Captive Pieces



When Bluestar first awoke, he was lying on his side, atop a raised bed of wood and moss. The throbbing pain at his temple reminded him of the blow he had taken as Eighth Shell had accelerated, throwing him headfirst into one of the starstone walls. Everything after that had been a blur of pain and fear. He’d heard the thunder of the Egg coming apart around them, in the instant before Timmain displaced the core. He’d felt the searing pain in his chest as something momentous happened – some great loss to his psychic world he couldn’t identify beyond a shuddering absence. And he’d seen the brilliant flash of light even though his swollen eyelids, as the core collided with its target.

He lifted his head, and saw the results of that collision. The moss-draped room in which he was held prisoner was illuminated with jagged crystal shards, all pulsing with the telltale violet of corrupted starstone. He knew exactly where she had taken them.

Drukk it, Timmain! he cursed silently. You were the one who told us starstone can’t bind to flesh! What makes you think it’ll do any better with wood?

Naga was nowhere to be seen. He tried to send to her, and felt the prickling mental static that told him his sendings were being actively dampened. Or perhaps her replies were.

Still, he tried again, this time reached out across the astral plane to reach his parents. But the chaotic field pressed down on him, keeping him locked inside his shell.

Shield, he realized. A powerful one, perhaps the strongest he had ever come up against. But unstable too – it had to be, if it was being fed by the tainted shards.

He put his hand to the mossy wall. He was somewhere inside the Tree. The hybrid oak had grown exponentially since he had visited the Evertree Wolfriders as a child. Still, there was a limit to what the worldpull would allow to grow. Even the thickest central trunk couldn’t be larger than the Palace. And for all he knew, empty air lay only a few handspans beyond his fingertips.

But he couldn’t flit if he couldn’t see his destination.

So he paced, measuring the dimensions of his cell, fighting the urge to empty his bladder, fighting the urge to scream at the living walls. Littlefire had told him all about the battle at the Tree; he knew the best outcome he could hope for right now was to continue to be ignored by his captor.

Then came the creaking, woody sound, and the walls of his prison parted as easily as curtains, allowing access to a lumpen, bipedal shadow. At first, he was stunned by the sunlight streaking behind the shape, but then he remembered the time difference between continents.

The shape became a trollkin, gray-skinned and hunchbacked, but with a face more elfin than troll. His eyes were the same sickly green as Timmain’s.

“Foo’ fo’ ’ou…” he murmured, in a drunkard’s lisp. The muscles of his face twitched the way Littlefire’s used to, when the two souls inside him would vie for command of his voice.

But Bluestar looked beyond him, to the tantalizing glimpse of dirt and lichen-covered rocks, and the shafts of late morning sun cutting through the forest.

He pictured himself there. And in a moment, he was.

He spun on his heel, taking in his surroundings as quickly as a panicked deer. He saw the Evertree itself, hideously bloated, twisted by burls and conks. He saw the satellite trees, looking like gigantic wooden spiders, their trunks and branches folded over against themselves in an imitation of aerial roots, straining to hold up the bulk of Tree. He saw the brilliant fungal clusters growing in place of herb gardens and punkin patches. If he tipped his head back, he could see starstone leaves glinting amid the natural ones. And beyond them, a sliver of blue sky.

The troll he had flitted past was roaring: a wordless cry of alarm. He caught snatches of movement at the corners of his eyes.

He picked a branch, low enough that he could properly focus on its texture. He flitted.

He had misjudged the branch’s strength; it bowed under his weight and he pinwheeled his arms to keep his balance. He spotted another, larger, branch and flitted again. And again. His ears popped in quick succession as he scaled the understory. He heard voices shouting, and the ominous sounds of branches crackling. His head burst through the canopy and he could see the forest spread out before him, brightly painted in the colors of death-sleep.

The Tree’s leaves weren’t dying. Its magic was keeping it alive in defiance of the seasons. Breathing hard now, adrenaline threatening to cloud his focus, Bluestar scanned the treetops until he saw the line where autumn met eternal summer. An old snag rose above its neighbours, a pale needle amid a sea of oranges and reds. Bluestar saw a branch he thought could bear his weight.

