Ruler of the Outland
"It hasn't been ten minutes. What’s wrong?"
The gorgon’s words were floating around inside my mind as I walked back to the lobby, almost bumping into the ghoul who was waiting for me near the elevator. The cuffs could only be deactivated by an SCD agent, which was most likely why she's still around. But on the other hand, she didn’t seem eager to go home. She hadn’t asked me to release her, suspiciously coming across as someone staying out of her own will.
“She hates my guts. She doesn't want to talk," I answered shortly, distracted by my own thoughts.
When you found out everything you had always believed in since you were born was completely wrong, you felt lost, confused. I was currently in that state of mind. I didn't know what to believe anymore.
The rule of Zerin had been engraved into our brains. We had been living our lives by believing different ones were the enemies we needed to remove from society, because they were naturally evil and dangerous to everyone. Knowing that savages might have been humans originally, just like us, that changed everything.
The ghoul might be feeding me with another lie, but she might also be telling the truth. I couldn't just ignore this and push it to the back of my mind. It would forever haunt me unless I uncovered the whole truth.
Sensing my distress, Advisor Akamori offered, "I can make her talk. What do you want to know?"
I merely gaped at her in disbelief. "Do you seriously think I'll let you go in there and talk behind my back?"
"You have these fancy cuffs. You're invited to listen in." She unnecessarily lifted the sleeves of my uniform coat to show the cuffs and I quickly covered them again.
I panickedly glanced around to make sure no one was watching us. The lobby was empty since the prison warden on duty was escorting the gorgon back to her cell and normally, no one in their right mind visited a savage prison past midnight.
"Why do you want to help?" I asked, furrowing my brows in suspicion. "But if you're going to mention the throne again, then don't bother answering."
Advisor Akamori actually thought of another answer. “I don’t take sides. And you have a foot on both sides. We have something in common.”
“I thought you all hate humans.” It's difficult to believe that the ghoul didn't think the same way. The gorgon had made it obvious. The siren and the harpy had also got their point across. It’s kind of fishy that the ghoul went out of her way to help me, a Zerin civilian.
“Why would I? I love them. They’re delicious. Especially when the flesh is—"
I cut in, horrified, "Okay, okay. Stop saying that. Fine. I want to know why the gorgon came here and how to beat a siren."
She gasped dramatically. "I'm right here in front of you and you chose to go all the way to a prison in the middle of the night just to ask a prisoner how to beat my colleague? Did it not occur to you that I might know the answer?"
Judging from their tendency to exaggerate everything, she would get along well with Aberu in no time. But I shouldn't get my friends involved with the other world's problems.
I reasoned, "You just said it yourself. She's your colleague. How do I know if you're into betraying your comrade? At least I know for sure the gorgon isn't on the Outland's side."
“If I have to choose between you or her, you know who's my priority. Besides, she doesn't really see anyone as a friend."
That's fair. The siren wasn't exactly friendly to anyone. "Good. So how can I beat her?"
"Easy. Wear ear plugs," she said nonchalantly, as if that's common knowledge.
I almost choked on my own saliva. The fact that mere ear plugs could bring down a siren was difficult to take in. "Ear plugs?"
"If you can't hear her voice, she can't manipulate you. That's logic. How could you never think of that?" She grinned widely, obviously holding back her laughter. That's even worse than actually laughing.
Saving myself from further humiliation, I hastily sent her away. "Just go get my answer."
Advisor Akamori gave me a mock salute before running up the stairs—she must have seen the floor number when I got into the elevator earlier. She's serious about her fear of confined spaces since she chose to climb up five flights of stairs instead of simply getting into the elevator.
As soon as she disappeared from sight, I turned on my earpiece to listen through the microphone installed on the cuffs. There's no vision available, so I would have to make do with only sounds. It wouldn't be that accurate but I couldn't exactly ask her to record using a phone. That would be too risky.
The climb was safe without any hurdles. However, the trouble came after she reached the fifth floor—I kept count. My heart skipped a beat when I heard some guard yelling at her to leave. But she was quick to silence him by making up an excuse that I had sent her there instead because the gorgon wouldn't talk to me.
I was surprised that the guard believed her immediately; there's a chance he was probably too drained to take care of it and slacking off, or he let her be because she looked like a normal, pretty girl. He most likely would run away the first thing if he saw her without the necklace.
Advisor Akamori was searching for the gorgon's cell, I assumed. I could hear her walking around and coming to a halt at one point. She then started speaking.
"Tenchi, is that you?"
The gorgon responded, "Kanora. What are you doing here?”
They know each other? It was certainly something I hadn’t seen coming. I didn’t even know the ghoul’s first name was Kanora. They must be close.
“A mission. I was going to ask you the same question. Why are you here in the Inland?” Advisor Akamori asked.
“I’m searching for my parents. I got my memory back. They’re here. Can you get me out?”
I was wrong. She had nothing to do with the secret the Outland had been trying so hard to keep from me. The gorgon was a mere trespasser who wanted to find her family. She’s not a criminal who attempted to attack Zerin. She’s not a rebel or whatsoever.
Advisor Akamori must have realized that it’s not the answer I was looking for, because she then excused herself to leave. “I’m sorry. Now’s not the best time. But I promise I’ll find a way. I should go before other guards find me.”
Then I heard her steps, walking back to the stairs, climbing down until I saw her appear at the lobby. Spending any more time in the prison would probably make us appear more suspicious, so I brought her back to Area 1—my apartment. I still needed to figure out what the siren wanted with the harpy and Advisor Akamori might be the only savage who’s willing to help me.
