Chapter 15: Rude Awakenings

No one can determine who actually fired the first shot. The skirmish was a decisive victory for Laociena. And a decisive loss for everyone on the continent.

The Tragedy of ****: A New History of the 1570 Holy Wars by ****. Published 1730.

Another winter came and went, and new students poured into the school. Along with them came gossip of the unrest down below. Celeste tried to put it out of her mind and focus on continuing her studies, but that didn't last long. The school hadn't been going for a month when the news of the war reached them.

The Laocienan's had drawn first blood. Ofprovian missionaries had been continuing to come into their land. In response to continuing threats, the Ofprovians had sent in soldiers to guard their missionaries. The Laocienan's had open fired, killing the entire platoon in a skirmish on the north-western border. Within days, every nation west of the Taoanids had responded. Treaties and alliances and underhanded deals were all called in and soon the whole continent seemed to be bristling for war.

The students had started to leave right away. Many had to travel through what was going to be enemy territory to get home. Many more needed to return to their countries to enlist; that was why they had been at Tricapon after all. With no students, the school had to announce its closure. Many of the teachers were leaving anyway for their respective countries.

“What are you even going to do down there?” Celeste asked. “You don't want to fight, do you?”

“Of course not,” Sabina said with a laugh. “But I can't just stay here forever. I need to be on my way, find something to do with my life.” She pulled the string on her bag tight, tossing it over her shoulder. “War at least might offer opportunity.” She paused for a moment, looking at Celeste. “You can always come with me, be my partner in crime.”

“That is a sweet offer,” She said with a smile. “But I will decline for now. I'm still...I'm still working out what I'm going to do.”

“I understand that. Well, if you happen to be in the area, be sure to say hello,” Sabina said, laughing merrily.

“Which area?”

“The one I'm in.”

“How will I know where that is?”

“Trust me, it will be very obvious if I'm there.”

They laughed together before they pulled together for a final hug.

“I'm going to miss you,” Celeste said quietly.

“I will miss you too. But change has to come. Promise you'll keep yourself safe, whatever you do?”

“As if you're one to ask for a promise like that.”

Sabina smiled, shrugging. “It was worth a try. Till I see you again then.” The golden woman gave her a small wave before taking off.

Celeste watched her turn the corner and disappear from sight. For a few minutes, she watched, wishing in vain that Sabina might reappear. Then she wondered if she should go after her. But in the end, she put her personal feelings aside and knew what she had to do.

Even with most people already gone, there was still a bustle of activity in the school's main hall. The wealthy students often had help coming in to remove them, while the school itself was having people come to make sure the plumbing would hold up the reduced usage it would get.

Celeste took a while to spot Tesni among those coming and going. His ever hard to spot face lit up as she approached him.

“I take it you're going to be heading on your way then?”

“I am. Have you got the report card that I asked for?”

“Of course,” Tesni said, reaching into his robe and pulling out a few pieces of folded paper. “Flying colours all around. And I was handed something from the tailors, the specifications of your combat uniform. Might be useful to give to the military tailors.”

“Thank you,” She said, glancing over the paper. “For everything, I mean. It's meant a lot to have you looking out for me while I'm here.”

“Why are you giving me that soppy goodbye?” Tesni said with a laugh. “You weren't planning on walking, were you?”

Celeste felt embarrassed suddenly. “Well, I thought I might sort of jump down the mountain first but-”

“No, I mean, I'll get you to Teldomia. My final gift to you.”

“As in teleport there?”

“You know I am able to do that. Did you think I wouldn't be able to spare the time for you? I have a few matters to attend to there anyway. With everything happening, Tristan is having an easy time keeping me busy. Anyway, are you ready to go?”

Celeste considered for a moment, looking around the magnificent hall. Would she ever visit here again? Was this the last she would see of the school that had shaped her? She nodded to him. “I am. I have everything I should need.”

“Then come with me. It's your first time visiting your own capital isn't it?” He extended his arm to her.

“I mean I barely-” She was cut off as she touched him by the sudden experience of teleporting.

