Chapter 24:

Let's Play

Red-Black Course

Seven years ago.

Rain befell on the streets, dyeing the scene in a misty white. Hidden within the downpour was a figure of a small boy in a ragged hood, but he wasn’t trying to hide himself at all. As a matter of fact, the boy was desperately trying to be seen. However, any sound his measly voice could make was already drowned by the bombardment of droplets.

Such was the life of the nameless boy.

Born in the depths of the slums, his parents both died when he barely had any semblance of consciousness. All his life, he lived on the passersby’s piety, or if worst came to worst, on whatever garbage he could find. He was no stranger to hunger, but this time, it was too much.

He hadn’t eaten for almost a week already, and the heavy rain was slowly eating away at his strength. He needed something to continue his daily struggle.

His eyes averted to the bakery on the other side of the street. Even in the rain, the smell of fresh bread and sweets was too much to ignore. His mouth salivated at the warm light and delightful aroma. Yet, he still hesitated. For at that moment, the boy was reminded why he had abstained from thievery all these years.

“No, please, forgive me!” The sound of a man echoed through the alleyway. Soon after, a buzzing sound of electricity cackled, and the man was silent. Through the small alley, the boy saw a towering figure of a mechanical officer carrying an unconscious man like a body bag.

“Violation of the law detected,” the robot sounded with its emotionless tone. “Moving target to the Infinite Prison.”

The boy held on tightly to his stomach to suppress the impending hunger. He had just seen what happened to that poor man; he couldn’t afford to be thrown in jail. But that delicious image of fresh food still lingered in his mind like a devil tempting an innocent child.

Maybe, maybe just a little…

In and out… they wouldn’t notice…

I want it…

I need it…

A giant flash of lightning struck the area, causing the boy to scream in terror and fall on his back. An ominous rift shredded through the air, splashing out wind and lightning in its wake like a compressed storm ravaging the lands. Following it, a loud “thud” echoed through the alleyway, and soon enough came a splash of garbage water everywhere.

In front of the boy now appeared a young man.

From his limited experience with people, the boy could guess that the figure in front of him was a teen, although his exact age was unknown. Wearing a black shirt and matching pants, the young man seemed like he would fit in this dreary town like a glove at first glance, however, even his black was too dazzling for the boy to gaze at.

The young man uttered something. The boy couldn’t figure out what he meant, for it was a language he had never heard in his life. But from his expression and wet pants, the boy could guess he was unhappy that he fell into a puddle.

When the boy least expected it, their eyes met.

The young man’s eyes lit up behind his crystal-clear glasses like a pair of stars, seemingly overjoyed that he had found a guide. Meanwhile, the boy scarily hid his face, fearing the worst might happen to him.

The young man uttered once more. And once more, the boy couldn’t understand it. But fear had already taken over his body enough that everything the young man might say would only result in a shake of the head.

The young man pondered for a brief moment, before striking his fist to his hand, forming an idea of the situation.

When the young man finally sounded once more, the rain had timely stopped, revealing a rather high-pitched, but friendly tone:

“Can you understand me now, kid?”

The boy, having finally calmed down, lightly nodded.

“Ah, thank goodness that English still works,” the young man let out a sigh of relief. “Wherever I am, guess I’m not too far away.”

“So, kid, where exactly is this place?” The young man continued. “America? Europe? With all this rain, I bet it’s England, isn’t it?”

Replying to him was a quick shake of the head from the boy. However, the young man didn’t take that as a refusal.

“Well, what year is it then?”

Another shake of the head. The young man was surprised at first, but only for a brief moment, as he soon figured out where he went wrong.

“You don’t go to school, huh?”

The same answer was shown.

“What about your parents? Where are they now?”

Yet again, the action repeated itself. The young man’s smile disappeared from his face as he realized the weight of that headshake.

“I’m… sorry.”

A large growl came from the boy’s stomach and interrupted the conversation. While the boy’s face went red with embarrassment, the young man let out a hearty laugh.

“You’re hungry, huh? Why didn’t you say so? I see a bakery over there; want me to go grab some?”

The boy’s face lit up for a second but soon returned to its normal worried expression. Finally, he spoke:

“Do you have any money?”

“Money?” The question froze the laughter on the young man’s face as well. “I… have some yens, but I guess they don’t work here, huh…”

“Ah, I can’t go begging for food… what to do…”

“I got it!” Struck by another flash of genius, the young man exclaimed. “Kid, do you have a ball somewhere? I can do some street performance!”

