Chapter 48:

Stage Of Stars (Vol.2 END)

Red-Black Course

When the two boys returned to their home, the last thing that they expected was an angry Mitch standing with his arms crossed in front of the entrance.

“Yung man, just wat didja think da time is?”

“U-Uncle!” The boy, finally realizing the mistake they made, scrambled for an explanation. “It’s… uh…”

“Ya told me ya went ta talk with dat Leo guy, but how didja took all night? And without a single word ta me ta boot!”

“Relax, Mitch,” Zain interrupted in an attempt to alleviate the situation. “He was with me, remember? Everything’s fine.”

“Yer part o’ da problem, Zain!” It had been a while since Zain saw Mitch actually talking back to him. Only this time, their positions, and the latter’s purpose had completely made a 180 – something that the former couldn’t help but be amused at.

“Okay, okay, I’ll be more careful next time,” with a light smile, Zain tried to dismiss the tension.

“Next time? Da boy goes to school tomorrow!” Mitch let out a frustrated shout, but little did he know, the news was an even bigger trigger for Mike himself.

“Tomorrow? Shit, I forgot! Uncle, excuse me!” The boy screamed, frantically trying to run past his uncle’s giant body to return to his room.

Seeing the act, Zain couldn’t help but wonder, but the act only lasted a second, as he soon remembered what exactly he had been staying at Mitch’s house for.

“Wait!” The young man exclaimed. “What about our tournament prize? The money we needed to go to school?”

“What do you think I’m rushing for?” Retorted Mike. “The whole damn tournament is rigged now, so we have 24 hours to think of something quick!”

Without another word, the boy rushed inside the house, with both Zain and Mike following suit.

“Zain, wat was dat all about?” Mitch, confused by the ordeal, couldn’t help himself.

“Well, long story short, I need to go to Mike’s school.”

“As in… actually study in da school?”


“Don’t ya need a guardian fer dat?”

“A guardian? What do you mean?”

“Dat’s da case with everyone right? Ya need tuition fee, obviously, but ya also need a guardian to register as a student. Da tournament might have been loose, but I dunno about dat prestigious elite academy.”

“Well… I’m sure Mike had already thought of something.”

When Zain said those words, he had indeed placed his trust in the boy genius that he had befriended. However, he soon found out that he shouldn’t place his trust into people that easily.

“Damn it, I forgot about that too!” Mike smacked himself on the head as soon as he heard the news.

“Can’t you do anything about it?”

“I mean, if we had more time, I could just ask my parents to stand in for you as well, but knowing their work, actually getting in touch with them would be way too late…”

The two instinctively turned to the only actual adult in the room. Mitch had caught both of their gazes, and in an instant, he knew what he was getting himself into.

“Not a chance! I dun have the money!”

“That’s why we joined the tournament, remember?” Zain had to reassure the problem. “Well, at least, that would have been the plan, but…”

As the words left his mouth, a mysterious beeping noise echoed from upstairs – where Mike’s room was.

Following that was the sound of something falling down, and shortly after, an awkward and astonished voice:

“Uh… guys? You might wanna come up and see this?”

As Zain and Mitch pushed the door to Mike’s room, the two were speechless at the spectacle before them. There was Mike lying on the floor with his chair flipped over, but that was not the important detail. What made their eyes widen as they were was the computer screen in front of them, and the content that it brought.

On the screen was a transaction’s notification, with a sum of fifty thousand pounds, transferred directly into Mike’s bank account – his hidden account as the Architect.

There was a single message attached, in only a few words.

[I’ll be waiting at the top.]

“I can’t believe it…” mumbled Mike. “How did he even know…”

“He probably guessed from when you went with me to meet him…” Zain couldn’t help but let out a grin at the situation unfolding before him. “That selfish contractor, damn it.”

“Well, that takes care of our money problem!” As soon as he picked himself up, Mike clapped his hands in joy. “So, Uncle… will you do us a favor? The sum is fifty thousand, so a hefty amount would go to the bar too!”

“… Okay, okay, ya got me,” Mitch could do nothing but raise his hands to surrender before his nephew’s plea. “I’ll help y’all with the admission process.”

“Thanks, Uncle!” Mike let out a beaming smile, before turning to his computer once more. “Now…”

Another beeping noise interrupted the boy, but this time, it was a video call from another person – a strange number, seeing from Zain’s perspective.

As Mike picked up the call, on the screen appeared another boy around his age wearing a frayed white shirt and a pair of round glasses. His blond hair was messy and unkempt, but the rough look couldn’t hide the shine and intellect in his eyes.

