Chapter 19:

Devilish Encounter

The WTP Club


"Where am I?" Wark looked around cautiously.

Apparently, he had escaped from his room and was now standing in a dark and empty hallway. Or was it a cave? A cool breeze blew toward him, and he felt water trickling down on him from the ceiling.

How had he even gotten here?

He started to move carefully. For some unknown reason, he was barefoot and the small stones on the ground hurt the soles of his feet as he walked.

Where would this path lead him? He just hoped that he would get out of this place as soon as possible.

Suddenly he heard a voice in the distant. "Wark...", "Wark..."

Wark's blood ran cold. Who was calling out for him? The voice sounded so weak and tortured. The echo of the walls repeated the calls.

"Hello?" he shouted paranoidly "Who is this?"

"Wark… Wark... why did you abandon me?"

- "Abandon?" Wark said in a frightened tone "I didn't abandon anyone! Show yourself already! Who are you!?" 

All of a sudden, 2 red dots lit up in the distance in front of him. Wark noticed how his pulse shot up.

"Who are you?" Wark repeated, keeping himself ready to run away any second.

"Wark! I fought so hard for you, and yet you stopped caring for me."

The figure had now come so close that Wark could tell who he was dealing with.

Standing in front of him was one of the girls he had trained in Hoen Ryomen, but something was wrong with her. Her body was in a strangely hunched posture, her pupils were glistening red and spinning in all directions. And she had a wide, devilish grin on her face.

Wark felt his panic rising to the maximum. He wanted to run away, but suddenly realized that his legs were tied to the ground. Wark feared for his life.

"You will pay for your betrayal!", the woman suddenly screamed demonically and within a split second she jumped directly at him with her mouth wide open. 

Wark shrieked, widened his eyes, and jumped up.

"Huh?"

The setting had suddenly changed. Ahead of him, he spotted a stack of empty boxes that looked familiar, and the devilish girl had disappeared entirely.

Frightened, Wark looked around. He realized that he was sitting bolt upright on his bed and was still in the room where Keiichi's people had locked him up. Had it all been a dream?

Wark felt his heart still racing and tried to calm himself down. Beat's words had given him a real scare; he probably should have expected such strange dreams. Exhausted, he let himself sink on his pillow and watched the first rays of sunlight entering his room through the windows. Apparently, it was early in the morning.

---

Far away, Emily woke up at the same time. She, too, had trouble orienting herself after opening her eyes, and it took her a moment to recall why she was lying on a mat of straw.

She straightened up and caught sight of the embers of the fireplace. She assumed that she must have fallen asleep in front of the fire the evening before. Erik had probably carried her onto his bed.

Speaking of Erik, where was he? No one seemed to be in the cave except her. 

Emily stepped to the exit and looked out. The rain was still pouring down. It seemed as if the bad weather was never going to end. Emily wondered if Erik was out in the woods again. After all, even the storm hadn't stopped him from going jogging the day before.

At that moment, she noticed a colossal figure in the distance moving toward her. She immediately identified the silhouette as her new roommate, but he was also carrying something large on his shoulders. What was it? A huge bag? A tree stump?

When Emily realized what it was, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Erik was actually shouldering a full-grown boar, a dead one as Emily strongly hoped.

"Glad to see you're awake", Erik shouted when he caught sight of Emily "I got us breakfast."

Back in the cave, Erik dried his body with a towel and put his clothes on. He then lit a campfire again and began roasting the boar over it. Emily couldn't help but think about Obelix when watching him. In terms of strength, Erik would have probably been in no way inferior to Obelix

After roasting, Erik carefully cut several slices of meat out of the boar.

Emily watched spellbound. Then she was handed the slices with a piece of hard bread and a plate. 

Emily eyed the final product skeptically. At first she was a little disgusted at the thought of eating the boar after watching the whole processing. But then she realized that the boar had probably been killed in a less cruel way than the meat she usually ate. So she took a bite and felt as if she had fully settled in her new life as a wild hermit.

