Ruler of the Outland
“Where’s Chief Hakurei?” I asked the members of my squad the first thing in the morning after I clocked in.
I couldn't trust her, so I decided to address her formally after all the lies. She seemed like a completely different person to me. And I found it uncomfortable to be friendly with someone I barely knew. I was prepared to confront her about it now that I was much calmer and everything was back to normal, but unfortunately, she wasn’t here.
All chiefs from ten squads were obligated to attend a joint daily morning briefing before we started working with our respective squad, but Chief Hakurei was nowhere to be seen in Squad 1’s office even after the briefing. There’s no notice from her either. If something was up and she couldn’t come to work, usually she would tell me first.
What did I expect? I guess things will be different from now on.
Nohana looked at me in bewilderment from her seat next to me. “She took a few days off. Family emergency. I thought you’d be the first one to know.”
I was worried she would further question the sudden strained relationship between me and Chief Hakurei, since it’s going to be tricky to answer that. Fortunately, she was busy combing her newly bleached pastel pink hair. Her hair was totally going to fall off one day considering how many times she’d dyed it.
SCD had no rules against dyeing hair, so Nohana was practically a hair dye addict now. I was slowly regretting why I hadn’t stopped her the first time she’d asked me whether to dye her hair or not three years ago. I had failed her as a childhood friend.
“Damn, Teruya. When will you introduce us to your girl?”
Aberu was panting heavily as he stepped inside our office and plopped down on the couch by the door to catch his breath, obviously late again as usual. He’s the gossip guy in the building. He must have been snooping around—he always claimed he’s gathering information, but we all knew better—in the lobby and lost track of time to clock in.
“What girl?” I had zero clue what he’s talking about. This must be another groundless rumor he’d heard in the lobby. I walked over to him to inquire further before this was getting out of hand.
“Your girlfriend, Erena! Man, she’s so gorgeous. I literally froze when I saw her.” Aberu whistled in awe.
Who the hell is Erena?
The name didn't ring any bells, but I got this very bad feeling. Coincidentally, I knew someone who excelled in freezing people to the spot.
“Teruya has a girlfriend? Oh my God. I want to see her! Where is she?” Nohana dropped her curling iron on her desk and jumped to her feet, approaching us to join the conversation.
“She’s in the lobby waiting for you." Aberu smacked me on the back excitedly. "Go ahead, you lover boy. We're right behind you. It's patrol time!"
The three of us were field agents. Most of the time, we were on patrol, save for a few hours of making reports and other paperwork. I didn't mind either, but I must say patrol duties were way more entertaining.
My anxiety unconsciously made me walk faster and faster towards the lobby while hopelessly praying hard it's not her. I didn't want to have any association with the Outland. But sadly, I didn't have the leisure to choose my own fate. With Chief Hakurei missing in action, they must have sent someone else to watch me. Just like that, all hope was lost.
And there she was, wearing a cute pink dress, sitting on the couch at the center of the huge, round lobby, making sure everyone passing by on every floor could see her. This was obviously a deliberate move to have me wrapped around her little finger. She came here to make my life a living hell. As if it wasn't hellish enough already.
"General Mizuhara. What an honor," I said sarcastically, exasperated by their persistence. "So you go by Erena now?"
"Erena is my first name. And I'm here as your girlfriend. So you should stop calling me that." She pouted irritatedly. I shouldn’t think she’s cute, but I couldn’t help it when she looked like this. My sanity was slowly slipping away.
"Okay. I know the drill. I go against your words and you sing for me. Why are you here exactly? I already said I don't want the throne."
General Mizuhara huffed, "You think I want to be here? The chairwoman is too much of a coward to see you after your childish tantrum yesterday. You need time, she said. What a lie." She seemed not so fond of Chief Hakurei. I wondered whether they had a history between them.
It’s obvious that Chief Hakurei was avoiding me. That's probably a good decision. I was calm and collected now, but I wasn't sure if I could maintain it once I saw her again.
