Chapter 6: Fun and Games


source. date.

Though it remained a slog, Celeste found her Taoanid lessons becoming at least easier to understand. Though her written translations weren't up to the standard of other students, she was beginning to speak it with enough fluency that in a few study blocs she got moved into a lower class, giving her more time to focus on her magical studies.

With more time, she focused on learning to soothe effectively. Once you knew your powers, it was easy enough to guess what things might soothe, but you couldn't be sure without trying it. And even then, there was no clear way to tell if it was working. As with most things magical, Celeste was learning, it was just a feeling.

The cool and the wind both soothed her, she discovered. The cold was difficult to be sure of. Soothing left you with a sense of coolness in you. A peace, a calm, that filled your whole body, sunk deep into your bones. But even that was misleading. The feeling was within your soul, it was the raw emotion coming through.

The whole concept of the soul still confused Celeste. She'd been raised on a far more materialist world view. When she died, she knew her ashes would return to the world, more particles on the Wind. Anything beyond that, emotions that existed outside of her perception, was almost too much to comprehend at times.

So, she had to start spending her time in the wind and in the cold. It was something she'd been used to growing up, but in the school, it was more difficult. She tried sleeping out on her balcony one night, to passively soothe, but she woke up barely rested. Her bed back home hadn't been all that comfortable, but it was better than stone. She found the dial to turn the heat off in her room. The heat leaking in from her neighbours was still too much. Leaving her balcony doors open cooled the room enough, but she found herself wrapping into her covers. This rendered it ineffective.

Whilst she fine-tuned her soothing, Celeste also kept practising with Tesni, trying to work out the limits of her powers. Obviously, potentially making the whole school float was not optimal, so they had to travel over to another mountain. When you could defy gravity and teleport, it wasn't such a long trek to head across the mountain range.

They couldn't figure out her upper limits, though the area she effected seemed to be a cylinder with no upper or lower limit. As she made the area around her wider, she felt the spirit being empowered. Soothing was coolness, while it was a burning in her bones. Her whole body was on fire, screaming with power. The wind and the cold of the mountain tops weren't enough to counteract the spirit completely, and after practising she needed to rest for a while. For now, she would try to limit her gravity powers to her immediate surroundings.

Finally, after far longer than Celeste felt fair, she was allowed to attend practical training sessions. They were trained in two categories, utility and combat. Utility mostly involved obstacle courses and figuring out new ways to combine powers, sometimes your own and sometimes others.

Combat excited Celeste more, though she wasn't sure what the use for it was. Then again, she wasn't sure where she was going with any of her schooling.

"So, can you steal say, my shoes, make me stumble like that?" Celeste asked as she prepared to spar with Sabina.

"It's trading not stealing. But yes, I could, if I had enough money. Like I've said, problem with school uniforms is that they're expensively made. But I could do something subtler that might only take a coin or two. Shoelaces perhaps."

Celeste looked down at her boots, tapping them together. "It seems like cheating that coins you create works for 'trades'."

"It's magic, working together is part of the fun. Besides, when the coins vanish, the item is returned. I was always long gone by the time that would happen, naturally."

"Naturally," Celeste said with a laugh. "Now, are you gonna brag about your abilities or actually try and spar me?"

Sabina tossed a coin into the air, snatching it up. She opened her palm again, showing it empty. "This is hardly a fair match up, you have much better combat powers."

"And you haven't even armed yourself." Celeste pointed out, motioning to Sabina's empty hands with her own sword.

"Cos I'm just that great." Sabina changed stance in an instant and began to sprint towards Celeste.

Sabina held her hands closed for a moment before throwing them forwards, sending a wave of copper coins at Celeste. With a point, Celeste made a small vacuum which diverted the coins, leaving them scattered on the ground. She'd focused too much on that and in the meantime, the other girl had closed the gap on her. She brought a fist towards Celeste who jumped high above her, floating awkwardly in the air. Celeste released herself, landing in an awkward sprawl, keeping herself steady with one hand on the floor.

She looked up to see a flash of gold between Sabina's fingers. She moved her foot aside, seeing how many scattered coins she was standing on. The thin piece of copper below her changed into a thick chunk of gold. She yelled as she was knocked off balance. Sabina seized the chance and lunged at her again. As she came in for the punch, Celeste rejected gravity again, but stayed still herself.

