Chapter 70:

Where I Stand

Red-Black Course

A few moments earlier.

Mike could only gasp at the chaotic scene unfolding before him. While the room was littered with sparks and filled with the scent of blood, while the people responsible for it were all too fast for the naked eye to observe, the boy could only clench his fist in despair and frustration.

His fingers kept curling in and out. Mike wanted to go and help Zain somehow, but not only that he himself realized how weak he was compared to the rest of the battlers, Mike couldn’t just up and go while Lewis was in front of him. Deceived or not, Lewis was still Mike’s best friend from his childhood. And so, there was no chance that he would purposely do anything that would upset him.

While his mind drifted elsewhere, Lewis’s voice once again dragged Mike back to reality.

“Hey, Mike…” the blonde boy softly said. “Can we just get out of this place and pretend that none of the things that happened tonight ever existed?”

“W-What do you mean?” Mike couldn’t believe his ears. Lewis was trying to make up with him all of a sudden, but the way he talked was not something that Mike took pleasantly.

“The Student Council told me beforehand,” unknown of his friend’s feelings, Lewis continued. “As long as we stay close to each other, they won’t try to attack us or hurt us at all. In fact, the President even left me a trap door by the end of this room for me to escape at any given time, so… what do you say?”

“Are you saying that we… just up and leave? Right now? Just like that?”

“Is there anything stopping us?”

Mike didn’t answer. Or rather, he couldn’t answer. He knew that he was deadweight here. In fact, if he had left the scene, Zain would have probably been much more comfortable to move around. Those were all facts that he knew very well. However, Mike couldn’t just nod and accept the invitation like that. For one, it meant that Lewis had won their argument, and he could do nothing but comply. The second reason… was that deep within his consciousness, Mike had a vague feeling that if he had left now, he would lose something important.

The boy stood there silent, with his head lightly bowing down in frustration.

“What’s wrong?” Seeing his friend in distress, Lewis couldn’t help but intervene. “Why are you hesitating?”

It was useless. No matter what Lewis tried to say, Mike didn’t answer. It was as if the boy didn’t even exist in his eyes, even though he was still the main reason that Mike couldn’t decide on his course of action.

At that moment, a booming sound ripped through the room, and Zain was seen flying to a wall.

“Zain!” Mike shouted in horror, trying to rush to his friend. But before he could move, Lewis had already grabbed him tightly by the wrist.

“Lewis, what are you doing? Let me go!” Mike struggled in hope of breaking free of Lewis’s grasp. To the boy’s surprise, however, his grip was much stronger than he expected, even though the two of them had roughly the same strength.

Lewis answered with an angered shout. “And what? Let you die over there? You can’t do anything, Mike! Not you, not me! We’re just normal teenage boys, remember?”

The words uttered slashed through Mike’s heart like a sharp knife. Once again, he was reminded of his helplessness. Once again, he was just a useless fool whose only quality was his big mouth.

What Guy in a Chair? What boy genius? Tears started welling in Mike’s eyes as the thoughts ran rampant in his mind. If I can’t even do anything in this circumstance, what good would my being here do?

Lewis, seeing that the chance had come, pulled onto Mike’s arm once more:

“Come on, let’s just go home. We can leave everything here behind us, and once again share that dream of being the best in the world… what do you say?”

Mike, at this point, had given up. Like a puppet without strings, he let himself be pulled along with Lewis’s suggestions. Lewis was right. He couldn’t do anything. Even if he wanted to help, he would just be getting in the way. If he stayed, there would be a high chance that he would die, and death was something that Mike was always afraid of.

However, just as Lewis pulled onto his hand again, another booming sound echoed.

Zain was sent flying yet again, but this time, the young man had seemingly run out of strength to counter. His whole body was bleeding, his Bitleo armor torn to shreds. For the first time ever, Mike had witnessed Zain lose a fight, and it was the one fight that he couldn’t afford to lose.

Mike tightened his fists. This time… This time! The boy was practically screaming in his mind, but for an unknown reason, his feet just wouldn’t move. No matter how much the boy’s brain commanded, his body wouldn’t comply.

Meanwhile, Lewis was still trying to shake his friend off his slump.

“Come on Mike, just go home already… We don’t belong here. We’re just normal people.”

Once again, those words came back to haunt him. Once again, they bound him, rendering him useless. It was the weight of a “normal person”, of someone insignificant in this world that caused Mike to be pinned to the ground.

Mike hated it. He hated that he was so ordinary. But when he was at his worst, a sudden thought crossed his mind.

“Am I actually ordinary?”

It was a question that Mike asked himself. However, he had mistakenly said it out loud, and so, Lewis thought Mike was asking him.

“Mike, this isn’t the time for philosophical talk!” The boy lightly frowned. “The whole ‘everyone is special’ thing can wait later! For now, we should just…”

Just those words were enough for Mike to realize something important. The thing that he was desperately trying to find, but forgot along the way before the massive showing of power before him. The thing that was fundamentally different within him.

