Chapter 16

Crowds continued to gather as our glorious King makes more appearances, rallying the troops in preparation to deal with the northern incursion. It makes one proud to see the shimmer of green. Boys from all across the country are gathering, responding to their King’s call. But more so, I believe, they are responding to the call of their heart to protect this beautiful nation of ours. Huzzah, we say, for the boys in green!

The Teldomia Regional Standard, issue 79. Published 1571.

Celeste's time at the camp went by surprisingly fast. After quickly discovering that people didn't like her poking around the camp, she took to the city streets. In uniform, people seemed to pay her less mind. She liked the city, she thought, though it was very different to anything she had experienced before. The narrow streets reminded her of some passageways back in Tricapon, but the open sky above her provided some relief. Were she a normal person, she would have quickly got lost in the maze of streets. Whenever this did happen, she would hop up to the rooftops. She felt bad for the cries of distress as she accidentally removed gravity in the rooms below her, but she didn't seem to be causing too much damage.

The city was a blur of colour. Flags and royal emblems adorned the larger streets, and even down the backstreets, she saw windows with nationalistic displays. Outside the walls, trumpets seemed to blow every hour as battalions of men marched in parade before they travelled to the front. She loved sitting on the walls high above and watching them go. Their green uniforms shifting as they moved reminded her of grass in the wind. Many of the men adorned their braids with beads or other tokens of home. They faced their duty with courage that she admired. She wished she could find a similar feeling within herself.

What have you to fear?

“Isn't fear natural? Shouldn't I be scared of war?” Celeste whispered to her spirit.

Maybe if you were a mortal man. But you are a wizard. You can survive a lot, and you can do a lot. And if you follow my advice, you will be even more powerful than those around you.

“That doesn't really comfort me. I'm not sure if I'm going to be cut out to follow orders. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to protect my home, even if I might have the physical strength to.”

Then do not think about if it is something you can do. Your power flows from me. Trust in what power I give you. I would never steer you astray.

Celeste found herself watching the King's parade around the city. Octavius was dressed in a resplendent uniform. Gold adorned him and his horse. The sun crested the plateau and its thin trickle of light reflecting off him, almost blinding Celeste. Crowds watched him and his men parade, cheering his passing. Protector they cried. She supposed they were right.

“I didn't expect to find you here.” Came Tesni's voice as he stepped up beside her.

“Well, I don't think either of us is supposed to be on the walls. But I am a captain in the Laocienan military now, so I've got more right than you.” She turned her head up to watch him, his eyes intensely following the King's parade below.

“Being a wizard transcends that kind of rules. I kind of go where I like. I more meant you watching the King. He didn't seem the friendliest when I saw him back at Tricapon.”

“I've not got much else to do until I get my orders.” She looked back at the parade. “I don't know that I like him, but this war, it's right. We do have to defend ourselves.”

“I'm not desperately old for a wizard yet, but I have lived plenty and I've got to say, if this is a right war, a just war, it'll be the first I've ever seen.” Tesni looked down at her with a smile. “But we have to fight for what we believe in, I suppose. Anyway, I just wanted to make sure you're settled in alright, I must be off, Tristan will have more work for me.”

“Don't let him push you around too much,” She said with a laugh.

“Don't you worry, he couldn't even begin to push me with those spindly arms of his.” Tesni barked out a laugh before turning to mock salute her. “Good luck. May the winds guide you.” He jumped backwards off the wall and disappeared.

Finally, after two days in the camp, a messenger came to summon Celeste to her commander. She entered the surprisingly small tent of General Doriano Pesaro. The general was a broad man, carrying with him a sense of physical power. His grey hair was closely cropped, with a few flecks of jet black still remaining. His moustache bristled as he looked up from some papers to examine her.

“Ah, so you are Captain Celeste?” He asked curtly. His voice was gruff but surprisingly quiet for a man of his size. Celeste wasn't sure what she was expecting, but a highlander accent wasn't it, even if it was only faint.

