Ruler of the Outland
After washing up and changing into spare clothes stored in the safehouse, we're forced to eat Nohana's homemade dinner—we couldn't eat out or order delivery food without risking revealing our location. The food was barely edible, but I appreciated her effort. And the only clothes available aside from armors were all plain black shirts and pants, but we didn't exactly have other options, considering we're in a safehouse. This wasn’t the time and place to be picky.
We gathered around the dining table with Erena and Advisor Akamori standing in the center. I wasn’t much of a speech person, but I owed my friends some explanation and gratitude for the extreme ride they had experienced for our sake.
"Before we start, I want to thank Aberu and Nohana for helping us. I know how difficult it must be for you to make an alliance with savages. We've been educated our whole lives that they are hostile and dangerous." Then I was reminded of Erena's attempt to attack them and Advisor Akamori's rampage. Although they had reasons for that, I couldn't help but wince. "Uh, it depends on the circumstances—the same as humans, actually. I understand if you want to back out. Even myself, I don’t really have the chance to wholly accept my identity as half-fairy. Unfortunately, we don’t have that much leisure time with the council close on our tail.”
For me, I didn’t have a choice, because I couldn’t choose my parents. I wasn't fully human, but I wasn't fully savage either. I would be drawn in both worlds one way or another. However, it’s not too late for them. They could still decide whether they wanted to get involved with us or not. I wanted to give them the choices I couldn’t have.
I continued after giving them a pause to take it all in, “They want to uncover the secret their council is hiding. And I have a foot on both sides, it’s only natural I want to know both sides of the story. But you should understand that everything we do from now on is against the rules of both worlds. We will be fugitives everywhere, on the run all the time. If any of you want out, don't hesitate to tell me."
The pause stretched on as they were seemingly giving it another careful thought. I couldn’t blame them, though. If they decided to come with us, they would literally throw away their lives as humans. They couldn’t return to work in SCD since they would be seen as traitors from helping savages. They would receive a severe penalty for that. If possible, I wanted to ask them to not get involved with us.
In my case, knowing all the secrets they had kept from us, I found it hard to work for them. I felt like it would be unfair to the innocent savages that only happened to be stranded here, such as Advisor Akamori's case when she first turned. Moreover, after seeing how horrible the way they dealt with the prisoners, I couldn’t find it in myself to help capture more and add the number of captives to be poorly treated. It just didn’t sit right with me.
I needed to know what they were hiding from us before I could properly think of what I should do next. However, I should prepare myself for the possibility that I might no longer be accepted in human society after all this ended. There’s a great risk that my identity would be revealed. Chief Hakurei still had the footage of me flying during the harpy chase. I was sure she would use that to blackmail me one day.
“Nope. I’m not bowing out. Besides, my life has been a little boring lately. This seems to be a thrilling experience to brag about later. So, yes. I’m in,” Aberu said and nudged Nohana who was spacing out.
“What he said,” Nohana simply added, standing up to make herself a cup of coffee.
I didn’t know whether I should be happy or sad that they decided to join us. If we didn’t show up at work tomorrow, suspicions would arise and things could take a turn for the worse.
"And what about you, Erena? I know you hate humans. Will you be willing to work together with them?" I turned to ask Erena. She might find my presence tolerable, but it might not be the case for the others.
Erena didn't seem comfortable around Aberu and Nohana, but she typed, If that's what it takes.
Her will to find out what the council was hiding was stronger than her hatred towards humans at the moment. Aberu and Nohana were okay with them if I was. And Advisor Akamori didn't hate humans in the first place. I should be relieved that they were willing to tolerate each other, but I couldn't shake the gnawing feeling that something would go terribly wrong sometime in the future. The trust in this temporary alliance was built shakily during a fragile state, which meant it could be torn down easily.
Putting away my concerns for later, I ended my speech session and passed the baton to Advisor Akamori. The long-awaited enlightenment about Erena's investigation book was finally here.
"Alright. You have the honor to start the discussion, Advisor." I prompted the ghoul to talk, since Erena was still unable to use her voice.
Advisor Akamori huffed in irritation, "Oh, please. You think I will return as their advisor after what they've done to me? I'm not stupid."
"I highly doubt that," Aberu piped up, disagreeing.
"Hey, I was not being myself!" Advisor Akamori protested.