He focused on it and saw himself there.

He flitted.

But he rematerialized on the same branch he had just left. Uncomprehending, he tried again, and again he landed back on the oak branch. In a blind rage, he tried again, and this time managed to displace – only to materialize in empty air, a few elfspans above the canopy.

He crashed down through the delicate canopy. He landed hard on a starstone leaf, and it knocked the wind out of him. He threw his hand out to catch himself as he began to slide off the leaf. Half-dangling over the understory, he struggled to catch his breath.

The shield! he realized, when his heartrate slowed enough to allow him to think. He couldn’t flit through it.

Then he heard the crackling sound again, moving fast towards him.

He struggled to pull himself up onto the leaf. Getting to his knees, he saw the prehensile rootlets closing in on him.

He flitted to another branch. He had barely caught his balance before he felt the bark underneath his feet rippling, becoming hands, reaching for him.

With a cry, he leapt into the air. He clung to the next branch only long enough to throw himself at another one. Unable to focus long enough to flit, he settled for running, leaping, and then falling, anything to keep himself away from the grasping tendrils that seemed to sprout wherever he landed.

The Tree chased him all the way back to the ground. He landed hard on his side and rolled away an instant before a wooden claw came stabbing down at his shirt.

He came up on his knees to find himself surrounded.

A crescent of elf-shapes had formed around him. Some were flesh and bone, others collections of wood and moss. And some – most horrid of all – some seemed to be a little of both.

The elves closed ranks around him. He looked beyond them and flitted.

It carried him only a few paces, but it was enough. He ran.

The trees grew close; only a dozen paces separated one oak trunk from another. Bluestar wove from side to side, dodging the trunks and the branches that reached out for him. But the Tree’s reach stretched for leagues, and he was already exhausted from his aborted flit. Soon enough he misjudged a sidestep, and a rootlet found his ankle.

He fell hard on the ground. He focused on a spot just beyond his reach and flitted. But the Tree had learned his tricks. He materialized into a hive of roots. They punched through the soil and enveloped his legs, pinning him upright, squeezing just hard enough to keep him from focusing on another flit. He tore at them with his hands, until two shapes came from behind him and seized his arms, pinning them back. Unable to struggle, he began to shout, a mixture of elfin, troll, and human curses.

“Peace!” one of the shapes commanded. A hand fastened about his chin, forcing his chin back. Bluestar looked up into the wooden face of Sunstill.

“Your place is here now,” she told him.  “Accept it.”

Bluestar hawked and spat in her face. She did not so much as blink.

The two shapes held him until the other elves could catch up. Bluestar saw a boy Naga’s age with black hair, and an auburn-haired maiden brandishing a wooden spear. Both wore little more than garlands of woven moss.  Two more wooden elves followed, their joints creaking and hissing with each halting step. One root-foot remained always in contact with the ground, just as Littlefire had said.

They have no life out of the soil, Bluestar remembered. But how long would that be true, now that the Tree had starstone?

He didn’t recognize their faces; the spirits working the puppets must have died long before his face. One was clearly female, with a wooden bosom and a long braid of silvery-moss. The other was so haphazardly assembled of sticks and moss and fungus that it was only vaguely elfin.

And behind them: Sparkstone. Like the others, he wore only scraps of moss. They revealed the extent of his transformation. The left leg that had healed crookedly was now a supple, jointed wooden limb. Green veins ran up and down its muddy-brown skin. His skin was brittle and ashen about his prominent ribs, as if it was slowly converting to bark. What Bluestar at first took for an archer’s glove on his right hand was in fact a latticework of rootlets.

His graying facefur still clung to his left cheekbone. But the right bore a fungal conk. Bulging veins ran upwards to his temple, framing his right eye.

His eyes were green now. But they still looked just as tired as ever.

“We’re past the time of childish outbursts,” Sparkstone chided.

“What did the Tree do to you?”

“The Green Father has renewed me.”

