Chapter 1: A Shocking Proposal

To understand the origins of the war, and indeed its course, you must look back to the people it was fought for. For the Highlanders. Though backwards by nature, their faith is a powerful binding force.

A History of the Ofprovian War of Expansion by ****. Published 1602.

The air was still. Unusually so for the plateau. Celeste had grown accustomed to this stillness such that a suddenly strong gust of wind nearly toppled her off her perch. She held tight to the rough stone of the wall and just about stayed upright. Her clothing billowed behind her, loose strands of fabric almost dragged away by the wind.

"Okay I get it," She complained. "I'll pay attention."

She looked down at the small herd of sheep in front of her, who seemed indifferent to the winds. How little they know, she thought as she looked into their empty eyes. How nice it must be not to have to worry about stupid things. Celeste smiled as she watched them mindless wander the pasture. The smile hung, a memory of the expression, even when she forgot why she was smiling.

As mindless as the sheep were, they couldn't share any of their secrets to a peaceful mind with her. And so, hers rolled back to Alfonso. They'd been in a relationship, such as it was, for over a year at this point. She was...Happy with that. Probably. Even the initial question of whether or not she was happy with him stumped Celeste. She certainly cared about him. She didn't hate spending time with him or anything. They'd stroll along the plateau's edge together, smell the wind, laugh to jokes. But did she love him?

She groaned, burying her face into her hands. This was all Felicita's fault. The other girl had told Celeste that she'd overheard her parents saying they'd spoken to Alfonso's father about Alfonso's plans to propose to Celeste once the lambing season was over. Now Celeste had to worry about that happening. She had been for weeks.

If she married him, she'd be stuck there. Marriages weren't strictly speaking binding. The Wind always brought change, and sometimes a change of relationship was necessary. She wouldn't be free of looks though. It was unspoken, but she knew those who divorced were never looked at the same again.

Then again, if she married him, she would have stability. He never expected much from her. She felt as though she was never as affectionate as other girls, as she was worried, he might expect. But he seemed content with her. He had a stable position too, apprenticing to be a dyer under his father. Maybe the fact she'd never have to worry about another man propositioning her again should be enough on its own to persuade her to marry.

Celeste eyed the flock again. Little lambs shakily trotted beside ewes. There were only a few more ewes waiting to give birth. When that happened, she would have to decide.

She caught sight of one of the older lambs. It had wandered to the edge of the plateau, attempting nibble on a particularly green outcrop of grass. The young took a while to learn the caution of their parents, but they would learn. She paid it no mind for a moment. Then she noticed the brown earth appearing between the grass the lamb was on and the rest of the pasture. The lamb was only small, but just its weight was enough to start tearing the loose earth from the plateau.

Celeste was off in a flash. She half stumbled down the uneven pasture, her feet catching briefly on earthy holes the sheep had managed to make. Air blew against her baggy clothing, pushing enough to keep her mostly upright. She reached the end of stable land and planted her feet as firmly as she could on the damp ground. She leant down and snatched the lamb up. It bleated in a panic, unaware of the earth that crumbled moments later.

She was caught there for a moment, unable to right herself, only just holding onto her balance. Below her, the valley stretched out. The sides of the plateau went down straight for nearly fifty metres. A small river snaked through it, a path hugging tightly next to it.

The cold mountain waters looked as uninviting as ever, and the sides of the plateau looked even more unpleasant. A huge gust of wind caught her clothing and Celeste was pulled back up. She relaxed at that moment and felt herself collapse back. She laughed as she lay on her back, the lamb unhappily trotting on her stomach.

"Thanks for that." She muttered to the Wind before pulling herself up.

The lamb bleated desperately and soon its mother called back, slowly meandering over to them. Celeste smiled, carrying the lamb back to its mother to save its little legs the effort. She could feel its heart rapidly beating below her fingers.

"You need to keep a close eye on them," She said in a stern voice to the mother. She bleated as though she understood and Celeste placed the lamb back in front of her. "And I hope you've learnt to be more careful on the edge," She added, reaching down to pat the lamb's head.

She was returning to her wall top perch when she spotted someone else running down the hill towards her. It took her a moment to recognise Irene. Her deep brown hair was down, being blown this way and that by the wind. Only as she picked up her pace a created a greater backdraft that the hair parted so Celeste could see her face.

