Chapter 22:

Craving For Freedom

The WTP Club

Arriving at the other section of the basement, Sousui, Glenn and Beat were welcomed by an arrow that missed Glenn by only a hair. Smoke had positioned himself in a corner and had begun to shoot sharply.

"Hide quickly!" Glenn instructed his friends. Then he tossed the keys to Sousui and commanded "Search for the others! I’ll take care of this pretty boy here.”

Sousui did as he was told and ran into the corridor where Sikh’s cell was located. Wark and Beat followed as fast as they could.

Smoke wanted to run after them, but Glenn blocked his way.

Glenn quickly realized that he would have to move into hand-to-hand combat to stand a chance against Smoke. From distance he would always be outmatched. So he ran at full speed toward his opponent, striking for a blow.

To Glenn surprise, Smoke seemed to have combat experience already. Nimbly, he ducked away from the punch, backed off quickly and immediately fired off another arrow that just barely missed Glenn again.

Glenn, however, did not let this deter him. He remembered all the disgusting comments Bane had thrown at him and turned all his anger into strength and energy. 

Although Smoke still managed to dodge every single one of Glenn's attacks with windy movements, Glenn kept him at bay to the point where Smoke couldn't launch a counterattack anymore. When it came to sheer strength, Smoke knew that he was inferior to Glenn, so he had to make use of his speed and gain some distance.

Glenn, on the other hand, understood that he just had to keep himself close to Smoke and continue punching wildly. As long as he managed to maintain his energy, he would buy his friends enough time to make it out safely.

The fight was picking up speed.

In the meantime, Sousui and Beat had freed Sikh and made their way to Wark's room.

When Wark saw his friends appearing in the doorway, his eyes began to shine. He had started to worry that Beat could have fallen back into old patterns as he hadn’t returned to him anymore during the afternoon.

The group indicated that they were in a hurry, so Wark immediately jumped up and ran to them. Just as he left the room, the four spotted Landini and Va rushing toward them.

"Va, there you are. I'm so glad tha…" Before Wark could finish speaking, Va had kicked him so hard right in the face that he began to stagger. 

"What are you doing?" Sousui exclaimed in shock.

Instead of answering, however, Va now dashed straight at him.

Startled, Sousui jumped back, dodging her first kick. Va, however, gave him no break and immediately launched another attack that hit Sousui directly in his stomach and made him throw up.

Beat didn't understand anything anymore. Did Va not want them to escape after all? Was she actually on Landini's and Keiichi’s side? But then why had she whispered those words to him before? He knew that he couldn't allow himself to ponder over these things any longer; Va demonstrated very well that she was not interested in a conversation and was out for a fight.

Together with Sikh, who still held a grudge against Va for betraying him, he charged aggressively at Va. At first, Va made no effort to dodge. At the last moment, however, she ducked away, causing the two to collide with their fists. That hurt terribly

"How pathetic", Landini commentated, being visibly amused that four full-grown men allowed themselves to be so humiliated by a single woman.

Va, however, was not satisfied with just demonstrating her strength. Sousui noticed that she had attached ropes to her pants, which she now took in hand. The scenario of the last evening in the clubroom threatened to repeat itself, only with the difference that Va would probably not free them so quickly this time. Va seemed determined to lock everyone back up.

She ran again at Wark, who was still dizzy and had a hard time defending himself. Within a split second, she had grabbed Wark's arms and squeezed them together behind his back. She then began to wrap a rope around his wrists. Fortunately for Wark, Sikh managed to interfere just in time before Va was able to tie a knot. Sikh still failed to land an attack and was given a kick in return.

Sousui watched the battle in despair. Even though Va hadn’t succeeded in taking out Wark entirely, the four of them still didn't seem to stand a chance. Va managed to dodge every single attack with incredible speed and grace, and every kick she returned hit hard.

