Ruler of the Outland
The doctor told me to rest at home and restrain myself from doing strenuous activities to prevent the wounds from opening again. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to rest at the moment. The siren could be back at any time from now. I didn’t like to admit it, but she’d really got the upper hand. She’d shown me personally how helpless I could be in front of her.
I was about to head straight to Area 4 from the hospital when I saw Aberu and Nohana waiting for me in the lobby. They looked pretty worn out and beaten up, covered in cuts and bruises, barely able to keep their eyes open. They must have been dealing with other savages in my place while I was gone.
It was dark outside. The doctor had given me some painkillers and sleep had won over me. It was already midnight before I knew it. No wonder they seemed so ragged.
Suddenly, I felt bad for asking them to go with me. I’d learned from firsthand experience that it’s an awful decision to be alone with a savage, but that didn’t mean I wanted them to go out of their way for my sake.
“You guys look like you could use some rest. I’ll go alone," I said as soon as I greeted them.
Aberu clucked his tongue in disagreement. “No way, man. You got it wrong. We’re not here to go with you.” He gave a dismissive wave rather too excitedly and clumsily retracted it right away, wincing in pain as though he forgot his own injury. He tended to exaggerate everything, dramatic over the smallest things, so he asked for it.
Nohana yawned loudly; her eyes were droopy, her uniform was tattered, but her hair was on point, neatly tied into a bun. Typical Nohana. “Yeah. Actually, we’re here to tuck you in. Time to sleep.”
“I can’t. I have a siren to catch.” I couldn’t wait until morning. The siren would already be here by then.
Aberu pointed at the pitch black sky. “Dude. It’s freaking midnight. Cut yourself some slack. We can go catch the siren in the morning.”
Nohana nodded in response. Although, it’s unclear whether she was nodding off or agreeing to Aberu’s words. “You need sleep. Can we all sleep now?”
I knew that they had good intentions, that they were looking out for me. After my mom’s death, I’d enrolled in SCD Academy to begin training as an agent and they had been there for me the whole time. It’s just that I had severe trust issues. I couldn’t trust anyone, even if they were like family to me. Actually, it’s more like I didn’t want to trust them. I would be completely crushed if I found out another family lied to me again.
While I was contemplating whether to tell them the whole thing or not, a girl with a familiar face walked over to us, where we're standing idly in front of the hospital.
Where did I see her before?
Then right after she grinned creepily, I recalled that face straight away. It's a savage from the Outland, minus the scary eyes; she must be wearing the necklace. It’s Advisor Akamori from the Outland. The ghoul.
Damn it! Not again! I literally just walked out of the hospital!
"Heya, Teruya! Up for late night snacks? For old times’ sake?" Advisor Akamori greeted me in a very friendly manner, although I didn't remember us being friends. It felt like she was trying to get me alone.
What's the ghoul doing here? Did the siren ask her to fill her spot? Is she going to bring me back to the Outland? Or is this about the harpy earlier?
Whatever her objection was, I wasn't in the best condition to retaliate at the moment. At least the ghoul didn't have the mind control ability. There's still a possibility I could be fast enough to dodge her teeth before she sunk them into my flesh. But on the bright side, this was the perfect timing. It's a great excuse to not go home with them. Hanging out wasn’t a strenuous activity. They would have no reason to oppose that.
"Sure," I decided in the end, like a stupid man volunteering to walk into a wolf's den. "She's an old friend of mine." I regretted it as soon as the words came out of my mouth. It's not that convincing, considering the two of them were literally the only friends I had.
"You don't have friends," Nohana commented bluntly, short but harsh. Ouch.
Aberu dramatically gasped when he saw the ghoul. "The hell, man! Seriously? Two girls in one day? What's your magic? Remind me to start using bows and arrows from now on."
"Nah. Stick to your pistols. You can't even hit anything with rifles. Let alone bows and arrows." Nohana was losing her head-to-mouth filter. This happened a lot when she started getting irritated—in this case, lack of sleep.
Aberu must have realized that, too, because he offered to escort her home. "Alright. Bed time for you, bratty." And he didn't forget to throw an insult at me as he shooed me away. "Have a fun date, you two-timing jerk."
That’s a very wrong accusation, but I didn’t have time to correct him since I was in a hurry to get the ghoul away from them. I hoped there were no absurd rumors about me in the morning, although it’s highly unlikely when there’s Aberu in the building.
I walked away from Aberu and Nohana so quickly that I practically power-walked. My anxieties preoccupied me that I didn’t realize how weird it was that the ghoul only followed me quietly without saying a thing. I didn’t even think of asking why she’s here. It's not until we got on the train to Area 4 that the ghoul started to talk and I came to my senses.
"Nice friends you got back there."
I retorted, "No need to make small talk. What do you want with me?"
"Answer me," I said sternly, refusing to entertain her further.
This wasn't a laughing matter any longer. They're dangerous beings, each and every one of them. I'd been too relaxed around them, thinking that if they hadn't tried to kill me then they wouldn't. I was wrong for believing I'd been cautious enough. Letting down my guard was the same as giving them easy access to kill me.
The harpy could have killed me, if the siren hadn't made me fight back. The siren could have killed me, if she’d wanted to. My life had been completely at the siren's mercy. I shouldn't have let the situation turn that bad. The big wounds across my chest would serve as a life lesson for me, constantly reminding me of their nature.
The ghoul smirked, amused at my reaction. "Nothing, actually. I was bored. I just saw Erena come back and thought, 'Oh, she must be done with Teruya. It's my turn to play.' That's all."
"Sure you did," I spat sarcastically, not believing her in the slightest.
"Put those cuffs on me if it calms you down. You look like you’ve got a stick up your ass.” Advisor Akamori giggled in a condescending way.
