Ruler of the Outland
The first thing I did after going through the portal back to Zerin was putting the cuffs around the siren's wrists. Her voice wouldn't affect me if the cuffs were on. A huge life saver, indeed.
Wearing my necklace came next. I couldn't risk anyone seeing me with wings even if it's past midnight. Although, flying was a better method to carry the unconscious siren—less heavier, if anything.
I was torn between tying her to the chair or just leaving her unrestrained. The second option was too high-risk. She could wake up angry and force her way out. However, the first option had the same risk. Might as well tie her down for the sake of better physical restraint.
I couldn’t think of any other way that wouldn’t make me seem like a bad guy kidnapping a sleeping girl in the middle of the night. Screw it. It’s not as if the siren was a good girl after all.
The siren was unconscious, tied to the chair, and I was sitting on the couch in front of her, watching her sleep. This sounded weird on every level, but I didn't dare to take my eyes off her, knowing what she's capable of.
She’s the general of the Outland’s kingdom. Even if her siren abilities were contained, I was sure she could still fight well without them. Unknowingly, I held my bow tightly in my hand, ready to shoot at any moment.
The tranquilizer effect wore off a lot sooner than I’d thought. It’d only been a couple hours and she already stirred, fighting the sedative and starting to wake up. The arrow wound on her arm was nearly non-existent. Just how strong this siren could be? I readied my bow as I watched her groaning and slowly opening her eyes.
Unlike my prediction, General Mizuhara was far from angry. She only sighed tiredly after registering her own situation and seeing me pointing an arrow at her. “What is this? A pathetic attempt at revenge?”
This unexpectedly turned out great for me. General Mizuhara thought of this as my petty revenge to get back at her for the last incident with the harpy, instead of a planned distraction. I should play along with her idea.
"Funny how the tables have turned," I said in a mocking tone, finally having the upper hand for once. There's some truth in that, so it's not really a lie.
The siren scoffed in disbelief. “This is a child’s behavior. I already said I was sorry. I didn’t have a choice.”
“Just saying sorry doesn’t cut it.” I cringed at my own pettiness, but I was out of ideas. The longer I could keep her here, the longer I could buy time for Advisor Akamori.
Besides, it’s not often I could get the siren restrained and under my full control. My mind kept telling me that I should make the fullest use of this chance. This was perfect.
“I’m thoroughly humiliated. Will you let me go now?” she said with a flat face, unamused.
Even if she’s all tied up, there’s no ounce of fear in her tone and her expression. She believed that she had the whole situation under control. I was the only one humiliated here and I didn't do this to dig up my own grave.
I quickly switched my gears. “No. That won’t suffice. I'm going to use you like how you used me. So I’m taking you to work. And you’re going to work for me.”
Although I wasn't particularly fond of bringing a walking spotlight to do my patrol duties, I had to settle with that. It’s better to keep her where I could see than leave her unwatched.
"You can't tell me what to do." Then the siren started singing, undoubtedly trying to gain control of my body. It's futile, of course, thanks to the cuffs. But she didn't know about that.
Now that I wasn't being enchanted, I could enjoy listening to her singing. She sang as if she was talking, like a musical actress. Her voice was heavenly angelic, very pleasant and soothing in my ears. It's drawing me in, urging me to get as close as possible to listen better. Even though the singing couldn't manipulate me, I still found myself getting lost in it.
She abruptly stopped singing when she realized I didn’t move an inch from where I was sitting, watching her intently. Her seemingly permanent frowning face finally showed some difference, changing into confusion. I could see the wheels turning in her head as she tried to make sense of her own situation. I already felt like winning.
"Apparently, I can. Nice voice, though,” I complimented mockingly, refusing to inflate her ego. "Oh, right. I forgot to tell you. You see the fancy cuffs around your wrist? That’s like a magic sealing pendant but better. I advise you against forcefully taking them off. They… sting.” What I meant was it could fry her to death, but she was surely smart enough to understand that.
General Mizuhara leaned her head back against the chair’s headrest and closed her eyes, remaining silent. She didn’t speak a word nor attempt to make any movement. She left me wondering what she’s up to. A general like her wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Warily, I asked, “What are you doing?”
