Ruler of the Outland
“Fairy kings are awesome,” Nohana suddenly complimented early in the morning without any context whatsoever.
The three of us were now in our office at Area 1, patiently waiting for the morning brief to end so that we could finally confront Chief Hakurei. I texted her and she agreed to talk to us, so we secured a small meeting room for privacy purposes. While I wasn't sure if I could trust her, I wanted to hear what she had to say first.
We were lucky that no one had attempted to attack us on our way to the HQ. But that’s probably because we had left at an ungodly hour to avoid being seen. We would be very exposed and vulnerable during patrol duties, which worried me a lot. Making excuses to avoid doing patrol duties would only make us more suspicious.
“Isn’t Teruya half-fairy? What’s awesome about him? Sure he can fly, but that’s it,” Aberu humored her randomness while insulting me in the process.
“Hey!” I protested, feeling offended.
At this time of the day, he would usually be at the lobby catching up with the newest gossip spreading around the building, but since we’re currently hiding so many things, I had to ask him to refrain from going there for the time being because the risk of him accidentally spilling our secret was too high. Which was also why he was taking his frustration out on me.
Then I thought about what I could do besides flying. There’s none, so probably Aberu had got a point. But when I visited the Outland for the first time, I was kind of overwhelmed with my own feelings and something happened to the wooden chair in which it came alive. Nothing magical had ever happened to me since then. I wondered if I actually could do something aside from flying. That would be a great help to protect people close to me.
“Fairy kings and fairy are different, you know. Don’t lump them together,” Nohana corrected distractedly while typing something on a laptop inside the meeting room. It was supposed to be used for meeting purposes, but she just hogged it for herself the moment we walked in here. It’s not like it was going to be used for anything else, so we just let her be.
I stared at her in confusion. “How can they be different? Isn’t king just a title?”
My father was a fairy king because he was literally the ruler of the Outland. I was also one because I would inherit his throne. Wasn’t that it? Merely a title attached behind the savage’s species name?
Nohana turned the laptop around so that we could see it; we simultaneously leaned closer to have a better look. “See those wings? Fairy kings’ wings are big and beautiful just like butterflies’, while fairies’ have smaller wings, soft and less thicker. Their abilities are also different."
What I saw on the laptop was our SCD’s archive database which recorded every information we had gathered from the savages we had ever captured. And the page she opened consisted of detailed information about fairy kings and fairies, complete with rough drawings in the descriptions part.
I had tried searching up information about them when I found out I was half-fairy the first time, but there’s no detailed information available aside from some vague descriptions of their appearance, which was how I knew what I was. I also had looked it up on the prison records and SCD had never managed to capture one.
I asked curiously, “Wait, how did you find out about this? I thought we didn’t have records on fairies and such because we never captured them.”
“I hacked into the classified archives and there's detailed information about fairy kings and fairies. Their strengths and weaknesses and so on. Look.” Nohana scrolled down the page to show me.
“How is it even possible that they have this information? Isn’t fairy king super rare? I mean, the only fairy king existed has been your father for the longest time, until you came along. And even then, you’re only half,” Aberu said in disbelief as we both read the whole pages.
“Who has access to this page?” Anyone who could access the page must have known something about my father. Maybe one of them had written this. Either my father had told them about it himself or someone had captured him but hadn’t handed him to the prison. It was also probable that he’d exchanged information about him for something with someone from the higher ranks. There were countless possibilities.
“Only squad chiefs and above. Why would anyone go this far to protect this information? It’s pretty hard to break through. Annoying. I almost gave up,” Nohana grumbled sulkily.
“You aren’t supposed to hack it in the first place.” Aberu then added, encouraging her for breaking the rules, “Not that I complained, though. Why didn’t you tell me that you’re skilled in snooping around? I could have used you since a long time ago. We’d turn this place upside down with your help.”
While both of them were discussing pointless things that I knew they weren’t serious about, I focused on reading the page and searched for the fairy king’s strengths. The page listed them as: abilities to control all nature elements, archery, shapeshifting, flying, ability to self-heal and heal others, ability to use magic. This wasn't even possible. I couldn’t do any of these, aside from archery and flying. Controlling woods was a fluke, a one-time thing. There’s no way I could do the other things listed here.
“Damn, man! You can shapeshift? That’s sick,” Aberu exclaimed from next to me, joining me in reading the fairy guidebook.
“I’m only part fairy king. I don’t know if I can do all this. Even if I can, I don’t know how,” I muttered in bewilderment.
"The chief," Nohana provided airily. "She must be able to teach you. I want to see you perform magic and make my hair glow like Erena's."
Aberu raised a brow at her. "Why would he waste his magic on your hair? Don't you want to see him shapeshift into a dragon or something? That must be awesome."
