Ruler of the Outland
"Okay. Who wants to start first?" Aberu asked as we arrived at his safehouse.
Aberu had a safehouse in Area 4. A huge secret house loaded with a stockpile of weapons and advanced technology. And he never told me that. I wasn't even surprised with more people close to me keeping secrets—disappointed but not surprised.
Chief Hakurei had dropped the biggest bomb. Everyone else would pale in comparison. I learned to not trust anyone completely, not even Aberu and Nohana, so I wouldn't have to deal with another major disappointment.
"Me!" Nohana raised her hand, the caffeine in her system working wonders in boosting her spirits, making her appear as a different person than she was before consuming any. "Why did you never tell us about the safehouse? You never told us you’re rich. We could have leeched off of you. So many wasted opportunities."
“I second that,” I chimed in.
Aberu widened his eyes in disbelief and dramatically pointed a finger at me. “No. You, out of anyone, don’t get to say anything. You’re the biggest liar here, Teruya. Just look at your wings! Damn!”
I only shrugged at him, feeling bad for not telling him I was a half-fairy. Keeping him out of the circle was safer, but since now he already got himself involved somehow, he should know the full story. Knowledge could save his life.
“Teruya is forgiven because his wings are beautiful. Can I touch them?” Nohana scooted closer to me on the couch where we were sitting together. Her eyes were sparkling with excitement, gleaming like my wings.
Hiding my wings would be pointless at this point since they had seen them. So I just let them out comfortably, as though they were my extra limbs. Besides, I needed to be ready for anything. Ryumine and his gang might go after us again. It's best to be prepared at all times.
"Go ahead," I said nonchalantly, but actually I was kind of worried that she would try to peel them off or something. I could never know what the quirky girl was thinking. Distracting myself from her, I turned to Aberu. "So you were saying?"
Aberu sighed exasperatedly and plopped down on the couch in front of me. He seemed reluctant to share his story. "My parents own a bunch of silver mines. The government is kissing their asses. Naturally, they're super rich. Didn't I tell you this before? Anyway, long story short, they're paranoid. They think my job is dangerous. So they build safehouses for me, one in each area, in case I need a place to hide. The end. Your turn."
"Ten safehouses?" was the only thing coming out of my mouth. One extra house was rich, but ten? He’d been a big shot the whole time?
Rolling his eyes exasperatedly, Aberu repeated, "Yes, ten safehouses. I just told you that. It’s nothing compared to the fact that you’re not human. And I bet the two seriously injured girls lying in my guest room are not humans as well.”
“Ha! Told you that blue hair is not natural! Bleaching can’t make my hair glow like that!” Nohana provided us with information we didn’t need, so both of us promptly ignored her. She also mentioned something about my wings looking like they were sprinkled with glitter. Another useless input that I paid no mind to.
“Before I fill you in, can you tell me why you both were on that rooftop?” I asked the question that had been bugging me since earlier, but I couldn’t find the right timing to ask.
Aberu ruffled his hair in frustration. “Chief called and asked us to observe the situation from that rooftop, saying you might need our help. It sounded like an emergency, so we obliged without asking why. God, she’s not human, too, isn’t she?”
I nodded and he groaned out loud in response, in contrast with Nohana who was unfazed. I wasn’t sure whether she didn’t find the information surprising or she was just lost in her world. Giving her a questioning look, I prompted her to spill if she was keeping anything from us. She did nothing but blankly stare back at me. I took that as a no and proceeded to share my knowledge with them.
Aberu and Nohana were listening intently to the brief version of my crazy rides from the moment I stepped into the Outland for the first time until now. They remained silent until after I finished my storytelling. I was worried that I dumped too much information and they couldn't keep up.
However, that wasn't the case. They were indeed listening, but they were focusing on the wrong things.
"Dude. You've been going on adventures with pretty monster girls and you didn't think of inviting me. I'm hurt." Aberu placed a hand on his chest, exaggerating every little thing as always.
"So Erena isn't your girlfriend? And here I was rooting for your relationship. The ship sank before it could sail. That's super sad." Nohana sighed in disappointment.
Why did I even bother explaining things to them?
I supposed I had to say it in a serious tone to make them take this seriously. "Hey, guys. I don't think you understand the gravity of this situation. Telling you about the Outland means I'm getting you involved. They might target you, too. This is me warning you. If you want to run away, now is the chance. They haven't seen your faces."
"And we're telling you we don't care. We're friends and friends help each other. Just because it turns out you're not fully human like us, it doesn't mean we stop being your friends." Aberu visibly shivered at his own speech, grimacing in disgust. "Ew. That's cringe. You should have stopped me."
"Teruya is Teruya," Nohana added, worsening the already cringey situation. "We love Teruya."
I barely escaped from Nohana's crushing group hug, jumping and landing on the opposite couch next to Aberu with the help of my wings. "Alright, I get it. Don't say I didn't warn you."
The safehouse was well hidden from plain sight as it was built underground, under the basement parking lot of an office building. On top of that, there was a secret entrance and a private elevator that could only be accessed by scanning Aberu's fingerprint before anyone could reach here, so we should be safe for a while.
Noticing no immediate danger, we spent some time to recharge ourselves, relaxing from our long day; Nohana was experimenting in the open kitchen to cook a potentially poisonous dinner while Aberu and I were playfully sparring using wooden swords in the living area. It was peaceful and all until the door of the guest room was slammed open.
General Mizuhara weakly staggered out of the room, her eyes wide with panic, gripping a bunch of pens and pencils in her hands, ready to throw them in our direction. She was shaking terribly, her legs barely able to support her weight. The wound in her neck had opened up again, her blood seeping through the bandage we had wrapped around it.
