Chapter 44:


Red-Black Course

On the day of the finals, there were only three contestants left, so the air was a lot less exciting and noisy compared to the other day. However, it didn’t mean that the tension was any less. If anything, without the lukewarm mobs, one could practically feel the burning atmosphere between the two main contenders of the game.

Meanwhile, Mike felt like the pressure that the two beside him were exuding could choke him right then and there. In his mind, the boy could only pray that this last round started as fast as possible.

And it looked like his plea was answered from above, as this time, without any further introduction, the holographic monitor immediately sprung forward and popped up the content for the final competition.

“Three-way tug-of-war?” Zain looked at the announcement with a confused look.

There was already a demonstration video for the three to understand, so the rules weren’t lost. The three finalists would stand in the three corners of their own terrains, marked by the amount of grass cut from the last round. A three-way rope would then be issued to the three players, and from then on, it would be a normal game of tug-of-war. The first to pull the marked section of the rope to their terrain first would win the game.

The rules were simple and easy to follow, and they truly befitted the theme of “power”. However, what Zain was questioning wasn’t about the rules.

It was the fact that Brian, or Bruce, didn’t appear in the video, nor did he arrive at the stage in the outside world.

Something’s up,” Zain whispered towards Mike.

Yeah,” a nervous nod from the boy. “I’ve noticed as well… what do we do now?”

His gaze shifted towards the helmet man beside them.

We play the game as normal,” Zain answered. “If what he said was true, then we should be fine.”

What are the chances that it’s actually true though?”

Not much, if you ask me. But it’s not like we have a choice.

“Ready for the finals, boys?” Leo’s voice interrupted the two. As Zain and Mike turned to their opponent, he had already gone to his side and was holding tightly on his end of the rope.

Exchanging one last look between them, the two went to their own positions as well.

As the three contestants held their ends tightly in their hands, the holographic screen appeared once more, and a giant number appeared in the middle of it all.

[3…] The screen started counting down.




The giant letters popped up, and an equally large horn sounded. Immediately, the three contestants gripped their ropes as hard as they could and pulled as if their lives depended on it.

Or, that was how it would normally look like.

In reality, Zain and Mike had already agreed even before the competition started. Since either of them winning would be the same result, the two had agreed to cooperate for the final match if both were to be finalists. A three-way tug-of-war was meant to have a balanced force among three contestants, but that would only be the case if all three managed to stay straight on their paths.

It only needed one person to slightly move to disrupt the delicate equilibrium and create a 2v1 situation from a 1v1v1. However, a player of Leo’s caliber had already foreseen the situation. And so, the helmet man had his own way to get himself out of the situation.

With his feet forward, Leo kept the rope close to his body. He was shorter than Zain, so his lower center of gravity worked in his favor. And he did not waste his energy on short pulls, instead making use of his stature to keep his attacks long and sudden.

The strategy soon proved itself to be effective. Despite Mike shifting himself to get closer to Zain and combine their pulling forces, it was in fact the two of them that were slowly but surely pulled away from their lands.

“How is he… so strong?” Mike panted harder by the second, the sweat in his palm was causing his grip on the rope to slowly loosen.

“Keep it together!” Shouted Zain in response. “Victory will be ours!”

Though the words that escaped his mouth were those of encouragement, deep within Zain was a feeling that he had never felt before. A mysterious darkness known as “fear”.

In his entire life, though he had lost a fair share of times already, all of them were due to tampering from the other side. With his skills acquired from the Course, Zain had never lost a fair fight before. But now, as he faced this masked man of unknown identity, he couldn’t help but feel that every aspect of him was inferior. His unconventional tactics couldn’t work without Bitleo. His dexterity was no match. And now, even the absurd strength that he once prided himself in was losing its ground.

For the first time, Zain couldn’t see his victory at all. And the thought scared him.

He had known to run away if need be, but Zain knew that if he threw the towel now, what awaited him on the other side was certain doom. Perhaps he could escape on his own, but now that he had had others to worry about, it was an unwilling shackle that chained him down.

And so, the young man stubbornly kept on his performance, betting everything to keep down the monster before him. But Leo’s pulls only got stronger and stronger with each tug, and soon enough, the rope was just inches away from crossing to Leo’s land completely.

“I… can’t… hold… on…” Mike gritted each word, grinding his teeth as if to stop the letters from coming out of his mouth. But alas, he was still the first to fall. The friction lost due to his sweat was too much, and the boy’s rope slipped from his hand, flying towards Leo’s territory.

“Now it’s only us, Hero!” The masked man let out an excited laugh. “Let’s have our final dance!”

“You’re on, Contractor!” Zain had decided. As much as he hated to admit it, if things were to keep going as they did, he would inevitably lose this game. And so, he had decided to risk it all in one move: by putting all of his strength into one final pull, Zain hoped that the surprise factor would be enough for him to achieve victory against Leo.

That unnecessary shout was to serve that purpose – masking itself as the trigger for the final attack.

Putting everything he had into his arms, Zain pulled the rope.

Though he had meant for it to be a surprise attack against Leo, in the end, he was the one who was surprised instead.

The force of his pull was strong. Too strong, so much that he felt almost no resistance on the other side, as if Leo had purposely let go of his end of the rope. The result was the overly imbalanced impact shared between the rope’s ends, causing Zain to follow his momentum and fall over on his back. As the young man’s behind crashed onto the ground, the final buzzer sounded, and the competition was over.

[Winner: Contestant #200, Zain Kuroshi.] The holo board popped up once more, but that was the extent of the final announcement. No confetti to congratulate the winner, no host to declare the champion. As if the entire competition had been rigged from the start.

Even though Zain had won the tournament, neither he nor Mike was happy about it. The latter was already aware of the danger that was to come, while the former had known exactly why he won.

Out of the three finalists, ironically, the one who lost was the one who was the happiest.

“What’s the long face, Hero?” Leo offered a hand to a still-lying Zain. “You’ve won! That’s 35 thousand pounds in your pocket!”

“Buzz off, Contractor. Why-” Zain smacked away the helping hand, but before he could ask the question, Leo had already forcefully grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him up.

Without letting Zain complain for a second, the helmet man whispered into his ears:

“Prepare yourself for what’s outside.”

And disappeared from the virtual world.

As Zain and Mike logged off their devices and returned to the real world, the two had already found themselves surrounded by machine guns and robot guards.

“Congratulations, Challenger Zain Kuroshi…” from behind the steel officers came a Bryan slowly clapping his hands. “Or should I say… former convict of the Infinite Prison, and current vigilante the Masked Lion, Zain?”

MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon