Dream Magic: Awakenings by Dawn Harshaw - HTML preview
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Chapter 18 - Nature Magic
One benefit of nature magic should be obvious even to an outsider: leverage. Be elegant as a butterfly flapping its wings, and you'll whip up a storm in no time.
- Balance of Natural Systems and Complexes,
Snow painted the freezing landscape white. I hate winter. Eric's fire-shield cantrip kept him reasonably warm and resisted the tugs of the chilling wind.
The interlocked treehouses stood out of place this far from the Playground. There were six in total, their rooftops covered with sparkling snow.
One of the kids climbed the ladder, and others, like Eric, just hopped up to the entrance.
Eric looked around while waiting for the others to pass through the door. Dream Camp was always kind of bare: nothing but grass, leaves, and sunlight. Even so, it was filled with fulfilling feelings only the best of dreams could provide. Ambushed by the winter, the grass hidden under the snow and the bare trees told a solemn goodbye, of death, and of things that will never be.
Eric closed the door behind him.
Inside was warm and little globes of light floated above like little suns. This place is enormous! Eric was used to the slight distortions of distance that were common and natural to Dream Camp, but the discrepancy between the small treehouse on the outside and the huge warehouse on the inside was both impressive and disorienting.
Eric saw row upon row of earth-filled wooden boxes, many of which were home to lush and colorful plants. Large flower pots hanged from the ceiling containing the more unique ones.
"Wow," Rose murmured.
While most youngsters stood politely along the same row, others couldn't help but embrace the vastness and run around.
Eric spotted Maeve, who was already talking to a group of students.
"...It's not simply about needing power; power is everywhere. You want processable power you're accustomed to use, power that you can resist, power that remains under control of your identity. You don't just draw power from nature; expand and contract..."
Another group of students gathered around a young woman, who guided them along, pointed at various plants, and occasionally barked warnings to the kids running around.
"What is she saying?" Eric asked.
"Not to touch the plants," Rose said.
Eric frowned. "I know that. The other stuff."
"She's reciting botanical names in another language," Lucy said.
"Latin?" Rose asked.
Lucy nodded. "Romanes eunt domus."
"You speak Latin?" Eric asked incredulously.
"That's all I know."
Much of the greenery was just different kinds of grass - dark and long, wide and sturdy. Some looked sharp. The flowers Eric saw were mostly the kind they weed out rather than sell in a flower shop. He didn't know enough about saplings to know what kinds of trees they would grow into. Such variety...
"Hi, I'm Linda, Maeve's assistant," the young blonde said. "Welcome to our garden! I can point you to our prettier botanical marvels, or would you prefer to look around on your own?"
"This isn't really a garden, is it?" Lucy asked. "It's more like a jungle warehouse."
Linda winced. "You're right. Most of these plants were outside, but we had to move them due to the changing weather conditions. We gathered all these from surrounding realms, and we're trying to determine which will be good fits for the ecosystems about to be implemented."
"I see," Lucy said. "Experiments?"
"Kind of. My job is only to take care of the plants. Maeve does the actual testing, most of it in her head. 'Projecting miniature realms to observe energetical and biological compatibility', something like that."
Lucy contemplated silently.
They heard Maeve laugh. "Everyone, gather around! We have to start with the theory."
Eric moved closer along with the others, and leaned on the edge of one of the wooden boxes.
"Winter in a bare-bones system is better suited to elemental and not nature magic... I was hoping to hold this class in a more tranquil setting, however, our realm is undergoing transformative changes and this will have to do."
"I really hope you paid attention in school, because nature magic uses all the knowledge you acquired, especially natural sciences." She continued by muttering under her breath, "Except for all the thick-headed misconceptions stuck like thorns in your brain."
Maeve looked around to make sure she had everyone's attention.
"On the rudimentary level, nature magic requires comprehension of systems; when we talk about understanding something, we usually mean understanding the system in which it functions. How does a plant grow? How is a house built? How do we cast spells? Stuff like that."
"'System' means 'standing together'. The notion of 'system' is valid in the context of the existence of an external observer and the process of analysis. With analysis, we break things into pieces in order to understand them."
A boy raised his hand. "That sounds like computers... Where does the magic come from?"
Maeve smirked. "An observant pipsqueak, aren't you? Well, you're right."
"A mage does not insist on external observation nor analysis, but the lack of such assumptions is enough to drive a scientist crazy." She chuckled. "But, they are very useful, and it's easier if you understand the systemic approach first before skipping to higher-order abstractions."
"When discussing advanced nature magic theory, instead of 'system' we use the term 'stand-alone complex'. What stands alone cannot be broken apart, right? A system has discrete parts, and a stand-alone complex has aspects. We can think of such complexes as emanations of the Holistic Principle. If we trade in hard analysis for softer discernment, systems can be explained as a stand-alone complexes reduced through analytic understanding."
"And of course, we get rid of the problem of emergence in systems. That whole idea is not better than saying god did it, which while not technically incorrect, lacks certain finesse. It's not that awareness emerges in a sufficiently complex system, but that a stand-alone complex with sufficient diversity becomes evident to an external observer. A mage prefers not to get reduced to externality."
"This way, awareness is inherent as much as time is inherent. Psychologists also like to call it 'individuality', but..." Maeve's head shook gently from one side to the other. "...that context is messy."
"All in all, the advanced approach is less hands-on than operating with systems, but if you can warp and wrap your head around these concepts, it all fits together more nicely."
Blank and disinterested looks surrounded Maeve. The boy from before stared at her with his mouth agape.
Maeve opened her arms and said loudly, "Everything has soul. That's where the magic comes from!"
'Ah's and 'oh's escaped the audience, along with a few shrugs of pondering why something so obvious and matter-of-fact needed to be pointed out.
* * *
"Stop that! You're giving cancer to my plant," Linda admonished.
Eric pulled back his hovering hands from around the plant. "Sorry?"
"Your life-force is overpowering it. Just be gentle."
Linda walked on to the next student.
Eric resumed the exercise. He placed his hands on the pot and tried again. Helping a plant grow wasn't easy. Maybe instead of just giving it energy everywhere, I'll give only where it's needed. But how do I know what it needs? Hmm...
Eric remembered Maeve talking about breaking things apart to understand them. Maybe that's what I have to do... But where to start? I hope she didn't mean it literally.
Eric looked at the plant again. Leaves, stalk, bud. These are its parts. The veins on the leaves are lighter than the rest, and the third leaf is smaller than the other two. The stalk is very thin and uniform everywhere. Except where the leaves grow out. The bud at the top is tiny, and it looks like there are even tinier leaves and stuff inside. And of course! It also has roots which I don't see.
Eric categorized the plant's parts, but wasn't sure how to proceed. A plant doesn't have a nervous system, blood coursing through its body, or a brain to think with. It doesn't eat, it doesn't drink, it doesn't breathe air.
Eric watched the glint of a tiniest droplet, which was sliding down from one of the leaves and into the soil.
But it does eat and drink! Not like me, but it does! Obvious really. And light! It does that green photo-thingy stuff with it. It also transports all this to all the cells.
Happy to have remembered some of the stuff he learned in biology class, he now knew what to do.
Eric prepared tiny packets of energy, which he projected into the soil and pushed up through the plant's roots. With a different kind of energy, he caressed the leaves of the plant, like the gentle touch of the wind.
Content that he figured it out, he let his conscious mind descend into a meditative state while engaged with the minutiae of this task. There was stillness, and there was movement. He might not have understood the microcosm of balances within the plant, but with an occasional glimpse, he felt it.
Time passed while Eric offered the plant everything he thought it needed - but not more. Eric felt happy because of his modest breakthrough.
"What are you doing? No, no, stop," Maeve said.
Eric broke his reverie and looked up to Maeve.
"When I instructed to help the plant grow, I didn't mean that you should make the plant grow. The exercise is about becoming aware of a connection. Be here for the plant; offer, and let the plant take what it needs instead of you shoving energy up its roots. It's almost the same as the crystal-charging exercise, see? Just watch it grow - these plants are vain, they like to be watched. Do by not doing. Got it?"
Eric took a deep breath, nodded, and turned his attention back to the plant. He grabbed the pot again and drove his thumbs into the soil.
* * *
"Are you meditating?" Lucy asked.
Master Joe opened his eyes. He was sitting on the snowy ground, legs crossed. The cold didn't bother him, even though he was wearing only a thin, white robe. A bathrobe?
"I'm preparing for a ritual - a nice trick I learned from druids long time ago."
"What kind of trick?"
"Well, being one with nature isn't quite the tranquil experience people make it out to be. If you push such oneness to the extreme, there is no 'you', only nature. Essentially, you push yourself out of existence! That's what those monks with vows of non-violence aspire to, but they fail to understand that the very act of existing is an act of violence. In my opinion, a better goal is to be one with nature as it accepts you as part of itself. Such a druidic approach is more about accepting higher responsibility and less about chasing a feeling of ecstasy."
"In this state, you project the structure of existence of the world around you - and inside equals outside, to the degree you're able to preserve your individuality. Energy is the back-and-forth movement, leylines are lines of existence your being projected on the world, and the angles of your existential intersection with the realm are also sometimes called 'angels'. But, you know, it's just terminology."
"You're confusing them, Joe," Maeve said.
"Right. Have you brought the seeds? I'm almost done preparing."
Maeve nodded. "Give it to him," she said to Rose.
Rose offered Master Joe a small sack of seeds.
"My projections show this should do," Maeve said.
Master Joe nodded, and took his time examining the contents of the sack.
