It had started as a tingling in his fingers while they'd been picking berries. Moonmoth had been thinking of his grandfather Cedarwing. His thoughts often strayed to his lost family, so that in itself wasn't unusual. Little more than a turn and a half of the seasons had passed since Moonmoth had lost his grandfather, his grandmother, his mother and father to monsters — that was the way he'd chosen to think of the five-fingered beasts they'd encountered — and they'd left his older sister Brightwood sleeping in wrapstuff until the day a healer again was born to the tribe.
No, despite the time that had passed since that fateful meeting out among the clickdeer herds, days and nights without thinking of his lost loved ones were far rarer for Moonmoth than the moments in which he managed to lose himself in the Now; even though things had been getting better. Bad dreams haunted his sleep still, but he'd gotten better at not sending while he dreamed and the memories that came to him while awake tended to be pleasant ones.
Some nights he wished he hadn't been three hands of turns old when he'd lost his family. If he'd only been three turns, or two, he wouldn't have had so many memories. He wouldn't have been on the hunt. Or maybe he should have wished to be better at listening to the wolfsong? Brightwood had always seemed much better at losing herself in the Now than him. Maybe it was one of those things you got better at when you got older?
I hope I get better at it soon, Moonmoth thought and stared at his fingers. They no longer glowed green. They might never have. It had been such a brief thing that no one else in the gathering party — not Strand or Beesting or even Moonmoth's aunt Sunlight — had noticed.
Bad dreams haunted Moonmoth during the day that followed the berry-picking. That drew no more attention than the soothing words of his aunt Easysinger, as all other bad dreams had. No one questioned why his dreams had held tangled vines in place of blood and the smell of burning flesh. He must have managed to keep that inside and not have shared it all through panicked sendings. A small relief.
It happened for the second time two nights later. Moonmoth had done his best not to think about it. He'd done his best to act normal, to go about what chores he had and not spend too long or too brief a time with anyone, in case they noticed something about his behavior that might tip them off.
He'd managed to find a moment to himself during early evening and had sneaked away with Tailchaser — formerly Brightwood's bond-wolf, now his. Not far, of course. He didn't want to look foolish if anyone caught him.
The small patch of passionberries he headed for were at about the halfway point between the Dentrees and the Craft-trees. Not usually a place for peace and quiet, but it grew a little to the side of the usual paths the tribe walked and it had no ripe berries left.
A good place to experiment. At least Moonmoth hoped so.
Sitting down in the grass Moonmoth closed his eyes and leaned his back against the tree the passionberry patch grew next to. He could hear Tailchaser follow his example.
Moonmoth took a deep breath. He'd heard both Cedarwing and Brightwood talk of what plantshaping felt like; had shared sendings with them about it, on rare occasions. It had been a little like being shown a completely new color. Moonmoth could sort of recall what they'd shared, could put his own words and thoughts to it, but he knew what he remembered wasn't the whole of it.
He tried to 'reach out' in different ways. It wasn't quite like sending, but almost. For a heartbeat he thought he could sense the youngnessthat were the passionberries and the age that made up the tree his back rested against. But only for a heartbeat.
He made another attempt. And another, and another, and another, until it felt like his head had been filled with pebbles. That's when he dared open his eyes.
One. One single riper passionberry, and not by much. It wouldn't be good for eating in a least another half-day.
Moonmoth choked back a sob, which drew a questioning whine from Tailchaser. Moonmoth pulled the wolf's head into his lap and rubbed away the beginning of tears with the back of his sleeve.
He hadn't expected to be like Cedarwing or even Brightwood — he would have been beyond foolish to dream of such things. But this! This was barely anything at all!
"I'll have to get better," Moonmoth whispered to Tailchaser as he gave him a scratch behind the ears. "I'll get better and then I'll ask aunt Sunlight for lessons."
So it continued for the next hand of nights. Moonmoth would sneak off whenever given the opportunity. He did his best to do what he'd seen Cedarwing, Brightwood and Sunlight do — ripen berries, grow roots, bend branches — and each time he returned to the den he shared with Blacksnake and Easysinger as more a heavy raincloud than an elfin cub.
On the fifth night of his self-made training, Sunlight caught on to him.
"So this is were you've hidden yourself away, nephew."
Moonmoth's eyes flew open. Sunlight sat face to face with him — as face to face as an adult could get to a cub-going-on-youth — her legs crossed in mimicry of his pose. She was smiling, bright as the daystar she'd been named after.
"Oh cub, I'm so proud of you!" she said, beaming at him. "I'm sorry if I ruined your surprise, but I got so curious of what you were doing, and then I saw your hands glowing. Moonmoth, this is so wonderful! And you've already started training yourself! You must have such a good memory for what we've shared with you, I'm—"
Sunlight's torrent of praise came to a sudden halt as Moonmoth felt his lower lip quiver. He knew he had to look close to tears, but he couldn't help himself.
A soft hand came up to brush away his bangs from his eyes. "Sweet cub, what is wrong? Are you hurt?"
Pent up grief and disappointment welled up against the dam inside of Moonmoth and crushed it. Without thinking he threw himself into Sunlights arms and whispered into her ear:
"They were supposed to be here!" Once the words had begun he couldn't stop them from coming. "Grandfather was supposed to teach me! He promised! He said I could get magic just like Brightwood and that he'd teach me if I did! And I can't even get passionberries to grow! I only got two to ripen and I tired so, so many times! I can't tell how old the trees are or change the color of leaves or—"
"Hush," Sunlight interrupted him gentle, gathering him up into a hug. "Hush now. We all miss them, we do. I wish he could be here to teach you too. Sssh, sssh."
The crying fit that overtook Moonmoth lasted for a good while. Once he'd calmed down enough to take even breaths, Sunlight pulled back to look him in the eye. She still held him securely in her lap though, as if he were a much younger cubs than his actual years.
"I understand you miss them," she said, drying away his remaining tears with the back of her thumb, "I do too. But what under the two moons has made you think you need to do all those things already?"
"Those things?" Moonmoth asked, so lost in the relief of a good cry he'd almost forgot what he'd been crying about.
"Ripening a bush full of berries and telling the age of trees," Sunlight answered, her brow creased into a thoughtful frown. "I surely didn't know how to do all that right the moment my magic showed itself. That takes more than a few nights of training you know."
"Is not you," Sunlight cut him off before he could finish; which was just as well, because Moonmoth wasn't sure what he'd meant to say. Any stories Brightwood had told him of coming into her magic were as scattered as plucked flower petals caught in a gale. "Moonmoth, has someone told you to hurry up and learn everything about plantshaping in one moon?"
Moonmoth blinked up at Sunlight, utterly confused. "No."
"Good. And if they do, I'll bite their ears off." Sunlight pulled him back full into the hug and rested her chin on the top of his head. "I know being a plantshaper can be a big responsibility," she said, soft and caring, "but you are still young, with so much time to learn. I'm still learning new things about plantshaping, and I'm much, much older than you. So don't be sad about the things you can't do yet. I'll teach you everything I know and then we'll learn even more together. Not even father knew it all from the start."
Moonmoth finally relaxed into Sunlight's hug. Maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't be the worst plantshaper the tribe had ever seen.