Cold Metal

Like White Marble, this entry is more of an exploration of a character than a complete story.


Fear, though powerful, is not an easily sustained emotion. It comes in bursts and waves, in shocks and spasms, and as a cold, icy buzz that cuts straight through to one’s core. As with all sensations, though, constant exposure dulls sensitivity to fear.

Yenevau felt a great deal of fear when they first captured him. They pulled him from the ground, ripping out his rooted feet in the middle of the night while the rest of his grove slept around him. On that moonless night, he had been so slow and weak that he could barely summon the strength to cry out. What little sound he had produced had not roused the other treefolk of the grove.

Fear had reigned supreme that night. He had never seen a human before, though he had seen other mammals in the forest. His parents had described humans in vague terms. To the other treefolk, humans were something to detest. They brought inconvenience, if not outright destruction. Yenevau now knew how right the elder treefolk had been.

The humans kept him in a cage. He had known nothing else since they had captured him years ago, nothing except the cage they had placed him in when he first arrived among them, which had been even smaller. He had to stand on the edge of the cage at night to work his roots into the ground in order to absorb nutrients. He had to hope, every day, that they placed him in a spot where he had good access to sunlight. Sometimes he begged to be moved out of the shade. Sometimes, they listened.

At first, he had been a spectacle because treefolk were so rarely seen outside of their groves. Folks paid good money to see the animate little tree that looked like a person made of wood, especially once he learned to imitate their language. They laughed and pointed as his captors made him speak in his buzzing voice. He was punished if he asked his captor’s patrons to help him.

Then, he had been what the patrons called “cute.” Now they looked at him in horror, for the years in the cage had bent and twisted his body. His back had grown into a harsh arc, with his foliage growing along it, rather than just from the top of his head. His limbs all had a slight curve. He could not extend his legs out straight, for he’d never had room to do so.

He felt fear, sometimes, but mostly that had passed. Resignation had replaced it. Yenevau knew that he would be in the cage for the rest of life. He knew that he would never choose his own journey. He would moved only when they moved his cage. All of the world that he saw, he would see through those bars, whether in a wagon as the caravan moved to a new town, or from among the tents once they had set up their site.

Yenevau’s only respite came in the form of creation. He had watched the elders in his grove lay their hands on plants and cause them to grow. He had seen them twist trees into new shapes, or cause them to flower and produce fruit for their pets. Yenevau had begun to practice doing so on his own.

He had only what he could reach through the bars of his cage. Grass, mostly, though sometimes wildflowers and other small plants that grew among the grass, for which he had no name. When he touched them, he felt a connection far beyond that which he felt to the cold metal of his cage, or even the earth, when he rooted to it at night. Yenevau hadn’t been taught his parent’s magic, but it came to him easily, as naturally as moving a limb.

Yenevau took care never to display his power in front of his captors. He feared what the repercussions might be. They already ensured that his cage was never near a tree, for fear that he would be able to manipulate it. He suspected they were correct. He had learned to make the grass grow and twist. He had learned to make flowers bloom before and after they should have. He had even managed to make one plant change its coloration.

Though he had long since given up on hope, sometimes Yenevau dreamed of what he could do, should they make the mistake of allowing him access to a tree, or even a bush — anything more significant that grass. He pictured flooding the plant with energy, forcing it to grow and twist outward. The branches would wrap around the steel bars of his cage and force them apart. Then he would push his way free.

He wondered if he could somehow chain his power through multiple plants, perhaps twisting a long vine out of grass and channeling that energy into a tree. He had been unable to do so thus far. He doubted it was possible. However, something lurked inside him that told him there might be another way.

Every treefolk produced seed cores. Yenevau knew what they were, or at least, he had a sense. He knew that they were the means by which treefolk produced children, and that it took at least two adult treefolk to properly transform a seed core into a treefolk sapling. He did not know the specifics of this process, because he had been so young at the time of his capture.

He did know that he had reached the age where his body had begun to produce seed cores on its own. He had expelled one, held it in his hands. In practically vibrated with unrealized potential. It looks like a knot woven out of wood. He had poured his energy into it, and to his surprise, it unfolded. Inside was nothing. The seed core withered and died.

Someday, Yenevau knew, his seed cores would be the key to his escape. All he needed was time to figure out how to use them, and if he had nothing else, he had time.

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