Prologue

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"The absorption of ink by blotting paper involves?"

Buzz.

Shoot, team blue pressed the buzzer, for the 15th time. Elikai at this point had given up on the glorious and prestigious dream of winning the inter-state quiz competition.

His eyes fell on the boy, the only one who was answering and blurred the puppets he had as teammates. The piercing green eyes met his ombre ones, smirking in pity and ridicule.

Elikai couldn't help but roll his eyes. He eats rice with chopsticks every other week, he should be fast on his fingers, not Kal. This was absurd and maddening.

"Yes, team blue?" The quizmaster asked, rather bored by the fact that she asked questions to only one kid, most of the other teams were sleeping at this point.

"Capillary action phenomenon. It helps–"

"That's it, team blue. Thank you very much. Correct answer." The quizmaster waved her hand to silence the boy who knew more than everyone's knowledge combined, inside and outside the auditorium.

Except for Elikai. He wasn't just fast enough.

Elikai had seen Kal eyeing for the prize money, like a lover, like a mother whose child has been taken away from her. Elikai couldn't bother less about the money, it was his prestige that was at stake.

He had to be faster than Kal.

Kal could have the prize and the money at this point. Elikai just wanted to instil the fear in him, the fear that he might be too close to winning yet too far away. Like a cricketer who is playing at 99 not out, and he wanted to be Jofra Archer hurting Kal before he could score a hundred.

He didn't want Kal to dwell on the assumption that all the participants are weeds meant to be crushed under his feet. Kal has to pull real hard to uproot Elikai.

He won't be as easy as he looks to be.

The digital screen behind the quizmaster flashed a pixelated photograph. The pixels had burst due to the harsh zoom in, but Elikai didn't have a problem to look at it.

It was Kal and other myopics who squinted their eyes out.

This was his chance, Elikai had gained the first chance to press the buzzer before Kal and answer it correctly. He had to steal the opportunity and brand it as his. He couldn't wait for the quizmaster to take forever to tell the question.

Buzz.

The quizmaster lowered her gaze at Elikai, so did everyone else in the auditorium. The audacity to press the buzzer even before listening to the question could only match with Kal. Kal did it due to his gifted abilities.

That makes Elikai the mad one.

"Team red has pressed the buzzer even before I read the question? Impressive." She crossed her arms behind her back, hiding the cue cards she held.

She sauntered her way to the table red, trying to read the intentions behind such a hasty decision. His teammates had no say or control over the catastrophe, Elikai had to be held accountable.

He tried hard to look into the eyes of the quizmaster, but the subtle feeling that Kal was snorting and scoffing behind the host lined his forehead with beads of perspiration. He wiped it off with the thing that was closest to him, a piece of paper, and bought the amusement of the Quizmaster.

"Tell me the answer, team red."

Elikai mustered the courage to break the eye contact and stare at the screen whose content quality is worse than lele pons' on YouTube. The picture was a painting of a building, adorned with flowers. It wasn't the best in the opinion of Elikai, but it wasn't bad either.

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