It had that way with him, her voice. “It is a good morning Estelle! I hear it’s the only one like it. You are beautiful, and I should think the light Is glad to fall on you!”
He had found a few words, sometimes those were tucked away for the hiding and nonsense came out. Branch figured those were the awkward moments, this was NOT one of those. It was a good moment, one that was light and full of that play that fun only has. One that Branch could look back on and smile, he did and would, those moments, sometimes they pressed themselves on you. Sometimes you have to make them. Branch made sure, this was one he would remember.
He tried to feel everything, to give scope and depth, to capture and hold the passing time, to see the small things that made up a good memory. He noticed the light of sunrise, the crisp morning air, her smile and the way her lips tucked up, no thing was spared from his notice, sometimes, he had to create the memory.
“Oh hush!” She hushed him.
That was the funny thing with being hushed, it only worked if you hushed. He did, for a moment, “Well, it is true!”
“Fair enough! Branch, what are you doing here so early?” She let him compliment her.
“Just you know, saying hi.” He smiled and waited, letting the quiet play in the space between them, still not awkward.
He liked to think that something grew between people when they interacted. There was something there, a creation that was made through the way they felt. He couldn’t describe it, but he sure could feel it. Branch wondered if Estelle could sense the thing. The connectedness.
They moved on into the conversation about why he really was there. He told a bit of why he was going to Clarity to her as they walked through her shop. It was a nice shop, it was organized, but in a natural way, it wasn’t one of those too clean shops. Where you felt like you dirtied it just walking in, or the type where you didn’t want to touch anything for fear of dislodging the order. It welcomed you, called to be looked at and walked through. It was the kind of shop that made you feel like you were the only thing missing from it.
Estelle kept a good shop.
She tried to wave off him when it came time to pay, but he insisted. The moment ran by. Before either of them knew it, they were waving goodbye. Branch had nearly asked if she wanted to come, to join him in the journey, but he didn’t. So, they waved goodbye.
Not much time had passed since he had arrived, but the sun was glowing brighter, the day was quickly coming, and he was eager to be off. Ready to take the next step. Growth mage.
There was a great library in Mageform. Thousands of years of knowledge were held there. There were stacks of tomes from the lives of other mages, thousands of them. From all sorts in the craft. There were other magics, some forgotten, see, it was the understanding that made the magic. Trent had implored that, impressed it, that the real key to it was in understanding it. A growth mage though, that was a rarely rewarded endeavor, it took a deep understanding. About life, to grow, cultivate and bring out, it takes an understanding.
What better place than the great library of Mageform to find himself an understanding?
Branch walked, a spring in each step, it was different when you were walking toward something, he could feel it. A liveness that was nestled within. Something that pulsed and grew. He was a Growth Mage now. He would need to understand what that really meant. That was the next step for him, he knew it. For now, on this journey, he could practice the growing.
But, when he got to Clarity…
Branch walked through the town. The fog that had still clung low to the ground had fled as the morning rays of light grew. It was a bright morning; a clear sky was only dotted by scattered clouds and the wind moved softly. Most of the buildings had the slate-shingled roof, wooden walls, though a couple houses were made of stone and mortar. It was a small town, a good town. Branch enjoyed living there. Though the sun was rising a few folks were up and about. He waved but didn’t stop.
He was ready, ready to be on his way. Ready to work with the growing, ready to go to Clarity again, ready to see what was coming.
With the rising sun, as its full light fell on Terrace, Branch walked from home, the road through forest and mountain, over river and through valleys lay ahead. Two weeks, if he walked the whole way, there were other ways of travel, but he didn’t have a full understanding of them. They wouldn’t work for him yet. For a moment he entertained the idea of learning them, it was only for a moment, he had barely begun to understand the growing.
The first part of his journey would be easy, for a few days he would walk through the intermingling forests of north and southern influences. Where evergreen and broadleafed trees shared roots, sun and earth, the road was flat and easy walking, padded by fallen needles and leaves, surrounded by life and growth. A great river cut through the Timberlands and he would have to cross it, he could either walk north, toward the Rangforne mountains, or south into the wilds of the Forest of Lament. A bridge had once been built across the river, but a furious storm had destroyed it.
One day, when he had the time, and spare energy he would go there, and rebuild it. A mason mage could do that, though he wasn’t sure if he could continue to refer to himself that way, for now he would. ‘A man is, what he is.’ His mentor’s voice echoed in the saying.
