Chapter 51:

The Shortest Path

Red-Black Course

In front of Zain was a never-ending great wall. Unlike its stature, however, the structure itself was rather ancient. Too ancient, as a matter of fact, for its moss-covered surface and cracking exterior would make one wonder how it could still stand tall as it did.

Of course, the answer was simple. As always, the scene before him was entirely virtual, shown to create an air of mystery and adventure, or so the school AI beside him said.

“Welcome to your admission test, prospective student Zain,” AISLE 4 claimed. “First, let me explain the rules. The test is simple: there’s only one question, but to answer it, you must clear three stages as seen here. This structure in front of you is the first stage, the ancient labyrinth. Your task for this stage is to solve the labyrinth, going from the starting point to the finishing line on the other side. No other rules are present.”

“No other rules?” Asked Zain. “Then I just need to solve the labyrinth? That’s it?”

“That’s it,” the AI nodded (by rocking its entire body). “Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t judge you on anything you do; your overall performance in solving the labyrinth, with stats like clear speed, stamina cost, etc. will all be recorded and compiled into an evaluation.”

“Looks simple enough, then,” Zain let out a smile of confidence, stretching his body for one last time before tackling his first exam problem. “When do we start?”

“Any time you want. And I assume it’s right now.”

“You got it.”

“Very well,” AISLE 4 then fired off another holographic screen from its eye, this one with a giant countdown in the center.

The clock slowly ticked down from three.




A beeping noise from the screen sounded, and the young man quickly entered the labyrinth. As if able to detect his hurriedness, the walls, and ceiling lightly shook in response, sending another layer of dust down onto the floor. Though, it served as nothing but a small distraction for Zain as he continued treading on his way.

In solving a labyrinth, if it was a puzzle done on a piece of paper, one would need to have a strong sense of observation and logical thinking in order to crack the problem. In a real-life environment, however, the matter became much simpler. Zain knew of this, but it was exactly the reason why he was still so skeptical even as he was traversing through.

If this maze doesn’t have any sort of traps or obstacles, then isn’t the easiest way just to hug the walls and go?

In fact, it was the easiest way to solve the problem. However, the labyrinth was designed in such a complex manner with many turns and detours that if it was attempted in this way, the time wasted would be astronomical. It was Aoba’s first challenge to its applicants – to think outside the box or be eliminated.

Zain, naturally, had somewhat seen through the already laid trap. Even if he didn’t know the exact intention, the young man knew that just going about like this wasn’t the right answer. However, since he couldn’t waste his time pausing and thinking, he continued while still keeping the problem in mind.

It was at this moment that Zain encountered the first crossroad of his maze adventure.

“So, what would it be?” Next to him, AISLE questioned.

“… Left,” after a brief moment of hesitation, Zain answered, turning as the words left his mouth.

After another while of exploring, another crossroad appeared. And just like before, the AI beside him sounded again:

“How about this time?”

“Left, of course,” this time, there was no hesitation. Zain confidently moved forward in the direction of his choosing.

“Interesting reaction,” commented AISLE.

Its words sparked an interest in the young man. “How come?”

“Just that your decision just now was almost instant, while your previous one had a delay.”

“It’s a simple tactic in maze games,” answered the young man with a confident grin, sure that the robot was testing his knowledge for the first phase. “If you only choose a single direction, then you’ll never get lost. In the case of an eventual dead end, we can backtrack with ease.”

“Then why did you choose left in the first place?”

This question was not what Zain expected. However, he didn’t take long for an answer either, though the answer itself wasn’t much of one:

“I don’t know for sure,” he shrugged, “force of habit, I guess.”

This time, it was AISLE that had a moment of hesitation, before continuing with a piece of information beyond Zain’s expectations once more:

“… Did you know? In the face of a choice, humans will naturally lean towards the left side.”

“… Is that so?” Of course, something like that was news to the young man.

“It’s recorded in my database by my creator.”

“What if your creator was wrong?”

“My creator is never wrong,” answered AISLE with a proud voice, so much that Zain could vividly picture it huffing its chest if it had one. “He’s the world’s greatest mind, after all.”

“Is that so?” The same question from before, but this time, it was a light huff and a condescending smile from Zain. He was sure that it would cause the AI to flip out (or at least somewhat, since it was still showing great control over itself up until this moment), but the answer he received was, once again, nothing as he’d imagine:

“Of course not,” he could almost hear the robot chuckle.


“The piece of information I gave just now was a lie as well. There’s no concrete evidence of direction correlating with choices.”

“Then why mention it in the first place?”

“To teach you that you should never take information at face value,” AISLE let out a cheeky snicker.

Zain had to admit that compared to AIDE, who had a very much deadpan voice whenever it was not commentating on the games, AISLE had a much more “alive” feel, like it was an actual person behind a mechanical ball talking to him and not a robot. Because he had never felt so angered by a robot before.

Had it been a normal situation, he would have not hesitated to put AISLE into the garbage bin. However, because he was still doing a test and in need of a guide, Zain could only make a weak comeback:

“Well, you’re the social and life education robot all right. Even now, you still have time to make stupid, meaningless small talk.”

