Chapter 16:

The War

Ruler of the Outland

The news wasn’t that surprising. We all had a rough idea of what Ryumine had intended to do from the start and we more or less knew what was coming. But what caught us off guard was the timing. We hadn’t expected he would have started the fight this soon. Our preparation was far from finished. Even a lot of our people were still stuck behind bars. This was the worst timing, which was probably why Ryumine had thought it’s the best time to strike.

We’d got too much on our plate. The only way for us to deal with this was to split up. Some had to distribute the cure and get them out of the prison to help with the war, and the others had to support the humans by fighting Ryumine; SCD wouldn’t stand a chance, since they had a lot of agents locked up. It wasn’t ideal to cut down the number of fighters to face Ryumine, but we were left with no choice.

My magic practice had to end earlier than it should and an emergency meeting took place instead. The hut was cramped with all of us standing around the tiny dining table, but we couldn’t risk our conversation being heard by any eavesdroppers. Although, I doubted any of Ryumine’s followers were staying here while the war was happening at Zerin.

After a quick discussion, it was decided that Aberu and Nohana should be the ones distributing the cure. Nohana could demonstrate that the cure actually worked by exposing her to silver after consuming it. Both of them were SCD agents to begin with, so they would trust them. I was already suspicious in their eyes, thanks to the rumors, and my recent arrest would only add more to that. Which was why I chose to go with Erena, Akamori, and Chief Hakurei to aid the agents and stop Ryumine.

“Why are you not coming with us, Ioka? We will need every help we can get,” Erena asked the question everyone probably had in mind but didn’t have the courage to ask.

Ioka snorted, “Bah! An old lady like me joining the fight? Are you mad, child? Why would I give up my peace here? My fight ended when the king died. I only decided to help because it’s his son who needs my help.”

I immediately nodded in gratitude. “And I can’t thank you enough for that.”

Ioka’s face suddenly softened. “If you have nowhere to go, you will always be welcome here. Though, I think you belong in the palace more. The Outland could use a king.”

Offering a smile, I said, “I don’t know about that. I don’t think I have what it takes to be one.”

“You’re here now. It’s more than enough.”

I agreed with the part that the Outland needed a ruler, because I’d seen myself how drastic it had fallen without one. But I didn’t agree with the other statement where I should take the position. Chief Hakurei was a better fit for that. She should be the Outland’s queen. Or probably I could take the reign and make use of my authority to pass my throne onto her.

Yes, I should do that later after we go through all this.

Nohana directly parted ways with us as she had to meet up with Aberu at Area 4 and distribute the cure, starting from Area 3 where I'd been locked up. I had contacted Agent Kirima, who had been so excited because we'd had the chance to use the secret codes, and he had agreed to help Aberu and Nohana to free the agent prisoners.

Together with Erena, Akamori, and Chief Hakurei, I went through the portal towards Area 1, where Erena had seen the war started. I quickly wore my necklace, not wanting to alarm the ordinary citizens walking nearby the portal; Akamori and Chief Hakurei must be wearing them when I wasn't looking because their eyes looked normal now. The war was at the HQ, so it would take a while before we got there. It's better if we didn't attract unwanted attention on our way.

When we got there, the sight was horrible to see. The war seemed to have long since started. There were so many bodies on the ground from both sides. I could see that SCD agents had ultimately gone against the rules and changed their weapons into the ones made of silver. Both sides had zero hesitation to kill each other.

"It's like the end of the world," Erena commented as we stood and watched from afar, keeping our distance.

"What should we do?" I wondered aloud. We were rushing to get here with no plan in mind. Everyone was at a loss for words.

It's wrong if we fought the humans and it's also wrong if we fought the savages. Both sides had done nothing wrong. The humans were only defending themselves from their attacks. Ryumine and the others started attacking because of their hatred towards humans—SCD in particular.

Their hatred towards each other must have been passed down from generation to generation, the mindset planted on their heads since young. We couldn't point out whose fault this was. The two worlds just couldn't accept each other's existence. As someone who had a foot on each side, seeing this was just sad.

"Well, I say we try to knock them out without killing them," Akamori suggested. "Erena will be pretty good at that. Just sing a lullaby and poof—they fall asleep like babies."

Erena shook her head. "It won't work with the soldiers. They have rubber ear plugs. I lost my voice once because of it."

"Akamori will be your shield," Chief Hakurei decided after a few minutes of consideration. "Teruya and I will go to Ryumine and try to reason with him. If we can strike a deal with him, he might be willing to pull his troops out of Zerin."

"Great. Can we take these stupid pendants off now? I'm eager to kick their asses," Akamori said excitedly.

I instinctively looked down at my own necklace. Once I took this off and joined the fight, I would be exposed to many people. I might never be able to work as an SCD agent again. And I might not be able to live freely here without being sent back to prison.

Chief Hakurei saw me hesitating to take off my necklace and gave me a sad smile. "I know it's hard for you to take it off, throwing away your life as a human. You can keep it on if you want to. You can still fight without your magic."

