Chapter 23


source. date.

The wind was at her back as Celeste sprinted across the flats towards the enemy line. A good omen, if there ever was one. It sent her hurtling forwards as she leapt, letting gravity leave her be. It wasn't until she was drawing near that the soldiers in the trenches seemed to notice her. Maybe at a distance they had thought they were going mad, assuming a woman wouldn't be sprinting right at them. But once she was close enough to the trench to make out the soldiers, they began firing on her. They were inaccurate and didn't predict the ways she could move. A few bullets did whizz past her, grazing her uniform, but it didn't bother her.

Once she crashed into the trenches, they couldn't do anything to halt her. She fired her rifle into the first soldier she saw before drawing her swords. They didn't have time to reload so tried to take her on with bayonets and some times with the rifle stock. She was faster, stronger, and better trained than any of the soldiers she encountered.

She cut a bloody path through the trenches, making her way towards the guns. She knew the layout of the trenches well enough. The Ofprovians hadn't innovated much, and she'd already spent plenty of time on flanking missions. In spite of her physical superiority, she wasn't unscathed. But a few more cuts, or a bullet in the arm, felt like nothing. Her emotions may have been running high, but her body was pumped full of adrenaline. Even without the power of a wizard, she thought she could have fought through her injuries.

After she killed the soldiers manning the first artillery gun, she grabbed several shells and pushed them into the barrel. She pulled the firing cord and jumped away, watching the entire gun explode. The heat and gust from it hit her for a moment. It seared like the explosion on the cliffs had.

She looked down the line, sighing as she realised how much they had spaced their guns out. But they were all still firing. She still had work to do. There were still lives to save.

She headed back into the trenches, going as fast as she could. All the while, her spirit whispered in her head.

You could make this go faster. Your magic will aid you. I will aid you.

“You already are,” She grunted as she shoved her sword through a soldier's chest.

You could soar through the air, get right to the guns. It would be faster.

It would be faster, she knew that. But she was also still aware enough to realise she couldn't push her magic much further without being consumed. So, through the mud and the blood she would have to keep fighting.

As she watched the second gun explode, she took a moment to breathe. The air was thick with gun powder. Metal and sulphur. Her mind dragged her back, years ago, watching the fireworks at Tricapon. All the potential she had seen in the explosions then had burned away. Nothing came from this but death and destruction. And that was all she brought as well.

She looked down at her own uniform. The green had been stained brown and red. The wet blood had already dried in the hot summer sun, leaving it to flake off.

You should feel happy in your work. It is to protect others.

“Is it really worth it?” She asked quietly.

She didn't have time to contemplate as a voice came from behind her, speaking in Taoanid.

“I don't know what general ordered this mission, because it is truly insane. But since it is happening, I will end it now. A costly risk indeed.”

Celeste spun around to see the man addressing her. He wore a standard Ofprovian uniform, though it was specially adorned. His knees and elbows were left open, exposing huge cogs protruding from his flesh. The hilt of his slender sword was adorned with a cog shaped guard. So as not to lose the theme, he wore a cog mask as well, that may have actually been a gear from some machine with two holes drilled in. His hair was obscured by a hooded cloak that ran down to his feet.

As if the cogs in his body didn't give it away, his dress sense made it painfully clear that he was a wizard. The Ofprovians seemed very relaxed about what they let their soldiers wear, she thought for a moment.

“I'm always sorry to put down another wizard, but I shan't feel bad when you are such a bloody person.”

Celeste narrowed her eyes at him. Cogs, had he been bound to the spirit of some machine then? She couldn't guess at what his powers might be. She needed to test him. She kicked a rifle into the air and grabbed it. Fortunately, it was loaded, and she fired the ball right at him.

Casually, he raised his free hand and with a motion, the ball vanished from the air. She was stunned for a moment until the stock of the rifle exploded in her hand. She yelped, dropping it and wincing at the splinters that imbedded themselves in her palm. She looked down to see the ball was now buried in the wood, but she didn't know what had happened. Could he move objects? This seemed like an odd way to use that power. And she hadn't seen the movement. It was possible he could teleport objects. She would have to watch closer.

She lunged forwards, drawing both her swords to swing at him. This seemed to catch him off guard. He brought his sword up frantically. And then, he vanished. Was he a teleporter? How did Tesni use that power?

Celeste spun around just in time to block his swing. “That's a dirty tactic,” She spat.

