Ruler of the Outland
Aberu and Chief Hakurei mainly used handguns to fight, one on each hand. The two of them got out of the car first to clear our way and provide us cover. As expected, these prisoners weren't planning to escape. They dedicated themselves to attack as many agents and civilians as possible. They tackled Aberu and Chief Hakurei as they hopped off the car.
It was crazy how they were causing this riot in broad daylight. Their bravery was disconcerting. These savages were willing to risk their lives and freedom only to follow Ryumine's orders. Just how blindly they trusted this vampire? What made them ready to throw everything away for him?
The idea to fight people who had nothing to lose was frightening. They would put everything they had into this. It's all or nothing for them. That's the scariest part.
The prisoners no longer had cuffs around their wrists. Was it just like the fire a hundred years ago where the cuffs somehow malfunctioned and freed them all? Was it why someone had caused the fire in the first place? To repeat history?
Fortunately, SCD agents were highly trained in combat. I was watching Aberu and Chief Hakurei putting them to sleep and cuffing them. With both guns in their hands, they had more attack power. No savage could get near without getting shot. Only after they were asleep on the ground would they get close enough to put on the cuffs. They were standing back-to-back, covering each other's blindside.
"Will we ever get out of the car?" Nohana wondered aloud from beside me, quipping.
She was giving me a questioning look, as if asking me why we're still in the car. I belatedly realized that I might have taken too much time waiting and watching them fight. After making sure she was ready, I braced myself and opened the car door on the count of three.
Nohana was an excellent sniper, but she was also well versed in using handguns. While her rifle was slung across her back, handguns occupied her both hands and she kept shooting both guns at once with no wasted time unless when she needed to reload. She shot left and right, walking nonchalantly like it’s her playground. There’s a bit of a problem in her short-range fighting style, though, which was why normally she wouldn't be allowed to fight at close range. Someone had to cover for her, because she was way too exposed. And that someone was me this time.
“Take it easy, will you?” I yelled to Nohana after I hit a werewolf who was about to lunge at her with my bow and stabbed it with my arrows; I wouldn’t make it in time if I had to shoot from the bow. The werewolf was so strong that one arrow wasn’t enough to put it to sleep. It was tricky because I had to avoid getting bitten—werewolf bites could transfer the disease. Nohana was already far ahead of me when I finished dealing with this one.
While I was looking around to search for Nohana, I realized that there were a lot more werewolves than other kinds of savages. It's scary to think how infectious their bites were and these innocent passersby could get infected accidentally. Thinking about the possibilities was making me dread this month’s full moon.
Newly infected werewolves would turn for the first time during the full moon and usually, they spiralled out of control, unable to take over their own newly transformed bodies. It took time and a lot of practice until they could shift as they pleased. At least that was what I learned from the archives. They were a troublesome bunch to deal with, same as vampires. They multiplied their own numbers.
“I’m fine by myself. Let’s just meet at the rooftop of that convenience store,” Nohana replied. I was against the idea of splitting up, but she was no longer in sight because there were a lot of people between us. Feeling the anxiety already building up, I hurried to catch up with her.
I was running straight towards the convenience store when I caught sight of a mother and a child surrounded by some chimeras, helpless as they were crouching down and crying. They were merely civilians, I realized. My conscience wouldn’t let me turn a blind eye to that. It would be unfair to them who couldn't protect themselves. I could only hope that Nohana would be safe alone, that she could take care of herself before I got there. The faster she could get to the rooftop, the safer she would be. Long-range fight was her strongest suit after all.
Swerving from my straight lane towards the store, I shot the chimeras with my arrows from a short distance. Bad idea. Chimera was a fire-breathing monster, formed of a lion, a goat, and a snake. My brain was late in giving me the information about their abilities. When I shot one chimera, three others turned to angrily spit fire at me. I panickedly ducked behind someone’s abandoned car to take cover. If only I could fly freely without being afraid of getting seen by the agents, this would be a lot easier. How could I dodge the fire while aiming at them?
At least, because of my shooting, the chimeras were now fixated on me. I shouted at the mother and the child, “Run away from here! Quick!”
The mother hurriedly picked up her child and sprinted towards the opposite direction as fast as possible. Seeing them able to escape and save their lives, I was relieved, and at the same time I was reminded why I was doing this job in the first place. No matter how much I hated both SCD and the Outland for ruining the peace of both worlds, these civilians knew nothing about that and weren’t involved in the slightest. They didn’t deserve to suffer over the worlds' conflicts.
