Chapter 27

My opposition to the creation of official monikers has already been stated. I do not believe we are here to write legends. But the proposed names seem lacking in taste. Should the locations not represent something the common people can relate to? I fear this will alienate more than it will inspire.

Documents belonging to General Quintino Tosetti at the time of his death, recovered by the War Office. Dated 1563-1572. Held in the Royal Archives of Laociena.

When the hard ice of winter gave way to gentle frosts of spring, Celeste and the rest of Tosetti's army began the march west. The terrain was unhelpful, mud slips becoming more common as the water melted and ran into the valleys. Celeste was regularly employed in removing wagons from the thicker patches of mud. They left the mountains of the east behind, heading instead into a land Celeste had never experienced before. Gentle hills rolled away from them in the north, low valleys filled with steaming trees in the spring sun. Soon they spent their days fording rivers and manoeuvring the wagon trains across the narrow bridges.

The army took up a position in and around an ancient stone fort. Its crumbling walls were reinforced with thick logs from the surrounding forest. From atop the tallest tower, Celeste could see for miles around. To the north and west, fires burned through the forest. The smoke of gunpowder hung in the air, its acrid smell just about reaching her when the wind was right. It was strange, being sat so far back from the frontline again.

Any sense of calm was soon lost when the first night in the fort fell. Booming across the hills they could hear great artillery guns. Sleeping in this new place was hard enough without the sound, but it wasn't just the sound itself that kept people awake. It was the knowledge of what it brought with it. Even battle remote left most of the soldiers on edge.

They'd barely been in the fort two days when Celeste was called up to Tosetti's office. She was reminded of being back at school as she made her way through the stone corridors, up and up to find the highest room in the main building. It was much breezier than Tricapon had been, of course.

However, when she stepped into Tosetti's office, she felt like she was back in school completely. A grin spread over her face as she saw her old friend Teodor. Their hair was shorter and their uniform neater than at school, but they looked just the same. Their skin slightly tanned, glistening from their magical moisture. Before she knew what she was doing, Celeste found herself embracing them.

After a moment they stepped back, smiling at each other. It was only then, as she studied their face that Celeste noticed they had changed. Their eyes didn't have the same spark they once did.

“It's been too long, Celeste,” They said with a half-smile now. Had they noticed the look in her eyes as well.

“Well I've been busy. And I take it you have too. What are you doing here though?”

Tosetti coughed before Teodor could respond. Celeste turned to acknowledge him at last. “I'm glad this is a nice reunion for you. We have actual matters to attend to. Since we're operating so close to the border, the Itopasarian are working closer with us. They have information regarding a high value enemy asset that we want dealt with. I suggested you as someone I trust with the job; they offered a fellow graduate of Tricapon. I take it you will be able to work well together.”

“I should think so, sir,” Celeste replied.

Tosetti made a small noise, as though he didn't fully believe her. “I know how you can be when people you care about are on the line, Captain. I wouldn't have agreed to this, but we have been relying on Itopasarian intelligence, so I didn't want to alienate them over something this minor.”

“Given that it is our intelligence,” Teodor said, “Why are you giving the orders? No offence intended, of course.”

“Because I am the best military leader in either nation. Am I understood?”

Teodor nodded, but they rolled their eyes towards Celeste. She tried not to respond. It was an obnoxious statement to make, but she wasn't sure she could dispute it.

“Now then,” the General continued, “I have drawn up the plan of attack but the spy who obtained this information will run you over the general details.” He stepped over to a large stone window. “Right you can make your dramatic entrance now.”

As he spoke, Celeste noticed a creeping vine had grown up the wall and over the windowsill, into the room itself. Then, the vine changed into a hand. She sighed as familiar green hair appeared. Wolfram pulled himself up and perched in the window.

“It really is becoming a school reunion. If we're lucky, Sabina will be around here.” He nodded to the General and hopped into the room.

He looked the worse for wear. He hadn't been in the best state when Celeste had last met him, but Wolfram's cheeks looked hollow now. His loose clothes hid a spindly frame. She tried not to react when Wolfram brought up Sabina. The look in his verdant eyes told her she had failed. He said nothing though, instead stepping forward and rolling a map out onto Tosetti's table.