She was in awe of the other girl, how she could look so composed and graceful, even as she barrelled down the side of a hill. Her lips parted into a smile which shone brighter than the sun on that cloudless day.

"Cel!" She cried out as she crashed into the wall. Her hands slammed into the stone and she bent over it for a moment, letting the momentum drain away. Celeste was impressed none of the rocks were dislodged by the impact.

"You know I can hear you from here? You could have just shouted down." She said with a warm smile.

"Never hurts to stretch your legs." The other girl responded, standing up straight and brushing hair from her face. "Anyway, your parents said to be quick. Their last ewe is giving birth."

Celeste tried to imitate excitement in her look, but the dread managed to creep through. Wasn't that the last pregnant ewe in the village then? "D-do they need some help then?" She said quickly.

"Possibly. They just said to bring the flock back." Irene shrugged as she spoke. "Need a hand rounding them up?"

"I can manage it. They're a good flock," Celeste said curtly, preferring to be alone to think right now.

"Oh, so you want to have them all to yourself? I want to see my favourite girl!" Irene didn't waste a moment hopping the wall and skipping through the pasture to a particular ewe that was flanked by two lambs. She began talking animatedly to it, and surprisingly it bleated back at her.

Maybe she was equally stupid to the sheep, Celeste thought. She grabbed her crook and began to call the flock in and begin to shepherd them towards the gate out. Irene held it open as the sheep were forced out. The girls kept either side of the column of sheep as they brought them up the hill and back to the village.

The gap seemed to do something to shut Irene up for the most part which Celeste thanked the Wind for. As they drew close to the village the sound for bells grew louder. Even on a relatively still day, they tinkled above every door, dangled on string between houses.

Irene headed under the wooden archway into the centre of the village to handle some of her own business while Celeste and the sheep took a right, heading around the edge to get to her parents' house. It was a modest cottage, similar in design to most of the village, save for the addition of her room.

She brought the sheep into their own fence before clambering over to go to where the lambing was taking place. It was only a small shed, with space for two sheep and their lambs to lie together after the birth.

Her mother sat behind the sheep, helping to guide the lamb out. Her father rushed around, fetching water and cloths. The events went by in a blur as Celeste did what she could. She rested the ewe's head in her lap, keeping it calm. Celeste's mother began to worry that this birth had come so late because the baby had grown too big. The mother wasn't enjoying herself, less so that sheep normally did when lambing. But with calm words and soothing touches, she managed to keep the ewe from writhing too much.

Half an hour later, it became clear the problem was less severe. The ewe was simply pregnant with twins who both seemed equally determined to come out first. A few awkward moments of pushing and pulling and the two lambs were out, quickly learning to bleat desperately for their mother's attention.

Celeste's parents went to get cleaned up and left her in charge of watching the new-born lambs for the moment. She didn't complain at being given the task. It gave her more time to sit and think. She watched as the lambs learned to nurse from their mother and took their first shaky steps. It was incredible how quickly they matured. In a year these lambs could be having lambs of their own. Celeste had got to sixteen without a clue where she was going in her life. At least she had the Wind to guide her, just as the flock had her.

By the time she left the shed and went back to the house, the village had vastly changed. Banners and bunting now adorned houses. Candles were placed in small alcoves around the village where they would be sheltered enough from the wind to burn all night. People strung up extra bells and the sounds and smells of rich meals cooking wafted through the streets.

Of course, people had been waiting with their decorations ready for a week at this point. The Festival of the New Wind was always one of the most joyous occasions on the calendar, marked by the birth of the final lamb in the village. Celeste had loved the festival so much as a child. Right now, she couldn't find the excitement in her.

She shut the cottage's door quietly, but her mother heard and breezed in from her room. Celeste tried to put on a cheerful smile for her, and not make sideways glances over to her own room.

"Thank you for watching the lambs, sweetie," Her mother said cheerfully. "It's always so nice watching them find their feet. Makes me think of..." She trailed off, smiling at Celeste. "You don't want to hear my reminisce now, do you? I was just going to make a start on dinner. Were you going to head up to the high hill with the other young people?"

Celeste watched for a moment as she got to work chopping vegetables. "Um...well I don't know..." She said, considering playing ill.

