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“I can handle this just fine.”

“You do realize someone just tried to kill you, right?” Kenn snaps back. “This isn’t just some bug in the game—this is your life we’re talking about here.”

“And I’m no less alive now than I was before the attack.” Hideo gives his friend a firm stare. “I will be fine. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

This sounds like an old argument that Kenn has never succeeded in winning, and it occurs to me that this probably isn’t the first time Hideo’s life has been threatened. Kenn makes an irritated sound and throws up his hands. “It’s not like you used to listen to me at uni, either.”

Hideo straightens when he sees me. “If it hadn’t been for your call moments earlier,” he says, “I would be the one lying on the ground.”

A chill runs through me. In a single moment, my job has transformed from a thrilling chase to something much more ominous. I thought I’d been getting closer, making progress—instead, I’d stumbled upon something even worse. Had any of the other bounty hunters seen what just happened? I look back to the blood on the bodyguard’s shoulder. There’s a faint, metallic scent in the air. Hints of my old panic, the familiar desperation to solve this problem, rise in my stomach. Everything has a solution. Why can’t I find this one?

Hideo helps his injured bodyguard stand and talks to him in a low voice as another of his men drapes a black blazer over the bleeding shoulder, covering it from view. Whatever Hideo had murmured was too quiet for my translator to pick up, but it does make the injured man give him a grateful look. “Keep this under wraps,” Hideo says, eyeing us all. “The attack failed. We’re tracking the suspect. No need to panic the crowds.”

“Hideo—” I start to say, but stop at the look on his face.

“Go to your team,” he says gently. “Continue your celebrations. We’ll talk later tonight.”

“And you’re going someplace safe?”

He nods as the bodyguards take over for their hurt friend, then watches as they lead him to a set of private stairs. All I can do is stare. Hideo’s shoulders are straight, and his posture is calm—but his eyes are tense, far away from here. His hands clench and unclench at his sides. Even if he doesn’t show it blatantly, I can sense that he’s shaken.

Kenn finds my gaze and holds it for a moment. Talk to him, he seems to say. I can sense the silent plea from him, a friend who knows Hideo well enough to know how difficult he can be.

“Hideo,” I say softly. “You need to get out of here. Out of Tokyo. Someplace where you can keep a low profile.”

The lights in the stadium finally turn on, illuminating the space with blinding brightness. I blink away stars. Down below, the crowd murmurs in halfhearted confusion as they continue making their way toward the exits, but it is quickly replaced by cheering again as they celebrate the game. No one knows what just happened. Through the speakers, the security is reassuring the crowd, saying, “A transistor sparked in the upper levels of the dome, but everything is under control now. Please mind your steps and follow the exit signs.” As the people funnel out, Hideo turns to look at me. His eyes are still that dark color, and the look in them is furious, cold, determined.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he says. Then he turns away with his bodyguards.


If I thought the amount of publicity I’d gotten so far was overwhelming, it was nothing compared to after our first win. We’d barely made it out of the Tokyo Dome when the first enormous broadcasts appear on the sides of the buildings surrounding the arena, the headlines in giant, screaming letters.



A recap of me plays over and over beneath each of these headlines, my rainbow hair flying in the wind, my figure crouched on the head of a towering creature, lassoing its head, forcing it down toward Jena. Above the dome, the two crests—the phoenix and the hooded demons—suspended over the building have now morphed into only our phoenix, its flaming wings spread as wide as the dome, its head arching up to the sky in triumph.

My level has skyrocketed from 28 to 49.

But all I can think about is that Hideo could have died tonight. And that no one knows. My thoughts continue to churn, looping back over and over on Kenn’s words. He will listen to you. Please. What is Hideo saying about me that makes Kenn think this?

A mob of reporters descends on our bodyguards as we flee the arena toward our waiting cars, and suddenly I can’t see anything but a field of flashing lights and microphones.