The morning truly was a fresh, beautiful day, where it started crisp and quickly found a comfortable motion, a welcoming temperament, it was the kind of day that ushered someone along. He felt like he was being pulled, maybe by the day, or wants, or excitement, or…he didn’t know. He felt pulled though. It was a deep thing, in the pit of his stomach, or mind, or thoughts. That was the thing with a feeling, it was hard to place. To pick the spot where it belonged. It seemed to belong…everywhere.
He walked, nearly running, and didn’t realize it, it felt good, to flow through the forest. Between tree and root, under branch and through morninglight. When the day was just beginning, and fresh, that was Branch’s favorite time to walk through the forest. He could feel everything waking up, awaiting the day, ready for the sunlight and wind and whatever else came that way. Like, it was enough to simply experience the morning, and it greetings. He focused on maintaining a feel of lightness, light body, light thoughts, light steps.
It was nearly midday when he found his thoughts again. Sometimes, on long journeys, he would send them off on their own. With a small task to keep and seek. Like staying light and careless.
The day had really turned into a fantastic afternoon, one of those to write of, where the sun shines, and wind caresses, one of those days where everything seems to be going amazingly. Branch sat at a spring, it bubbled from the bottom of a hill. It was a nice spot, he stopped here every time he traveled east. The spring drew itself from it’s underground reservoir into a small pool, it was fresh and clean and the kind of water that really left you satisfied. The hill rose up behind him, and the spring, tall trees climbed it, great towering oak and birch trees. Only a few of the evergreens had found a rooting there. The trail he followed, a little fork in the road that led back to the main road a few miles up, passed by just a few steps from where he was.
The spring was one of those spots. The slightly hidden kind, the almost secret places of beauty. The kind of place that took a little energy to get to, where it took effort and time, but was worth it. He relaxed and took a few bites from a trail cake, that Estelle makes. It was dry but not hard – so it would last, and had little morsels cooked into it, making it both hearty and delicious. Branch also drank his fill of water, such a splendid source of fresh water wasn’t always easily found.
There were a lot of reasons why he stopped here, mainly though, it was because of how it made him feel. Oh! How it felt to lay there, back on the hill, fresh spring beside him, trees overhead, the sounds of a forest drifting by, worries left on the road. It passed by quicker than he could have liked, suddenly his time there was over, and his feet found him walking on into the forest. The Timberlands where huge. They stretched on for months of walking, endless towering evergreens, he had spent some time in them searching for a lost city, him and Trent. That had been early in his apprenticeship.
Branch spent each day focusing his attention and state into a light and buoyant form, and each night practicing and working with a growing. He had to start over each night, he hadn’t found a way to suspend it, to keep it from unraveling the second his attention turned. It was good practice, but mostly it was infuriating. Sometimes a random noise from the forest would snatch his focus and cause him to drop the growth.
Ten days in and he hadn’t been able to get another growth to work. He sat there beside his fire, well, really, he lay there staring up through the forest canopy. He was missing something, or…something. Maybe he was afraid of it, afraid of the failing, or of the succeeding, or the responsibility. Regardless, he knew, he was holding himself back, faltering somewhere. It didn’t happen by accident, or on its own. Somewhere he already knew the needs and wants of a growth, the environment and state and feeling that was needed was buried somewhere. He just needed to grow used to it, grow closer to the growth.
He laughed. Sometimes the way it worked was confusing, frustrating, it was fascinating. During his walk he figured, he had found the growing because he was fascinated.
The crackling of his fire was soft and inviting, but with the quiet of the night around, he heard it clearly and loudly. He was getting closer to Clarity, he had decided to pass the river north along the Rangforne mountains, the trip was a couple of days shorter. A sigh escaped through his breath. It left a small trail of mist, even in the warmer nearing days of spring it was still cool on the mountainside, he watched as it dissipated into the cool air.
Branch lay on the ground, it was soft, he had chosen a patch of moss for his bed. The fire burned low on the ground, it had been hours since he started it, the coals at its heart glowed brightly. Branch hadn’t tried to do a Growth. A growth mage who couldn’t do a Growing. He chuckled softly, it felt sarcastic, it was sarcastic. He knew it was an understanding he had, but now did not. It was like a good thought, he had to catch it before it got away.