I had a feeling the banter would be endless if I didn't stop it now. I decided to cut to the chase. "So what happened after I left with Erena?"
"Wow. You're now on a first-name basis with her? We should all drop honorifics and use our first names, because from now on we're a team," Advisor Akamori declared excitedly, distracted by the most unimportant thing at the moment as usual. Well, the good thing was she’s back to normal. “I’ve never properly introduced myself to you, right? I’m Kanora.”
“Aberu. And this pink-haired girl here is Nohana. As you already know.” Aberu was totally reeled in as I was afraid of. He’d always been interested in anything that sounded thrilling. It’s a given that he would find this whole ordeal fun, although he would complain a lot along the way. “Okay, orange short-haired girl, what’s our team’s mission?”
I was about to correct him that her hair was actually light brown, but I decided I didn't want to take part in this conversation.
“It’s Kanora,” Advisor Akamori corrected persistently. I would also persistently address her as Akamori. “But first, I will answer Teruya’s question. He’s glaring daggers at me. It’s scary.”
“You’re the last person who is allowed to say that,” I countered. Her demonic black eyes were creepier than every eye I'd ever seen. “Anyway, go on.”
"Okay. Let me tell you about the book's content first. It's interesting. The harpy was sent on a mission to wreak havoc in Zerin by the council. Can you believe that?"
"The vampire council that is led by our chief?" Nohana confirmed, sipping her second cup of coffee for the day. The extra caffeine was probably needed for her to stay up.
She and Aberu had been fed with so much information today. It must be difficult to process all that at once and connect it with the newly shared information. If I were them, my brain would have been fried. I had been in their shoes and it's not a pleasant experience in the slightest.
"How do you know that the harpy was telling the truth?" Aberu asked suspiciously.
I shared my thoughts. "Erena is the one doing the questioning. I doubt any living creature can ever escape her enchantment without some hearing blocker and such. But that doesn’t make any sense, why would the council do that? What’s in it for them?”
The revelation was unexpected. I had been sure they were rebels trying to start a revolution or something, considering they were undisguised and carelessly roaming around—excluding the newly turned savages, of course. The possibility that the council had made them do that on purpose had never crossed my mind.
With Chief Hakurei disguised as an SCD agent, they should have been well aware that every undisguised savage spotted by the agents would be captured without hesitation and then locked behind bars indefinitely. What was the point of getting their own people rotting in prison? Why wouldn't they just distribute the necklaces and make them blend in with humans?
“More spies?” Nohana suggested absentmindedly.
Akamori agreed, “Actually, that might be a possibility. The harpy was told to let the agents capture her and await further orders. I have no idea what those orders are. The council always keeps the secrecy of their midnight meetings. Who knows what they’re up to?”
Erena typed something on my phone and showed it to Akamori.
“Erena suspects that the council is divided. She said Chairwoman Hakurei and Councilman Ryumine are not on the same page," Akamori relayed.
I nodded in agreement. "We saw them arguing back then. That's a probable guess. Do you think they might have different agendas?"
"Maybe. I'm just pissed that we—their own soldiers—are completely left in the dark. I'm an advisor. I shouldn't feel stupid," Akamori said frustratedly.
Aberu seemingly just caught up with the conversation. "Hold up. Are you telling me we're possibly stumbling into a three-way battle? This is crazy."
"Three-way?" Nohana asked, her eyes barely open. It seemed like it took all her might to stay awake.
"Well, from the way I see it, the council already has their own two-way battle, and if they set foot in Zerin, SCD won't just stay back and do nothing. Not to mention there are probably other savages like this orange-haired girl who's pissed with the council for hiding things. Hell, even a war might break out." Aberu paused to take a breath and praised himself, "Wow. I'm a genius."
"It's Kanora,” Akamori corrected again irritatedly. “I refuse to refer to you as a genius.”
I inquired curiously, “How does your government work there in the Outland? I mean before and after the former ruler's death.” It was weird to address him as my father, so I abstained.
“The council didn’t have this much authority during your father’s reign. They couldn’t do a thing back then. Every council meeting was supervised by your father. Either he put me inside to take records with the enchanted investigation book and reported everything to him or he would attend the meetings himself. There’s nothing he didn’t know. How I miss those times.”
