He got it.
The sprout bristled. It shivered. It seemed to grow, then it grew.
He got it!
Branch watched in marvel. It was the first time he had gotten the growing to work for him. The moving, that was easy, but the growing. He smiled. A big smile. It stretched for his ears and crinkled his already wrinkled brow. He had been working for this moment for years, really, his whole life. Though he hadn’t known so for much of it.
Branch sat back, and let out a breath, not just touched with relief, but bristling with excitement, adorned with anticipation, it dripped with a sense of accomplish. A small wind blew through the grove he was nestled in.
Set in a ravine, like a bowl cut from the land, it was a secret place. A waterfall found itself on the northern edge of the bowl, it tumbled playfully down the rocky slope. The small stream that led from a pool of water, gathered in a pool at the foot of the fall. It ran slowly beneath a massive tree, whose roots spread out over the stream, as though it had over the years grown out of the way of the wandering water.
His mentor, Trent, had shown him this small hidden enclave, it was a place of magic sprouting. One of the small places of true magic left in the world, where it leaked out from the world. He had been sworn to only show his apprentice if he ever took one. Too few were these places, that if word of it spread, the death of this enclosure would quickly follow suit. It would be cultivated and contained, set to be preserved. It is against the nature of true magics, to be trapped, held in state.
No, Trent had told him, ‘Magic, like man, wants to be free, it yearns to grow and shape the world. It wants!’ He had always emphasized that magic had a will, a presence or awareness.
Not everyone from the schools of workings, SOW for short, thought that it was a living thing. Actually, very few, Trent had been cast out from Mageform as a teacher for his unorthodox beliefs. Branch would have loved to show Trent that he had learned the growing. Years had passed since he had last seen him though. Branch wondered whether he lived or not.
He looked back to the sprout, rather, he looked into it. It grew, he had placed the growing well. That was the thing, you could get the growing without being good at it, someone could place a growth on nearly anything – if you knew how- but that did not mean it would grow. Usually, it led to quick disintegration. Actually. Every time, for centuries, besides by a few masters, it led to a crumbling and caving of the growth. Sometimes to the death of the wielder, it was a danger of the growing, the dying.
He breathed deep, slowly, calming himself. He focused onto the growing sprout, and found the small spot, the place to put the growing. It quivered, and grew further, showing itself to be a raspberry sprout. The plant continued to shape itself, growing toward where it always sought to be, a full bush, flowered then fruited.
Branch fought to retain his concentration, forcing his excitement to the wayside. If he let it run wild, take over, his whole growing seed would shrivel and die. His thoughts flowed into calm. He could feel the slow settling air that found its way into the enclosure, it fell around him softly, playing in the wind and between slightly swaying branches and leaves. That was part of the concentration, to feel the world around him, to set himself within it, his presence and thoughts were within everything around him. Almost as though he was somehow in-between everything, that was how the growing worked. With the moving, you were apart. But growing, you had to become a piece of what you wished to grow, then he had to leave without tearing away. That was really where the breaking happened, that was another one, the breaking, easiest, messiest and least skillful of the magics.
Sometimes he found himself thinking over how all the magics were about how he wanted to affect the thing. That was what it really and readily came to, what someone wanted to do and how they felt about it. That was another thing that Trent had taught him, of the many things his first mentor had shown him.
He could feel his concentration slipping into the endless realm of ceaseless thoughts, and he pulled himself back to his task. The raspberry plant had nearly completed its growth, it was nearing blossoming, he breathed it in. Branch felt as the roots reached out, working their way into the dirt, leaves reaching up to the rays of sunlight that flitted between the trees overhead, hoping to grasp just a little bit of the warming light. It was life, as much as anything else to this small thriving raspberry plant.
Besides Branch’s growing that was focused on it.
It took longer than he would have believed, he had to finish the growth, if he didn’t nothing would remain, but if he held, and finished and pulled his presence from the plant carefully. It would live, and longer than any natural plant would. It would grow its fruit when he was done, ripe and ready for the picking. Minutes passed and seemed to flow by the way an age does, stretched out and slow.
Suddenly, he was done. Branch was only sure of knowing he was done when he found himself on the edge of it. When the end of the growth was there, his part in it. It was like a ball rolling over the edge of a triangle, when it went, the point was finished. Complete. It was clean and true, he found himself separate all at once. In one moment, he and the plant were working in tandem, the next, they were as separate as they began.
Things usually found their way back toward where they began, at least for a moment. People did that too.
Branch had only seen one man finish a growing. His mentor Trent had told him of the various magics, trained him in the moving, and breaking, but the growing had always remained beyond his grasp. It was another student of Mageform, a few years his senior, though this was long ago now. Nearly a decade had passed. That had been a spectacle, the student, Torant, had done it in the first three years he was at the citadel. He had been showered with praise and honors and appointed a grand mage of Mageform. Then without warning or trace he disappeared.