"I had a treat for you. Something to take up there." Her mother gave her a warm smile, nodding to a cloth on the table.

Hesitantly, Celeste pulled it back to reveal a dress. It was old, based on the fading colour, but even so, the crimson red was stunning. It was beautiful, puffy sleeves, a tattered cap. Below the knee, the dress fanned out into extra cuts of cloth that would billow spectacularly in the wind.

"My mother made it for me when I turned sixteen," Her mother explained. "I outgrew it since then. I kept meaning to make something for you like this, but I've just not had the time. It should fit you well."

Celeste picked it up tentatively. It jingled. Little bells had been sewn into it, though she couldn't tell where. She held it up to her body, examining what it would look like on her.

"There, you look wonderful, Celeste. I'm sure you'll Alfonso will love it too." Her mother's smile looked so intensely proud.

"Thanks, mum. I really do love it." Celeste only hoped her smile looked as genuine as her words were.

She washed her hands and face before heading to her own room to change. It was less of another room to the house and more of a lean-to, an extra metre of building with a doorway covered by a curtain. It was just wide enough for her bed and no longer than the house was wide. To her left was her bed, to her right was a small chest with some keepsakes.

Having her own room had been quite the talk of the village when it had been done. Her parents had felt she deserved more privacy than the overhang in the main room where she used to sleep. She hadn't minded so much, but the personal space did mean a lot to her now.

She changed into the dress, loving the sound of it. She took her hair down, combed it, then braided it back into a single plait, tying a small bell into the end. She picked up the piece of polished brass she used for a mirror and passed it over her body. The dress was a little baggier than she was expecting. Her grandmother had been a master seamstress.

Happy with it, she burst back into the main room, to a coo of delight from her mother.

"Oh wow, I think you wear it better than I ever could."

"I don't think I have an ounce of your grace, mum," Celeste said honestly, smiling at her and strolling over to the table and picking a chunk of carrot to nibble.

"Oi!" Her mum said, slapping her hand with a spoon. "Get on out now. Go cause trouble elsewhere. You need to get out and show off that dress."

Celeste sighed, grabbing another piece of carrot. "Fine, fine. Do you know where dad went?"

"Probably outside putting up decorations. Everyone got in ahead of us, which I do think was a little rude."

"We had the honour of birthing the last lamb, I think that makes up for it."

"Hmmm, well make sure he's doing a good job, he's never been good at lighting candles."

"Will do!" She called as she headed out.

She strolled around the back of the house to find her father awkwardly wobbling on a stool. She jogged over and grabbed the stool to stop him collapsing as he tightened some bunting up.

"Oh, didn't hear you there!" He said, looking down at her with a smile. His braid had come loose, and hair had been blown into his face.

"Very funny," She said, flatly. "I could just kick this stool out from under you, you know? Accidents happen, no one would question me."

"Patricide is a great way to celebrate the New Wind. But I've finished anyway." He said, hopping down. He took a moment to look over her. "Wind, I haven't seen that dress in years. I don't know where your mother's been hiding it."

"Did she used to wear it much?" Celeste asked curiously.

"Not too often, mainly for holy days. You planning on wearing it more casually than her?"

"I wouldn't want to damage it."

Her dad threw his head back in a laugh. "That's what she said too." He twirled his beard as he looked over her again. "It suits you though. The fiery red. You're very fortunate to have inherited more from her than me." He added with a wink.

"I don't know, I think I've got your level of coordination."

"Very funny. Help me light some candles will you." He said, grabbing some up and handing them to her, along with a flint.

She went to their alcove at the corner of the house. She knelt and place two candles into the holders and went about lighting them.

"Not doing a candle for yourself?" Her father asked, standing over her.

"I'm not sure what I'd really do it for."

"You're sixteen, perfect age to have wishes. You could see if wishing for me to fall off a stool works."

She laughed, shaking her head. "I think I might have to force the Wind a little myself on that one." She turned back to the alcove and placed another long tube of wax into a holder. She closed her eyes for a moment, thinking about what she could wish for. A way out of this? An answer to her conundrum? No, that wasn't fair. Besides, the Wind would guide her anyway. She struck the flint and let the sparks catch the third candle.

"I'm heading up to the high hill for a bit." She called as she tossed the flint back to her father.

"Be safe up there. See you at dinner. Will Alfonso be coming back down with you?" He called when she was nearly out of earshot.

"Maybe," She said, turning back to give him a shrug before she continued on her way.

She jingled through the villages square, pausing only briefly to make small talk with people setting up for the meal. She reached the village edge and headed up the hill, feeling gusts of winds pushing her up to its top.

Stretched out around her were the highlands of Laociena. Plateaus and mountains rose around her, cut up by mountain rivers. She could feel the wind at its greatest strength up here. The younger children of the village had already found their way up here and were running about, playing and rolling down the hill.

She envied them. Even if she wouldn't feel silly rolling down, she couldn't really do it in this dress. So instead she sat, staring towards the setting sun. As she watched the darkening sky, she noticed flecks of light appearing in it. She mused for a moment before realised they must be shooting stars. They were appearing surprisingly early, though it wasn't long before darkness seemed to engulf the sky completely.

Behind her, the village glowed, brimming with the light of celebrations. The children her age had started to appear slowly, and she found herself locked into meaningless conversations. All the while her mind kept coming back to him, wondering how long he would be. What would she say to him when he got there? Not knowing how long she had to decide made it all the more painful.

Finally, the time came. His voice was kind, as always.

"Celeste!" Alfonso called, panting slightly as he jogged up the final stretch of hill.

He looked suitably handsome for the occasion, she supposed. He wore a fine jacket embroidered with a rainbow of stunning colours. She was transfixed by them for a moment, partly because it meant she could avoid looking at his face. His hair was pulled into braids framing his face and the rest pulled back into a ponytail. He liked to do that for important occasions. His warm eyes examined her, and she felt herself cringe internally, though she couldn't pin exactly why.

"You're looking great," She said.

"You're looking beautiful!" He said at the same time.

They both laughed, before he extended his hands to hers. She delicately took them, examining his fingers for a moment. They were stained with various colours of dye.

"Is it really impossible to wash that stuff off?"

"Pretty tricky yeah. Washing off the smell of sheep seems pretty difficult, but I don't complain," He shot back.

"Oh, I smell of sheep, thanks," She said, rolling her eyes.

"No, I didn't mean...You smell nice, I wasn't complaining." Alfonso smiled warmly and she couldn't help returning it.

"It's a beautiful night," She said, turning her head up to the sky. Burning points of light whizzed above them. Stars blowing through the inky night. She looked back down to find him still looking at her, smiling. "W-what is it?" She asked, putting on a weak laugh.

"Celeste..." He sighed, a few beads of sweat creeping along his forehead. "I can't put this off. Will...Will you marry me? You don't have to answer right now!" He quickly added, shyly. "I know it might be a bit soon but...I just can't see my life without you."

Celeste felt her stomach sink for a moment. So, she would have to decide now? She closed her eyes for a moment. She reflected. Maybe she wouldn't be as happy as she felt she should be with him. But she would be safe. She could come back to their home together at the end of the day. She wouldn't have to worry where she was, where she was going. Maybe the Wind had finally brought her to where she needed to be.

She opened her eyes and broke into a smile, a genuine one. "Yes, Alfonso. I will marry you." She felt her heart open. She was ready for this. It might not be everything she wanted, but she knew she couldn't cling onto these reservations.

"Oh, thank you, thank you! I love you, Celeste, so much."

"I love you too," She managed. "I..." She stopped as she noticed him sniffing the air. "What, is the sheep smell really that bad?" She asked with a laugh.

"No it's...Can you smell burning?" He asked.

She sniffed the air, shaking her head. "No, I don't think..." She did start to feel something though. Warmth. Not warmth, heat. Intense and burning, like a high noon sunbeam. It was only on her stomach. But no, it was spreading, and becoming more powerful. "Alfonso I don't..."

"Celeste, are you okay?" He said, his voice rising.

She felt the eyes of people around them looking over at the sudden commotion. They didn't have long to look before the heat became a powerful light. Red and firey, like the stars above. Celeste tried to cry out for Alfonso but there was no time. The explosion seemed to burst forth from her. She caught a last glance at his worried face before she was blasted backwards.