Pale face and sweaty temples, she looked scared out of her mind. She kept trying to speak but no voice came out. Losing her voice must be the worst possible thing that could happen to a siren. With that severe damage to her vocal cords, I doubted she would be able to talk any time soon, much less sing. Powerless and injured, she was afraid, lost and panicked. The unfamiliar place must have intensified all that.
I hastily flew in and stood right in front of her, blocking her view. "Hey, it's me. It's okay. No one is going to hurt you."
Her eyes didn't focus on mine. Instead, they were darting around the place, warily scanning the surroundings. Then when her gaze landed on Nohana holding a kitchen knife, she mouthed human and went wild, shoving me to the floor and threw the pens at her as if throwing darts. Nohana quickly ducked, taking cover behind the counter. The pens zoomed above her head and stuck to the wall.
Aberu stepped out to help but unfortunately made it even worse. The wooden sword in his hand only served as another weapon to attack her in her eyes. She lunged at him, her eyes feral as she picked up my abandoned wooden sword.
I hurriedly flew towards her back and deliberately crashed into her hard, sending her tumbling down. Before she could jump to her feet, I pinned her to the ground with my weight, flapping my wings to add more pressure.
"Get out of here, quick!" I shouted.
Aberu frowned, not liking my idea. "You sure, man? She looks strong enough to cut your head off with that wooden sword. No offense."
"I know that. Now, go!"
Albeit reluctantly, Aberu dropped his wooden sword and dragged Nohana out from behind the counter, forcing her to let go of the knife. Both of them scurried towards the guest room where Advisor Akamori was still resting in and locked themselves up.
"Hey, look at me." I tried to calm her down. She was still struggling in my hold. "Can't you see my wings? I'm not a human. It's okay. You're safe."
It pained me to admit it out loud that I was, in fact, not a human. But this siren seemed to have a traumatic experience with humans from the way she went berserk like that, so there's no choice. I had to keep repeating it's okay before she stopped struggling.
Her gaze finally met mine.
"It's just me. You're okay," I said again and again.
She was no longer fighting back. I let go of my hold and helped her up, sitting her down on the couch. Her hands slowly reached her neck, feeling the bandage around the wound. She grimaced in pain at one point.
"Does it hurt? Let me change your bandage. It's soaked with your blood."
When I was about to walk away to get the new bandage, General Mizuhara tugged at my uniform coat, preventing me from leaving. I was genuinely surprised that she had an unexpected cute side. But on the other hand, I felt so awful that the invincible siren had become this vulnerable.
I sat back down next to her. "You'll heal. Just like how you usually do."
She gestured an X with her arms—I figured she found it painful to nod or shake her head. I was going to ask why she said no but then realized it's probably too difficult for her to explain with gestures. I took out my phone and opened a blank note, telling her to type what she wanted to say there.
The Outland had no technology like phones or computers, so naturally, I assumed she wasn't born human since she wasn't familiar with typing on a keyboard. It was cute how she took forever to search for a letter. I patiently waited and watched her struggle to type in amusement.
My weakness, she typed.
"Your neck is your weakness? You can't heal?" I asked. Now that I paid attention to her injury, it didn’t seem to be getting any better. The bleeding hadn’t even stopped, oozing through the bandage, trickling down her clothes.
She made a circle with her arms and added in the note, Slow.
"Ah, you heal, but slowly. That's great. You can have your voice back," I cheered her up.
General Mizuhara added very in front of slow.
I had no idea how slow it was, but for sure, something was always better than nothing. "Better than losing your voice forever, right?"
She weakly shrugged, unwilling to accept the fact that she had to settle with not being able to use her voice temporarily. It was a miracle that she came out of the fight alive with an arrow through her neck. I wouldn’t dare to ask for anything else if I were her. Surviving was good enough.
“I’ve asked you this before, but you never really answered it. Why do you hate humans? I think I deserve to know that after… you know.” I was contemplating asking since earlier, worried if I offended her or anything. “But if it’s too much for you, don’t answer it. We’ll save it for another day.”
She didn’t hesitate to answer this time. My family was killed by pirates. I was, too.
“Wait. You were human? And what do you mean that they killed you, too?” I asked, perplexed. I had always assumed that she was born a siren due to her lack of knowledge about Zerin. But if she was born human, how could she know nothing about our world?
General Mizuhara was getting impatient from typing on my phone; I had to stop her from slamming it down. We were sailing. The pirates took over our ship. They threw us all into the ocean.
“That doesn’t make sense. If they killed you, how are you alive?”
The ocean saved me and turned me into her slave. I had to kill a lot of sailors before I was finally free.
Her hatred towards humans was now justifiable. I could understand where she came from. A savage had taken my mom from me, which was why I hated them with all my might, enough to enlist as an SCD agent. Humans had taken her family and her life from her. And even her freedom after dying was snatched away. Having to live while killing people under the ocean’s order must have been a torture.
“That's awful. How old were you when you were killed?” I asked out of curiosity, feeling bad that she had to go through all that.
Six. A couple hundred years ago.
The ocean was insane. How could she employ a six year old and turn her into a siren to kill people for her?
A loud noise distracted us from our conversation. There was shouting from inside the guest room, the sound of the furniture being destroyed, crashing against the wall. It seemed like they were fighting each other from what I could hear. What was happening?
General Mizuhara quickly showed the screen of my phone to me before I went to check on them. Akamori needs to feed to heal. She’s losing control over herself. You need to hurry.
I quickly jumped to my feet. “Nohana cooked some dinner earlier. I can bring it to her.”
She yanked me back down to my seat, showing the phone again. Not that food. Her food.
“Oh,” was the only thing I could say, completely at a loss for words. I panicked as my brain whirred, desperately looking for a solution.
How in the world could I procure human flesh for her to eat?