“Street… performance?” The boy titled his head in confusion.

“You haven’t seen a street performance before? People do neat tricks on the street hoping that others will pay them for the show. There are all kinds of street performers, from musicians, dancers, mimes, or even artists, but for me, I…”

“You… can’t do that…” the boy’s voice squeaked as he frantically shook his head. “Doing that… gets you thrown in jail…”

“Jail? What are you talking about? What kind of backwater country would throw street performers in jail?”

The boy didn’t answer. Instead, he just pointed outward. Following his direction, the young man turned around, and the sight of it shocked him to the core.

Another person was taken away by a humanoid machine in a blue officer uniform, in the same manner as the first unfortunate victim in the rain a moment ago.

“Are those… robots?” The young man asked himself aloud. “That can’t be right, I’m sure I traveled to the past… is this another dimension, then?”

“Ugh, no use thinking about it,” with a quick shake of the head to clear any excess thoughts left, the young man exclaimed. “Anyway, kid, what exactly can I do that’s legal around here?”


“You know, that doesn’t end up with me being thrown in jail.”

The boy thought long and hard, but the answer seemed to always elude him. “Um… there’s… no… how about… no… what if… no…”

“This is even worse than I thought…” the young man disappointedly shook his head. However, it was at that moment that a sign of life blazed in his eyes as his ears detected the delightful sound of water.

“There’s a river nearby!” The young man shouted in joy. “Right, kid?”

“… Yes, there is…”

“Perfect! We’ll get some fish there!”

“But that’s…”

“No use choosing if everything’s illegal! In fact, why choose, when you can do all? Come on!”

The boy was dragged to the river against his will. However, as soon as the pair arrived at the peaceful water stream, the young man halted. With an embarrassed smile, he scratched his head and ask:

“Uh… you don’t happen to know how to swim, right?”

“I’ve… never tried. And you?”

“I… can’t swim. And I have no fishing tool.”

“You can’t swim?” After being forced here against his will, hearing that answer was like a bomb triggering inside the boy’s mind. Gone was the polite and shy appearance, he shouted in the loudest volume his tiny, malnourished body could muster at the moment. “Why would you go out to catch fish then?”

The boy didn’t get to be angry for long, however, as a beeping sound could be heard even from afar, and along with it came a swarm of mechanical soldiers like a conquering army on its warpath.

“Trespassing public property spotted! A severe violation of the law!” The mechs sounded in unison. And with it, the boy was scared half to death:

“I-It’s the robot officers! Quick, we have to run!”

The boy tugged onto the young man’s shirt, but to his surprise, his newly met acquaintance didn’t move a muscle. With a smile on his face, the young man asked:

“You sure they’re robots, right? Not humans wearing some kind of battle suit?”

“Yes! Now hurry! We have to…”

“No need,” patting the boy’s head, the man let out a confident answer. “Watch this, kid. I’ll show you something cool.”

Before the boy could process the information, the young man had already escaped his grip and charged forward at the robots, much to the sheer shock and fear on the boy’s face.

“Wait! What are you…”

The boy didn’t get to finish, for what happened before his eyes could only be described as a fairy tale.

From his hands, an orb of pure energy gathered, shining a green light bursting with life. Before the boy could gawk in awe at the sight more, the orb had already left the young man’s hand and had now stationed before his feet, like a ball just waiting to fire through a line of defenders.

The young man kicked the energy ball upward and made a powerful volley while it was still in the air.

“Soccer Style: Voltic Spear!”

From his legs, the energy ball burst into a pillar of cackling lightning, fired at his enemies faster than a thunder strike. A giant flash of white engulfed the area, followed by a banging explosion of electricity and metal. And as the boy’s eyes adjusted to the situation again, the army of mechanical officers that was just in front of him mere moments ago had all turned to scraps.

However, he couldn’t be happy for long, for another wave of mechanical assailants had already made their way to surround the two yet again.

“Look out!” Shouted the boy towards his helper, as the robot army stormed towards the awaiting young man.

“Nah, there’s nothing to fear,” answered the teenage male with a confident smirk. “Sometimes, standing still is better than moving around.”

“Soccer Style: Perfect Control.”

The young man dropped an energy ball onto the ground and played a spontaneous game of keepie-uppie even as the robots came too close to comfort. However, he was never in danger at all.

