Chapter 8: War Games

Physicality is, as any wizard will tell you, irrelevant to magical skill. Why might then wonder why physical training was so important to the magical schools. It was an outdated mode of thought even then, but wizards are always the slowest to adapt. They lived still in the days of chivalry and martial ability even as drilled, peasant armies were becoming the norm.

Magical Education During the Fall of the Great Schools by ****. Published 1736.

The summer seemed to come and go without much fanfare at Tricapon. This high up, the air temperature never got as warm as Celeste would have expected. Any summertime festivals that were normally celebrated seemed to be forgotten by the other students. Teodor mentioned off-handedly one day that the summer solstice was coming up in a few days and Celeste had to rush to get hold of candles for it.

Autumn was beginning to set in when, to the surprise of everyone but Teodor and Melanie, the end of year examinations were announced. For the mundane students, this would be the decider on whether or not they could progress onto the next level of classes. The magical students had never been given such a rigid structure to their education. They would only be required to complete tests for their magical education, with recommended tests for all their mundane classes to assess their progress.

Celeste had found herself relaxing for most of the summer, taking her classes far more casually. Her late nights in the library had been replaced with more nights spent relaxing with Sabina, and Wolfram, and Teodor. Now even Sabina seemed to be taking her classes seriously, even if most of them were just languages.

“I don't know why you two are worried about,” Wolfram said as he sat slumped across Sabina's sofa. “It's not like the results matter. You two are both good with your magic already. Can't we just stick to chilling out?”

“They will talk about our abilities and scores in any recommendations they make for us. A position I could want down there will be conditional based on how we do in this,” Celeste pointed out.

“Just become a court wizard, the only condition to that is being a wizard. Actually, I think I've met some who were lying about being wizards,” Wolfram mused, throwing a nut into the air to catch in his mouth. He choked loudly on it until Sabina leant over and punched his chest. “Thanks. What are you studying for all this for anyway?” He said to Sabina.

“Something to do with my time. Don't you get bored just sitting around and annoying people all day?”

“Not particularly. I spent a good amount of my life constantly told what to do, where to be, you don't know the relief of having no one check in on me.”

“Weren't you a noble? I thought that was an easy life,” Celeste said, turning to lean on the back of her chair to look at him.

“I don't know where you got that impression. I was first born, first in line. So, it was all 'Oh Wolfram learn your table manner' and 'Wolfram you must keep up with international political developments'.” He blew a raspberry. “I barely had time to myself back then.”

“Tell me,” Sabina said, putting her book aside. “Were your bed chambers back home bigger or smaller than your current ones?”

“Oh, much bigger, partly because we needed space for the tub in there-”

“And did you ever wonder where your next meal was coming from?”

“Well, they came from the kitchens, where they always came from.”

Sabina sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “You know, I slept on the streets for a significant portion of my childhood. And I never knew when I would have another meal until I arrived here. It's why I always slip a few things into my pockets after breakfast. Being told you have to read a few books is hardly the height of suffering.”

Wolfram sighed and nodded. “Sorry, you're right.” After a few minutes, Celeste turned back to speak to him. “Hey, since you've learnt all this stuff, why don't you help us study?”

After a few minutes, Celeste turned back to speak to him. “Hey, since you've learnt all this stuff, why don't you help us study?”

“Yeah, put all that suffering to use,” Sabina said with a grin.

“I don't know what you expect me to tell you,” He said, shrugging.

“Well, you know, how you learnt this? Help us to learn it too.”

“Problem is I don't know how I learnt all this,” He admitted.

“How can you not remember? Were you not present when you learnt this stuff?” Celeste said, slightly confused.

“Oh, I must have been. But I don't know what made me learn things. They would say 'here is what we're learning today', and then whenever I failed to remember, they would hit me. I could try that if you want.”

“That doesn't seem like it would be effective,” Celeste said dubiously.

“The threat of being attacked if I failed to get away from a robbery did drive me a lot,” Sabina admitted. “But I don't think it's going to get me to learn verb conjugations.”

“I could always go find a stick, maybe you'll find it works better than you thought.”

“No!” The girls said together.

“Fine, fine!” He said, raising his hands. “I could help test you on stuff? I think I have most of it stored up in my brain somewhere still.”