Nohana and Aberu finally caught up with me and walked over to us while bickering with each other as always. I was about to meet them halfway when General Mizuhara got to her feet and stood right behind me. Her presence immediately sent chills down my spine.
General Mizuhara whispered in my ear, "Play along. If you tell them about me, I'll snatch your necklace."
"Oh, you're into blackmail now,” I retorted, because I didn’t want to lose. Countering verbally was better than becoming an obedient pet.
"Safety measures," she responded irritatedly. I liked knowing that I got on her nerves.
General Mizuhara was so quick to put on an act that I was caught off guard. She suddenly linked her arm around mine and clung to me like a girl would to her boyfriend. I was still taking it all in until after Aberu gave me a look that I realized I was supposed to introduce them to each other.
“Erena, this is Nohana and Aberu, my squad members. Guys, this is my girlfriend.” I cringed at myself when I said that. I'd be surprised if they believed me.
"Nice to meet you both." The siren flashed her smile, totally fake but her stunning beauty would undoubtedly conceal it. Misdirection.
She'd make a great con artist.
Nohana squealed, "Erena, your hair is awesome! Where did you dye your hair? I tried blue before but it was awful."
As expected, Nohana went nuts as soon as she saw the siren's waist-length wavy blue hair. It's as blue as the ocean and strikingly beautiful. No hair shop would be able to copy that.
Before General Mizuhara could answer anything and possibly blow her own cover, I saved us both by dragging her along with me outside, faking my eagerness to start patrolling. I didn't want my friends to get too close with this dangerous siren, so I had to get her away from them.
Approaching the entrance door of the SCD HQ building, I got an interesting idea how to confirm my speculation and get back at her at the same time.
"Are you wearing your necklace?"
"I took it off at the lobby. I'd need my power in case you try to run away." She didn't doubt anything. Too honest for her own good.
Executing my idea, I took my phone out of my pocket. "Hang on, I need to reply to this text. Can you hold the door open?"
The siren went along with my request and burned herself from touching the silver handle, yelping in pain as she did. I had to hold back my laughter as she cursed at me. Wow, that was really satisfying.
Pettiness was now my strongest suit.
Today was my turn to patrol Area 1 and since it seemed like General Mizuhara wanted to stick around, I let her. Keeping her in sight was better than not knowing what she’s up to. I couldn't oppose her, anyway.
The attention was a bit too much. Walking with her put us under the spotlight, people turning their heads as we passed by. Apparently, it’s hard to ignore a gorgeous blue-haired girl or maybe, it’s because of her siren effect since she didn’t wear the necklace.
Even I had difficulty focusing on my SCB standard issue gadget, Scan-Finder, which looked like a phone but functioned exclusively for savage hunting purposes. However, it’s because of a totally different reason. General Mizuhara turned my patrol duty into her private Zerin tour. She kept asking me about some random building every few blocks.
I’m not her tour guide, for God's sake!
Considering her immensely lack of knowledge about Zerin, she mustn’t have had a lot of missions assigned here. She didn’t even know that most things here had silver in them and chose to not wear the necklace, injuring her own hand as a result—I wouldn’t call it an injury since she could heal herself, anyway.
Other than hiding their inhuman characteristics, savages could use the necklace to protect themselves from silver in Zerin. Not wearing the necklace wasn’t a smart choice, in my opinion. But I wasn’t going to mention it to her.
“Teruya, there’s a savage heading your way! Look at your Scan-Finder! Already pinned as a target!” Aberu shouted urgently through the earpiece. He sounded like he’s running, presumably on a pursuit.
“Above your head! If you don’t know where to look!” Nohana added cheerfully. Her bubbly tone was in stark contrast to Aberu's desperate one. They gave me zero clues of what to expect.
Thankfully, even if they joked around a lot, they were competent in their job and I loved working with them. They’re much better than the agents in Area 4 who were both incompetent and rude. I still wondered how they could be agents if they didn’t know that gorgons must not be approached and seen with naked eye.
Just when I looked up, I saw the savage flying high above my head, zooming past me. I quickly grabbed my bow from my back and took aim. But the savage was too fast, already far ahead of me in seconds. My arrow wouldn’t reach that far.