Sousui took a deep breath. He wasn’t good at fighting. His strength was in his mind. Thus, he began to analyze the entire picture and quickly realized that Landini had not participated in the fight at all so far. Why? For him, there was far too much at stake. He couldn't afford to just sit back. Even if he wasn't the most experienced fighter, it only made sense for him to get involved as well. Had he predicted from the very beginning that Va would have such an easy time. Or was there something else?

Sousui took a close look at Landini and noticed that he was carrying his phone in his right hand. Something about the way he was holding it, however, appeared to be a bit odd. It seemed as if he was keeping himself ready to press on the touch screen at any moment. Landini's gaze also went back and forth between the screen and the actual battle. What could this be all about? Was he blackmailing Va? Had he threatened to activate something if she refused to fight for him?

Sousui reflected on Va again, and he could think of no other reason why she would stab her friends in the back. Suddenly, Sousui knew exactly what he had to do.

In the meantime, Va had tied up Wark and Beat. Menacingly she now strode toward Sousui. Her expression was cold and emotionless. Sousui took another deep breath and prayed that he would turn out to be right. 

With one quick leap, he charged at Landini and indicated Sikh to follow suit.

Landini, surprised by this change of tactics, backed away and signaled Va to protect him. Obedient, Va threw herself at Sousui and pushed him to the ground. Sikh, however, managed to lunge at Landini and even landed a hit right on his cheek.

Just as Landini took the blow, Va suddenly jumped away from Sousui, straight at Landini and punched the phone out of his hand with full force. Then she started smashing the phone with her feet until only shards remained. Sousui had been right.

Everything went so fast that it took Landini a moment to process what had happened. Searchingly, he looked from one empty hand to the other. Once he realized that his phone had been turned to pieces, he took a few steps back with a horrified expression on his face. Then he picked up speed and tried to escape.

Va, however, was faster. She gave him a kick in the back and brought him to fall. Then she instructed Sousui to hand her the ropes. Grinning victoriously, she tied Landini’s hands together, making it impossible for him to get back up anymore. 

Landini cursed wildly. "You fucking traitor! I knew it! I knew it! That stupid Keiichi and his blindness ruined everything! I should have ended you the moment I found out about the WTP Club's goals!"

Va ignored Landini and hummed happily as if nothing had ever happened. She suddenly seemed to be back to her old self and cheered "With that the WTP Club has won! Muhahaha! Well done, Sousui, +50 importance. I knew I could count on you!"

She then walked over to Wark and Beat, who were still lying on the ground, and helped them up.

Sousui felt a weight being lifted from his shoulders. That had been really nerve-wracking. He eyed the scrapes on the bodies of his friends and asked somewhat reproachfully "Couldn't you have kicked a little softer at least?"

"I'm really sorry", Va apologized "Landini knows how strong I am. He would have noticed if I hadn't fought seriously. And then he would have eliminated me."

Sousui was surprised by Va and Landini's choice of words, "Ended?", "Eliminated?" It sounded like Va had feared for her life. But how would anyone even manage to “end” someone over their phone? And would Landini really have gone that far? At that moment Glenn came back into his head and Sousui decided to save those questions up for later. 

Sousui instructed Sikh and Wark to keep an eye on Landini and ran back to Glenn with Va and Beat to help him.

The fight between Glenn and Smoke was still raging. However, both started to run out of breath and the speed of their movements had decreased.

When Smoke noticed that someone was running toward them, he faltered. Seeing Va together with Beat and Sousui made him quickly realize what must have happened. Smoke bit his lower lip angrily and aimed at the three with his bow. However, slowly it became clear to him that this fight was unwinnable at this point.

He lowered and finally dropped his bow. Then he raised both hands in the air to admit defeat.

"Va! God, I'm so glad to see you!" Glenn shouted as he fell into Va's arms and hugged her so tightly that she thought her ribcage would break at any moment. "Are you all right? Are you unharmed?", he asked nervously.

"I'm fine", Va replied a little overwhelmed by the turbulent greeting. She patted Glenn's back placatingly. "I told you I can take care of myself."

Sousui, meanwhile, used to ropes to make sure Smoke couldn’t escape anymore either.

