Chapter 4: Heist of the Century

This essay shall focus on the concerns of class in the Laocienan military theatre. Though well-trodden ground, it seems worth considering from the perspective of military wizards. Past scholarship has been quick to make wizards into a single class, separated from economic or social perspectives. This essay accepts ****’s observations that a wizard’s background prior to binding is as important as the first two years of development are to a child. Thus, wizards remain, for our purposes, of the class they were at the time of binding.

Memories of the First Modern War: Collected Essays on the Total Wars of the 1570s. Edited by ****. Published 1775.

So, the first day of school ended up being a write off for Celeste. She found herself burning the rest of the day wandering the school in an uncertain haze. A night's sleep and a belly full of food left her feeling more herself. The next couple of days went by in a more boring haze. Before they even considered having her use her powers, she was expected to figure out what her spirit was.

It was harder than she hoped. It remained tight-lipped, or the spiritual equivalent, about what it was bound to. Her first thought was that it came from the high hill. It had long been an important place in the village for special occasions. But she couldn't see why that would produce such an aggressive spirit. From everything, the teachers and other students said, most spirits were nowhere near this angry.

She knew one of her powers, anti-gravity, but she didn't see how that related to the hill either. Nor was she sure how to soothe that power. What was the inverse of gravity, going down? That wasn't a viable solution, after all, she'd need to come back up the mountain at some point.

So, she sat through lectures and discussions on spirits, their nature and effects and felt as though she learnt very little from it. Wizards gained two to four powers, often interrelated. You couldn't unbind the spirit, nor bind to another one, but there was subduing, which she was told little about.

The mental strain of it did tire her though. Near constant arguing with a voice only you could hear was draining. When the study bloc ended, she was relieved, and vowed not to talk with her spirit for the break, if she could help it.

Instead, she was recruited by Sabina for a daring and dangerous mission.

"Aren't you already an accomplished thief?" Celeste said. "I don't think I would be much help. Besides, I haven't even figured my powers out yet." She half lied.

"Can't I want to have a friend with me on the heist of the century?" Sabina asked, batting her eyelashes, her eyes sparkling. "Plus, I want someone to help me to carry stuff. Well, and I reckon I could outrun you if we get caught."

"And if we don’t, you'll get accused anyway."

"Big deal, they don't kick wizards out of here for little reasons, only if we choose not to study the magic courses they want us to, that makes everything else fair game."

Celeste looked doubtful. "Have they said anything to you about stealing from other students?"

"No, so I assume it's fine." Sabina sat up straight and put her hands out for Celeste to take. "Look, maybe we'll get some stuff there, maybe we'll find they've got nothing to take. But just getting in there will be fun, and there's no harm in that."

Celeste rolled her eyes but couldn't deny it sounded like fun. "Fine, I will join you."

"Excellent!" Sabina said, leaping off her bed and grabbing some papers from a draw to layout.

On them were drawn crude plans of the school. She'd added a scale to the plans, but it was clearly more for show as Celeste was certain the corridors didn't usually get wider and narrower randomly. Still, it was extensive work, even if large areas were marked with question marks.

"This is impressive. How did you get so good at this?"

"I think I've always had an artistic streak," She said, placing a hand on heart humbly. "Plus, there was an old burglar in my town, I did a few jobs for him. Before I was bound, but I’ve always been good at getting into small places. Still am. I learnt from him that the most important part of any job was to case the joint first, know all the exits."

"So that's why there's large parts missing from the map?" Celeste asked, pointing to the plan.

"I've done my best, but this is a big place."

"Have you been doing this since you arrived?"

"Basically. I thought it would be handy if the whole school lifestyle doesn't work out for me. Now, to the plan." Sabina motioned to the plan, pointing out key locations. "We're going to start in the central building. Since lessons are off, it should be empty, even the staff will be elsewhere. We get up there and take one of the small, disused bridges across into the mundane building. From there we find the dormitories and the loot will be ours."

"This doesn't sound like something you need help with then."

"Well, you need to learn my ways sometime. This will be a good trial run."

"Trial for what?" Celeste asked in confusion.

