Chapter 7:

The Encounter

Ruler of the Outland

Through the opening in the magic wall, an army of centaurs and minotaurs marched into the barrier, spears and arrows pointed at us. Fortunately, the dragons weren't joining the fight. If they were, the chances of us winning—or even coming out of this fight alive—would be much slimmer.

Still, it's a huge number of soldiers, not to mention their speed and strength with their half-animal traits. A bit too much, I believed. But then again, they're sending a troop to retrieve their general. It's understandable that they went all out and sent the best one. I wondered if we could actually get away from this like she'd unconvincingly claimed.

To be honest, when I first had the thought of the Outland sending their people to fetch General Mizuhara, I hadn't expected that it would be this big. If the siren's singing could be blocked by mere ear plugs, what made her so intimidating that they had to send so many soldiers? They could have just sent the bare minimum number of guards, equipped with soundproof ear plugs, and it would suffice.

The siren moved forward and stood before me. Feeling offended that she thought I was weak and needed to be protected, I took a few steps to reclaim the space next to her. She rolled her eyes at my stubbornness.

The soldiers were lining up in an orderly fashion, forming a row in front of each magic wall, surrounding us from every direction. As if the barrier wasn't enough to hold us here. It was unclear whether they overestimated her or they were just being overly careful.

"What are they waiting for?" I asked aloud, keeping my eyes on the soldiers.

"Their leader, of course." The siren tried humming, but nothing happened. "Figures."

I turned to look at her incredulously. "Do you think they would go up against you without blocking their hearings somehow?"

Our talk came to a halt as we saw movement at one of the walls. Another group coming through the crack between the barrier: a vampire riding a pegasus along with his entourage, including the witch who was the one casting the spell for the barrier, judging from the grimoire on her hand.

We gave each other a knowing look. That's our target. The caster.

The vampire must be the leader General Mizuhara had mentioned. The soldiers instantly made way for him and his entourage. If the council was currently the acting ruler, could he be a council member? Were all council members vampires?

His entourage followed close behind him even when he approached General Mizuhara. I observed closely from beside them, keeping my guard up in case of any sudden attacks.

"General, we can settle this peacefully and we can all return to the Outland without exerting violence. But if you resist, I'm afraid I don't have a choice but to restrain you by any means necessary." His voice was gentle if not for the threat in his tone.

General Mizuhara bit back, "You think I'll let you drag me home if you ask nicely? Not a chance.”

"My apologies, I can't really hear you. I must assume you choose to resist. Pity." The vampire raised his hand up high and pointed his finger at her. It took a second before I realized that he was signaling his troop to charge.

The first group who made its move was the centaurs with their bows drawn. At the exact same timing, as though choreographed, they let go of their arrows together. I quickly kicked off the ground and hauled General Mizuhara up onto my shoulder, speedily soaring upwards as high as the barrier allowed.

The centaurs ended up shooting at each other with their arrows since their target was gone. Most of them were agile enough to fend them off. Only a few unlucky ones were down. It's good to know that we at least got to reduce the number. The minotaurs lifted their spears next—their turn to attack according to their choreographed sequence, probably.

General Mizuhara yelled in a hurry, "Let me down. I'll take care of them. Do something about the arrows."

Since the minotaurs were also beginning to aim their spears at us, I understood that there's no time for further discussion and blindly followed her decision. It's difficult to think that both of us could deal with that many soldiers and survive, but at the moment, we needed to believe we could. If something went wrong, we would just have to improvise.

Arrows were shot when I was about to go lower. Soft landing was impossible. I literally dropped her while still in midair and flew back upwards to avoid them, almost hitting the barrier in my haste.

The siren smartly used a centaur's back as a footing to soften her landing. She jumped off his back and kicked a minotaur's head hard to instantly knock him out. Stealing his spear, she used it as her own weapon to fight.

Now I knew where all her confidence came from. She was insanely skilled at using the spear, taking out soldiers as she passed them by like this was a child's play. Her movements were like dance moves, beautiful and strong. However, this wasn't the time to watch her fight, particularly when arrows were flying towards me.

Trying to shoot the centaurs while dodging the arrows was difficult, but currently there were no better options. I was used to fighting from a distance, no disruptions and well hidden, taking my time to aim and knocking out my enemy in one shot. Unfortunately, I had to change the way I fought.

Like a predator bird, I swooped down on random centaurs and shot them with my arrows at short distances to increase my accuracy. Before they started aiming at me, I used the force of my wings as I propelled myself back upwards, using their backs as my footings. With them unable to hear me as I came, I had the upper hand. I shot them from behind and they had no idea even until the sedative knocked them out cold.

As I soared up high, I took a quick glance at the battlefield below me. The vampire and his entourage only watched from the sidelines, protected by what I assumed to be the strongest guards. They hadn’t moved an inch since the soldiers advanced. Why didn’t they join the fight? What were they waiting for? They could have finished their job way faster if they sent their strongest fighters.

I scanned the ground, searching for General Mizuhara to check up on her. It took only seconds before I found her, long blue hair moving about, spinning so gracefully with a spear in her hands. She looked fine, nothing serious than a few small cuts and bruises, but she was getting exhausted. Her moves had slowed down a bit, her breaths uneven. It dawned on me that they were sending the soldiers not to fight her, but to tire her out so that she would be easier to restrain.

This is bad.

I had wasted too much time observing the situation and given a centaur a chance to aim at me. An arrow grazed my shoulder, causing me to yelp ungraciously in pain and wobble in midair, losing my balance. I shortly recovered and regained my balance, but General Mizuhara already noticed me.

