Chapter 2:

The Loser Named Kohei Kurosawa

REWIND: How To Commit Genocide in 48 Hours

Aiko exploded all over me. First were her eyes that burst like waterpipes. The rest of her evaporated in a hot red mist. Before I left the apartment, Dad had said:Bookmark here

"You don't have friends and you don't have good grades, so don't screw this up."Bookmark here

I stared into blank space, and clutching the last remaining piece of her in my hand, I unwrapped my grip and looked down. Warm blood oozed out of her disembodied finger and painted the ground like tears.Bookmark here

"Aiko-chan?"Bookmark here

This couldn't be real. We were supposed to be seeing the fireworks. She'd looked beautiful in her yukata. I’d woken up this morning like any other, except the day had been brighter because I was going to be with her. This was supposed to be the turning point in my life, where I would finally show Dad that I was a real man, and maybe he’d stop hitting me. I looked up at the man in the suit.Bookmark here

"Why…?"Bookmark here

The murderer wiped a speck of blood off his black mask. It veiled his entire face and emanated dark shadow. There were no holes for his eyes, so maybe he had none. His shoes clicked like wooden blocks as he strode toward me with the casual cool of a businessman. I almost expected him to reach out and shake my hand.Bookmark here

"I had to get your attention, kid. What's with the long face? Eh…? Cat got your tongue?"Bookmark here

I vomited all over my new shoes. I'd spent my allowance on buying them for this date. Yesterday I was sure that paying Dad back was the biggest issue in my life. Now I stood in a back alley, covered in Aiko's blood. The same Aiko who had told me about her dream home. She wanted a garden with a small pond, with carp that she fed every morning and an altar to light candles. Because even though she wasn't religious, she still wanted to feel the warmth of the little dancing flames. And I wasn't religious either, and I told myself that if I met God I wouldn't care.Bookmark here

"Where's… Aiko-chan…"Bookmark here

"Huh? Speak up, son. I can't hear youuuuu!"Bookmark here

"Where's Aiko-chan?!"Bookmark here

I tried with everything I had, but my fist only waved in the air and I stumbled over myself. Defying all logic, a cane slipped out of Black Mask's sleeve and impaled me through the stomach. A searing pain shot through me and I screamed in agony, spitting blood. Black Mask unsheathed the cane from my intestine and examined it up and down.Bookmark here

"Cleaning this is gonna be a doozy."Bookmark here

I thudded to the asphalt, ears ringing. I flailed onto my side in some desperate instinctual attempt to flee, but Black Mask filled my field of view.Bookmark here

"Running already? Anyway, you've been selected by the Mistress. Consider this a great honor. You have to be at the testing grounds within… ten minutes or so, but I have a special treat for you."Bookmark here

The cane tapped my forehead and my vision went white, and when I opened my eyes I was in class. Onigawa-sensei was erasing the whiteboard, the chatter of voices in the halls muffled by the doors. I watched my Past Self leave with a lunch box but I couldn't move to follow, like I was lodged in a vase.Bookmark here

"Not him. We're here for them."Bookmark here

Black Mask pointed at a group of girls sitting by the windows, and at the center was Aiko. My heart fluttered in my chest, even if I knew they couldn't see me. Sunlight streamed into the classroom and illuminated her hair like a firefly. She brushed a lock of hair behind her ear.Bookmark here

Black Mask ushered me closer like I was a camera on rails until I was within earshot of the conversation. But I wasn't paying attention to what they were saying. Aiko's cheeks were red like freshly steamed bean jam buns, and the collar of her shirt-Bookmark here

Black Mask whacked the back of my head. "Listen!"Bookmark here

I listened.Bookmark here

"You mean, like, the guy who's always alone?"Bookmark here

"Don't be so mean! Yeah, him…"Bookmark here

"Are you serious?"Bookmark here

Aiko covered her face and laughed, that laugh that she was so embarrassed of that it warmed me to the core. But what were they talking about?Bookmark here