It’s surprising that she knew about the cuffs, and still volunteered to be cuffed while knowing that.
SCD cuffs were special enchanted bracelets for restraining savages’ inhuman abilities. They were practically the same as the magic sealing pendants that the Outland had, but they couldn’t conceal outer appearance. Instead of that, technology enabled the cuffs to also be used as a tracker and a taser—only SCD agents and savage prisoners knew about these additional functions.
Did Chief Hakurei provide information about Zerin to her soldiers at the Outland?
"How do you know about these cuffs?” I couldn’t help but ask while putting the cuffs on her wrists, her abnormally cold body temperature making me flinch as I accidentally touched her skin. She laughed out loud at that. I knew that she’s literally a walking corpse, but the sensation still creeped me out. Not everyone was used to touching corpses.
She examined her cuffs, touching them delicately, seemingly reminiscing the past. “I was an Inland’s prisoner a long time ago. The fire got me out. Almost killed me, though.”
The infamous prison fire was mentioned everywhere in the history books in my required reading list during my time at SCD Academy. It was a huge historic incident, the fire causing the cuffs to malfunction, setting hundreds of savages free from their detainment, killing a few dozen agents at the same time. Now she’s telling me she’d been there when the fire took place. It had happened at least a hundred years ago and she looked around my age.
“How old are you?” I asked with the most neutral face possible, trying to keep my calm.
She shrugged. “Not counting. Probably over a hundred. Age isn’t important when you don't age. Everyone told me I was born human, but I lost my memory. The first thing I remember was crawling out from my own grave.”
There’s a lot of shocking information from her statement, but one stuck out the most. “You were a human?”
Advisor Akamori widened her eyes in bewilderment. “Most of us were born humans. You don’t know that?”
“The origins of the savages aren’t written in the books,” I defended myself for my lack of knowledge about them.
“Wow. Then what did the books say about us? Oh, let me guess. We’re hostile and dangerous.” She rolled her eyes in disbelief.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
She scoffed in a mocking way. “Funny how they chose to hide our origins as humans. And you only learned from the books? Lame.”
I didn’t want to believe that she’s telling the truth, but if she was, then Zerin was also hiding things from us. I felt like I was a baby learning how to walk again, every day discovering something new, every day finding out I was being lied to because I was too young to know. I was too naive to trust the government one hundred percent just because I was a part of their federal agency. I should have known better.
“Why are you telling me all this? You’re their advisor,” I reminded her, finding it odd that she was revealing a lot of things to me that were still unknown to SCD agents. Even if there’s no proof what she said was true.
She corrected, “I’m your advisor. I’m loyal to the throne.”
Silence fell upon us again as I refused to continue talking about the throne, which I clearly had told all of them I didn’t want. I deliberately fixed my eyes to the window, so that she wouldn’t start another conversation with me again. I hoped she would just go back to the Outland when she found out where I was going.
I was wrong. Advisor Akamori was unfazed even if I brought her to the Area 4’s prison with her hands cuffed. I had to force her to wear my uniform coat to hide her cuffs, since she was only wearing a tank top and shorts. Although I didn’t intend to throw her to jail, she should have questioned my purpose for coming here or something. But then again, she only needed to threaten me to blow my cover and I wouldn’t be able to do anything.
The prison warden approached me as I walked into the lobby, stopping me from entering. “You should come back in the morning.”
I showed him my SCD agent badge. “I’m Agent Okajima from Area 1. I need to speak to the gorgon. Privately.”
He didn’t budge. “It’s midnight.”
“It's an emergency,” I reasoned. “I’ll take responsibility if you get in trouble for letting me in.”
“You have ten minutes.”
The prison warden led us to the elevator, but the ghoul didn’t follow us. When I gave her a questioning look, she only said, “I’ll wait here. I’m not good with confined spaces.”
Instantly, I remembered her saying she’d crawled out from her own grave. That must have been a painful and traumatic experience.
I was told to wait inside an empty room with only a table and a set of chairs in it and he excused himself to escort the gorgon here. Left with nothing to do aside from observing my surroundings in silence, I ended up noticing that the whole room was most likely made of silver. Everything was shiny under the room's lighting, even more shiny than the surfaces of the buildings outside. That's a given, though, since the place was solely used for containing savages.
The prison warden came back a few minutes later with the gorgon in chains around her head and limbs. He harshly dragged her inside and chained her to the table while warning me about the time limit once again. He then electrocuted the gorgon without any reason at all before leaving us alone. That was really unnecessary. Was that how they treated all the prisoners here? I had no idea.
I never visited savage prisons before because I never had any reasons to talk to any of them. But still, now that I saw it in person, that was an awful thing to do to anyone who didn't resist.
“I don’t have anything to say to you,” she hissed angrily as soon as she saw me, her body still jolting in her seat because of the electricity. The snakes on her head were asleep, but she didn't look any less intimidating.
I didn’t blame her, though. I was the one who had put her here. She must have a huge grudge against me. Sitting on the other chair so that I was at her eye level, I politely apologized, “I’m really sorry about that. Will you help me answer a few questions? And I will help you get what you want.”
Instead of answering my question, she asked, “What did I do wrong to deserve this?”
I answered her apologetically, “It’s the rule in Zerin. We have to restrain every savage because they have the potential to harm us humans.”
She raised her tone in rage. “Potential? I didn't do anything to you! You literally shot me! You’re the one who should be in jail! Then tell me, don’t you humans also have the potential to harm us? But why aren’t any of you locked behind bars?”
I was utterly speechless. It felt like someone had just slapped me in the face.The gorgon continued calmly, “I don’t want to help you. Guard, please escort me back to my cell.”