Having your entire being wrenched thousands of miles across the world honestly didn't feel as bad as Celeste had expected. What she wasn't expecting, however, was the visual dissonance. Normally one would blink as you moved your eyes or head. Tesni had given her no warning, so her eyes were wide open as she switched from looking at the hall, to seeing the city stretched out around her.

It may have been the physical experience as well, however, that left her vomiting. Tesni stood beside her laughing as she emptied her breakfast onto the tiles below her.

“Did you know that would happen?” Celeste asked, wiping her mouth.

“Did I know what would happen?” Tesni asked, obviously playing dumb.

“That I would throw up?”

“Well, I couldn't be sure. It has been known to happen.”

“How much does it happen?”

“Of everyone that I've teleported, let me think...Yes, every single time they teleport for the first time they throw up. I was wondering if all that hurtling about in the air might have prepared you better. Sadly, of course, it did not.”

Celeste glared at him as she stood up straight, looking around to see that they were stood on a roof. Below them, she could see the city of Teldomia. It fell away in walled tiers packed full of buildings that were only just separated by narrow passages. Great walls of the plateaus surrounded the city, leaving half of it in shadow most of the day. The sounds of the city, already loud, seemed to echo around them.

All along the shores of the river that ran beside the city were supply trains and soldiers, marching to wherever they were needed. A second city of tents seemed to surround the first, where soldiers could be seen milling about. In their green uniforms, they looked like blades of grass swaying in the wind.

“Where exactly in the city are we?” She asked, glancing around.

“On top of the Widrusa Palace,” Tesni said casually. “The palace of the kings, right at the top.”

“Why would I want to be here? Don't I need to be down there, by those tents?”

“Oh, you do, but heights are no obstacle. And I thought you might enjoy the view. Now then, I must be off. I will try to catch up with you before I leave again, but I shall not make any promises.” And with that, he stepped out of sight again.

Celeste sighed and prepared to make her way down the city. She hopped down to street level, startling several people, and made her way through the streets. It was odd to be around people again. More correctly, people who didn't know what she was. Wizards had a distinct look to them, and seeing one when you weren't expecting it obviously drew eyes. Down at the military camp, maybe people would be less surprised, but in the noble district she found herself in, she was unexpected.

She quite quickly found herself stuck in this district. She considered asking for directions, but felt a little nervous about it, if she was honest. She returned to the rooftops and began to safely descend the city. It seemed to have been built around a hill. Perhaps it was man-made, she didn't think hills naturally formed in valleys like this. But then again, she had only taken one geography class and not found it all that enthralling.

Once she reached the camp, she found herself halted by a pair of soldiers until she explained why she was there. They eyed her with some suspicion before she was allowed into the camp and directed to a large oblong tent. She joined a queue of people approaching a long table where smartly dressed clerks were checking and handing out papers.

Celeste examined the people she stood in line with as subtly as she could. All men, largely highlanders it seemed. It made sense; they were the majority of the population. While it was comforting to see so many people with flowing braids like her own, she found the variety of their outfits a little off-putting. Highlander culture was similar across the nation, but not homogenous. Wearing one's hair long was of religious importance everywhere, but not everyone applied that principle to the rest of their dress. And the colours! Such a startling array, a muted rainbow of earthy colours made from whatever local plants people had for dyeing.

Celeste was snapped out of her contemplation as she reached the front of the line. The clerk eyed her slowly before saying, “You're in the wrong line.” His voice was dull and uninterested, but he jerked a thumb to his right in an urgent motion.

She followed the motion to see another clerk sat half asleep with no line. “Oh, is that for-”

“For wizards, yes. Please move quickly, I have a lot of people to process.”

Kill him. Make an example of your power. They won't be so disparaging of wizards again.

“Right, sorry,” She said hurriedly, moving along the desk to the correct clerk. She stood still in front of the woman for a few seconds before coughing to get her attention. The woman's eyes opened lazily scanning her, before she jerked awake.

“Ah, sorry, you're a wizard here to enlist I take it?” She spoke rapidly, pulling several sheets of paper to her incredibly quickly.

“Yes, I am.”