Sabina cried out as she suddenly floated over Celeste, only to drop from the air with a loud thud. Celeste scrambled to her feet, standing over Sabina with her blunt sword pointed at the other girl.

"Feel like giving up yet?"

"You know, most people who tried to catch me failed for this reason." Sabina winked, then in a moment, the sword was in her hand, a couple of gold coins falling from Celeste's.

"I was trying to give you a fair chance," She complained.

"Pretty sure the point of this isn't to make us fair fighters."

"Then what is it?"

"I don't know really." Sabina stood and looked around at their classmates. Pretty much all the magical students were taking part today, and a few mundane students watched from the side-lines. They could sit in but not participate for safety reasons. Wizards were supernaturally powerful in many ways, and an attack that would bruise a wizard might seriously injure a normal person.

Plus, Celeste suspected, many of the wizards weren't noble by birth. She'd seen the annoyance her classmates had when she'd moved out of her old Taoanid class, despite being a peasant girl. Having her beat them up might be too much for their precious egos to handle.

"Isn't combat some kind of, spiritual thing for lowlanders?"

Sabina laughed. "I don't think so. Not that I was ever very practising. Hard to when you were busy starving on the streets, but I always thought priests when on about non-violence."

"I have strong memories of the missionaries explaining to us about how the world would be cleansed in fire and holy warriors would save us."

"Think that might have been a metaphor. Unless they've just very overly optimistic. Most soldiers I ever saw were lazy and overpaid," Sabina said.

There was a splash of water beside them and Teodor appeared beside them, sending a wave of water into Celeste that seemed to vanish as soon as it on her.

"How many teleporters are there in this school? It always surprises me when that happens," She complained. "I know it shouldn't. But Tensi still loves jumping me."

"Well technically it's not a teleport," Teodor said. "I call it a blink. Or, my spirit does. He can go anywhere, I can only go where it's wet." They reached out their hand, shooting a jet of water. In a splash, they reappeared where the water had landed.

"Want to rephrase that?" Celeste asked.

"Don't think I will," They said with a grin.

"Don't act so up yourself, you're not even the most powerful river wizard here," Sabina said, throwing some coins at them.

They blinked out of the way. "Rapids wizard. And I disagree. My powers are way stronger than Melanie. But she's...Well, I don't know how but she makes hers look stronger than anyone else's."

They all looked over to where Melanie was sparing. Her arms moved, directing a current of water around her. Three other students surrounded her. Apparently, the fights had been getting too one-sided when they took her on one on one.

The first person lunged towards her. If they were planning to use a power, they were too slow. She wrapped the water around their blade then froze it. The ice vanished instantly, but the metal was chilled, causing the attacker to cry out, in the moment before she kicked their shin.

She dropped low, dodging one sword swing. Water appeared around her feet and she brought her arms up, moving herself along with the water. She surged into one person, knocking them aside with her shoulder. She turned to face her final opponent, who took to the air in an instant. Celeste couldn't identify their power at a glance, but it wasn't gravity like hers. More like wind, that blew them into the air.

Melanie followed. The other student looked shocked as she surged into the air, pulling herself along with the waters she manipulated. She threw up a wave of water to negate a blast of air. She froze it just as the air hit, and as it vanished, she burst through the blanket of cool air with a punch to the gut that knocked the other student out of the air.

She landed with surprising grace for someone who had fallen several metres. Celeste watched, stunned. Melanie helped her opponents up, talking quietly with them. For a moment her dazzling eyes flicked over to Celeste, who looked back at Sabina and Teodor.

"I don't know what you mean, those look pretty powerful to me," Sabina said.

"You should have seen her when she arrived,” Teodor explained. “The problem is, she can create water, but if it stops moving it vanishes. And creating large amounts of water really empowers her spirit. So, she has to keep moving it constantly in a fight, it takes a lot of control.”

Celeste looked back at Melanie again briefly. She had made it look so effortless. How much practice had gone into fighting like that? Into moving like that, as though she was part of the waters that flowed over her?

The three of them looked over as they heard a loud yell. Someone had been sparring with Wolfram, who had turned himself into a tree in the moment before he was punched. He shifted back, swinging up to punch the guy in the gut as they recoiled to nurse their knuckles.

“What are you looking at?” He asked, grinning and walking up to the others.

“That has got to be the lamest way to fight,” Sabina said, flip a coin through her fingers.

“Sorry, we don't all get cool powers like you. I can talk languages you can't even speak though.”

“Have birds every actually spoken back to you?” Sabina asked with a laugh.

Wolfram looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think they're just shy at the minute. Once they get to know me, I'll learn all their feathery secrets.”

“Maybe your spirits is just lying to you,” Celeste suggested. “I mean, mine isn't exactly open about how powers work.”

“I think you're just jealous that much powers are so unique.”

“Have you ever met...” Celeste slowly. “Anyone else who can control gravity?”

“I haven't met many wizards outside of the school. Could be every other person out in the wide world.”

“Sounds like you're the jealous one to me,” Sabina said, a few more coins appearing in her hand. She reached out, her hand hanging open for a moment before the coins clattered to the ground.

“What were you going for?” Teodor asked with a laugh.

“Trying to steal his belt, wanted to see if I could get him to trip.” She sighed, retrieving the coins.

Celeste couldn't get the image of Melanie soaring through the air. The grace and power she held. No matter how much she's practised, Celeste couldn't fine-tune her own movement when she was floating in the world without gravity. She spoke to Tesni about it and he suggested she take a physics class.

The only class she could easily get into was a basic physics for military applications class. She didn't care all that much about how you could calculate where an artillery shell would land, but as she began to consider how the forces worked on a projectile, she learnt how her own body could move. The numbers they gave her to work out made little sense in her mind, her answers were often incomprehensible to the teacher and other students.

But what she did begin to understand very well, was the theory of it. She could take an hour and still be off by a mile on trajectory calculations, but she felt herself learning to guide her body in zero gravity to land on a pinhead. Windspeed, drag, resistance, aerodynamics, action and reaction. The concepts spun around in her mind, harassing her as she slept. Her spirit tried to help her with calculations, but its help was meaningless in the split second as she adjusted her body ever so subtly to land precisely to swing a punch at Sabina.

All the time the image of Melanie plagued her. Like a shining light she was chasing towards. Even as she felt herself learn to move with the grace of the Wind itself, she didn't feel like she could keep up with the other girl. Sometimes Celeste felt Melanie's ice blue eyes on her, inspecting her as if to weigh her up as an opponent. Everyone else said she was imagining the look, but she was certain she could feel the occasional glances on her.

In a further bid to improve, she returned to the tailors and had a new uniform made. The tails were removed, and any remain bagginess stripped away. The jacket tucked into the trousers, and any other openings were sealed as best as they could. She didn't know what fabric it was made from, but it certainly felt more aerodynamic. With her uniform perfected, it was only her own abilities than remained to be perfected.

Utility training became more interesting as they went on. From simple courses, they moved onto games. Catching flags from each other, either from fixed places or attached to each other. Celeste found these the most fun she'd had in ages. Partly just because it gave her the chance to really show off how good she felt her movement was getting.

She, Sabina, and Wolfram had ended up as a team together, protecting their flag from the other teams. Wolfram's lack of mobility left him acting as defence. Sabina and Celeste focused on who's flag to take. Sabina, for once, was making sensible suggestions, but Celeste didn't want to hear it.

“We're getting Melanie's flag.”

“That's madness,” Sabina said bluntly. “Between her and Teodor, we've got no easy way to get close to their flag, not to mention the other water wizard they've got on defence. We'd be much better going after-”

“Exactly, if we beat them, it'll be even more impressive.”

“Picking your battles is essential to thievery. That isn't a battle worth the reward.”

Celeste narrowed her eyes. She glanced over her shoulder, past the small barricade around them, and across at Melanie. Her team look intense as they planned. “I'm going to beat Melanie, and we'll get that flag. If I keep her distracted, you can get the flag.”

“I'm not gonna get past Teodor though, am I?”

Wolfram sighed, tapping his foot. “This is simple. We've just got to play dumb. The first secret of strategy, my teacher always said.”

“Play dumb how?” Asked Sabina. “We're not getting some rich idiot to see us as a defenceless orphan.”

“I...That's not at all the context I was thinking in. No, we just pretend we're disorganised. That we haven't agreed on a plan. Celeste fights Melanie, Sabina goes after another flag. I'll hold off Teodor if they attack, which will leave us with an opening. You were never taught this kind of stuff?”

