Chapter 4:

Indomitable Will

Red-Black Course

As Zain’s hand squeezed harder and harder onto Rex’s neck, the remaining inmates slowly but surely left the cafeteria as fast as their feet could take them. The bomb had been triggered; no one would dare to stay and watch, let alone step in to stop the situation.

Even Mitch – the one that knew Rex the most among the prisoners, only had enough courage to stand still. He was the latest direct victim of Zain’s thrashing, after all; he knew better than anyone not to poke that hill of fire ants.

“… Let… go of me…” Rex, meanwhile, was struggling for his life as his throat got tighter every second. But no matter how hard his hands scratched onto his opponent’s arm, the grip on his neck was still as solid as an iron claw.

The result was inevitable. A direct smash onto the ground, shaking the entire cafeteria floor. The impact once again fractured Rex’s newly-healed ribs, while the poor boy threw up another pool of gastric acid. Fortunately, there was no blood this time, but the pain was still no less tolerable.

Zain, having let out his pent-up frustration from before, seemed to be satisfied with the hit. Throwing a condescending smirk to the rag of a lad on the floor, he turned around and left the premise:

“Consider this a warning. Don’t come near me again.”

Finally able to move again after the danger had gone away, Mitch ran towards his new friend as fast as his bulky legs could take him.

“Rex, ya okay?”

“Yeah, more or less…” it took a minute for his breathing to return to normal, but Rex got off a lot more lightly than he should. He knew this himself, and Mitch was aware as well. His comment afterwards already proved it:

“Ya got real lucky there pal; da guy usually doesn’t let up dat easily.”

“Still hurt like hell though,” Rex answered with a shake of the head as he struggled to pull himself together.

“Well, ya should be happy dat ya got out in one piece, I’d say.”

“… No,” contrary to Mitch’s expectations, his meant-to-comfort words backfired spectacularly as he caught a glimpse of Rex gritting his teeth in anger and hopelessness behind his mask.

“I didn’t even get to ask him to join. I’ll have to try again.”

The next day, when Rex came to the cafeteria, the scene before him was a bloody mess. Cracks appeared on the floor again, with Mitch lying unconscious in the center of it all. This time, once again, it seemed like the perpetrator had gone easy, seeing that the giant inmate only suffered from a couple of bruises.

“Hey! What’s the big idea?” Rex shouted as he stood directly facing the only one capable of causing this kind of damage – the young man with the lion mane-like hair casually sipping his milk at a nearby table as if nothing had happened.

As he spotted Rex, the youth finally stood up, cracking his neck before grabbing the poor boy’s collar once again.

“You’re more of a coward than I thought. Now get out.”

Unlike the day before, Rex seemed to be lucky enough to escape injury, as a simple threat was the only thing he received before Zain returned to his cell. And now it was Rex’s turn to care for his friend.

“Mitch! Are you alright?”

“Sorry… buddy…” Mitch’s weakened voice whimpered behind his mask. “I tried… ta reason… But da guy… was a lot more… violent… than I thought…”

The man lost his consciousness before Rex could say anything else. But with his strength, Rex couldn’t possibly carry Mitch to the infirmary, and so he had no other choice but to drag the guy's body over, trying his best to ignore the fact that the friction would only make Mitch’s condition worse.

“Don’t worry, buddy,” mumbled Rex to himself. “You’ve done enough. This is my problem, and I’m gonna solve it until the end.”

The next day, Rex appeared at the cafeteria before anyone else would. Or at least, that was what he thought, for sitting at the center table was already that all too familiar mane. Quick as the wind, Rex approached his target. But this time, before he could do anything, a fist had already come flying at his stomach, ending the boy’s fruitless attempt of the day.

The next day, the same thing happened again. And the next. And the next. Soon, words caught wind to the remaining convicts, and a new entertainment was born. A week later, dozens of people flocked to the cafeteria, all screaming and shouting in glee as they threw their money on how fast the fellow would get knocked out this time.

“One punch! It has always been one punch!” A voice echoed throughout the cafeteria.

“Nah, Zain’s getting bored! A kick!” Another voice retorted.

“Put some faith in him man! He’s been eating hits like candies for the last week, I’m sure he’s developing at least some spine! Two punches!”

Meanwhile, Rex was still standing in front of Zain, in the same position since he started this whole debacle.

“Tch, annoying bunch.” It was unknown if it was due to the constant beating from the prison’s strongest, or because he had finally gotten used to his life in a cell, but Rex’s words were stronger and rougher than they were before.

“Then don’t come here anymore,” meanwhile, Zain was strangely calm for a guy that would always prefer to talk with his fists.

