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As per the name, the Bakuto was a Japan-themed casino.

Having parked his car nearby, Ryan glanced up at the building with amazement. The architects had recreated a perfect copy of an oriental pagoda tower, as large as a mall; a red carpet led to golden, ostentatious tori gates with the casino’s title plastered on them. Hordes of gamblers walked inside, some dressed in traditional Asian clothes like qipao, others in tuxedos and expensive gowns. Of course, none were as stylish as Quicksave’s own fabulous outfit, but the Genome gave them points for trying.

The staff had even dressed the bouncers as samurai in low-grade, Genius-made armor. They looked almost like feudal armor, but heavier and bound by flexible circuits instead of clothing fabric. Very nice design, especially the stained glass visor. Ryan wondered if they had lightsabers to go along with it.

“No weapons allowed inside,” one bouncer said, as he and a compatriot checked Ryan out. Due to their armor, both were at least one head taller than the Genome. They immediately found the throwing knives hidden in his sleeves, and then examined him very thoroughly.

It took them a few minutes to find most of his stuff.

“Twenty-five throwing knives, two revolvers, including one desert eagle, one energy pistol, one frag grenade, a switchblade, a hand buzzer, and…” The bouncer frowned, seizing a tiny metal sphere the size of a baseball. “Is that bomb?

“Yep,” Ryan answered. “Genius tech.”

“EMP? Gunpowder?”

“Thermo-nuclear.”

The bouncer chuckled heartily until he realized Ryan was serious. He then exchanged a glance with his fellow guards, all of them put their hands on a saber around their belts.

“You keep an A-bomb in your back pocket?” The guard wagged the device at Ryan’s face.

“It’s only for dissuasion!” the courier promised while crossing his fingers. “I Korea swear!”

The bouncer remained silent a moment, then touched his helmet and hushed words which Ryan couldn’t hear. No doubt he was contacting his manager.

“You can get your… stuff back after you’re done,” the bouncer declared, putting his weapons in a bag. “But one wrong move and that bomb will find its way in another A-place. Understood?”

“Yes, sir!” Ryan replied as he waltzed into the casino like a child.

He immediately found himself walking through a corridor of pachinkos, those strange Japanese slot machines; gamblers toiled on them, enslaved by their otherworldly power. The sight reminded Ryan of the four loops he spent addicted to these machines, before getting bored.

Ah, the nostalgia.

A few steps later, Ryan entered the main gambling hall, mixing both Japanese art design and western gambling entertainment. Roulette wheels stood side by side with blackjack tables, and they even had an arena for sumo wrestling next to a sushi bar. An elevator at the center led to the higher floors, each probably catering to different tastes.

A giant screen above the sushi bar showed a promotional image of New Rome’s colosseum, and a T-rex roaring on its grounds, under the acclaim of the crowd. A voice over hyped up the competition.

“This mutant dinosaur has been cloned from ancient times and improved to fight at Colosseum Maximus! MAXIMUS! And if dinosaurs won’t do it, our robots will!” The screen changed from the picture of a Jurassic Park ad to a humanoid mecha straight out of an old Japanese cartoon. “Coming straight out of our weapon development program, Dynamis introduces you to the Megafighter Mark III! Meant to fight the deadliest Psychos and marauders, this killing machine will keep you on your toes! Will any contestant get the better of these bloodthirsty monsters? You will see it in tonight’s episode of Colosseum… MAXIMUS! Only at Dynamis!”

Ryan noticed a smaller screen showing the odds, people betting either which contestants would survive, or if the T-rex would eat them all on the first round. For some obscure reason, most betted on an overwhelming dinosaur victory.

Ryan wandered towards the roulette near the sushi bar and immediately started placing bets, throwing stacks of euro bills on the table.

“Quicksave?” a man asked Ryan, the clinking of his outfit announcing his presence long before he called out to the courier.

This guy also wore samurai armor, but one blue and far sleeker, almost skintight. Instead of a faceless glass visor, his helmet took the shape of a black demon mask, allowing Ryan to see the black eyes and mouth below. The bouncers nodded at him in respect, and quite a few people gave the man a wide berth. Yeah, clearly a Genome.

“Yes?” Ryan asked, feigning innocence.

“You don’t have precognition right, I hope?” the man asked, crossing his arms. “Because I will have to kick you out if you do. We don’t allow Blue Genomes to play.”

“Precognition?” the courier shook his head. “Naaaah, of course not. I’m as Violet as they come.”

Genomes were classified depending on the color of the elixir which gave them their power. Blue focused on information manipulation, from precognition to infohazards, while Violet had spacetime-related abilities.

“Then you can’t peer into alternate timelines or a cheat like that?” samurai-guy asked. “Or rewind time and send information to your past self?”

“But if I can rewind time and erase this conversation so it never happened, do you even exist right now? Or are you a mere simulation of my feverish mind?”

Samurai-guy simply decided to watch, trying to make sense of the terrible existential conundrum Quicksave just threw at his face.

In the end, the courier blew thirty thousand bucks, but he had memorized the roulette numbers and the victorious gladiators’ names for a later loop. Strangely, while the dinosaur won, one firecracker had managed to survive all the way to the end.

“Alright, you definitely aren’t a seer,” samurai-guy said, having acted as Ryan’s chaperone during his entire gambling spree. “I think you should slow down though. At this point, you’re pretty much burning money.”

“I’m sorry, what’s your name?” Ryan ended up asking his mysterious samurai overseer.

“I’m Zanbato. I’m an Augusti.”