“Now that is actually a useful suggestion,” Celeste said.

“What are you gonna give me in return?” He asked.

“I'm sorry, what?”

“Well, if I'm going to help you out, there's got to be something you can give me back.”

“Like what?” Celeste asked.

“Sabina's competent thief-”

“Master thief,” She corrected.

“A thief. She can teach me something of what she knows there. What is it that you know?”

Celeste thought for a moment. “Well, I basically grew up with sheep. I can teach you how to herd them. Or about lambing.”

“” He repeated, quizzically.

“That might be a word you don't know. Do you know what a lamb is?”

“Yeah, pretty tasty.”

“You know it's an animal too, right?” Celeste asked slowly, unsure what kind of answer she would get.

“Yeah...Yeah, I knew that.” He nodded, his green hair bouncing, but she didn't believe him. “Well, that all sounds gross and useless.” He sighed, slumping back on the sofa. “Fine, I guess I will help you anyway. Just because I'm such a great friend.”

“You really are so generous,” Sabina sneered, throwing a pillow that hit him square in the face.

Celeste was still tired and groggy as she ate breakfast. She'd found herself sleeping worse as she focused more on preparing for the examinations. What she didn't need, or want, was Teodor and Wolfram crashing into the dining room, talking very loudly about their plans for the break day. She did her best to block out the sound until they came to sit on her table.

“Do you have to do this right now?” She asked, slushing porridge around her bowl.

“You'll like this, I think,” Teodor said, grinning widely. “Hasn't happened since before you all arrived. We're all going to go down to one of the villages today, get in some extra fighting practice.”

“Why would I care? We have full access to the training rooms.” She rubbed her head, not wanting to think right now.

“Yeah, but they don't like us being too...Aggressive,” Teodor said. “Plus, we aren't allowed to spar with mundane students. Down there, anything goes really.”

“Which means we can also make bets on fights,” Sabina said loudly, crashing into place next Celeste. “Which means I'm going to hoodwink some rich kids out of their coin.”

Celeste groaned at the thought of how busy it would be at the village. But she realised that getting out in the fresh air would make her head better.

Dressed in her specially designed combat uniform, Celeste and the others set out. Celeste hadn't spotted Melanie heading down, but she couldn't imagine the other girl would miss out an opportunity to practice.

As they followed the path down, Celeste found herself getting very bored of walking. She leant over the edge, looking down the side of the mountain. “Is that the village we're going to?” She asked.

Teodor came up next to her, glancing over the edge. “Yeah, that looks right to me,” They said. “Please don't tell me you're just going to jump it.”

“Well, I'm not going to walk. That sounds way more boring. You can teleport down with me, if you like?” She said, grinning at them.

“No thanks, my power's is a little too imprecise for that.” They took a step away from the edge, rejoining the rest of the group.

“See you all down there in a bit!” She said, giving them all a final wave before jumping backwards off the mountain.

Falling was harder than jumping. Celeste found herself switching her power on and off as she hurtled through the air to the village below. She landed occasionally, teetering on the edges of rocky outcrops to admire the view. It was still startling to her, how far she could see. The expanse of the world from up here. The horizons she had yet to cross.

You should keep moving. The clouds are coming in and that will make landing more difficult.

“You're right, sorry,” She said.

I do not hold it against you to think about the possibilities we have. Together, we are stronger than anyone in our world.

“My world,” She said firmly. “You don't exist in the physical.”

With that she leapt off again, continuing her descent of the mountain. She landed with more of a thud than she'd intended, but she didn't mind. It got her a few looks from villagers who seemed fairly uninterested by it. She supposed wizards weren't such a weird sight down here.

She quickly realised the mistake of coming down like this. She wasn't sure how long she'd be waiting for the others to appear, so she decided to explore the village a little.

It quickly became obvious that the villages received pretty decent rewards for working with the school. A huge brass pipe emerged from the mountain, feeding into all of the sturdy stone homes. She watched children happily playing in the snowy streets with a pang of jealously. Childhood, her home, felt so far away. As the clouds closed in on the village, she made her way into the inn.

She dusted herself off and sat in the warm room for a while. It was shockingly empty, she thought at first. It took far too long for her to realise it was because no students had got here yet. It must be strange, business only happening one day in four. Still, the quiet of the village normally would be comforting. The school was always so much busier than she was used to.

