The moon was shining brightly through the small windows on the bus when they woke up.
It was the same bus that crashed against a giant boulder on the narrow road up the mountain at full speed and had killed all six of them - except something was different.
The bus was still moving, and from the gossip of the other kids in the bus they could tell there had been some sort of accident a few hours ago but by some sort of miracle they had come out of it safely, almost as if they had gone straight through the rock.
“It was so weird” and “I really thought we were going to crash and die” were the most common topics buzzing about.
Unharmed and in perfect condition, the bus kept on going towards its destination: a popular campsite in the mountains where a few chosen students got to spend their weekend.
Arrowheart High was a small school with a low budget where most of its students were delinquents or kids with bad grades, so the campsite trip served the double purpose of rewarding the top students with a trip, and punishing the worst of them with some time-out.
The six students that had just woken up all patted themselves everywhere, looking at their surroundings, realizing they were alive - alive!
None of them were sitting next to each other, and part of them still felt like it might have been a dream, so they didn’t dare bring it up with any of the others… until Emma suddenly stood up, skipping over and pointing straight at Ren, who was sitting near a window on the back row, next to no one.
“Heeey! It’s you! You died with me, too, didn’t y–mmph!!”
Ren reached up and covered her mouth quickly in a panic.
“Stop it! They’ll think we’re insane!”
Emma looked at him with big, confused eyes that pierced right through him, and he finally let go, embarrassed.
“...Sorry. You were being too loud. Sit down.”
Emma sat next to him as soon as he said that, wiggling with excitement. She was trying to whisper, but her voice still sounded loud enough to be heard.
“You were with me and the others, right!? Weren’t you!? We died and now we’re alive!?”
“Seems that way…”
He scratched the back of his head, hesitating before his next question.
“Um… Emma… do you… remember everything… that happened with Cupid, by any chance?”
“Yup! He said we had another chance! We’re alive!”
“Yeah, but… do you remember what he said, about all of us?”
“Huh? …Oh! Yeah, he said I’m an idiot!”
“I guess he did say that, but that’s not what I–”
“Hey,” a rough voice interrupted them from the seat in front of them. Yusei was sitting there, turning to look at them from the side of his seat.
“If you both remember it too, then that wasn’t a dream, huh. We really did fucking die.”
Ren took a good look at Yusei: he had seen him before at school, with his rebellious hairstyle and his scary frown. He looked like someone who had beaten people up before, and although he didn’t ask, he was sure Yusei was on this field trip as punishment for something.
Yusei sighed, rubbing his neck.
“Fucking sucks, man. If we really did come back because of him, that means his dumbass condition for stayin’ around is true, too.”
“...Condition?” Emma tilted her head.
“About making his other two losers fall in love with us. Weren’t you paying attention?”
“I wasn’t!” She replied to Yusei with more excitement than needed.
“Man… he was right about you being an idiot, huh.”
“Hey,” Ren interjected. “Lay off her, she’s one of us.”
“Tch,” Yusei scoffed, turning his back to them again. “Whatever, talking to girls is a waste of time, anyway. Besides, only two of us are gonna make it, right? So what’s the point in being all friendly with each other?”
Ren looked in his direction, although he couldn’t see his face anymore. He thought about what Cupid’s notes said about Yusei: you act tough and look tough, but you’re actually very afraid of girls.
Yes, it was exactly that. If his notes about himself were on the dot, then Ren was absolutely sure what Cupid said about Yusei had to be correct, too.
Now he couldn’t help but feel pity for him. He took a deep breath.
“Either way, ever since he told us the details of his conditions and the requirements for staying alive, I’ve been thinking… we could all potentially stay alive if we simply ignore what he asked us to do.”
That got Yusei’s attention again, who turned around to look at him with skepticism.
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it. Whoever makes either one of his two kids fall in love with them, that person gets to live, right? But if we all agree to ignore those two, then there will be no winner, and we could all stay alive as long as we want.”
Emma and Yusei’s eyes got big at his suggestion.
“Whoa…” Yusei looked impressed. “That’s actually pretty smart.”
“So if we wanna stay alive we have to ignore two people? That sounds sad…”
Ren shrugged at Emma’s reaction, smiling sheepishly.
“We ignore hundreds of people every day, right? It shouldn’t be so hard. Besides, he hasn’t told us who they are or where they are, so it doesn’t really matter, either way. If we each keep to our close circle of friends, we should be fine.”
“...I wonder about that,” a voice cut from the row beside them.
The two boys and Emma saw Julius sitting there, his long hair shining under the moonlight. He had his hand on his chin, as if pondering something. He clearly had been listening in, and waited until now to speak.
Emma gasped and raised her hand, pointing at him the moment she recognized him as the third male from the group. Ren quickly put his hands over her mouth to keep her quiet again, predicting exactly what would have happened if he hadn’t.
