Chapter Twenty-Four – The Lonely Bull
Even when I was little, my father taught me how to be tough, because that was the only way he knew to make me strong. We trained with blunt sticks. I thought it was infuriating at first, but I grew to enjoy that time we spent together, and I’ll never forget when the day came that I knocked the stick out of his hands. Neither did he, I assume, because I knew it wasn’t raining, even if he told me it was.
But this story isn’t about my dad and I. Xeno, Ron, you both fill me with rage. I hope you know that. I’m sharing with you why you’re here only because soldiers need substance behind their fighting, I assume. That’s what my dad told me once. So sit back and I’ll tell you a bit of it, and you better damn well listen closely. I’m not repeating a thing. All right? Good. Though, I don’t know why I’d need to explain why magic is bad in the first place. You both experienced it first-hand. Twice.
Again, back to my father, but that’s where I have to start. I’m a descendent of the Bull clan of spellbreakers. Whether one realizes it or not, all spellbreakers come from one of many clans named after animals. That’s what my dad told me, anyway. He possessed no abilities himself. They skip generations, sometimes several, leaving some lost from their ancestral connections completely. He knew I had the abilities of a spellbreaker, so he had me practice. You might think this is why I hate wizards, and it might be part of it, but this isn’t the reason, no. It’s simply how I managed to enter this wizard’s world that hardly a person knows about.
“Your magic eyes need to be stronger,” he’d say, though I didn’t really know how to practice. “If you falter, a wizard can launch you through a wall. You’ll be a soldier, Asta. But not someone simply fighting for your country. You’ll be fighting for the side of sanity. Protect us from the uprising of demigods.”
“I will, dad.”
“And I don’t want to see you sneaking out again. Do you hear me? You think I don’t know? Your curfew is ten o’clock. Remember that.”
“Of course, dad.”
So naturally, I snuck out that night. I respected my father more than anybody in the world, but there was some unnatural force pulling me from my bed. It wasn’t magic. Or was it? Maybe it was a kind of magic. It was the need to meet with somebody—a person my dad would surely kill if he found out.
We lived out on a farm, you see, so I didn’t really know many other people my age. But I was coming of age, and I had a desire to explore beyond. I managed to find somebody one day, and his name was Victor Regner, and that’s who I snuck out to find. We met at the nearby park often. His hair was long and blonde, and he had a handsome, smooth face that… Sorry. That isn’t important.
It was also around this time that I had already been in contact with those above us. I began carrying out work as a spellbreaker. It was difficult, but over time, I became better at my craft. We caught wizards and brought them in, and I didn’t really know what happened after that, but there was a strange joy I felt after a job well done. Thankfully, I was still able to often visit my home. My father was so proud of me, and Victor provided much needed support. I finally told my dad of him, and he was furious at first, but he came to accept us together.
“Your hair is always so smooth, and it shines, even without the sun. How do you do it?” Victor said to me.
“Stop that,” I’d reply, as I normally would, though I didn’t truly want him to.
And he didn’t. He made my life worth living. Work wasn’t always easy, in fact, it rarely was, and Victor made it an absolute treat to come home.
You might be wondering what the spellbreakers actually did with the wizards they arrested. I started questioning that, and I did find out, somewhat. The cases changed all of the time. Seeing what wizards could do, I was hoping they’d be locked up, or even killed in some cases, but what I discovered made me upset.
Some of the wizards at least were recommissioned to work along side us. It made no sense to me. Wizards were the enemies, so how could we trust them? Use them? It was a slippery slope after that, and I wish I could say that was the reason. The next part I remember so clearly that it feels as if it only just happened. Maybe it’s because it wakes me up on occasion.
The room was small and quiet, and other than me, it was empty. I was sitting in front of a desk. The door behind me creaked open, and the clapping of shoes echoed as a suited man made his way past and around me to sit at his chair. This wasn’t unusual. He was a government worker, and I assumed I was to be given yet another ordinary task.
“You’ve been good to us, Miss Ahlgren. Therefore, we felt it right to be the ones to tell you this bad news directly,” he said.
My heart pounded. “Bad news?”
“Yes. It’s about Victor.”
“What happened to him?” I asked immediately.
“I’m afraid he hasn’t been completely truthful, or you to us, because Victor is the next assignment, Miss Ahlgren. Victor, since birth, as it goes, is a wizard. Not only that, but his powers were seen first hand, so action must be swift. We won’t make you do it, but I am here to tell you that he’ll be taken in.”
“You’re lying. That’s impossible. I’ve known him for years, and he’s never done anything!”
