin thrashed under the firm hands of his brothers, as Sylas lay a hand on his forehead and probed deep inside his mind. 

“I can’t hear – I can’t hear the singing!” 

“Easy now, Morak,” Smokewater urged. “No more damned singing for you.”

Blood trickled from his large gray ears, followed by the scent of burning. When Morak opened his eyes again, they were no longer poison-green, but a healthy brown.

“Grandpa King?” Morak mumbled in confusion as he slowly focused his gaze on Smokewater.

“There’s the mump I remember!”

* * *

Come the morning, they found Sparkstone’s corpse huddled in the crook of a burned-out stump. The first fires started by Melati’s flash-bomb had charred indiscriminately, but Naga’s hotter flames had sought out the tainted magic of the Tree. The parts of the elf’s body that had still been his own were blackened by recognizable. But his leg and half his skull were gone, as surely as they had been wrenched away. When Swift reached out and touched the still-hot corpse, the rib cage caved in, sending up a cloud of ashes.

“He was more Green than elf by the end,” she lamented. “That Timmorn’s children should come to this!

“Timmorn’s legacy lives in you,” Rayek reminded her. “You and all those who’ve followed you. Those who honor this world but still choose to look beyond it. Who seek a higher end than feeding the soil.”

Swift gazed around the blackened clearing. Wisps of smoke still rose from smoldering embers, deep in the ash piles. But life was already returning, in the amber light of dawn. Scavenging crows had followed the smell of death, and were even now pecking at the corpse of dead wolf – one of the Hunt’s last mounts, Swift supposed. Flies buzzed in the air. Within a few hours, the smell of death would attract other scavengers. The charred flesh would be consumed, and the bones broken open for marrow. Within a few days, freshly-hatched would feast on whatever was left behind. By the first snowfall there would be little left but a dark spot on the ground. By spring, new growth would bloom where a wolf had once died.

A terror gripped her. **Aurek!** she sent. **Can the forest come back? Can we let it? Or must we turn this land into a new Howling Rock?**

The answer was prompt, and as clear as if Aurek still lived. **Yurek and I must be vigilant. The spirits sleep now, but in the presence of new growth they will wake. The greensong is a powerful melody. We will keep the soil poor. Forests cannot flourish upon sand and grit. In time this place may become a grassland. But it will never hold oaks.**

**So this is truly the end of the Evertree.**

**It was vanity to believe in ‘forever.’ For the Egg, for the Tree. Nothing endures without change. Timmain’s final lesson to us.**

“Timmain…” his sending brought Swift back to her mission. At that very moment, they heard Beast’s anguished roar echo through the burned clearing. The crows took flight from the wolf’s corpse, and their sudden motion sent a myriad of little creatures scattering across the warm carpet of ash.

“Melati…” Rayek said hesitantly. 

Swift nodded. “Come on.” 

As they stepped around the wolf’s corpse, Swift let out a yelp of alarm and bobbed off-balance.

“Swift?” Rayek hastened to her side, just as she stomped down hard, disturbing the ashes.

“Perfect!” she sneered, as she lifted her foot and scowled at the flattened red spider underneath. “How did you survive this fire?!

“A spirit-maker?”

Hate those things,” Swift said, dragging her boot on the ground to wipe off the last of the spider’s juices.

* * *

“The things she showed me…” Bluestar murmured as he sat hugging his knees. “They felt like truth.”

“They were two of many possible truths,” Haken agreed, himself looking rather wan after the locksending. “We have eliminated one today. But the other… how often have I warned of a world where the humans burn all in their desire to consume?”

“Can we stop them?”

“Easily. But will you be willing to do what is necessary? Will you be willing to destroy as easily as they do? For myself, I can only imagine the universe would be improved by humanity’s absence.”

Bluestar thought of his friends in High Hope and beyond. “No,” he said.

Haken touched his shoulder, not ungently. “That future she showed you is but one of many. Study the scroll carefully and you can yet choose a better one. But should the time come when Abode is not longer worth defending, you are all welcome on Homestead.”

Bluestar looked up at him archly. “As long as we remember who is lord?”

“I assumed that was evident.”

“And failing that?”

Haken glanced over at the elves huddled towards deep in thought: Weatherbird and Tass, Littlefire, Vaya, and Cheipar. A smile touched his weary face. “I imagine you will think of something.” His gaze drifted upwards to the vaulted ceiling. “Can you see it? The subtle variations, even in unity? Three unique strains of starstone. When you were born there was but one Palace. When I was born there was but one Homestar. Imagine what we might yet live to see.”

