Chapter 17:

An Old Friend

The WTP Club


"Beat, what are you doing here?" Wark repeated as Beat had not immediately responded.

Beat looked up from his phone. "Hi Wark, I hope you slept well", he greeted his friend with a smile.

Wark rubbed his head. "Well, you can't call it a good sleep." 

He, too, had experienced hallucination-like dreams due to the anesthesia. Unlike Glenn, Bane and Sousui, however, he enjoyed the privilege of not waking up on a cold floor. Instead, he was lying on a real bed and was covered with a blanket. Wark felt the after-effects of the anesthesia and dropped back onto the pillow.

"Do you want to sleep a little more?" Beat asked cautiously.

"Just a little”, Wark muttered.

Half asleep, he remembered what had happened. He wondered if Emily had been able to escape. And he asked himself why they had captured Beat too when he hadn't even been to the WTP meetings for so long. And where was Sousui? So many questions were bothering him, and at the same time he felt so tired. It seemed as he was out of danger, so he could afford to sleep a little longer and deal with all the questions later.

From outside the room he heard wildly discussing voices.

"Can't they shut up already?", Wark grumbled in his mind. 

He took his pillow and pressed it against his ears to muffle the sound. That helped.

"Wark, I think I have to go", Beat said and straightened up "I'll try to be right back."

Surprised, Wark watched Beat walking out of the room. Had they not been caught after all? Had they perhaps been rescued and were now at a police station?

"I guess everything is fine then", Wark said reassuringly to himself and fell back to sleep.

---

In the middle of the woods, Emily had sat down on a tree stump in front of the campfire and had been served water and some food by Erik.

"Pardon my ungallant greeting", Erik opened the conversation "I wasn't expecting human visitors."

Emily, still primarily relieved not to have run into Landini and Smoke, had long forgiven. She devoured the food - a mushroom soup - as if she hadn't had anything in her stomach for days.

"Does it taste good?" her ominous host asked, although he could have spared himself the question.

"It's delicious!", Emily confirmed, holding her empty plate out to him, hoping for a refill.

"It’s an honor for me to provide such a pretty young lady with my food", Erik continued as he gave her another serving.

Emily looked around curiously while she ate. In the interior of the cave Erik had gathered quite a few things. A bed made of straw caught her eye, as well as several water jugs piled up next to it. Somewhat off to the side were several tools made of stone and wood, as well as a hunting bow. In one backpack she could also identify a compass and a helmet. Erik seemed to have everything needed to survive in the wild.

"What brings you out here into the middle of nowhere?", Emily wondered.

"A man should regularly leave the luxuries of civilized life behind and prove to himself that he can survive on his own in nature", Erik explained "Staying too long in an unnatural place, like a city, weakens the body and soul." He punctuated his philosophical words with a heroic pose that left Emily wondering what its purpose was.

"So you often just move into the woods and spend a few days here?"

Erik nodded "I left home a week ago and I plan to stay another week here. However, I'll still be happy to guide you out of the forest. For a young, tender lady like yourself, it's dangerous to walk alone."

"I would appreciate that", Emily replied and smiled.

"Now tell me, what are you doing out here? Have you run away from home?" Erik asked worriedly.

"Well… I haven’t really run away from home but from someone else", Emily replied and thought about how to explain what had happened. She now understood how Glenn must have felt when she had asked him about the story behind the WTP Club.

"Are you uncomfortable talking about it?" Erik asked "You can trust a glory person like myself with anything. I am, of course, very responsible about everything I am told." Erik stretched his right arm lengthwise to show off his muscles. 

Emily ignored the strange gesture. "No, it's not that I'm uncomfortable. It's just… The story behind it is so crazy that you won't believe it anyway."

Erik was indignant. He looked sternly right into Emily’s eyes and said "How dare you to think I wouldn't believe a beautiful woman like you? When a woman tells me something, I always take it seriously!”

Emily became increasingly irritated with Erik's behavior and hoped that she had not encountered another psychopath. She felt uncomfortable receiving so many compliments from a complete stranger in such a short amount of time, and she wasn't okay with Erik’s pushiness.

For the sake of peace, she nevertheless began to tell what had happened. Erik listened patiently.

When she finished her story, Erik took the floor. 

"That sounds really tragic!" he confirmed with a serious expression on his face.

Emily was confused. Did he really not question her story at all?

"Young men who have lost their ways and are now wandering around helplessly!" Erik continued in a dramatic voice. 

"What?" Emily looked at Erik in disbelief. Apparently, he wasn't interested in her friends at all. He seemed to be much more bothered by Keiichi and his colleagues' affinity for video games and anime girls.

"Very well", Erik said and straightened up "I will take care of this and lead them back to the path of virtue!"

Emily was speechless. Had Erik even understood what she had been talking about?

Erik turned toward the exit of the cave and put his hands on his hips as if he was about to duel the rain.

