Ruler of the Outland
"A savage detected in Area 4. Backup needed."
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.
Coincidentally, I was in Area 4 doing my patrol duty. I checked the location sent to my map. It was nearby. "On it."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yikes. A gorgon.
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.
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.
After grabbing an arrow from my quiver and a bow from my back, I pulled the bowstring.
“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.
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.
If we killed them without hesitation, we would be no different than them. They made sure we kept that in mind all the time.
“Target immobilized. Proceed to capture,” I reported on my way downstairs to catch up with the other agents.
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.
"Teruya, my man. You're here," Agent Moteki, one of the amateurs, greeted.
"Agent Okajima," I corrected.
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.
"Fine. Agent Okajima. You're so stiff," Agent Moteki complained, not that I cared.
"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.
"I was lucky," was what I decided to answer with. I had no intention to humor him further.
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.
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?
"Squad 1 ordered to regroup."
Finally, there’s a legit excuse for me to get away from these people. "Alright. I 'll leave the gorgon to you. Duty calls.”
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.
What’s wrong with me today?
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.
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.
I texted my chief. Asking permission for leaving early. Some family matters to take care of.
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.
As expected, the reply came almost immediately. Sure. Hope everything’s fine at home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An important lesson I'd learned from this job: I should never ignore any weird feelings I had.
How long have I been followed? Why didn't I realize it sooner?
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.
Someone was following me. Now I was sure about it. This one was pretty good at shadowing.
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.
A savage, I realized.
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.
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.
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.
Oh, God. A siren.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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?
So this was how my life would end. A slow, painful death. Honestly, it terrified me.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
She warned before I could even take a step, "Don't even think about it."
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.
What does she want from me?
I raised both my hands in defeat. "Okay. I'm not going anywhere. So why did you bring me 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?"
"Simple. It's because I'm not like you people. I'm a normal human."
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."
I grabbed my necklace instinctively. "No way! It's a gift from my mom! I'm not giving it to you!"
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.
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.
"Welcome to the Outland."