"For when we're famous wizard thieves together, making the world a better place one mansion at a time!" Sabina wrapped an arm around Celeste and swung the other through the air, spreading out the possibilities. "Now, go get into something a little more casual and we'll do this."

Celeste did as she was told, changing her uniform to fit their needs. The trousers and boots were already perfect, but she ditched the jacket. The undershirts were a bit loose by design, so she used some string to tie it closer to her body in important places such as the arms. Sabina changed into some spare clothes she'd brought with her that were dark, letting her slip better into shadows. However, her slight gold sheen didn't help her ability to hide.

The two headed into the main building which was mostly full of students leaving. It was a long way down the mountain to return to civilisation, but in less than half a day's walk you could get to a village which offered opportunities for revelry and stupidity. So naturally, that was where the school's students congregated. This, of course, meant that for the middle of the day the dormitories were going to be nearly empty.

They left the main hall to head up a staircase into the classrooms of the main building. Though much of the building was taken up with space for students to learn, the high parts were exclusively for the school's staff. The only door up was firmly locked. Sabina explained that she had considered picking, the lock, but lacked the tools and skill. Plus breaking it would be too obvious.

Instead, they headed into an empty classroom. With a tabled pushed into the corner, they could get into a small crawl space that seemed to be intended for maintenance of the pipes. Celeste didn't bother to question how Sabina had worked all this out.

It was claustrophobic and boiling in the tunnels, exposed pipes running very close to them. Celeste didn't get through there without a few small burns where she touched pipes accidentally. There was a ladder than took them up and soon they were overlooking a quiet corridor. Sabina recoiled suddenly as a teacher past, whacking her boot into Celeste's face. The commotion luckily did nothing to get the absent-minded teacher's attention.

They dropped down into the corridor and moved fast, getting to the bridge they needed. This was where Sabina explained this was the furthest she'd gotten. They opened the door onto the bridge, only got find a second door. This one was, unfortunately, locked.

"Shit," Sabina said as she wiggled the doorknob in the hopes enough vibrations might cause the lock to snap open. When that didn't work, she looked around before grinning. "You good at climbing?" She asked, approaching the window.

The doors were far enough apart to allow one window between them. The windows being nothing more than holes meant there was a strong breeze blowing over them. Sabina awkwardly teetered as she looked out and up.

"I'm wouldn't describe myself as a strong climber."

"Then it looks like I'm gonna have to go alone from here on out." Sabina looked back at her with a wink before hopping onto the window ledge. She turned to face Celeste and jumped up, grabbing onto the ledge above her.

Celeste looked away in fear for a moment, before looking back to see Sabina's feet disappearing upwards. "You made it?" She called up.

"Yeah!" The other girl's voice came back. "It's flat, we can easily walk all the way across, if you feel like taking a risk."

Celeste leant out of the window herself, looking down at how far they had to drop. With the wind blowing she wasn't sure her hands would stay sensitive enough to keep a firm grip.

You know how to handle this.

"Shut up," Celeste muttered. "I'm not listening to you."

You will never get stronger if you don't use your power.

"I never said I wanted to be stronger. I just wanted to figure out what's happened to me."

Then do this and I will tell you what other powers I offer you. Isn't that a fair deal?

Celeste gritted her teeth. She couldn't deny it was a deal she wanted to take. She nodded, though she wasn't sure if the spirit would understand that.

It was difficult, it took her a moment to remember how she did it before. But quicker than she expected she felt the earth leaving her behind. She took a step forward and nearly kicked herself in the face. She realised how used she was to something forcing her down when she moved. She would have to get used to that if she wanted to use this power.

She yelled as she accidentally smacked her head on the overhang of the roof, but still managed to pull herself up. As soon as she had her feet on the roof, she allowed gravity to return, just in time for Sabina to look back at her.

"So, you did decide to join!" The other girl yelled over the winds. She was crouched low, slowly making her way across. The other girl barely disturbed the thin layer of snow as she passed.

"What if there isn't a way down on that side?" Celeste called as she started to catch up. With the tightened clothing the wind barely bothered her, she'd grown up used to resisting its push on her clothing after all.

"We fall and die I guess."

Celeste assumed it was a joke, but she still didn't enjoy the answer. When they reached the other side, fortunately, they could get down. Sabina swung gracefully down, while Celeste followed, only managing it with any similar grace thanks to her powers.