“Yes. Sir. Reporting for orders.” She paused between each word, spitting out the next one in a panic.

“You undertook an impressive course of study in your two years at Tricapon. And you have exceptionally rare powers. Possibly unique, though I'm not an expert in wizards.” He held up the papers to a lamp to examine them closely for a moment before dropping them back on his desk.

“I didn't think anyone was going to read that stuff.”

“I'm not expected to. I don't think the Field Marshall did before assigning you to my army. But do not worry, I will make good use of your powers. You have no live combat experience then?” He asked, narrowing his eyes at her.

“Can't say I have. Sir.” She added hurriedly.

“Do you understand how to operate a rifle?” She shook her head. “I'm almost tempted to send you straight to the front lines just from hearing that. But no.” He sighed. He brushed some papers aside to show her a map of the border between them and Ofprovo.

“The entire border is considered the front with the enemy right now. However, our intelligence indicates that they are going to be attacking the western front immediately, where the initial skirmish broke out. The King is leading the main bulk of the army there. I have been assigned the north-eastern front. An easy defensive point. The Taoan mountains to the east stop a flanking attack, and the valleys to the west mean you'd be forced to march for a long time before launching a surprise attack, tiring your army. However, if we fail to defend it, the enemy will have free rein to march right into the industrial heartland and destroy our ability to manufacture new armaments. Do you understand why our job is important?”

“I do, sir.”

“Excellent. Then I am assigning you to the logistics corps.” Pesaro explained casually.

“I'm sorry, what?” Celeste said, stunned.

“Did you not pick up the meaning of logistics during your studies?”

“No, of course, I did.”

“Then I think I have made myself perfectly clear. I will assign you-”

“With respect, sir, this feels like a complete misuse of my abilities. I mean, my report does say I was skilled in combat, even if I haven't seen real battle. Why should I be lugging around supplies for you?”

“Your abilities as listed will be most useful there. Gravity manipulation will make transporting heavy munitions significantly easier which is the advantage I need.”

“But we need everything we have to defend that front, correct?”


“Then how can any amount of weaponry be as important as a wizard? You said it yourself, my abilities are unique, I could do so much more out there.”

“You overestimate your own abilities and underestimate the weapons we have at our disposal. The strength of mortal sinew is far more important than any powers you possess.”

“And about our enemies? What if their wizards come up against you? With respect, I have more abilities than just gravity manipulation.”

“Of which you will not use.”


Pesaro stared her down silent for a moment. “Those are my orders. You will only use your gravity ability for your assigned mission.”

“And if I get attacked? If the enemy should stop me as I'm carrying goods?”

“Then you will fight them with metal and gunpowder, like everyone else. I wouldn't be worried, if I were you, it takes a lot to kill a wizard.”

“But, sir, with all due respect, I just don't-”

“I don't think you understand what respect means,” The General cut in. “Respect means you follow my orders whether or not you agree with them. You are enlisted now, which means you have to obey me, or I could have you court marshalled.” He sighed. “By God, tell me, do you want to obey, or do you want me to have to taken out and shot?”

Celeste was startled by the bluntness of his options, but she bowed her head. “I will follow your orders, sir.”

“Good. I would have thought a military academy would have made you into a better soldier, but you wizards never seem to understand the concept of obedience. Now, normally a captain would be given command of some men, but wizards are often unprepared for leadership. You seem especially ill-equipped. However, I have had four men handpicked to travel with you.”

“That is very gracious of you, sir,” She said, keeping her head bowed.

“Don't thank me yet. They have been ordered to shoot you if you attempt to use magic for any reason other than your given orders. They are not your subordinates, but rather your watchmen. Do not treat them as though you are their superior. They answer to me. Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now, you will set off tomorrow and ride south-east to meet up with our supply train. Collect the armaments, use your power to make it an easy journey on the horses. I am riding off for the front tomorrow as well. I will see you in a few weeks, then we will review what your standing orders are to be. Dismissed.” He snapped out the final word.

Celeste turned to leave, only for him to cough sharply. She turned, looking at him in confusion, before offering him a small salute.

