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Illusion of Choice

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As far as forests go, the one just east of the kingdom is truly a dark and dreary place, and Yahaba feels a shiver go down his spine the farther he walks. It probably doesn’t help that he saw a storm brewing in the skies to the south, and it looks like it could be approaching them. Behind him, the light crunching of branches echoes about the trees. He knows it’s nothing to worry about - it’s only ‘Sixteen’ following obediently behind him.

Working his jaw a little, Yahaba gulps down his worry. Watari was right, he shouldn’t be doing this, but…

He can’t keep allowing things to continue on in this way. Yahaba pauses, looking back toward where they came. ‘Sixteen’ stops a few paces behind him, dull eyes on him awaiting instruction. Yahaba pays him no mind, looking to the distant castle miles from them now, sitting upon the hill.

It has been years since the Magic Council created their horrible device, and Yahaba has quietly ignored the very idea of it for as long as he possibly could. But when their new king was crowned and gifted the fourth successful experiment a year ago, Yahaba began to look into the device, or chip as it was sometimes called. He was certain that, with his mentor king now, soon Yahaba would be “gifted” one as well. He wanted to be prepared, so that when the day came, he could quietly remove the device and act as though he were incapable of owning a Beast.

It’s been three months since he was given ‘Sixteen’, and Yahaba can’t bring himself to look at the Beast without feeling sick. So Yahaba continues into the darkness, further from the castle and potentially closer to his kingdom’s threat.

His teeth grind together as he runs through the instructions once again; the device had many intricate parts to it, and several specific spells encased within that Yahaba had never even heard of, prior to being granted among Top Tier Wizarding status by his king. To make matters worse, the information he’d had before he had even been considered a Top Tier didn’t mention those spells, or the seals even, which he’d only discovered those thanks to Watari’s research.

With that aside, the device seemed pretty straightforward. However, Watari still warned Yahaba to be cautious - one wrong move, and ‘Sixteen’ could die.

It took two and a half weeks of his new title change before the Council decided to give him ‘Sixteen’ as a present. He still sees no reason for the supposed ‘gift.’ Sure, the grand Wizard king is his mentor and everything, but Yahaba’s first scouting he lead was a failure. He doesn’t even remember it, but the records state he’d failed and…

Either way, Yahaba felt he didn’t deserve a gift from the Magic Council, and had no idea how to turn down the Beast being offered to him. In all the kingdoms, every Wizard who is deemed powerful had a Beast at their side - especially if they obeyed the Wizard.

‘Sixteen’ didn’t obey or respect Yahaba. ‘Sixteen’ can’t make choices, and that is why Yahaba cannot continue on knowing this.

The hut is right where Watari’s old map said it would be, but it’s more run down than Yahaba had thought it might be. His nose crinkles in disgust, but he glances back to ‘Sixteen’ and licks at his dry lips.

Yahaba’s disgust can wait - ‘Sixteen’ deserves to be free.

He pushes in the door, and it feels as though the wooden plank would fall off its hinges if he had pushed too hard. Yahaba holds it in place, gesturing for ‘Sixteen’ to enter as well before shoving the door back in place.

With the amount of holes in the roof and walls, it didn’t seem to matter if he had closed it. Yahaba looks around, sees an old table and little stools, and gestures for ‘Sixteen’ to take a seat. He doesn’t say which one, or that ‘Sixteen’ has to sit on the stools - he could sit on the table for Yahaba cared - in a last ditch effort to at least try to give ‘Sixteen’ some semblance of choice.

‘Sixteen’ goes to the nearest stool that was nearest to where Yahaba had been pointing. Sighing to himself, Yahaba follows and places his sack on the table and begins to dig through it.

He can feel ‘Sixteen’ watching him, waiting for the next command as though he’d like nothing more. Yahaba knows ‘Sixteen’ doesn’t like anything right now. He doesn’t feel anything either. He bites at his inner cheek to keep from telling ‘Sixteen’ to look away.

Beasts were… not animals, as far as Yahaba could tell. While the kingdoms all called these uncivilised beings ‘Beasts,’ that wasn’t necessarily true. It was just what the kingdoms decided to call them.