"So yeah, Aiko-chan… ask him out."Bookmark here

My heart thudded in my chest. She had talked about me to her friends? So… she had really liked me? Really, really liked me?Bookmark here

"I can't believe I have to do this just because I lost some stupid dare."Bookmark here

Huh?Bookmark here

"Don't worry, the worst he'll do is try to kiss you."Bookmark here

Huh?Bookmark here

The entire group of girls laughed, Aiko included. But that laugh was distorted, and suddenly it wasn't endearing, it was gross. It made me sick. My voice was working now.Bookmark here

"This can't be right…"Bookmark here

"It's not right, but it's the truth, Kohei my boy."Bookmark here

Black Mask wrapped an arm around my slumped shoulders as if he was an old friend comforting me. "This is the world that goes on outside, while you're sitting alone inside, playing games and watching your television. So I won't fault your philosophy from earlier, because you're correct. This world is rotten to it's molten core. So… do you want to leave it behind?"Bookmark here

“No... no! What?”Bookmark here

“I see we’re not quite there yet.”Bookmark here

Black Mask snapped his fingers and suddenly we were looking over Yuuki’s shoulder. Yuuki was texting someone.Bookmark here

Kurosawa is a massive asshole he always ignores tf out of meBookmark here

forget about him lolBookmark here

yeah ur right screw himBookmark here

And suddenly I was able to move. I backed up and folded my arms behind my head. I was hyperventilating. “That’s not real. Yuuki-kun doesn’t have a phone! You made it up!”Bookmark here

“One of the laws of your universe is that matter cannot be created or destroyed. I cannot make things up. I can simply show them in a new light. In this case, you are seeing past moments that were in fact real. If you must know why Yuuki never told you about his phone, I’ll tell you. Do you want to know?”Bookmark here

“Y… yes.”Bookmark here

“At first it wasn’t a lie. He really didn’t have one. But about a year ago he got one, and he’s been keeping it a secret ever since. Because he doesn’t feel like talking to you. Because you’re annoying.”Bookmark here

Annoying.Bookmark here

Annoying.Bookmark here

Annoying.Bookmark here

“You’re lying to me. You’re putting things in my head.”Bookmark here

“I am, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Watch.”Bookmark here

And the images flashed through my head like rapid fire.Bookmark here

I arrived home from school, said hello to Dad, and he waited until I closed the door to my room to say:Bookmark here

“Dumb idiot...”Bookmark here

I left the art club and everyone sighed in relief.Bookmark here

“Glad that bozo’s gone. Throw his canvas out.”Bookmark here

“It smells bad!”Bookmark here

“Ahaha!”Bookmark here

Onigawa-sensei was talking with another teacher.Bookmark here

“He’s doing better, but it’s a hopeless case. Just born wrong, you know?”Bookmark here

The girls watching him run the marathon.Bookmark here

“He looks so slimy!”Bookmark here

My older sister who worked in Tokyo, talking to a coworker.Bookmark here

“I mean… my brother’s pretty creepy…”Bookmark here

And Mom, who I hadn’t seen in years, sitting in an empty bar, hunched over a martini and talking to a stranger.Bookmark here

“Me? No, I’m single. Don’t have any kids…”Bookmark here

When it was over we were back in the classroom, the world going on around us like we didn't exist.Bookmark here

“I’ll ask you again, Kohei. Do you want to leave it all behind?”Bookmark here

"Yes."Bookmark here

"Why?"Bookmark here

"You know why."Bookmark here

"Tell me."Bookmark here

"I hate it. It's all a lie. The little moments aren't worth it if it's all fake. So I want to leave it all behind."Bookmark here

"But what about your family?"Bookmark here

"My sister is off in the city. And Mom and Dad are divorced, so money is rare in my house. Dad would probably be happy to see me disappear just so he could argue with Mom and pin the blame on her. Say something like 'he would've never run away if it wasn't for you'. If he even noticed. He's usually too busy drinking in the living room…"Bookmark here