“What kind of savage is that?” I asked them distractedly as I checked the location in my Scan-Finder. “I don’t think my arrows will work. Too fast.”
“A harpy,” General Mizuhara answered my question instead. I totally forgot she was here. “You can go after her and shoot her up close. You’re fast enough if you fly.”
A harpy. That explained why I couldn't recognize her immediately. I'd never seen one in person. All I knew was that she's part bird and part woman—wings and talons of a bird, head and upper torso of a woman.
I hurriedly tapped my earpiece to turn off the microphone, worried my friends would hear her. “Every SCD agent will shoot me without hesitation if they see me with wings. That’s not an option. Can your voice reach her?”
It’s odd that General Mizuhara was trying to give me suggestions, helping me catch her own kind. There must be something she didn’t tell me—an ulterior motive. I couldn’t trust her, or any savages for that matter. The last time I trusted a savage, I ended up being lied to the whole time. Before I could ponder my suspicion further, I heard the singing.
“No, I can’t reach her. But I can reach you.” General Mizuhara snatched my necklace and the next second, I had my huge wings out and soared into the sky, zipping towards the harpy at extreme speed.
This was insane. I didn’t even know how to fly and yet, I was off the ground. The mad siren literally used me to go after the harpy. I was panicking inside because everything happened so fast and I had no control over my own body. Only after a few seconds flying, the harpy was already right in front of me. I slowed down to raise my bow that I had in my hand and start aiming.
The harpy realized I was catching up with her. She quickly whirled around and kicked me hard in the chest with her talons, boosting herself forward. The siren didn’t let me look down to examine my injured chest, but I was sure the wound was quite deep, since I could feel my blood dripping down my stomach. Those talons were no joke.
God, that hurts like hell.
I was forced to proceed with the pursuit, even while being injured and all. Before I got too close to the harpy, General Mizuhara made me begin aiming to avoid another kick to the chest. Without any delay, I quickly pulled the bowstring and released it almost immediately after. The arrow pierced one of her wings, causing her to free fall. I swooped down to grab her, landing quite harshly on the ground.
“Sorry for that. Thanks for your help.”
The siren was quick to place my necklace back around my neck and hoist up the harpy onto her shoulders, taking the savage away with her. General Mizuhara had the nerve to nod politely at me before going through a wall nearby—the invisible portal into the Outland—as if that would make me feel any better.
I couldn't directly go after her since I needed to treat my injury first before it got worse. Besides, I would only be repeating history if I went up against her without strategy. She could immobilize me by merely humming. My arrow would never get to her first.
There's also another thing that worried me. What if someone saw me and reported me to the SCD? I was wearing an SCD uniform, after all. However, with my completely different appearance and that height in the sky, it shouldn't have been easy to recognize me. As long as I got my necklace, my identity was safe. But it didn't mean the siren couldn't take it off again against my will. I needed to come up with a countermeasure to defend myself from her manipulation.
I knew the siren would come again. She had a mission here in Zerin and it's not to simply watch over me. Her actual objective was to retrieve the harpy by any means necessary, even by using me to hit her with an arrow, meaning that she wasn't trying to save her from being captured by SCD. She was trying to arrest her and bring her back to the Outland.
If humans weren't allowed to go to the Outland, then the savages must also not be allowed to go to Zerin. The harpy had to be a criminal in their world. What if my hunch was right and there's something else about the Outland that they didn't tell me? What if the harpy was really a rebel or something like that?
I could have known that for sure if I could take her in for questioning. If only the siren hadn't gotten in my way.
This was a great humiliation to me. A severe blow to my pride. I had to fight back. I shouldn’t just sit back and let the siren use me like her personal pet as she pleased. I had to think of a way to be on the same ground with her.
“Teruya, did you catch the savage?” Aberu’s voice was heard across the earpiece.
"A siren saved her," I answered spitefully.
"They have a siren that protects them? That’s messed up, man. How can we beat a siren?"
A brilliant idea struck me. A way to get both information and countermeasures. "I know someone who can."