“So, here's the details I've been able to gather.” He ran his finger along the paper, indicating a path marked out on it. “Rivers are essential in this area, the best way to move any supplies. And accompanying one supply train, will be a very effective water wizard. He had been fighting out in the naval campaign but he's recently been drafted back here.” Wolfram spread out another piece of paper that appeared to be notes. It was scrawled in his own language and Celeste couldn't read any of it. “A great fighter, he allegedly took down a fleet of our ships on his own. He will be helping to move the supplies.”

“So, you want us to steal those supplies?” Celeste asked.

“No,” Tosetti cut in. “You are to deal with the asset.”

“Deal with?”

“This is an assassination, isn't it?” Teodor asked.

“You are very astute,” Tosetti nodded, motioning to the map. “I have selected this point for you to stage your attack.”

“Right at a river crossing? Against a water wizard?”

“They will only follow river routes,” Wolfram explained. “They will switch between water and land as the river allows. He's picked the narrowest bit of river, where they will have to cross a small bridge. This should reduce their speed and leave them vulnerable.”

“So, what powers does this wizard have?” Celeste asked.

“Other than that, he can manipulate water, nothing.”

“What a good spy you are.”

“This is the best I can do. The Ofprovians don't have a formalised system for recording wizards. If I were spying on you, I would just steal the papers your superior officer keeps. No such luck up north. Each state within the empire organises their armies differently, and none of them have an effective bureaucracy.”

“And this guy leaves no survivors,” Teodor added. Wolfram nodded grimly. “So, we have no reports from our own men.” They looked up at Tosetti. “And you're going to send just the two of us against him and however many soldiers will be with him?”

Tosetti rested his hands on the desk. “I wouldn't have chosen Celeste for this if I didn't have complete faith in her abilities. And you come highly recommended. Tricapon's reputation is...” He paused, maybe taking longer to decide his phrasing since he was in a room with three graduates of the school. “Somewhat overexaggerated. But they do turn out some fine wizards. Besides, you've faced worse odds before.” He gave Celeste a pointed look with that.

Two days later, Celeste and Teodor found themselves lying in the dirt of a small hill, overlooking the narrow bridge where their ambush would take place. It was a peaceful place. The river, little more than an inch deep stream here, babbled happily. The birds sung in the trees around them. As she examined the bridge, Celeste began to wonder who had built it. It must link two places, perhaps joining villages or towns. Were those places even occupied still, in the midst of war?

“I'd heard stories,” Teodor was saying. “But I didn't want to believe Melanie would do that. And you just assume the truth of any story gets lost in the chaos.”

“I saw it with my own eyes. The battlefield she left behind. Without the trenches, there was nothing to protect them from the guns. And worst of all, she was so unrepentant about it.” Celeste's face contorted in anger as she thought about that mountainside where she had seen the other woman last.

“I don't know that it's our place to judge though.”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you saying you're going to walk away from this war with clean hands?” Teodor turned to give her a long look and she once again saw how different they looked.

She glanced down at her own hands, considering them for a moment. “Do you think we'll be able to walk away from this war at all. I mean, the more I think about it, the more I'm worried it's hopeless. The Ofprovian forces seem overwhelming. They have more men and better arms than us. If they manage a full invasion of Laociena, I will have to keep fighting. But that can't go on forever.”

Teodor reached over and took her hand. “It won't come to that. They're losing the naval front, and we have superior magical forces. At some point they will have to concede. Then we can all go home.”

“Have you not listened to the threats of the older wizards? We live long lives, at some point the Ofprovians will be back.”

“You could always leave here.”

“For where?”

“Just anywhere,” They said, throwing their arms up. “I mean, the world is ours, really. We're young, and powerful, and there's so much more to this world than what we've been allowed to see.”

“Is that what you want?” She asked, looking over at them.

“Maybe. I was never completely...Happy, in my old home. No, that's not the right word. Content, maybe. I don't know if I can find the word in Taoanid or your language. Your Itsopari was never that good.” They smiled.

“I can't just leave here. Not when my people are in danger. I'm sorry.”

“What do you apologise for? What you say is noble, isn't it? Standing to fight for something so much bigger than yourself.”

