Chapter 9: A Predictable Revelation

Heterosexual theorists have too long put about the suggestion that sexual categories are set and eternal. In reality, heterosexuality only developed in the last two centuries to put the filthy homosexual in their place. Saying this does not mean before this the world was in a state of free love. In fact, lacking ways to define ourselves, many lived their lives feeling isolated. A word can tell you who you are. And knowing who you are is freeing. Sometimes a box can be a gust of wind.

“We Don’t Do That Around Here”: Sexuality in the Growing Urban Landscape by ****. Published 1779.

The last year of Celeste's life had certainly been the strangest one so far. The year had forced her to change so much. And put her through challenges she couldn't have imagined facing before. By far the greatest of these challenges was, of course, sitting exams.

Celeste had managed to sit still for long periods of time before. That, however, was always outside, where the Wind kept her awake. Being forced to sit in a room with dozens of other students and write everything she could remember about Laocienan history didn't engage her in the same way. She wasn't forced to do this, technically, they weren't going to throw her out if she messed up the exams. But she wanted to prove she could do it, to herself more than anyone else.

She watched the large brass hands of the room's clock slowly tick ever further on its trip around the numbers. The words she needed to write were in her brain, somewhere, but with each tick, they seemed to be dragged further away. In the end, she took to just writing whatever came into her mind. There was a good chance it was going to be only semi-coherent. But it was better than the empty sheets lying in front of her, mocking her for hours.

Her language exams were excruciating. Taoanid she'd gotten good at thanks to being forced to speak it, but she still hated writing in it. Ofprovian proved even more of a struggle as she realised she had barely practised it.

Worst of all were her physics exams. Pages and pages of numbers for her to work out. Not a single one of them made much sense to her. Occasionally there would be a question that required a written answer. When she came across them, she was sure she got stared from the other students as she wrote at incredible speed. Admittedly, it was largely nonsense that was unrelated to the question. She mostly spoke about how these ideas could be applied in a weightless scenario. But she hoped whoever had to mark it would at least find her ramblings interesting.

They had to finish their mundane exams first, then came their magical exams. Soothing was simple, mainly because it was hard to truly judge an internal experience. They did time trials on the obstacle courses. The competitive nature which stirred up between the young wizards did help improve all their times, but some of them were blatantly outmatched. Celeste breezed into first, Teodor coming second with Melanie a close third.

Then came their combat trials. They weren't expected to win fights, they were simply judged on their ability to stay standing. Two minutes were timed, and they were expected to survive as long as they could against their opponents, though they were commended if they managed to subdue their opponent. Celeste found herself surviving very well against everyone, including Melanie. Wolfram had managed to argue it was unfair for him to have to fight inside, so they all filled out of the front of the school on a freezing morning to face off against him.

It didn't go well for any of his opponents. It was quickly becoming obvious that his Sun's Strength was the most powerful single ability any of them held. Even Melanie lost her fight to him, which Celeste hadn't thought possible. But, even with their losses to him, everyone still came out of it with impressive scores, the teachers assured them.

And so, bruised and exhausted, it came time for them all to kick back and relax. They had gotten pretty good at celebrating. All of them had their birthdays in the prior year which had all been a cause of much merriment. Sabina had no one left alive who actually knew when her birthday was, so they instead chose her a random date and celebrated extra hard on it. They'd been unable to pry a birthday out of Melanie, despite making some efforts to do so.

But to celebrate the ending of the academic year, even Melanie had come along. It was nice to see her relaxing with the rest of them, Celeste thought as she saw her sat in the mess that was Sabina's room.

“To great results, one and all!” Teodor said, raising their cup.

“And to forgetting all of this tomorrow!” Sabina added, before taking a long draft.

She and Celeste had taken another quick trip into the mundane students' dorms to get drinks for the evening.

“What happens now?” Celeste asked, looking between them. “We get our results and then keep going?”

“Basically,” Teodor say with a shrug. “You are free to leave the school whenever you like, but I'm planning on staying until I think I've got a grasp of a few more subjects. It can't hurt to be properly prepared for the world out there.”

“I more meant, immediately,” Celeste said.

“Ah, right, that is of more immediate concern. Well, the mundane students will be taking a three-month break, a lot of them have a way to go to visit home. For us...” They could only offer a shrug.

“Well, I've not exactly got anything to go back to out there,” Sabina said, swirling the liquid in her cup. “Besides, why would I want to leave the best friends I've ever had?”

Celeste and Wolfram both let out mangled grunts as she wrapped her arms around their necks and pulled them into what could only be extremely charitably called a side hug.

“What about you then, Wolfram?” Teodor asked.

“I've got nothing to go back to either,” He said simply.