As she crashed into the grass, she felt her head impact particularly hard. Her vision began to fade. She could just make out the faces of people crowding around to see if she was alright. Their voices faded to just babble in her ears. Yet another voice cut through the fog, louder than any. She'd never heard it before. It was raspy, like smoke pulled through gravel. And delighted.

Oh yes, you should do just fine.


It must have been days before Celeste was conscious again. She felt weird, as her heavy eyes lifted. She rolled in her bed, grabbing the covers to hold them tighter around herself. Wait, was this her bed? She reached out and felt the wall right beside her. She felt the other way to the same effect. She opened her eyes and sat up. It was her room. Light streamed through the small window above her. Had she been dreaming or...

Ah, so you've finally awoken. Said a voice.

She recognised it. Had it been in her dream. No, it couldn't have been a dream. She didn't feel right after it. Physically she felt wrong.

"Hello?" She called out, unsure where the person who spoke came from.

Hello, yes. Pleasantries are a human thing, I suppose. Now then...

"Where are you?" She asked, twisted around in bed. The voice sounded like it was coming from all around her. Yet sound didn't travel that well through the walls, nor was anyone in here with her.

If you were patient, I could get to that.

"Are you invisible or something?"

Not quite...

"Are you some kind of wizard?" Celeste knew tales of wizards, people with strange and unnatural powers. This might well be within their remit.

Oh, the irony of you asking that. Please just let me explain.

"Hang on, I need to get up," She said, groaning as she pulled herself up and stretched her arms as best she could in the narrow room. She glanced over to her chest and froze. Her mother's dress lay there. A hole burned right into it at the midriff.

She reached down, feeling the material. The red had turned brown, curled into itself as the heat had destroyed the fibres. She looked down to herself, touching her own stomach. Nothing. It just felt like skin as it had before. A few strands of hair fell into her face. She held them in her fingers.

This wasn't her hair. Her long locks had been a deep brown. She shoved the dress aside and found her mirror. Looking back in it was a face that wasn't hers. Her hair was snow-white, except for three streaks of blood red. They lined up with three lines of burns that ran across her face.

She reached up to touch the skin. It felt different, felt like a burn should, but she didn't register any pain of it.

This is where you should probably pause and allow me to explain.

Celeste ignored the voice completely now. She could hear other voices. As she stumbled into the main room of the house, she found her parents sat at the table. They looked up in shock, both hurrying over to hold her.

She could barely feel their hands on her, everything was a daze all of a sudden. She pushed past them, searching for what she knew was here. Sheers. Heavy iron implements. The cold metal felt real in her hands. They were intended for sheep, but they functioned just fine. They were sharp enough.

She could hear her parents crying out in shock, but they didn't try to stop her. So, she sat and cut until every strand of hair was piled on the floor around her. Red and white strands interwove below her. She had always worn her hair long like everyone. Once it had ran down her back. Now it ran to the floor. And she was left bald. Even with just the uneven stubble of hair, she was scared that the colour would remain.

Once her hair was gone, the sobbing started. She wasn't sure what she was crying about just yet, it was only as her brain began to process everything that she realised. Her parents tried their best to comfort her, but to no avail. In the end they brought her back to her bed and tried to get her to lie down.

Sunlight no longer streamed through the window. She was sat, wrapped in darkness, her chin on her knees.

"So, Alfonso is dead." She whispered to herself.

The man you were with is indeed dead. Binding releases a great about of energy, this can be the consequences.

"W-what do you mean, binding?" She asked, unsure what kind of answers this voice could really give.

I am a spirit. A very powerful one at that. We are now bound together. My power in your body. And when you ask, I will give you so much power!

"You killed" She didn't know what to call him. "You killed him. And now you offer me power?" She tried to keep her voice down, but she wasn't sure how she was supposed to react, other than screaming.

People are fragile. And you are so much more than them now. Together we can achieve so much more than any human could in a lifetime.

"You've stolen my life from me though! What am I supposed to do now? He's dead and I'm...I don't know what I am."

I'm sure it must be scary, but now is the time I need you to focus. Together we can do so much.

Celeste really didn't know what it wanted from her, this spirit. But she didn't want to listen to it. She wouldn't do what it said. It had killed Alfonso and it had left her a freak. She didn't feel like herself anymore. She didn't feel like anything. It was like she'd left her body on the plateau and drifted down the mountain streams, carried off to where only the Wind knew.