“Excellent. Well, I'm just going to need a little biographical information, then you'll have to fill out some particular information as well.”

“I have my report card all here,” She said helpfully, holding the folded paper out.

“Report card?”

“From...Tricapon, where I studied,” She explained slowly.

“Oh, right. We don't need that. But, I will add it to your file if you would like,” The woman said, snatching it from her hand and attaching it to the other sheets. “Now, full name please.”

After giving all the personal details Celeste could give, she was handed a sheet and asked to go fill it out. She was required to list her powers, their limits, how she was soothed, and where she would be most effective. It was something she'd never had to lay it all out so clearly before. It even felt a little invasive. Wasn't her spirit and her powers something personal, that she chose to share with those she trusted? But she supposed the commanders would need to know this information.

As she handed the paper back to the clerk, she realised how much she was leaving up to others. Would they give her any say in where they placed her? What her job was to be? The clerk stamped some papers and handed her a small identification book.

“You're going to be started as a captain. Head out of that flap and you'll see the quartermaster's tent. They'll get you your uniform and tell you where you'll be sleeping while here.”

“And when do I get orders?” Celeste asked. Orders were a strange concept to her, and she wanted to get them sooner rather than later, to get over the fear of them.

“Your papers will be given to the field marshal’s office, they will place you under one of the generals. A couple of days, probably, until you'll get the orders. Until then you have free rein of the camp.”

Celeste thanked her and headed to the quartermaster. She glanced back to see the woman asleep at the desk again. Wizards weren't so uncommon, she'd been taught, but compared to all the other soldiers pouring in, she did have a very light workload.

The quartermaster's men ordered Celeste down to her underclothes to size her up for a uniform. She tried to give them her specifications but they claimed they were in the wrong units so she was subjected to the embarrassment of letting the men measure her. They gave her two sets of pressed uniforms and then one showed her a map of the camp to tell her where her quarters were.

The paths between tents had once been lush grass, and the tufts of green still appeared at the edges and creeping out from under tents. But Celeste found herself squelching through thick mud. She tried to kick the mud off her boots as she made her way into the tent, but the mud scattered across the floor already told her it was a futile effort.

The quarters weren't exactly hers. There were forty beds she counted, about half of them looking like they had been used. A few other wizards milled about. They all looked as bizarre as she'd come to expect. Tangles of strange coloured hair, tinted skin, strangely tall. She found one of the unused beds and set her things down in it. The frame creaked as she sat. As she looked around the tent, taking in its rich scents, it struck her that they were unlikely to have showers here.

Once she'd changed into the green uniform, she spent her day wandering the camp, trying to get familiar with the layout. She quickly found that even as a captain now, she wasn't allowed into many areas. She didn't actually know what being a captain meant, but it was written in her identification book, so it was what she told people when they asked why she was snooping around.

Dinner was a miserable affair, and she soon found herself in bed. The lanterns were turned out and everyone did their best to pretend they were sleeping. She glanced around the room, barely lit by moonlight through the fabric, and sighed.

“What am I doing here?” She whispered to the still air, so quiet she wasn't even sure she'd spoken it out loud.

You tell me. I'm just along for the ride.

She considered for a moment. “I'm here to protect my people.”

As if they will allow that. You are here to follow orders, really. You'll sit, and wait, and then some stupid old man will tell you to go and kill for him. If you want to protect your people, you need power.

“And how do I get that?” She asked, doubtful of a useful answer.

You show them your power. You show that you are more powerful than they are in the ways that really matter.

“And when they try to kill me for going around using my powers wildly?”

As if they can kill you. You are blessed with power beyond their imagining. You should be giving orders, commanding armies. Together we could truly protect your people. You just have to trust in the power we hold.

“I think I'm just going to sleep.” She said, realising the spirit wasn't going to say anything productive. She rolled over onto her side, pulling her blanket around herself. She missed the warmth of Tricapon, and the warmth of Sabina.

Once you hold the power you deserve, you will no longer want, no longer have to miss what is lost. All will be yours to take and to have.

It spoke for a while longer, about the power she could claim, but she'd gotten good enough at blocking it out by now.