Ruler of the Outland
Everything was going like clockwork. After telling Minister Zabatsu the secret behind the cure to werewolf virus, he arranged a trial to get me out. It was kind of unbelievable that our plan was working without us having to face any difficulties. With the way things were progressing, it’s as if they wanted us to find the cure. I hoped that it’s just me being paranoid.
“So you’re getting out today?” Agent Kirima asked after I told him about my short, private meeting with the minister. He wouldn’t shut up if I kept it to myself and that would be annoying, considering I was trapped in a cell with him. Telling him everything while omitting some details—the secret about me and a few Outlanders—was the only way for me to be at peace in this cell.
“Not that fast. I think soon, though. In a few days, probably,” I corrected and added reassuringly, “If everything goes well, all the werewolf victims will also go free. After consuming the cure, of course.”
Nodding in gratitude, Agent Kirima suggested, "We should decide on some code words. You know, like you and your friend did. So that we can still communicate after you get out. Who knows, maybe I can help."
"Sounds good," I agreed. Our fooling around in the past had proved to be useful. There's nothing wrong with taking precautions.
We spent the rest of the day in the cell coming up with ridiculous code words and simulating a lot of scenarios. Some were very unlikely to happen but they were entertaining enough for us to pass the time; it's not like we had anything else to do while being locked up behind bars. At one point, he made me promise to take him along with me if a fight broke out so that we could fight together. Before I knew it, I had made a new friend in the most unimaginable place.
The next day, we rendezvoused with Analyst Natsumi at the prison yard as usual and I told him how things went along.
"Great! The moment your friend finds Ioka, it will be game over for them!" She clasped her hands together in celebration. Too early for that, though.
"Well, there's still a chance that Ioka might not want to help," I pointed out honestly.
She squealed in shock and then hissed at me, "Hush! Stop saying weird things! You'll jinx it!"
Agent Kirima sniggered, amused. "You should try staying in a cell for a day with him, Natsumi. His negativity is draining my spirits. It's like he's dragging me down into the depth of despair."
I admitted that I did a lot of thinking when I was in the cell, but what else could I do there? Humoring him all the time would be exhausting. I also needed to take some rest from talking and socializing, since I wasn't the most sociable person.
Then I was reminded of my sleepless night—the night when I broke down—and instantly, my cheeks heated up. Had he been awake at that time? Had he seen me going through it in silence? Oh God, this was embarrassing.
"That was one time!" I defended myself hastily to soothe my embarrassment.
"But are you feeling okay now?" She gave me a concerned look before smacking Agent Kirima's back lightly. "And you, Kirima, you should be supportive when your friend is down, not making fun of him."
"Alright, alright. I'm sorry," Agent Kirima apologized in his haste to avoid getting hit.
She's really like a mom telling off her kids. The amusing sight brought a smile to my face. This was a depressing place, so seeing a warm-hearted scene here was very calming in a way. I was lucky I met them instead of other inmates. If I hadn't been with them, I wasn't sure I could get through my days here.
"I'm fine, really. Thanks for asking," I said quickly, robbing her chance to hit him again. The guards were already looking at her suspiciously, thinking that she's picking a fight. "In case I get out earlier than expected, I'd like to thank you guys in advance for being very helpful and nice to me. I promise I'll come back and repay your kindness."
Analyst Natsumi reached for my hair to ruffle it and I didn't try to avoid it this time. "Be careful out there. You're a good kid. We don't really have an opportunity to get to know each other, but don't forget that we're here for you."
Agent Kirima waved his hand dismissively. "Nah. Don't mention it. We're business partners after all. Win-win solution for us." And he got a slap on the back from Analyst Natsumi for that. I had to tell the guards they were just fooling around so that they wouldn't be dragged into solitary cells.