“You okay?” she shouted while slashing a few minotaurs’ legs in one spin, immobilizing them instantly.

“I’m fine. Just a scratch.” I dropped down and put a few centaurs to sleep with my arrows before continuing, “Hey, it’s looking bad for us. Any suggestions?”

None of them could hear us, anyway, so I used the opportunity to openly discuss our strategy. General Mizuhara wasn’t against the idea as she also shared her opinions aloud.

“Take down the witch.”

My eyes involuntarily landed back on the entourage. “They’ll get to me first.”

“I’ll cause a distraction.”

Relying on her plan, I took another arrow from my quiver and drew my bow, but I didn’t start aiming yet. I flew around in a circle while dodging the arrows, occasionally swooping down to kick some centaurs to make it harder for them to target, waiting for General Mizuhara’s signal.

She hadn’t exactly told me what she’s going to do, but the signal was pretty easy to notice. With all her might, she swung her spear as though it was a bat and hit minotaur after minotaur, launching them towards the vampire and his group. I was taken aback that so much power could come out of that small build. I couldn’t even lift a minotaur, much less throw them off the ground towards a specific direction like she did. Where did she get all of that strength from?

As planned, the group split up to avoid getting hit by the minotaur shower. My gaze followed the witch and with one clean shot, the arrow went through her leg, sedating her in a blink. The magic barrier immediately faded away as she went to sleep, slowly disappearing and freeing us from their trap. Apparently, the barrier had obscured us from the outside world and it’d also worked the other way round, since we saw pedestrians panicking and running for their lives the moment the barrier went down.

I searched for General Mizuhara among the chaos, planning to scoop her up and fly far away from here, but then I saw the vampire climb off his pegasus and raise a hand, gesturing number two at his soldiers. Then out of somewhere between the crowd, a minotaur approached the vampire while holding one end of a chain which was attached to a collar around the neck of someone walking behind him.

“Akamori!” General Mizuhara screamed in terror.

Gasping in shock at the name, I hurriedly flew in to take a better look. It’s really Advisor Akamori who was in chains. She was covered in blood, deep cuts and nasty bruises all over her body, her clothes tattered. It seemed like the guards had been torturing her, judging from the chains all around her. She was so weak and barely able to walk, yet the minotaur kept pulling at the chains, dragging her forcefully until she stumbled and fell to the ground. This was an awful sight. These savages were sick bastards.

“One move and the arrow will go through her brain,” the vampire threatened in rage. As if to prove his words, a centaur pointed an arrow at Advisor Akamori’s head.

We were frozen to our spots, unable to do anything. I hadn’t expected Advisor Akamori would be taken as a hostage. I never thought they were that low. This was plain evil.

On the other hand, I was mad at myself for failing to prevent this from happening. I shouldn’t have left Advisor Akamori to search General Mizuhara’s room alone. I should have helped her back then. I might be able to avoid getting punished due to my position, but she couldn’t. And she was willing to risk her own safety to help me.

The vampire waved a hand and another centaur shot an arrow through General Mizuhara’s neck. Blood flowing out of her neck and mouth, she collapsed to the ground.

“No!” I yelled, but I didn’t dare to move, afraid he would shoot Advisor Akamori if I did. I hoped General Mizuhara would survive that. She’s a strong siren. She would survive.

“Ah, finally. We no longer have to use this stupid rubber.” The vampire took out something that looked like ear plugs from both his ears and threw them away, the remaining soldiers following his example. “Take her away.”

I had to say something. If General Mizuhara was taken away, she would be treated the same way as Advisor Akamori. Although they were just some savages I had met a few times, I couldn’t let that happen. That kind of treatment wasn't fair for anyone. But what could I say to them? They chose violence. Words wouldn’t do much.

Although both of them were from the Outland, they didn’t deserve to be tortured like that just because of something trivial; General Mizuhara for violating a travel ban—which was basically my fault—and Advisor Akamori for doing I didn't know what. It didn’t make sense. There must be something else I didn’t know. Something they also didn’t know. They had mentioned that the council was also hiding something from them. They might have been close to finding out what it was.

What should I do?

“Ryumine. What are you doing here? I got a report from a civilian about the mess you caused here.”

Chief Hakurei approached the vampire, apparently named Ryumine. I was so preoccupied with my own thoughts and anxieties that I didn’t realize she was here. But this was my chance. Ryumine would be distracted and I could use the opportunity to think of how to get out of here.

“Retrieving our rats, of course,” Ryumine answered. “No need to worry. I’ll be leaving soon.”

Chief Hakurei retorted, “Why don’t you inform me first? I would have it arranged for you. This violence is unnecessary.”

“You’re being too soft on them. Look at them now. Rebellious.”

“I assure you they’re nothing like what you think they are.”

“This is what happens if you spend too long here. You rot away.”

While the two were arguing, I checked Advisor Akamori’s and General Mizuhara’s exact positions, so that I would be ready to snatch them away as soon as I got the chance. Advisor Akamori was still tied up; I needed to take down the minotaur holding her chains. General Mizuhara was lying on the ground; a centaur was about to haul her up onto his back. How could I save them both at the same time? By the time I shot one of them, the other would start shooting.

However, suddenly both the minotaur and the centaur were down. Those were gunshots. I didn’t know who did that, but I could predict the trajectory; the sniper—or snipers—was on the rooftop of the building next to me. Whoever they were, they were here to help. It’s not the time to hesitate.

I hurriedly zoomed towards Advisor Akamori and General Mizuhara, picking them up. My wings fortunately were strong enough to bring us up to reach the rooftop where the snipers were. To say I was surprised when I found out who they were was an understatement.

The snipers were Aberu and Nohana.