Chapter 1:

The Savages

Ruler of the Outland

"A savage detected in Area 4. Backup needed."
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The abrupt, urgent voice heard through my earpiece jolted me out of my trance. My heart skipped a beat as I was forcefully brought back to my senses.Bookmark here

Coincidentally, I was in Area 4 doing my patrol duty. I checked the location sent to my map. It was nearby. "On it."Bookmark here

I wasn't usually distracted like this. Today was my mom's death anniversary, which must be why I kept finding myself thinking about her, even while at work. It was dangerous, I knew. But I wanted to contribute as much as I possibly could.Bookmark here

Choosing to work when I was unfocused was probably a bad idea. My job required me to stay alert all the time. One mistake could cost me my life while dealing with these savages—the different ones.Bookmark here

As the government of Zerin—the country I lived in—always advertised to us: Different is wrong and wrong has to be righted, they had to be eliminated from society for everyone's safety. I couldn't agree more to that and I was proud to be one of the agents working for Zerin, although the road getting here was not easy.Bookmark here

I grew up having to learn the hard way that these monsters were dangerous. Nothing good would come out from getting involved with them. I saw with my own two eyes how bad it was. Losing my mom was a huge blow to me; a lesson harshly learned.Bookmark here

Instead of chasing down the street, I climbed the nearest four-story apartment building and went to the rooftop. I needed to get a better view before deciding how to approach; being careful could save lives. Fortunately, it was easy to recognize the savage even from afar; a young girl with snakes for hair. Bookmark here

Yikes. A gorgon.Bookmark here

It was a great decision to be up here. The view was clear with no obstacles. I could see her running down the street beside the building I was in. Closely behind her, there were a few stupid fellow agents chasing after her as if they had no idea how dangerous she was.Bookmark here

Every agent should have learned that gorgons could turn you into stone if you looked at them in the eye. Hell, even most ordinary civilians knew that. It’s a wonder how some of the agents were still oblivious about these basic things.Bookmark here

After grabbing an arrow from my quiver and a bow from my back, I pulled the bowstring.Bookmark here

“I saw her. Permission to shoot?” I asked through my earpiece, barely holding myself back from adding, before one of those idiots gets turned to stone.Bookmark here

“Granted.”Bookmark here

I let go of my hold and the arrow flew, planting itself firmly on the gorgon’s shoulder. It contained a very powerful tranquilizer, created for worse savages, so she was fast asleep merely seconds later. I secretly hoped she was strong enough to withstand the sedative. It’d be troublesome if I accidentally killed her.Bookmark here

If we killed them without hesitation, we would be no different than them. They made sure we kept that in mind all the time.Bookmark here

“Target immobilized. Proceed to capture,” I reported on my way downstairs to catch up with the other agents.Bookmark here

When I arrived at the scene, the agents there had already secured the gorgon with customized handcuffs for savages that rendered their special abilities useless—enchanted by our captive witches. No thanks to them.Bookmark here

"Teruya, my man. You're here," Agent Moteki, one of the amateurs, greeted.Bookmark here

"Agent Okajima," I corrected.Bookmark here

I didn't like it when they talked to me as if we were best friends. I barely knew them. Just because I was younger, it didn't mean they could drop the formalities as they pleased. We might wear the same uniform—the stupid white long coat over a tight white suit that only hindered our movements—but I was still their senior.Bookmark here

"Fine. Agent Okajima. You're so stiff," Agent Moteki complained, not that I cared.Bookmark here

"Good to have you around, Agent Okajima. Nice shot as always. If I don't know you better, I might think you're a savage," Agent Sakatani, the other member of Squad 4, complimented me, although it's rather difficult to take it as a compliment. It sounded more like a suspicion.Bookmark here

"I was lucky," was what I decided to answer with. I had no intention to humor him further.Bookmark here

The suspicion that I might be a savage in disguise had been going around for a while in our agency. And the reason for that was ridiculous. Most agents used the standard SCD—Savages Control Division, the federal agency where I worked at—issued firearms, while in my case, I used bows and arrows. They thought I was different. That's stupid as hell, but I couldn't help what they wanted to think. Bookmark here

I was just more comfortable using bows and arrows. Archery boosted my confidence, making me feel amazing. Like I could see better. Like I could never miss. Was that so bad?Bookmark here

