Chapter 29:

Lion Versus Lion

Red-Black Course

“So, what kind of contest are we doing?” As Zain and the rest of the group left Mitch’s bar, the former asked.

Despite being the initiator of said contest, the one in the helmet merely took out the phone in his pocket, glanced at it for a second, and shook his head.

“Now’s not the time. Let’s wait for a bit more.”

“How long is ‘a bit more’?”

“Around two hours or so.”

“… I’m leaving.”

“You know you don’t want to,” even at the threat, the helmet man was still unfazed. “Remember, I have the information you needed.”

“But what are you expecting me to do with two hours of free time? I’m not here for small talk.”

“No, no. Small talk is what I intended anyway. After all, it’s not every day I get to meet a big shot like you, Mr. Masked Lion.”

“Hmph,” Zain replied with a huff, clearly scoffing at the snide remark hidden in his opposition’s words of respect. “Fine. I’ll entertain you… What exactly is your name again?”

“People around here call me Leo. Leo, the leader of the Mountain Lion Gang. Pretty cool, eh?”

“Nonsense, if you ask me.”

“Well, what about you? I know you’re the Masked Lion, but your real name is Zain, right? That doesn’t even sound like a real name.”

Ugh, I knew the first time around was a mistake… Zain clicked his tongue in annoyance, realizing that Mitch had indeed blown his cover right as he went into the bar without anyone being the wiser.

“But it is, since it’s my name.”

“That’s true, isn’t it?” A chuckle came out of the helmet man.

The two then continued to exchange mundane topics, from the weather lately to the kind of drinks they enjoyed. It was only to kill time at first, but slowly, Zain had actually started to enjoy the conversation, if only a little bit.

“By the way,” the young man asked. “Why are you always wearing that stuffy helmet? Isn’t it hot having to keep that on your head?”

“It’s killing me right now,” Leo replied with a hearty laugh. “But I have to. Let’s just say I have a pretty… recognizable face.”

“What? You’re also some kind of wanted criminal?”

“What? Heaven’s no! I may be an outlaw biker, but I’ve never committed a crime before!”

“Then how did you know about me?”

“My employer told me so. Oh, and to throw in a bonus for the talk, he’s also the one who sent the drones after you.”

Leo’s claim once again reminded Zain of the purpose of their talk in the first place, which ignited the fire within him once more.

“What’s he up to, then?” Gone was his lighthearted smile, Zain clenched his fist.

“He doesn’t tell me,” answered Leo with a shake of the head. “But I can tell you this though: he meant no harm.”

“No harm? I’d say disabling my suit is plenty of harm already.”

“Nah, he’s… you know what, best for you to meet him in person. Of course, that is only after you’ve beaten me in this contest.” Leo let out a smirk (still unseen, since the helmet was in the way) and raised his phone. As the screen showed 9 P.M sharp and the lights on the road were all turned off at once, the man continued. “It’s time.”

As the words left his mouth, Leo climbed onto his bike – a normal, if not low-tech bike compared to the industry standards at the time with its still rubber wheels and large exhaust pipes – and explained:

“The contest is a bike race around this area – Liver Pier. One lap, whoever makes it back here first wins. No directly attacking the other racer, but any other form of sabotage is fine. Are you clear on that?”

“Sounds simple enough,” Zain replied, but his mind thought elsewise. Too simple, even. What’s his gain here?

“Well, then get on your bike, Mr. Masked Lion. Or do you wish to borrow one of my crew’s?”

“No need,” Zain shook his head in reply. “I have my own. Wait a moment.”

It didn’t take long for the young man to leave the scene and return with a bike he managed to borrow from Mitch. However, if Leo’s bike was an old model, then Mitch’s bike was borderline scrap. With almost no protective plating, a frayed paintjob mixed with spots of rust, and barely inflated wheels, even Zain himself had to wonder how the hell Mitch could even ride the thing, or if he ever rode it in the first place.

“Uh, I know it sounds disrespectful, but… are you really competing with… that?” Leo gestured towards the poor vehicle.

“… What kind of a legend would I be if I didn’t give you a bit of a handicap?” Zain tried to answer with a confident smile, but anyone looking at his ride at that point would only dismiss him as a lunatic.

“… Well, suit yourself, I guess,” Leo tapped on his phone for a second, before returning to a racing position. “Now, are you ready?”

Climbing on the hunk of junk, Zain replied loud and clear:


“Good. Now, on my mark…”





A thundering sound of a revving engine echoed through the port town, and Leo dashed forward like a hurricane. Meanwhile, Zain’s poor excuse of a bike could only let out a disgusting puff of black smoke, filled with used fuel and carbon footprint. To add insult to injury, the bike had only moved by an inch.

Of course, Zain had already expected all of it.

During his time in the Infinite Prison, he and Rex had already bent the rules in all of the games they were in. And now, with him practically sharing Rex’s, or rather, his own past’s experience again, one could say that cheating was in his blood.

“Bitleo, Ride Mode.”

Zain had never tried it before, but in a way, it was the same principle as the Bitleo armor that he wore. If the nanobots could, in a way, enhance Zain with extra durability and protection, then it could do the same to the shoddy bike he was on.

And enhance they did.

As the swarm of nanobots swallowed the bike whole, a ripple effect occurred within them, sending bumps and lumps all over the vehicle’s surface. After a second of stabilizing themselves, Mitch’s hunk of junk was covered in black from head to toe. And what an upgrade it was.

In its normal ride form, the nanobots recreated the image of the Crimson Arrow Zain rode in the motorcycle football match – the embodiment of speed, but incredibly hard to control. Like a dragster, it pretty much could only run in a straight line. But this time, with a built-in frame, things were different.

