“Checkmate.” With a large grin upon his face, he was already seeking the reaction of his opponent from his hazelnut sparkling eyes.
Woodle Bomme, this was his name. Although he was only sixteen, he had nothing to envy to older ones as for intelligence nor archness. Innocence? What was it, something to eat? Well, it is, people overflowing of innocence are the easiest prey for hunters. But not the most satisfying ones.
“Tchh, this time you won.” the woman sitting in front of him said, in a quiet voice .
Although she was annoyed to admit her defeat, she would never show that to Woodle, as it was the exact success he was expecting. Instead, she wore a demure smile. As a response to her behaviour, the boy slightly sighed.
“Loyal to yourself, as always Ling. But I'm glad I've found such a great opponent.”
As he was speaking, Woodle stood up, adjusting his patchwork scarf. He had half-long smooth hair, of the same green as young apples. Though he was not tall at all, Woodle managed to catch somehow the attention of people around him. His intense look and his presence arousing from anyone a confuse feeling advising them to stay on guard were partly responsible.
It could be hard to believe at first sight that such a boy was at the head of a dangerous gang. Even Ling Zhen, his right-hand, respected him though she was doubtless the most sadistic and aggressive among the members.
“What do you plan to do next?” Ling asked, keeping an eye on the chief's move.
She was sure of a great beauty, her long black hair braided in two loops on each side of her sweetly shaped face, atypical golden eyes as the icing on the cake. Unwise persons who attracted by Ling approached her carelessly, scarcely ever left without losing some feathers when many of them even could no longer fly.
“You mean right now, or as for our plan?” he playfully replied .
“Both, as you seem particularly voluble today.”
He took a few steps towards the end table in front of a large red sofa. Extending his left hand, he took a pear in the fruit basket then turned around to face the woman again.
“As you know, we almost have all the required equipment. All that's left us to do is to pursue our training without being noticed as too much troublesome until the Great Founder's Day. Then...”
Woodle momently interrupted himself as he bit into his peer, crackling with fresh juice. No need to rush after all, there was enough time left.
“...we will contribute to the celebration in our very manner. I just have to think about the gift I will offer to the mayor on that occasion."
“What about the head of her husband?” his right-hand added as a suggestion.
“Don't be like that. We're more civilized than that. Moreover, I want something more symbolic.” the boy answered with ardour.
“His heart instead?”
“...” voiceless, Woodle just stared at Ling with kind of a jade look.
Although he was acquainted with this peculiar woman's attraction of to all the bloody and creepy stuff... He was annoyed since he knew that Ling had also a great intelligence able to elaborate tremendous plans and stratagems.
Seemingly she wasn't insensitive to the reaction she induced as Ling Zhen suddenly burst in laugh.
“Come on, don't make that face leader, I'll also look for a surprise that will be up to that day.” the young woman finally added, slowly passing a finger to her black lips.
“I'm thrilled to hear that. Well, I leave you for now as I'd like to make some adjustments on the jammer.”
And he left Ling in the living room, greeting her with two fingers up of the hand holding his peer. Disappearing in a corridor paved with grey stone, he joined the control room.
Their whole hideout had an antique look, being built merely of stone. The reason was simple, it was located in a place you don't think of. The perfect place allowing them to hide while keeping an easy access to the whole city of Asperia. A place they remodeled partly to ensure them more comfort and safety. Sewers.
The core part of their hideout including the living room, bedrooms and other rooms of capital importance such as the practice room were refurbished so that no unbearable smells invaded the air. It was even rather properly lighted, and the arrangement suggested it was a casual place unless you left the massive wooden door reinforced with metal slats.
While speaking of that, the door suddenly began to shake and slide in a gravelly growl. Ling turned her head to behold a well-built old man standing in the hallway. An impressive specimen with a white beard and whiskers so long that it came to his belly. Though it seemed quite silky, it was barely the unique part of his appearance conveying that impression as, this apart, he was outstanding of strength. His white tank top revealed his muscular arms seemingly not there just to hold a cup of tea.