Celeste could hear students beginning to arrive at the village, so she headed out to wait for her friends. She perched on top of a building, watching the mass of students streaming down the pathway. The magical students were easy to spot. The clouds parted and Sabina sparkled stunningly in the sunlight. Celeste felt herself smiling. The other's girl's quick eyes flicked around, quickly spotting her on the roof. With a great bound, Celeste landed in the midst of them.

Once in the village, the students scattered, many heading to the inn instead of hanging out in the cold. A lot of them, however, headed over to a set of rings marked out in the snow. The students had only been there a few minutes when fights began. Pairs of students, stripping off their jackets for added manliness, would face off in the ring, seeing who could punch the other into submission.

“What is the point of this?” Celeste asked, leaning a little closer to Teodor. She winced as she watched one boy get hit squarely in his jaw.

“What's the point of all our combat training? It's fun, I guess,” They said with a shrug.

“But without magic it's just a test of who can punch the hardest. Where's the skill?”

“That is probably why the mundane students like getting the chance to fight us. They actually have to think about it. Plus, if they were to somehow beat a wizard, it would give them amazing bragging rights.”

“Have you ever seen anyone beat a wizard before?”

There was a general groan as one boy picked another up by the waist and slammed into the ground.

“Can't say I have,” Teodor admitted. “But I do love to watch them try. Plus, it's different from the fighting we practice. There's two ways you lose in this. Either you can't get up, or...” They paused as a boy shoulder barged his opponent, sending a scrawnier boy crashing out of the ring. “Or you leave the ring. You can also concede but, none of these people are smart enough to do that, no matter how beaten down they get. Still, not having walls and ceilings around should pose some actual challenges for you.”

Celeste couldn't deny she had no idea how to handle herself out here. She'd gotten very used to bouncing off any solid object around her. But the winds and cold meant she could basically use as much power as she wanted without any risk of empowering her spirit. She leant over to listen in on Wolfram and Sabina's conversation.

“You're putting money on a loser here,” Wolfram said. “He's not got the strength to subdue his opponent.”

“Strength isn't everything. Plus, there's two ways to win these fights,” Sabina shot back.

Celeste looked at the boys they were watching. The two moved around each other, waiting for openings. Their light movements looked more like a dance than a fight to Celeste. She watched as one reached in, trying for a gut punch, only for the other boy to dart aside. They danced around one another for a while longer before they got stuck into a scuffle. This promptly ended as one jumped aside and allowed the other to hurl themselves out of the ring.

“You got lucky, that's all,” Wolfram said glumly, slapping a few coins into Sabina's outstretched hand.

“You won't be saying that when I come back with my pockets full. Now I actually have something to bet against.”

“Wait, you weren't gonna pay up?”

“Of course not, I didn't have any money on me. You know me well enough by now,” Sabina said, slapping his cheek lightly. “Now, I'm going to go find an idiot who's looking to lose some money. You lot have fun.” She gave them a wave and disappeared into the crowd.

Wolfram turned to Celeste. “You want go a round then?”

“What?” She asked, confused.

“Have a fight.”

“You know I'll beat you, you're a terrible fighter.”

“Come on, it'll be fun,” He said with a grin.

So, there she stood, a metre away from him. He'd removed his jacket, partly because a bit more gold had jangled in his pockets. But she suspected mostly to show off. He was impressively muscular. More so than she'd thought. Being raised on a rich diet did have its advantages, she supposed.

“Please don't turn into a tree. I don't want to end up hurting my hands too much,” Celeste said, smiling at him.

“Don't worry, I would never use such underhanded tactics.” He was usually upbeat, but Celeste did wonder if there was something more to his grin then.

He lunged forward, bringing his left fist towards her. She instinctively leapt high into the air, intending to avoid him altogether. Instead, she felt a firm hand grip her ankle. He'd reacted faster than she'd expected. She had been predictable, but since when were his reactions that good? She reached up a hand, planning to pull herself away with a vacuum, only to feel him yank her down. Her back slammed into the ground and she let out a pained breath.