“I refuse,” answered Rex. “Until you give me a yes, I’ll keep standing here every day.”

“Why are you so obsessed with me? If you’re interested in the games, just join yourself. There’s no rule against going solo.”

“You know damn well why. As much as it pains me to admit, I can’t win against you.”

“And so, you’re swallowing your dignity and come wagging your tail at me like the dog you are,” Zain disinterestedly picked his ear upon learning Rex’s answer, as if wanting to clean it from the filth he had to hear. “Pathetic.”

“Say what you want,” Rex took a deep breath, containing his anger just waiting to burst. “If this helps me achieve my goal, then I’ll be happy to be a little boot licker any day.”

“Then tell me. What’s in it for me?”

“… I’m good with computers.” Rex, as if already prepared for this question, answered without a hitch. It was the truth, although he hadn’t had the chance to show it off inside this concrete cage. However, that alone wasn’t enough to convince the young man before him.

“I have a few tricks up my sleeves as well, but that’s not the point,” for the first time, Zain and Rex’s eyes fully met, and the pair knew each other’s thoughts just from that one look.

“You said you’d do anything to achieve your goal, right? Then how can I be sure you’re not gonna backstab me when you have the chance?” Zain continued, squinting his eyes in doubt.

“I won’t.” 

“Where’s your proof?”

“You’ll just have to trust me on that.”

“Hah, trust. You’re telling me, in this prison, where the lowest scums of society lie, that I have to trust you?”

“Isn’t that what a team is built upon? Mutual trust and respect?”

“Again, why should I form a team with you?”

“Because let’s face it, your chances to win alone isn’t high, is it?”

Zain’s eyes widened, not because Rex was just spouting insults and provocation, but because his words hit right on the mark, no matter how hurtful they were, and that he had the guts to utter that truth.

“I’ve seen your records of the previous games,” Rex answered, thanking the bits of information he had been collecting from the inmates and AIDE during the various beatdowns he’d endured. “You always lose at the last game, and for some reason, this is the first game of this year’s event.”

“… But what would a runt like you be able to help me?”

“By making sure that whatever tricks they were pulling against you not work again.” With a confident voice, Rex answered. He wasn’t dumb. Throughout their conversation, he could tell that his opposition was slowly opening up to him. He just needed a final push for his persuasion to work. And he was right. However, that final push proved itself to be harder than expected.

“… I’ll see about that.” Smirked Zain. Even he himself didn’t know why he would accept this boy’s proposal so fast. But he had decided that if Rex could pass this final test of his, they would indeed fight alongside each other.

“One punch,” Zain raised a finger to make a signal. “I’ll hit you with my strongest punch. If you can take it, I’ll join your team. If not… well, I’m sure you won’t be seeing me again.”

“… Deal.” Rex nervously swallowed down his anxiety. He knew that this would be the only chance he could get, but it would not be an easy one.

Without another word, Zain’s fist flew towards Rex’s chest with the weight of a freight train. The punch knocked him down on the floor in an instant, but its destructive force was far larger than that. The entire floor almost crumbled into dust. Had the cafeteria not been on the lowest floor, the punch would have knocked Rex down another level. Meanwhile, on the ceiling, cracks had even run up there, filling the space like a freaky spider web.

However, Zain’s face wasn’t that of satisfaction or disappointment, but complete and utter shock. When his fist landed on Rex’s chest, he had fully expected the recipient’s ribcage to burst like a water balloon, and his bones would shatter like glass. To his surprise, the boy was completely fine.

The sensation when his fist hit was surely not that of hitting human flesh. Was he just imagining things, or did Rex’s will boost his physical capabilities this much? Nevertheless, what remained clear was that Zain had failed to knock out his opponent.

“… I win…”

When Mitch came to, he immediately realized the familiar white walls and chloride smell of the infirmary. Throwing off his blanket as fast as he could, Mitch tried to rush outside, only to be stopped by a pair of mechanical hands sprouting out from the walls behind him.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Asked AIDE in its usual disinterested, yet sarcastic voice. “You’ve been out for a week. Get some rest already.”

“A week?” Shouted Mitch. He didn’t realize his conditions were that bad, but that’s even more reason for him to rush out as fast as he could. “What about Rex? Did da kid…”

“Calm down, Mitch,” answering him was a light chuckle to his right. “I’m fine.”

Mitch turned around, trying to express his relief. However, upon seeing the figure next to Rex, he was just an inch away from passing out again.

“Dat… Dat…” the poor guy could only utter that much. Meanwhile, Rex let out a big smile and made a peace sign.

“Operation successful.”

Steward McOy
T.K. 月狐
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