Gone, nobody could find him. Maybe he had destroyed himself, that could happen too. Then again, Torant had been the only one in nearly a century to do it, chances are he hadn’t destroyed himself carelessly. Maybe he was working on something for Mageform. It certainly wasn’t for Branch to worry over what a grand mage was doing. Though Branch was now one of two mages alive that had done a growing.
He felt tired, drained. As though he had expended his energy for the day, another side effect. Now that he was done, sitting under the massive tree, he let his excitement build. He had completed a growing! Branch couldn’t help but smile, a deep thing, it grew too. A well of relief, a feeling of bursting warmly, that was what grew in him now. Maybe that was a residue of the growing, maybe he also grew.
It felt like he was full, full of something, he couldn’t place a description on it. So instead he focused on simply feeling whatever it was. A growing in him. He could sense that, it seemed there was a growing in everything, he had never felt it until now. It pressed on him from everything and everywhere. His vision grew sharp, crystalline, like he was seeing for the first time. His head spun, he reeled, suddenly it felt like too much, overwhelming. It was as if his mind played on the edge of an understanding, but couldn’t grasp it.
His vision faded and blurred, colors ran together, finding themselves confused and lost in his sight. He felt like his mind was going numb, his fear sparked to life and he felt himself falling.
Branch opened his eyes. Everything was dark around him. The world had turned to night, and he hadn’t even been there for it happening. His head pounded, his body felt stretched out, pulled too far. He groaned, and that hurt too.
He laughed. Before him the plant was full of berries and lively green leaves, it was strong and healthy, and seemed to glow with a life. He stood and stretched, trying to work the soreness out of his arms and legs. Branch used the small stream and its cool clean water to wash the sleep from his face, it worked, the cold contrast grabbed his attention.
He had done a growing. The plant stood there, as if it too agreed. Branch felt a sense of pride swelling, he felt it as it pushed the soreness away.
There are times in a man’s life when he wonders just what to do. Branch stood there. He had reached the very thing he had always sought. He had found a way to growth magic, he had suddenly learned a new form of workings. With that came new understandings. Branch had learned, as many others, that a growth could only be truly done, with purpose. A growing was much like that, a learned purposed understanding.
Branch didn’t know what to do. Should he run and tell and shout and cry that he had done a growing? He would have to do it again, he couldn’t bring anyone back here. He had given his word.
He chose to walk. And think. The sun had faded behind the horizon while he slept, but the night was clear, and stars were bright and the moon glowed, it was a good night for walking. A good night for thinking. The stream played softly in the grove, it was a moment he would remember for the rest of his life, he made sure of it. Branch focused on everything, how the grass felt on his bare feet, the freshness of air in his lungs, the feel of cool night air on his skin, he sprouted goosebumps, and felt a liveness – a tightness- in his steps.
Branch followed the stream, it led out of the ravine to the south, once out of the grove he would be in the forest. The Timberlands, though the towering evergreens lived a little further north, closer toward the Rangforne mountains. Sure, there were dangers that roamed the forest during the night, but he wasn’t worried. He had mastered the moving, and the breaking, though he wouldn’t need the breaking. The moving was enough, it was an easy thing for anyone who attended Mageform. It was the first of the magics taught.
Even though, in fact everyone in the world could do the breaking. It was more of a form of thought, of focus than anything, it took no skill. It could even be done without magics. So first, the moving was taught, how to interact with the world without breaking. It had been easy for him.
He left the grove, it was a place that he could call his own, even though it belonged to the world, he innately felt like its keeper, its caretaker. A silent suspicion that the grove felt the same way about him pressed itself into his thoughts.
Light and softly he walked, the aches that had greeted him when he woke were gone. In fact, he felt more alive than any other time in his life. Maybe through the giving of growth he also received some. Fascinating. His thoughts played around there, drifting between what had happened, what would and what was. He let his focus drift, he had spent most of the day forcing it to a focus.
‘Your thoughts are like a sword, they can cut both ways, or they can pierce.’ Something Trent had said often. He had been full of sayings. Branch wondered if all mentors had a slew of sayings tucked away. Waiting for the right moment to frustrate apprentices and students. A small smile spread to his lips, remembering all the times Trent used one from his seemingly endless reservoir.
Frustrating then, sure, but a sense of gratitude was left later. That seemed to be the way with a lot of things.
His mind truly wandered.
Tall maple and birch trees towered over him, they weren’t so dense as to blot out the faint lights of the clear night, but they tried. Moonlight shone down in bright steaks until it landed softly on the moss and dirt covered forest floor. The forest had a soft feel, from soft lights. It was quiet, the kind of resonating quiet that really held an unimaginable amount of sound in it. The sounds just happened to be right on the edge of hearing.