Whatever the background story of these chimeras was, they had hurt civilians and that’s enough reason to bring them down. There might be some savages out there who were unfairly put behind bars like Akamori’s situation in the past, but the ones fighting here were totally a different case. These guys were hurting civilians and agents and that’s intolerable. I shouldn’t be conflicted over it again.
I lay down on my back, flat on the ground, and drew my bow horizontally, aiming at the chimeras' legs through the gap between the car and the ground. Shooting at any part of their bodies would do the job since I only needed to inject them with the sedative infused into my arrows and wait it out until they fell asleep. While their goat heads from their backs were busy breathing fire at the car, I shot their legs and they didn't even realize it until they dozed off.
As soon as I saw all of them dropping down, I rapidly got away from the car, worrying that the chimeras' fire might cause it to blow up at one point. A werewolf greeted me the moment I jumped out of my hiding place with its mouth opening wide, about to bite my arm.
Fortunately, I was fast enough to retract my arm away from its mouth, but I was too late to run away before it tackled me. Its huge wolf body, which was as big as a horse's, knocked me to the ground in one try. I panickedly stabbed my arrow at the wolf's front leg, the only part I could reach with them pinning me to the ground. When it was about to bite my shoulder, I kicked the wolf’s hind leg with all my might, throwing it off balance and allowing me to slide out from its grasp.
These werewolves are like infectious cockroaches, I thought irritatedly as I shot another arrow at the wolf to ensure it would be asleep long enough.
"Are you up there yet?" I asked Nohana while running towards the convenience store to catch up with her.
"I'm up here. But I think I'm in trouble." Her voice was rather shaky, unlike her usual confident and high-spirited one. Something was clearly wrong with her. I instantly came to a halt, giving her my undivided focus.
Alarmed, I asked worriedly, "What do you mean? Are you hurt?"
"A werewolf bit me," she said, clearly pretending to be fine but fear was evident in her tone.
"I'm heading there," I quickly said and sprinted towards the convenience store, avoiding every agent and savage with only one destination in mind.
Werewolf bite was viewed as a fatal disease among us agents because there's no known cure yet. As an agent, Nohana must have realized the gravity of her condition, which was why she must be scared and confused now. She shouldn't be alone—I shouldn't have left her alone earlier. Splitting up while teaming up with her was never a good idea, so this was my fault. I allowed this to happen.
Aberu and Chief Hakurei were calming Nohana down and ensuring her that she could be cured, that there's still time before the next full moon, while I was weaving through the battlefield towards the store. It was closed—obviously, because of the prison fire—so I went through the backdoor and climbed the emergency stairs. I headed to the rooftop immediately and saw Nohana sitting on the ground at one corner, examining the huge werewolf bite on her arm.
"Hey, you okay?" I crouched down next to her, joining her in inspecting her arm. It didn't look so good. The fangs must have sunk deep, judging from the blood flowing out from the injury. That wound would certainly leave a scar later.
"I can endure the pain. But I'm more worried about the disease I contracted. I'm a werewolf now," she said absentmindedly, her eyes blankly staring at me, as if she was in the process of accepting her new identity.
"No. Not yet. We still have a few weeks before the next full moon occurs. We'll figure out a way to cure you." I wasn’t totally convinced with my own words, since we’d been learning about werewolves for decades and we hadn’t been close to finding a cure. But now that we had allies in the Outland, I believed they would be able to help us. Chief Hakurei’s words towards Nohana earlier might not be merely for moral support.
As long as she hasn't really turned into a wolf, she could still be cured, I thought hopefully. There's no confirmation for that, but that's what I wanted to believe. The full moon was like the trigger to the disease, like a switch that turned it on, so if it wasn't triggered yet, we should be able to extract it somehow.
Nohana must have noticed the uncertainty in my voice and offered a weak grin. "There's no cure, Teruya. You know that. It's fine, really. I just need to adapt. And probably I'll go to the Outland. That's where savages like me live, right? It might be fun, living as a werewolf."
I hated listening to her giving up on finding a cure. She was supposed to be a cheerful girl, confident and bright, although a bit quirky. I'd never seen her losing hopes like this before. And to think that I had a part in causing this incident to happen, I couldn't ignore the guilt creeping up inside of me.
"Listen to me. The only reason for you to go to the Outland is to find a cure. We still have plenty of time before the next full moon. Why don't we focus on what's right in front of us?" I persuaded her and successfully earned a nod from her. Cocking my head towards her injured arm, I said, "Guard this post while I go downstairs to find some first aid, will you?"