Julius never raised his gaze or even looked at them. He simply continued his thought in his calm, collected voice.
“Let’s assume it’s all true. Let’s assume he truly meant it, and he plans to kill us all again once his two losers fall in love with us. Doesn’t that sound scary?”
Ren let go of Emma without taking his eyes off of Julius.
“It’s not. Not if we all agree to not play along.”
Julius finally turned to look at them with a calm smile.
“That’s what I mean. That’s the scary part. If even one of us plays along and seduces one of the targets, the rest of us will be finished— am I wrong?”
His words didn’t surprise Ren at all. Of course he had thought about that possibility, but his own prudence told him to not bring it up in front of only Yusei and Emma.
Now that Julius was also involved, however…
He glanced at Emma from the corner of his eye, who seemed like she was trying her best to understand the situation. Ren sighed.
“Yeah, you’re not wrong. But what I’m saying is, there’s no reason to play. We’re all alive again already. If we all agree not to pursue—”
“Ah, I get it now,” interrupted Yusei. “Since we don’t know who the two other losers are, we can’t be sure none of us are gonna go after them anyway… is that what you’re sayin’?”
“That’s stupid!” A vein pops on Yusei’s forehead. “We don’t even know who they are in the first place! If they’re losers, they’re probably undateable and ugly!”
Ren shushed him, to no reaction from Yusei— although it did make Emma cover her own mouth with her hands for no reason. Julius seemed unfazed by Yusei’s altered state.
“That very well could be. But what if that’s not the case?”
“What if our targets are actually very attractive? Wouldn’t that be quite the incentive for any of us here who would like to have a romantic romp with someone like that?”
Neither Yusei nor Ren had considered that possibility, and Yusei’s face quickly began to tint itself pink, betraying his dirty inner thoughts.
“Uh… I… guess……”
“If that happens,” Ren interjected, “that means whoever falls for that kind of person and decides to seduce them based on looks alone must be pretty superficial. If that’s the case, the solution is simple: we all help them find someone even better looking to go after. That should be good enough, right?”
Julius blinked with amusement at that wild and optimistic solution to his hypothetical.
“Haha. You’re quite the positive individual, Ren Dahl. A little too much, I would say.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I don’t believe everything you say, and it’s hard to buy into your righteous way of speaking. Your collected demeanor, and that political habit you’ve displayed, where you try so earnestly to find the best solution for the group instead of an individual… personally, I believe you’re a dangerous wild card.”
Already distracted from the conversation, Emma stood up, pointing at a girl with silver hair a few seats ahead of where they were. She rushed over in a flash to her side before anyone could stop her.
“Heeey! You were with us too, right! I remember you!”
The guys all turned towards Emma all the way near the front of the bus, and they could see her enthusiastically talking to the girl that was with them— Rika, but couldn’t make out their conversation from that distance.
Rika turned around in her seat to look at them when Emma pointed in their direction, but otherwise seemed uninterested in walking back to join them. The three of them were secretly relieved that Emma was inadvertently filling Rika in to the fact that it wasn’t a dream.
Ren looked away from them first, and addressed Julius in a quieter voice.
“...Look, Verne. I understand you don’t trust me. You don’t know me, and I’ve only seen you around the school library, so it’s not like I know you, either. But we have nothing to gain from doubting each other. Our lives are at stake here. Our actual lives. Do you get that?”
“I do. And that’s precisely why we can’t trust you.”
“What Cupid said back there, that you’ve only liked one person and one person only… was that true?”
His entire body tensed up the moment Julius brought up that personal tidbit, as it wasn’t something Ren ever talked about… but there was no point in keeping it a secret after he had been exposed so openly in front of the others.
“...What about it?”
It was the first time Julius saw him so defensive. He grinned, then leaned forward, as if trying to really drive the point home.
“What if the girl you like turns out to be one of our targets? Are you saying you would finally stop pursuing her forever?”
That made Ren stop in his tracks. He looked surprised, and even Yusei turned back to look at him, waiting for his answer.
“Man… For real!?” Yusei pushed his seat back onto Ren, hitting his knees. “Thought you said we were all in this together and shit! I almost bought it!”
Yusei’s brusque outburst snapped Ren out of it, who simply shook his head and closed his eyes, finally answering Julius’ question.
“...No. That’s… not possible.”
“Oh?” Julius rubbed his chin again, piercing Ren with his gaze. “Not possible, huh? How can you be so sure?”
Ren was quiet for a moment, looking ahead through the rows of the dimly-lit bus and the many seats in front of them.
Near the front, Emma had already sat down next to the girl with silver hair, and seemed to be having a very fun and lively conversation.
Despite the incredible trauma they all just went through, Emma remained as jovial as always. Her smile shone brighter than the moon through the windows, and Ren looked at her and sighed with a hopeless, wistful expression on his face.
“...I just am.”
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