She stayed like that for a while, hidden in her room. Her parents brought her food, but she ate little. All her focus was used up on trying to shut out the voice. It kept telling her the same things, promised that with its help she could gain powers untold. She wanted them to stay untold, she decided.

Alfonso's father visited the house after a few days. Celeste didn't want to see him. She couldn't face him. She listened through the wall to them talking. It sounded like they thought one of the falling stars had crashed into them and Alfonso had taken the hit, saving her. If only it had been so noble, she lamented. Instead, he had died confused, died only for her to become powerful, according to the killer.

It was a week after she woke up that he arrived. Celeste sat up as she heard the door opening and a voice she didn't recognise. He spoke their language well, but his voice sounded different, his pronunciations off.

"Has she been eating?" He asked.

"Bits and pieces. Not enough to heal well, I would say." Her mother said. Was this man a doctor?

"I shouldn't worry about that if I were you. She's hardier than you'd expect if what I suspect is true." The stranger's footsteps drew towards her room. She pulled her covers around herself as she huddled on the bed. "Is she through here?" There was a pause before the man stepped into her small room.

He was tall, pale, dressed in a long robe. She tried to focus on his face, to take in the details, but she found her eyes drifting away from him.

He laughed, seeming to notice her eyes moving off him. "Sorry, that is a common effect I have on people," He said. "May I take a seat? I didn't mean to intrude if you were sleeping."

"I wasn't," Celeste said, motioning to the chest.

He nodded gratefully and delicately sat down, the wood creaking under him.

"I've heard stories about you. What's happening to you must be very scary. Tell me, have you been hearing a voice?"

Celeste's eyes grew wide, her jaw hanging open for a moment. "How did you know that?"

The man laughed softly. "I know it's scary, that voice inside that only you can hear. When this happens accidentally, as it so tragically often does, you're left without anyone who understands you. Has it told you what happened to you yet?"

You shouldn't listen to him. The voice said.

"It said I'm...bound. That it's a spirit." She said, ignoring it.

"Oh, good. Do you know what that makes you?" She shook her head at him. "You are a wizard. I won't ask what you can do yet. I don't expect you to know."

Celeste sat stunned for a long moment. She didn't know if he expected any response from her.

"What...What does that actually mean?"

It means you are more powerful than anyone you've ever known.

"Well, it doesn't have to mean anything if you don't want it to," The stranger said. "I didn't want it to when I was first bound. But that voice won't just go away if you ignore it enough. That is why I'm here."

"You can get rid of it?" She said, sitting up, desperation in her eyes.

You can Never get rid of me.

"I cannot personally. My name is Tesni. I am the teleporter of Tricapon," He sat for a moment, as though expecting a reaction from her. "Right, this is a fairly rural place. Tricapon is a school that serves the most powerful sons of the world, training them to be leaders and the like. But that just funds us. We also, for free, accept those who have accidentally become wizards."

"Why would you do that?" Celeste, slightly confused why something like that would be offered to her.

They want to use you. Trust me, listen to me.

"For one thing, it is safer for everyone. An untrained wizard is a danger to themselves as well as those around them. But also...Well, it's kindness. Many of us were also bound accidentally. It is an isolating experience. No one deserves to go through that." His face broke into a smile. An act of kindness after this week alone, with just the voice of power in her ear.

"What do I have to do then?" She asked.

"If you accept the place we offer, then we will help you get there. Once you are at the school, you must complete your studies of magic with us, and prove you want to train to be a safe wizard. But otherwise, you will be free to spend your time as you please. Your safety is of the most importance to us."

He is lying. All outsiders like him will lie. His foreign tongue and ways will lead you astray. I am part of you now, I am all you can trust.

Celeste wasn't certain she could trust either of them entirely. But she felt she had a safer bet with Tesni than that voice.

She wondered for a moment, about leaving her home. How would she cope with not seeing her parents for...who knew how long? Or her friends, or the hills, or the plateau, or feel these winds on her face? She looked up as for a moment her own reflection seemed to glint in the man's eyes. The burns red and raw on her face. And her hair, so clearly different even at this length. No, this place could never be a home for her again.

"Okay, I will come to this school."