“Are you Japanese? Because you don’t sound Japanese.”

“No,” he replied, a bit confused by the question. “I’m Italian.”

“Your supervillain name is Zanbato, but you’re not Japanese?” Goddamn counterfeit.

“I’m not a supervillain,” the man protested, clearly missing the point. “My girlfriend is Korean though.”

“You have a girlfriend?” Ryan gasped. “That’s wonderful!”

“Thanks,” the man replied with a smile. “I hope to marry her soon. I'm curious, why did you come to us? I heard Wyvern made you an offer too.”

“You guys won the coin toss,” Ryan replied bluntly.

Zanbato chuckled, rather amused. He quickly invaded Quicksave’s personal space by putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’m buying you a drink.”

The samurai-wannabe invited Ryan to the sushi bar, taking a beer while Ryan ordered tea. Bouncers formed a security perimeter around them, to allow them some privacy.

“Ghoul escaped,” Zanbato told Quicksave. “A mole in the Private Security told us his pals bust him out, probably with inside help. And knowing that maniac, he will be on your trail shortly. I thought you should know.”

Ryan gasped, promising to inform Wyvern that Ghoul’s friends would bust him out on his next save. “Are you telling me that Private Security is corrupt? I would never have known!”

“The grunts are underpaid, so some are… open to negotiation. Their elite squads, especially those working for Dynamis’ executives, not so much.” Zanbato sipped his beer. “We know you have a pretty powerful ability, but you did good in approaching us. Safety in numbers I always say.”

“You know I’m immortal?” Ryan asked. “But I didn’t tell anyone!”

“You’re immortal?” Zanbato raised an eyebrow. “You can’t die?”

“I think I can, but I never succeeded.”

Zanbato paused, unsure how to answer. “Well, we know you can stop time for an unknown duration as your main power,” the man said. “Now what do you know about us?”

“That you are the biggest supervillain organization in Italy, and that your boss is invincible.”

“We are not…” Zanbato sighed. “We are a family and profit-minded society, men and women of honor. Not supervillains. That’s what Il Migliore labels us as because we aren’t corporate sellouts, and we build houses, churches, and hospitals for the poor. We are good for the community.”

“Your drugs are good for the heart too,” Ryan deadpanned. “But your weapons are better.”

“It’s not illegal,” Zanbato replied, which was true since there wasn’t a true government nowadays. “We have to fund ourselves. I’m telling you, where we rule, things are peaceful, people feel safe. There’s no pillager taking your stuff, no Psychos running around. When Augustus takes over Italy, and he will, you won’t recognize our country. It will be like before the Wars.”

The man sounded like he really believed it too. He seemed a bit young to rant about the ‘good old days’ though.

“Oh, also, do you have anything child related?” Ryan asked. “Because I’m pretty flexible, but if I find you do anything reprehensible to teens and below, then we’re going to have a problem.”

Zanbato’s mouth twisted into an expression of absolute disgust. “We don’t even sell Bliss to minors,” he said. “We aren’t savages. Not like the Meta. Anyway, do you know how we work as an organization? Because if you want to join us, you will have to bend to the hierarchy.”

“I’m more of a free spirit kind of guy,” Ryan said. “I’m just looking for help in finding a friend.”

“Oh?” this seemed to surprise the Genome. He must have thought Ryan a money-only kind of guy. “Whom?”

“Her name is Len. Black hair, blue eyes, Marxist-Leninist.”

“Do you have a photo?” Ryan shook his head. “Is she your girlfriend?”

“No, just my best friend. Been looking for her for years, until a client tried to pay me in tech she made. He said it came from New Rome.”

“Tech. She’s a Genius?” Zanbato finished his beer, mulling over that information. “Okay, look, if she’s what matters to you, then we’ll help you find her. Favor for a favor.”

Ryan could live with that. Once he had the information, he could always start a new loop and go to Len directly, without having to put a horse’s head in someone’s bed. “What favor?”

“We need muscle,” Zanbato said. “New Rome has a new problem called the Meta-Gang. They’re all Psychos.”

“I know them,” Ryan replied. “Had a skirmish with them years ago, back when they were small fries.”

Ghoul hadn’t joined then, but they were already vicious assholes.

Not that Ryan could blame them. The human body wasn’t made to handle more than one Elixir, even knockoffs. The combination of two powers made the genetic code unstable, usually driving the recipient mad. Sure, they gained an additional ability—nobody ever developed more than two as far as Ryan knew—but needed periodical injections of Elixirs to stabilize their body. These Genome mutants had the well-deserved nickname of Psychos.

You would think people knew better. But the thought of exceptional cases like Augustus, who gained two obscene powers with no ill-effects, always drove fools to try their luck.

“Long short story, these junkies started moving into our turf recently, especially the north neighborhoods,” Zanbato explained, as shouts erupted behind them. Ryan glanced behind him, noticing a new Colosseum battle had begun on TV. “They attacked our guys, we hit ‘em back, and now they assault our associates and suppliers like Renesco.”

“Can’t you…” Ryan mimicked a beheading motion. “You know…”

“Yes we can, but for now they’re just an annoying nuisance and the bosses want our best men to focus on more important matters.” Zanbato asked for another beer. “So what do you say? Help us beat up some mutants, get your girl?”

“Oooh, business.” Ryan joined his hands. “How many?”

“How many what?

“How many casualties?”

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Void Herald

Bio: I'm Maxime Julien Durand ([email protected]), a European warlock living in the distant realm known as France, spending half my time writing and the other half managing magical websites.

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