Chapter 14:

The Cure

Ruler of the Outland

My brain stopped functioning after Minister Zabatsu dropped the bomb on me. Not only everyone around me, but even I lied to myself. Everything was gradually beginning to make sense after he’d mentioned it.

I always had these missing pieces in my memory about the fire at my house, the blurred details. I'd always thought it's because it'd happened a long time ago. I'd never expected that it would be possible to erase my own memory. I'd denied the truth so strongly that my brain came up with a fabricated truth that replaced the real truth in my mind. Was that even possible?

My mom’s death had always been the hardest thing to accept. Knowing that I had been the one who’d caused it made it harsher for me to embrace. What kind of a horrible son was I for killing my own parents and forgetting everything about it?

I had been wearing the necklace for as long as I could remember. How had it been possible for me to go out of control with the necklace blocking my magic? Had my necklace been taken off accidentally somehow?

I was suddenly reminded of the time when I was a child. I'd tried to take off my necklace once since it had bothered me a lot; the pendant had hit my face when I'd played basketball in my house's backyard. My mom had seen me as I had struggled to take it off and rushed to my side, stopping me.

If you take it off, Mom will be sad, Mom had said. I'd never taken it off once since then, which raised the question how it had left my neck that time.

Realizing my eyes were getting teary at the loving memory of my mom, I quickly wiped the tears away before they could roll down my face. I didn't want the minister to pity me more than he already did.

"I killed my own parents?" was the only thing I said after the stretched silence between us. Minister Zabatsu was nice enough to patiently wait while I was processing the information, although I still couldn't fully remember what had actually happened. I was trying to take it calmly, but the shocking revelation didn't make it easier for me.

“No, you didn’t kill them. It was an accident,” Minister Zabatsu corrected reassuringly.

Right. You wouldn't be able to do anything. It's an accident. You didn't even know what you could do, I kept convincing myself in my head before I fell into the deep hole of despair and guilt that I couldn't get out of. Blaming myself for something I couldn't remember and hadn't been proven right would only depress me further and distract me from the problem in front of my eyes. I couldn't afford that at the moment. There's a war to stop.

I collected my thoughts and remembered what Akamori had told me about my father’s death. “That's not true. Chief Hakurei said my father was shot to death. She said she was there to see it happen.”

“Yes, that’s true. She was there with one other agent who was going to shoot you on sight because you caused the fire, but your father covered for you and got shot instead. During that time, some agents were allowed to carry silver bullets just in case. I erased that rule immediately right after the accident.”

"What happened to the other agent?"

"He went up in flames."

"Oh." So I'd killed him, too. Just how many people had I killed that I had no recollection of? Even if there’s no way to know if this was true, there’s no reason for the minister to lie to me. And so far, what he’d told me was aligned with what I’d known from the others. They fit together like missing puzzle pieces. I had no reason to not believe this. But I couldn’t shake this feeling that something was off.

Was this what my father wanted to keep from me? Why would he ask Chief Hakurei not to tell me how he’d die? It was pointless, since Minister Zabatsu told me anyway. That was off. I couldn’t understand why Chief Hakurei hadn’t told the minister to keep it a secret from me. She wouldn’t answer when I asked, but she had told the minister the whole thing. Weird.

Everything surrounding my parents' deaths sounded suspicious. It's like the puzzle pieces fit, but they didn't fit quite right. All the details were out in the open, but they were questionable.

However, that wasn’t important at the moment. Now that I got the chance to have a private audience with the minister himself, who thankfully wasn’t that narrow-minded about the Outlanders, I could probably talk to him about the SCD’s plan and ask for him to help stop them.

I was hesitating whether I should mention that Chief Hakurei kept it a secret from me or not, but I decided it's something I should find out by asking her myself. There's still a good chance that Minister Zabatsu didn't know Chief Hakurei was a vampire. It would only complicate the situation if he found that out through me.

"Minister Zabatsu, thank you for telling me what actually happened with my parents. I appreciate that," I said gratefully. "Will you tell me more about how you got to know them?"

Minister Zabatsu smiled as he reminisced about the past. "Ah, I was your mother's best friend. We used to be neighbors before I started pursuing a job in the ministry. Once she got pregnant with you, she contacted me again to ask a favor from me to protect you, knowing that I was appointed as the next minister at the time. Then, she told me everything, introducing me to your father and showing me his true form. She opened my eyes."

That's why he'd agreed with Chief Hakurei's request to get me out in the first place. There's no way a mere squad chief could ask favors from the minister himself. I had suspected there's something else she hadn't told me. Chief Hakurei was still hiding things, unfortunately.

After I got out of here, I should meet up with Erena and Akamori and ask them more about Chief Hakurei, in case they noticed something during their time together in the Outland. She'd mentioned that she'd come to work undercover here the same year as my parents' deaths under my father's direct order to watch over me. Why would he ask her that? Had he found something wrong then?