No longer donning the sleek, lean shape that the Crimson Arrow once bore, the bike now had a much more balanced design, though it still kept a rather pointed tip for minimum air resistance. The flashy exhaust pipes were all gone too; at the back now were a pair of red wings raising upwards, further reminiscing of the arrow motif. A design that mixed aerodynamics, speed, and control, while still somewhat keeping the original look.

“Calling you Crimson Arrow isn’t really cutting it anymore, it seems…” Zain mumbled. As the young man revved the engine and exploded into the race, he had already thought of the new name for his steed:

“Go, Red Rocket!”

Zain blazed forward like a lightning bolt, catching up to Leo in a matter of mere seconds – something that the experienced biker could never imagine.

“W-What? Weren’t you still at the start just now?” The helmet man uttered in shock. “And that’s not the bike from before!”

“The rules didn’t say you had to stick to one bike!” Zain let out a hearty laugh as he sped up even more, leaving Leo in the dust. “I wouldn’t be a prison escapee if I played nice all the time!”

Responding to the taunting remark, however, wasn’t Leo’s seething rage or upset attitude.

It was a mysterious smile, hidden both by the garb on his face and the darkness of the sky.

And as Zain sped up forward, the young man also realized the kind of predicament that he was in.

Wait, I can’t see anything. All the lights have gone out.

The Crimson Arrow had no headlights. Neither did the Red Rocket. As Zain moved further and further forward, the slower he had to go, for the simple fact that riding a speeding bike in an environment that you couldn’t see is nothing short of suicide.

Leo, meanwhile, had headlights on his bike. But the man didn’t even need to turn them on. Unlike Zain, he knew the terrain around the pier like the back of his hand. Even if he blindfolded himself, Leo could still finish the lap with ease, let alone just drive in the dark.

And so, as Zain had to inevitably slow down, the helmet man sped up, regaining his lead in a flash.

“What’s wrong, Mr. Masked Lion? If you’re still wasting time warming up like that, I’ll be waiting at the finish line!”

Having been overtaken, Zain had no choice but to speed up. With the Red Rocket’s full specs in action, overtaking his opponent was child’s play.

However, that was only if the two were racing in broad daylight.

In the night, all Zain could see was a pitch-black scene in front of him, with no signals to actually distinguish anything – from the road to the remaining obstacles. And ironically, his only source of light to guide him from crashing immediately was his opponent himself.

Leo could ride around the harbor blindfolded. That much wasn’t an exaggeration. However, in a fit of confidence, he had turned on his rear lights and not his headlights, as if trying to show Zain who the true king of the road was. Naturally, it was the biggest mistake he had made in the entire race.

There wasn’t much to see, but since a bit of light was all he needed, and so Zain was still tenaciously tailing Leo around the lap, avoiding all sorts of obstacles on his way – from building materials to leftover garbage cans on the road.

Leo had realized it also. However, the man stubbornly didn’t turn off his rear lights. For the simple pleasure of watching the famed Masked Lion forced to follow him around like a loyal dog was nothing more than pure ecstasy for the helmet man.

The cat-and-mouse chase continued. Though the cat didn’t want to catch up to the mouse, and the mouse was letting the cat think that he could catch him. But, as this was a race of speed, blink once and you’d miss all the details.

Such as the fact that Zain was eagerly lying in wait for a single moment.

He had no vision of the road before him, that was a fact. However, he still had the general map of the area thanks to the nanobots feeding him the information needed. Essentially, this meant that although Zain didn’t know where he was at the moment, he still knew where he’d end up in. And with the guiding signal of Leo’s rear lights, he was waiting for that instant.

The moment when the finish line was close enough for a surprise acceleration.

His opponent was none the wiser. When the two of them were only a few dozen meters from the finish line, Leo finally turned off the rear lights, since he was sure that his victory was guaranteed.

But right at the moment he turned off his lights, Zain revved up his engine.

A deafening screech, like a phoenix’s cry of rebirth, tore through the area. The wheels on the Red Rocket flared up due to the intense friction against the road, as it rode the wind straight to the finish line.

“I win!” Making a full circle drift as he tried to get the bike under control again, Zain proudly declared.

“Indeed you did, Mr. Masked Lion,” Leo, meanwhile, didn’t even show any signs of frustration or anger on his face. Though he did lose fair and square (or at least, as fair and square as someone racing against a highly-advanced shapeshifting swarm of enhancement nanobots could do), to not show any anger was something that was seemingly out of character for him.

Instead, the helmet man tossed over his phone towards Zain and replied:

“It’s for you.”

As Zain picked up the phone, there was already an incoming phone call. Suspicious of the situation, the young man still answered nonetheless.


From the other side of the line, a deep, obviously modified voice sounded.

“Congratulations, Mr. Masked Lion, for passing your initial test.”

“Test? You mean that all of this was a test?”

Zain traced back the events in his mind, and suddenly things made a lot more sense. The drone attack that didn’t really hurt him in any way. The sudden ambush of the Mountain Lion Gang. Leo’s overly arrogant attitude throughout the race. All of them were for Zain to spot out and overcome with his current wits and gears. But the question still remained…

If that’s the case, then who is this person?

“It was a test to see if you’re truly worth my consideration or not, Mr. Masked Lion. Now, let’s meet up at the second stage, shall we?”

Not another word was uttered, as the mysterious voice hung up the phone immediately after the claim. Leo, seeing that the conversation was over, took back the phone and gestured towards his bike:

“Well, you heard the man, right? Let’s go.”

Steward McOy
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