He moved to attack but she leapt up, slamming her feet directly into his face and jumping off. She soared through the air, landing just at the edge of the ring. She teetered for a moment, before a gust of wind pushed her upright. Wolfram was charging towards her now, clearly intending to push her out. His feet slammed into the snowy ground, leaving deep impacts. She waited until the moment he contacted the ground, then released gravity in a wide area around herself, catching him in it. When you push against the ground, it pushes back. Without the usual gravity to counter this, and with his other foot already rising, Wolfram was suddenly propelled into the air. Celeste ducked to the side and let him fly past her, crashing into the ground outside the ring with a thud.

After raising a hand for the cheering crowd, she went over to offer him a hand up.

“I should have practised more with your gravity stuff. It really catches you unaware,” Wolfram said with a grunt as she hauled him up.

“I didn't realise you were so strong,” She said back.

“I'm not normally.” He grinned, flexing his arms. When he noticed her look of disgust, he clarified. “It's always good to keep a power secret. I call it Sun's Strength. Whilst I'm in direct sunlight, I get stronger. And other attributes are improved, like reflexes, as I'm sure you felt.”

“Which means you're always at a disadvantage in the classroom.” She nodded, understanding.

“Exactly. Also means I shouldn't fight any of these guys because I'm very likely to hospitalise them. But, if they want to try their luck, who am I to deny them.” He shot her a wink before heading off to find new opponents.

Celeste barely had a moment to recover from the fight before Sabina caught her eye, tossing a coin in the air.

“Nice work there,” Sabina said with a wink. “I'll buy you something nice later. You've got the perfect look that for some reason makes these idiots think you're going to lose.”

Celeste laughed. “I'm not exactly looking for fights. But I will do my best for you.”

“Oh, my dashing knight. Do you want your fair lady to give you a token of fortune?” Sabina said, doing a mock curtsey.

“Shut up!” Celeste said as they both laughed.

“Oi!” Came a very annoying voice behind Celeste. She turned to see the boy she'd met on her first day. Eldphonse or something? “I want a fight. Now.”

“You know I could kill you with my mind, right?” Celeste asked, cocking an eyebrow at him.

“You're just a puffed-up peasant. I want to see how you take on someone with training and a bloodline.”

Celeste was confused by his words for a moment. Was this some confusion of translation between their own languages and Taoanid? Or was he just stupid? She shrugged, squaring up to him. “You know, that last guy was a noble, and a wizard, and I took him down, no problem, right?”

“We don't have to, if you're a coward.”

Celeste snorted, and shook her head. “No, I'm not. I just wanted you to have a chance to stand down. Before you embarrass yourself.”

As it happened, Edward did want to embarrass himself. So stood face to face, ready to fight. Distractingly he'd not only lost his jacket but also his shirt. His attempt at showing off his masculine physique was somewhat ruined by his obvious goosebumps.

“Tell you what, I'll give you a free swing. If you can get close to me.” Celeste said with a smug smile. Somehow this was enough to drive the boy beyond any sense.

He growled as he charged at her. Celeste stood still, watching as a brief bit of no gravity sent him tumbling to the ground. He got up impressively quickly, springing into action with an uppercut. Sadly, his fist couldn't follow her into the air as she flew over him in an impressive arc. He lashed out again with equally useless results. Celeste carried on like this for longer than she would be proud to admit later.

Soon enough the noble boy was panting and out of breath, having been shunted around the ring without landing one punch. Finally, she stood still as he brought his fist up against her face. His grin was intoxicatingly stupid as he held his fist there. She gave him a moment, her eyes closed in pretend pain before she opened them again. Maybe she'd imagined it, but she really hoped he had whimpered in the moment before she punched him in the gut.

The force of the punch was enough to knock him backwards, and the air knocked from his lungs left him bent double, panting for breath. Celeste shook her hand. She didn't know how people managed the pain of punching, though she was unaware she hadn't been trained in proper technique. She also hadn't realised how much stronger than non-wizards she could actually be.

“Do you concede?” She asked, taking a step towards him.

“Never,” He managed to hiss.

Push your advantage. The spirit whispered. He is weak. Show him your power now.

Celeste agreed with its assessment for once. She'd give him the chance to back down. She flicked a finger at him just as he charged again. He stopped in his tracks, clutching his throat. He flapped his mouth hopelessly, as though he could somehow suck in air through the vacuum.

Good. Good! Make him fear you. Let him know your power.