His footsteps were soft, being barefooted, but more because he took his time. ‘The pace you walk, is the pace you think.’ Another saying. Terrace, his home town, was not far away, a few hours to the north west. He walked toward it, thought-filled. He had in his years been able to move from the tower of Mageform. Finding work as a mason mage. It was redundant work, moving after moving, every now and then a breaking when the stone didn’t feel right.
But it had given him the freedom of thought while he worked. He didn’t despair at the work, though some days its monotony wore heavy on him. He hadn’t gone to Mageform to become a mason mage, he could have done that without the years spent careening through the corners of his mind. He could have just become a mason, some folks who left Mageform could teach the breaking, he could have learned all of that.
Now, in this moment, while he walked beneath moon and starlight, a radiant raspberry bush that grew in the grove behind him, made it all worth it.
From what he understood about the growing, the raspberry bush would live for years and years, continuously bearing fruit, it would thrive when others wilted. With or without water and sunshine, or care, it had a care placed in it. It had a growing.
The woods were a quiet and lonely place. He walked between the tall trees and undergrowth of an untamed forest. There was no straight path, like the roads of life, it was a winding way. Luckily, he knew where he was going, and could walk through the maze of wood and leaves without thought, he let his feet bring him home, and his thoughts wander.
His life was about to change.
There was no knowing where it was going to lead him. Some day he would know, but today -tonight- as he walked, he could only imagine. Mostly, he had a fear, it nestled itself nicely inside, if he would be able to do it again. To find that state of being that was needed for a growing, that was it. It dawned on him as he walked. Nearly tripping over a large root that had been intent on growing up out of the ground.
That was the thing with the magics, most of it was getting to a state, then using a purposed intention. It all came back to self. His hometown of Terrace was more than a few days travel from Mageform. He would have time to prepare himself. Maybe he would take the time to practice after he got home, and along the way. It would do him no good to show up empty and unable to do a growth. He would be ridiculed and mocked, and nobody liked that. He would do what he could to prevent that. Really, all he had to do, was to repeat an action that nearly none could do.
He laughed out loud, and it bounded through the forest around him, the way a wave washes over, it was quiet, and the silence fled before his resounding laugh.
All he had to do, was what no one else could.
Well, there was the one other, Torant. He hoped someone at Mageform would know where to find him. He hadn’t realized until now, but he was going to try to find Torant, he had questions, and it made sense to ask the only other person that would know from experience. It’s a different thing, experience and knowing, as opposed to just the knowing.
An owl called out from above. Branch let his thoughts go for a bit and just walked, feeling around him. The world lived, he felt it now. He reached out with his thoughts, and senses, the way a cat would use whiskers. More than he had before the growing. As though, he was tethered to the life around him. He could feel its pull, like he could sit down and commune with each variance of life. Maybe he had opened something within himself.
That was what all the magics really were. The way to mastering them was fully understanding, fully becoming the knowing. Gods, what a mess it could seem. At the core though, it was simple. Like many things in life, it only seemed complicated from the outside, but once you made it through the outer barrier, it was more simple than believable.
The night passed by and he wandered both woods and mind, a heavy dark had set in as he found himself approaching home. It was a small town, Terrace. Which was just how he liked it, small town, small worries. Nothing like the city of Clarity, where Mageform had been established.
The thing with cities, they were dirty, and smelled, not like the dirt of earth dirty. But corrupted, dirty-feeling, the type of place where you had to watch your pockets, or back. It happened in old cities. Clarity had been built thousands of years before. Maybe that was just the way Branch saw it. He enjoyed trees and streams and the hidden places of the world, where natural magic could grow and take root, untouched by the will of men.
It had been built with moving magics, though of course, hand and mortar and sweat had been used too, but the great wall or the towers that held strong after thousands of years of wind and rain and wars, those were built up with the prowess of Mageform’s founders. It had been years since he had last stepped foot in the city. He wasn’t sure if it anxiety or excitement that grew in the pit of his stomach.
The two were so similar, Trent had taught him that the two had the same effect. That to become excited in a moment of anxiousness was a mastery of its own type of magic. Thought and emotion were so closely tied into the magics, though really, into all of life, and finding the way to utilize them within were a key to any mage’s success.
His town was quiet, few lights were on, it was most of the way through the night, and everyone slept. So, it was, that Branch, new Growth Mage came to Terrace, in the night, heralded by quiet and dark and lonesomeness.
The town found itself spread out before a mountainside, it was situated in the southwest corner of the Timberlands, where the vast evergreen forest met with the broad-leafed trees, that dominated further south. It was a place where ocean and forest and mountains met. Most of the year it was warm, fog would fall on the town during the early hours of the day, like a cool blanket that would settle briefly before moving on.