“Drukk that, have you seen yourself lately?!”

“This is a new Way. It frightens you. As it did me. But you will understand. As I do.”

He reached for Bluestar with his root-covered hand. Bluestar could see tiny tendrils extending from a fingertip. “No!” he cried, struggling against Sunstill’s painful grip.

“The pain is necessary,” Sparkstone said. “And fleeting.”

Sunstill titled his head, forcing him to look away. He felt the tickle of a rootlet brushing against his ear. “No, no, no, NO!” he screamed, as he guessed at Sparkstone’s purpose.

“The more you resist, the greater the discomfort,” Sunstill warned.

The first rootlet teased at the entrance to his ear canal, no thicker than a hair.

Bluestar continued to scream, first denials, then obscenities, then finally wordless wails as the roots burrowed inside him and the world dissolved in a wash of agony.

When he awoke the second time, he was back in his moss-draped prison. One bowl of water, and another of putrid mash, sat on the floor beside him. He felt curiously dizzy. When he put his hand to his ear, he felt a lattice of fibers encasing it, plugging it. When he scratched at it reflexively, he was rewarded with a bolt of pain.

He looked across his cell. He tried to flit to the other wall, a mere five paces away.

He couldn’t.

He tried to send to Naga again. This time he didn’t even hear the static.

But he felt the root pulse in his ear canal.


* * *


The Ark-pod’s slow probing of Timmain’s shield was progressed far too slowly for everyone. Beast paced restlessly, repeatedly begging to be allowed out. Melati looked to be withdrawing deeper and deeper within herself. Weatherbird’s efforts to reach Bluestar through the astral plane had only left her with pounding migraine.

At last Haken reached his own breaking point. “Oh, enough of this – Sylas!”

Weatherbird smelled the tang of ozone and she realized what he meant to do. “No–” she began to protest, but even as she turned away from the crystal window, Sylas was harnessing the death-light.

The world turned white, even as Weatherbird’s eyelids snapped shut instinctively.

The Palace phased out of place before the radiation could rebound from the shield. For a moment they hovered out of space and time, then rematerialized several leagues high above the forest, looking down at a bullseye of devastation.

What have you done?!” Weatherbird keened.

It was a clear autumn day, and from their great height they could clearly see the circle of blackness, glowing slightly at the periphery as the last of the vegetation burned away in a flameless inferno.

The last time the death-light had been cast, hundreds of lives had been snuffed out, and the corrupted seeds of magic that clung to Howling Rock had festered into a cancer that had threatened to spread across all of Abode. But even Rayek at his lowest point of rage and grief had never cast the death-light against other elves!

“Bluestar!” Weatherbird shrieked, beating against the crystal wall.

“Peace,” Haken said brusquely. “What do you take me for? The boy’s fine. Look.”

Weatherbird squinted. She couldn’t judge scale properly from so great a height, yet she could make out an opalescent sphere in the very center of the devastation. It glinted in the noon sunlight like a violet pearl.

“There’s the limits of her shield,” Haken pointed. “And further out…”  he indicated several secondary craters of devastation, some leagues from the main impact, “that’s where its prism refracted the death-light. Sylas?”

“Done,” Sylas confirmed, his eyes still closed, his face one of incongruous serenity. “I have the precise dimensions and frequency of the shield.”

“Can we penetrate it?” Melati demanded, roused to alertness once more.

Sylas opened his eyes. “No. The Ark cannot match the frequency. Timmain’s starstone has already merged with the cellular matrix of the Tree…”

“But it can’t do that!” Melati howled. “Crystalline and organic matrices are incompatible!”

“In the long term, yes,” Haken concurred. “But at the moment…”

“The melding is crude,” Sylas said. “Improvised… inherently unstable. She’ll be fighting entropy with every breath.”

“It’s a gift of hers,” Haken said darkly.

“Naga…” Beast murmured. “She has starstone in her blood…”

“What was that?”

Beast turned to Melati. “Incompatible, you said. Starstone and flesh. But they’re not. I have starstone in my blood. So does Naga. You said so!”

