Chapter 21:

Destiny Draw

Red-Black Course

The booths were soundproof, so Rex couldn’t hear the conversation between Zain and Jack on the other side. However, only a glance at Zain’s body was enough for the boy to piece together the information needed.

“So, your body disappears if you fail the game…” Rex mumbled to himself. A normal person would freeze in fear when facing this kind of situation. However, Rex didn’t apply. He already had the experience of his body disappearing into data for once, but more importantly, with this punishment, he knew that the game didn’t add up.

“I just don’t get it,” repeating to himself, Rex, exclaimed. “Whatever you look at it, this thing is too packed with random variables! Why would the ones on top design a game that is decided wholly on random events? Nothing makes any sense!”

The boy moved his hand closer to the screen, hesitating to actually press the button, and started his game. However, at the last moment, he ultimately decided against it. Leaving things to chance just wasn’t his thing to do; for Rex, all of his actions needed to be completely sure.

However, as much as he tried to deny it, luck was still undoubtedly on his side.

When the boy lowered his hand against the computer screen, his finger lightly brushed onto the lower corner, and with it, a small taskbar popped up in the lower part of the monitor.

“Wait. This isn’t in fullscreen?” Mumbled Rex as he touched the taskbar.

Opening up in place of the game’s interface was a large, black window with nothing but a single line of letters. “INPUT MASTER COMMAND: …”

“Master command?” Rex reflexively asked out loud. There was only one master command that the boy knew of, and it was the admin’s rights command back when he was hacking the third game.

Rex himself didn’t know how he got the combo so quickly. It was as if heaven was on his side that day, or he had unconsciously picked up hints from his interactions with the previous wardens, but the string of symbols had been stuck in his head ever since.

“Left… left… right… right… up… down… up… down… A… B… X… Y…”

“And now… Enter,” now firmly and confidently moving his hand towards the final button, Rex inputted the sequence in his mind.

To his expectations, a flash of green light showed up on the screen, and within the black window were the letters “ACCESS GRANTED.”

“Now, let’s see what you actually are…”

Just as Rex had feared, the code of the game was extremely long-winded, with nested conditions and useless variables lying all around, clogging up the process whenever it ran. If this was written to specifically discourage hackers, then they had done a fantastic job, because even if he had boasted about being good at computers before, Rex couldn’t understand a single thing under that pile of jargon on the screen.

“How the fuck is it this bad…” the boy groaned in frustration. However, as illegible as it was, this was still the only clue that he had, and so Rex had no choice but to continue the search among the spaghetti code.

But the clock wasn’t on his side, and time kept getting shorter the longer he stared at the screen.

Rex knew this, and precisely because he knew it that he was prone to fall into panic.

Ventilation was scarce in the glass booth. The oxygen level was slowly decreasing, while the heat was gradually increasing. Rex’s body was unknowingly put under more and more pressure as the boy struggled to find his answer. Sweat started to pour all over his body, dripping his prison wear with a salty brine. And yet, the answer still eluded him.

Fifty minutes remaining.

Forty minutes remaining.

Thirty minutes remaining.

Finally, Rex was able to breathe a sigh of relief as the line of code he was so desperate to find showed up in his sight.

However, it was only for a brief second, as once the boy learned of the code, the first thing he did was to run to the booth’s door and bang his fists on it like a madman:

“Hey! Jack! Open this thing this instant!”

“Challengers cannot leave their respective playing fields before finishing the game, Rex boy,” from inside the booth in the opposite direction, Jack’s voice sounded. “I know you might be a bit uncomfortable, but please bear with it until you’re done.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Jack! This game is rigged! Of course it is! There had to be a reason why you people put a game that relied only on luck, and the answer is that there is no luck involved!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jack answered with a puzzled tone. If he was acting, the man was worthy of receiving an Oscar. “Isn’t this game just about rolling until you get the prize?”

“Ugh, fine! If you wanna play that way, then I’ll show you!” With an angry declaration, Rex returned to the computer in his booth.

The fix was incredibly simple. The hard part was to find the correct line of code to fix, but once that had been achieved, rigging the machine back to Rex’s favor was like taking candy from a baby. Just a simple change of the summoning rate from “0” to “1” – the same reason why Rex knew it was a rigged game from the start – and it was all over.

The boy confidently pressed the roll button for the first time since the game started.

With twenty minutes to spare, Rex had beaten the final event in just a single summon.

As Jack had told him before, once the stage was beaten, the booth’s rims lit up with a series of lightbulbs like a winning lottery being presented in the crowd. A spectacular burst of steam filled up the booth as its door opened, almost suffocating Rex in the process. However, there was no harm, and instead, a cheerful, triumphant tune of victory sounded.

“Challenger Rex has successfully cleared the fourth and final game!” Jack declared in excitement. “Now, with only twenty minutes left in the clock, will challenger Zain do the same thing? Or will his body dissipate before he could get the grand prize?”