“I’m afraid I’m not. Someone will be dispatched soon to arrest him before anybody else sees the truth. You know how things are. We can’t let the world find out these people exist, even if they’re someone close to us.”
My mind was spinning. What I heard, it seemed an impossibility. Victor, the love of my life, was a wizard in disguise? I couldn’t accept it. He’d never lie to me. We always shared everything with one another.
“Don’t touch him!” I shouted.
“Miss Ahlgren. If you value your job, you’ll take some time to cool down before you say something you’ll regret. This is just how the world works. You knew that when you signed up.”
I won’t get into details about what happened next, but I did bring my mace to that meeting, and he needed a new desk afterwards. I was truthfully surprised I wasn’t fired on the spot.
Lost in a dizzied rage, I made my way to Victor as fast as I could. I needed to confront him. I didn’t know what to say, or what to do, but I knew I needed to find him at the very least. I’d been hit and burned and generally wounded in every place imaginable, but that day, I was hurt in a way I’d never experienced before.
I knew him. At least, enough to track him down before they did. He looked to me with the same cute smile he always did, but it made me sick to my stomach this time. Every smile he gave me was a lie in disguise. All of those years. I shake now even thinking about it.
“What’s wrong, my beautiful Asta?” he asked.
“Is that even your real hair?”
“Uh. What?” He laughed. “Are you all right?”
I grabbed him by his shirt and slammed him against the wall. But this time, it wasn’t in a good way. I glared straight into his eyes, and when I knew we were alone, I still didn’t know what to say.
“How could you, Vic? I trusted you. How could you not tell me you were a wizard?”
He went pale. “I didn’t hide it to hurt you, Asta. I did it to protect you. Protect us.”
“Lying is not protecting, Vic!”
“Isn’t that what your employers do every day?”
I let him go. “They’re coming for you. And I might not stop them.”
“Oh gods, no. I messed up? This is bad. Really bad. What are they going to do to me?”
“I don’t know.”
I heard a sound then. I thought we’d be safe around the outskirts of our homes, but the spellbreakers always find their prey. I’d been there. A man stood with a sword in his hands.
“Miss Ahlgren,” he said. “Step aside. Victor is under arrest, and you know it, so don’t get in the way. Magic must be vanquished.”
“So you’re going to kill him?” I asked.
“I heard word they might use him. He’s pretty good, so if they can bring him to our side…”
“You can’t! That has nothing to do with vanquishing magic.”
“You wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t Victor. Come on. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”
I’ll spare you the intricacies of my dad’s training in practice. I’d tell you the names of the stances I took, or the mistakes he made with his sword. In the end, however, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that this spellbreaker dropped under the weight of my mace. He wasn’t dead, but he was close. I hardly even remember the details, because all I felt was confusion and rage.
“They’ll know,” Victor said to me. “You shouldn’t have done that. Now they’ll be after both of us. Oh. Who am I kidding? They’ll be after me. You’ll be fired, but they won’t stop trying to catch me. And now they’ll turn me against you for sure. They’re like that.”
“Shut up,” I barked. “You don’t get to talk, you damned liar!”
“I’m not as strong as they think I am. I don’t even know any other wizards. Not anymore.”
“I said shut up.”
“Asta… I can’t live like this anymore. I never wanted to be a wizard. I didn’t ask. I have an idea that’ll help us both. Please, just listen to me. They’ll go easier on you if you at least tried to stop me. But I don’t want to be captured and used. They might torture me, Asta.”
I nodded, and listened. I wish I hadn’t.
“They’ll keep coming,” he repeated.
The blade he gave me felt heavier than any mace I’d held.
“You can’t ask me to do this,” I cried.
“You’re a soldier, Asta. I trust nobody else but you to do this for me. They won’t come for you. You’ll be free. And so will I.”
I spent most of my life on a farm. Animals could be noisy, certainly, but for the most part, it was lonely and quiet. The fields were empty. The air was still. But on that day, I never felt more alone, and I’ve never experienced such a long, empty silence. I still haven’t. I never will.
“Uh. Hehe. Boss?” Xeno asked after Asta remained mute for a long moment.
“The weather,” she whispered as she wiped her face. “There’s a roof leak above me.”
“But, boss. It isn’t raining.”
The three of them sat around a table. They were out in the middle of nowhere, at least, that’s how most would describe it. The building was run-down, and the outside sported only remnants of fertile land. At some point in the past, the place was a farm, but it was no longer. It was a ruin housing two criminals and a runaway bull.
Stay tuned for next week, Chapter Twenty-Five – Like Soldiers!