"You still have to tell me where I can find the lost souls", Erik said in his usual grumpy voice during breakfast.

"I'm still against you casually showing up there, so why should I tell you?" Emily replied, but immediately felt a little guilty for being so bitchy.

"You're really persistent, I respect that", Erik spoke "How about this deal: You give me the opportunity to talk to them and convince them to leave their beta lifestyle behind. And if they are intransigent, we call the police."

Emily contemplated. She couldn't really turn down this deal. After Erik had taken such good care of her, she felt kind of obligated to agree on some sort of compromise with him. Also, she still needed his help to even get out of the forest again.

“Alright”, she ultimately said "I'll give you half an hour to talk to them and figure out what has happened to my friends before I call the police.

Erik nodded and seemed satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations.

Emily took another glance outside, where it was still raining. "I'm sorry for making you wait for so long", she said to her friends in mind "I will definitely save you all. You can count on me!"

---

Beat had slept just as poorly as Wark. He had also been suffering from nightmares, in which, however, not anime dolls, but Wark had haunted him with contemptuous looks, accusing him of treason.

Beat had been given a key to Landini's apartment the day before and was now the first to show up in the meeting room in the morning. Just as he had unpacked coffee and breakfast from a fast-food chain, Keiichi entered the room.

"Couldn't sleep either?", he asked with a tired look on his face.

Beat nodded.

Keiichi sat down with him, expressed a deep sigh, and closed his eyes. "This is really a mess."

Beat had been thinking about everything a bit and now had a couple of questions. "Tell me Keiichi, why are you even hiding your project? Why don't you make public what you're working on? Then maybe you could sell your invention to a company and make a lot of money. You guys are doing good things; there's no need to hide that, no?"

"We hide what we do because we want to do good things”, Keiichi replied ponderingly “We want to ensure that the invention doesn’t fall into the wrong hands... I want that at least." 

Keiichi eyed Beat carefully as he awkwardly played around with his fingers. He had really proven to be trustworthy by telling the names and whereabouts of the WTP people. Besides, he really seemed to have great affinity for the project. He could probably tell Beat everything.

Keiichi slid back and forth in his chair to find a comfortable sitting position, then continued "I told Landini several months ago that I am able to create living anime dolls. Landini was impressed with my software and pointed out how much potential it has. He remarked that there must be a lot of people out there who have a good heart but are simply not being noticed by women. And these were people we wanted to help experiencing love."

Keiichi took a deep breath. He seemed to be a bit lost in nostalgia, remembering the good intentions they had had at the beginning.

"Of course, there was the possibility to patent the whole thing and then make a lot of money from it. But it was incredibly important to me to protect the software from misuse. You know how people are. If everyone could buy living anime dolls, it would quickly become a sex industry. I, however, wanted the girls to go exclusively into the hands of people who really love and appreciate them. Making the whole thing public would have taken away my control over what my invention would actually be used for in the end. In short, I was much more comfortable doing everything secretly on my own." Keiichi yawned loudly and scratched through his stubbly hair.

"But then why did you say that you consider quitting the project? It all sounds really great. In my opinion, we absolutely have to go through with it!"

"Yes, it indeed sounds great in theory..."

Keiichi eyed Beat again and hesitated for a moment whether he should continue talking. Somehow, on the one hand, he felt a need to get his concerns off his chest, but on the other hand, Beat would have to keep the words that he was about to say to himself under any circumstances.