It was right. He should fear her. He came into this thinking he could somehow he could show his superiority. All he was showing what how pathetic he was, how little his blood meant against the power of a spirit.


Her mind snapped back to reality. She saw tears in Edward's purple face and released the vacuum. Sabina appeared beside her, taking hold of her jacket.

“What was that?” She said sternly. “What were you doing?”

“I don't know, I just...The spirit...” She muttered, stunned. She looked down at her own hands, as if for an answer.

“Fight's over, get out of here,” Sabina said, flashing a steely gaze at the onlooker and leading Celeste away.

The two found themselves sat on the roof of a nearby building, a house perhaps. Sabina had scrounged up a warm drink from somewhere. Celeste happily drank it back, barely noticing its taste, if it tasted of anything. Another fight had started that attracted the attention of everyone present. Melanie was going against Teodor.

The two were well matched for a fight. Normally Teodor could knock someone off their feet with their water blasts, but Melanie easily deflected it. In turn, she couldn't land a hit before they teleported away.

“I didn't think she'd come down here,” Celeste muttered.

“She does take this all a whole lot more seriously than us. I suppose she just wanted the extra practice.”

They continued to watch with interest. Teodor sent another jet at Melanie which she froze as it reached her. She shoved the column of ice forwards, about to slam it into Teodor, when they blinked into the ice itself. The two were closer now, so Melanie threw a punch that they blinked away from again.

The two stared each other down for a moment. Celeste thought she saw Melanie's lips move but it was hard to tell at this distance. Then they both sprung into action.

First, Teodor sent a jet of water that Melanie easily deflected. She leapt forward, bringing her fist towards their face. As her arm moved, she manipulated the snow behind her. Teodor, sadly, couldn't see the column of snow she was forming. So, they blinked behind her, right where she'd directed the water. They both spun around to face each other again. Melanie grabbed a hold of the snow she'd been manipulating. In an instant, it became another column of ice. Teodor had been leaping back into action and only registered the trick as the ice smashed them in the face.

They fell back onto their ass. Melanie stood over them, fists raised for a moment. Teodor evidently conceded as she lowered them, before helping them up. They patted themselves down and then shook hands.

“How does she do that?” Celeste mused out loud. “She has such perfect awareness of her surroundings. I mean...I feel like I've got pretty good control of my own body when I go weightless but...That's something else.”

“She does have months head start on you,” Sabina pointed out. She leant back, breathing out and watching her breath linger in the air for a moment. “Besides, it's not like the exams are about being better than her. Just being the best you can be.”

“I know but it's like...She has a drive for something I can't imagine. And she isn't putting people's lives in danger to do it.”

“She's in danger of never having any fun though.” Sabina let out a huge breath, watching it drift away.

“You two done up there?” Teodor called up. “We're going to go get warmed up, wanna tag along?”

“I'm down!” Sabina called. She looked back at Celeste with a smile. “You feeling alright?”

Celeste nodded with a smile. “I am. Come on, I'm plenty soothed, now I want to be warm again.” She laughed. Taking Sabina's hand, the two clambered down.

The inn was busy, of course, but with a bit of strong-arming, the young wizards managed to get themselves a table. The crowding only helped to keep the place warmer, though it felt like underfloor pipes were helping too. Sabina brought them over a large tray of steaming drinks which they all took to just hold at first.

“You sure you don't mind paying for this?” Asked Wolfram.

“Don't worry, I made a tidy amount today.” Sabina produced a pouch that jiggled merrily. “Besides, giving things away helps to soothe my spirit. I can't help being such a generous gal.”

“You won all that in bets?” Teodor asked.

“Oh no, this is just the stuff I pinched. So, drink up! And I'll get more in as soon as you ask.”

They all laughed happily, letting their mugs chink together before they drank.

“Did you ask Melanie if she wanted to join?” Celeste asked Teodor, trying to sound casual.

“She said she wanted to get back up and study, I think,” Teodor said with a shrug. “I didn't want to push it. I think she might just not like the crowds in here.”

“I can see why,” Wolfram said grumpily, being jostled by passing students. The mundane students did try to get them a bit of space, but in the cramped conditions, it was still hard. “To think these students were supposed to be raised with the same class as me. You northerners are all so crass.”

