Chapter 76:

Strength Of The Heart

Red-Black Course

“Initiating bet-fulfillment protocol…” the ruthless mechanical voice sounded, akin to a reaper’s cold, hard, but equal judgement to everyone involved. Since Zain and Mike won, both of them were safe from harm, but they soon realized that they were the only lucky individuals left.

From the walls emerged a set of four machine guns, each equipped with a small light at its bottom. And at this moment, all of the lights were shining on the four losers’ chests – Lewis, Mirai, Hanabi, and Yusei.

For the latter three, death was a common occurrence in their world. They had failed their mission, and now they must face the consequences. However, for the former, it was something beyond his understanding.

Lewis was a normal kid to his core. And like any normal kid, death was something he was truly afraid of, not just for him, but for anyone else. Even in a life-or-death situation in a game world, he couldn’t bear to end his friend’s life, and so, it was only natural that his spirit would crumble as soon as the same thing happened to him, but in real life.

A normal person facing this type of situation would usually respond in two ways. Either they would freak out hysterically and cause the most chaos that they could, or they would cower in fear, quietly sobbing away at their impending doom. Lewis was the latter.

When the machine gun pointed at him, the boy lost all the force in his legs and kneeled down in despair. His eyes and nose started flowing a river as he soon curled himself into a ball and hid away his face, hoping in the slightest chance that as long as he didn’t see the cold, merciless barrel aiming at him, none of it would be real.

Contrary to both the ninjas’ calm demeanor and Lewis’s cry in acceptance, Zain and Mike, the ones that were supposed to be safe from the whole ordeal, were the ones freaking out.

“We have to do something!” Mike shouted, frantically putting on his previously designed suit again.

“Do you think I don’t know that already?” Zain angrily replied, reactivating his armor as fast as humanly possible. “And can’t you deactivate this stupid program? You started it!”

“I’m trying!” Shouted Mike in return. “But once this damn thing starts, it can’t be stopped! That’s a feature of the ABC; to prevent bets from being nullified after the game, the fulfillment protocol will stay on!”

“Who the hell designed this stupid system?”

“Who else? Just destroy the guns; it’s our only hope at this point!”

As their short bickering went to a halt, the two immediately dashed to the four guns. Since all of them were in the same general area instead of being spread out in the four corners of the room, a good hit would be enough to break them all apart.

True to the notion, in just a quick dash, both Zain and Mike had already stood facing the four guns. And since they were just up against machinery, there was much less of a resistance that the former put on himself.

A powerful smash straight onto one of the guns and it shattered like glass, blasting nuts and bolts all about as sparks flew in the area. Next to Zain, Mike had already finished dismantling another gun thanks to his quick movements from the suit to cut off the contraption’s wiring. With the duo’s swift work, the guns were all broken just in time before they could fire a single bullet.

However, to think that they would be safe would be their biggest mistake.

The two didn’t even get the chance to be glad about their work. Almost instantly after the guns were destroyed, the mechanical voice once again sounded:

“Anomaly detected… Initiating backup protocol…”

Following the dreaded words were yet another set of guns, locked to their original targets and ready to fire at any moment. The only difference between them and the last ones was that the red lights aimed at the losers were brighter than before, signaling that Zain and Mike had even less time to disable these guns.

They didn’t have the time to discuss strategy anymore. Another dash, and another smash, stronger than before. The guns were once again destroyed, but another set came up right away.

“How many guns does this stupid room have hidden?” Zain shouted in anger as he punched away another spawning gun.

“Don’t ask me!” Mike retaliated with anger, snapping away the final wires in a gun he was handling.

Despite their best effort, whenever they would break a gun, another one would spawn in another direction. And to make matters worse, from their experience with the first batch, both Zain and Mike had realized that these guns shared the same timer, meaning that they weren’t delaying the eventual execution by even a second.

Once the lights on the rest were glowing brighter than ever, the two knew that it was too late. But letting their friend and opponents die was never their intention.

“Quick, gather around!” Zain ordered. Mike wasted no time standing as close to the one incapable of moving – Lewis – as possible, while Zain grabbed the rest by their collars and dragged them to place as well.

Only once they were forcefully moved did the three council members realize their surroundings:

“Hey! What are you doing?” Mirai, as usual, was the first the react. “Is this how you treat a girl?”

“Just shut up and stand where you’re told, will you?” An angered scolding came from Zain.

“Why are you saving us anyway? We lost, and now we have to pay the price!”

“Don’t oversell your life! I just don’t want to see another person dying in front of me!” Zain gritted his teeth and strengthened his grip. “Never again!”

After putting everyone close enough to each other, Zain dispelled his current armor back to its pendant mode, then raised it high in the air and shouted:

“Shield Mode!”

The nanobots quickly dispersed themselves, scattering into the air into a cloud of unknown shape. Then, from the ground up, they gathered around and formed a solid structure – a dome with just enough room to house six people in place.

Just as the last part of the dome was covered, blasting gunshots sounded akin to a barrage of lightning strikes. From within the dome, everyone could clearly see its shape being contorted and warped into multiple bumps, stretching as far as a few centimeters in size, as if the flimsy dome could burst at any moment. However, the change in shape was only temporary, and the makeshift shield quickly sprung back to its original position like a rubber ball after being stretched out.