“No, Lewis,” with a firm look on his face, Mike shook his head. “I’m not normal.”

Lewis, on the other hand, couldn’t believe what he had just heard. Mike was his first, and best, friend. The two boys shared many interests. They even shared the same dream. But now, right in front of him, Mike was saying that they were different, and Lewis couldn’t bear the thought.

“… What do you mean? We’re both just regular kids… we studied together, played together, dreamt of being the best together… just regular, normal little things….”

“… We might share the same dream, Lewis… but we’re not the same,” Mike bit hard onto his lips, so much that he was bleeding from his mouth. No matter how hurtful it might sound, he still had to say it, if he wanted to keep on being friends with Lewis while keeping his new partner safe.

Taking a deep breath, he continued:

“You might think that we’re normal, but we’re not. I’m not. I’m the only student of the greatest mind in the world. I’m the young genius able to get into Aoba Academy. I’m the famed Architect – the machinery wizard of the underworld. I’m not normal, Lewis. I’m special, and you can’t deny it from me.”

“W-What are all of this you’re talking about?” Lewis, seeing where the conversation was going, was having none of it. “You’re Michael Angelo! Just plain old Michael Angelo, high school student!”

“No. I’m Michael Angelo, Guy in a Chair,” Mike, for the first time, shook off Lewis’s grasp. “And I’m helping my partner in crime. Lewis, if you wish to be safe, then leave; no one will stop you. If you’re really my friend, I hope that you can understand what I do…”

As if trying to stop his tears, Mike paused for a moment and rubbed his reddened eyes. Taking another deep breath, he continued. “And if you wish to stop me, then do it in a true contest.”

Lewis was out of words to say. Mike’s face had shown it all – he would not back down, not from anything. However, Mike’s words had also awoken in him something – not something important, as Mike himself experienced, but something latent within Lewis. Something that he had always had, but never realized until this moment.

“… Very well,” said Lewis, oddly calm after everything he had gone through. “I will not leave this place, for I am your friend. However, it is because I am your friend that I can’t let you die here, Mike.”

With a final point straight to Mike’s face, Lewis shouted.

“If you want a contest, then a contest it shall be!”

It was not a joyous situation for anyone. Lewis uttered his challenge with a heavy heart. It took Mike all his courage to finally stand against his best friend for the first time. And yet, on their faces, both were showing the same genuine smile.

Was this how Zain felt when he was fighting strong opponents? Mike thought. However, he was soon interrupted by a series of slashing sounds coming from the other side of the room.

Turning to the side, Mike’s face paled in fear as Zain fell down completely, his body littered with knife wounds – not the same shallow kind from the start of the fight, but deep, red wounds enough to take the life of any regular person. Without another moment of hesitation, Mike tapped onto his hearing device and hurriedly ordered:

“24, give me the code to the ABC, now!”

“What? How did you know about the ABC?” On the other side, Mike’s AISLE exclaimed. “And what good would that be right now? You’re not even on school grounds!”

“Just give it to me!” Mike yelled at the hearing device, putting on his glasses as fast as he could. Reluctantly, 24 sent over the data, and as soon as the code was shown before his eyes, Mike took out his phone and ran along the wall as fast as his legs could take him.

“What the…” Lewis gasped. But Mike didn’t have time to explain. Finally, he had found the object he was looking for – a plug. Plugging in his phone, a flash of hologram fired from the main screen into the air, revealing a complex design of circuits and machinery.

“I knew it! Sensei did design this place!” Mike exclaimed in joy. It was a gamble, but it paid off. And it didn’t take long for the boy to rearrange the blocks of designs on the holographic screen to match the stuff he was looking at through his glasses.

At the same time, Zain’s voice echoed from the other side:

“Do I… not get my last words?”

As Mike turned to the other side, Zain was still lying motionless but was sharp enough to secretly give him a light wink. Geez, this guy! Always making me worry for no reason! Mike chuckled at the attempt at stalling for time and pressed the final button needed for his plan.

From the walls, mechanical tentacles of all lengths burst forward, each having a steel helmet at the tip. The tentacles soon found their way to Mike and Lewis, locking down their limbs before putting the helmets on their heads.

Having experienced the same thing before, it wasn’t hard for Lewis to realize what it was:

“ABC? How did you manage to get it here?”

“I told you; I’m the best student of the greatest mind in the world,” Mike let out a confident grin, though his body was stuck in place because of the complex machinery. “And Sensei still has that bad habit of designing everything from the same template, so it was easy to crack and modify. If we want a competition without casualties, this is the best solution I can think of.”

Meanwhile, Zain had also arrogantly sounded:

“Stalling? Oh, no. It was the first time I was put into a corner like that. I was really afraid for my life there, but unfortunately for you three, you’ve forgotten the most basic rule of war… Isn’t that right, Guy in a Chair?”

Following the dramatic taunt with his own, Mike continued:

“To shut down an opponent, first, go for their head! Initiate the ABC!”  

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