Within the kingdoms, every human is born with magic. How much magic one has gives them status, or the possibility of a job. Those with weak magic are common folk, like Yahaba’s parents. Those with strong magic will be deemed Wizards. Prove your worth and you could become a Top Tier Wizard - like Yahaba - and if you were especially gifted, you could become an underling of the Magic Council.

The Grand Wizard King Oikawa had done all this and then some, and he was only a year older than Yahaba himself. He’s not sure if this is common in their lands, or if Seijou was granted such a powerful Wizard for a king at such a young age before.

Yahaba places the bag of tools he’d been digging for onto the table before rooting around again for the lamp and book Watari had loaned him. Placing the lamp down, Yahaba snaps his fingers and immediately the room is illuminated in the fiery glow of his magic within the lamp.

It’s easier to see ‘Sixteen’ now, and Yahaba just looks at him.

The reason Yahaba’s people had given ‘Sixteen’s people the classification of Beast is because of their general appearance. All Beasts had sharp canine teeth and pointed ears, their pupils slits, nails sharp like claws, and their behavior that of an animal. Their clothing is scarce compared to the fashion within the kingdoms - flowing robes, capes, and rarely would one see another’s skin outside of intimacy. In contrast the Beasts’ clothing barely seemed to cover much, opting instead for more armor that covered their vital areas, and the rest of their skin bearing heavy scars from all their battles.

Who the Beasts would battle didn’t seem to matter, according to Wizards who had researched them. Beasts would fight amongst themselves if they had to, and they definitely always fought Wizards on sight.

Right, that’s part of the reason for the experiments on Beasts; the Wizarding Kingdom of Seijou is at war with the Beasts of the Dark Forest.

The Kingdom of Seijou had made peace with the other kingdoms in this land, with which the treaty had formed the Magic Council. While there were tensions between certain other kingdoms and Seijou, the only true enemy they had at this point were the Beasts. They weren’t a threat in other kingdoms really, their Dark Forest stretching over the lands around Seijou and into the mountains in the south, but other neighboring kingdoms like Fukurodani and Karasuno had sworn to assist Seijou should the need arise during the war. However, the other kingdoms had their own tribes of Beasts to deal with, so Seijou could not always rely on them.

Besides, Yahaba has more important things to worry about right now.

Yahaba turns to ‘Sixteen’ fully, and nods towards him. “I know you can understand me because of the chip,” he says, and all he gets in response is a blinking stare. “So I’m going to say this now before anything happens. I’m not trying to hurt you, and honestly, I’d rather you live through this. So please, bare with me as I try to get that thing off of you.”

‘Sixteen’ just blinks again, unable to answer. The device may allow Beasts to understand the Wizarding language, but they still cannot speak it. Besides, the device the Magic Council made isn’t supposed to give them the ability to speak the language, or speak at all.

Yahaba moves to stand behind ‘Sixteen’, placing a hand on his shoulder to keep the Beast in place. The chip is small, rectangular and mostly embedded into the skin at the nape of ‘Sixteen’s neck. There are odd scars and what looks like veins raised under the skin around the device, but for the most part it doesn’t look like it could easily be removed.

That’s what the Magic Council wants.

A few years ago, the first prisoner of this war was captured - a young Beast who snarled in the direction of Wizards and spoke words that no one could comprehend. The Council met for some time, talking over what to do with the Beast.

Eventually, it was settled that they’d go into experimenting with the Beast. While the people of the kingdoms didn’t know what that meant for the prisoner, Yahaba had felt sick at the idea.

When the Council came out months later with what they’d created, Yahaba couldn’t comprehend why anyone would do such a thing. The device was created in order to tap into a Beast’s general being, and alter certain things to make them servants to Wizards.

In other words, the Magic Council took away the Beast’s free will.

On the surface, it seemed like all they had done was make the Beast tame and willing to take commands from the Wizards. But Yahaba understood from the start what they had really done.

Yahaba shakes his head and focuses back on the present. “Okay,” he breathes, tapping a finger to the device, “I’m going to open this up and… the first thing I have to do is break the seals.” Yahaba knows ‘Sixteen’ doesn’t need to hear this, and he’s not sure if ‘Sixteen’ will even remember, should he succeed in removing it.