When the door completely opened, the elderly man moved forward. Catching sight of Ling from under a black and white striped hat veiling his eyes, he caught the brim of his black hat and slightly raised it up towards her.
“Hi Ling!” he said in a vivid voice.
“Hello back, Reisig.”
While the door closed automatically, the senior went through the room to reach the fridge, storing some groceries in it.
“Shall we do a little training? Even after a wandering across the city, I don't feel like stretched enough.”
“Why not? But let me add one or two funny rules.” answered the lady with a dubious voice.
“Funny… Rules?” leaning on the fridge door, he immediately froze in place.
When Ling began speaking like that, it sounded like an alarming signal. What kind of dangerous idea did she have again? While looking at her, Reisig noticed her disturbing smile, and the gleam of sadism deep in her eyes. Since he knew her he learnt to be aware of that beautiful woman, and to obey her conscientiously, exactly as all the other Players did. Although it didn't spare them consequent punishments whenever they failed grossly. Never try to disrespect this woman sounds like a rule of life or death.
“Yeah. Otherwise it would be boring. It's not like having some fun impeded to be serious. Come with me.”
The Players' second brain was already reaching the opposite corridor Woodle took while leaving. At first, Reisig didn't make a single move, as if he had been transfigured into a statue or mentally reciting his last prayer. Then he finally reached out for a can of Phoenix's Beer and moved on.
“Ahh,… Whatever.” he said in a low voice to himself, soon joining Ling to reach the practice room.
Meanwhile, Woodle was strumming on a keyboard with the same ease as a virtuoso pianist. Barely looking at his fingers, he constantly controlled a great amount of data flowing on screens. A great number of windows were simultaneously opened, the hacker switching from one to another, controlling data, correcting his codes as he created them. This program would be essential for the D-day so he would not loosen his attention until completed. Well… It would be the case if an unexpected event wasn't going to occur.
“My mistake might be particularly elementary so that it passes by me more than twice… I should change my perspective.” he reflected to himself.
As he was reconsidering the whole thing, an alarming notification suddenly popped up on the right screen.
“Unusual move detected in Area 21. Eradication of the presence initiated.” a mechanic voice announced from the speakers.
“Seriously, right now?”
The security system that he installed throughout sewers activated whenever motion sensors detected something suspicious, that's to say bigger than a rat. Since it was in the safe area marked out by Players' leader, it triggered a trap. The closer it was to the hideout, the more sophisticated the mechanism was. Conversely, when it was at the limit of the zone, it was designed in order to appear as an accident. This way it would not seem dubious and catch unnecessarily the attention of curious brats.
“At least it should be promptly fixed.”
But less than a minute later, the security system added.
“Failure. The target is still moving. The target is getting closer to Area 18.” the artificial voice reported.
“What? He's unscathed? … Spider, give me the profile of the intruder.” he ordered, calling the system by its nickname.
The young hacker kept his calm and switched screens, rotating his chair. As he opened a window displaying a plan of underground galleries, he caught sight of a red dot moving on it.
“The target is estimated to be 1m 27.” responded Spider.
The leader openly smiled.
“It seems that our guest is quite a smart child.”
Leaving his seat, he walked towards the exit without delay. As soon as he recovered his shoulder leather bag, of a forest green, he left his lair. At brisk pace, he aimed the place where the interloper was supposed to be. More than to feel annoyance, the feeling dominant in Woodle's mind was a slightly insane curiosity. He wanted to see by himself who was that reckless to adventure deeper and deeper into the galleries. Did he avoid the snare due to his luck, or due to his agility?
“Wait for me, little mouse. I'll catch you soon.”
Less than half an hour was necessary for the young boy to go throughout the moist galleries, walking along the channel exhaling … an appealing perfume of unidentifiable decaying stuff floating in the dark green-brown water. As it was hardly possible to see anything in this gloomy place, he wore state-of-the-art glasses allowing him so see throughout darkness.
