SAP: mystic energy which the Argosians claim is the will of their God and Nurians call the source of all life. Grafters are said to commune with it in the Tree of Being. Religious traditions of both the East and the West credit the Sap with something resembling independent intelligence, though Argosian sorcerers reject this interpretation, maintaining that the Sap is a brute force that must be brought under the control of the practitioner.
The Sap appears in many Grafter accounts as a smokeless fire. It may be glimpsed the waking world or in a vision of the Tree of Being. A Grafter’s response to the Sap – reactions that include everything from exhilaration to pain – vary with the individual.
“Do you feel the Sap?” said the Oracle. Her eyes were bird-bright. She reminded Tymon of Amu Bibi.
“I feel it,” he gasped. “But why… why does it have to be like this? Last time it just flowed. There were no branches. It wasn’t hot.”
“I don’t believe in coddling my students.” She shrugged. “Right now, you’re Seeing a little of what I See, and feeling a fraction of what I feel. That might be hard for you but then life is hard. You might as well get used to it.”
But her touch was gentle as she ran her hands over his branches, tracing their growth. He felt her caress through the Tree; the sensation contrasted oddly with his general state of discomfort. The leaves above his head quivered in response.
“A questing mind and a refusal to blindly follow those gone before,” she said, half-closing her eyes. “That’s good. Some temper and self-indulgence, but nothing that can’t be trimmed.”
She circled him and emerged on his other side as a young girl, lithe and light, a curtain of black hair falling about her face. She passed her hand down another of his branches, her eyes still closed.
“This is not so good. Loyalty to the point of stubbornness. A tendency to be ruled by emotion. Do you think you know what’s best for your loved ones, Tymon? I assure you, you do not.”
He only groaned in answer. She was Reading him, of course. That was what the Oracle’s trance was all about – not Laska, not the future. He had been right to be wary of her. The last thing he wanted to hear at the moment was a dissection of his character. He felt utterly dissected himself. The Sap appeared to be agitated by the Oracle’s touch. The branches of the Tree throbbed with fire and every pulse sent a burning stab through him.
“What about Laska?” he demanded. “You promised I’d See him.” All this would be worth the effort, he told himself, if he could only help the captain.
“You’ll have your vision,” she said. She felt her way along his right arm. “Your friend is a part of you. His fate is connected with yours, bound up with your own. Aha, found you, my beauty.” She extracted a single tendril from the tangle sprouting out of him and held it up. “All of them are twined with you, as a matter of fact. That’s what makes you so useful.”
“All of who?” huffed Tymon, wincing. And then bellowed out in pain.
The heat inside the branches had abruptly increased. The Sap was breaking free of its channels. Fire spilled into him, over and through him. This time it was no mere display of lights but a flaming torrent that flowed from the crown of his head to the tip of his toes. The certainty that he was dreaming slipped away. The pain was too present, too persistent. His flesh as well as the wood of the Tree grew incandescent. The substance of both began to melt and break apart.
“What’s happening to me?” he cried.
“Don’t fight the Sap, Tymon. It’ll take you where you need to go.”
There was no escape. What was left of his body, of his sense of self, was melting, engulfed in the Sap. It seemed to draw him towards the tendril in the Oracle’s hand. The blazing current pulled him apart until he surrendered. For an instant there was only light, then he was gone. All pain ceased.