So, he laid there, resting his body, it had been a long grueling day up and down the mountainsides, the trail ran a harrowing course over the ridge-line. It was a spectacular view. Looking out, over the landscape below, as the sun set for the day, and was the very reason he had chosen to come this way. The southern forest was teaming with life and was an enveloping, vivid reminder of the scope of living, but this view, was worth the extra steps.
He went to sleep on thoughts of the ravine, the place of magic sprouting where our story started, of the forest to the south, of magic, of the coming days.
The morning greeted him pleasantly, a great rumbling shook the ground, it scared the sleep right out of him. He sat upright in a flash, just a small trail of smoke drifted up from what remained of the fire. Sometimes, when something wakes a person, the reason for the waking flees before the actual waking up. This happened to Branch, he was sitting up, wondering what had awoken him. He could feel a quiet that rolled out over the forest and mountainside, one that tends to follow a startling.
He stood, kicked some dirt over his fading fire, and stamped it out quickly -his feet were still bare. The morning air held the coolness from night and showed each breath of his. It was early, very early, the light of the new day was barely scratching on the dark skies of the previous. Branch walked to the edge of the mountain, an overlook clear of trees and bushes was just beyond his camp. It offered a clear view of the Timberlands, and the Southern Forest, of where he had come from and where he headed toward. Off in the distance, right on the edge of where things faded into each other he could make out the city of Clarity. Massive towers where scarcely visible, he couldn’t make out individual pieces, but he could see it.
This was Lament’s Perch. Far above, further up the mountain, where the peaks communed with clouds, was Lament’s Overlook. The fabled Warden of the Rangforne mountains, herald of desolation, The Sunder of Halaar. This post had been abandoned for centuries. Clarity had been born from the destruction of Halaar. Branch supposed it was the way of things, a cycle, before Halaar it had been Rangforne, it was a city of many names. Clarity, off in the distance, home of Mageform awaited Branch.
From there, on that overlook, his journey led down and out of the mountains. It was easy going and the weather was fair. Branch managed to get a seed to sprout and grow the last night before he came into the city. In the distance, through small gaps in the forest he could make out the fire-lit silhouette of the great towers of Clarity. Spires that pierced the sky, in the night the windows glowed, illuminating them like the stars.
The next morning, after finally managing to get a good nights’ rest, he walked beneath the great arches of Clarity’s gate. A massive entrance faced south, a stone-worked piece of art, it withstood ages of wars and battles. Wear and tear did not affect it, it was always a wondering experience. To walk beneath the towering structures, it was humbling, to stand before such vast work. So much effort and focus and life was put into it!
It was early still in the day when he arrived, but crowds of people bustled about. The city was awake, it woke early. The dirt road was packed and rutted, large carts lurched down the path heedless to the folks on foot. Shouts and curses fell before the horse drawn carts, most in irritation. A steady stream of them poured in from the outskirts of the city, where farms and homesteads, mines and lumberyards, hunters and explorers, scholars. Clarity was a hub of knowledge and innovation. It was a city of wonders.
Magic played its hand heavy in the foundations, the walkways, the decoration and structures. Many were unique pieces of warped wood or shaped stones. Movings and Shapings, the trade arts. The city was inundated with aspiring mages of either discipline, they all vied for a piece of the city to work with, to build and shape and call their own. To add their names to list of Clarity Builders. It was a high honor. One building he passed -it always stood out to him- bore the shape of a raindrop. It was pure and clean and showed a skill of patience and understanding in the trade by Clay, the mage who built it centuries before.
The sounds of a rising market filled the air, calls and shouts of various wares. Fresh bread, hot ciders, wyvern-skin hats from Crescent Bay, treats and drinks. Spices and tonics were sold at premiums, carried from all over Rangforne and from the lands beyond. He passed a peddler who carried rare plants and herbs from the Stormlands, at least he swore it to Branch as he tried to sell him on it. The Stormgrass did look authentic though. Branch turned down the hawkers and merchants that caught his eye and grabbed his attention.
The smells that filled the air! Hot cinnamon cakes and honeyed biscuits drifted through the early morning streets, the warm air hadn’t yet started to bring out the stale stuffy feel of a crowded city market, where musty scents and grime combined into a sickly smell. Some of it sweet, others repulsing. To someone who lived outside of the city, the contrast to fresh, clean forest air was stark. The cacophony of smells could through a newcomer off. But there were unique and delightful things to be found hidden amid the trove of shops and carts, traveling merchants lined the street corners, selling straight from their carts.