“Meaningless?” AISLE raised its voice, but contrary to Zain’s thoughts, there were no traces of anger. “I assure you, nothing in our conversation is meaningless.”

“Say what you want,” replied Zain, “but the exit’s right there.”

True to his words and gesture, right in front of them was light coming out of an open door. However, what answered him wasn’t praise or frustration, but rather a condescending tone of doubt as the self-proclaimed education AI squinted its red light:

“Are you sure that’s the exit?”

“… Of course, I’m sure. Just look…”

In truth, the moment the question was uttered, Zain had already doubted his judgement. However, in order to save face, he had to go along with his claim, in a classic “double or nothing” situation. And naturally, as any gambling addict would know, bets like that would never go as planned.

As Zain passed the door, the young man also experienced the bitter truth. The door he had claimed to be the exit was in fact none other than the same entrance he went in a while ago.

“But… this doesn’t make sense,” the young man gazed at the entrance sign in disbelief. “I know I’ve travelled a good while, and I’m sure I wasn’t going around in circles…”

“Have you really?” AISLE asked back. “You’re taking information at face value again. Remember, students taking this test are purposely not shown their time, and your sense of direction has already been messed up since you entered the labyrinth. Now, what will you do? Give up, continue with your choice, or think of another solution?”

Zain was deep in thought. With the experience he had accrued from his various journeys, he knew that just continuing what he did would be suicide, and he wasn’t dumb enough to think that quitting was an option, either. The phrase AISLE just used on him was no doubt a hint, that he should abandon his first line of thoughts and work his way to a new solution.

However, what exactly the solution was was beyond him.

The young man stopped to put together the events that had transpired so far. His trip from the start of the labyrinth to the small talk that he and AISLE made… and especially its words to him after the first turn.

Do not take information at face value…

Nothing in the conversation was meaningless…

Zain played back the conversation in his mind again and again, hoping to find a hidden meaning behind the AI’s advice to him. “Do not take information at face value” was the main point of the whole talk, so it had to mean something in the test… or was that a piece of information that he had taken at face value again? Just because he was in the test, didn’t mean that it had to be the test? Or rather, the conversation itself wasn’t what he should be focusing on, but another source of “information” entirely?

Zain started to broaden his search more. Not just from his talk with AISLE, but anything that he could find during his entire time attempting this test.

“Do not take information at face value…” Zain started to voice his thoughts out loud, repeating his experience in his mind. “Nothing in the conversation was meaningless…”

It was at that moment that it hit him.

What if he was wrong from the start? What if the test wasn’t to cross the labyrinth? Or rather, crossing the labyrinth and solving was actually not the same thing?

“Hey,” turning to AISLE, Zain asked. “Can you repeat the first test’s requirements?”

“You must solve the labyrinth by going from the starting point to the finishing line on the other side.”

“I have passed the starting point, correct?”

“Correct. You have passed the starting point, and you are being timed as we speak.”

A smile formed on Zain’s face. He had seen the answer.

“Then the answer is this.”

As the words left his mouth, Zain did not go into the labyrinth. Instead, he just followed the outer walls and went around the structure itself.

The labyrinth was supposed to be unsolvable. The way to the exit is none other than to traverse the outside of the maze itself.

Such was Zain’s thought when he heard the requirements again, and he was sure that he was correct. So, it was only natural that an unbelievable shock ran through his mind when he circled the entire outer maze but only found one entrance door and no exits of any sort.

“What is the meaning of this?” Zain was mere moments away from shouting in rage. “Why is there no exit? Doesn’t the test require me to go to the exit?”

“The test requires you to go to the exit, yes,” answered AISLE, “but it never mentioned the labyrinth having an exit now, didn’t it?”

“Then how am I supposed to…”

Zain paused before his own thoughts could form, for at that moment, something clicked within him.

“Do not take information at face value.” That was the guiding light of this first test. Zain had thought that he had used it to its fullest, but only until now did he realize it could be understood in another meaning – another layer behind its initial face value, true to itself.

Explore and exploit every single piece of information you can receive.

In order to take information at face value, you need information in the first place. It was an obvious truth, and so, it was the most cleverly hidden one. Meaning that, from the start of the test until this moment, Zain hadn’t been using every information that he could.

And after the conversation, AISLE, the only thing left that he didn’t use… was the labyrinth itself.

Zain clenched his fist. This time, he knew he was correct.

The young man went into the labyrinth once more and kept on heading straight. Soon, he encountered the same crossroad as before.

“Well, what would it be this time?” Asked AISLE. “Left again, or right?”

With a smile on his face, Zain answered with utmost confidence.


A powerful punch blasted open the wall before him. The phrase “ancient labyrinth” and all the crumbling walls and dirt weren’t just for creating an atmosphere, they were hints that the building’s structure was unstable – enough for a punch to break through.

After finding out that solution, the rest was simple. All Zain had to do was punch things through – literally. And after breaking out the final wall to the other side, there was only one thing left to do.

Picking up a piece of debris from his bare-handed demolition, the young man carved just above the hole he went through the word “exit”.

“Done,” throwing away the debris and dusting off his hands, Zain turned to AISLE for an answer.

“Well done,” nodded the robot. “Now, onto phase two.”

MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon