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Five Knives Island Stadium was the place to be. The noise coming from the excited crowds was deafening. Colourful fireworks spewed from the main stage as Ashley and Ash continued to drum up the hype. “Whew, that was hot!” Ashley exclaimed as she skittered away from the falling sparks.

The island locals working at the food stands were relieved that the big crowds that had come for the World Solympic Games had returned to fulfill their livelihoods, which were primarily in tourism. It had been a difficult five years as the world was thrown into turmoil and the Solympic Games had been cancelled in anticipation of God’s Tournament. There had been fear that it would not actually take place, and rumours that the organisers were shady characters who wanted a big show. Who was funding it all anyway?

Ashley and Ash were on a roll. “We have with us here tonight the best and the brightest fighters from all four corners of the globe. Eighty fighters have trained for the past five years and been nominated by their governments. Who do you think will win? Will your country win? Let’s have a drumroll as we welcome the fighters from the first country, Vinlan Corp!”

Ashlye pointed to the side of the stage as the Vinlan Corp supporters went wild. The fighters began making their way onto the main stage and took their place behind their national flag. The group had a confident but motley appearance about them. One section of the Vinlan Corp audience full of teenage boys holding placards went wild cheering for Maya Keene, a pop music icon who had entered the tournament as a fighter.

“Next up, we have Al Tehar!”

Another group began to approach the stage.

“AHHHHHHHHHH!” An extended scream pierced through the sky.

In unison, the crowd distractedly looked up at the sky. What was that unidentified flying object? A white cloth was flapping about in the wind. It looked more like flyaway laundry than the makeshift parachute it was intended to be.

All cameras panned to the rapidly falling bicycle in the air. The main projector screen zoomed in on two terrified passengers.

“SORRRRRRYYYYYYYY!” Dart screamed.

“We’re going to crash!” Gunny yanked at the white bedsheet fruitlessly. It was no use. The parachute had no steering power.

Based on its trajectory, this flying projectile was headed straight for the main stage—with half of the tournament’s fighters.

Mayhem ensued as fighters started scattering in different directions and scrambling for cover. Vinlan Corp fighter Felix added to the drama by creating more chaos. Felix was a bulky character with massive muscular arms, a flashy smile, poofy pompadour hair and a tendency to overreact. “That’s definitely not going to hit me!” he shouted as he scrambled for cover by hurtling himself off to one side and directly into the Al Tehar group.

Meanwhile, the bicycle seemed to have found a target: Ash. Frozen like a deer in headlights, Ash didn’t look so tough now in his goth biker get-up.

Oh no oh no oh no. He lifted his head just in time to see the front wheel of the bicycle make contact with the tip of his slick, gelled mohawk. Everything seemed to move in slow motion.

CRASH!

The audience gasped in unison. The entangled mess of bicycle, Ash, Dart and Gunny was a sight to behold.

Ash’s mohawk was bent twisted under the front bicycle wheel. His front tooth was missing and blood was streaming from his broken nose. Dart’s foot was dangling inches from Ash’s cheek.

Gunny’s bag had scattered its contents and shattered glass from drink bottles added to the mess. For a drunkard, Gunny himself had managed a much more graceful landing. He had executed a well-timed jump off the bike and even used a forward roll to soften the landing. The hallmark of a trained fighter.

The other fighters crowded around Ash and Dart with concerned looks.

While most of the other fighters had made space for the crash position, Felix had caused a mess by being himself. He had dived into the Al Tehar group with such force that he collided straight into a girl with cropped hair named Shae. Felix not only knocked her off her feet but collapsed right on top of her.

“Get off of me!” Shae shoved Felix off and stood up, clearly annoyed.

“It’s just a happy coincidence, baby,” Felix tried to play it smooth. He slicked his somewhat-flattened pompadour hair back and trying to strike a pose while still sprawled on the ground. Rolling her eyes, Shae firmly delivered a swift kick to his nuts. “I won't repeat myself.” Through tears, Felix clutched his family jewels in pain and could only manage to choke out an apology.

***

Dart gingerly picked himself off of the wreckage and brushed the dust off his clothes. Surprisingly, he had survived unscathed despite the impact with Ash’s head. Perhaps the sad excuse of a parachute and a human cushion in the shape of Ash’s face had saved their lives after all.

“I like your style kid, you sure know how to make an entrance,” Felix came up behind Dart and clapped him on the shoulder jokingly.

“It was an accident...I swear...” Dart trailed off as guilt started to consume him. Standing next to Dart, Gunny had pulled out the last remaining intact bottle of whisky from his man-purse. “I’m not dying sober,” he declared as he swigged heavily.

“Don’t dwell on it, kid. At least nobody has serious injuries,” Felix assured Dart and offered his hand, “I’m Felix.”

“Hey, Are you hurt?” Dart pulled the bicycle off Ash. Ash was completely out of it. His mohawk had comically fallen over in a flop, and his already-bandaged nose was bloody. Not really a new battle scar then, Dart thought to himself. Ashley leaned over Ash, checking for a pulse. “I’m sorry Mommy, I won’t wet the bed again,” a concussed Ash murmured deliriously to no one in particular.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine… Hopefully,” Felix said, doubling down on his previous statement.

Ashley stood up and pushed them both aside for stealing her thunder on her stage. She was in presenter mode again. “Folks, we need to take a short break as your second-favourite emcee needs medical assistance. We will be back in a minute.”

***

“You both are in SO much trouble! These stunts could’ve killed me!” Ashley hissed, one hand over her wireless microphone, as she waved at security to grab the hooligans. Medical attention for Ash, who was still lying disoriented on the ground and mumbling incoherently, had been forgotten.

“We’re really sorry, but I don’t think it would be a good idea to kick us out,” Gunny said.

Ashley narrowed her eyes, “And why is that?”