If I didn't use my magic, I wouldn't have access to my healing ability. I would need it especially at this time when a lot of people were injured. And my archery wouldn’t be half as good. It would be a waste to not use it. I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t give it my all in this important time.

Giving up my humanity was a tough choice. However, I had nothing to lose at this point. Everyone had already suspected me as a savage, thanks to the rumors and my arrest. I might as well let them know that they were right all this time. On the other hand, I had a lot to gain from using my magic. This seemed like an obvious choice.

I pulled my necklace hard to show my resolve, my wings spreading wide open as I did. “No. I’m going to fight with you guys as equals. Let’s do this.”

Akamori and Erena charged ahead towards the battlefield while I grabbed Chief Hakurei’s arms to lift her up as I kicked off the ground. We flew above the fight to search for Ryumine. He was easy to spot, riding his fancy pegasus, surrounded by his most faithful guards. It would be hard to try getting close, much less to talk to him.

“Distract his guards. I’ll be the one talking to him,” Chief Hakurei ordered.

“Yes, Chief.” I swooped down to drop her nearby as I shot my multiple arrows and aimed them at the guards circling the vampire, to draw their attention. I hadn’t had the chance to practice much, so I would need every luck I could get and believe it would work. At least, I could get them to notice me.

A few harpies were close on my tail the next second. I shouldn't get too far from Ryumine and the chief, so I circled around above them while trying to get away from them. A centaur aimed an arrow at me and I dropped down to the ground in a haste to avoid it, the arrow hitting a harpy behind me instead. As I landed, the werewolves lunged at me and I jumped to kick their backs, shooting another series of arrows and managing to hit some of them.

While I was preoccupied with the werewolves, a minotaur threw a spear at me. Fortunately, it only grazed my left arm and planted itself on the ground near me. I yanked it out to throw it right back at him. I didn’t wait to see whether I hit my target as another harpy swooped down to kick me. Those sharp talons traumatized me, reminding me of a bad injury in the past, so I wasted no time getting away from her.

Focusing on the talons, I failed to notice the arrow shot by a centaur from behind me. It pierced through my right thigh and the searing pain caused me to scream in agony. My knees failed me, causing me to fall over helplessly.

I hurriedly touched my thigh to heal it, but the arrow that was stuck there blocked my healing, so I had to get it out first. Bracing for the pain, I pulled the arrow out, screaming embarrassingly loud in the process. After it was out, I placed a hand on my wound to quicken the healing.

A minotaur took the chance to come at me with his spear. I was forced to get up and dodge the attack, limping as the pain in my thigh was intolerable. Unable to walk properly, I resorted to flying, depending on my wings to move about.

The minotaur was relentless as he swung his spear at me again. I jumped higher and ducked down as an arrow flew past me. My breath was uneven by the time I dropped down to the ground. This was madly tiring. There's no end to Ryumine's guards. They kept coming one by one.

I glanced towards Chief Hakurei to check the situation. It wasn't good. Ryumine and her were exchanging blows, engaging in an intense combat fight. It could only mean they didn't see eye-to-eye. I should try to speak to him as well. If only I could knock all his guards out at once.

Taking a deep breath, I grabbed five arrows from my quiver and drew by bowstring. It was a stupid idea. There's no way all of them would hit if I were to think logically. But I remembered Chief Hakurei's words. As long as I believed they would hit, then they would.

I'd always believed in myself if it involved archery. It was the only thing that never betrayed me. I never missed. Well, I had never shot five arrows at once before, so I had no idea if that would actually work. Chief Hakurei had said it would, but she’s not a fairy king, so how could she be so sure?

Now wasn’t the time to hesitate, so I let go of my arrows and closely watched them leave my bow, silently willing them to hit in my thoughts. It was difficult to believe with my own eyes, as they separately went to each target, hitting five guards at once, as though they were moving on their own without the force of my bowstring. This was against the law of physics. It wasn’t even archery any longer. It was magic I didn’t know I could use.

A minotaur came charging towards me, pushing me harshly to the ground before I could brace myself for the impact. One after the other, they kept coming at me relentlessly. The harpies guarded in midair and the many others on the ground. I had nowhere to go to slow down and catch a break.

“Need a hand?” Erena said as she came to my side, Akamori arriving a few seconds later after stabbing the minotaur with his own spear.

“Help me get rid of them, will you? There’s no end to his lackeys,” I answered, relieved that finally they came to help. “I can’t even get close to Ryumine and the chief.”

“Will do. Have you heard from Aberu?” Akamori asked, kicking some guards in front of me.

Akamori was holding a dagger in each hand and slashing everyone’s legs to immobilize them, not caring if they wore SCD or the Outland guard uniforms. She creepily seemed to enjoy this more than she was supposed to, but as long as she helped, there shouldn’t be any problem. She bought me time to heal myself and catch a breath.