Celeste bit her tongue. She didn't want to admit that she could only imagine Sabina's face as she said it. She knew she would be letting her down. And yet the spirit also crackled in the back of her mind. It would tell her secret in an instant if it only had a voice.

They looked up as they heard the clattering of feet in the distance. Scrambling up onto the ridge to watching the approaching soldiers, Teodor pulled out a spyglass. They examined the approaching wagon train for a few moments before turning to Celeste to hand her the glass. Their face was drained of colour.

Cautiously, Celeste raised the glass to her eye and focused on the wagon train. She counted maybe two dozen soldiers flanking either side. Three wizards, not two as they had been anticipating, and one of them, as Melanie.

Celeste tossed the spyglass back and started to stand up, reaching for her swords. Teodor's arm caught her before she could rise up too much. She yanked her arm away but they held on tighter, pulling her back down.

“What are you doing?” They snapped. “You need to calm down.”

“I am calm,” She shot back. “But we've got a job to do here.”

“You're always like this about Melanie.”

They have got a point there.

“Like what?” She said, gripping tight to the hilts of her swords.

“You can't quite think straight. I know you're angry at her right now, but you're going to get yourself killed if we don't take a minute to prepare ourselves. If we do this right, we don't even have to fight her.”

“But we're here to kill her. Who else is such a powerful water wizard?”

“If that were the case, Wolfram would have told us. He wouldn't leave us in the dark about something like that.”

Celeste nodded, thinking this out properly. “Well we are outnumbered now.” She slipped out her own spyglass to look over the approaching wizards.

“And out skilled,” Teodor added. “I don't think either of us ever beat Melanie.”

“No, but,” Celeste paused to think for a moment. “I could put up a fight against her. I've never fought her when she had water readily available, and she wasn't already overly empowered. But that would leave you one against two with wizards we don't know the capabilities of.”

“Maybe now isn't the time for this. It's better to come back when we hold all the cards, not fight a doomed battle.”

Celeste felt herself tensing up at that suggestion. She couldn't just let Melanie walk away again. Plus, she wasn't sure if she could face Tosetti after another failure. As she scanned the treeline, trying to weigh her options, something caught her eye.

“Does that tree look native to you?” She asked, pointing it out.

Teodor squinted for a moment, before sighing and shaking their head. “Do you think he was ordered to watch us or is he just that reckless?”

“I think he's just looking for ways to make use of his powers. Do you think that this can work?”

“I'm not sure. But I'll trust in your decision. Do you think this will work?”

If you kill her now, you can prove once and for all how superior you are to her.

Celeste took a moment to assess the situation. And shut out the nonsense of her spirit. If she could draw away Melanie for long enough, Teodor and Wolfram should be able to carry out the mission. A gentle breeze ran through the forest, letting warm, wet air blow over her. Was that a sign for or against this?

“We go. Once they pass onto the bridge.” She didn't say why she was going forward with this. Teodor seemed to trust her, and that would have to be enough.

Her heart nearly beat its way out of her chest as she hurtled through the air towards Melanie. The other woman was stood a few meters away from the other wizards. All three of the Ofprovians were alert though, noticing Celeste soaring from the hill several seconds before she impacted.

“Thought you could escape me?” She growled as she raised her swords to swipe at Melanie.

The other woman raised a blade to meet them, impossibly fast. Celeste noticed the shine of water on the blades. After a moment, however, she was pushed away. She felt the stone of the sides of the bridge behind her and hopped up onto it. She then hurled herself backwards, gliding through the air. Melanie's face contorted as she leapt over the wall in pursuit.

One of the other wizards called out for her to stop, but before they could come to her aid, Teodor crashed into them. Chaos erupted at the back of the wagon train as Wolfram appeared from the treeline. Yet even as the clashing forces grew louder on the bridge, the two women ignored them. Their personal conflict seemed far more important in that moment.

Celeste pulled herself backwards a way before dropping to land in the shallow stream. It wasn't a safe place to fight Melanie. She knew that, even before a bolt of water was fired directly at her. But fighting Melanie where she felt confident would likely keep her more distracted. And it might make her more reckless. Not that Celeste could imagine her being reckless.