Haken rolled his eyes. “It’s a pretty figure of speech, nothing more. You absorbed a strong yet non-lethal dose of the Palacestone’s energy and your cellular matrix metamorphosed as a result. You don't have… crystals in your bloodstream!”

Sylas stroked his chin thoughtfully. “No… but he has incorporated distinct starstone script into his own cellular matrix… and passed it on to his offspring. A stable mutation.”

“Savah’s blood,” Melati murmured. “That’s why she wants Naga. To study!” She turned back to the clear wall in horror. “Pool’s down there! He’s in that Tree! This is his revenge. He wants to– to–”

“Experiment,” Haken finished for her. “Treat your daughter as one of your early Fleshshaped. Yes, that seems the sort of petty spite and knowingly false equivalency that would appeal to him.”

“No,” Weatherbird said. “Pool was a tormented soul, but he was never wilfully cruel.”

Melati, Haken, and Beast all turned to stare at her in speechless disbelief.

“Forget Pool,” Sylas said dismissively. “He is an infant in this calculation. These are the plain facts: Timmain wishes to birth a Green Palace. If she is not to miscarry this new monstrosity, she must stabilize the matrix. And she clearly believes Naga’s blood holds the key. Timmain has already proven she will kill for this venture.”

“Aurek…” Weatherbird whispered miserably.

“The longer we wait, the greater the danger to the child.”


“Children,” he amended. “We cannot afford to wait for the matrix to decay naturally; we must force the issue. Our efforts should be directed to that end alone.”

“Yes! Once again, you are my guide, Foresight,” Haken said. “What do you propose?”

Sylas closed his eyes, considering it. Weatherbird watched his eyes flit underneath his lids as he ran calculations. “The debris pattern of the death-light’s refraction suggests a weakness on the south side. If we continue to bombard that section… press on the weakness…”

“Do it!” Haken commanded.

This time Weatherbird’s protests hadn’t left her tongue before the familiar flash of whiteness and displacement. Again and again, the Ark pierced the forest with a beam of light, then phased away before the rebounded radiation could strike it. The third time, they rematerialized a moment too soon, and the aftershock left them swaying violently in the air.

**Stop it!** Weatherbird begged. “You can’t keep doing this!”

Beast and Melati both looked at her in puzzlement. “Why not?”

“She’s reinforced the southern quadrant,” Sylas announced. “But now the north side is buckling. You see the spray pattern there?”

“Bombard the north. We’ll wear her down.”

“Will you burn down the whole forest to do it?” Weatherbird demanded.

“Without hesitation. Sylas–”

Sylas had gone stock-still. Before Haken could ask why, a deafening crash threw the Ark  violently to one side. The elves all tumbled to the crystalline floor, save for Sylas, who staggered with his arms extended, frantically trying to right the craft. Weatherbird felt her ears pop as the Ark displaced again, rematerializing somewhere else before Sylas could set it back on its central axis.

“Timmain?” Melati demanded.

“No,” Haken growled as he got back to his feet. The wall furthest from the Navigator was melting, peeling away. A trio of elves stepped through the doorway it created, two as short as Wolfriders, another nearly as tall as Melati.

“Death-lights, Haken?” Swift demanded. “Really?”

“You dare interfere?!” Haken pointed a finger at the smallest of the elves. “You!

“Well, you’re not giving us much of a choice,” Tass remarked archly.

Sylas was irate. “Haken! They – they merged the two pods! I’ve lost the precise frequency – have you infants no respect?!”

“Enough, Haken,” Skywise said. “We’ll find a better way. We have to.”

“What? Will you reason with her? She destroyed the Egg! She’s murdered one grandchild and now she’s stolen another! You can’t solve this with words!”

“Didn’t say we would.” Skywise’s face was grim. “But we won’t solve it with fire either.”

“Navigator, will you set us down?” Swift asked. “Or shall Skywise?”

Sylas’s lip curled in a sneer. “You do not command here. Remove your intrusion before I–”

Swift make a gesture to Tass. The tiny elf blinked once, and both Sylas and Haken found themselves dazed and pinned against the nearest wall.