“We might make a soldier out of you still, Captain.”

Following the rather tense interaction, Celeste wanted nothing more than to stalk around the camp looking brooding. Ignoring everyone around her seemed very easy, and moreover, very desirable right now. Sadly, her would-be killers were far more upbeat than she would have expected. Once they'd tracked her down, they refused to leave her alone for the whole afternoon.

“So, what can you actually do with magic?” Asked Uberto, his voice full of energy. Celeste was reminded of Idris, the eager student. She hoped he was safe wherever he was now.

Uberto was a perplexingly neat man. His green eyes shone with childlike excitement, his blonde hair pulled back into a braid. He was impressively short and skinny for a soldier, though the logistics corps didn't require the beefiest men she supposed.

“You shouldn't be so nosey about these things,” Teo chided. “Used to have wizards pass through all the time back home. They didn't take kindly to being asked questions like that. At least not when I asked them.”

“That's different though, isn't it. Don't we need to know these things?”

Teo was tall and broad. Solid like a mighty tree. A tree that might break in a strong wind. His dark hair was cropped short like a city dweller, and his face was agreeable enough.

“I'm not required to tell you. Those aren't in my orders.” Celeste said simply, hoping they would distract themselves and leave her be.

“It might not be required, but how are we supposed to stop you using magic if we don't even know what it looks like?” Uberto asked.

“I would imagine it'll be very obvious. I've never seen magic happen that I couldn't identify.” Julius said, shrugging.

“Or you've just not noticed as magic happening around you. I've heard there's no real way to identify magic,” Uberto said hurriedly.

“It is not hard to see when something defies nature. If it does, then it must be magic.”

Julius' face had a smug, sharpness about it. Not only could you cut yourself on his features, but he would be the one to cut you. Celeste struggled to tell him apart from Uberto at first, as they both wore their blonde hair in braids. It was only Julius' sky blue eyes that set him apart.

“And why, exactly, have you seen so much magic?” Felipe asked. “You're highland, aren't you? I didn't think you got many village wizards at a time.”

The most noteworthy feature of Felipe was his name. Though he spoke with a Laocienan highlander's accent, his family had clearly immigrated from one of the southern kingdoms. Despite his accent, he wore his brown hair fairly short, occasionally ruffling it as though it might make him look better.

“Well, we were along an important trade road. Plenty of wizards came through on their way elsewhere.”

“A trade road in the highlands? That doesn't sound very likely, where was it?” Uberto pointed out.

“Why were wizards showing off? I've never heard of one trying to make it any more obvious that they're a wizard.” Teo added.

“Look, if you do not believe me, that is fine, but just trust that I have knowledge in this area,” Julius said defensively.

The squabbling over who knew the most about magic continued for some time, and when that passed there was more for them to argue about. She did her best to give them the most minimal answers she could manage to their questions. Mostly she watched them from the outside. They joked together so casually. She thought back to all those nights on Tricapon, the five of them joking together.

All that was gone now, she realised. Did these four not realise they were in a war? Did it not hang heavy on their minds that they were under orders to kill her? She couldn't let them get close to her. If she was forced to, she didn't want to be unable to defend herself from them.

You need not worry. They are all weak. You could kill them as easily as breathing.

She did her best to ignore the spirit, but as they spoke meaninglessly, it's rasping voice overcame her mind.

You could kill them by stopping their breathing. Or roasting them alive. You hold power. You are powerful. And they are nothing. If the time comes, I will give you everything you need to kill them. They will hold you back in this war. Only by casting them off, and you rise up and hold the power you deserve. That is your right, if only you would choose to claim it.

She learned little from the men. Little of use. They showed her where they would be setting off from the next day. And then they left her alone when she finally went for dinner. Her night was not restful. Filled with the terror of what was to come, plunging into the unknown. She thought about the general, about how he refused to let her fight. Refused to let her defend her people. And her spirit assured her, when the time came, it would make sure he would pay for denying her this right.