Chapter 72:

Battle City

Red-Black Course


Following the deafening scream was a figure rushing towards Zain like a wild beast. Through sheer reflexes, the young man crossed his arm to brace the impact, but his opponent’s strength was nothing to underestimate.

Since Zain was used to the absurd strength disproportionate to the girl’s small body, he could steel himself to avoid being flung away like last time. The only result was that of the young man forcefully gliding on the asphalt, digging his heels through the concrete once more.

However, this time, it wasn’t so simple.

Hovering near Zain’s feet, one of the three hearts he had quickly blinked for a second, before turning from a bright pink to a complete pitch-black.

“Tch, already?” the young man clicked his tongue in annoyance as he took a clearer look at his opponent. On Mirai’s hands were gloves made out of pure, black steel, but most importantly, it was not present at all before they were in, meaning that the girl had gotten them very early after she spawned.

Without a Weapon of his own, Zain knew that he couldn’t keep fighting. But he would be foolish to think that he was going to be let off that easily.

Just like their real-life skirmish, Mirai once again jumped into the action as fast as she could, going for another blitz to stop Zain from pulling enough distance against her. However, this time, she didn’t have the speedster Yusei with her, nor the deathly Hanabi was there to assist with her movements. Even if she was plenty faster than a regular human, Mirai’s speed was nothing that Zain couldn’t handle.

While Mirai jumped forward, Zain jumped backward, even utilizing the force from the former’s punches to push himself further away. The two continued their chase throughout the streets, bringing wreckage to anywhere their feet and fists landed.

This is not going anywhere! Thought Zain as he dodged yet another road-breaking punch. Getting close to her is already a problem in itself, let alone countering! There has to be something I can use!

Meanwhile, a nearby tree was knocked down with a single punch, its trunk snapping into jagged splinters at the point of impact. The falling tree caused another case of already weak rubble and soil flying in the air, but within that rubble, Zain spotted an item that might save him from the situation.

Changing his direction as fast as possible, the young man made a jump for the small blue cube in the air before his opponent can realize it. However, after chasing him since the game started, Mirai was already aware of any strange movement coming from her opponent.

Realizing the fact that Zain was going towards her could only mean that he had found a die amidst the debris they caused, Mirai quickly plucked off the rest of the tree from the ground, root and all, and threw it at Zain as fast as she could:

“You’re not getting away with it!”

As the lower half of the tree left her grip and flew like a giant arrow, Zain managed to get a hold of the die. But as soon as he had it in his hands, the young man was already disappointed – on the die was only a single red dot on a blue surface, signifying that it was a level 1 Weapon die, the weakest kind of equipment.

At this point, however, he had no other choice – either use it or risk having another heart lost. And so, without even the time to show his frustration, Zain flung the die onto the ground, activating it by rolling.

The tree collided with the road, creating another explosion of dust, smoke, rubble, and now splinters. The impact was so great that even Mirai had to take a step back to avoid the collateral taking her own heart out, but her eyes were still fixed on the area of impact so she could observe her opponent as clearly as she could.

When a vague figure showed up behind the dust cloud, Mirai took it as the chance to finish the fight once and for all:

“You’re mine!”

The girl took a massive leap towards the figure, leaving another crater behind her. However, by doing that, she had made the biggest mistake in the match – by attacking an unclear opponent, Mirai would be blinded by the scene she created herself and would be subjected to a counterattack.

Before her fist could even penetrate the dust, Mirai’s face was directly smashed by an incoming black-and-white ball, sending her sliding down the road like a rag. Following suit, below her feet revealed three pink hearts, with one rapidly blinking for a few seconds before changing itself into a pure black color.

The projectile responsible had bounced off her face and returned to the smoke cloud after the impact. After everything had settled, Zain’s figure emerged from the wreckage with a confident grin on his face and a soccer ball on his foot:

“Level 1 Weapon… just my luck, am I right?”

At another corner of the city, a few moments earlier.

“All right, I have to search for some dice first,” Mike mumbled as he took a look around the area that he spawned in – a certain walking crossroad, or rather, the worst kind of place a player could spawn in. Though the NPCs served as a natural camouflage for him, the boy also realized that a scramble crossroad didn’t have any kind of natural shielding from attacks. In other words, if he was spotted, he would be as good as dead. And so, Mike put his priority on finding dice first – the more he got, the better chances he had of protecting himself.

I can’t just go around willy-nilly to search for these dice, thought Mike. There has to be some kind of pattern on where they are placed. A city map is way too big to be considered a fair hiding spot, after all.

But where would be a good hiding spot? Maybe a place with many people going about? Or maybe dark, narrow places that could be more suited for hiding?

Sudden murmuring stopped the boy’s thought process. As Mike turned around, he couldn’t help but be surprised at the scene before him, with NPCs actually having daily conversations before his eyes:

“Hey, I heard that there’s a really cute store nearby…”

“The new movie is premiering today…”

“There’s a new fish show at the aquarium…”

Well, as expected of Sensei, Mike let out a light smile. It was the kind of minute detail that could only be added by a person with a big enough attention to his craft, or as Mike would normally complain, “someone with too much free time on his hands”. But at the moment, it was the NPC conversations that caused an idea to form.

Wait. What if…

The boy, eager to check on his theory, quickly made his way out of the crossing and onto another street – the street leading to the aquarium.

A large booming sound suddenly echoed through the street, while a line of smoke erupted from afar to the east. Someone must be fighting! Mike deduced. Seeing the teams, he knew that one of them had to be Zain. However, the way he was right now, he wouldn’t be able to assist his teammate. And so, even if he was filled with regret, Mike continued on his path.

Soon enough, the boy arrived at his destination – a giant blue dome structure, filled with people holding cameras and various aquatic merchandise, from dolphin T-shirts to orca hats, shark-teeth onesies, and shrimp foam fingers. However, the people weren’t the main reason why Mike was here.

If my hunch is correct, then there has to be something near here!

With the thought in mind, the boy began his search inside. Traveling through the hallways with his eyes glued to the glass tanks, Mike didn’t take a long time to see exactly what he was looking for.

A small blue die hidden behind the bedrock at a coral reef near the entrance.

Without hesitation, the boy climbed over the tank and jumped in, taking away the die with little resistance.

“Level 3…” As he emerged out to the main hallway, Mike took another closer look at his loot. “But no matter; this proves my theory!”

The boy clenched his fists in excitement and continued his pillaging of the aquarium. It didn’t take long for Mike to find another blue die with 1 dot, a green die with 2 dots, and a red die with 4 dots – his highest loot so far.

However, Mike didn’t get to be happy for long. While he was searching for dice, another boy was also on the same path. And as fate would have it, the two bumped into each other right in the middle of the aquatic show’s center ring.

“Lewis…” Mike uttered. “Why are you here?”

“You’ve realized it too, right?” Asked back the blonde boy with glasses. “How the dice are placed in ‘themes’.”

“Yeah. Each landmark will have a specific ‘theme’ to it, and dice will potentially be gathered around these themes. This is the aquarium, or rather, water – the color blue, which means blue dice are the most common around… Since when did you notice it?”

“Not long ago,” Lewis answered. “This is my first time playing this, after all.”

“You and your ridiculous gaming sense.”

“It’s the same thing as in RPGs, really. You don’t have to be an expert to figure it out.”

“Well… I guess there’s only one thing left for us to do, isn’t that right?”

Letting out a big sigh, Lewis held out a single blue die – level 5 – against Mike.

“Yeah. Let’s battle.”

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