“I’m participating in God’s Tournament,” Gunny explained, “And I think the kid is too.” Dart nodded eagerly. “Please don’t disqualify us!” Dart pleaded innocently.

Ashley sighed. “Names and country you are representing?”

“Dart from Celtia.” “Gunny from Vinlan Corp.”

“Both of you, go and stand with your country’s fighters. If you cause any more trouble, you’re out,” Ashley roughly handed over them both security.

***

Dart couldn’t believe his luck. He had made it to the tournament! He had survived an unglamorous but show-stopping entrance! And here he was, as he made his way to the Celtia fighters’ corner of the stage, looking at one of the most beautiful women he had ever laid eyes on. She had long blonde hair that reached her hips, unreal proportions and carried herself with grace and poise. Who is this goddess? He had to find out.

“Hi… I’m Dart,” he said nervously but loudly. “You’re standing here so I think you’re my competition.” He blushed and sheepishly tried to keep his gaze above her shoulders.

Krystal looked him up and down quizzically. “How?”

“Huh?”

“How did you fall riding a bicycle?” Krystal was deadpan serious. Her voice was melodious and light, even though her tone was not kind.

“It’s kind of a long story… and not a good one. Can I tell you about it after… after the inauguration. Maybe we can walk together.” Dart was still too shy to look into Krystal’s big hazel eyes. He was really intimidated.

Krystal rebuffed Dart’s advances and turned away. “Creep.”

Dart felt his heart sinking. “Hey, I didn’t mean it like tha…”

“Don’t talk to him sweetie. He looks like a pervert,” the elderly fighter standing next to Krystal told her. His name was Yi Sun, and he could easily have been the oldest among all the fighters present. Despite his advanced age, he had a powerful aura

“Yes Grandpa, I see that,” Krystal said. Dart looked even more crestfallen. As far as first impressions went, this one had gone completely awry. “Grandpa? Huh?” Dart was confused as ever.

Krystal and her grandfather scoot away from Dart quickly without providing an answer. From behind Dart, Giglamesh had overheard everything. Looks-wise, he had everything going for him: he was tall, handsome, had a great build and sported a man bun. He smirked and commented, “Oh boy you have so much to learn…”

Left alone in his embarrassment, Dart sunk his knees into the ground. Nothing had gone right since he arrived on this island. Whatever confidence he had mustered had slipped away, and his dignity along with it. The other fighters looked on with a mix of sympathy and disdain.

“Why is this happening to me?!” Dart wailed pitifully as he rocked back and forth with his head buried in his knees. All of the emotions and adrenaline had culminated up to this point of ultimate defeat—rejection by his so-called goddess.

“That’s what I’ve been asking since I got here, mate,” a friendly voice punctured Dart’s pity party. It was Ginther, a fellow Celtian fighter. Despite only being 27 years old, Ginther was unfortunately already balding—which did nothing for his extremely round face. Nevertheless, he was an affable character who always seemed slightly confused but was generally harmless as a fly. Dart hadn’t seen him since the Celtia’s selection process. “Hey Ginther,” he managed to croak out. “Haven’t quit yet, I see,” he smiled ruefully. It was pleasant to have a familiar friendly face in this nightmare of an inauguration. “Well, I tried but they didn’t listen to me,” Ginther shrugged.

***

The time-out for Ash’s recovery lapsed, and he was carted off to the medical bay to treat his broken nose and dental fractures. Ashley took over running of the show independently. While she was secretly happy that she didn’t need to share the spotlight anymore with Ash out of the picture for now, she pouted and joked that “They should pay me double for doing both emcees’ roles!”

The rest of the fighters from Celtia and Xin were brought onstage with no further mishaps and introduced to the crowd. Perhaps Dart had imagined it, but he could have sworn that there may have been a slightly louder cheer for Celtia. After the long and difficult journey to get to the tournament, Dart let the feeling of triumph wash over him. He had worked hard and anticipated this day for five years, and now he was finally here. Perhaps he could even be an audience fan favourite after making his mark known, quite literally, on Ash’s face.

“Our chairman Suez will now explain the rules of the tournament. Let’s welcome him to the podium,” Ashley said.

Suez takes the microphone and a hushed silence falls over the stadium. His voice was clear and booming as he spoke directly to the fighters.

“All of you are gathered here with one goal in mind. To make you and your country’s future better. For that, you have my respect. I will make this simple.

Thirty-two of you will qualify for God’s Tournament.

There will be five rounds. One round per year, until we have a winner. The rules are as follows. First, you will each obtain a power at random from OLO.”

Whispers began among the fighters. “Did he say powers? Like superhero powers?” “Damn that’s cool.” “What’s OLO?”

“Second, you will advance to the next round only after you kill your opponent in a one-on-one match.”

“When you win a round, you will obtain one power from your eliminated opponent.”

Ginther cleared his throat cautiously. “Um, can I still quit?”

Suez continued, “You cannot kill each other outside of tournament rounds. You will need to master strategy, agility and hone your skills to utilise these powers. Take the year to train and be familiar with your acquired powers. I would advise not to disclose your powers to other fighters. Any and all weapons are allowed. Above that, remember that you are still human.”

“Today is the elimination round where we will select the top 32 fighters who will participate in the tournament. I wish you all the best of luck. You will all need that and more.” Suez flicked his wrist and vanished.

There was a collective gasp around the stadium as the rules sank in. They realised the extent of bloodshed that they were about to witness, followed by a thunderous cheering. This was what they had signed up to watch!

“All right, there you have it! Let’s begin the inauguration!” Ashley grinned.

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About the author

PlayingGamesOfDespair

Bio: YA fantasy book series created by Kabir Singh & Judy Goh
Sypnosis: Tournament of the century, ordained by God. Who will prevail?

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