“No training tonight!” Asher exclaims as we finally reach our waiting limousine and all climb in. The others cheer as he gives the car an instruction to take us into Shibuya instead of back to our dorms. Behind our car, a team of bodyguards climbs into a second car and follows us. Reporters in vans linger in traffic nearby, tailing us. My mind stays on Ren, and instead of looking up and grinning at the reporters outside the window, like Asher’s doing, I keep my eye on where Ren’s clapping Roshan on the shoulder.

A message blinks on in my view. It’s Kenn.

Can you get away tonight?

To go to Hideo?

He’s not even listening to you.

He never listens to me, not when he’s got an idea planted in his mind. But I’m not his bounty hunter, and more specifically, I’m not you.

Why would he listen to me?

I can almost feel Kenn’s frustration as he answers.

I can count on one hand the number of people he fully trusts. But he talks to you frequently. He takes you to dinner, unannounced.

I’m not his bodyguard. I can’t force him to protect himself.

You’re his hunter. He has hired you to tell him what he needs to know. You have a right to insist on his safety. He won’t shut his door on you.

I glance up from our conversation as my teammates roar with laughter about something. Tonight’s our celebration night, and they’ll expect me to be just as excited about our win. If I leave too soon, they’ll be poking and prying in no time, and Ren will suspect something’s up.

“Hey,” Hammie says to me, and I look up to see her curious expression, her cheeks still flushed from victory. “You okay?”

It’s strange to me that no one else in the stadium knows what happened, that they must really think the two sparks of light in the balcony seating were blown transistors instead of gunfire. I must be wearing all of my anxiety on my face right now. I give her a brilliant smile that I hope looks convincing, and then shake my head. “I’m fantastic. Just still in shock.”

Hammie grins and pumps a fist in the air. It nearly hits the limo’s ceiling. “Karaoke, baby!” she shouts, and the others all shout along with her. I do as well, cheering as loudly as I can in order to drown out the storm of thoughts brewing in my head. I do it so forcefully that I almost believe it.

Soon, we’ve settled in a karaoke bar in the heart of the Roppongi district, with men in black suits guarding every entrance and exit. The halls are lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, reflecting the light of chandeliers adorning the ceilings, while the doorways to each private karaoke room are painted in glittering gold. Outside each doorway stand virtual figures of smiling supermodels, congratulating each of us by name as we walk past. I stare down the hallway, memorizing a path out, before we enter our own private room.

In here, the music has already been turned up to deafening levels. Ren laughs as he scrolls through the song list with Roshan. Every time they rotate onto a new track, our room transforms to match it—“My Heart Will Go On” changes the room into the bow of the Titanic, while “Thriller” surrounds us with dancing, leather-clad zombies on a dark street. Roshan, usually reserved, can’t help laughing as Ren says something in French while mimicking the “Thriller” shuffle.

I watch Ren from the corner of my eyes as I sit sandwiched between Hammie and Asher. Had no one else noticed his expression as the game ended? Even now, there is something tense about his posture, as if things tonight hadn’t gone as well for him as they had for the rest of our team.

“To Roshan!” Hammie yells, startling me from my thoughts. “Most Valuable Kicking-Tremaine’s-Ass Player!”

Roshan sobers a little at the mention of Tremaine, but he hides it behind a smile. “To Hams,” he calls back. “Thief of a Thousand Power-Ups.”

“To Emika!” Asher exclaims. His cheeks are flushed, pushed up by a huge grin. He shakes his head. “Girl, you put the wild in wild card.”

“To Emika!”

“To Emika!”

The cheers flow fast. I need to sneak out, I think as I laugh along. It might be my overactive imagination, but Ren’s smile seems tighter than everyone else’s, his happiness for me strained.

It doesn’t take long for the chaos in the room to reach a peak. Asher leans heavily against Hammie, repeatedly telling her that he loves her. She’s whispering into his ear in return. The karaoke microphone squeals in protest as Ren yells an off-key note into it. Roshan winces at the sound. As everyone bursts into another storm of laughter, I grab my phone and text Hideo.