READING: name given to the Grafter’s trance, in which the practitioner sees visions of the past or future, or enters the ‘world of the Sap’ and witnesses the Tree of Being and the Leaf Letters. It is also possible to contact other Grafters by means of a Reading.
The trance is a complete experience, involving all the Grafter’s senses. It is not without its dangers, especially when conducted by a student or ‘fledgling’ Grafter: it attracts the notice of creatures living in shadow-worlds along the edge of our own, and opens the mind of inexperienced Grafters to attack.
Tymon peered nervously into the shadows. If this was the world of the Grafter’s trance then he did not like it in the least. He had expected to enjoy the bright, subtle play of the Sap, to experience again the sense of certainty and purpose which had been briefly his during the vision on board the Envoy’s ship. Instead, the Reading was all darkness and confusion. The space he was in did not even resemble the mine hall any longer, being more spherical and perfectly formed, carved with smooth exactitude into the bark. He was in a domed chamber without entrance or exit. The blocked tunnels and the draughty door had vanished. The fire remained, a glowing bed of coals, but the upturned cart had disappeared. The darkness was alive with rasping movement. Long, sinuous forms darted just on the edge of Tymon’s vision, just beyond the circle of firelight.
“What are those things?” he asked the Oracle suspiciously.
“Don’t worry about them. We’re interested in what’s going on inside, not outside.”
She stepped up to him, scrutinizing his face, as if she were seeing him for the first time. “A bit wild and overgrown, aren’t you?” she remarked. “I should have been allowed to teach you years ago. You’re running rampant.”
“Excuse me?” he said, nonplussed.
The Oracle was if possible more troubling in her adult form than she had been as a child. Her eyes not only stripped his soul bare, but looked beyond it, past it, to something else. She was gazing at him in that way now, appraising him critically from head to toe.
“Your growth.” She rapped him smartly on the chest with her index finger. “It hasn’t been pruned at all. You’re all over the place.”
He was opening his mouth to protest that he had no idea what she meant, when he felt an itching sensation over his heart, where she had touched him. The itch became a burning pain. He ripped open the buttons of his tunic and surveyed his chest in shock. There was a lump under the skin, a budding cyst. Had he caught the Slow Death after all? But this was a dream, he reminded himself, a vision. Besides, there was nothing slow about the growth on his chest. It pushed outwards at an alarming rate, coming to a point even as he watched. He gasped as the tip broke through his skin. The lump beneath was the bright, light colour of new vegetation.
“What’s going on? What have you done to me?” he cried in horror, retreating from the Oracle.
“Me? Nothing.” But there was a twitch of satisfaction at the corner of her mouth. “They’ve always been there. You just never Saw.”
“They?” he said, aghast.
And felt the burning points on his back, legs, stomach, in answer. He cried out with pain and terror, reeling backwards as the bright shoots erupted from his body in swift succession, ripping through his breeches and tunic. The first growth on his chest had produced a delicate spray of leaves. He tried desperately to pull it off but it was firmly attached, sprouting out of him.
“Get them off me!” he shouted.