“Oh, shut up, idiot!” Sabina called, throwing a coin in his face.

They sat together for what felt like an eternity, laughing together in the warmth. The stress of the upcoming exams completely faded for the time and they just enjoyed the company. The group, which usually felt more cut off from the rest of the students, seemed to get along with them no trouble. Students regularly came up to congratulate them on their fights or ask some inane question which they were happy to answer.

After some time, Celeste felt the heat getting a bit much, and headed outside for some air. It wasn't too late, but already the sun was beginning to set, it's orange light bathing the usually quiet village. After the warmth, the cold air almost seemed to bite into her lungs, but Celeste still drank it in with deep breaths.

“You're beginning to look as natural in zero gravity as you are normally. Maybe more so.”

Celeste spun on her heels, her heart pounding. “Tesni, why can't you just appear normally?”

The tall man smiled, stepping from a shadow. “But it's so much more fun this way.” He vanished and reappeared on a nearby roof.

Celeste jumped up to stand beside him as he looked out over the land below them, burnt orange by the sun.

“You know, I wasn't born that far from here. Well, in view. You could see the peaks on a clear day. Though I had never expected to come up here until I was bound.” He reached out and pointed to a point she couldn't quite see. “I think it was about there. But I haven't been back in a while.”

“You were watching the fights?” She asked.

“Of course.”

“I thought they weren't allowed.”

“Oh, technically they're not. We couldn't have students getting hurt on our watch.” Tesni let out a small laugh. “But it is good to let them blow off some steam. And they feel better doing it when they think it's rebelling. With me here, they're in no danger even if they don't realise that.”

“Why didn't you step in?” She asked, quietly.

“Step in when?”

“When I was...When you know.”

“I knew the boy wasn't in danger. He shouldn't have goaded you so much.”

“That doesn't excuse what I did. I should show more restraint.”

“Your spirit goaded you to do it as well?” He asked, looking down at her.

She nodded. “It's stupid. I know I shouldn't listen to it by now. But it just gets to me.”

“You had probably been empowering it a little too much. Leaving yourself less stable than you're used to. It's a thing you will get used to in time.”

“But I could have killed him.”

“I would have stopped that.”

“I didn't know that though.”

“It wouldn't be the end of the world,” Tesni said, almost uncomfortably casually. “You wouldn't be the first mage to underestimate your powers and kill someone.”

“I've already killed someone with my powers.” She said quietly. Edward's terrified face flashed in her mind, but it melted. His featured scorched away to reveal Alphonso.

“You didn't kill him,” Tesni said, resting a hand on her shoulder.

“I'm responsible though. Because I...Because I cared...” She bit her lip, trying to hold in tears.

He knelt in front of her, resting his hand on her shoulders. “You listen to me. You didn't kill him. The spirit did. You didn't know that was even possible. It was the one who chose to bind to you.”

He's trying to turn you against me. We are one now, we must be united.

Celeste let out a sob, covering her ears. She knelt and Tesni's hands stayed on her, keeping her grounded until she could find words again.

“I've heard talk of...Subduing,” She whispered.

“That is something we will teach you about after your examinations.”

“If...I do that, will I silence the spirit?”

Tesni paused for a long moment before nodding. “Subdued spirits are effectively dead, as much as we understand it. They no longer speak to us. Only a husk of their power remains.”

“I can't imagine, almost, what it was like before. When it didn't speak to me.”

You wouldn't want to remember a time when you were weak.

“It is difficult to imagine. I wouldn't want to, personally. I think I'm lucky, my spirit doesn't bother me like some people's do.”

“Why isn't subduing the first thing you teach us to do?”

“Sometimes it takes time to decide what you want to do with these powers. It's an irreversible process. So, we let people learn and see if they can cope. I...” He took a deep breath, considering his words. “I can't know what it's like in your head. It sounds far worse than I ever dealt with. But you've lasted so long. And you are so strong. Mind and body. Whatever you chose to do, I'm sure it will be the best decision for you.” He said simply, standing back up to his full height.

Celeste looked up for a moment before sighing. “I wish I could decide something like that. How do you read the Wind on a decision like that? Where is it trying to lead me?”

“I don't know if you need something else to lead you,” Tesni said softly. “I think you have everything you need within you.”