“Is that all you've got?” She called, holding her arms out.

“We don't have to fight,” Melanie called back. “We aren't enemies.”

“You've been my enemy ever since I saw what you were willing to do. Don't act like you can take that back now.”

She surged forwards, losing gravity to let her shoot towards Melanie, over the water. Melanie reached down, pressing her hand into the water and freezing it in a circle around herself. Even while frozen, she could manipulate it. Celeste remembered that too late and manage to pull herself higher into the air as spike shot up at her. A few grazed her but she managed to avoid being impaled.

“I don't think you're one to criticise me.” Melanie drew a shard of ice towards her, grabbed it and flung it at Celeste. This proved much easier to dodge. “We've just ended up on the wrong side of a fight that isn't our own.”

Celeste felt rage grow in her at those words. She pulled herself back down to clash swords with Melanie again. Melanie was prepared, bringing up new spikes of ice. However, Celeste summoned her fire replica, reducing the spikes back to liquid. She crashed into the ground, ice flying into the air and melting in an instant. It cooled the air, which would give her more time to use her fire. And her own heat would be soothing Melanie. How perfectly matched they were.

Melanie responded by bringing huge chunks of ice up from behind her and smashing them into Celeste's flaming fists. She placed her hands on them, freezing them even as they melted. They warped and shifted but would hold out against Celeste for a while.

“This is my fight!” Celeste cried. “I am here to protect me people. You are fighting to destroy them. We are not the same.”

“You know why I fight. I am protecting my own people as well.” Even now, as fire raged around them and steam hissed, Melanie seemed calm. Celeste didn't know how she managed it, keeping her emotions to level.

“By slaughtering men? Boys, innocents.”

“You are no different,” There was a bite to Melanie's voice now. She dropped one hand and grabbed a piece of ice which she flung into Celeste's stomach. She pushed on it with magic, sending Celeste flying backwards. “I've heard the tales of you. The white fire of the Laocienans. You think the men you've slaughtered were any different to your own men? Do you think those wizards you killed didn't have a life outside of this war?”

She's trying to use your emotions against you.

“I got that,” Celeste spat. She held her swords tighter. “They were on the wrong side of this war. I am not in the wrong for doing what I had to.”

With that, she threw herself towards Melanie. The other woman brought up more spikes of ice to try and deter her, but Celeste dodged between them with ease now. She was a master of moving in zero gravity, even whilst Melanie's control of water was peerless as well.

Their swords clashed again and the two traded strikes for a few moments before Celeste felt herself being overwhelmed. As she swung down, Melanie pulled water up to wrap around the blades. She grabbed hold, freezing the water and shattering the brittle metal.

Celeste dropped the useless handles and created a small vacuum, yanking Melanie's own sword from her hand. She snatched it out of the air and swung it at Melanie. The other woman shattered this just as easily. They were reduced to a fistfight. Celeste dived forward, pushing Melanie back onto the ice. She slammed her fist into the other woman's face before she could bring ice up as a defence.

“We are not the same!” Celeste shouted, her eyes burning with rage. Her hands rested on Melanie's shoulders.

Kill her now. She will only continue to be a threat.

“No. I'm less reckless.” With that, Melanie brought her foot up and slammed it into Celeste's stomach.

While she was winded, Melanie pushed her back, letting her slam into the ice. She stood up to her full height, seeming to tower over Celeste. She didn't attack, simply stood, starring down at the other woman. Celeste shivered slightly. The cold of the ice was seeping into her, but it wasn't just that. Melanie's eyes were always so icy cold. Now they seemed to pierce right through her. Was that hatred? Loathing? Something much worse, dancing in her eyes?

Celeste rose up, igniting her fire again. She took a step forward, feeling the ice below her melting, when a voice called up at her from the bridge.

“Celeste, we need to go!” Teodor was looking down on them. Their eyes darted between the women.

“Just a moment.” Celeste took a step towards Melanie and drew back her fist.

Teodor muttered something in their own tongue before raising one of their hands to Celeste. She was hit in the chest with a jet of water. Before she could react, Teodor blinked to her, grabbed her arm, and blinked her away. After a stunned moment, she took in the scene on the bridge. The wizards were dead, the remaining soldiers were fleeing into the woods. Somehow the wagons had caught ablaze.