I couldn't ask Minister Zabatsu since I had no idea whether he knew about Chief Hakurei's undercover mission. But if he didn't, it would risk losing his trust in me and the other Outlanders. Having him on our side was a huge help for our purpose. He's the most powerful ally we could ever have. It wasn’t worth the risk.

“I’m sorry if this sounds rude, but will you have time to hear what I have to say?” I wasn’t sure whether the minister had some free time to spend. He must be extremely busy with his job and listening to someone he barely knew was probably the last thing he would do.

Minister Zabatsu took a glance at his wristwatch and nodded at me. “I can spare another fifteen minutes. What is it that you want to say? It seems urgent.”

“Do you perhaps give permission for the agents to replace the tranquilizer with silver in their weapons?” I inquired carefully. I didn’t want to sound like I was accusing him, but I wanted to confirm the truth of the information I had got from the agents here.

Widening his eyes, Minister Zabatsu said, seemingly surprised, “I did receive that proposal from the SCD. But I haven’t approved it yet. The ministry is still in discussion about that. Actually, I have a scheduled meeting to discuss that proposal with the ministry executives after this. How do you know?”

I took a deep breath after organizing my words in my mind. “The rumors have been spreading around here. I’m sorry if I’m not allowed to give my opinion, but I don’t think that’s a good idea, sir. Killing their kind will only start a war. The somewhat peace we have now is hardly earned. I doubt they will let us get away with killing their people.”

“I agree with you. I’m not planning to give my approval. I was the one removing the rule in the first place after all. We’re having a meeting to discuss how to deal with the werewolves’ attacks. If we don’t give an alternative solution, SCD wouldn’t accept the ministry's decision, which would only fire back at us eventually.”

Perfect timing. I could offer him my plan. I might strike him as a rude person, but that was the least of my concerns right now; there's a more pressing matter in sight. “About that, will you leave that to us? The agents here are working together to obtain the cure from the other inmates. We’ll report to you once we get the answer. SCD should be willing to cooperate then, I think. Though, I will have to ask your help to delay the approval until we have the cure.”

He was silent as he took my plan into consideration, deep in thought. He nodded in agreement next, probably after weighing the pros and cons. “Good. I will be counting on you. Delaying further than tomorrow will be difficult, so be sure to get the answer before then. I’ll come back tomorrow."

After Minister Zabatsu left the room, I was escorted back to my cell, where Agent Kirima had been waiting for me, curious of who had visited me outside visiting hours. Being announced to the public that I had a visitor in the middle of a physical exercise schedule must have drawn unwanted attention towards myself. I could just keep laying low and avoiding everyone's curious eyes for a few days until I got out of here, hopefully soon.

Agent Kirima was one of the curious people that kept pestering me for answers and unfortunately, I couldn't get away from him since we're cellmates. So I tried my best to omit every detail about myself and my past, and only tell him the part where the minister had agreed with our plan to use the cure to negotiate with the SCD. It's enough to make him excited and blabber about his so-called investigation during one-hour long daily physical exercise. I tuned him out as I drowned myself in my own thoughts, unable to shake Minister Zabatsu's words out of my mind.

The gnawing guilt had been eating me away since I had found out the true killer of my beloved mom. Not having the exact memories of the actual incident, I kept conjuring up scenarios in my head to fit the information given to me; the images continued to worsen over time which intensified my urge to hurl. Until after Agent Kirima was sound asleep and I was completely alone in my dark cell, I finally broke down.

Knowing that I was the monster I had always hated was difficult for me. I had spent years hating on the imaginary savage I had made up to take the blame for me when it was actually me who had caused the fire. Not having the memory made it even worse. How could I forget something as important as that?

I was wide awake by the time the guards opened our cell door for another daily physical exercise routine. The restless sleep gave me a bad start of the day, feeling irritable and all. It disappeared once I saw Analyst Natsumi wave her hands excitedly at us. Her excitement could only mean one thing: she'd found the cure.

When we approached her, Analyst Natsumi ruffled our hair, much to my irritation, but Agent Kirima seemed to not find that annoying in the slightest. "Guess what I've found?"

"A cure, I hope?" I replied flatly, humoring her at the same time.

Agent Kirima complimented her in awe, "Wow. That's fast."

Analyst Natsumi cleared her throat and fixed her glasses deliberately to show off. "Have any of you heard of the wolfsbane?"

That word was familiar. I'd certainly read that before a long time ago during my time in the academy. History lesson, maybe. It'd been a while since anyone had mentioned it. It was the name of a plant if I didn’t remember it wrong. It should have been extinct for a while, because no one had ever used it again after the discovery of silver.