Only when Jack continued his commentary did Rex remember the situation at hand. Rushing towards Zain’s booth instead, Rex was horrified to see his partner already losing half of his body thanks to the failed rolls. Banging his fist on the door again, Rex shouted out at the top of his lungs:

“Zain! Zain, listen to me! Don’t roll! This game is rigged!”

“The booths are soundproof, Rex boy. Don’t waste your breath,” Jack interrupted with a shake of the head.

If Rex had been calm enough like he always was, he would have realized the hint of confusion and regret in the warden’s words. However, the game and his anxiety for his teammate had thrown all of Rex’s sanity out the window, and he could only perceive the announcement as mockery.

“Shut up Jack! You’re the reason we’re in this mess in the first place!”

“Why are you shooting the messenger?”

“Shit! Zain! Damn it, Zain! Stop rolling and look at me!”

No matter how hard Rex tried, Jack’s words remained the truth. As long as Zain was within that box, he couldn’t hear anything in the outside world. However, with the state he was in at the moment, even if the box wasn’t soundproof, the young man would still not be able to hear a thing.

With half of his body already gone, the only thing left in Zain’s mind was this single game.

“Damn it! Failed again!” The young man exclaimed in anger as the fifty-first flash of white light appeared on his screen, and along with it, his right ear disappeared into bits of data. Fear had long been gone in Zain’s mind, or rather, it had never shown up. The young man continued fearlessly, fueled by nothing but pride and desire.

The clock kept on ticking, and the white light kept on showing up.

Seventieth attempt.

Eightieth attempt.

Ninetieth attempt.

All was the same scene. All was the same notification. All was the same result.

Zain had finished his ninety-ninth roll. Another dud. All he had left was his left eye and right hand. Everything else had already been erased. His fate relied on this single, last roll.

Finally, after ninety-nine failures, the thought of losing had successfully invaded Zain’s mind.

Am I going to lose? Thought the young man. Finally relaxing himself, he was able to take a look at his surroundings again. And the sight of Rex repeatedly banging his fist on the booth’s door, leaving a trail of crimson on the glass’ surface finally caught Zain’s attention.

So, he’s made it out, Zain’s eye closed to signal that a satisfied smile would be formed on his face. I guess this is it. I’m losing the games again… for the last time.

Unlike the second game, this time, Zain was at peace. He had fully accepted the result as it was and accepted that heaven wasn’t really on his side as he had proclaimed. However, as he was about to throw in the towel, Rex’s concerned face caught his attention.

Why are you looking at me like that?

Are you telling me to not give up no matter the situation?

But this is purely based on luck. Even if I wanted to, I…


What was I thinking?

This isn’t me. Since when is Zain the type of person to quit?

“That’s right,” the young man said to himself out loud in a mix of pride, excitement, and anxiety. “I am Zain, the strongest inmate in the Infinite Prison, the tyrant of the cells. Since when am I chained by trivial things like luck or destiny? I carve my own path, my own future! If fate decides against it, then I’ll change fate with this very hand!”

As his hand pressed on the screen for the final time, a miracle happened.

A flash of rainbow. A glisten of gold. The screen bombarded Zain’s remaining eye with a slew of different colors. And finally, the prize he had been waiting for appeared. The golden key, signaling the end of the competition – the end of Zain’s journey.

A storm of data engulfed the booth, returning Zain’s body to what it originally was. As the dust settled and the door opened, the young man emerged with his fist high up in the sky, striking a triumphant pose of success.

The crowd erupted in joy. Even Jack – one of the adversaries that kept on getting in the challengers’ way since the start of the competition – couldn’t keep himself calm anymore.

“UNBELIEVABLE! We all thought that he would fail, but just in the nick of time, with exactly one second left on the clock, on the final, 100th roll, challenger Zain has completed the final game of the Red-Black Course! For the first time in the event’s history, we have…”

Jack’s commentary was cut short as a sudden beeping sound rang from his ear – a communication device made for the human referee for this final game.

“Hello? … Commander, Sir!” Jack’s voice soon turned to panicked disarray as he found out the person on the other side. “Um, no, Sir! There’s no problem at all! I was just about to… What was that, Sir? Wait, that can’t… we have video evidence? … Roger, Sir. I’ll announce the result immediately.”

Turning to the crowd, Jack took a deep breath. In his many years of being a warden, this was the first time that he was in this kind of awkward situation.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have just received words from our organizer, the Chief Commander… Challenger Rex, for tampering with the game’s equipment, you are now officially disqualified and will be taken to the Commander for an appropriate punishment. Therefore, the sole winner of this year’s Red-Black Course will be challenger Zain!”

Steward McOy
Robin Paharya
Kya Hon
F.C Fondness
Ei Ruan
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