Branch would have loved to spend the day exploring the corners of the market, walking down the corridors of Clarity, absorbing the city and the works of art and magic. It was an everchanging city.
Instead, he walked through the city, through the heart of it. Mageform climbed into the sky from the heart of the Clarity. It was a tower, a twisting thing that flowed up from the ground. Its stone-grey walls were smooth, though ripples seemed to run up the side of it in great streaks, as if it was all pulled up and twisted into shape. Each step brought him closer, the tower grew taller, his anticipation rose and pumped a life in his step. It was a sharp feeling, both excitement and a needle like worry pricked his step.
He walked through the city and up to the tower of Mageform. People ran back and forth in a great hustle and bustle. Many rushed by him, all in a grand hurry to get somewhere. On his walk he was jostled and pushed, bumped, hurried and harried, at some point there was a brawl in the middle of the street, which funny enough the result of a misunderstood compliment – they all figured it out much later.
Only a couple hours after walking through the front gate, Branch Growth Mage of Terrace, found himself standing before the doors, readying himself to walk through them. Inside many of the Grand Mages lived, they helped to guide the course of the magics. They pointed new scholars and students in the direction of the most patient. They were incredibly diligent about new magics, or someone working with a particularly elusive kind. Like the Growing. Anyone who went there, studied, crafted or learned there knew. You always shared with the Grand Mages, first.
He looked up. To see Estelle standing there. He was surprised! Oh yes, quite surprised, he found himself in one of those moments where he searched for the words to say but kept grabbing the wrong ones. He managed. “Hi Estelle! What are you doing here!?”
Sometimes he wondered what could be seen from his eyes, could she see how beautiful he thought she was, or feel the way her voice caressed sound, could she feel the static intensity that bloomed around their greeting? Right now, he mostly felt those things, but didn’t think about it, didn’t notice the embracing of it. That was one of those things.
“I am glad to see you! Wasn’t sure if I’d completely missed you, after you left I started thinking about coming to Clarity. It has been so long, and there are some things I wouldn’t mind tracking down for the shop! I tried to catch up but lost you at the river. Did you head north into the mountains? That’s crazy, its way longer that way! Did you just get into town?”
How much rolls on behind eyes and face, and fingers and hands. There is a torrent of thought and energy and potentials and dreams, horrors, loves and laughter all dwelling unseen behind the eyes of a moment. Thoughts bounded through the landscape of mind. They played in the valleys of doubt, the peaks of assurance. It was a storm of opposites and composites. What a game!
Luckily, Branch didn’t get caught up in that game. He was glad she was here though, he made sure she knew too. “I’m glad you’re here. I nearly asked you if you wanted to come. But well, you know, obviously I didn’t.” He finished with a rippling of laughter.
They shared their trips with each other. She had been in town for two days and was staying at one of the nearby inns. The Traveler’s Respite. It was a good inn, they knew how to take care of someone over there. He knew from a few times staying there himself. He hadn’t planned on where he was going to be staying, Branch really hadn’t prepared anything. That was the way he was, he knew where and what he had to do, then he went that way. So far it had worked out for him, at least he thought so.
“Do you have time to find something to eat? A place to sit with something delicious to drink?” Estelle asked.
He could have, maybe he should have used some time then, to share a few moments with Estelle, and enjoy the unexpected moment. He wanted to.
“I would love to.” He looked up at the huge tower of Mageform, “Are you staying much longer?”
“A few more days, I enjoy traveling but I’m not about to spend a month of it for a two day stay in Clarity. Besides there’s a merchant’s festival in a few days, some things I’d like to track down for my shop!” She smiled, like she couldn’t have found them now anyway.
He knew she could, it was something that had always amazed him, her ability to discover and find nearly anything. Branch would just walk into a few shops, ask around, if it couldn’t be found, he’d move on. Estelle, in half the time would have found whatever it was, and six other ways to have it delivered cheaper than it should have been bought, not to mention their aunt’s favorite soup recipe. She had a way with people, she just had a way about her.
“I’d like to take care of what I need to up here in Mageform. That way we can take our time about, I saw some pretty interesting things on my way through. I’m sure you did too!” He hated to say no to now. Really there wasn’t anything he’d want to do more.
He stood before the tower, it loomed tall overhead, the shadow it cast was a spire that cut across nearly the whole of town. It shaded them in it now, the eastern sun blocked out behind it. The day was warm, the kind meant to be enjoyed. The kind meant to spend with a beautiful Estelle.