* * *

Vaya wiped at the tears on her cheeks. She felt the truth of Aurek’s sending; more, she felt the rightness of it.

**I cannot return to flesh, my heart. Yurek cannot contain the spirits alone.**

And Pool and the others weren’t truly gone. Nothing could kill a spirit. It could only be weakened, chained, silenced. But it would always be there, a dormant seed with the potential to reawaken.

**If they ever awaken… if they get out…**

She couldn’t imagine. She didn’t need to. Bluestar had already seen the future that awaited them if the Tree triumphed.

**We are the dungeon keepers, he and I,** Aurek finished sadly. **And we are the dungeon.**

“If you won’t leave this place, then neither will I,” she vowed.


“No!” she looked up at the starstone ceiling, so she would not have to meet the eyes of her two sons. “You won’t be rid of me that easily, K’Saren.” **Yurek has Savah’s soul to keep him sane. But I won’t let you become Dungeon as you became Egg. You are Aurek, and I’ll always be here to remind you of it.**

“Mother…” Cheipar began to protest. “How…?”

“‘How will I live?’” she finished for him. “The way I always have. One day at a time. Or have you forgotten who taught you woodsense? And your heart-father taught me stonesense.  I’ll be fine.”

Cheipar took her hand and squeezed tightly, a silent promise. **You won’t be alone, anymore than Aurek.**

“I don’t mind solitude. But I’d welcome the help getting a camp set up.” She smiled through her tears. “We’ll start another Egg. Why not? What did he always say. ‘Maybe we’ll even make –”

“-Some improvements,” Cheipar and Littlefire finished in time with her, and they embraced in a three-sided hug.

A sending pierced the air. Vaya lifted her head from Cheipar’s shoulder. “They’ve found her.”

* * *

They had found them both. Rayek laid one charred husk down upon the starstone table while Beast cradled the second bundle in a troll’s silk cloak. One look at Beast’s face told them there was nothing to be done for Melati. But when Haken bent over what remained of Timmain, he hissed in disgust. 

“Can nothing kill you?”

“No!” Naga howled. “No, she can’t live! Not after everything! After what she did to us!” She lunged for the table, a fist raised, but Sylas caught her before she could reach the body. 

“We agreed, little one. She cannot be allowed to die.”

Skywise studied the blackened body in morbid fascination, his nose wrinkling. “Did she…? Shapeshifting… ohhh… that’s… that’s clever.” He looked up at his family’s questioning gaze. “Looks like she made herself a cocoon out of her own skin. Turned her flesh to… something. Hard as bone. Closed off her windpipe, shut down everything but her heart and mind. She’s hibernating. Like a desert podfrog. Sleeping deeper than a wrapstuff dream – rationing out her last breath of air.”

“How long can she live like that?” Swift asked.

“Until it’s safe, I suppose. If Melati managed to wipe her mind–”

“She did!” Naga cried. “I know she did. I felt it – the tether snapped. Timmain’s out of my head, - because there’s no Timmain left!” 

“But this…” Swift indicated the living corpse.

“Wiping memories does not wipe cognition,” Sylas said. “She has been reduced to a mental infancy… instinctive responses. You said she hibernates: a state I know well. It is never intended as a permanent one. When a being senses that conditions are favorable for a resurgence…”

“What will wake up?” Swift asked. “The Timmain-that-Was? A child in a Firstcomer’s shell?”

“Or a beast?” Sylas challenged. 

“Flitrin!” Haken shouted at the ceiling. At length the Preserver descended from whatever hiding place it had chosen. Haken pointed to the corpse. “Do. And quickly.”

Another Preserver might have complained. But Flitrin was long used to cocooning peculiar things. It got to work without comment, and soon the husk was tightly bound in silvery threads.

“I do not intend to find out, either way,” Haken ruled.

“That will buy us time,” Skywise said. “But magic exists outside of time.”

Naga’s face grew hard. “Neelim,” she said. 

Swift and the younger elves looked confused. But a cruel smile touched Haken’s lips as he nodded. “Her own protocol… how fitting.”