Minister Zabatsu kept his promise and I was summoned to the trial two days later. There was no one in the courtroom aside from the judge, the prosecutor, Minister Zabatsu, and some guards. A very blurry video of someone—who I knew was me—flying was shown on the big screen as the reason for my detainment. The prosecutor was against releasing me and the video was the evidence to back his judgment.
The mention of video evidence shocked me because the first thing that came to mind was the video in Chief Hakurei’s possession. The thought that she might betray me was terrifying. I could breathe easily again after watching the video, which obviously wasn’t the one recorded during the harpy attack.
It was surprising that someone had recorded me during that fight with Ryumine. If that video was submitted as evidence to capture me, I could only see it as an attempt to hold me down. If that was true, then I had to hurry and get out of here before everything went awry.
My fairy king form caused my whole appearance to change; my black hair turned to golden blonde, my ears became pointy, my brown eyes changed color into gold. It’s kinda difficult to recognize me from afar, much less from a blurry video. Fortunately, it could be used to our advantage.
“Your Honor, I would like to prove that Agent Okajima is not one of them. The video showed nothing that could indicate it was him. However, it can simply be attested by using the most traditional method—silver,” Minister Zabatsu pleaded politely.
The judge nodded in agreement. “Please proceed.”
“Thank you, Your Honor.”
Minister Zabatsu asked the guards to take off my cuffs. It was a relief that the people in Zerin had no idea about the magic sealing pendant the Outlanders used to seal magic. I had the necklace on me the whole time in prison and no one had asked me to take it off. If so, my cover would have been blown and I would have had to say goodbye to freedom.
The minister was counting on their unfamiliarity with the necklace as he took a silver coin out of his pocket, showed it to the judge, and then pressed it against my cheek. Nothing happened, obviously, since my necklace protected me from the harm silver could bring to me. And just like that, I was set free.
I thanked the minister and promised him I would return with the cure. He gave me his number to contact once the cure was ready to be distributed, since he also wanted to help. I couldn't thank him enough. Keeping my part of the deal, I immediately headed towards Aberu’s safehouse where I found him lounging around alone, practicing target shooting in the training room.
Aberu was immensely delighted to see me coming through his door—a lot more than he should. “Oh, finally! You don’t know how lonely I’ve been! They leave me out of everything! I was thinking of asking Chief Hakurei to turn me into one of her kind, just so I could go through the gateway to the Outland!”
I admitted I felt relieved after listening to his exaggerated expression in every little thing. Shaking my head in amusement at his absurd statement, I said lightheartedly, “I thought you liked being human.”
“I did! Before all my friends are turning into savages one by one!” Aberu exclaimed frustratedly. “Seriously. They’ve been spending more time in the Outland than here. And I’m sure you’re going there, too, as soon as you freshen up.” He eyed me as I grabbed a towel and headed towards the bathroom.
"Trust me. Being a human is better," I reassured. My life had turned upside down after I knew I wasn't fully one. I'd rather stay oblivious if it was possible. Unfortunately, once you knew, you couldn't just stay back and do nothing. Which was why ignorance was bliss.
"No way! Your life is a lot more fun now! Besides, I don't think I'm going to be safe here any longer, since we've crossed the line. While I'm going to rot away in prison, all of you are going into hiding in the Outland. I should really consider turning myself into one of you. Nohana probably wouldn't take the cure. She's having a blast in the Outland, saying that it's the most beautiful place ever. Can you believe that? She's a traitor alright!"
Ignoring his ranting, I asked, "Speaking of the cure, how's the progress?"
"I have no idea. How am I supposed to know? As you can see, I'm stuck here," Aberu answered bitterly. "They only return here to sleep. What do they think this place is? A hotel?"
"A few days have passed since I gave you the witch name. They should be near done by now," I concluded myself, because Aberu decided to be sulky and uncooperative.
It'd been a while since the prison fire and they hadn't made any moves. They must be planning something else. I couldn't help but think their mass infection plan was only something to distract us from the bigger problem.
Everything about the mass infection seemed too good to be true. How easy it was to find the cure. How easy it was for me to get out. It's like we're following a scenario that's planned for us, like we're just the pawns they played on a board game. I hoped I was wrong.
Leaving the sulky Aberu back in the safehouse, I went to the Outland. No matter how much I wanted to stay and accompany him, I had no choice but to check our situation. The anxieties were killing me. I wouldn't be able to sleep soundly if I didn't know anything about the progress.
I followed Aberu's instructions, who kindly had drawn a simple map for me, to go to the witch's house. Her house was deep in the forest, far from the other civilians, making it hard to find without some pointers. I weaved through some trees while paying attention to the hand-drawn map, counting the trees so I wouldn't make the wrong turn. At least I could fly freely in the Outland, so the journey there wasn't quite a hassle.
Thanks to Aberu's clear drawing, I found the witch's house without problem. Ioka's dwelling was a humble hut by the river in a clearing deep in the forest, surrounded by a farm, a greenhouse, and a garden. At one glance, it was like a farmer house. I would have thought the same if I didn't know better. Those plants were ingredients for the potions she brewed.
I saw Nohana picking some flowers from the garden and landed on the ground nearby her. "Hey, how are you feeling?"
"Teruya," Nohana greeted me sleepily, completely different from the overly excited greeting I'd gotten from Aberu. "I badly need some coffee, but I think I can manage for now. The Outland is perfect. Too bad they don't have coffee."
"Hang in there. You'll get all the coffee you want after we're done here. I'm buying," I cheered her up and got a thumbs-up in response. "Where's everyone?"
"Ah, I should introduce you to the witch. Your nice getup might make her less cruel to us."
"Cruel?" I repeated to make sure.
Nohana put down her basket of flowers and gestured to me to follow her into the house. The second I stepped into the hut, the strong scent of brewed potions hit my nose at once that I couldn't help but wince. The hut was quite modest with only one small bed at one corner, a dining table for two people with a fireplace to cook near the entrance, and the rest of the empty space was occupied with cauldrons and shelves for potions and books.
I saw Akamori pouring some liquid into a cauldron, partnered with Erena who was stirring the potion using a big ladle. The witch must be the intimidating lady wearing a blacked robe and a pointed hat standing nearby, barking orders at them. Meanwhile, Chief Hakurei was occupying one of the seats on the dining table, peacefully reading a book.
What is this blatant display of unfair treatment?
As if she was capable of reading my mind, Nohana whispered to my ear, "Chief Hakurei is Ioka's long time friend." That's understandable.
The witch whipped her head towards my direction as I stepped through her doorway. She turned to Chief Hakurei and asked, “Is this him, Hakurei?”
“Yes.” Chief Hakurei closed her book and placed it on the table as she got to her feet to greet me. “Teruya, good to see you finally getting out! I owe Minister Zabatsu a dinner!!”
“He’s been a great help,” I agreed. “I didn’t know you both were close.”
“He’s just being kind as usual.” Chief Hakurei quickly dismissed the topic and changed it into something else. “Ioka, this is Teruya, the king’s son. Teruya, this is Ioka. The witch you asked us to see. We’re lucky I know her.”
Ioka walked over to us, leaving her post by the cauldron, and closely studied my appearance. She nodded in acknowledgement and said, “I believe you. Those wings are surely King Yoshio’s. You’re lucky, brat. How did you know about me?”
Chief Hakurei elaborated for her, “She’s been living in solitary, hiding from society since the king died.”
I answered, “A fellow inmate told me. She knew from her werewolf cellmate.”
“I might know that werewolf. Only a certain few know about my secret formula. I have a bad feeling about this, though.” She then added, “She’s lucky she didn’t get a ghoul cellmate. Can you imagine the rotten smell when it’s their time to eat? Ugh.”
Akamori yelled in protest, “Hey! That’s rude!”