“It should keep us safe… for now,” Zain let out a sigh after the third round of bullets from outside failed to put a dent in the nanobot dome.

“How long do you think it can hold?” Mike asked.

“In theory, forever… So, it depends on the guns themselves.”

A sudden answer from the back caused the two boys to shift their attention:

“Hate to break it to you two, but if Michael’s program is what I think it is, then the guns can fire virtually forever, too. The system should be using the prototype version of Infinite Energy, like the one your nanobot is running on.”

“Infinite Energy?” Zain squinted in doubt. It was the first time he had heard of the term, and when he turned to Mike for answers, the boy would shake his head as well.

“I’m not the most qualified to answer that,” Yusei answered with a shrug. “I just know that it’s a thing. If you want answers, then better wait for the creator to return… well, if you can get out of this place, that is.”

“What about you?” Asked Zain. “Surely you’re not telling me that you can’t outrun those?”

“I’m a ninja, not a superhero,” the young man in question chuckled. “We’re not faster than bullets, especially not those of a machine gun. And besides, we have our own code to follow, and I don’t plan to prolong my life…”

Yusei suddenly paused for a moment. Glancing towards the two girls beside him, the young man let out a sigh and continued:

“Well, it would be nice if I can keep these two alive, at least.”

“… Yu-nii! What are you…”

Not letting the black-haired girl complain, Yusei swiftly and accurately delivered a chop to the back of her neck through the tight space they were in. As soon as she fell to the ground, another similar strike hit Hanabi, causing the red-haired girl to suffer the same fate.

On the other side, Zain did the same thing with Lewis, though it was not truly needed as the boy had long had his mind off the situation.

“What, not doing the same with the shorty?” Yusei gestured over to Michael.

“At least he has that suit he made,” answered Zain with a shrug. “And we need someone in one piece to carry the rest of them back.”

“Good point.”

“H-Hey, what are you guys talking about?” The only one conscious left, Mike, widened his eyes in disbelief as he uttered.

Yusei was the first to answer with a question of his own. “I mean, it’s obvious from the looks of it, right?”

“We’re calling a truce,” Zain continued. “And try to figure out a way to get rid of all these guns. The system might run infinitely, but the guns themselves aren’t, right?”

“Well, in theory, yes,” nodded Mike, but his expression still hadn’t gotten rid of the worry left. “But who knows how many guns are there left! If you go outside…”

“That’s why I need the guy’s help,” gesturing to Yusei, Zain explained. “His speed ensures that we remove the guns as fast as we can. The only problem is that all the guns will aim at him as soon as he’s out, so I’ll have to cover for him as I go.”

“What he said,” Yusei continued. “But let me ask one last question.”


“Do you trust me?”

“I’d be an idiot if I said yes,” Zain let out a sigh as he shook his head. “But at this point, I don’t have much of a choice. Not dying is one thing, but I sure as hell don’t like being locked up in this dome for who knows how long.”

“I’ll take it as a yes, then,” Yusei let out a satisfied smile, bringing up his wrist close to his face to reveal a small digital watch. “Looks like it’s time. Open the dome.”

Zain took a deep breath. He had no stakes in the situation, but he was also the most tensed. He had promised himself, and he wasn’t about to let it go into smoke.

A small hole formed on the dome, far away from where the guns were fired.

The hole slowly but surely got bigger, morphing into a silhouette of a human.

“Remember to get behind me,” Zain reminded Yusei of their task. “And if it’s too much, then I’ll shut off the dome with you inside.”

“Don’t worry…” Yusei answered, but his face contorted to a sly grin at the final moment. “That would never happen.”

Miraculously enough, as soon as Zain stepped out of the dome, the guns all stopped as if being remote-controlled. As soon as the young man realized the sudden halt of the barrage, he immediately dispelled the dome, turned around, and shouted:

“Armed Mode!”

Contrary to his worries, however, there were no signs of a sneak attack from behind. Yusei was still standing there, motionless and smiling. Mike was in utter confusion about what had happened, while the rest were still knocked out cold.

As Zain questioned his own judgement, Mike’s face suddenly lit up as if seeing his savior, and a strange voice sounded from behind Zain:

“O…kay! That should be it for the day!”

It wasn’t hard for Zain to identify the source of the mysterious voice. Approaching from the nearby stairs was a young man who looked to be in his teenage years. If there was a word to describe him, then it would be “plain”.

Short brown hair. Brown eyes. Average build. No glasses. Had it not been for the white lab coat he was wearing and the tablet in his hand, the young man would be a perfect candidate for a background character – the type to appear just for the sake of it, to fill the main scene without any significance towards the main characters.

“Yo,” the man raised his hand to say hello. “I believe it’s our first official meeting, right, Kuroshi Zain?”

While the young man in question was still trying to figure out how to respond to the new individual, from behind him, Mike had already shouted in glee:

“Sensei! You’re here! ... Wait, why are you here?”

“Sensei?” Meanwhile, Zain was surprised in another way. “Then, you’re…”

“That’s right,” with a gentle smile on his face, the plain-looking young man lightly bowed. “I’m the genius behind all inventions of the world, the great S.T. ... But now, I’m just Aoba Academy’s Dimensional Science teacher, Sato Tanaka. Pleased to meet you.”

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