"Come," Maeve beckoned the students. "We'll watch the ritual from a distance."
After they walked away, Master Joe got to his feet slowly, feigning the pains of old age.
"Here?" Eric asked.
"A little farther, over by that tree."
Eric, Rose and Lucy waited idly. Groups of kids trickled in for the event, and Maeve signaled them not to get any closer.
"I still don't understand what it is he will do," Eric said.
"Well... let's try it this way. Between who you were and who you will be, a healer can assist choosing the reality of that person. This is called a 'blessing'. Kids nowadays call it a 'buff' - don't ask me why. Curses work similarly, on the other end of the spectrum. What Joe's going to do is a major ritual for blessing the land."
"Or, it's like the elemental attunements, but instead of attuning to a particular element in a shallow dive, he's attuning to the whole realm in a depth where he can dream it all anew."
"Look, it's starting," Rose said.
When Master Joe finished his silly 'oh-my-old-bones' routine, he stretched out and raised his hands to the sky. He was chanting or singing something, but Eric couldn't quite make out the words or the melody.
What little fog there was dissipated, and the sun shined its light more brightly than before. More and more of the sky came apart to let the rays through.
The light danced around Master Joe's fingers, lit up his hands, and slowly enveloped his whole body. The chanting stopped, and Master Joe stood motionless, basking in the sunlight. A sight to behold...
Commencing the next stage of the ritual, Master Joe lowered himself down to one knee and placed both hands on the ground. The light was no longer a glimmer, but an intense beam between heaven and earth, with Master Joe as a conduit in the center.
Eric could hear the chanting now, but its melody was unlike anything he ever heard before. His brain struggled to comprehend it, but gave up soon, as Eric's mind too filled with the light of this melody.
A tear ran down Eric's cheek, but he couldn't look away.
The base of the beam-pillar widened, and the light propagated through the ground. When it reached the patch of earth under Eric's feet, he felt a slight tremor. The chanting stopped, but the influx of light didn't - the light weaved and cut through the ground in all directions, which, due to the multidimensional nature of Dream Camp, were many.
Master Joe unrobed, - Is he wearing something beneath? - but Eric could barely make out shapes because of all the blinding brightness.
Eric could no longer see the sun in the sky. Whether it has descended to earth or was simply outshined by Master Joe, Eric couldn't tell.
Master Joe spread his arms sideways, and that was the last Eric saw of Master Joe's human form.
The song in his head started again, and a shockwave of feelings hit Eric. He recalled his first time waking up in Dream Camp and the impressions all that exquisite detail and vividness left on him. This experience became magnified thousandfold. One more way to die.
Everything was changing, including Eric, and his mind was torn between giving into this feeling washing over the whole realm, and remaining Eric within the bounds of sanity.
The intensity of change allowed no time for a conscious choice. Most of what made Eric Eric went out with the shockwave of motion and change, and he felt himself light up like a miniature sun, his rays touching others who were going through the same transformation.
When the waves of light came back from the skies and the ground, the part of him that resisted the change clung to a feeling of déjà vu and the memory related to it.
The first time Eric met Master Joe, he saw him hammering on an old TV set stuck between channels. Now, Eric realized that scene was no more than a veil protecting him from the powerful unknown. Indeed, the whole realm with Eric in it felt like between channels - the waves and motion and light opening up fractal pathways of power, enabling Eric to be himself in ways he never thought of or experienced before.
Having now established a measure of understanding amongst the uncontrolled overstanding, Eric willed the ego-image of his human form into existence. His Sight condensed into sight, and his skin marked the boundary between close and distant touches. It makes much more sense now. Eric wiggled his hands, just to assure him of being there.
With his awakenings ended for a cycle, Eric inspected his surroundings. A radiant sun back high in the sky, and underneath, Master Joe's white robes on the ground marked the place where he probably wasn't.
Eric looked at Rose and Lucy. They had the same distant stare he presumably had, and he decided to let them take as much time as they needed. He noticed others too, standing motionless.
Eric turned away, seeking out the differences between this realm and its previous iteration. The snow was gone. It hasn't simply melted away, but disappeared without trace, taking with it the bareness of trees and the winter cold. The benign clouds and rhythmical weather patterns hid and bridged a sky less elemental than the last. The ground below was quiet, but not silent; worms and other simple organisms worked to keep it fertile.
Life breeds life.
The number of layers of life multiplied, masking the more distant and less obvious loose ends of the realm. Eric heard the chirp of birds, and sensed other small animals bustling about. It wasn't just grass and trees anymore; many of the plants from the garden warehouse spread across the land, blooming.
Eric welcomed the realm, and was welcomed back.
* * *
When Eric woke up in his bed, tears flowed down his cheeks. He felt joy, because he never saw such beauty before. Sadness, too, was overwhelming, because he felt he will never again experience such beauty in his life.