“You've got a family though,” Celeste said, once her neck had been released from Sabina's grip.

“They made it fairly clear I'm not really part of that family anymore.”

“There's more to family than titles and money though,” Celeste pointed out.

“And there's more families than just ones of blood and flesh,” He added, looking over to her with a warm smile. “What about you? It's not too far for you to go, and you could probably get back there in a few bounds.”

Celeste looked down, considering for a few moments. It had been a long time now since she'd even considered the idea of returning home. Returning to her parents. The idea terrified her, really. Maybe she was a coward, maybe she just didn't want to face Alfonso's parents. Face the looks of her once friends and neighbours.

She shrugged. “Probably not. I mean, I wouldn't want to spend all that time without my best friends.” She said, bumping her shoulder against Sabina with a smile. “Are you going to visit home, Melanie? Maybe get some books while you're there?”

Melanie looked up suddenly. She'd clearly been phasing out slightly, but she blushed at Celeste's words. “It's too far to travel there and back in the time we have. Going around the Taoan range, you know?”

Teodor nodded. “Well, I have no plans, so I guess we're all going to be stuck with each other and with nothing to do all winter.”

“There are worse fates,” Melanie muttered.

“We'd better get any last booze those posh kids have lying around before they leave,” Sabina said hurriedly. “I'm not sure where else we'd be able to find anyway otherwise.”

“Maybe you should check if they have anything that tastes good before you rob them though,” Wolfram suggested.

“Doesn't it all taste like this?” Celeste asked.

“Well I'm sorry for trying to suggest fun group activities, such as robbery,” Sabina said, rolling her eyes. “Next time I'll just suggest a card game or something.”

In the end, someone did manage to produce some cards and they laughed the evening away. Sabina was soon covered in nuts, having a handful thrown at her every time she was found cheating. The school would have run out of nuts if it had been every time she did cheat.

It must have been after midnight when they finally all started to slip back to their own rooms. Celeste and Sabina were the only ones left. They had sat together on the balcony for a while, only to find that boring. Celeste placed her hands gently on Sabina's waist, keeping them both steady as they leapt them into the air. So, they sat on the very top of the school. Below the countries stretched out. The pale moonlight illuminated meadows and mountains and rivers and bestowed them all with ethereal beauty. Lakes of mist rolled over it all, dipping into valleys and diverting around hills.

And yet, though the lands below them were so enchanting, Celeste's eyes found their way back to Sabina. The other woman glistened gold even in the silver light. They had huddled close for warmth in the winter night. It was a slow movement, her hand reaching up to touch Sabina's face. Her skin had grown cold, and Celeste's own freezing fingers could do nothing to change that. Their eyes locked for a long time, gazing into each other as if they could see deeper into one another than just their eyes.

Celeste felt herself slowly leaning in, drawing closer. She paused, a few centimetres from the other girl's lips. “Sorry, I didn't ask...”

“Yes, you can kiss me, idiot,” Sabina said softly.

Her lips were still curled into a smile as Celeste kissed her. Despite the cold, they were still warm. And soft. And like reaching out to touch a divine she had never imagined. The earth fell away from her and she was caught up in Sabina. Her hands gently held the other woman's face, as if letting her go would meaning losing this feeling forever.

They slowly reached back. Celeste couldn't keep the smile off her lips, like the Wind itself was blowing the corners of her lips up into the purest smile. She glanced down, realising the earth really had fallen away.

“Sorry about that,” She muttered, brushing her messy hair out of her eyes. She felt her face burning red as she let them drop back onto the roof.

“You don't need to be sorry. Don't you ever apologise.” Sabina's voice was low. The affection that radiated from it was like nothing Celeste had ever heard from her. Sabina was kind, she showed love to her friends. But this was a special form of love that Celeste didn't fully realise either of them was capable of.

A gust of wind caught them, sending a visible shiver through Sabina. “Want to head back in?” Celeste asked with a smile.

“Yeah, let's get somewhere warmer,” Sabina said, leaning in to briefly touch her lips on Celeste's again.

They delicately landed on the balcony again and shut the door tight. The night continued in a blur of skin and warmth and beauty. It was strange, how in an instant Celeste began to understand all of her feelings. She loved women, they were the most amazing, beautiful people she could imagine. As she touched Sabina, she relished every part of the other woman. Her soft skin, her strong hand, her muscled legs. Warmth grew in her skin as she ran it across Sabina's.

They held each other's hands as they lay together, Celeste's body hanging over the other woman's. The touch. The gaze. If she could freeze a moment to save for all eternity, she felt this might just be the one. Of course, there would be more nights of passion and beauty. Better ones to come. But the night she realised, the night it all made sense, would always be so special to her.

The others no doubt noticed the change in how they behaved with each other. The subtle looks. The scant touches they exchanged. In the end, they just admitted their relationship to the others, whatever exactly that was. Neither of them had figured it out, but they weren't in a situation where they needed to know. They were just...happy, with each other.

As the break progressed, the young wizards began to take over the whole school, spending their days roaming the halls and causing trouble wherever they could find it. Many of the teachers had left, leaving only the non-teaching staff around since they mostly came from the mountain anyway.

A bitter dispute arose in the group over when they should celebrate the start of the next year.

“The year ends on the winter solstice! The year begins as the days start to get longer,” Celeste argued.

“Where's the sense in that?” Teodor had a bewildered look on their face. “It comes at the end of the month. Why would you start a new year in the middle of a month?”

“Well, why would you put a solstice or equinox in the middle of a month? That sounds like your problem.”

“What about if an equinox or solstice is late, huh? What then?”

“They can't be late. That's not how the sun works.”

“I don't think it's about the sun,” Said Wolfram calmly. “I am pretty sure it's about how we move in relation to the sun.”

“That's irrelevant,” Celeste said, brushing his comments aside. “It's still more consistent than randomly assigned human months.”

“I have no skin in this game,” Sabina said with a grin. “But it is very cute watching you two argue over this.”

Celeste smiled warmly, before focusing back on making her point. “Melanie!” She called to the other woman, who was busy reading and ignoring their inane discussion. “When do you celebrate the new year?”

Melanie looked confused for a moment before shrugging. “It's already happened. I follow a lunar calendar. It's more regular than your months.”

Teodor groaned. “Great, so we're stuck at an impasse.”

“If you're trying to figure out when you celebrate,” Melanie said, without looking up. “Why not just celebrate both. You never seem to complain for a reason to celebrate normally.”

Teodor and Celeste's eyes met for a moment before they nodded. “Alright, I can agree to those terms,” Celeste said.

“As can I,” Teodor responded.

And so, it was settled, and they began to prepare for two celebrations, with a couple of weeks in between them. They agreed on a day between the two when they would exchange little gifts, basically anything they could scrounge up that they thought another might like.

It was a few days before the first celebration when Tristan appeared to discuss something with Celeste. She was quite shocked to see the headmaster, having presumed he would have gone somewhere else for the break.

“What do you want, headmaster?” She asked as he led her into the library.

“Oh, I don't want anything, really, I just thought I should let you know something.” She realised he was leading her into the eastern culture's section. “You were the one who asked for it, though I know it wasn't for yourself. We have now got our first text of an eastern scholar. Collected poems of al-Rahim.” He pointed several shelved up.

It was a beautifully bound book, golden lines embroidered down the sides. “Wow,” Celeste said quietly as he pulled the book down for her. She turned it over in her hands, running her finger down the spine, before opening it up. She then looked up at him in confusion. “W-what is this?”

He laughed softly. “You won't be able to read it yourself for a long time. It's not just a different language, but a different script from Taoanid. But I am sure Melanie will be thrilled to find it.”

“Why didn't you tell her yourself, if you know it's for her?” She asked, handing the volume back to him.

“I thought it might be nice for you to surprise her with it. It was your act of kindness that persuaded me, after all. Plus, being able to say multiple students wanted it will make it easier to write off to the parents,” He said with a wink.

“That's very kind of you. I think I will save it for her new years present then.”

“Be careful, she does visit the library plenty so she might spot it before then,” Tristan said, sliding it smoothly back amongst the Taoanid tomes. “Which reminds me, feel free to visit the tailors. Over the break they tend to make a lot of extra uniforms, the younger students go through them quickly when they have sudden growths. So, I like to give them a few other jobs to do, just to break up the monotony. Let the others know, will you? Might be nice to have some fun new clothes for the new year.”

Celeste did as she was told right away. After letting everyone else know, she got to work sketching out the dress she wanted. The design was a little fuzzy in her head, and she was sure the drawing was inaccurate in plenty of ways. It was also anatomically bizarre; she just hoped the tailors could decode it.

She spoke to the Laocienan tailor who had got her fitted her original uniform. As it happened, she was very excited to make something in a highland style. She had to borrow a few things from Celeste, but faster than she imagined, the dress was ready.

She was in her room, lacing it up, when she heard Sabina storming up the stairs. Celeste never bothered to lock her door these days, and it was only Sabina who would come in without knocking. Which she didn't mind. She turned to see the other woman reach the top of the stairs and freeze. Celeste turned to fully face her, jingling slightly. This unfroze Sabina.

“Are...there bells within the material somewhere?” She asked, approaching.