"Aye, Sir." Nohana gave me a mock salute and I let out a relieved sigh from seeing her slowly going back to her cheerful self. It's not much but at least she would have something to believe in and keep fighting to protect her identity as a human.
Climbing down from the rooftop, I broke into the convenience store below, kicking the door hard enough until its lock was broken. I gathered some gauge, bandage, hand sanitizer, and some ointment I knew would help speed the healing process. If only I could heal her with my ability like the classified archive page said, the hassle would be unnecessary.
That’s when I saw a couple of SCD agents running towards the convenience store, surrounded by a few werewolves. Thinking they were in danger, I was going to rush outside and help them, but I changed my mind and quickly ducked behind a display rack because I realized that the werewolves weren’t attacking them. They were advancing together.
What the hell?
We hadn’t been paying attention the entire time because of the chaotic situation, but some of the SCD agents were actually with the savages. So many people were running about the place causing everyone to blend in, we didn’t notice some particular SCD agents weren’t attacked. They were the moles.
I carefully tried to take a sneak peek at who they were while taking cover behind the display rack. The two agents being chummy with werewolves were Agent Moteki and Agent Sakatani from Squad 4, the ones who couldn’t even handle a gorgon by themselves. The two people I hated the most and apparently, the hatred was mutual. It might be possible that those two weren’t even humans.
No wonder. I should have known that they were the ones who had spread the rumor out of the blue that I was a savage. They wanted to expose me so badly that I wondered if putting me behind bars was what they actually wanted.
The realization hit me. If they worked with the werewolves, what if they were infecting agents on purpose? Because they wanted to get rid of the agents who weren’t on their side? With mass infection, they could put everyone who got bitten behind bars efficiently. That also answered the question why they needed to burn the prison down and free the prisoners, since they needed every werewolf they could get to outnumber us. They might have deliberately put these werewolves behind bars in advance. The spies.
Damn it! They’re here for Nohana! And possibly me, too!
“Guys, bad news,” I hastily announced to everyone while I still had the chance before they found me. “Agent Moteki and Sakatani from Squad 4 are with the werewolves. I think they’re planning to infect the agents, and probably the civilians, too. I’ll get Nohana out of here. Chief, I might need your help to fetch her from the Outland if I didn’t make it. Where’s the closest gateway?”
Without waiting for their response, I ran to the stairs while trying to stay hidden behind the display racks, hoping they wouldn’t notice me inside the closed convenience store. I saw them heading towards the backdoor where the emergency stairs were.
I must get to Nohana before them, I thought, climbing the stairs as fast as I could.
“There’s one at the end of the alley behind the convenience store.” There’s a pause before Chief Hakurei warned, as if knowing what I was thinking, “Don’t do anything rash, Teruya.”
“Can you get me out if they capture me?” I asked straightforwardly, since she already had a gist of what I was planning to do. Unable to think of anything else, I was prepared to take my chances. “Prove it to me that you can be trusted.”
She might be able to pull some strings to get me out. Well, she had promised my father to take care of me after all. That might be quite harsh for me to ask that from her, but I was depending on it, because I couldn’t see any way out at the moment. They’re already heading up the stairs, so it wouldn’t take long until we’re trapped on the rooftop.
I could get away by flying, but that would only give them a solid evidence to capture me. And I also couldn’t let them capture Nohana with that huge werewolf bite on her arm. The only way left was for me to be the bait to distract them, so that Nohana would have the chance to escape to the Outland and meet Chief Hakurei there. It’s my fault, which meant it’s a given that I had to be the one to fix this.
“Teruya, are you crazy? Are you going to let them capture you? They won't let you go if they find out what you are! Just wait for us! We’re heading there!” Aberu’s shouting was heard across the earpiece. Waiting for them was not an option. They wouldn’t make it in time. Fortunately, Chief Hakurei realized that.
Chief Hakurei hurriedly confirmed, albeit reluctantly, “Fine. I’ll get you out. If it’s you, I can. But Nohana, you have to run.”
By the time Chief Hakurei gave me her word, I was already on the rooftop with the traitors right behind me. Nohana was quick to understand the situation we’re in, because I couldn’t see her anywhere. She might have already escaped from here while I was luring the agents. I hoped that's what happened.
Agent Moteki pulled the trigger as soon as he landed his eyes on me. The bullet lodged itself deep in my shoulder and I collapsed to the ground due to the gunshot’s impact. He didn’t even give me a chance to say anything.
“Finally, we’ve got an order to restrain you, arrogant scumbag.”
That was the last thing I heard before the sedative knocked me unconscious.