“What did you do that for?” She exclaimed.

“The mission is done, we should get out of here.”

“But Melanie-”

“But nothing!” Teodor said, grabbing her arm. “Let's get out of here.”

Wolfram jogged up beside them, taking Celeste's other arm. “You can get us out of here pretty quick, right? I do not want to stay here when they send men out to get us.”

Celeste glanced back at Melanie. The other woman stood in the stream still, quietly adjusting her headscarf. She glanced back at Celeste one last time then turned away. Celeste didn't wait any longer. Gravity left them, and the three leapt into the air.

After travelling like that for some time, hopping along the tops of trees, they found a small clearing to stop in. Teodor went to gather supplies for a fire in anticipation of the cool spring nights, while Celeste and Wolfram went to soothe their spirits. Wolfram went to find a shady spot to lie in while Celeste found a deep pool of cool water to relax in.

As she stripped off her uniform, she noticed a familiar smell. She held the fabric tight and pressed it to her nose. It was only faint, but it was the scent of Melanie. Not everything had changed. It was warm, soft. It seemed so out of touch with how Melanie presented herself.

Why didn't you kill her?

“It wasn't for a lack of trying,” Celeste grumbled as she slipped into the cool water, rested on a slimy rock under the surface. “It's not like I have ever been able to best her.”

You were holding yourself back.

“You can't read my thoughts. You don't know what I was doing. I was giving it my all.”

Emotions really are so much more telling. There was a laugh in its voice as it spoke. When you look at her, when you smelt her, what is it you feel?



“That's not true.”

It is. And you want to deny it. But when you see her, you wish things could go back to the way they were. You long to be back in school, when things were simple.

“That's a natural human desire.”

It weakens you. You can't regain the past. You must move on. Holding back like that will get people killed.

“It's not like I want to feel like that. I know I can't go back. But that doesn't change how I feel. By the Wind, if I could get rid of it, I would. Nostalgia is just so...” She sighed.


“Yes.” It hurt to hear that word. The nostalgia cut deeper as she remembered those evenings and nights in the library. The smell of varnished wood and old paper. The gentle flicking of the lamps. Melanie's kind smile as she got a translation correct.

That kindness felt so far away now. The girl she had known was dead. The woman that stood in her place was not the same. And she would continue bringing destruction to Celeste's homeland. She might be the only person alive who could stop her.

That is good.

“What is?”

That determination. You know it, don't you, that you're the only person able to kill her? No, don't falter now.

“Well, what did you expect? When you say it, I have to consider that. That I might kill her.”

And yet if you don't, think of the innocent lives she might take.

“As if you care about innocent life.”

Have I ever really suggested you kill the innocent? Or just those deserve their suffering?

“Can you just shut up for a bit?” Celeste asked.

She reached over to her clothes, water dripping off her hand and soaking into the fabric. From an inner pocket, she pulled out the pocket watch Sabina had gifted her. She was impressed it had stayed safe during the fight. Slowly, she wound it, watching the hands tick away. It was weird, having a way to keep time on her person. Before school, time had been an ethereal concept to her. Now she could track it every moment. When she was done winding, she put it away. She didn't want to keep thinking about it.

The surface of the water warped the view of the pool's bottom. It all seemed closer than it was. The greening rocks. The little fish, darting between patches of sunlight and shadow. Her own body was weirdly closer than she was used to. For the first time in a long while, she actually considered her body.

Before going to Tricapon, she was scrawny. Not starved, but probably not as well fed as a growing child should have been. She had bulked out at school. The rich diet and physical training left her with plenty of both muscle and fat. On army rations, she had reduced back to that scrawny girl. Her muscles were there, but with nothing to protect them. She felt so much more vulnerable than she had done, even as a girl in the highlands. But of course, back then, she hadn't been trained to fight. When you knew how to fight, you knew you might have to fight. Knowing of violence left you prepared for it at all times.