"Squad 1 ordered to regroup."Bookmark here

Finally, there’s a legit excuse for me to get away from these people. "Alright. I 'll leave the gorgon to you. Duty calls.”Bookmark here

I headed to the nearest train station and hopped on the first bullet train I saw. After taking a seat by the window, I belatedly realized that my train was heading to Area 2. I could take another train to Area 1 later, but it would take too long and my squad members would have to wait for me.Bookmark here

What’s wrong with me today?Bookmark here

It should be difficult to mistake one train for another since the number of the destination area was plastered on the respective trains. The number was right there in my face for me to see before getting on. Taking the wrong train was the last thing I’d expected. I must have been spacing out. Bookmark here

Then again, I always found myself getting distracted a lot on this particular day every year. I'd done as much as I could. Forcing myself to do more might do more harm than good.Bookmark here

I texted my chief. Asking permission for leaving early. Some family matters to take care of.Bookmark here

My chief—I usually called her Lady Hakurei just to tease her—was a nice superior who was more like a big sister to me, so it should be no problem. She'd known me for a while. If I asked to leave early, there must be a pressing reason behind it. She knew I wouldn't do it for nothing.Bookmark here

As expected, the reply came almost immediately. Sure. Hope everything’s fine at home.Bookmark here

Lady Hakurei knew that I didn’t have any family left, yet she played along with my lie. My dad had been absent my whole life. I’d never met him anyway, so it’s probably best if it stayed that way. And my mom… I was eight when my mom was brutally murdered by a savage she risked her life for. Ten years later, here I was, devoting my life to protect Zerin people from those monsters as an SCD agent. At least the ungrateful bastard gave me a new purpose in life.Bookmark here

I leaned my head back against the headrest and looked out the window. The surfaces of the beautiful buildings were glistening under the sunset light. They were literally shining. I never really paid attention before. Bookmark here

Those sparkles must be because of all the silver in the materials of the building. The lengths these people went to keep the savages at bay never failed to amaze me. They literally built a whole country mostly from silver. That's a full-blown dedication right there.Bookmark here

Sightseeing was fun. When was the last time I had this much leisure on the train? Normally, I would be on my feet, anxious because the longer the time I spent on the train, the longer the time the monsters got to go wild.Bookmark here

The train ride to Area 2 from Area 4 was exactly twenty eight minutes long. I counted it myself. It was already dark when I stepped out of the train. I felt like someone was deliberately choosing the same door as me to get off from, but it was probably nothing. My feelings were all over the place today.Bookmark here

I treated myself to dinner at a fine dining restaurant close to the train station. Every year on this day, I spent a little bit more than usual on food. I deliberately ate out, searching for a crowded place. I knew it's pathetic, but I just didn't want to be alone, especially on this day.Bookmark here

Seeing families having dinner together warmed my heart. I felt a sense of pride bubbling up inside of me. They're here and safe because I did my job. I made this possible. Although I was eating alone, I felt content only by seeing those families.Bookmark here

Feeling much better, I decided to take a walk around the area to enjoy the night breeze. I wasn't even on patrol duty, but I kept finding myself looking around every few minutes; occupational hazards could be annoying sometimes. I couldn't even take a leisure walk without worrying something would suddenly appear out of thin air and attack me.Bookmark here

I also had this weird feeling that I was being followed. People were giving me weird looks for spinning around abruptly every so often, causing other people to bump against me. I was probably being paranoid. But I couldn't shake off the feeling.Bookmark here

An important lesson I'd learned from this job: I should never ignore any weird feelings I had.Bookmark here

How long have I been followed? Why didn't I realize it sooner?
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Testing my suspicion, I deliberately strayed away from the crowd, going to a less crowded place. I passed by the stores and walked down the alleys, going faster and faster. The feeling was still there.Bookmark here

Someone was following me. Now I was sure about it. This one was pretty good at shadowing.Bookmark here

I was about to sprint away when I heard something. Someone was singing and her voice reached my ears. However, I couldn't see her. None of the pedestrians seemed to hear her. They showed no reaction whatsoever. The singing was only directed to me.Bookmark here

A savage, I realized.Bookmark here

I instinctively reached my bow on my back, but something stopped my movement against my will. I didn't know why or how this could possibly happen. Suddenly, my hand just froze in midair and went back to my side, ignoring my command. Bookmark here