“How do you know her?” I asked as soon as we got inside my apartment where I currently lived alone. There’s not much here, since it’s only a one bedroom apartment, but it’s safe from peoples’ eyes and ears and that’s good enough.
Advisor Akamori went ahead and made herself at home, opening my fridge to get some snacks and drinks for herself before plopping down on my couch. “She’s a stray, just like me. Woke up in the Inland without memories. She’s lucky I found her. But me? Not so much. SCD got to me first. Not that I’m still grumpy about that. I’m all over it.”
“Of course,” I said sarcastically. She’s totally not over it. “Okay. You said you wanted to help me. I’ll take you up on that. Do you know why General Mizuhara took the harpy back home?”
She shook her head before starting to share her thoughts. “She doesn’t trust the council—neither do I, actually. They always have these… secret meetings. I guess she’s trying to find something out of anyone who gets through the portal. I saw her taking the harpy to our dungeon—it’s like a prison. After all, she's our best interrogator—you know why. Maybe she suspects that the council sent them, but I don’t know. I’m just making a wild guess here. We don’t really talk.”
I nodded in understanding. "So what’s your plan?"
"What plan?" she asked confusedly.
“How to find out what she knew from the harpy. Like any surveillance cameras or interrogation recordings.”
“You’ve been there. You think we have those among all the trees and flowers?” Advisor Akamori gave me a condescending look, as if I asked something very stupid. In my defense, I’d only been there once. “But we do use something else to record our interrogation sessions. A book that can write itself. It’s pretty handy, thanks to the witches.”
“Okay. Can you steal her handy book?”
She took her time to answer me, seemingly deep in thoughts. She gulped down her coffee before saying what’s in her mind. “Well, the council chairwoman was mad when she found out Erena revealed your true form in the Inland. So she’s now temporarily banned from visiting here, which means she’s going to stay holed up in her favorite place—her room. That’s also most likely where she keeps her interrogation book.”
Her first sentence grabbed my whole attention. Everything else was a blur. Waves of panic swept over me in an instant, my heart beat spiking out of control. Did anyone witness me flying? What if someone recorded me on their phone and sent the video to the SCD? I’m doomed!
I asked urgently, “Wait, hold up. How did the council chairwoman know my true form was revealed?”
“I overheard their arguments. Your fairy form got caught in one of the surveillance cameras under her watch. But don’t worry, the chairwoman said she’ll take care of that. I saw her going to the Inland afterwards. Relax, jumpy boy. You’re fine.” She giggled in amusement and offered me some snacks—which were mine in the first place—while saying it would make me feel better; I spitefully said no. I blamed the necklace for enabling her to eat normal food.
Chief Hakurei must have been in the HQ while I was at the hospital. It’s probably because of my identity as their ruler that made her go to this length to erase the evidence. It’s not me who she saved, it’s the ruler of the Outland.
“Back to the plan,” I said curtly, changing the topic.
She treated the plan like some kind of an exciting secret mission. “If we can get Erena out of her room, or better, get her through the portal and keep her here, I’ll have plenty of time to search through her things. But you have to be the one taking Erena. The dragons and the guards won’t do a thing to you when you’re in your fairy king form, because their ruler has always been a fairy king. That’s how they're trained. And midnight is the best time to do it. The council always holds their meetings at midnight.”
It sounded stupid and dangerous. I hated to admit it, but her plan might be the only chance we’d got. “I hope you know what you’re talking about. We’re trying to kidnap a general from inside a heavily guarded palace.”
“Don’t worry. This is going to be fun. Like a midnight secret operation,” she commented giddily.
After sending the ghoul back to where she belonged, I spent the rest of the night learning how to fly before I went to work in the morning. Advisor Akamori suggested to that I got myself used to the feeling of flying and learn how to control my wings. Following her advice, I took off my necklace and let my wings out inside my cramped apartment. Not the best place to train, but I had no choice.
Leaving the ground part was easy. When I had my wings, I could feel I had other limbs behind my back. I tried moving them like I moved my legs or my hands and immediately I soared. But controlling them was tricky. It’s like I was learning how to walk again.
When midnight came the next day, the ghoul knocked on the front door. She could have waited for me on the first floor, but she had gone out of her way and climbed up the stairs to the seventh floor where my apartment was. Her passion was not something to be underestimated.
We went to the nearest portal after taking off our necklaces, making sure no one was around to witness us changing our appearance. Advisor Akamori's appearance pretty much didn't change except for her creepy all black eyes, but I still couldn't get used to seeing those.
The first thing I noticed after going through the portal was that it's much more quieter than my last visit. The Outland looked like a huge, peaceful forest at night with no savages in sight. But it's still as beautiful as I remembered.
Advisor Akamori led me all the way to the palace, crossing the bridge and going up the wooden stairs until we reached the entrance. There’s a huge hall with double staircases after we went through the left door at the throne room. Behind the dining hall were the chambers of the palace staff. I tried my best to remember the way, because I had to get out of here alone—with the unconscious siren, obviously—and leave the ghoul to do her task.
After the ghoul pointed at General Mizuhara’s room, I flew out through the balcony and went around to find her room from outside the building. Advisor Akamori was right. Even after the palace guards saw me flying while holding the bow, clearly up to no good, they acted like they saw nothing. Something was seriously wrong with the way this place was run.
I hid myself behind a nearby tree—it was probably useless, but my conscience wouldn’t let me do it in plain sight—and I aimed through the window of her room. As soon as I caught sight of the sleeping siren on her bed, I let go of my bowstring and watched as the arrow containing the tranquilizer hit her arm in her sleep.
“Now we’re even,” I muttered triumphantly under my breath, wearing my ear plugs before flying into her room to retrieve her.