Nohana exclaimed excitedly, "Oh! That's a good idea, actually! I've always wanted to ride a unicorn!"
I shook my head incredulously and tuned out their ridiculous conversation. The page remained open, drawings of butterfly wings staring back at me. I wondered why they had made it classified.
What was the point of making detailed information of a savage inaccessible to most agents? Wasn't knowing how to deal with them necessary before going on a chase? What were they hiding inside this page?
Chief Hakurei entered the room unannounced and I instinctively closed the laptop's lid, Nohana quickly snatching it away from me. What Nohana had done was against the rules after all. It's still not clear whose side Chief Hakurei was on, so I thought it's better to be careful.
"You shouldn't be here," was the first thing Chief Hakurei said to me.
"Funny how you said that after avoiding me this long," I retorted immediately. She had been hiding this whole time after dropping the bomb on me and only appeared now. She didn't have a right to tell me what I should or should not do.
Chief Hakurei sighed defeatedly. "I'm sorry. I wasn't sure what I should do. I wanted to give you time, but it didn't feel right to stay silent while you might be in danger."
"Yeah, right. I almost died three times. Oh, scratch that. It's actually more. I lost count," I said indignantly. It was technically not her fault, but she played a part in it. If she had told me the truth from the beginning, I wouldn't have had to search for answers myself, even getting involved with the feud among the Outland's officials.
"Will you stop being so hostile with me? I'm not your enemy.” I could see her trying to be patient with me, but her patience was wearing thin, so was mine.
"How do I know that?" I demanded.
"I will tell you everything you want to know."
"Okay. I'll get to the point. I won't waste any more time, because we don't have that kind of leisure." I paused to give her a look, silently blaming her for the dire situation we're currently in. She only rolled her eyes at me. "Let's start from the very beginning. What happened here ten years ago? Don't give me a half-assed answer. I know you're involved in some way."
Her face fell at the question, turning paler the longer the silence stretched. She always had this stern but warm demeanor, like a dependable big sister. I had grown up admiring her closely and wanting to be someone like her, but now that I saw her demeanor falling apart, it all seemed no more than a facade she'd been putting up in front of me.
“If you’re asking about how your father died, I can’t answer that. Your father made me promise him to never tell you. I want to honor his last words. If you’re asking whether I was involved, my answer is yes. I was there,” Chief Hakurei said regretfully. Everyone around me seemed to develop a great fondness for hiding things lately.
She didn’t budge, determined to keep the truth hidden, using my father’s last words as an excuse. It would be a waste of time trying to get it out of her. I was thinking of trying to ask her that question again later, after Erena recovered from her injury so that she could compel her to answer honestly whether she liked it or not. In the meantime, I should get as many answers as possible from her.
“Fine. Why did you decide to tell me about the Outland after staying silent all this time? Why did you suddenly ask me to take the reign? Why do you need me? What do you want me to do?” I asked the questions that had been nagging in my mind.
“It’s as you suspected—I know you’ve been digging around. The council has different opinions. The people are angry about it. I need a king who can both overrule the council and put the country back in order. And also, if the other side of the council has started carrying out their plan, you will be in danger, which is why I decided to start telling you bit by bit and easing you into it. Though, I realized too late that it was a very bad idea. I should have told you everything.”
She must be referring to my extreme ways of gathering information and she regretted not telling me sooner herself before everything went awry. She was right, though. If she had told me everything, I wouldn’t have gone to such lengths to learn the truth.
“What is Ryumine planning?” I inquired.
Shrugging, she answered, “I’m not sure exactly what his plan is. He’s been keeping me out of the loop. But, I did my digging, too. I think he's trying to topple the SCD. He's been gradually sneaking his followers inside the agency since ten years ago, disguised as agents, staff, even prisoners."
This was what I'd been afraid of. The harpy was one of Ryumine's followers. And who knew how many more were already inside the building? He'd been doing this for ten years. Someone I had known for a long time might be someone on his side.
I turned to look at Aberu and Nohana who had been sitting at the corner, patiently waiting for me to finish questioning Chief Hakurei. Even they, who I had known for ten years, could possibly be Ryumine's followers. But if I couldn't trust them, then who could I trust?
"Can't you stop him?" She was the chairwoman of the council. Surely her words had some weight.
Chief Hakurei raised her eyebrows at my question, as if it was stupid. "You think he'll listen to me? After the king's death, the council made decisions by voting. More than half the council members are on Ryumine's side. They've despised humans—SCD, particularly—for the longest time. The former king was the only reason they didn't start attacking."
