Chapter 36:

Grass-Cutting Tournament

Red-Black Course

After a long week, the fated day finally arrived. Only that this time, the two boys didn’t have to only discover things by chance by flying around on a golden surfboard.

Mike and Zain, along with Mitch, huddled around the entrance gate – a sturdy wooden construction, despite its recency in actually being built.

“All right, guys,” Mike was the one to start, “we have one mission: win that prize money! For Uncle’s new shop!”

“But have fun, guys!” Mitch added. “It’s a while since we can play fer real! No strings attached!”

“Yeah, no strings attached,” Zain let out an excited smile, but he knew that this competition was anything but. While Mike and Mitch were still high on their team spirit, Zain had already glanced over the area, and he couldn’t help but worry.

The place was packed with people. Granted, the allure of a large sum of prize money was tempting, but never in Zain’s mind would he imagine something as stupid as a grass-cutting tournament would gather this big of a following. And to add insult to injury, most of the competitors weren’t even showing interest in the monetary prize.

“Look at that sweet blade,” a sleazy guy in the far-left corner licked his lips in anticipation. “That lawnmower is mine!”

“The sounds that engine can make will be heavenly, I’m sure of it,” from the far-right corner, a lady with a giant pair of glasses swooned.

What the hell is wrong with these people… the thought ran across Zain’s mind. But he didn’t have time to reply to himself, as another familiar voice had already sounded from the crowd:

“Yo, kid! Long time no see!”

Even if he knew who exactly he was dealing with, Zain couldn’t help but be surprised at Leo’s brazen entrance, as well as his unusual getup. It was well in the morning on a summer day, and yet the man was still wearing that stuffy cat-ear helmet along with the stiff leather jacket and jeans.

“Leo! What are you doing here?” Zain showed off his best surprised face and stepped forward to offer a handshake.

Just as he predicted, his opponent wouldn’t show anything suspicious just yet and gave an earnest answer:

“My wife wanted a new lawnmower, and I didn’t want to spend any money… suddenly, this tournament came along! Crazy luck, right?”

“Can’t believe you’re married,” Zain let out a sly grin at the statement, contrary to Mike’s and Mitch’s gasps of absolute shock.

“Of course I am! I’m way older than you!” Leo replied with a playful punch at Zain’s chest.

Didn’t seem like he planted anything on me… Zain took a quick peek at his shirt, before continuing the silly charade he was building up. “Sure didn’t look like it if we compare heights.”

“Have some respect to your elders, Hero,” the bike gang leader let out a snicker as well. “and don’t expect me to hold back like the last time.”

“Bring it on, Contractor,” Zain grinned for the last time before his current self-proclaimed rival disappeared into the sea of people. And as soon as Leo’s figure was gone, the young man patted Mike’s back for a signal.

“Yeah, I know,” the boy quickly tapped on his glasses’ rim. “But I can’t get a good reading on him.”

“So your suspicion was right.”

“He was the one who put on the jamming device the other day, yeah.”

Zain was about to add to the exchange but was soon cut short by Mitch’s gesturing towards the gate before them.

“Guys, look!”

A sudden layer of mist emerged from beyond the gate, clouding everyone’s field of vision. A murmur started to spread among the crowd, though the embers never got the chance to burst into flames. For soon enough, a gust of air sucked in all of the dramatic smoke, and out came a muscular man in a white suit from top to toe – the kind of garb that struck a complete opposite to his tanned, strong build.

“Good morning, fine ladies and gentlemen!” The man took off his snow-white top hat and struck a bow. “My name is Bryan, and I welcome you to my humble event, the Grass-cutting Tournament!”

Though it was summer, the man wore a seemingly very suffocating suit. And yet, he didn’t even drop a lick of sweat, contrary to the chubby young boy hidden within the contestants.

“It…” Mike tried his best to keep himself from shivering as he whispered just enough for Zain to hear. “It’s him. That officer the other day.”

“Bruce?” The young man squinted his eyes, surprised at the revelation.

“Yeah, no doubt,” tapping his glasses once more, Mike stiffly nodded. “He’s projecting a holographic disguise.”

“Must have been all that smoke then.”

Meanwhile, the man in question still continued with his advertisement.

“Now, I’m sure each and every one of you are extremely excited to get your hands on the grand prize, so without further ado… Feast your eyes on the latest, and greatest, lawnmower of the era, personally designed by the Father of Modern Inventions himself! The Weedkiller 3000!”

With a clap of Bryan’s hands, from below the stage, a trap door opened. Out came the same kind of dramatic smoke for his entrance, but this time, instead of a person, a large pillar rose. Stationed perfectly within the pillar was a much smaller than average lawnmower, only around the size of a palm, sitting under a glass lid.

“Though she is small, this machine packs a meaner punch than anyone else here!” Bruce in his Bryan mask continued. “With a blade speed of 15000 RPM, she’s guaranteed to shred through any patch of grass in her vicinity, visible or not! And not only that, the energy consumption is lower than your average wristwatch!”

While the rest of the crowd erupted into cheers as Bruce kept on bragging nonsense, Mike and Zain had other thoughts in mind:

“15000 RPM…” Mike gulped, repeatedly tapping on his glasses in anxiety. “That kind of blade speed is a guarantee lethal hit on humans, let alone grass…”

“Safe to say it’s meant for some kind of weapon instead of… whatever this is,” Zain added. “So? Did your mentor actually make it?”

“Not from what I remember, no… well, he did make a lawnmower, but probably not something like this…”

“Now, I’m sure you all are very excited to claim her for your own,” on stage, Bruce continued. “So let’s get down to the rules, shall we? Behold!”

With a snap of his fingers, a small eyehole formed on the podium, and from it came a holographic projection of large screens. Three of them, to be exact.

“This is an individual tournament, meaning that the prize will only be handed to one person, even if you can team up for most of the rounds! Speaking of which, there will be three rounds in total, representing speed, power, and precision – the unmistakable qualities of a good landscaper!”

Sounds more like an assassin, Zain let out a light smirk as he thought of the retort.

“Now, to start the tournament… Let the real stage open!”

As the words left Bruce’s mouth, the curtains behind him opened, and from the back, arrays and arrays of chairs emerged, each having its own VR helmet locked and ready to deploy, looking at the blinking lights they were emitting. And once the awes and murmurs at the spectacle before them came to a close, the man continued:

“All of our rounds will be played in an NLS format, with the games being a secret! Now, my competitors… Are! You! Ready!”


A deafening cheer of confirmation from the crowd. Not even waiting for the final announcement, everyone was already rushing towards the machines, hoping to get a good line of equipment for their competition.

However, there were still some players that didn’t move. Zain, Mike, Mitch, and Leo.

“Isn’t that helmet gonna be in the way?” Zain smirked at the man beside him.

“This is a VR helmet already,” answered Leo with an equally confident attitude. “I’ll just hook it to the tournament’s system.”

“And? Why are you not moving?”

“Aren’t you also not going in?”

The back-and-forth dialogue didn’t cause Zain much trouble at all. “I wish to see what the other players choose, that’s all.”

“And did you find anything interesting?”

“Yeah, they’re all lunatics.”

“Haha, indeed they are!” Leo, upon hearing the answer, let out a hearty laugh before approaching an empty seat on his own. “Well, better win this thing now. Don’t fall behind too much, Hero.”

“Save that for yourself, Contractor.”    

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