“Catching up on my sleep. Wake me up when it’s time. And you can keep that bow down. Your arms are going to fall off,” she answered without as much as opening her eyes.
I snorted at her cheekiness even when she’s completely at a disadvantage. It was still four in the morning, two hours left before it’s time to get ready for work. Putting down my bow, I slumped against the cushions on my couch, resting but not taking my eyes off her. Not when there’s only a coffee table separating her from me.
I’d had my sleep before heading out to the Outland. I knew I wouldn’t get any once the siren was under my watch. I was prepared for the worst.
There's also something nagging at the back of my mind. If the council realized General Mizuhara wasn't at the Outland, wouldn't they go over here to look for her? She was banned from going here, right?
Advisor Akamori had told me to not worry over it, saying the council would probably let it pass since she was with me. I didn't know how accurate her words were, but that wasn't exactly a reassurance.
Let's just think about it when the time comes.
It was when I was about to leave the apartment that I woke her up by throwing my sweater in her face, earning angry complains from her. As I finished cutting the ropes tying her, she grabbed the sweater, ready to throw it back to me when I stopped her by holding up a hand.
“If you insist on going out there with your sleeveless shirt and flaunting your cuffs, be my guest. But I’m not going to help you if you get caught,” I said nonchalantly while walking out the front door. “And make sure you don’t get too far from me. Unless you want the cuffs to sting you.”
It was oddly satisfying to see her huffing as she put on my sweater—a couple sizes bigger on her, so it hung off one shoulder—and stomped off angrily to follow behind me. Cute.
Stop it. Have you lost your mind? I reminded myself.
Right after we got out of the door, Aberu and Nohana were seen walking towards our direction in the hallway. They, of all people, happened to see General Mizuhara and I come out from my apartment so early in the morning with her wearing my sweater.
What kind of insane timing is this?
Aberu would never live it down. This would be the death of my reputation. Weird rumors were going to be spread around. I already had a groundless rumor about me being a savage in disguise just because I chose archery over firearms. I didn't need another one on top of that.
The groundless rumor sounded stupid at the beginning, but now? Not so much. Well, apparently, it's not a groundless rumor anymore, since I was half-savage—it's half correct. I still had recurring nightmares about someone recording my fairy form for everyone to see. How could Chief Hakurei live so peacefully here as a vampire surrounded by SCD agents?
"What the hell, man?" Aberu practically shouted at this point. All my neighbors on this floor could probably hear him through the walls if they were awake; the walls were particularly thin in this building. "You live together with your girlfriend? Damn! Aren't we all eighteen? Why does it seem like you’re already twenty five?”
"Shh, not so loud!" I hissed panickedly, covering his mouth with my hand while glancing around my surroundings, hoping no one had heard him.
"It's early," Nohana complained, yawning and rubbing her eyes sleepily. It's obvious she hadn't had her today's dose of caffeine to lift her mood.
Her pink hair was cutely tied into twin ponytails today. I was amazed with how she would wake up early to style her hair when she was always sleepy in the morning. Hair is a girl's crown, she once had said. In my opinion, she took those words way too seriously.
General Mizuhara faked her smile as she greeted them. She clung to my arm, playing her role as my girlfriend again. But I knew she actually kept me close to her so that she wouldn't accidentally get zapped.
Aberu made us all stop by a cafe before heading to the HQ, saying he needed a cup of coffee to stay sane. I didn't even complain, because at this moment, I needed one, too.
Staying sane was hard with the siren testing my patience at every chance she got. General Mizuhara kept excitedly expressing her awe at the smallest things, such as the pretty cups, the adorable-shaped cakes, and the blue-colored drinks. I had to hurriedly make up an excuse for her, explaining how she was from a countryside with little-to-no technology; it's technically true, though.
I didn't understand how she could love Zerin that much and yet despised the people at the same time. She's like someone who wanted to live in Zerin after killing every human there.
General Mizuhara finally calmed down after I bought her a blue-colored cupcake and a blueberry milkshake. And I could finally enjoy my latte in peace. I didn't mind the extra spending, since the government was paying for SCD agents' expenses, anyway.
"I need the details now!" Aberu demanded, half whispering and half screaming. He didn’t even let us go straight to the HQ before listening to my full story. As expected from the gossip king.
