Chapter 10:

True Victor

REWIND: How To Commit Genocide in 48 Hours

Thump thump thump-

Tsst tsst tsst-

Just like the gym, the ever present pounding. But now that pounding was also in his heart and in his ears and throat, and it was real. There were no gloves or bindings or illegal moves. Only the intent to kill or be killed.

Renji couldn't take the reins off Asano. Asano had longer arms and moved so gracefully he may as well have been floating. He remembered what Asano had said.

Please continue with your dance.

It's not a dance!

Most things seldom are.

Was fighting a dance or not? Questions that led to more questions. But Asano seemed to think so. And dance was practiced; partitioned into blocks for the sake of memorizing and perfecting. So maybe it was similar to fighting in that way, too. Renji kept up the bullrush for a few more moments until he recognized a shuffle in Asano's feet. Dance had patterns.



Renji dug into his foot and thrust with his whole body, his fist-

He missed.

Asano's hand opened as if he was a magician revealing the white dove in his palm. The red blast blew Renji across the arena.


Yuuki whistled. "Glad he's on our side."

I nodded, my Adam's apple bobbing. What the hell was this? Laser blasts? Where's my old mentor who teaches me the ways before he inevitably gets outclassed by me and goes out in a blaze of glory?

Renji was a steaming heap of white rice in his gi. It was frayed and blackened at the edges now, like he'd been stuffed in a box full of dynamite. He got back up like he always did, undulating like a dandelion in the wind.

Hermes checked his wrist. An invisible watch, or just for show?

I was 99% certain that Renji had forgotten the time limit. More importantly, Asano might have too. If I'd been keeping track of time right, seven minutes had been spent on this bout. Yuuki v. Clarkson (Match of the century! Drama! Spectacle! Forbidden Romance!?) took just over a minute. It looked like this would be over soon, which still left at least twenty minutes for Akabane and me. Selfishly, I hoped she went first.

Yuuki shared my worries. "Asano's walking at a centimeter per hour! He's gonna make us an eyepatch crew at this rate!"

Akabane shook her head. "No. He's-"

"Say, Kurosawa-kun, should we get matching eyepatches or different styles? I feel like the color blue has always suited me-"

"Hey, dumbass!" Akabane clapped her hands right next to Yuuki's ear.

"Gah! Y-yes?"

She cleared her throat. "Asano knows he outclasses us in literally every way. He's draining the time down before he ki - er, beats the kid, that way we have a huge time advantage going forward. Actually, Hermes never said anything about overtime… he only said that whoever had the least time remaining by the end would lose. Asano might be able to win literally just by waiting it out."

"So that's the purpose of the time limit," I said. "It prevents weaker teammates from dragging down the stronger ones by allowing victory through running out the time."

"But it's easily exploitable. Whichever team wins the rock paper scissors game can pit their strongest against the enemies' weakest. So why does so much ride on that game of rock paper scissors?"

I couldn't tear my eyes away from Hermes. Asano and Renji were back at it, and he was observing them with a twisted sort of… pride.

What was this game's real purpose?



Renji's fist hit an invisible wall. "Huh?"

Asano was gone.

Renji spun in circles, searching for the man who'd vanished into thin air. He really was a magician, the kind who came by on their roadshows every summer in vans parked outside the community center. Grampa called them 'scam artists'.

Asano was visible for a moment, flitting in and out of existence, as if he had jumped from behind one invisible wall to the next.

He's a mime.

Renji felt the air around him. In some places there was nothing, in others his hand brushed a polished surface.

He's a mime.

Renji was trapped in the clutches of a maze that only Asano could see.


Hermes had to admit - he was impressed.

This Asano fellow was a good catch on Black Mask's part.

A perfect grasp on Saisho. It's marvelously amateur, boldly simple. I love it.

Of course, to Hermes' trained eye, he could easily see the walls that the boy struggled to comprehend. A maze-like pattern, as if a black onion had been stripped and split. Asano hopped between them like a ballerina.

Maybe this wasn't such a waste of time after all. I see a future Finger in the making.

But what about the boy? Hm, I suppose he can be harvested for parts.

Asano launched his attack.


Renji had only seen mimes on TV, but he didn't think they were supposed to punch you.

The hits were light but packed a wallop.

Tack tack



Renji squawked with every punch and blood started dribbling down his lips and nose.

Come up with something, Renji! Become the bigger man!

"I can't-"

The fist took him square in the face. Something cracked but he barely felt it. The enemy was still nowhere to be seen, fight or flight going haywire. Hey boss, how can we run or do battle if we can't even see the enemy?

Renji fell.

Asano let the barriers down. To the contestants, they'd spent the past few minutes watching both fighters spin in circles, now just relieved to see it finally over. To Hermes, it was a satisfying demonstration on Asano's part.

Renji coughed up blood and rolled over. Everything hurt. Stars bounced around like pachinko balls in his eyeballs, but that didn't make sense 'cause it was broad daylight-

Hermes moved to end that match.


Get up, boy. It was only one punch. You're not dead yet."

"I can fight…"

Renji was back on his feet. Hermes paused.

Back to the basics. Raise your fists in front of your face. These are your two most important tools, and you have to use them to protect the rest of your body. When someone's coming at you...

He tried; he failed. Asano easily maneuvered through Renji's weak, dizzied defense and Renji thudded back down.

Hermes sighed. "Anyways-"

"I can… fight…"

There was a stir among the contestants. Heads jostled to see what was going on. Renji searched in a daze through the swathes of strangers, hoping in his confusion to see Grampa there. If Grampa was there, he could do anything.

A determined sob escaped him as he propped up one side of his body on a stickied fist. He gritted his bloodied teeth, sweat mixing into his wounds and turning pink. Like those cherry blossom drinks that he had after really hard training sessions…

"I can fight!"


Asano kicked him, kicked him so hard that his ribs cracked and his body bent as he reacquainted with the arena floor.

"Why do you fight, boy?"


"I find that those who fight the hardest are those who have no answer. It's like downing a nasty medicine - the faster the better. If you stop to get a taste, well, you gag."

Renji was crying. Men didn't cry. So why? Why was the world blurring into a few little colors? Why was this happening to him? He wanted to curl up and sleep right there. Grampa would come save him as always, because Grampa was always there, more than Mama and Papa had ever been. Yeah, sleep sounded nice.

But what about the people who don't want to fight or can't fight?

They die.


Renji rose up, ribs shattering under his weight, flaming pain roasting him as if he was dancing on coals from Hell. Dancing was something like fighting, anyway. It was all part of the plan.

They didn't know him, they didn't know Asano.


But everyone loves a good underdog story, and the audience screamed their reply. They screamed their support for this boy in his tattered white gi, arms raised to the occasion, ready to stand up to this representation of all that was wrong, all that was unjust about these Games.

Asano didn't move, possibly couldn't move. But that was unlikely. He remained expressionless.

Renji plodded forward as a bull did, dragging the plow, enduring the whip.

"I'm finishing this!"

He stopped, coughed, and froze. The audience froze with him, as if they were all posing for a photo. At that moment Kohei thought, Renji v. Asano. The true victor by unanimous decision: Renji.

At the time only Hermes could see what occurred. A shattered piece of rib had torn into Renji's lung. The lack of oxygen, along with rapid blood loss and the cycling of adrenaline, had resulted in the boy lapsing into a comatose state. Renji went back down.

Kohei's team was up, 2-0.

Ana Fowl