As darkness began to close in, the old school mates huddled around a small fire. They heated the rations they had. Wolfram hadn't thought to bring something as unimportant as food with him, so they found themselves splitting the meagre rations three ways. Not that Celeste found she had much of an appetite. They ate in silence for some time before Teodor decided to speak.

“How was Melanie?” They asked, not looking up from their food.

Celeste stopped poking at the food and stared at them. “How was she?”

“Yeah,” They said, looking up with a neutral expression, as though they couldn't see how insane what they'd asked was. “It looked like you were talking a bit.”

“I don't know, I didn't think to ask her casual questions as she threw ice at me.”

“To be fair,” Wolfram said, “You were being equally aggressive back.”

“You know why that was.” Celeste furrowed her brow, not looking up at them.

“You can't stay angry at her forever,” Teodor said firmly. “She may have done...” They trailed off for a moment before looking back at Celeste. Their cool blue eyes seemed to burn into her, the mists around them becoming like steam. “Don't try and lie to me as though you're innocent in all this.”

“I'm fighting for what's right.”

“Your intent doesn't matter when you're killing. You think that'll be a comfort to the friends and family back home?”

“They made the choice to fight. We all did. If they all just stopped fighting for their damn emperor, then we could all have peace.”

“And you genuinely believe it's that simple?”

Wolfram blew out his lips, leaning back. The playful noise broke the pair out of their intense discussion to look at him. “I don't see why this is such an issue. So, you keep fighting Melanie? So what? That's just how a war goes. When this is all over, we will all be laughing together like it was nothing.”

“You talk like war is meaningless,” Teodor said.

“I don't mean that. But I've seen my father laugh with men he'd fought wars against months prior. Wars must be fought, disputes must be settled, then we can go back to how we were.”

“You always expected to go to war, didn't you?”

“My father raised me to be the new head of the family, wars were always in my future. Admittedly, I did expect to lead armies, not sneak around like this.”

“Those men,” Celeste spoke slowly, her voice low. “That you father could laugh with. They were generals, officers, as well?”

“Who else would he be associating with?”

“So, what about the soldiers of their armies? Did they get to laugh together afterwards?” Wolfram shrugged, not offering an answer. “You've seen what it's like down here in the muck. Can you really still be so naive about what war is?”

“We're not soldiers in the muck though.” Wolfram spoke quietly, as if trying just to convince himself. “We're wizards. We're all going to make it through this.”

Celeste felt slightly sick at his words. The worst part about it was that she couldn't say she hadn't felt that too. She'd survived certain death too many times already. As her men were slaughtered around her, she stood tall. Fire and shrapnel, bullets and swords, she had survived them all. She never asked to be like this. To be so inhuman. And yet she had found herself here. The winds led her to this battlefield. But she had made the choice to fight. The same as Melanie.

In the morning, they went their separate ways, saying little as they parted. Celeste headed south-east towards the old fort. As she hopped along treetops, the smell of gunpowder drifted around her. She paused every now and then to listen to the booming guns. Was the sound louder than before? What orders would Tosetti have waiting for her?

In the midst of the day, her footsteps were unnoticeable on the stone steps of the fort. She ran her hand along the rough stone of the walls. The roughness reminded her of the short walls of the pastures, only big enough to stop a reasonably undetermined sheep. But encased in it, she expected the stones to be warm like in Tricapon. It all felt wrong.

She ascended to Tosetti's office, lightly knocking on the door before entering. The general didn't look up from his papers as she walked in.

“You have your report to hand in?” He asked.

“I just got back.”

“Is there something you want then?” He placed his pen down and sat back, looking over her. She hadn't changed from the uniform she'd fought Melanie in.

“You're not going to ask me how the mission went?” She said, pulling back a chair and sitting.

“If you had failed, you would have opened with that. And if it's something I need to know, you will put it in your report.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “You do look shaken though.”

“There was one more wizard than we had expected. An old school friend. The one who won the battle at the start of this war.”

“Ah.” Tosetti was silent save for that noise. He waited a few beats before picking up his pen again.

Even after all this time, Celeste was shocked by his disinterest. “She called me the White Fire of Laociena. You know what that's about?”

“You've done enough impossible things to have earn some reputation. And wizards do stand out anyway.”

“I suppose you would know about that, Victor of Gloriocitta Pass.”