Like a splendid performance, the young man, with his quick footwork and nimble movement, perfectly evaded the incoming robots with ease. Even those that charged at him from the back; without even turning his head, the young man could easily dodge the strikes without moving so much an inch from his original position.

“Soccer is the same. You let them advance and then blitz through them in an instant. Ain’t no feeling better than that, right?”

Before the boy could react, the young man had already disappeared from his sights and reappeared behind him faster than the eyes could see.

“Soccer Style: God Speed.”

A flash of zigzag blur ran across the robot officers, and in merely a single second, every one of them had already short-circuited themselves and exploded into smithereens.

And such moment, to the eyes of the boy, was the coolest thing on Earth.

“That was awesome! How did you do it? Teach me! Teach me!”

“Well…” the young man scratched his head. “I don’t think you can learn it, seeing that this place has robots and all… But if you really wanna know, then what I did just now can be said as… magic.”

“… You’re kidding, right? There’s no such thing as magic.”

“Oh, but there is. Not here in this world, but there is.”

“What, are you an alien or something?”

“I’m from Earth just like you. Just not this Earth, that’s all.”

“But anyway,” the young man continued. “Magic is pretty simple, actually. It’s everything that we can do with devices and machinery, but instead of those, we rely on our own.”

Snapping his fingers to reveal a small flame at the tip, the young man formed a smile. “See? With a lighter, anyone can do this. Meanwhile, I can do it with just my hand. It sounds cool, but it’s just an imitation nonetheless.”

“Anyway, the unfortunate thing is that all of it is latent… at least for me,” the young man let out a sigh. “So, I can’t teach anyone how to do it, simply because I have no idea what it actually is for you guys.”


“But I can teach you regular soccer techniques though,” seeing a frown on his new friend’s face, the young man grinned even more in an attempt to cheer him up. “You wanna learn?”

When he turned back to the boy and saw his dumbfounded expression, the young man, realizing the situation, let out an awkward laugh.

“Haha… Sorry, I got carried away, didn’t I?”

“Um… no, …”

“Oh, right, we haven’t even introduced ourselves properly. My name’s Ryuuro. Kuroshi Ryuuro. What about yours?”

As the newly gained smile once again disappeared from the boy’s face, Ryuuro couldn’t help but wonder.

“What’s wrong?”

“I… don’t have a name… My parents died before they could give me one.”

“Well… how about I give you one right now? Do you want that?”

Before Ryuuro’s kind and genuine gesture, the boy couldn’t help but find his joy contagious. Finally letting out a smile of his own again, he gleefully nodded his head.

“Hmmm… let’s see now… Oh, I know! How does Zain sound?”

“Zain?” The boy’s face slightly frowned. “That sounds like ‘pain’. Or ‘vain’. All bad words.”

“Haha… it does, doesn’t it? But it’s not what I meant,” confronted with the boy’s reasoning, Ryuuro let out an embarrassed laugh. “In my language, it sounds similar to everyone. [1]”


“Yup, everyone. All this time, you’ve always been alone, right? So from now on, you’re gonna make a lot of friends! And everyone will be with you, so you’ll never feel alone again!”

“But… I have nothing. Can I… make friends?”

“Of course. You can start with me, right?”

Tears started to flow from the boy’s eyes like a river, a fact which soon struck fear in Ryuuro’s heart.

“H-hey, what’s wrong? Are you okay? Do you not like the name? I can…”

“… N-no,” wiping his tears, the boy answered with the biggest grin he could make in his life. “I love it! Thank you, Ryuuro! Please…”

Before the boy could utter the words, another flash of lightning ensued, blinding the boy for a second. And just as fast as he appeared in Zain’s life, the young man named Ryuuro had disappeared without a trace.

Back to the present.

“Afterwards, I was caught by the next round of those hunks of junk…” Zain mumbled to himself, reminiscing of his previously lost past. “He appeared and disappeared in a flash, but even with such a short meeting, he formed me into who I am. And now he’s registered in this database as humanity’s biggest threat? Ryuuro, just who are you?”

“My, my,” a strange, yet familiar voice sounded from behind Zain, sending chills down his spine. “So, his name is Ryuuro? Would you care to elaborate further, inmate Zain?”


Author's Notes:

[1] Originally 全員 (read as “zen’in”); here Ryuuro used the irregular kana usage ぜいいん (read as “zeiin”) commonly seen in regular speech and drop a syllable to create ぜいん (read as “zein”, or Zain if said in English).

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