Fog was settling in now, it hung heavy, thick, it was nearly palpable. It worked its way through the wide streets. Three trade carts could easily amble down the corridors that made up the small town. There were a few dozen buildings, mostly houses, though the town had an inn, a general store and a few other shops. The town’s blacksmith had been a master in Clarity before selling his business and moving out to Terrace, he didn’t work much nowadays, but when he did it was something of a spectacle.
Everyone in town had a niche that worked for them, that contributed to the small but colorful ecosystem of the town. Branch was their mason mage, not that the town hired one, but he just happened to live there, and filled in the need. Some folks preferred to build their homes by hand, it was a tradition that held strong in the outer reaches of the kingdom. Closer to Mageform, it was a flailing idea.
In the city, beside the schools, those that knew the moving well, were rewarded for their efforts. The more intricate the better. Branch had always preferred the natural simplicity. That was the reason he moved to the outskirts of the kingdom.
It was quiet, the kind that settled in, and pressed around him. It seemed loud when he opened the door to his hand-built home. It was small, slate shingles gleamed dully in the night, the wooden door creaked slightly as he pulled it open. Without thought, he reached out, using a moving, it washed out over his small house, like a wave that spread in all directions. He had left it a mess, and his will formed into movement. It was as if all at once his home jumped into order, everything rushed to its proper place. Ready for the next day.
Branch collapsed on his soft feathered bed. Sleep overtook him in seconds.
He dreamed. The deep kind. Where he knew he was dreaming. He walked in a land that seemed to be surrounded in fog, where the edges of sight faded into the mist. A river cut itself shear and clean through the grass covered ground. It flowed sure and strong. This wasn’t the first time he had this dream. He stood on the edge of the river, it ran off downhill as though it felt good to chase the pull of gravity. The whole time it babbled about it, the small sounds water makes as it flows by.
Branch listened, that was something Trent had impressed. The ability to truly listen, it was hard fought and took attention in any moment. Branch focused only on hearing, absorbing what was around. The heavy fog -like that of his hometown-, the rushing river, what looked to be a sloping hill beyond.
Why did he dream of this? He had never been to anywhere like it.
Branch woke with the first hint of light, there was a liveness in his awaking. He was going to Clarity. He would plan his trip this morning and set out right away. Growth Mage. The thought was startling, exciting, awesome and awful. Branch lay in his bed, beneath blanket and thought, the anticipation that grew within rolled and churned. He pushed them aside and sat up, hands over his face he rubbed the sleep from his day. He stared out picturing, imagining the events before and behind him. Then in a breath he focused his thoughts to his present moment, where he was and what he was going to do.
He had to go to Mageform. He would go.
Today, in short hours, and they were going to pass by before he could notice, he knew it. That was the way time worked, sometimes knowing just what to do with it was as important as having it. He stood, knowing breakfast was going to be on the run – what a hurrying thought. Branch gathered what he could from his house for the trip, a pack with rope, socks, a few traveling bites to eat, apples and jerky and that hard, bitter chocolate. He had everything he could get from his house. Not much, for a trip to Clarity, but then again, he wasn’t going to need too much.
It was going to be a two week trip by foot, not far in the wanderings of a lifetime. Branch imagined he was going to be doing a good bit of traveling in the coming days. Both in pursuit of his new craft and away from the clamoring around it. He was mostly interested in trying to find Torant, two growth mages in one lifetime. He wouldn’t mind seeing Trent, if ever their paths would cross again.
He was out the door, excitement flew his footsteps. The sun was barely coming up to greet the day its warmth still out on the horizon. The fog from the night before still hung around, it was early yet. The air felt crisp, cool, a small breeze passed through and sent a chill running through Branch.
A growth mage. The thought resounded through his mind.
He was a growth mage now, what did growth mages do? Another bounding thought. It wasn’t as if he could wander down the street and ask one. He walked barefoot again, like he always did, and in hurried steps toward the general store. He knew they weren’t open, but Estelle and him were close, she would help him out. Even if he had to wake her.
Branch ran over the things he would need. It really wasn’t much. A few traveling supplies, a waterskin, there was a root called stormgrass that grew in the Stormlands, far off. If she had some it would be an invaluable addition, it gave energy both physically and mentally. When sleep pulled his eyes low, just chewing the root would ward fatigue away, it would sharpen his wits and thoughts. Very useful, it even staved off hunger.
He walked hurriedly through town and it was a quick trip, being a small town and all. A moment later he knocked softly on the door to the store. Branch was barely done with his third rap of knuckles before she flung the door open, startling him. Though it was early, Estelle, was clearly awake and going for the day, she looked beautiful. She had long dark hair, and it hung in small interweaving curls, but it was her smile and her eyes, they way they fell on him, the rapt attention she gave him, that really reached out and took his breath.
Branch accidently stood there for a moment, staring letting fumbling words fall before they fell on his tongue, he stumbled over his thoughts, none finding his voice.
“Good morning Branch!” Her voice sounded like falling rain after a long dry summer.
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