“Funnily enough, sheep are usually easier to trick than that,” Celeste admitted. “But it does sound like it could work.”

The whistle blew, announcing the start of the game. Celeste instantly leapt, literally, into action. She rested upon the ceiling for a moment, surveying the room. Being upside-down wasn't physically painful without gravity pull the blood into her brain. But, watching people move and having to flip it in your head wasn't fun. Sabina was running in the other direction. Melanie, it seemed, had a similar idea to Celeste and was surging across the room towards their flag.

Celeste hurled herself towards the ground, righting herself in mid-air and landing on her feet in front of the other girl. “Going somewhere?” She asked before pouncing forward, reaching her arms out to tackle Melanie.

Utility classes were theoretically minimal or non-contact, but the general interpretation was to not punch each other. Melanie didn't have time to react and suddenly she was hurtling through the air with Celeste. She'd gotten good, but Celeste hadn't tried moving with another's mass attached to you. They spun together at a random angle across the room.

Melanie regained her composure quickest, shifting them both mid-air so that Celeste would be the one to hit the wall. Air was forced from her lungs as she felt stone on her spine. She returned gravity and the pair of them went hurtling back towards the ground.

Water splashed over them, bringing them down more gently. Melanie pulled Celeste off her, gently letting her slump onto the ground, before washing herself towards Wolfram. Celeste felt lightheaded for a moment. The impacts hadn't done her any real damage, being a wizard made her tougher than that, but it left her disorientated. As she stumbled to her feet, she watched Melanie move away in a flash of blue.

Celeste leapt forwards. She didn't have time to check on Sabina, but it didn't matter if she let Melanie get to the flag, Wolfram couldn't hold her off for long on his own. She pushed herself to the ceiling, then ground, then ceiling again. She moved faster than running, but not as quick as Melanie. She could only move at weird angles, not in a straight line.

Faster. You must move faster.

“I know,” She hissed. “But what can I do?”

A collapsing vacuum...

“Air flows into it. Pulls things towards it.” Celeste said in realisation.

She returned gravity as she soared into the air again, letting herself slow down. She removed it again, hovering for a second. She then reached out a finger and made a small vacuum ahead of her. The gust of air pulled her forwards, so she did it again, and again. Soon she was accelerating faster than she could have expected. She was closing on Melanie fast. They were metres from the barricade when Celeste tackled her to the ground.

She held tight, trying to keep the other girl from moving, but Melanie was stronger. She twisted around, grabbing Celeste and pinning her to the ground. They locked eyes for a moment as they struggled, Melanie's hands on her shoulders, and her hands on Melanie's wrists.

What was that look in her eyes? A determination? Celeste felt it too, the need to beat the other girl. To prove her skills. She felt in that moment she knew nothing about Melanie. Her eyes were not windows but tightly locked vaults. She gave nothing away.

Their stare was broken by a flourish of coins that hit Melanie on the side of the head. She looked up, briefly making an ice barrier to block a second wave of heavier gold coins. Celeste used the opening and reached up to grab Melanie's face. As they tumbled across the ground, she cried out.

“What are you doing?!”

“Saving you!”

“Get the flag!” Celeste shouted in annoyance.

She felt Melanie shift in her arms, clearly realising the rouse they'd been trying. She reached out an arm, creating a wave of water to trip Sabina. Celeste managed to slam Melanie's arm into the ground, stopping the water in time. She watched with exhilaration as Sabina made her way to flag.

“Might have tried putting up a better defence,” Came an annoyingly smug voice.

Celeste looked up, seeing Teodor waving a flag at them. She looked back to see Wolfram picking himself up. She tried to get up, pressing Melanie into the ground, as she scrabbled after Teodor. It was too late. They could blink back to their own flag faster than Sabina could get there. Melanie yanked on Celeste's leg and she collapsed to the ground, just in time to watch Teodor tap the flag on their own flagpole.

Celeste lay there, panting and in pain. She could imagine the splodgy bruises she would be finding over the next few days. Melanie stood over her for a few moments, adjusting her uniform and her headscarf, then strolling off as cool as anything. She looked down at Celeste for the briefest second before she was gone.

“Sorry about that. I really wasn't focusing on where Teodor was coming from,” Wolfram said, coming over to help Celeste up.

“It's fine, really,” She said, smiling back at him. “At least now I know exactly what I'm trying to compete with.