What's happening?Bookmark here

Next, my feet moved involuntarily and I couldn't make them stop. It's like my brain nerves were disconnected from my body. I tried struggling to regain control but it was in vain. None of my commands went through. I had no choice but to sit back and see where my own feet were leading me to.Bookmark here

The singing was getting louder and louder. The savage must be near. My mind was the only thing I had under my control. I was filtering my memories, searching through the bestiary in my brain. And then it struck me. The singing. The luring. The manipulation.Bookmark here

Oh, God. A siren. Bookmark here

One of the most dangerous savages, from what I knew. SCD had never succeeded in capturing one. Nobody could escape their enchantment. No one had figured out how. Today was really not my lucky day.Bookmark here

I was forced to walk down an alleyway. There's no one else around besides me and someone at the end of the road. It’s too dark to see, but it must be the perpetrator. At least I was the only victim. That’s a good thing.Bookmark here

She had stopped singing, but the enchantment was still in effect. I unwillingly closed the gap between us. The moonlight shone on her and I could finally see her face. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said she's the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. That's not really surprising. Sirens were supposed to be bewitchingly beautiful, after all.Bookmark here

"Come with me," the siren ordered and I obliged. If I could refuse, I would. But unfortunately, my body wouldn't do what I said.Bookmark here

She turned around and walked ahead, me following behind her. It was strange. This alley was clearly leading to a dead end. Why did we keep going straight towards it? I couldn’t move my mouth to ask her, so I braced for the impact.Bookmark here

The siren walked through the wall. I wasn’t even surprised. It’s not that uncommon around here. She was a savage. There’s a lot of things a savage could do. But I wasn’t one of them, so obviously, I ran head first into the wall like an idiot. It hurt like hell. And I couldn't even nurse my aching forehead.Bookmark here

There’s a splitting moment where an unsettling idea popped up in my head. Don’t tell me that this is her way to kill me? She’s going to make me bump into the wall until I’m dead? Bookmark here

So this was how my life would end. A slow, painful death. Honestly, it terrified me.Bookmark here

Before I could further dwell on my grief over my impending death, the siren came out through the wall, looking very confused and surprised to see me on the ground.Bookmark here

"Why can't you get through?" she asked in bewilderness, furrowing her brows. Even while frustrated, she's still cute. These sirens were indeed out of our league.Bookmark here

I only stared back at her. I wanted to answer, but her stupid enchantment didn't allow me to. She seemed to realize that and undid her charms.Bookmark here

Once I felt the bewitchment was lifted, I quickly jumped to my feet and spun on my heel, ready to sprint my way out of here. I was only taking my chances, just in case. Survival instinct or whatever it was. The siren noticed my intention, of course. I knew it wouldn't work. But there's a slight chance that maybe, it would.Bookmark here

She warned before I could even take a step, "Don't even think about it."Bookmark here

I could disobey her and run, but she would only sing again to enchant me. No matter what I did, she obviously had the advantage since I had no idea how to counter that singing and eventually, I would return to being her puppet in the end. Bookmark here

What does she want from me?Bookmark here

I raised both my hands in defeat. "Okay. I'm not going anywhere. So why did you bring me here?"Bookmark here

"Because they asked for you. I'm just carrying out my order." She cocked her head towards the wall, implying the people she worked for were on the other side of it. "But you can't get through. Why is that?"Bookmark here

"Simple. It's because I'm not like you people. I'm a normal human."Bookmark here

She burst into laughter. "Normal human you said. Nonsense. There must be something on you that's sealing your magic." Squinting her eyes, she inspected me from top to bottom. "Ah, your necklace! Give it to me."Bookmark here

I grabbed my necklace instinctively. "No way! It's a gift from my mom! I'm not giving it to you!"Bookmark here

She casually hummed and then, I was frozen to the spot. In a blink, she took the beautiful sapphire butterfly necklace that had never left my neck since birth. She walked back towards the wall again, except now it's not a wall. I had to blink twice to believe my own eyes. Instead of a wall, now there's an archway. It was like a portal or some sort.Bookmark here

I hardly recovered from the shock of the unbelievable sight in front of me when she made me walk through the archway, into the portal. It was even more unbelievable. There's a whole other world on the other side.Bookmark here

"Welcome to the Outland."Bookmark here

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