Except for the strained breathing, the Generator Room was silent. But for a single trembling body, it was motionless.
Celina stood alone in a frozen moment, but she was engulfed in memories she had long tried to forget.
She knew that in the Sanctum of Magic all magicians are taught that the entire material universe can be manipulated—theoretically, at least, if not practically—by magic. Magic, it was taught, was a gift given to some to be used to shape and subdue the world. One could manipulate the heat in the air, the shape and size of rocks, the speed of water, the consistency of metal, the distance between two points …(1)»
The flow of time.
Celina had never trained as a magician, but her parents had taken her to be tested when she was 14. She had failed: the test said that she did not then nor would she ever have that ability to wield magic. It was an inborn, innate ability, but one needed both the ability to wield magic and the will to do so. She had not wanted to be different; she had not wanted to be unique; she had not wished to stand out or be noticed.(2)»
She still felt the same—and she knew now that she could never again avoid recognition. She had become a willing traitor because of a conviction as inexplicable as her call to be an Advisor that Strin should have been the one chosen. She was now a criminal.
She had been 17 when she met Qwom Jelp. He had returned from his first session of training at the Sanctum, as tall and as handsome as ever, and he had taken an interest in Celina and she had been … she hardly understood her own feelings as she looked back—she had felt confused, wonderful, hesitant, scared, hopeful. Now, she tried to ignore all that. She tried to forget that he had tried to kiss her. She tried to forget that she had pushed him back with more force than was in her short, weak body. But she could not.(3)»
She still felt guilty that she had fooled the Sanctum’s test. But she hadn’t known then. She didn’t want it. And she had never told.Only Qwom knew, and he had promised never to tell—not because he liked her, for he liked a great many women, and not because he had any great regard for her privacy, but because she had immense power, although untrained, and because she had fooled the test. He respected the power she wished she did not have and the sneaking “true self” he seemed to discover beneath her timid exterior. His reasons were hideous, they defiled with guilt and lies what she struggled to keep innocent, but thankfully, he had never told.
But now …
The pain that shot through her body—weary, heavy pain, heaping exhaustion and pressure upon her like sand in an hourglass—the pain made her cry. It took energy to wield magic, as it took energy to lift or to run, and the more unnatural the alteration made to nature, the greater the energy required. Frozen time was not a natural occurrence. The drain taxed her will as well as her body, and her soul ached for release as strongly as her body for rest.
But Celina didn’t want to let go. She was afraid. When time began again, the future would come.
She wouldn’t lie about her involvement. She couldn’t—it went against the grain of her personality. She wished she could be like Qwom, wished that grand words and charming smiles were hers to wield, and not this awful magic. But she knew, too, that she would not take such a gift if it was offered her.
She would take responsibility. She would not fight it and she would not deny it. But she was scared.
Her legs quivered like the wings of a hummingbird, her face was soaked with sweat and tears. She released her hold on the control panel and sank slowly, weakly to her knees. Her vision blurred, darkened, then grew light again. She gulped air desperately.
Qwom pushed the button his hand had meant to push many minutes ago. It did nothing. He turned about quickly in a circle, and Celina would have smiled at his confusion if she had had the strength. Then he saw her and she saw that he understood.
He smiled conspiratorially. “You’re quite the devil, aren’t you?”
“What happened?” the Empress demanded. She marched toward Qwom, and the two Cria rushed to flank her. “Where is Strin?”
“Gone.” Qwom faked the wonder in his voice perfectly. Why not that gift, Celina thought dismally. “I’d say magic, if that were possible.”
“Magic?” the Empress said, her voice hot and sharp, a newly forged sword. “Explain!”
“Some magicians,” Qwom said calmly, “powerful ones, much more powerful than myself, are capable, in theory, of stopping time in a localized area.” His eyes settled on Celina. Her eyes slid from his to the ground. She couldn’t catch her breath.
“Qwom, seal her magic,” the Empress commanded. He assented and did so. Celina felt nothing except a sort of release. As long as the seal held, she would not be able to exercise magic—she would be safe. “Kali. Rina. Detain her. I shall decide her fate tomorrow. I’ve no desire to think of her anymore today.”
Celina didn’t resist as the two hoisted her roughly to her feet. She tried to aid the Cria as well as she could, but her legs would not hold her weight. “I’m sorry,” she muttered between gasps for air.(4)»
They led her down the hallway and up the lift, into the slender cylinder of the Aerie. She knew there were no jails in the Crystalline Castle. Peace had reigned too long. There was no need to detain criminals who did not exist.
Her eyelids fell heavily, and she struggled to keep them open. They were like her legs. They could not bear their own weight. She glimpsed, through darkness, the door of a closet in the Cria’s chambers. She felt, like the solidity of pain in a dream, her body thrown inside. She heard the door close—or thought she did—and she fell asleep.