As he sat on the ground, Smoke’s confident facade had disappeared entirely, leaving only a picture of misery behind.

"You guys don't know what you're doing", Smoke said, sounding deeply saddened and desperate "Keiichi isn't a bad guy, you're the bad guys!" He looked down to avoid the judgmental stares.

Glenn, who had regained his sarcasm, replied "It's always the good guys who keep other people locked up in their basements, right?"

"You have no idea what you’re talking about", Smoke repeated, shaking his head "Keiichi may have a strange affection for anime girls, but he's a genius and he has the powers to change the world. By stopping him, you recklessly let people die!"

"What are you talking about!?" Glenn yelled angrily, wishing he'd managed to smack Smoke's face earlier.

Sousui listened up. He had already wondered what Smoke's motivation was for being in Keiichi's troupe. Smoke didn't appear visually as a typical nerd or anime lover. He had also never participated in Landini's clan trainings, which suggested that he wasn't even interested in video games.

"Can you tell us why you even support Keiichi and Landini?” Sousui asked.

Smoke raised his gaze again. "You seem to already know that Keiichi is working on infusing life into dolls, right?"

"So it's actually true...?" Glenn replied in disbelief, feeling as if he had been dragged into a movie.

"I explained that to you in the first WTP Club meeting!" Va exclaimed angrily "Weren't you listening at all?"

Perplexed, Glenn justified himself "Not a single person in the world would have bought your story. If you're telling such a thing and you actually mean it, you have to present it differently!”

"I tried to sound as serious as I possibly could!" Va claimed huffily.

Smoke looked at the two in irritation. He understood having an adrenaline rush after a victory, but he still felt that their tone was inappropriate considering his situation.

"Anyway...", he continued with a sigh "Keiichi told me that he could use his software not only to implant newly created life into dolls, but also to transfer already existing life to dolls. My father is terminally ill, you must know. He will only have around three more months to live, and Keiichi is probably his last hope. Keiichi may be the last hope of many sick people..."

The group's eyes widened. Keiichi had the ability to transfer human life to dolls? That sounded too good to be true. Wouldn't this open up the possibility for people to live for infinity?

"How sure are you that this is actually going to work?" Sousui asked stammeringly. His mother had immediately come into his mind, and he couldn't ignore that glimmer of hope that he suddenly felt in his chest.

"Keiichi said he's never tried it before, but he thinks the chances are good", Smoke replied.

Sousui's heart stopped for a moment. He noticed in Smoke's eyes that he was telling the truth. This wasn't just a bluff to manipulate them. But what should he do now? After all, he couldn't simply change sides. Also, why would Va want to sabotage such a brilliant breakthrough? And why would Keiichi work on something like this in secret?

"Keiichi lied", Beat suddenly said out of nowhere, making everyone fall silent for a second.

"What!?" Smoke then screamed in shock, while Sousui felt the glimmer of hope breaking apart again.

"He confessed it to us while you were searching for Emily", Beat continued. Va confirmed Beat's claim with a nod.

Smoke's mouth dropped wide open. He felt his throat go dry. "This can't be! It can't be!" he cried in disbelief "Keiichi you son of a bitch... How could you!?" Smoke now became completely outrageous and seeing him like this once again confirmed Sousui that Smoke had not made up the story about his father.

"Untie me!" Smoke said in a sinister voice "I have no reason to fight you anymore. And I want to make Keiichi pay with my own hands!"

Sousui, who understood exactly what Smoke was going through, wanted to obey his order.

Glenn stopped him though. "Sousui, are you crazy!? You're not actually going to do this, right?" 

"I mean...", Sousui tried to justify himself, but Glenn didn't let him finish speaking. "When I wanted to beat the shit out of Bane, you also said that there was no time for that. And may I remind you that Keiichi is still out here somewhere. We haven’t won yet; we must keep our guards up!”

Sousui had to admit that Glenn was right. Although he believed Smoke, Smoke had taken them out with poisoned arrows. He couldn’t pretend like nothing had happened.

In the end the group decided to leave Smoke behind and started moving again.