This side was identical, one door locked and the other being unlocked. They slipped through and into the warmth of the school again. They'd ended up at the very top of the mundane building, an attic area, it seemed. Sabina poked her head down the hole in the middle and confirmed that the dormitory they ended up in was empty. After a brief search of the attic, they confirmed there was nothing of importance and headed down.

Even while most students liked to leave for the break day, some did stay and would have hindered their progress. The eldest students, who would have what they were after, were housed at the top of the building. There would have been no chance to get all the way up there without being spotted. Hence the acrobatics.

They began searching the room frantically. Sabina was practised, opening chests and inspecting the content only to put it back as she had found it. The room wasn't as disgusting as Celeste had feared. The beds were all unmade and spare clothes were strewn about, but at least there wasn't too much of a smell.

"Over here!" Celeste hissed as she opened a chest to find what they were searching for. Bottles and bottle of booze.

"Oh, you are a wonder," Sabina said with a wink, pulling out a bottle to examine it. "Fancy stuff, just like I expected."

"How can you tell?" Celeste asked, inspecting a bottle herself.

"Labels is written in Taoanid. Now then, let's take what we can carry and get ou-" She was cut off as they heard a door crashing open somewhere nearby. Voices called out. Sabina looked at Celeste in panic for a moment before nodding nobly. "You take these and get out. If they find me, they'll think they stopped me in the act. And they won't know how I got them out."

Celeste nodded, taking the bag Sabina had brought and filling it with as many bottles as she could handle. "Good luck," She whispered, before heading back to the ladder.

She looked back at Sabina, who was going her best to conspicuously be looking through a chest on the other side of the room. As the door crashed open Celeste used her power and leapt up in an instant, into the attic.

"I'll only be- what in the hell are you doing here?" Came a voice from below.

"Oh, you know, just-" Celeste didn't understand anything more Sabina said. She slipped into another language, presumably that boy's native tongue. But, based on the tone and his response, she could guess the words had been incredibly rude.

Celeste got back onto the roof and looked across. She realised she didn't know the way back through the tunnels that Sabina had shown her. She looked down, trying to work out the angle in her head. It looked doable.

She felt gravity lift off her and crawled along the roof so she could crouch against the outer wall. It felt just like being on the floor. Well, not quite. She wasn't pulled any particular way, but then she didn't normally notice being pulled down.

She extended her legs and in a single motion began to soar towards the entrance of the school. In the end, she couldn't make it. She was slowed by something. So, she restored gravity and had to fall some way, only to remove it again. This slowed her enough that she didn't break her legs on impact.

She had ended up on the path up to the school, doing her best to look casual as she hauled a chinking sack past the students headed out for the day. Shivering but exhilarated she made her way back into the school and hurried back to Sabina's room, dropping the loot on the floor and collapsing into a seat.

The excitement of the day's activities faded into the excitement of the evening. Once Sabina reappeared, having been thoroughly told off by some member of mundane staff, they got to work setting up for the evening. As it happened, setting up took very little effort. They moved some tables and seating around and tried organising the bottles, though to little success as their collective Taoanid was still rather poor.

"Can you just, you know, use your power and read it?" Celeste asked.

"I've been told to avoid using powers when I don't need to. All that soothing training," Sabina responded dismissively.

"But I heard you using it earlier!"

"Yeah, because I really needed to. I had to tell that guy what I was gonna do to his mother." She winked, which Celeste only rolled her eyes at.

They gathered nuts and other small snacks that they could find and invited the whole floor over. Since Melanie obviously gave them no response save to roll her eyes and close her door on them, that meant it was Wolfram and Teodor who came over.

It was Celeste's first-time meeting Teodor she realised. They had an unusual air about them. More specifically in the air about them was exceedingly damp, like a fine mist drifting off the morning hills. Their charming smile quickly endeared them to Celeste. She found her eyes drifting to them occasionally as they reclined the wrong way across a single person seat.

"Does anyone actually know what her problem is?" Wolfram asked, swirling a glass pretentiously.

"Who's problem?" Celeste asked.

"Melanie. She's so cold about everything. She doesn't seem to think any of my jokes are funny for one thing."

"Maybe that's because they're bad," Teodor said, tossing a nut at his head. "It's probably because she's got a river spirit like me. Let's her make ice and stuff, so it's got to be pretty cool." They paused then corrected themselves. "Sorry, rapids spirit. Mine is a rapids spirit."

"Did your spirit just correct you?" Sabina asked.

"Yeah. Do yours not do that?" They asked, looking around.

"No, mine mostly just points out how easy you lot would be to pickpocket. And it's right, you all have no peripheral vision."

"And you've got a lot of practice," Celeste complained, shoving her gently.

"Only what...eight years experience? Maybe, it's hard to say when I started."

"You were a street orphan all that time?"

"Longer than that. Okay, I was an orphan for longer than that, but I wasn't on the street until later."

"Hang on," Said Wolfram, having not been paying attention for a while. "How do you know so much about Melanie. You two..." Wolfram made a weird expression at Teodor.

"You're very crass for a noble. No, nothing like that. We've sparred plenty. I've been here...a year now, she's been here half that."

"You were the youngest one here when you came?" Celeste asked.

"Yeah. Kinda lonely, I was the only one they put on this floor at that point. It was nice though, not having to put up with any idiots." With that, they threw another nut at Wolfram. "And it gave me time to work myself out, I think."

"I'm not technically a noble anymore," Wolfram pointed out.

"You still act like it."

"Well, old habits are the last to die, I suppose. But I'm out of the family line now so that is that."

"What do you mean?" Celeste inquired.

Wolfram's tone, usually jovial, had started to become more serious, for the first time that Celeste had heard. "Wizards aren't allowed to inherit where I'm from. I moved from first in line to nothing. It was kind of my parents to send me here I suppose."

"Why did you get bound then?"

"I didn't choose to," Wolfram said simply.

Celeste looked between them all for a moment. She hadn't thought much about it, but she guessed none of them had chosen to be bound. Was that why Melanie cut herself off from them like this? Was she also forced here because of a mistake? Celeste had caused so much harm when she was bound, was it possible something worse could happen?

Teodor's arms tensed for a moment as they popped the cork off another bottle. All three watched them move intently. "So, what can we do that's fun, so we don't all descend into misery?" They asked.

"I know a few card games," Sabina offered.

"I do as well," Wolfram added.

Sabina grinned at that. "Well since you're experienced, how about we play for money?"

"No way, I know you'll cheat."

"Then just catch me cheating and I won't be able to. That's on you for not playing well enough." Sabina shrugged, getting up to go grab some cards she had 'acquired' since arriving at the school.

"I don't actually have any money to play with," Celeste said. Even if she did, she hardly understood the value of it enough to play effectively.

"What about the stuff they gave you to get here? Did you spend that all?"

"Oh no I... Wait you stole that from me!" Celeste called out.

Sabina looked confused. "Did I? I think I would remember."

"Yes, on my first day."

"Oh, yes! I did mean to give it back, but you never asked. What are you gonna spend it on anyway?"

"What are you gonna spend it on?" Celeste shot back.

"I reckon those posh students with all their connections can probably sell me something good."

"We just robbed them today, why would you bother to buy something?"

"What did you steal?" Wolfram asked, taking a sip from his glass.

"The drinks," Sabina said flatly.

Wolfram nearly choked, if not for a stern pat on the back from Teodor. "I didn't know these were illegal goods."

"Well, are you gonna get us anything?"

"My connections back home are..." He looked a little embarrassed. "Not as strong as some of our fellow students, I'm afraid."

"Let's get on and play!" Teodor announced, coming to join the sofas in the middle so they could play at the table.

The games that Sabina and Wolfram taught were fairly easy to follow, though made more confusing as they played by the addition of different rules. Sabina always seemed to add more rules that somehow benefitted her, claiming them to be local rules she always played with. Wolfram disputed them, but also disputed everyone else's plays with obscure rules he claimed came from official books on the topic. Sabina then disputed that these books even existed.

The lack of stakes meant Celeste really didn't mind. It was nice anyway, to be here with these three. They laughed and joked as they played. The company became the real fun of the game.

She was also intrigued as to why the alcohol didn't seem to be impeding her play at all. She'd only had scant tastes back home, but she was sure it should have more of an effect that this. She brought this up and Teodor was quick to answer.

"It's one of those wizard things." They shook their hands for effect. "Being bound leaves you physically tougher inside and out. Pretty sure we might be immune to diseases as well, but I wouldn't go out and test it."

"Guess that's unfortunate for the people we took this stuff from then," Sabina said with a grin. "It's going to go even faster than they expected."

"Are there any other weird effects?" Celeste asked. The teachers seemed to have not bothered going over this stuff, so it was good to hear from someone more experienced.

"Let me see. Obviously, we all look different. Lots of poisons don't work on us, though I guess that's linked to the alcohol thing. Mostly just stuff that makes it harder to die, by violence or age."

"Age?" Celeste asked, pushing further.

"Well yeah, we have extended life spans."

"Why didn't anyone mention that?" Celeste asked, looking at the others with confusion.

"Did your spirit not mention it at some point? Yeah, wizards just live longer. I've heard three hundred is possible. Most of the teachers are over a hundred."

"No, it likes to be decidedly quiet on things like that."

It never seemed like the right time to mention it. Certainly not when you were crying alone for a week.

Celeste winced at its words. She needed to talk to it later about finally explaining her other powers to her.

The games continued for a while, until a knock at the door caught their attention. Sabina hurriedly hid the bottles, in case it was a member of staff coming to inquire about the theft. Celeste answered the door and was a little confused to find Melanie. She dressed equally as formally as the last time Celeste had seen her, and no less disapproving.

"Would you mind keeping the noise down," She said bluntly.

"Come on, it's a break day," Celeste said casually.

"It is a break night. Which means studying officially continues tomorrow."

"We're just relaxing, I don't see what the problem is."

Melanie's expression was hard to read. She glanced away for a moment before looking back to Celeste. "Relax quietly then. I am trying to hear my own thoughts."

"Fine, we'll keep it down. You know you are welcome to join, if you need some time to relax too," Celeste offered with a smile.

"Very cute. I need to get back to studying. Good night." She turned and left. Celeste watched her return to her own room and shrugged.

"What did she want?" Wolfram asked as Celeste returned.

"Just for us to keep it down."

He rolled his eyes. "What is her problem? She really needs to loosen up."

"To be fair," Teodor put in. "You have literally nothing you need to study for here. Didn't you get a full education as a noble son already?"

"Yeah, and the most important thing I learned was to lighten up," He said firmly, which was met with mocking laughter.

The night continued on its way. Eventually, Wolfram and Teodor made their way back to their own room. Celeste and Sabina moved to sit on the balcony, their legs swinging over the edge. They gazed at the twinkly stars, and Celeste couldn't help feeling reminded of when she watched them falling.

"I don't how you stand the wind," Sabrina said, over the flapping of Celeste's sleeves in the wind. "Back in town, we had nice walls, you know, to keep it calm inside. You know a gust came through every now and then, but that was fine."

"I don't see how you could live without wanting to feel the wind everyday. It's just...It's a natural part of life. It's what brought me here. Saved my life several times back home."

"I forget you highlanders believe such weird things." Sabina shoved the other girl playfully before resting her head on her shoulder.

"It's not weird, it's just true. Maybe down below you don't realise, you can't feel the wind like we can."

"I guess if it brought you here it can't be all bad then. But what about when the wind blows in a storm?"

"Well sometimes it does, but so what? When it passes the air feels all that fresher. The grass looks greener. The Wind might bring the bad but good almost always comes with that. I'm...I'm glad I am here. Being bound wasn't exactly good, but I am happy to be here now."

"Maybe you should take one of those philosophy classes," Sabina started to smack her lips softly.

Celeste looked over with a smile, seeing the other girl had closed her eyes. "Maybe you should get to bed. Has this really tired you out that much?"

"I was just up early today," She said with a yawn. "Plus, it's been a so long since a job. You made a good partner though."

"Thanks. I wouldn't have anyone else watching my back."

Celeste waited a while before realising the other girl had definitely fallen asleep. She smiled, leaving her on her shoulder for a while longer as she gazed out at the moonlight covered world far below.