The Ark set down on a rocky outcrop rising above the autumn woods. Weatherbird looked out the transparent wall. They were somewhere out of sight of the burned forest and Timmain’s shield.

“Brother… what?” Sylas murmured weakly, as he tried to shake off the effects of Tass’s powerful shockwave.

“The wolf pup has a strong bite,” Haken growled. He began to flex his arms with difficulty.

“Can I let you go?” Tass asked. “Are you going to act your age?”

“If I were to act yours, I’d have some choice words for you.”

“Bet I can guess which. Now behave, the pair of you, and I’ll do the same. Truce?”

Haken bared his teeth but nodded in agreement. Tass let the two High Ones step away from the wall. Sylas rubbed his sore arms and back, all the while staring at Tass in quiet horror.

“No more death-lights,” Swift repeated. “Drukk it, Haken, what’s to stop Timmain from shrinking the shield and letting you incinerate Bluestar and Naga in one stroke?”

“She wouldn’t do that. Not to Naga. She needs her. Whatever her plans with the Tree, Naga is a vital component.”

“And Bluestar? Or is he just so many owl pellets to you?”

Haken’s sour face was answer enough.

“And what if Timmain’s finally shield breaks under those pulses?” Skywise continued. “What if even a fraction of your death-light made it through to the starstone in the Tree? I saw the spray patterns – you think the shield can refract magic, imagine what all those starstone leaves could do! Burning our cubs alive might be the kindest end it would give them. You want to take that kind of risk?”

“Very well, enough – enough! You’ve made your point. Savah’s bones, you Wolfriders – it must be exhausting to maintain such moral superiority.”

Swift snorted loudly.

“What do you propose, then?” Sylas demanded.

Swift shrugged. “If we can’t force the shield open, we just have to find another way inside. Or else… draw Timmain outside.”

“And how will we accomplish that?” Haken sneered.

“Oh, I dunno… her oldest rival, the Firstcomer she wanted dead, the healer who stole her memories… between the three of you, I think we have more than enough bait to tempt her.”

“She’s not a fool. She is well fortified; she won’t give up that advantage easily.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to provoke her,” Swift quipped. “You’re good at that.”  

Haken narrowed his eyes. “You realize you can’t protect her, this time. She dies by my hand.”

“You can’t kill her,” Weatherbird spoke up.

“You would defend her? After what she’s done?”

“Do you want her spirit loose on the world?” Weatherbird challenged. “Or inside the Palace – or the Ark?  Her body is the best chain we have to hold her!”

Swift worried her chin with her hand. “If only we could trust the Palace to heal her… as it did Winnowill. But she’s not mad. She’s just wrong.” She sighed. “No, we’re of one mind, Haken. And if death won’t gentle her spirit… then we’ll have to try another way.”

“What way?”

She locked eyes with Melati. “You know.”

Melati nodded. “I believe I do.”

Sylas looked up at the ceiling. “Bipeds approaching,” he informed them.

“Humans?” Swift asked. “Trolls?”

“Four eights. Twenty-nine are common diggers. The others…” he frowned.  “Their matrices are chaotic – ah, I believe they’re your trollkin, little brother.”

My trollkin are all safe on Homestead. These must be Smokewater’s mongrels.”

Sylas peeled back one wall into a doorway, and the brisk mountain air rushed into the pod. The elves gathered in the archway to see a party of trolls clad in steel chainmail and slate-blue velvet. Heading the pack was a stocky trollkin with tanned skin and a full red beard.

“Oh, just set your crystal airship anywhere on my mountain!” Smokewater boomed. “I don’t mind!”

Haken cast a skeptical glance at Skywise. “You took us to Blue Mountain? Truly? Any old crag couldn’t have sufficed?”

Skywise shrugged. “Familiar trails.”

As he drew nearer, Smokewater looked up at the pod. “Ugh. Seem to remember those things looking… smoother. This the new art style over on Homestead?”


“Afraid this isn’t a social call, Smokewater,” Swift apologized.