He looked up at that, an embarrassed smile on his face. “I didn't think they called me that in any sort of official report you should have seen.”

“An officer mentioned it when I was on leave. Official report? Why would there be official reports using a nickname?” Celeste asked even as the pieces slotted into place. No one called those valleys Gloriocitta Pass. From what Teo said, no one in the city called it Gloriocitta. The nickname had been created by military leadership. They mythologised the war even as it was still fought.

“Forget I said that. But, if my reputation is spreading, then good. It will only help me.” He looked back to his papers.

“What do you need help with?”

He sat still for a moment before placing his pen back down and stood up. He walked to the window and stopped, resting his hand on the ledge. From the desk, she couldn't see his face. Celeste wondered what he was looking at. The soldiers preparing for battle below them, or the rising smoke of the war remote. At long last, he turned back to face her.

“What I am willing to share with you today will not leave this room. Do you understand?” She nodded. “Close the door then,” He instructed, closing the shutters on the window and taking a seat back at his desk.

When Celeste was seated as well, he began.

“I became a wizard for a singular reason, to make myself a more effective military leader. I've told you this already, but I didn't specify what leader. I've reached my goal of becoming a general, the next step is to become the Field Marshal.”

“You want to lead the entire military?” Celeste asked. She couldn't deny that Tosetti seemed to be one of the greatest commanders she'd heard of. But then, she never cared all that much for military histories.

Now here's a man with ambition. If only I had been bound to him.

“I believe I will be in the position for that promotion by the end of this war. I may even get the position at that point, provided the current one dies.”

“You're talking about the death of your own commander. Isn't that mutinous?”

“I'm not saying I would have him killed. But he's not the youngest of men, his death would pave the way for me.”

“And then what? Once you're Field Marshal, what will you do?”

“Protect this nation, of course.”

“That's the end of your career?”

“That's the start. I do not wish you usurp the crown or something that insane. While I wasn't bound as young as you, I still should have a good couple of hundred years in me. A single Field Marshal through all that time, the greatest tactical mind the world has seen.”

“You're very confident in your own abilities there.”

“Because I am aware of my own abilities. The continuity across rulers will grant stability.”

“Stability for you to lead us through two hundred years of wars?”

“Two hundred years of peace. With any luck, most would be smart enough to listen to my reputation and leave us be. But if it came to it, I would protect this nation. You know I am more than capable.”

He wasn't wrong. He said Celeste had survived impossible odds, well she had seen him fight impossible odds as well. “Why tell me any of this though?”

“Captain Celeste, I wouldn't call you a good soldier. Nor a good commander. Right-hand man would be the wrong phrase but-”

“You're asking me to be your lacky.”

“Agent, was more the term I was thinking of.” He sighed, seeing the distaste in her face. “You are an accomplished wizard, we both have rare and powerful abilities. You are an invaluable asset.”

“I'm not interested,” She said quickly.

“You could help to protect this nation.”

“I don't want to spend my life at war.” She didn't know much of what she wanted in her life, but she could say that much with certainty.

“And with me in charge, this country could avoid wars. But if the people are in danger, don't you think you would be pulled back, just as you were pulled into this war?”

Celeste sighed, closing her eyes for a moment. He was right, she hated to have to admit. She didn't want to be here, fighting a war. But she fought because she didn't want the war to ravage her people.

“Besides,” Tosetti continued. “Do you have much else planned once the war is over? I'm not asking for a decision now, but it really would be worth you considering. The things we could do together would be amazing.”

Celeste stood up abruptly, the sound of the chair legs scraping against the floor tearing into her ears. “I will go get that report written up for you, sir.”

Tosetti sat up straight in response, returning to a neutral expression. “Very good, Captain. And not a word.”

Perhaps we should take his plan and make it our own. Her spirit suggested as they headed back through the fort.

Celeste scowled at its words, hoping it would feel her face contort. She didn't want to grace its suggestion with a spoken response. She wasn't sure how she should even respond to Tosetti's suggestion. A wizard leading the military, terrifying any other nation away from attacking. He hadn't said anything about what he would do if the king were to ask him to invade another nation though. That left her with more than a little hesitation.