It's quite obvious that Ryumine hated humans from the way he'd talked to Chief Hakurei the other day, mentioning that she'd rotted away from spending too long in Zerin. But I was surprised that he would be willing to go far to destroy SCD with a ten-year plan. Well, time meant nothing for vampires, but still, he's very dedicated. There might be another motive aside from his plain hatred towards humans.
Everything was now a lot clearer. Doubts were confirmed. Questions were answered. The only thing left was how to stop Ryumine from starting a war with SCD. Things could get very ugly once that happened. We needed to be prepared in case if violence was unavoidable. I had to be able to fight.
"Can you teach me to use my abilities?" I asked in hopes that she knew something about fairy kings during the time she had served my father. "You know, fairy kings should be able to do something aside from flying." I didn't want to tattle on Nohana for hacking the SCD archives, so I tried to be subtle.
"Sure. That's the least I can do," Chief Hakurei agreed.
Our conversation was interrupted by the deafening voice from the public address system in the HQ which was commonly used only for urgent matters and natural disasters. Everyone stopped talking and did nothing but listen closely to the broadcast. Even Nohana had stopped playing with the laptop she had taken from my hand earlier.
"Area 4's prison has been breached. I repeat. Area's 4 prison has been breached. Savages are escaping. All agents available must promptly head to Area 4."
The HQ suddenly became very busy. I could hear shouting from outside the meeting room, their hurried steps echoing through the building. They must be preparing to head towards Area 4’s prison.
Area 4's prison was where Akamori and Erena went to question the gorgon. Was the prison break actually Akamori's stupid plan? Freeing everyone to talk to the gorgon seemed too far-stretched, but I would never know what that ghoul was thinking. What if it was the work of Ryumine's supporters? Akamori and Erena could be in danger.
"What's wrong?" Chief Hakurei must have noticed the panic in my face.
"The ghoul and the siren are in that prison," Aberu answered in my stead as he jumped to his feet, ready to leave for Area 4. "Am I finally allowed to talk? Thank God. Now move your asses, guys. They need our help."
"Let's go in my car. It's faster than the train,” Chief Hakurei offered, knowing that we didn’t have our own vehicles.
Having no time to think about her offer, we all agreed to jump into her car after preparing our weapons. I brought quite a lot of spare cuffs with me since I lost mine, and with all the prisoners breaking out, I would need the cuffs to bring them back in; I didn’t exactly agree with the idea of capturing them without knowing their background first, but I couldn’t risk letting Ryumine’s supporters do whatever he asked them to do. Aberu and Nohana brought many kinds of guns, storing them in the car’s trunk. They even packed a lot of spare arrows for me aside from what I already stocked in my quiver. If someone saw Chief Hakurei’s trunk, they might think that we’re about to go to war.
True to her words, we reached Area 4’s prison in merely fifteen minutes. Riding a train might have doubled that, considering the large number of agents who were heading there at the same time because of the prison break.
What we saw as soon as we got there was utter chaos. The prison building was on fire, lots of fighting happening and severely wounded people lying on the ground. The sight reminded me of the story Akamori had told me before, about the prison fire a hundred years ago which had allowed her to escape. Was this really her plan? Was this her way that she’d mentioned yesterday? But this wasn’t the time to dwell on that.
There were a lot of civilians getting hurt, either this was a coordinated attack planned by Ryumine or it was the prisoners’ own initiatives—we couldn’t be sure. Savages and agents were fighting in every corner. Many of them were getting away because the agents were too injured to chase after them. It was an awful view to see. The parking lot in front of the prison had been turned into a battlefield.
I heard Chief Hakurei blurt quietly from beside me, “This sure brings back bad memories.”
To be honest, I was surprised to hear that. The other prison fire happened a hundred years ago. Did that mean she’d also been there during that fire? It was impossible if she’d been a prisoner just like Akamori, because SCD wouldn’t have allowed her in. We kept records of our prisoners, photos and stuff.
She’d mentioned that she’d only started working at the SCD ten years ago under the king’s order to watch over me. If she hadn’t aged at all for a hundred years, wouldn’t anyone recognize that? Unless, she meant another fire that wasn’t on the record. This only made her even more mysterious and suspicious.
The only fire I remembered aside from that prison fire was the fire caused by a savage that had killed my mom ten years ago. The sight was bringing up painful memories, but I had to shake them off my mind. I needed to focus on my job.
“Wear your earpiece. We’ll talk again later. For now we’re on duty as Squad 1,” Chief Hakurei said after she parked her car and turned off the engine. “Aberu, you and me, we stay on the ground, capturing as many as we can. Nohana and Teruya, since you both are long-range fighters, find a place to shoot from above, and be our eyes. And while we’re at it, we’ll also keep a lookout for your friends.”
“Yes, Chief,” Aberu, Nohana, and I said in unison.