Chapter 42:

Gulliver's Trail

Red-Black Course

The clock kept on ticking, and the gap between the top three and the rest had already shown itself clearly. There was little chance for Zain, Mike, and Leo to be overtaken by any other, so there was no reason for any of them to go all out in this round anymore.

That was the correct choice. But for the three up at the top, there was also no chance for them to settle themselves with third place.

Even Mike, the one with the least physical capabilities out of the three, was getting fired up. He would be no match in a contest of pure strength, but luckily for him, this round was all about precision, and it was something that he was confident in himself.

However, it was also because he was the weakest in terms of strength that made him the first to realize the difference in his scythe.

This doesn’t make sense… thought the boy, constantly adjusting his pinch to feel the scythe in his hand. I was holding it perfectly not so long ago, but why do I feel kind of awkward now? Surely it can’t be getting bigger, right?

Mike stopped for a moment to turn his attention to the scoreboard. True enough, his name was still third in the rankings, but in that short time, the gap between him and the top two spots was growing larger.

But as soon as the boy turned to see his competitor, he almost lost his mind.

Both Zain and Leo were in a trance, as the two competed neck-and-neck both in their speed and accuracy. But the way they played the game, or rather, their current tools of the game, were nothing like the others.

Still the same scythe as anyone else’s, but Zain’s was almost as long as his body, while Leo’s had grown way past its owner. And the weirdest thing was that neither seemingly was aware of their current situation. The two contenders for the top spot just swung their worries away like it’s nobody’s business.

As an outsider of a sort, Mike could see very clearly their scythes as Zain and Leo went on, and with each cleave that either of the two made, their respective tool grew ever so slightly larger. The difference was minuscule, only around a couple of centimeters, but with the pace both were going, it was visible to the naked eye.

Of course! The idea hit Mike as he realized a key point of the round. That’s why the scythes were so small in the beginning! If they grow bigger the more they go, then the larger land from the first round wouldn’t matter so much! It would just be an easier task!

“I have to get going too!” The boy excitedly gave himself a pep-up slap before returning to his own progress.

However, there were two problems that Mike hadn’t noticed when he knew of this hidden rule.

As the boy went on and on, and his score grew bigger and bigger, so did his scythe. At first, Mike had to tightly pinch the tool to use it, but then it soon grew to the size of a normal scythe, making it much easier to handle. But it didn’t stop there. The scythe continued to grow larger and larger, first into something a bit hard on bis grip, then to the size of a full-fledged weapon.

And finally, when the scythe had grown around the same size as Zain’s when Mike first saw it, it was too much for him to handle.

“Hgggnnh!” Mike bit his lips as he tried his best to lift the monstrosity of a lawnmowing tool, but no matter how hard he tried, the scythe just refused to budge.

It was at this moment that Mike realized the first problem of the rule – at one point, the tool would outgrow the user, and unless they had the strength to keep swinging around, their score would not increase past a certain cap.

Looking around, he was correct. Not just him, but others had also dropped the game because of their massive scythes. Thankfully, his score was still enough to be in the top three, but unlike before, Mike had to breathe a sigh of relief as he saw his distance to fourth place was only a few points away.

With nothing else to do, Mike resumed the role of a free observer as he glanced over the remaining contestants. And it was at that moment that he realized the second problem.

“What’s the matter, Hero? Can’t take a few friendly jabs?”

“You shithead contractor… If that’s what you wanna play, then I’m in!”

When the scythes grew to a point of being a weapon, then people would just use them as weapons.

The rules never stated anything about players sabotaging, or even directly hurting one another, so no matter what they did, they would still be in the game. And thus, a war broke out between the top two spots, with Zain and Leo changing their targets from their respective colored grasses to each other.

In a normal circumstance, a scene like this would either bring the officials into play to break them apart, or it would cause a chain reaction with everyone else joining the bloodbath. Two reasons stopped either scenario from happening, however. Bruce surely must have set up the events for this to happen, so there was no chance of officials interfering with the game. And while violence would surely attract some wicked minds, the other contestants were simply too tired to even lift their scythes anymore, let alone swing them around like the two warmongering souls next to them.

For everyone else, the main priority was to get away as fast as possible.

“Tch! Watch where you’re aiming!” Zain shouted while blocking a powerful frontal slash from Leo. “You could hit someone!”

“Speak for yourself!” The helmet man retorted, blocking an uppercut from the young man. “And you call yourself a hero?”

“What happened to being a pro, then? Would a pro hurt innocent bystanders?”

“Tell that when someone actually gets hurt because of me!”

“If you don’t stop your bullshit, it could be any moment now!”

“Then won’t you save them, huh Mr. Hero?”

Which each insult came a swing. With each swing came another insult. Their verbal and physical exchange went on and on, like a pair of natural disasters not letting the other up at any minute. The other contestants had long vacated the scene and given up on the competition altogether and gathered in a white pasture far, far away from the collateral damage.

“Should someone stop those two?” A voice called out from the back.

“And who could stop them?” Another answered with a shrug.

Whispers soon spread like wildfire, but even through all of that, no one dared take another step. That included Mike, of course, but in the boy’s mind was not something as simple as fear or awe.

It doesn’t make sense. Sure, I’ve only hired him once, but Leo has always been the kind to do his job properly and efficiently, even if the attitude that he showed off might be boisterous. Why would he make a show like this if his purpose was to eliminate Zain?

He didn’t have time to think of an answer, however, for the final bell sounding the end of the round had already been rung.

The giant holographic screen from before entered the field once again, and Bryan was as excited as ever to announce the results:

“Well, that was certainly an electrifying performance from our contestants! Everyone was on their cutting edge, I must say!”

“Boo! Bad joke!” A furious voice from the back sounded. The fear from the fight just before and their frustration from not advancing had accumulated too much, it seemed.

“Without further ado, let’s see our finalists!” Bryan, ignoring the complaint altogether, gestured towards the back, where the final scoreboard of the round appeared once more.

All three of Mike, Zain, and Leo had already known their positions in the top three, so the initial placements weren’t too much of a surprise. However, what Mike and Zain couldn’t believe was their actual scores – Zain scoring nearly double Mike, but Leo’s score easily tripled his own.

“What are you looking at?” Seeing the doubtful eyes aiming at him, Leo let out a cunning smile behind the helmet. “Think about it again. Did you really expect me to just swing around recklessly to attack you?”

“You mean… all of that was just to mask your attempt to better your clear?” Zain uttered, not believing what he had just known. He was always confident in his abilities, but for him to be duped like this was a first.

“There was some collateral damage, sure,” nodded Leo, “which you can probably see from the others.” True to his words, the main reason for the scores outside of the top three to be so close was thanks to him swinging into their territories. With a closer look at the field, both Mike and Zain could make out where exactly Leo had hit all of his swings – thanks to the unusually large cleave marks on the grass.

“Remember, Hero and Sidekick. Strength is important, but a combination of strength and strategy is the ultimate ticket to victory,” leaving an upset Zain and Mike behind, Leo left the premises once more with a wave goodbye, turning his back against them. “I’ll see you two in the finals.”

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