Wolfsbane was known to be harmful to werewolves. It’s just like poison to them. People originally used the plant to fight them, but when they realized silver also worked, they quickly changed gears. Processing wolfsbane until it was usable in fights was troublesome compared to silver. Then after SCD was formed, we used tranquilizers instead of those two. While silver was still incorporated into buildings, wolfsbane was long forgotten and had gone extinct. Which was why I was surprised to hear it again now.

“Do you mean the plant? Yes, I have. What about it?” I asked curiously.

“My cellmate said you can cure yourself from a werewolf virus by drinking a wolfsbane potion before your first turn on a full moon,” Analyst Natsumi whispered, as if someone was listening to us, but I looked around and there was no one within hearing range.

It sounded plausible only if wolfsbane still existed. I frowned at the unlikeliness of finding one. “Assuming that’s true, how can we procure wolfsbane? And if we somehow get our hands on it, how do we make a potion out of it?”

She clicked her tongue in mock disappointment. “You should ask me to elaborate, not questioning my piece of information. She said there’s a witch specialized in making this wolfsbane potion. Her name is Ioka and she currently lives in the Outland. Ah, I just knew from her that the Outland is a world where savages live. Apparently, humans can’t go there. So we will have a problem with that.”

Agent Kirima furrowed his brows, seemingly struggling to make sense of her words. “Wait, there’s another world aside from this? And we can’t visit? If there’s a portal or a gateway, can’t our witches open that for us?”

That was a concerning idea. Although our captive witches—who sometimes worked for our cause, such as enchanting the cuffs—probably knew how to open the gateway for humans, I would be strongly against that. I couldn’t imagine the chaos it would cause if the portals were open. There would be no boundary between humans and savages. They would be free to go to each world. I couldn’t see anything good coming out of that. It couldn’t be let happen. But if humans knew about the existence of the Outland, they would do anything to get there and wipe every monster’s existence from earth.

“No,” I hastily answered. I had to make them drop this terrible idea of humans going to the Outland themselves. “I have a friend who can go in and out of there freely. She just got bitten like you guys, but she was lucky enough to escape from the agents. I can make her go to Ioka. When do we get a chance to make a phone call?”

Agent Kirima provided, “You can request the guard to make a phone call. It’s limited to once a day, fifteen minutes long. But don’t get your hopes up. The calls are monitored. I don’t think you can ask her to go to a witch openly. You need to come up with insane secret codes, which she could understand. Trust me, I tried. My friend outside had no idea what I was talking about.”

Exchanging secret codes with Nohana? That quirky, airy girl? That’s a recipe for disaster. I could already see Nohana taking the codes literally and spilling all our secrets. No way. Aberu would be a better choice. We’d fooled around in coming up with secret codes before at the academy, in case of difficult situations. Maybe, we could finally put our useless skills to use now.

I walked over to one of the yard guards and requested a phone call. The guard then asked me to follow him after the physical exercise session ended. He escorted me to the nearest phone booth and made me register the number and the name of the person I wanted to call at the inmate phone service counter. Afterwards, I was given a few coins to make the call.

“Man, I had to pay to talk to you. Talk about true friendship!” Aberu complained the second he answered the call. Since I didn’t bring any money with me, the prison probably made him pay for my call.

“I’ll pay you back later. How is everyone? Did you slay any dragons? Today is practice day, right?” Dragons were Aberu’s favorite type of savage. We had agreed in the past that we would use the word dragon as a code if we’re in a situation where we couldn’t talk freely, or our conversation was monitored.

There was a pause before Aberu started talking again, probably realizing the situation I was in. “Hell yeah, we did! We just came back from the training center and we're now just chilling in my place. Hang in there, buddy. You'll get out of there soon. These two are heading out to buy groceries, want me to ask them to get something for you?"

I translated what Aberu was actually trying to say in my mind. Everyone was okay and now staying at Aberu’s safehouse, most likely the one in Area 4. Nohana and one other Outlander from our side were about to head to the Outland to search for the cure. He was asking me if I wanted him to relay a message to them. Groceries could be translated as the Outland, since I had told him the world was all nature with no technology.

“Make sure to write down my list. Ice cream. Orange juice. Kiwi tart. Apple pie. You don’t know how bad I’m craving sweets now. The food sucks here.” I hoped Aberu would understand what I was trying to say. If he put the first letter of my list together, he would get the name Ioka. And I was sure at least any of the three—Chief Hakurei, Erena, or Akamori—would know who she was and where to find her.

“That's a lot of sugar, but sure. Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” Aberu said before hanging up.

I could only hope everything would go as planned as I was summoned to meet Minister Zabatsu and present him with the result from our information gathering. Things were going very smoothly until now. Worryingly so.

It felt like the calm before the storm. I couldn’t help but worry something would go terribly wrong after this.