"We don't need to lead anyone back to the 'path of virtue'", Emily shouted angrily "These guys are criminals. They attacked my friends and are probably holding them captive somewhere. All we have to do is make sure the police catch them!"

"But then they might get locked up in isolation and won't be able to devote themselves to their alpha transformation anymore!", Erik replied equally incensed.

"Alpha-what?", Emily asked annoyed "Listen! I didn't ask for your help. You can do whatever you want. I'm definitely going to the police!"

To demonstrate her protest, she wanted to leave the cave. However, she quickly realized how bad it was raining still and lowered herself again. Suddenly she noticed that Erik had started to take off his clothes. 

"Hey, hey, hey, what are you doing?", Emily shouted overwhelmed, squinting her eyes.

Erik, who had stripped down to his underwear, explained "I have a challenging task awaiting me. To steel my mind and prepare myself mentally for it, I'm going for a run now!"

Emily saw a flash of lightning in the distance. "Now? Are you crazy!?" she asked, but Erik had already sprinted off.

Perplexed, she watched Erik's well-trained butt disappear into the distance and wondered if she had been gifted the ability to attract crazy people. She sighed and moved closer to the campfire to keep herself warm. 

---

Back with the prisoners, Sousui still hadn't found the answers he was thirsting for. Glenn, meanwhile, had begun meditating, while Bane tried everything to psych Glenn out.

"Glenn, Glenn", he shouted, throwing a pebble at his head through the bars "Your beloved Va is probably getting banged hard by Keiichi right now. She's probably screaming 'Glenn, it hurts so bad! Glenn, help me! Glenn, where are you!?' Too bad that she can't count on you." He laughed out loud.

Glenn did not respond and remained in his meditation posture with his eyes closed.

Sousui felt sick from Bane's disgusting behavior, but he didn’t dare to say anything, fearing that this would only incite him further. "Glenn, stay strong!", he shouted to his friend in mind.

The door at the end of the hallway opened and Smoke reappeared. "You now have a chance to go to the bathroom", he said sternly "Who wants to take that opportunity?"

Sousui raised his hand and straightened up. He strode to the barred door and held his hands in front of his body. Smoke binded them together, then knelt down and did the same with Sousui's legs. 

With ropes wrapped around his wrists and ankles, Sousui was now allowed to leave the cell. It felt really shameful to waddle around like this. He somehow felt like a criminal who was being led away, even though he was aware that he actually was one of the good guys.

On the way to the restroom, Sousui tried to gather as much information as he could.

Apparently, they were indeed in a normal basement. As he walked down the hallway with Smoke, several other compartments caught his eye, some of them even filled with items. There definitely would be no shortage of prison cells.

Sousui wondered who had access to the basement. The number of compartments suggested that the basement was used by several households. Were they all in cahoots with Keiichi? He couldn't imagine that, After all, despite the extensive spying, they had only been able to identify Smoke and Landini as allies of Keiichi. How much the other clan members were involved in the whole thing was still not entirely clear to Sousui, but he suspected their role to be small at least for the moment. In consequence, the basement compartments had to belong, at least in part, to people who had no idea of Keiichi's actions. But then why would Smoke keep them imprisoned here? 

He imagined what a shock it would be for a random person simply wanting to get their bike and suddenly finding people being locked up.

Smoke and Sousui had meanwhile arrived at the door through which Smoke had always entered and left the room. Smoke opened and Sousui stepped through the doorstep.

As if the one hallway they had come from, hadn't caused enough confusion, Sousui now found himself in a room with 3 corridors leading off in different directions.

Sousui gulped. Even if he managed to free himself with superpowers suddenly, he would never manage to find the exit right away. Sousui wondered if they were on the long path between Landini's and Keiichi's houses, where they had also located Va before. In any case, the WTP people were really in trouble.

Smoke pointed to a door that was on the wall to Sousui's right.

"That's the restroom. I'll wait here."

An acrobatic act by Sousui, due to his physical limitations, followed.

Then, as Sousui exited the room and walked back to Smoke, he suddenly heard a voice calling his name from one of the corridors. Sousui turned his head in the direction from which he thought he had heard the voice and caught sight of Sikh. Abruptly, he gave up the hope that Sikh might have remained undetected and would come to save them.

"I'm sorry", Sikh said from inside a compartment "I was being wrong. Landini and Keiichi are criminals. You guys were being right."

"It's okay", Sousui placated him "We'll find a way out!"

Smoke, still standing in the doorway, laughed and said in a sarcastic tone "Of course you will."

Then he signaled Sousui to hurry up already.

Sousui did as he was told, turned away from Sikh and dejectedly returned to his cell along with Smoke.

In the meantime, Bane had given up trying to provoke Glenn and had begun playing with the dust on the floor.

After Sousui had gone back into his cell and was freed from his shackles, Smoke retrieved mattresses and blankets from a neighboring compartment. He handed the mattresses and the blankets to the prisoners through the bars. Then he announced that he would be back in a few hours and left the room.