* * *

Vaya made her camp on the rocky outcrop where the Palace-pod had first set down to parley with the trolls from Blue Mountain. There she sat with Cheipar and Weatherbird as darkness fell over the ruined landscape. 

“There,” Cheipar pointed.

High above them, a shooting star flashed, not falling to earth, but arcing up into the night.

“She’s going…” Weatherbird murmured, her tone one of muted disbelief.

The shooting star winked out of sight, having escaped the worldpull. Vaya let out a long sigh.

**Where will she end up?”

“Skywise picked a wide arc,” Weatherbird said. “It will carry her outside the plane of our sea of stars.”

No material was more powerful at channelling magic than activated starstone from the Homestar. And likewise, no material was more inert than drained starstone, its molecules rearranged and compressed, its heart cold as iron. Haken and Sylas had prepared Timmain’s ship carefully; Vaya had watched them seal the wrapstuff cocoon inside a stone egg no larger than a shagback. The  stone would slowly leech away her strength. Should she ever regenerate enough to return to awareness she would find nothing she could bend to her whim. Even if the wrapstuff failed in the depths of space, she could not escape the stone. Like another Firstcomer who had committed the ultimate crime, her awareness would slowly wither away until it was no more than a cinder. 

“Perhaps the pull of another world will catch her,” Weatherbird mused. “Perhaps she’ll sail forever between stars.”

“Do you think she dreams?”

“If she does, they’re simple dreams. Wolf dreams. Running, hunting, surviving.” A wistful note crept into her voice. “She was always happiest as a wolf.”

“I don’t care if she’s happy. I care if she’s still.”

**Nothing is stiller than cold stone,** Aurek sent. **Alone in the emptiness of space. If there’s to be any peace for her, she’ll find it there.**

* * *

I can’t stay here forever, Melati told the mother-presence, regretfully.

Ruffel understood. She accepted.

You could come back with me…

But she already knew Ruffel wouldn’t. Not in the flesh. She had moved beyond the limitations of a shell. Yet Melati also knew that Ruffel would follow her, in a way. That from now on they would always be able to find each other. 

 * * *

The Cradle was an ugly thing, Naga thought. A egg-shaped hunk of fleshvine, warm and sticky to the touch, pulsing softly like a giant, disembodied heart. And somewhere, deep inside its many layers, an even uglier embryo was slowly growing: a shapeless worm, no bigger than her smallest finger.

“She won’t be the same,” Naga lamented.

Beast put his clawed hand on her shoulder. “Neither will you, in two Long Years.”

“Two years…” Three to the Abode elves. Her aunt Winnowill had been very firm on that. Even here under the Ark, anchored in Homestead seedrock, even with all the advancements they had made in growing shells, nothing could shorten the gestation time. They would all have to be patient, waiting for that clump of cells to grow into a vessel to bear Melati’s soul.

“It’s so long to wait… what if she decides not to come back?”

Beast squeezed her shoulder. “She’ll come back. Just like I did.” He smiled. “This is good. We were the same age once. But then I died, and she pulled ahead. Now we’ll be even again.”

“She’ll miss so much.” Naga was training again, back on Homestead, back where she belonged. The Green Dreams no longer troubled her, now that Timmain’s tether had been cut from her mind, now that she had fulfilled the destiny Pool had prophesied for her. The peace-hounds accepted her again. Haken found her a more dedicated pupil than ever. Her fireshaping talents were growing more refined; her healing powers steadily increased. She was even beginning to experiment in fleshshaping.

Beast knew what she meant. “You’ll have taken over as healer by then.”

“I don’t want to! I… I want to go into wrapstuff. So we can start over together.”

“She wouldn’t want that. This is your time. She’ll grow in there. You’ll grow out here. She’ll see it all,” he promised.

“From the spirit world?”

“And through my eyes. And yours.”

He drew her closer along the stone bench, and father and daughter resumed their vigil in comfortable silence.

* * *

The songs still battled in his dreams; the green against the iron. Whenever he closed his eyes, he saw Timmain’s verdant world, and the barren human one. Only two of infinite possible futures, Haken had assured him, but Bluestar wasn’t so certain. Timmain had read the tapestry of the Multitude as clearly as anyone. And she had seen the great tangle of fates winnowing down to either/or. That was what had propelled her to flee the Egg, to lead the Hunt back to the Homeland, to join with the Tree.