No. When he succeeds in removing it.

“Then, when that’s done, I’ll be able to tap into the first wire that needs to be broken,” Yahaba continues on, reaching over for a tool from his bag. “They have to be done in a specific order, or it could destroy you completely… Neither of us want that, so I’m going to make sure I do this right.”

Taking the tool in hand, Yahaba leans forward and squints at the device. The opening is difficult to see, and he knows he’ll need a closer look. He straightens and reaches into his sack to pull out a pair of glasses, shoving them onto his nose and immediately adjusting it to magnify with his magic.

Putting a hand on ‘Sixteen’s shoulder, Yahaba gently pushes him forward to get a better angle. “Rest your forehead on your arms, it’ll be easier for me if your neck is exposed.”

‘Sixteen’ immediately does so, and Yahaba tries to tell himself that it’s not terrible to tell him what to do when it’s about to give him back his freedom.

“Just so you know, I’m doing this because I don’t believe in taking away someone’s free will,” Yahaba says, leaning forward to look at the device. He can see it now, the slight parting that will allow him to pry open the device and be able to see inside. “Just because Wizards call your kind Beasts doesn’t mean you’re not human, too - you’re just… different.”

Yahaba slowly puts the tool into the slit, shifting it about until he can jimmie open the casing. It finally pops off after a few good shoves, and Yahaba pinches the small casing between his thumb and forefinger. He sets it aside before pulling the book over, a flick of his finger opening it up to the correct page Watari had helped him find.

“This will hurt,” Yahaba continued on, hoping ‘Sixteen’ is listening, “but it won’t kill you if I do it right, so just… deal with it.” He scrunches his nose at that, shrugging to himself, “well… yeah, okay. The first wire is connected to your thoughts, so while you’re not able to have a thought of your own right now, as soon as I break the seal, remove the spell, and cut the wire, you’ll be flooded with thoughts and be able to think for yourself.” Yahaba scowls, hating the very notion of taking one’s thoughts away. “What’ll hurt is the wire being cut - it’s going to send electrical currents through your body at having lost its source, so when the pain subsides I’ll be able to move onto the next wire.”

He doesn’t bother asking if ‘Sixteen’ is ready or if he understands, considering he can’t answer anyway and that, at the moment, he’ll do whatever Yahaba tells him to.

Not for long.

Licking his lips once again, Yahaba grabs a new tool and leans forward over ‘Sixteen’s form to better look within. There were three wires in total, and without the glasses magnifier, Yahaba is certain he wouldn’t be able to see them properly. Frowning, Yahaba taps his glasses again for a closer look, trying to find the symbol the book describes for the thoughts wire.

After the Council had succeeded in taking away free will from Beasts, they began to try the experiment on every Beast brought in. Most failed, and Yahaba had wished they would have given up when the ratio of successes to deaths had become one to ten, but they never did.

Four years of this and only sixteen successful Beasts had been put under control. It took three years for them to even reach four, and that one had been given to Yahaba’s king when he was crowned.

The sixteenth and most recent success is sitting under Yahaba’s gaze, waiting for his free will to return to him - hence the name of ‘Sixteen’.

Yahaba never called the Beast by that number. As he looks for the correct wire to begin the process, Yahaba considers asking for his real name when he finishes this.

It seems that due to their success rate going up in the last year, the Magic Council stopped using their symbols and Yahaba bites his lip. He’s not sure how to find the correct wire now when he takes a deep breath. Closing his eyes, Yahaba reaches out with his senses, just like his king had taught him.

He feels the hint of illusion magic coming from the bottom-most wire, and Yahaba opens his eyes to look at it. The seal is hidden under a softer, simpler magic, and he quickly wipes it away to focus on the seal. Yahaba narrows his eyes, mutters the name of the seal under his breath and watches it disperse into the air.

When nothing immediately happens, Yahaba hesitates. If it had been the wrong seal, ‘Sixteen’ would be writhing on the floor in agony as his brain begins to melt within his skull. Since that was not the case, Yahaba quietly sighs in relief before returning to focus on the spell now oozing from the wire.

It takes him a second to remember how to reverse the spell despite having spent weeks memorizing it before today. Yahaba gulps in an attempt to clear his mind. He breathes deep and focuses his magic, casting the reversing spell exactly like he’d been memorizing, and he feels the warmth of the illusion magic as it lifts and disperses into the air.

Yahaba relaxes for a moment, glad to be past the magic portion of his first obstacle. Despite his king’s assurances, there were days Yahaba didn’t believe in his magical ability, and he definitely doesn’t trust himself with things like this.

However, ‘Sixteen’ is just as human as he is, and he won’t give up so quickly. ‘Sixteen’ deserves freedom, just like the other fifteen Beasts. While Yahaba can’t go against the Magic Council and free them all, he will at least free the one gifted to him.

Afterall, ‘Sixteen’ is technically his to do with as he pleases according to the Magic Council.

Yahaba hears the crack of thunder rolling closer from outside, but he has yet to hear any rain. He looks up to the ceiling, glad to see it’s still intact directly above them. Nonetheless, Yahaba knows they might need to hurry this process along.

Taking the smallest pair of wire cutters he could find, Yahaba focuses back in on the wire he’s removed the magic from and, with a slightly shaking hand, cuts the wire in one snip.

He jumps away when he sees ‘Sixteen’s body contract, making it clear he’s in pain and holding it in. Yahaba’s brow furrows in worry, hoping that the pain isn’t absolute agony and ‘Sixteen’ will pull through. He wants to tell ‘Sixteen’ he can scream, but he knows no noise will escape the other man until the second wire is cut.

Freedom of thought has been reopened, now to move on to freedom of speech.

Yahaba waits for the shaking in ‘Sixteen’s body to die down, and moves closer again. “Nod when the pain is gone,” he whispers, and almost immediately ‘Sixteen’s head bobs. “Are you sure?” Another nod. “Good; the next one will give you back the ability to speak. Let me know when you’re ready, and… if at all possible, tell me your name once the next pain subsides.”

‘Sixteen’ doesn’t move from his hunched over form, but his head bobs a few times so Yahaba moves closer to continue.

He does the same as he had before with his senses, trying to find the next wire. The magic within this spell should have ties to sound, and when Yahaba feels the hint of it, he focuses again on the wires.

This time it’s coming from the top wire, so Yahaba pulls the seal forward and whispers it’s name until it disperses. Again, he waits for any signs that it had been wrong, and when all seems to be well, Yahaba turns his attention to the spell and how to reverse it.

Yahaba doesn’t hesitate on this one, having spent more time memorizing this spell than the last one due to it’s tricky nature. Sound magic wasn’t Yahaba’s strong suit, but he made it work.

With the spell gone, Yahaba holds his breath and brings his shaking hand forward, cutting the wire in one quick movement.

The sound that bursts from ‘Sixteen’s mouth is inhuman, and Yahaba immediately covers his ears. The thunder rolls again, but ‘Sixteen’s screams are far louder. The pain must be worse than he imagined. Yahaba almost wants to stop, to not go onto the third for fear of hurting the Beast beyond repair. But he knows that it wouldn’t be fair, and Yahaba steels himself to push forward.

It takes longer this time for ‘Sixteen’s body to stop shaking, and his screams are terrible. It sounds like he’s ripping his throat by the way his voice wavers, but when he finally comes down from it, ‘Sixteen’ is panting and heaving.

Yahaba is glad that the final wire is freedom of movement - if he had cut that first, he’s not sure ‘Sixteen’ would have stayed hunched over the table for him.

He waits, the sound of thunder crashing again telling him the storm is even closer. “Are you able to tell me your name?” No response. “I’d hate to call you a number, is all,” Yahaba ventures quietly, hopeful he’ll be able to understand it.

‘Sixteen’ doesn’t answer for a moment. Taking a big gulp of air, he croaks, “K - Kyou… tani…”

Yahaba blinks once, surprised at how simple the name sounds. “Kyoutani? That’s your name?”

A grunt is all he gets in response. Yahaba smiles to himself, moving to stand over Kyoutani once again.