I answered, getting back to my feet as they were now healed. “They should be here soon. I told them to come straight here after freeing Agent Kirima and let him distribute the rest.”

“I hope they won't take too long. I’m getting hungry,” Akamori said and quickly added as she saw me widening my eyes in terror, “No, no. I’m fine for now.”

“Yes, but not for long,” I muttered under my breath.

Erena grabbed a random shield from the ground and protected the three of us from the incoming arrows. “Are you two going to help or not?”

Just when we were about to get up and head towards Ryumine and Chief Hakurei, the vampire’s loyal witch blocked our way and opened her grimoire. She raised a wall of fire to separate us from them, giving the two of them their privacy. She was standing before the fire, warning us to not go through by lifting up her grimoire, as if telling she would cast another spell if we did.

“Great!” I grumbled exasperatedly. Now we had to take down the witch first and make her cancel her spell before we could go help the chief. I couldn’t think of any other way besides that. Going through the fire headfirst was not an option.

Akamori lunged at the witch, but she was blown away immediately by another spell. Apparently, the witch could cast two spells at the same time with no problem. This witch was much stronger than the one Ryumine had brought with him last time. Erena threw a spear at her, but she pushed the spear back at the siren with merely a wave of her hand. I shot my arrow and willed it to hit her, but there’s something like an invisible wall around her that stopped it from hitting her. No one could get near.

However, a strong water jet hit the witch next, causing her to cast a shield to defend herself.

“You kids are really hopeless.” Ioka was approaching calmly from behind me. She wasn’t even opening a grimoire and just casting spells with her mind. Jets of water were continuously blasting towards the witch out of thin air. “I was only strolling around to see how it goes. And yet, here I found you, helpless. I’m quite disappointed.” She could even leisurely talk to me while she’s at it.

Akamori and Erena were thrown away quite far by the witch’s spell, so I was left alone to watch her greatness and have my jaw hanging from the amazing display.

“Thank you for coming. Glad to have you here,” I said gratefully. Ioka was a strong witch. It’s really dependable to have her on our side.

Ioka aimed her water towards the fire wall and made an opening, enough for one person to go through without getting burned. She looked at me. “Well? What are you waiting for? Do you want me to escort you inside?”

I quickly sprinted into the gap of the fire wall before Ioka could scold me again. The fire wall was a huge circle, trapping the three of us. Inside, Ryumine and Chief Hakurei were still kicking and throwing punches at each other, with their fangs out, at an inhuman speed. Their movements were blurry in my eyes, because of how fast they were. I didn’t think it’s a good idea for me to butt in when I couldn’t even see them clearly. Taking my arrow out from my quiver, I readied my bow, prepared to shoot once I got the chance.

Chief Hakurei got kicked hard in the stomach and pushed away by the force. She doubled over in pain, momentarily stopping their fight. Ryumine wasted no time to close the gap between them and landed another kick, sending her flying.

“Why are you doing this?” Chief Hakurei asked as she painfully got up to her feet, her legs shakily supporting her body. Blood was trickling down her temple, flowing out from her mouth.

“What else? Because these filthy humans killed our king! That’s enough reason to fight back!” Ryumine spat spitefully. “Why are you helping them? Are you not angry that they killed our king and got away with it?”

Ryumine started the war because he thought SCD killed my father when in fact it was me, losing control of my power and ending up killing my whole family. Chief Hakurei had been telling the Outlanders that an SCD agent had shot him with a silver bullet. She was keeping that a secret for my sake and now it all backfired. That’s messed up. I could stop him by telling the truth, but there’s no guarantee he wouldn’t kill me next. However, if he withdrew his troops and stopped fighting the humans because of that, then that’s worth the risk.

Mustering all my courage, I said, drawing their attention towards me, “You’re wrong. I’m the one who killed your king when I was a kid. I couldn’t control my magic. If you want someone to blame, blame me. Don’t kill the humans. They did nothing wrong.”

For a few seconds, no one was speaking. The silence was full of tension as I could see Ryumine digesting the new information. Then, everything happened so fast that all I could see was a blur of movement. Ryumine took out a dagger from its sheath around his belt and threw it at me at the speed my eyes could barely follow. Before I could move, Chief Hakurei was already standing in front of me, the dagger piercing her chest. I gasped aloud in shock and quickly grabbed her before she fell to the ground.

I kneeled on the ground and placed her on my lap as I inspected the injury. That’s when I had a clear view of the dagger. It was made of silver. And it had planted itself deep in her heart. There’s no way to heal this.

“No! Stay with me, Chief!” I screamed desperately as I saw her life leaving her. I placed my hand on her wound, but I knew it was too late.

She reached up and cupped my cheek with her hand for the last time, tears rolling down her face. And then her hand dropped down as she slowly closed her eyes. After her last breath, her body transformed into one of a middle-aged, golden blonde haired man with blue butterfly wings attached on his back.

My father, the ruler of the Outland, had been shapeshifting into Chief Hakurei the entire time.