"So say the magic words. Say, 'take me'."Bookmark here

My desk was empty. In a half hour my Past Self would come back and sit in that seat. And those girls would look at him in silence and mock him, and he would take it like the loser he was. A week later he would become the victim of a cruel prank, and he'd be head-over-heels for a girl that didn't give an ounce of crap about him.Bookmark here

"Take me."Bookmark here

And I was whisked away in an invisible flurry of whirlpool and breeze, unaware that I would not return for hundreds of years.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

I was dead, but the raw power of Black Mask's voice spoke directly into my mind, dragging over my ears like gravel. "Now that that detour is over, we can move onto the main attraction."Bookmark here

I was alive.Bookmark here

I lifted my head. I was on a cobble platform that went five meters in both directions. Four other people were waking up around me too, dazedly rubbing their faces. The clear sky was perfectly featureless, and I dared to glimpse over the platform. Like the hundreds of other platforms that spread out around me in a gridlike pattern, with their own occupants waking, there was no structural support at all. We were floating in the sky, the marshmallow clouds below concealing the earth. If this even was earth.Bookmark here

"Am I... dead?"Bookmark here

The voice in my head again:Bookmark here

"No, Kohei, you aren't dead. In fact, you're the exact opposite. From here on out, you're going to be leading a brand new life. Welcome to the exams. If you pass these, your grandest dreams will come true."Bookmark here


This male voice boomed over us with no visible source. A microphone? Was the sky an illusion?Bookmark here

"I am Hermes. And no, not like the god, although I did directly inspire him. Let me be brief - if you pass these tests, anything you want will be yours. Anything in the whole wide world. Consider us genies. Call it magic. Call it satanism. Call it whatever you like, as long as you believe it. If you don't believe in our wish-granting power, that's fine. You will believe very shortly. I'll be glad to tell you more and answer your burning questions if you can survive this first test. The rules are simple. In forty minutes the platforms will disappear. As you can see, each platform has five contestants. Take a good look at your new bunk buddies."Bookmark here

There was a girl with vivid scarlet hair and orange eyes flaked with red as if they were sprinkled with dry pepper flakes. Next was a man who looked like he'd just gotten off work, his tie hanging loose around his thin neck. Then there was a guy with a sour look on his face with his hair dyed brown. I didn't like his demeanor. He was like Yuuki but without any of the kindness. And finally there was a boy with hair as white as the gi he was wearing.Bookmark here

"For every person you throw into the abyss, ten minutes will be added onto your platforms survival timer. That is all."Bookmark here

A siren blared a distorted song that sounded like a national anthem, but it wasn't of any country that I knew. I was shaking again. In the same day I'd gone from being the victim of a dare to being the witness of a murder, and now I was a contestant in what might be the last game I'd ever play.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Immediately after his discussion with Kohei, Black Mask materialized behind the woman in the abyss.Bookmark here

"I've successfully begun the process, Mistress."Bookmark here

"Good."Bookmark here

He waited for more orders, but she gave none. She turned and looked down at him, her glossy dress shimmering in the light of the Void. "Why are you still here?"Bookmark here

He shifted nervously. "Mistress... why are you so interested in this boy? He's unremarkable, and if I'm being honest, he's like a maggot. I have to constantly resist the urge to crush him."Bookmark here

"Don't. That would inconvenience me for a few seconds, and I haven't been inconvenienced since Achilles. But to answer your question, I'm not interested in him at all. That's precisely why he's been chosen. He is an ordinary being, which is why he might be the one to kill the Corruption once and for all."Bookmark here

"But we've gotten so close with stronger humans. Alexander the Great almost-"Bookmark here

"We inch closer every millennium, but the Corruption is faster than that. The downfall of all of our previous subjects were their hubris, their pride. They let their ambitions get ahead of their duties to us. Which is why we need someone who is nothing. If we give him purpose and power, he will bend before us without a second thought."Bookmark here

"Very wise, milady."Bookmark here

"Yes. Would you like to play a game of Othello? I've gotten quite bored lately."Bookmark here

"I live for your pleasure."Bookmark here

A chess board came into existence, and for the next few decades they played in silence.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.