“Alright, Kyoutani,” he nods to himself, “are you ready to regain freedom over your body?”

Kyoutani grunts again, mutters something in his language that Yahaba doesn’t know the meaning of. He ignores the cutting sound of Kyoutani’s voice, figures it’s harsh from the screaming and lack of use prior to the second wire being cut. If Kyoutani is saying something unkind, Yahaba is completely oblivious and he’d like to stay that way.

For a final time, Yahaba pulls the seal forward from the last wire. It disperses at the sound of its own name, and Yahaba takes a deep breath when he feels the full force of the binding magic.

The spell is strong, and definitely the reason no Beast has ever broken free from the device’s control. Yahaba gulps, tries to calm down by reminding himself that he knows this spell better than any other after all of his memorization. With a few deep breaths, Yahaba focuses intensely on it’s removal until it’s left nothing behind.

“One last time and then you’re free, Kyoutani,” Yahaba murmurs, raising his shaking hand to cut the wire. Kyoutani doesn’t say anything or respond at all, and Yahaba hesitates for a second.

What if Kyoutani attacks him simply because he’s a Wizard? He probably won’t, but the thought still hangs there. After all, their people are at war with one another.

Yahaba shakes his head, reminding himself that he didn’t have to take Kyoutani out into the woods, far away from any magic born human to ensure they wouldn’t hear his screams, in order to give him his freedom.

The wire cutters snip right through without a second thought and Yahaba jumps away, certain Kyoutani will begin to writhe and potentially have a violent fit over the pain. He watches as not even a second after, Kyoutani falls from the stool, clutching at his convulsing body and screaming in agony once again.

Yahaba feels the water drop on his nose before he hears the downpour begin. There’s not as many holes in the ceiling as he had thought, and it’s more of a leak directly above him, but Yahaba knows the storm has officially made it overhead.

He waits until Kyoutani is no long thrashing on the floor before making his way over, grabbing the tiny plate that he’d removed initially. Kyoutani jumps at the feeling of Yahaba’s fingers touching him, and he stares up at Yahaba with wide, almost glowing golden eyes.

It’s the most emotion he’s ever seen in depths of Kyoutani’s eyes, and Yahaba tries not to smile too widely at the sight. “You have your free will again, but I cannot fully remove the chip. Let me put the cover back on, since I can’t take all the wiring out.”

Kyoutani gapes up at him for a moment before nodding, sitting upright to allow Yahaba access to his neck again. Yahaba slips the cover back into place and stands tall again.

“Alright, you’re all set,” Yahaba smacks his hands together as though he’s wiping away dust. “I’ll uh, tell the Council and my king that I was careless with you and lead you to your death or something. Maybe they’ll think twice about giving me another ‘gift’.” Kyoutani’s eyes narrow a little, looking up at Yahaba at that last statement. “N-not that I thought of you as an object, obviously,” Yahaba rushes to say, avoiding Kyoutani’s eyes, “just that they thought that way I-I just needed to set you free.”

Kyoutani pulls himself to stand, but it’s clear he’s drained as he begins to fall forward. Yahaba catches him in surprise, gently guiding him back to the floor.

“Yeah, you should probably rest before you try heading home,” Yahaba mumbles, and Kyoutani scowls at him. “Hey, you were in a lot of pain just now! Rest up, it’s good for you.”

He moves to stand away from Kyoutani then, looking around the hut for anything that could be made into a bed. Finding nothing, Yahaba sighs and goes to his sack, pulling out his winter robes from the deep recesses of his magic pocket. They were thick and soft, made from the fur of a large mammal that had been poached by hunters. He brings it over, laying it onto the dusty floor before gesturing to it.

“Rest on this, it’s better than the floor,” he says when Kyoutani just gives him a look. When Kyoutani doesn’t move towards it, Yahaba rolls his eyes. “You don’t have to wear it, it’s just… softer, is all.”

Kyoutani’s eyes shift between the winter robes and Yahaba until he finally grunts something, rolling his body up onto the furs and settling in.

Yahaba sighs, looking up to the leaking ceiling as a flash of lightning appears outside.