Adapt or die, Timmain had warned him, year past at Haunted Mountain. **There will be no more half-measures, no more compromises. We must abandon this dying world or else sacrifice our very souls to reclaim it**

Timmain had made her choice, and it had cost her everything. But their choices lay still in the future.

His parents remained the Homeland, sitting vigil beside Vaya. But Bluestar belonged with his tribe, with all the other orphans of the Egg. The College had broken apart in the wake of Aurek’s death. There would be no more classes, no more studies. Not for many years. Some elves had already disappeared into the mountains, to live off the land as their ancestors had. Some asked to go the Great Holt, or Oasis. Many drifted down to High Hope, to find shelter where they could. The troll-run inns threw open their doors for their homeless cousins – charging them no more than a quarter the regular rate. And somehow Bluestar, who had once helped settle humans fleeing Djunshold, found himself leading a pack of elfin refugees.

“We will rebuild,” he promised them. But his heart wasn’t in it. What was the point in raising a new Egg if it would end up like the ones that came before? 

His room overlooked the valley, and the long winding mountain road. When he couldn’t sleep at night, he would throw open the shutters and watch the moons slowly drift across the sky. Waxing and waning. 

All things come full circle, a Wolfrider would say. 

It’s not a circle, it’s a spiral, Bluestar had insisted, back when he thought he knew everything. It grows with every turn. You have to grow too.

The lights of the town spread down the mountain, plunging into the valley. The town had been much smaller when Bluestar was a child.

I’m still a child. Only three-eights-and-one. How far will the town have spread when I’m grown? Halfway to the Djun’s citadel? In his dreams, the wooden houses became palaces of stone and iron, and the dirt road was paved all the way to the sea. The humans carpeted the land above, while the trolls hollowed out the world below, until the elves could only survive off the charity of both.

It grows with every turn… but their world was shrinking fast.

You have to grow too, Bluestar accused in his dreams.

You must know, fields of grain or patch of punkins – eventually the earth gets tired!

But some things never tired. Some things would grow forever, if you could only keep feeding them.

Can you see it? Haken asked him. The subtle variations, even in unity? Three unique strains of starstone…

Starstone grew. It grew faster than humans. 

When you were born there was but one Palace…

He could almost see the answer, taking shape in his mind’s eye. One night, when the cold autumn air forced its way through the shutters and forced him to bundle tight in his furs… hovering between sleep and awareness, he spun visions of a new future, a thread Timmain could not see, a song she could no longer hear.

I imagine you’ll think of something…

A new moon growing in the sky… not the chalky whiteness of the other two, but a silvery orb, crackling with life…

The human tide rising ever higher, and the green places of the world rising higher still, up into the sky, until they were safely cradled within crystalline arms…

A new world of living stone, growing inside a solid shell. A world turned inside out, a life lived inside a starstone bubble, orbiting its own elf-made sun…

A great Ark, drifting between the stars… but not searching for a new home, because it is home…

When I was born there was but one Homestar. Imagine what we might yet live to see.

A glowing shell of starstone, and the best parts of Abode hidden within it…

A Palace the size of a planet.

They’d call it the Star Holt.


He awoke overheated, his pulse racing. A shaft of candlelight blinded him. As he blinked to shrink his pupils, he slowly made out the form of a troll standing in the doorway. 

“Friends of yours, downstairs. Said they need a room.”

“Nngh, well, give ’em one. Put it on my tab.”

“Your tab’s getting mighty long.”

“You know I’m good for it.”

“Good enough for humans too? ’Cause I’m charging them regular.”

Bluestar’s head snapped up. The troll mistook his shock and laughed. “Now, don’t go telling me they’re hatchlings from the Egg, too. I know you kept livestock up there, but I doubt you kept pets!”

Content with the last word, he left Bluestar to dress in darkness. He wrestled into his leathers and hurried down the stairs to the ground floor. 

He spotted them at the bar counter, standing head and shoulders above the elves and trolls around them. A blond woman clutched a baby to her breast in silent terror, while behind her a man carried himself like a cornered wolf about to strike. Only the third human seemed utterly at home in a sea of four-fingers. And expert tracker that he was, his gaze flew immediately to the landing of the stairs, and the silver-haired elf grinning ear-to-ear.

“You gwit!” Bluestar crowed. “You’re finally home!”

Elfquest copyright 2020 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 2020 Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Alternaverse characters and insanity copyright 2020 Jane Senese and Erin Roberts.