“I should hope not. We have protocol for those! So why are you here? Anything to do with the Green Blight? I’ve had airships watching that thing since we lost those scouts.”

“Green Blight?” Haken echoed. “Apt.”

“It’s growing, you know. I can’t send anyone into the old tunnels around the Havoc anymore. I had Tally do some calculations on his counting frame. If it keeps spreading at the rate it’s growing now, it’ll be at our doorstep in less than eighty years!”

“Considerably less now, I should think.”

“Oh, wormwater! What did you do now?

“Only the usual,” Swift said gamely. “Want to help us destroy it?”

Smokewater’s face broke out into a huge grin. “You mean it? Well, it’s about poking time, skinny!” He turned back to his guards. “Spread the word, boys! We’ve got ourselves another war!”


* * *


Bluestar heard the creak of wood before the door opened up in front of him. A glassy-eyed trollkin – perhaps the same one who had brought him his food – entered, bearing an unconscious Naga.

“What have you done to her?” Bluestar accused.

The trollkin laid her on the mossy floor in silence, then withdrew. Bluestar ignored the open door behind him and crawled across the floor to Naga’s side. “Snakes! Snakes, can you hear me?”

Naga moaned softly. She was awake after all, but hardly aware. Her gaze was as empty as the trollkin’s. and she curled into a fetal position, her clenched hands pressed up against her mouth. His attempts to send to her provoked a thin whine of agony. So Bluestar continued to call to her in a gentle whisper, saying her name over and over.

Her lips began to move. He bent his head to hear her whispers.

“No… no, it’s mine. It’s mine! It’s all I am… me… me… not her… I’m not… I’m not!”

“What did you do to her?” Bluestar accused the walls.

The root in his ear throbbed as Timmain’s echoed in his head. **The merging remains incomplete. The starstone in her blood calls for unity, but the elf blood drives her to fight, to survive as a separate being.**

“What are you talking about? Why are you doing this?”

**I must know what she knows, feel what she feels… only in unity may we prevail.**

“Unity? You’re killing her!”

**It is one of the countless outcomes possible. The choice is hers.**

“Why are you doing this? What do you want?!”

**The only thing I have ever wanted. To see my children survive. To know that they will go on. That they will endure on this world that they have chosen.**

“You destroyed the Egg, didn’t you? You broke it apart to get the starstone! How many of your children died for that?”

**Alas… much has been torn away. Creation is an inherently destructive act. But you may take comfort that his death was his choice as well. He too weighed the possible consequences and he chose the one he preferred. The one that safeguarded his children. I honor his sacrifice, and thus I cannot regret it.**

“His…?” But somehow Bluestar knew. The hollow void in his chest that had been with him since he’d woken up… the visceral feeling of loss. He knew at once it was something far greater than a personal tragedy. It felt as if the world itself had a hole torn out of it.

“Aurek.” Saying the name made it real to him at last.

**His death prevented the deaths of hundreds… perhaps more. You should not grieve–**

Bluestar scrambled to his feet. “You killed Aurek! The Father of Memory – your great-grandson – my grandfather!” His breath came in shorter snatches as his vision blurred in a wash of red. “You destroyed his work – you murdered him in his bed – and you tell me not to grieve?!

Timmain was silent for a long moment. Her astral voice was oddly tight as she finally replied, **The choice was his.**

“How drukking convenient! You be sure to tell that to Haken when you see him!” A bitter laugh tore out of Bluestar, then another. All at once tears were streaming down his cheeks and vicious laughter was bubbling out of his throat. “Because he’ll come for you! And this time no one will talk him down! You stupid gwit! Don’t you realize – you’ve just turned all of Abode against you! Your precious ‘children’ are going eat you alive!”

**Some will try. A mother cannot save all her offspring. I learned that lesson when I birthed Timmorn. As much as we may love them, some children are simply unfit for survival. And those we must discard, if we are to ensure the others will thrive. **

Elfquest copyright 2019 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 2019 Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Alternaverse characters and insanity copyright 2019 Jane Senese and Erin Roberts.