The following day passed in a relative calm, as if nothing happened. The mayor got on her appointments, still being as serious as she always had been. Neither the scandal about Kiseki nor the accident about last night seemed to affect her. The latter event remained unsaid to prevent pointless panic.
Indeed, city dwellers were already shaken enough, feeling betrayed by a person supposed to embody righteousness and justice. As a consequence, it even strengthened their trust into Lucy Merlish, empathizing with her as she was the first concerned by this terrible treason. Her steadfast attitude comforted them. She was like an impregnable fortress, a beacon in the darkness.
When night fell, she came with a steady step, striding the distance to the man standing in the midst of a wasteland. The latter's long white hair waved in the air. Next to him stood a little golden-haired girl, a hand catching hold of his sleeve.
The mayor immobilized herself in front of Haru, meters away. For a while, they all stayed silent as if entirely focused on one another's gesture.
“I suppose you're not going to return me the key kindly, am I wrong?” Merlish asked in a dry voice before squinting her sky blue eyes. “What do you have in mind?”
Taking a while before answering, Haru smiled softly, raising his eyes to seek the rare stars visible in spite of the city's lighting. As a gasp of wind made flutter a lock of hair in his field of vision, the young fellow smoothly replaced it behind his ear.
“You are rather smart after all, Miss Merlish.”
As they were speaking, through an eyepiece, someone was aiming for Haru. Locking on him, the sniper would soon be able to fire. He was hiding in the ancient bakery.
“Are you planning to eliminate me?”
She needed nothing but to win a little more time, the best way being to keep Haru talking.
“Don't be absurd. I have way more interesting projects for you.”
Removing the safety catch, the sniper's index was placing on the trigger.
“Also, I'm ashamed of deceiving you, but you won't kill me that easily either.”
Lucy Merlish widened her eyes. Did he know for the sniper? The latter immediately fired thereafter.
Alas for the mayor, at the same moment Haru brandished a lilac cube that he threw on the ground in-between them.
Instantly, a digital wave spread all around on a consequent diameter, transforming the landscape. What the instant before was an open space shaped into a sequence of lilac walls developing a sequence of hallways, as a huge digital labyrinth.
The bullet ricocheted on kind of a barrier not allowing anything to enter the new area.
“What did you do?! Where are we?”
“In a place you won't be able to hide your true self for long.”
Merlish frowned to this statement while he walked in her direction.
“Don't make any step further!”
She barely managed to say it that a dart sticked in her neck. The responsible was no one else than Marnie, holding a blowgun in a hand.
Widening her eyes, the mayor fell to her knees, already drowsy. Haru had than no difficulty in appoaching her and putting a hand on her head, whispering a few words.
“Citizens of Asperia, allow me to show you your dear mayor in an original setting. She came to defy us and try to defend your city. I am certain that you'd like to witness her feats, ain't you?”
A channel all Asperian people could watch retransmitted what was happening in the labyrinth, while policemen where vainly trying to enter the area. It was without counting on this elaborate trap, the achievement of augmented reality brought to life thanks to Woodle's ingeniousness. It would spare them enough time, which one Haru will make broad use of.
In the midst of the labyrinth, Lucy Merlish was gradually coming back to her. She didn't had an idea of what she was doing here, and stood up visibly scared.
“They captured the mayor! What will happen to her?”, “She will beat them all, for sure! Her might is strong enough!”, “What the hell are police officers for?!”, “See Merlish! She bravely defied the Players! It's our mayor!”
These were some of the viewers reactions.
“Why… Why am I here? Who brought me there…?” Merlish confusedly muttered, unable to remember.
Standing up, she looked all around with uncertainty. Silence was absolute. As there was no point in staying there, the blond-haired lady began to walk along the lilac walls, in the penumbra.
Soon, whispers spread round her, without anybody in sight. Numerous shadows seemed to run along the slick walls.
“Who's there?! Show up!” the mayor anxiously ordered.
She got no answers, the murmur following her no matter how she picked up the pace.
Suddenly, the shadows so far indistinct took shape into persons, places, all along the wall. They were sceneries from Lucy's life. The ones of her debut as a mayor. All the times she struggled to obtain people's approval, the riots when she proposed one of her first law project, aiming to reduce inequalities among citizens at cost of the better-off. The attempt of assassination by a man surging from the crowd when she visited a hospital, the clear image of his face as he jumped on her to stab her. The whispers became more clear.
“Will she be equal to her ambitions?”, “She's too young, barely an adult! Return playing with your dolls.”, “I'm not reassured with Merlish at the head of Asperia…”
Even if Lucy Merlish was popular at the beginning of her assumption, the more popular you are, the more vivid are the infrequent protests.
Gathered all around her, the mayor should feel oppressed at the view of these disturbing memories. She should.
However, she just frowned and kept on her way, glancing at this as she turned at a corner.
“That's odd. I expected her to react a bit more. Hmm. I suppose it is too remote in her mind.” Haru thought, controlling what she viewed at the other side of the labyrinth.
Other recollections of memories then spread along the numeric walls. Kiseki and Lucy together at their wedding, seemingly happy, celebrating the event with their folks. Various flashbacks of their public appearances. To this followed the recent views of Kiseki flirting with Ling.
Beholding this, the mayor squinted her eyes in annoyance. Her steps led her to a dead-end, thus she stopped.
Suddenly someone showed up in behind her, making her promptly turn around and freeze. She stared at the appearance of her own hologram, another Lucy Merlish facing her in a judging way. For the first time, the mayor made a step back.
“It's time for you to face the true colour of your soul. Will your fellow citizens still have faith in you thereafter?”
“Go away… Go away from me!!”
Directing a rude expression at her, the hologram suddenly dematerialized in a cloud of pixels while she could sense a knife whizzing next to her, scratching her ear, cutting a strand of hair before stucking in the lilac wall next to the mayor. Marnie, half-emerged of her shadow on the wall, was already disappearing back.
This time Merlish's heart began to race, as she looked desperately all around her. But her aggressor wasn't in sight.
Blenching, the mayor turned again to face the origin of the voice. A shy little boy, holding a stuffed bear stood a few meters away.
“Who… Who are you?”
“I am lost too… I don't remember how I got there. This is… frightening.” he interrupted for a while, with a shifty gaze, hugging tightly his teddy bear. “Can I stay with you? My name is Moya.”
It seemed they were in the same situation. After a while of hesitation, the blue-eyed woman replied.
“O-Okay. Let's escape together.”
Approaching him, Lucy began wandering hand in hand with the little boy, leaving the dead-end in a hope to leave the labyrinth too. At least, she wasn't alone anymore.
As they disappeared from her field of vision, Marnie emerged from the wall. Taking a few steps forward, she leaned in the place Merlish stood a while ago, grabbing something that might had fallen out of her jacket. Her identity card.
Marnie took a close look at it, in sheer curiosity. But then, something attracted her glance and she widened her eyes, half-opening her mouth in disbelief.
“This… This is…”