"I'm afraid that Landini’s intentions have become different to mine", Keiichi ultimately said "As I mentioned before, we wanted to bring anime girls to life for only a few people and we only wanted to charge the production costs in return. The whole thing was intended as a small project to make a few people very happy and to offer a few awesome girls a great life. However, after I started making technical preparations, Landini suddenly took a small loan with fake income proofs and rented the basement compartments between our houses. Landini also suddenly expected me to infuse life into a dozen dolls right from the start of the project. The basement compartments were meant as a space for them to live in. I told him that the girls deserved something better, but Landini did not listen. The fact that he wants to immediately start such a mass production somehow makes me think that he hopes to earn big money with the dolls. I assume that Landini will charge you and the other clan members a lot of money, if you want to take your new girlfriends home after the introduction-period. The fact that it was also so important for him to take out the entire WTP Club and thus all the people who know about the project, gives me a bad feeling about the future. After all, it also was Landini who insisted on covering up Bane's burglary, quickly replacing the front door, and keeping the WTP people trapped in the basement. So who knows what Landini’s actual plans are.”

Beat swallowed. Now he started doubting everything he was doing. He had hardly any money, so maybe he wouldn't even be able to buy Waisie from Landini. Besides, suddenly the whole thing sounded way too dangerous for him. He had agreed to hold the troublesome WTP members captive for a short period of time to ensure a complication-free awakening of Waisie and the other girls. But there was no way he wanted to engage in criminal business with anime dolls, and most certainly not if it meant keeping Wark locked up long term. What would his parents say if they knew what he had gotten himself into?

He now remembered that Landini had told him about his vision of giving life to thousands of anime girls. Originally the vision had thrilled him, but suddenly it made him extremely uncomfortable and nervous.

"You built the software, didn't you? Can't you just tell Landini that you're not going along with his plans?", Beat asked.

Keiichi nodded and expressed a sigh. "It's so hard for me to say 'no,' you know? And once you're in such trouble, it gets even harder."

Beat could relate. He remembered how he had also let Glenn push him into spying after Keiichi. And he wondered if Va's expectations in him were the only reason he had come to the WTP meetings for a week straight. He simply hadn't dared to say 'no' and disobey her orders until the incident with Star.

Keiichi continued "Also, until the day before yesterday I was out of perspective anyway and just let Landini guide me. But now that I have Va back, there is suddenly so much at stake for me. Imagine if I had to go to jail and was separated from Va again."

The next moment, Landini stepped into the room.

“You guys seem pretty exhausted”, he commented, while sitting down with them "What are you talking about?"

"Uhm… just about how to proceed with the prisoners", Keiichi replied nervously.

"In my eyes, the only solution is to keep them locked up until we have the money to go underground with all our technology", Landini joined in the apparent conversation "That's going to take a while though, so I guess they'll have to hold out a little longer."

Beat and Keiichi looked at each other a little helplessly and Beat could now understand how Keiichi felt. Landini had simply taken the leader role and the rest automatically subordinated themselves to him. 

"Have you freed Va yet?" Keiichi asked to change the subject.

"Take it easy", Landini placated "I will do that when I look after our prisoners."

"Poor Va", Keiichi said saddened and asked "How much longer do we have to wait before you allow us spend the night together?"

"Until I have no doubt about Va's change of heart anymore!" Landini replied sternly.

Then he turned to Beat. "Do you seriously think that Va has actually realized her mistakes? It's highly suspicious that Va would come up to Keiichi just one day before Bane's attack and apologize for everything. And she didn’t mention any other WTP members besides you, Bane, Smoke and herself until she saw you being with us. I'm pretty sure she just feared being t...”

"Shut up already!" Keiichi shouted upset "How many times are you going to bring that up? I trust Va, and if you want to keep working with me, you will have to trust Va too!"

Beat noticed that Keiichi was always quick to fly into a rage when it came to Va. It surprised him, keeping in mind how Keiichi had just explained to him how hard it was for him to stand up to Landini. Beat didn't understand what Keiichi saw in Va. In Beat's eyes, Va was just a spoiled, stupid, extraverted brat and Keiichi deserved something better. But he knew very well that he had to keep those thoughts to himself if he wanted to get together with Waisie.

So Beat didn’t give Landini an answer and tried to get himself out of the affair by announcing that he would now bring Wark his breakfast.