“There are no details! It's just a one-time thing!" Wait, that came out wrong. "No, I mean, it's just a sleepover!" I panicked and blurted whatever came up in my mind, heat rapidly rising to my face.
Aberu dramatically gasped. "You piece of garbage! How dare you do Erena dirty like that? You should treat her like a princess!"
General Mizuhara chuckled from beside me while sipping her milkshake; it’s hard to tell whether her laughter was genuine or mere acting. While Nohana quietly gulped down her iced americano, gathering her spirit for the day; she could only function after consuming her daily dose of caffeine.
Flustered, I asked, changing the subject, "Why are you guys here, anyway?”
Aberu answered, "We just want to cheer you up. We know you'll be pissed off for the whole day."
"What do you mean?"
"We saw today’s shifts for patrol duties. We got Area 4."
Area 4 was the area I hated the most to patrol on. Not only they had incompetent agents, that area was also where the weird rumor of me being a savage had first appeared. I didn’t really know why, but the agents in this hated me a lot. Which was only fair that I also hated them back. The hatred was mutual.
However, it wasn’t a reason to be unprofessional. I was doing my job properly, even better than the agents from Area 4 themselves. Still, no matter how hard I tried to hide it, the tension must have been obvious, because the siren was able to point it out.
“Why do you hate this area a lot?” General Mizuhara asked in the middle of my patrol duty, apparently noticing my discomfort. There were only two of us now that I was on patrol. Nohana and Aberu were supposed to be in the area, too, but we chose to split up to widen the scope.
I shrugged, not really wanting to share the details. “They hate me first.”
She scoffed in disbelief. “You really hate losing, huh?”
“Losing against losers? Who doesn’t hate it?” I used the chance to ask her instead, “What about you? Why do you hate humans a lot?”
“The same reason why you hate us.”
“What about my friends? You don't seem to hate them.” I recalled the moment when she'd laughed at Aberu's antics.
General Mizuhara blushed and looked away, refusing to meet my eyes. Her cuteness is illegal. “No. I laughed at them because they’re stupid.”
The peaceful state in Area 4 didn’t last long. It was then when suddenly what seemed to be a huge magic barrier, like translucent walls, materialized out of thin air around us, caging us inside what looked like a magic room. I instinctively tried to get out, but I couldn’t get through the walls; they were impenetrable. There was no way out. Whoever did this was trying to trap us both.
“We can’t get out,” the siren said calmly as she watched me deliberately bumping myself against the magic walls. She seemed completely aware of the current situation.
I asked, puzzled and lost, “What? Do you know what this is?”
She explained, eyes darting from wall to wall as if keeping watch of something, “The Outland’s guards. I’m supposed to be temporarily banned from entering the Inland. It's me who they want.”
I had seen this coming, yet I still panicked when it actually happened. “Are you planning to go with them?”
“No. I’m sick of being locked up.”
"Can't I order your guards to leave?"
"You haven't officially inherited the throne, yet. So the council—as the acting ruler of the Outland—technically can overrule you."
“Then how can we get out of here?” I asked restlessly, getting more and more anxious the longer we’re trapped.
“We fight. We wait until the magic caster is here and then we knock them out. That should break the barrier.” General Mizuhara looked unfazed as she kept paying attention to the walls. Unlike me, she was collected. As if knocking guards out was an easy feat for her.
“Are you crazy? How can we beat that many guards?” I yelled in frustration.
She retorted irritatedly, “Using our magic, genius. Now get these cuffs off me.”
I hesitated. This could go very wrong if the siren decided to betray me. But at the same time, I didn’t have any other choice. I needed the siren to have access to all her powers for us to actually have a chance to win. She knew how to fight them.
“They’re going to enter the barrier soon. Hurry up. Do you have a death wish?” General Mizuhara shouted impatiently, pointing at the part of the magic wall that was beginning to unravel, forming an entrance.
Oh, screw it!
There’s no time to waste. I opened my Scan-Finder to deactivate her cuffs and went to scan my fingerprint on the surfaces of the bracelets before they were completely off. Following her step, I also took off my necklace to let out my wings and readied my bow.
I braced myself for the fight. But I was far from ready. Not that I could do anything about that. “Let’s go.”