We had to patiently wait until Erena finished typing since she wasn’t used to it. I was worried my phone screen would break from all the pressure she'd put into it. Nohana had dozed off at one point, leaving her cup of coffee unfinished. But we decided to not wake her up and tell her our plan later after we settled on the best course of action.
The council has been acting suspicious after the ruler's death. But it’s obvious from the frequent secret meetings and the rapidly increasing number of Inland travelers that they only started their move this year, which is why I tried to get information from the harpy. As you already know, they banned me from exiting Outland and chained Akamori up only to prevent that information from going out. That must be a very crucial piece of information, Erena showed us what she’d typed.
No matter how much I wanted to avoid bringing up my father who was practically nonexistent to me, I couldn't because everything led back to him. I knew nothing about him, so it was uncomfortable to think of him as a parent. Just thinking that he'd left my mother to raise me alone and then helplessly die made my blood boil. I didn't even know what he looked like.
However, if I was stubbornly keeping myself from asking about him, I wouldn't make any progress in knowing the whole picture.
I sighed defeatedly before saying, “So that means whatever the council is planning, it has something to do with my father’s death. Tell me everything you know about him. How did he die?"
Akamori exchanged knowing looks with Erena, and then began to tell the full story in her stead. "Your father liked to visit the Inland, which must be how he met your mother. I didn't know the details, but I heard he was shot to death by the SCD agents. We were in the Outland when it happened. He asked for some privacy to visit you, so Erena, who was his personal guard at the time, didn't follow him. We only heard the news from the council afterwards. The chairwoman just happened to see him there."
I quickly denied. "No. That's not true. He never visited me. I never saw him in my entire life."
Frankly, I didn't buy it. None of what she said sounded plausible. SCD agents were strongly prohibited from killing savages, unless highly necessary, and I doubted the king would go as far as killing humans—the only major rule violation that would warrant an execution—when his wife was also human. Our weapons were designed to sedate and not kill. We would have to bring them back to the HQ to actually kill anyone, which made it even less possible to happen.
Visiting me was an obvious lie. I had zero recollection of seeing him. And also, I found it strange that Chief Hakurei had happened to witness the incident while none of the other officials hadn't. It was too difficult to believe that it was just a coincidence. The privacy excuse sounded even more fishy the more I thought about it.
"Well, that's easy. You can simply ask Chief Hakurei for the truth. She's the only one present during the incident, right? Mystery solved," Aberu suggested.
Confronting Chief Hakurei was an idea I had pushed to the back of my mind. I didn't want to be reminded that someone close to me had become someone I couldn't trust, but at the same time, I wanted to know the truth and her reasons to hide all that from me. So I had to be the one getting the answers.
"I'll come to work tomorrow and talk to her. Aberu and Nohana will come with me," I announced, after weighing the pros and cons.
Ryumine and his gang wouldn't dare to step inside the HQ. There's a chance that there might be another disguised agent aside from Chief Hakurei, though they wouldn't be stupid enough to start a ruckus there. So as long as we're inside the building and surrounded by the agents, we would be safe. Getting there, though, was the problem. But that's a risk worth taking. And also, we would avoid getting suspected of anything if we showed up at work as usual.
"I'll visit my old friend, the gorgon, in the prison with Erena to see if she knows something about the council's shady movement." Akamori shared her plan.
After deciding on our plans for tomorrow, we agreed to turn in for the night since it's way past midnight already. I suggested that we took turns watching the safehouse just in case anything happened. They complained and called me paranoid, but I didn't want to take chances.
Akamori and I took the first shift, since the others were far too exhausted to keep their eyes open and one of them was already asleep. I volunteered because I could stay up for a few more hours even if I was also worn out. And I practically came up with the idea, so it's only right that I did it first. While Akamori was chosen by default because she still had full energy from feeding.
"Will you be fine going around with those eyes? Do you need cuffs? I can borrow them from Aberu or Nohana," I offered once the others retreated back into their respective rooms. Although the cuffs wouldn't be able to hide her eyes, maybe she could use them to pretend to be a prisoner or something. I couldn't lend her my necklace because I needed it for myself.
She turned down my offer. "Nah. I have my way."
I narrowed my eyes at her with suspicion. "If your way involves eating a person, you better forget it."
"I can't promise."
Akamori laughed out loud and I realized she was only messing with me. I began to regret volunteering to take the shift with her.