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Chapter 10: What if

'What is this portal all about, I wonder,' Leo thought, turning his eyes away from the scorched remains of the green-turned-black fiends at the back of the swarm he just swatted. 

Even while fighting, Leo remained aware of his surroundings enough to notice if the portal spat anyone else. That, in turn, implied the actor behind this fiery attack. 

That's why, rather than turning his eyes to see who was responsible, Leo looked deeper into the plain instead, searching for anything that could serve as a clue. 

'No new pop-ups?' Leo thought, paying his broken system some attention again, only to find just the very same notifications he already dismissed. 

"Huh? It didn't count?!" A voice from behind momentarily distracted Leo away from this important question. 

"I could swear I've hit them!" 

Paying no mind to the inherent danger of this place, the two youths were all shocked… for all the wrong reasons. 

Their eyes jumped from the burning corpses of the fiends' swarm and some unspecified point in space, a clear indication there indeed was some sort of purpose for this place and them being here. 

'Don't tell me they get it just like that…' 

Leo's soul tensed up as mental agony and overwhelming jealousy exploded in his heart. 

No matter what portal, condensed space, or subdimension he entered in the past, in all of them, he first had to struggle to discover their secrets just to learn what he was actually supposed to do or achieve there. 

That's why, seeing how those two guys got it all served on a silver platter… 

'I really don't know how to think about it.'

Leo sighed before turning his eyes back to the plain. 

His gripe was more with the way they obtained the necessary information, not its context itself. 

On an open plain like this with nothing but monsters in sight, this portal's quest had to be somehow related to them. Be it the headcount of one's slaughter, the number of harvested cores, saving a damsel in distress hidden in the middle of their camp… 

Whatever it was, the genocide of the local fiend population was likely to be a necessary step, all the more when taking the shouts of those two boys into account. 

'Still, if they never have to work for the quest…' Leo's thoughts suddenly darkened as several flashpoints of data slowly started to weave themselves into a net. 'Wouldn't that make it extremely easy to manipulate everyone?'

This sudden, pressing thought was so scary, Leo couldn't help but freeze on the spot. 

'And if everyone in the world got this system…'

Leo couldn't even count down the times when things turned out to greatly vary from everyone's expectations. And it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine how this system could either passively or, what was even more terrifying, intentionally follow the path of the least resistance…

'I'm really starting to get worried now.'

This was all but a distant possibility. This guess could have absolutely nothing to do with the reality of this quite possibly benevolent system. Maybe it was so helpful as to simplify everyone's job to just raise their statistics to prepare for further, future challenges?

'I've gotta stop,' Leo took a deep breath before scanning his surroundings again. 'Wasting my time on random theories crafted to picture the worst scenario possible…' 

The young man looked down and spat on the ground. 

'It will get me nowhere. For now, though,' Leo thought, turning his eyes and finally sparing a proper look at the two youths. 

"How many do you have left?" 

Banking on what he heard so far, Leo blindly followed his assumptions about what they saw thanks to their properly working systems. 

"For some reason, it didn't count any!" The more outspoken of the two answered without a second of thought while rubbing his hands against the sides of his head in frustration. "How about you?" he asked, seeking anything to distract himself from the supposed bug of the counter. 

"I think…" Leo stole a glance over to the back, where the fiends' corpses littered the ground. He then raised his hand and rubbed his cheek with his forefinger while lowering his eyes in embarrassment. "I think I kind of broke my system with this attack…" 

The two youths looked over to the field of green blood. 

"Oh right, that was a nice one," the other youth praised, his eyes slightly widening while his voice revealed just how much of an impression Leo's attack left on him. 

"Thanks, but thanks to this, I don't even know how many are we supposed to kill," Leo shook his head in easily-acted embarrassment. "And we don't know if our counts are the same too…" 

"It's a hundred for me."

"A hundred for me too," the two of them answered. 

"Oh right, now that I think about it, I have yet to introduce myself," Leo continued with the same, casual smile while he took a step towards the two boys before reaching out with his hand. "I'm Leo, Mark and Rob's older brother. And you are…?" 

"I'm ///Sam\\\ and this is ///Vinnie\\\," the first of the two spoke out, only for Leo's brain to automatically filter out the names of those corpses-to-be. 

"Thanks for hanging out with my brothers while I was away," Leo continued with the same, casual smile as he took another step and shook their hands, standing down a mere two steps away. "Oh, and I wonder if those smaller ones do count too," he then added, turning his head towards the narrow line filled with brutalized, green corpses. 

The moment all three of them looked over, they could finally notice some movement. 

Leo's attack, as powerful as it could be, was focused down to a narrow line. Even with the spread of the shockwave of his attack, he never hoped to slaughter all of them. 

Just like it happened before, though, with their strongest all dead, the adolescent goblins opted to flee as soon as they could free themselves from underneath the mounds of the dead bodies. 

"It's a real pity this sy…circuit is so buggy, right?" The first of the two youths mentioned, nearly biting his tongue when he almost called the system by what it really was, only to follow up with a suspicious glance aimed at Leo's face. 

Taking notice, Leo only smiled and shook his head a bit before patting the two on their arms. 

"But I also saw you two laugh when Mark was trying to bully Rob," Leo continued with the same casual smile right as he crossed one of the two steps that still separated him from the two brats. "And with me being their older brother," Leo leaned his head over to the side right as the two tensed. "Do you really think I would stand to see it go unpunished?"

Leo's eyes moved over the two kids' shoulders, right where a swarm of yellow-caps was sneaking up on the three of them. And then, with his hands already on their shoulders, he pushed them right into the open arms of the silently charging, yellow-capped fiends.

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