“Yes, it's a highland construction method. Though I don't know how accurate this is to whatever my grandmother did. The design overall is a little different. But I think I added a bit of my own style to it. And the school's style.” She admitted. The dress was a recreation of the one she'd worn the night she'd been bound. She loved it, even if the painful memories tingled at the edge of her mind. She felt as though the spirit was laughing somewhere within her.

“It's weird, to me. But you do look beautiful.” Sabrina was grinning. Her hands rested on Celeste's sides as they kissed.

“And you look lovely too!” She responded, pulling back so she could take in all of Sabina. “I didn't think you were really a dress person.”

“I don't think I am,” Sabina admitted, awkwardly shifting in the fabric. It had more of a highland sense to it, plenty of billowing fabric. But with a lack of much direction from Sabina, they'd just made her a generic-looking dress.

“Maybe you should get something new for the next new year. You've got a couple of weeks.” Celeste reached out and pulled Sabina back against her. “You still look like divinity incarnate.” It was nice, talking in their native tongues. The words of affection felt all the more intimate for their familiarity. “And I love you so much.”

“I love you too,” Sabina smiled as they kissed again.

They all filed into the small garden for the celebrations. They set up torches and candles to illuminate the area. There was more to new years celebrations, but Celeste didn't have time to organise it all. Plus, this was the smaller event, as most people seemed to celebrate it later than her.

Wolfram had gone for something in the southern style; all frills and little function. He pouted as he looked over them all. “Am I the only one who didn't get a dress?”

Both Teodor and Melanie wore their own national variations of a dress. Teodor's was a little more revealing, which left them shivering slightly in the cold air.

“Well, you've got two weeks to get something new. You should really show off those legs of yours,” Sabina joked, reaching down to slap his thighs through the fabric of his trousers. His yelp of pain only left the rest of them laughing.

That night, Celeste finally made a decision on what to do with her hair. It was a problem that had slowly been creeping up on her all year as it had grown out. She had initially thought to keep shaving it back. However, being surrounded by her fellow oddities, she didn't feel so bad with how it looked anymore.

In the end, she borrowed a razor from Teodor and shaved the sides of her head, leaving a streak of white and red hair running down the middle. Right now, she could do nothing more with it, but once it grew out she was excited to braid it again. She didn't know if her fingers even remembered how to do it. She ended up forcing Sabina to let her practice with her hair. She wanted to practice, but she also relished the intimacy of playing with the other woman's hair.

Celeste managed to hold off until the day they chose for gifts to bring Melanie into the library with her.

“I do know what books are already. You know that, right? You're not going to be impressing me with the gift of knowledge,” Melanie said, slightly confused as Celeste silently led her to the correct section.

“I know that. Just, come on. I promise you'll love this.” Celeste was almost bouncing with excitement, and when she reached the right shelf, she did bounce up to grab the book out. She tucked it into her jacket and spun back to face Melanie. “Technically, I didn't get this for you. But I did help persuade Tristan. I know this isn't the same as having a whole library in your own tongue but...I do get the importance of having your own language close.”

Melanie looked stunned as the book was revealed. She slowly reached her hands out, picking the book up with so much delicacy and reverence Celeste almost wondered if it was holy in some way for a moment. “This is...On my...” She started flipping through the pages and muttering in her own language. She snapped it shut and looked up at Celeste, she was smiling like Celeste had never seen even as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Thank you, so much. I don't think I can't explain how much this does mean to me.”

Celeste's smile was just as wide. The joy that radiated from the other woman's face told her everything. “Okay, so for my gift back...Will you try and teach me to read that? Not right away, obviously. Just, at some point.”

“Of course, I will,” Melanie said, laughing slightly and embracing Celeste in a hug. She reciprocated, uncertain if she'd ever seen this much affection from Melanie before.

When the second celebration came, it was a much bigger deal. Sabina had found a new look, emulating Wolfram's somewhat, but making it look much hotter, Celeste thought. The young wizards congregated out front of the school along with the rest of the remaining students. Villagers had walked up the mountain, and the remaining teacher emerged as well.

Tesni had returned from his travels with fireworks, a thing Celeste had never seen before. As they arched, exploding with brilliant colours, she gazed in wonder. Seeing the flames shoot into the air reminded her of the shooting stars. Her spirit bristled within her, but she ignored it. This wasn't like that night. She held Sabina a little closer. Together they stood, with their friends in the safety of the school.

As the bells struck for midnight, the largest explosions yet went off, bathing the crowd in a rainbow of colours. Celeste imagined what it would be like to watch from the ground. Were people miles away watching the colours burst into the sky, seeing the potential and beauty of gunpowder and fire illuminate the night? She hoped, and prayed to the Wind as it blew through the crowd, that the light would continue. That this would be a brighter year. That the light she saw in Sabina's eyes and blazing in the sky, would stay with her forever.