“Mike, where have you been?” The boy raised his voice as soon as his call got through. “You disappeared on me the moment summer started, and when I contacted your house, they told me you went to England for a vacation at your uncle’s? I thought we promised to go to Aoba together on the final week? I’m already in Japan a few days ago!”

“Hehe… A bit of, uh, things came up…” Mike scratched his head in embarrassment, before turning to an excited look, almost to the point of sparkles in his eyes. “But get this, Lewis! You won’t believe what happened! I met Messeo! The Leonardo di Messeo!”

“Get out,” the boy on the screen scoffed at the claim. “If Messeo was in England, the news had to be all over him at this point. Come on, tell me the truth – what were you doing the entire summer that made you forget about your best friend?”

“… Nothing gets past you, huh?” Mike chuckled at Lewis’s answer, but not before quietly gave Zain a light wink, implying he had meant to say what he said, knowing his friend would never believe his story.

“Alright, I’ll be honest,” the boy continued. “Remember the dream you told me?”

This time, it was Lewis’s turn to have sparkles in his eyes. “You mean…”

“Yup,” nodded Mike. “Winning the NLCS isn’t a dream anymore. I’ve found him! The ace that we were missing!”

When the words came out, Zain immediately felt a chill down his spine. But the young man didn’t have the chance to flee the scene, as Mike had already grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him towards the center of the screen:

“Look! He’s a new friend I made in England, and he’s entering Aoba this year too! His name is Zain, and he’s the best NLS player I’ve seen!”

“What? No way!” Lewis exclaimed in excitement. “You gotta come fast, then! The entrance exam should be tomorrow! I’ll meet you there! Catch you later, Mike, and nice to meet you, Zain!”

Before the latter could even say anything, the screen had already turned off. Without anywhere else to vent his anger, Zain dumped all of it on the main culprit to this confusing situation:

“What the hell was all of that about?”

“Oh, right,” Mike let out an awkward laugh once more. “I never did tell you about the favor I wanted to ask…”

“Wasn’t it just to help me with my investigation?”

“Well, that was our endgame. But I have another favor, or rather, dream, that I want you to fulfill. That dream happens to share a goal with your investigation, so… I didn’t tell you beforehand.”

“And that dream is…”

Mike then took the flyer that Zain was still holding in his hand ever since Leo gave him, waving it around to further prove his point. However, when it came to actually saying it out loud, the boy couldn’t help but stutter in embarrassment:

“This, actually… The Neural Link World Championships – NLCS for short. I… well, technically, Lewis has a dream of winning it and become the best in the world…”

As he heard the hidden reason of Mike’s motives, Zain couldn’t help but laugh out loud. All his life, he partook in all kinds of larger-than-life problems, so for him to hear a simple request to win a tournament, Zain’s mind was truly at peace, as the young man knew that his life, though still far from it, was slowly treading towards that of a more “normal” kid.

“W-What’s wrong?” Mike, however, only grew redder at the reaction.

“Nah, it’s nothing,” answered Zain, giving the boy a pat on the head. “But sure. It’s a nice and easy sidequest to do.”

“Is that a gaming joke I heard from you?” Mike, having calmed down by Zain’s reassuring attitude, broke out a grin of his own.

“Well, who else stuffed my head with all kinds of pop culture?”

“Haha… you got a point. Now, shall we go?”

“Go?” The sudden declaration caused Zain to tilt his head in confusion. “Go where?”

“To Aoba Academy, of course!” Mike let out a confident grin. “Zain, Uncle, brace yourselves!”

“Wait, yer doin it now?” Mitch was sent to a panic, while Zain was still clueless on the situation. However, it didn’t take long for the young man to know the reason.

As Mike inputted a certain command on his computer screen, all of the walls in Mitch’s house shook violently, as if suffering from a major earthquake. Booming sounds of jet engines echoed through the room, and before he knew it, Zain could already feel a massive thrusting force upward coming from the floor, squeezing down his stomach as a result.

When the ground beneath him finally seemed like it had stabilized itself, Zain took a look at his surroundings. And his jaw almost dropped to the ground as he realized through the window that the entirety of Mike’s room was flying on the sky.

“I brought my entire room from my house here, by the way!” The boy exclaimed in excitement as he opened the roof to reveal a vast blue sky with a strong wind of change. “What do you think? Fancy enough to your liking?”

“Mike, you crazy bastard…” the scenery before him only served to rile up an already pumped Zain. “I’m on board alright.”

“Then… let’s go, gang! To the promised land of geniuses! The Stage of Stars, Aoba Academy!” 
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