“You’ll never be content.”
I didn’t know whether the words were supposed to be a prophecy, a curse, or just a bitter outburst. It was difficult to tell when you were dealing with a terribly upset witch. I should have known better by now. Dating witches never turned out well. Breaking up with them always turned out badly. And it was always me that did the breaking up. I suppose there was some truth in the statement. I wasn’t content. That’s why I broke up with Selda. And Ezzie before here, and Lileth before that. I tried not to remember any of the names before that. And I hoped they tried not to remember mine. It was better that way. For all concerned.
Not that they could hurt me. At least not with their magic. A dagger to the chest, or a hammer to the head were always a possibility. A poisoned drink, or a pillow over my head whilst I slept would work as well. But the one thing they were feared for, the thing that kept most people away from them – their spells – didn’t work on me. I was immune to magic. As far as I was concerned it didn’t exist. Not only did it not work on me, I couldn’t see its effects on anyone or anything else.
There was a term for us. The Hollows. Not the freaks, as any with magic would call us. There were far less of us than there were witches, or wizards, or prophets, or spellcasters, or seers. And as such we were highly sought after. As we should be. Anyone who could just walk through a spelled door, or not be enchanted at the drop of a magic hat was worth their weight in gold. And most of us had more than our weight in gold by the time we were much more than children. I didn’t need to work again for the rest of my live.
If I’m honest, being a Hollow is what attracted the witches to me. It’s not as if I’m a looker. I’m what you might kindly describe as plain. As is fitting a Hollow I suppose. They are unremarkable in all senses. The only people who really are. But it is a strange world that has made out being so unremarkable so remarkable to everyone else.
The witches see it as a challenge. They can’t believe it is possible for someone to be immune to their magic. They always want to test the theory out, see if it is real, and so they try out their powers, and try to prove that they are superior to the other witches who have met Hollows before.
And they would fail. Every time. Some of them would get angry about it, and I would laugh, and they would become madder. But they would persevere. I wouldn’t. I get bored, and so I break up with them and they become incandescent. They would cast at me full of anger, and it would have as much affect on me as any of their previous spells.
It’s best not to think about the collateral damage. The poor sods who were too close to me when the spells were cast. The ones within the range of the wash as it just flowed around or through me. (I’m not sure how it works and whether it acts as if I’m not there at all, or as if I’m an impenetrable lump of matter.) those who had their flesh sloughed off their bones. The ones burnt to a pile of ash in seconds. Those disfigured horribly who would forever scare anyone who saw them. And the final poor bloke who had the misfortune to see his dismembered penis slide out of the bottom of the leg of his trousers and thinking it was a rodent stamped on it. I was just glad Selda hadn’t tried to spell me, and that there would be no accidental carnage this time around.
I suppose I should feel guilty about the poor misfortunates, but I don’t. I don’t feel it is my fault. The witches are taught from an early age about controlling their casting. To take the emotion out of it. and yet they still do it. They are the ones killing and maiming innocent passers-by. They should be locked up and have their magic bound. But it doesn’t happen.
The magistrates are afraid of them. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been censured for provoking witchcraft. Only for the same magistrates to then come to me to act on their behalves in cases where they need to circumvent magic. I’ve refused a number of them, depending on their level of censure and condescension. The magistrates being just as bad as the witches in not getting their own way. They are supposed to be intelligent and rational men.
Yet one of them had severely censured me, only for the next sentence out of his mouth to be an order to work for him on a matter of an illegal prophets’ coven. I refused, calling him an unprincipled hypocrite. For which he decided to throw me into a prison cell until I agreed to do what he wanted. Not wanting me to escape he put me in a special cell with three different warding spells on it. I wasn’t quite sure what part of me being a Hollow he didn’t understand, but with no physical lock I just walked out of the cell and kept walking. The magistrate found another Hollow, and I found another place to live.
As I have many times in my life. Mainly out of choice, but a few times out of necessity.
I had a lot of money, but few possessions. Only what I carried in my packs. I had always been this way. I suppose it is the lot of a Hollow. But now perhaps, it was time to stop moving. To have my own dwelling. And to hide away from witches, and magistrates. Move to somewhere I wouldn’t be known as a Hollow. Live a relatively normal life.
The words Selda had screamed at me as I left came to mind again. Would I be content with a new life? With no drama, my own dwelling and possessions, and living by myself? If I wasn’t content living is a dwelling full of possessions with witches over the years, would I be by myself? I didn’t think it was a prophecy, and I doubted it was a curse. I don’t even think it was a bitter statement from a scorned witch. If I’m honest I think it is just true. I’m not going to be content. It’s just one of those things.
I kept walking, leaving another town. I was going to head south east towards the Great Sea, an area I hadn’t really spent any time in. where no one knew me, or that I was a Hollow. It would take several long days of walking to get there, or longer if I didn’t walk from dawn to dusk. I was in no hurry though. No task awaited me. No one waited for me. I could wander the whole of the Empire if I wanted to. And suddenly that thought appealed to me, and I smiled as I walked down the sandy road.
It was only mid-afternoon when I saw a village on the horizon. It might have taken another hour or so before I got there. It would be a good place to stop for the night. If the inn had room of course, not always guaranteed.
But the inn was nearly empty. I got myself a room and then went back and sat in the main hall of the inn and drank ale. Lots of ale. It was late in the evening when a man came and sat at the table I was at. I raised my eyebrows, as it was strange behaviour. There were lots of tables in the inn, and pretty much all of them had no one sat at them. I was about to object to him sitting at my table when he spoke first.
“Are you Sebastien Willow?”
It would appear that just walking away wasn’t as easy an option as I had hoped. I didn’t know the man, but I saw no benefit in lying to him.
“I am, who wants to know?”
“Selda wanted me to give you a message. You may never be content, but she needs to be.”
And with that he had a dagger in his hand, and the end of it was stuck in my chest. The witch’s magic couldn’t kill me, but a hired hand could. As my life drained away, blood covering the hilt of the dagger and the arm of my assassin, my final thoughts were to why Selda was the first witch to have thought of an assassin instead of magic. I suppose it would explain why she had not cast a spell at me as I told her I was leaving.
She had had a more circumspect and successful way of dealing with her ire towards me. And I certainly wasn’t content with dying.