“The intruder might be near.” Woodle noticed by checking the emplacement of the red dot on his connected watch, displaying a holographic map.
He slowed his pace as he approached the tunnel where the unknown one was supposed to be. It was hardly possible to see anything for a normal person, so… …There! A ray of light in the gallery, from a flashlight. Woodle immobilized a while, picking up something in his shoulder bag. While not making a single move he indeed perceived footsteps from the crossroads in which he hid. The young boy couldn't see well what kind of silhouette was holding that torch as light interfered with his night vision. Though he acknowledged that this was quite a tiny person.
“It's a pity you've not remarked my presence. Now, you are done.” he thought taking off his night glasses.
Bursting out of his lurking, the Players' leader threw with strength a little sphere near to the light source. At the exact moment it reached the stony ground, the sphere went off and blazed into an abnormal concentration of glow. This way he was sure to dazzle the enemy, and he carefully witnessed his attack from optimal distance.
However, instead of seeing the interloper, the only thing he saw was the flashlight colliding on pavement…
“Who would be mad enough to go on a walk into the sewers?” Reisig wondered, raising his head as he heard the announcement made by Spider, audible in the practice room.
“Never mind. The system added that a member was already on his way to solve it. Woodle will surely take care of our guest.” Ling replied in a nonchalant voice.
“You're probably right.”
“So stay focused. Are you ready to begin?”
The leader's right-hand was standing in the room's opposite extremity holding her two guns, Yin and Yang. The first one was of an absolute black, the second of a pure white. These weapons were actually a part of her. As a sharpshooter renown among the policemen, she inherited a sobriquet due to her terrific deftness.
“If I had been told that I would one day come under Silver Bullet's fire… Geeeez. I wasn't expecting such kind of training.” the old-timer commented as he got in position.
Ling just smiled in an odd way while Reisig suddenly threw up his hat and initiated to spin around faster and faster. Soon, a peculiar phenomenon occurred as a luminous green beam enveloped his whole body, becoming more and more dense. Until… It finally vanished, unveiling not more an old man but an enormous black turtle shell.
Nevertheless, it wasn't that astonishing when you were accustomed to the fact that in Asperia like elsewhere, possessing a supernatural ability was a common fate. And Reisig owned the one to swap into a huge turtle, about two meters of diameter on its longer side. Uttermost Shield was the name he chose for his power. Though it was of great efficiency, Reisig didn't overuse it, as he was proud to fight with his ordinary strength and powerful fists.
“COME ON!!” Ling shouted with enthusiasm.
Without further delay, the shell projected itself straight to Silver Bullet, still spinning around. As if it itched her for a while, the young woman promptly pointed Yin on Reisig. Locking on his trajectory, she began to shoot over the shell.
The first shot grazed him, Reisig barely dodging the bullet by deflecting to the left. However, as Ling fired on and on, he soon accustomed to the pace and managed to avoid the shoots. Fragments of stone flew hither and thither as the bullets smashed into the paving.
Ling jumped at the very last moment to avoid the shell, bouncing on that to fall back farther while Reisig out and sound crashed into the wall, crumbling it.
“Oh, there, there, you won't catch me this way.” assured the lady with a superior voice, her braids bustling about for a brief instant.
However, Reisig wouldn't be off-side so easily either. He already got off the wall, whirling again.
“What about upgrading to next level?” she said with a sadistic smile, yet raising up her other gun.
“Wait! What?? You didn't mention that! Ling… You said you would use only one pistol!” a voice argued, echoing from inside the turtle shell.
Although, again, a mere psychopathic laugh answered him. Yet Ling resumed her shoots, keeping on targeting Reisig with both Yin and Yang. Neither the oldster wasted more time. Hardly adjusting his trajectory, the bullets sometimes directly aimed him sometimes intended to outsmart him by triggering his very left and very right. Reisig sharply moved one time on his right, another time keeping swirling even faster forward.