“Don’t worry! Come find me when your done!” There it was again, her voice, sounding all beautiful, almost like a song.
“Where should I find you?” He asked.
She smiled and gave him a wink before stepping back and disappearing into the crowd without another word. He laughed, that was just like her. Though, he was sure that she would be the one to find him. Branch stared off into the crowd for a moment, a part of him twisted at not going with her. It seemed to root him to the spot. He let it go and turned back toward Mageform.
The tower rose up, like a great tree on a barren plain. It stood out and above the rest of the Clarity. A winding, almost woven look was worked into its stone, it was a shaping like no other, a massive scale of the wonders of today. Four streaks wound their way around it, weaving and playing amongst themselves as they climbed up the side of the tower. Like it was laced together, and the ridges formed the edges of the binding. At some points a couple would swirl and twist together, forming mesmerizing patterns and shapes, some beautiful, others haunting visages that resembled people.
Branch walked toward the massive doors, they were easily three times his height and just as wide. It was open for any to walk in or out. The first floor was a great museum of all the forms of magery. There were many, and to a visitor it could easily overwhelm their idea of its complexity. Branch paused before a display of Growth, the sculptor had done their best to capture in stone a moving, shifting evolving thing. To capture magic, in image, was no easy task. Let alone translate it to word, or craft.
That was part of it. To be able to translate it to the physical.
The tower was busy, people milled throughout the open floors. There was a library, a café that served hot drinks and cold desserts, there were Mageform crafts and tools, made and imbued with various mage’s talents. Some were illuminated, a magic that placed light into the workings of a thing. Messages could be written, designs woven into cloth or stone or metal, some would absorb some light while reflecting others, or shimmer, or dull the brightness that touched them. Branch had learned a little and always wanted to do more with it, but never seemed to get around to it. It was a beautiful thing, to place light in something, he could see how it was much like a growth.
He briefly wondered if having learned another form of magic would make the next ones easier, if there would be a interlocking understanding. Some had claimed just that in the past, great mages of their era. Others claimed they had been born that way, granted access to a greater power from birth. Branch believed only that someone could do what they thought they could, little more, and far less.
Branch pushed the thoughts away, he would have time for them once he was finished at the tower. The stairs rose for mountainous levels. Endless step upon step, and he was prepared by the time he arrived at the Magehelm, the Grand Mage’s floor. The four of them shared the top floor of Mageform, each took a name of the seasons, forgoing their own. They were what shaped Mageform and its direction in the world.
Winter was a cold bastard, he was shrewd and strove for efficiency and a crisp clear definition for the mage world. It was odd, they each seemed to attribute to the season they had taken. As if the name placed on them had also shaped them. Spring, she was full of a bubbling mirth and could get excited quickly, Summer was passionate about the explorations of magic, of where it could go and had gone. Autumn was solemn and stayed quiet, watching until something chilling or beautiful came out.
Their talk went as he expected, hoped for, really. It was quick and there was some excitement, he would have to show them, they certainly hoped to use the spectacle to reinforce the wonders of Mageform. It wasn’t cheap to come and learn and follow the directions of the greatest magic wielders in the world. To share in the ages of gathered knowledge and artifacts.
A part of him trembled at the idea of doing a growth in front of the Seasoned Mages, let alone a crowd of Clarity citizens and other fellow mages. He felt his thoughts start to trip down that path of worry.
“Branch, master Growth Mage, are you listening?” It was Autumn.
“I lost my focus Master Autumn, I apologize.” He had lost his concentration, so naturally he wasn’t listening. For a moment he had disappeared into the future, a future, not even the real one but one he imagined.
It was Winter who had been talking and he continued. “-Tomorrow, after the midday bell sounds meet us in the Garden of Sense. Those who wish can watch as further attentioners. If you can reproduce a growth the world will surely rejoice, Clarity will celebrate.”
Branch nodded, he wouldn’t miss it. How could he, all of Clarity was bound to hear soon, that another Growth Mage had come from Mageform. He was excited and nervous. He had done another one the night before and was confident he could do it. It was something to hold so much attention though. He knew the importance of attention, it was the time of another, a piece of their life.
“Very well. Take the day for any preparations you will need. Tomorrow everything changes.” Master Winter finished.
“Yes, because today, everything changes.” Branch responded, it was the farewell of mages, well one of them.