My eyes widened at that piece of information as my curiosity was piqued. “I didn’t know that SCD feeds captive ghouls with actual human flesh. Where do they obtain that?” I was reminded of Aberu and Nohana digging graves to find corpses to feed Akamori. I couldn’t imagine SCD doing the same thing.
“The hospital and morgues, of course,” Chief Hakurei answered in disbelief, as if the answer should be obvious. “Don’t you know every bereaved family would be asked whether they want the body of their family member buried or they want the hospital to handle it? The hospital would then send the donated bodies to the prison to feed all the captive ghouls and vampires. I’m surprised you guys didn’t learn this at the academy.”
That’s why Aberu and Nohana hadn’t been able to find any bodies from the hospital and morgues. If only we had known at the time, they wouldn’t have needed to go from one hospital to another and just go straight to grave digging.
The new piece of insight had distracted me from asking the real question I had in mind. I quickly got back on track and asked, “Ioka, what did you mean with the bad feeling you have?”
“The certain few people I mentioned who know about my wolfsbane potion? One of them is Ryumine,” Ioka said nonchalantly, as though it didn’t mean anything at all.
Ryumine? Don’t tell me this is a part of his plan! I thought in horror. I had these unsettling feelings—to be fair, I had them all the time these days—and I had been hoping they were merely false alarms.
“Well, that doesn’t sound good,” Nohana commented tiredly.
“Who cares what that crazy bastard is planning? What’s important now is that we finish this batch of potions and distribute them to your people before it’s too late. Helping those people is first. Full moon is near. We can improvise later to deal with that bloodthirsty vampire.” Ioka looked at Chief Hakurei to say, “No offense.”
“None taken,” Chief Hakurei said reflexively.
Ioka then ordered, “So, Nohana, now you get your ass over here and help me with these potions. Hakurei, you go take care of that fairy king’s offspring. I can’t sense any powerful magic from that kid. He’s dead meat once he crosses paths with Ryumine.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Chief Hakurei playfully replied. “Come with me, Teruya. You need to learn how to fight with your power.”
“Don’t ruin my plants!” Ioka yelled as we walked out her door.
Having Chief Hakurei as a mentor was like having a perfect teacher. I couldn’t believe how well she knew about fairy kings. Learning how to use my power by listening to her instructions was easy. It’s like she knew firsthand how to do it and she just passed it on to me. But that’s not possible, because she’s just a council chairwoman. She must be an amazing observer.
I was able to do everything I hadn’t been able to before in such a short time. Chief Hakurei’s teaching ability was beyond impressive. Why hadn’t I asked her to teach me before? We even learned the extent of my ability because I only had half of the king’s blood, which meant I might only be able to do half of the things he had been able to do.
I was able to heal by touching the injured part delicately, while wishing for the recovery in my mind. I tried it on Erena who instantly regained her voice back. She thanked me by singing, making me grab a glass of water for her. I regretted healing her immediately.
My archery skill was even better than I’d known. I could make my arrows go anywhere I pleased. As long as I believed they would hit, they would. I could even shoot more than one arrow at once. This was amazing. I was having a field day while practicing my archery.
We then tried shapeshifting, which didn’t work as much as I wanted it to. Nohana had been demanding nonstop that I shapeshifted into a unicorn. So I pictured a unicorn really hard in my mind, but the closest image I could get was Ryumine’s pegasus, because I’d just seen it recently. I somehow managed to turn into a pegasus.
Although Nohana protested that unicorns didn’t have wings, she climbed onto my back anyway. But when I was about to try flying, I couldn’t hold my form and my head returned into my real head, making me seem like a weird pegasus with a fairy king head. Nohana screamed in disgust and I quickly changed back into myself, traumatized. That was really disturbing and I swore to myself to never try shapeshifting again.
Sometime during the fifth day of my magic practice session, Erena, who had gone scouting in Zerin for any suspicious movements, came back bearing bad news.
“Ryumine’s troops have breached the portal and started the war with the humans.”