“Yet you saw it coming. You're one who trained at Tricapon, yes?” He asked. His voice was so kind for someone trying to kill her. “Then I am sorry to have to do this.”

He didn't elaborate on that, and Celeste didn't want to hear it. She swung her swords at him which he parried and dodged. She kept up, trying to stop him having time to use his magic. He wasn't a master swordsman, but he was as good as Celeste.

She thought she had the upper hand for a moment, bringing a sword in to strike his exposed arm. The chink of metal against metal made her realise that the cogs in his arms weren't just flesh. She tried to yank her sword back, but he bent his arm down, catching it within his mechanisms. With a little extra force, the blade shattered.

Celeste winced as shards of metal embedded into her hand. She could handle it though. She switched her remaining sword into her right hand and launched a flurry of attacks. This time, she was careful to avoid his elbows. It was no use, however, he easily held back her attacks. Her cavalry sword wasn't suited to a duel.

She removed gravity and leapt back to reassess her strategy. As she glided up something weird happened. She teleported backwards. Suddenly the world moved a few meters below her. She began falling towards the ground, needing the stability of the ground to quell the nausea she felt.

The Ofprovian wizard had been running towards her but now he stopped, looking confused. He didn't understand what had happened either.

When she'd seemed to teleport, so had he. So perhaps he couldn't teleport at all. Her mind raced as she pieced it together with the cogs in his arms. He was bound to the spirit of a clocktower. His magic was time-based. He hadn't moved the rifle shot. Instead, it had rewound in time. It must have maintained its momentum and it reappeared about to fire into the rifle stock.

When he had seemingly teleported behind her, he must have frozen time around her. But that didn't explain why she had fallen out of the time bubble this time. He looked as shocked as her. It couldn't have just been because she was in the air. A wizard knew the limits of their powers.

She struggled to work out the details, but facts moved into place within her mind. She had, of course, read plenty on the nature of gravity at school. There were all sorts of pieces of wild speculation. Some scholars claimed gravity and time were connected. They affected one another. If that were the case, it would explain why his powers hadn't worked as expected. Their powers seemed to interfere with each other.

She leapt in the air and created a vacuum, pulling herself towards him. Again, she was overcome with nausea as he tried to trap her in a time bubble. She had moved a little father away from him but she maintained momentum. With a jump after she landed, she closed the distance between them and swung at him.

“What's the matter?” She snarled. “Your magic not working?”

He didn't respond, pushing her away with his sword. He hopped back, trying to keep distance on her. His time bubbles probably had a minimum size which he didn't want to get caught in. Or maybe he simply couldn't create them too close to himself. Either way, it gave her all the more reason to push the attack on him.

Her actions were faster now, sloppier. She wanted this fight to be over already. Her injuries wouldn't kill her, but they were draining her more than she'd expected. The time wizard easily repelled her attacks, though he seemed anxious to keep distance between them.

She kept pushing him back until he absently fell back into a trench. He grunted as he scrambled in the mud to defend himself. After a moment to consider him below her, she leapt down, sword raised. Only as the wave of nausea hit did she realise her mistake.

Coughing, she picked herself up, looking around for the other wizard. She climbed out of the trench to find him stood calmly, as if waiting for her.

“You could end this. If you run away, I won't judge you,” She said.

“I have a duty here, just as you consider yourself to have one. I am only sorry you are mistaken.” He sounded disgustingly genuine.

She began to sprint towards him. Her years of practice had made her very good at operating without gravity. And if she did this right, she would look like she was running normally. He hadn't had long to examine her, he might not notice the strange way hair moved without gravity.

It worked perfectly. The nausea came and she was behind where she started. She considered closing the distance and attacking again, but she knew she wasn't going to get the upper hand. She was too injured. In a battle of endurance, she was losing.

But magically, she might just be able to win this. Her gravity field, if she kept it small, didn't empower her spirit too much. Powerful magic tended to inflict a great cost though. And his magic was incredibly powerful. Had he soothed recently?

Fighting to force your opponent to be consumed was disgusting. At Tricapon they had been very explicit about how bad it was. But this was war. She was facing down death right now.

She grabbed a rifle off the floor to see if it would fire. It didn't, so she threw it at him instead. His hand raised and the rifle vanished. She ran forwards, ducking so as to avoid it as it reappeared. She brought her sword up to meet with his.

Their swords locked and he brought his elbow up to hit her in the face. She managed to catch it, straining as the metal that pressed into her skin. He clearly wasn't expecting to fight people so directly because she could feel her strength overcoming his.

Clearly, in panic, he revealed his third power. The sound of a bell cracked through the air right in front of Celeste. She cried out as the sound tore into her ear. She reached up to try and cover her ear and he used this moment to elbow her. Celeste spun away, manage to right herself in time to see him raising his hand.

She released gravity. Nausea hit again, but she was getting used to it. She wasn't sure she had much breakfast to lose anyway. She began to move, circling him at a distance, enough that he was confident in trying to catch her in time bubbles.

As she moved, she grabbed disregarded swords and rifles, throwing them at him. Some he dodged or caught. Others though, he recalled. Good. That brought him closer. He was too confident in his magic use. Too certain of his own power. Celeste exploited that.

She would jump into the air, as if launching an attack on him. He would catch her in a bubble as she fell but she hadn't returned gravity, so she fell right out of it again. As she ran around him, he would try again, and she slipped out once more. It was hard to time, since she was spending some amount of time in bubbles of frozen time, but there seemed to be a ten-second gap between his bubbles. She used this too. She saved her own magic for when she knew he was going to use his.

He quickly grew angrier. More agitated. That was good. His emotions were running high. He was close. But he stopped making time bubbles. If he still had enough wits about him, she would have to be more aggressive.

She picked up fallen weapons as she approached him, lobbing them then ducking as he recalled them. He was too annoyed to be sensible about them. She drew closer, attacking him with renewed vigour. Their swords clashed. Where before he'd been on the defensive, now he tried to go for attacks. She dodged and parried carefully. He swung down, a sloppy move. She used the opening to kick him in the gut, jumping away and reaching down for a second sword.

He saw this and tried to make a time bubble around her. She hadn't expected that. When it collapsed and she returned to normal time, she spun around, expecting an attack from behind. She snatched the sword, raising both in her defence.

But he wasn't attacking. He'd dropped his sword. He hissed as he grabbed his head. This wasn't good, she realised. If he was consumed, she would be left to fight whatever he became.

She lunged forwards, aiming for a killing blow. She was stopped by the ringing sound he could create again. It was agonisingly loud. But it couldn't compare to the agony he was going through. She began to scramble away as he fell to his knees, beginning to change.

It was subtle at first, as though there was a heat haze distorting his proportions. It could have been comedic if he weren't screaming. Then the bone-cracking cracking sounds came and dispelled any illusion.

Celeste could hardly watch, mainly hearing the sounds. They changed from soft, wet, fleshy sounds to grinding metal. She looked up as they began to slow to see what he had become.

The time wizard was on all fours, his body no longer looking human in shape. He reminded her of a giant cat. One made of metal and gears, not flesh and fur. Exposed cogs spun or ticked along across its body. Heavy bells seemed to ring with each movement of its body. And then it turned its face to her. A clock's face. Intricately detailed, the numbers written in a beautiful, curling font. Had this been the face of the clock his spirit came from? Or was it an invention created by the transformation?

She didn't have much time to think about it as the beast advanced upon her. It reared up onto its hind legs, bringing a claw up for a lethal strike. Its claws looked like jagged clock hands. She marvelled at their beauty. Maybe what was all she could do to shut out the fear. Her emotions were running so high. She wasn't so far from joining him, she realised.

Maybe dying here would be better, she thought. Had she been able to hear the artillery firing still? Were her men safe? Maybe when she drifted on the wind, she could watch over them still.

“Now!” Shouted a familiar voice behind her.

Before she could look up, half a dozen rifled fired behind her. The sound was almost deafening. She looked up to see the metal of the wizard's new body flash. It roared and turned on its heel before running away.

She sighed, not quite a sound of relief, and looked up. It took her a moment to recognise Tesni's face.

“Tensi, what...” She couldn't find the strength to say anything more. Her entire body screamed out for her to rest. And her spirit screamed at her too, though she wasn't conscious enough to register that.

“You really are a terrible pupil.” Was all she heard from him as she fell back into the mud.

She wasn't sure if he was teleporting, or if she was just slipping in and out of consciousness, but he didn't stay in her vision consistently. And then another face appeared in her vision. His rune eyes looked down at her, flicking between a few symbols before he said.

“What are we going to do with you?”

Celeste wanted to ask what Tristan was doing here. But she didn't have enough energy left in her and was unconscious before she could even form the question in her mind.