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A familiar glow caught Dart’s eye as he walked towards the counter. It was someone’s talisman, pulsating with rōōh, just lying on the floor. He picked it up and inspected how it looked. It appeared identical to his own, which he now wore about his neck. Who would drop something as important as this?

Swinging around, Dart spotted Kitaro sitting on one of the lounge chairs nearby, deeply engrossed in reading. Kitaro had changed out of his ornate embroidered kimono from the inauguration, and was dressed in a light silk version.

“Hey, I think this is yours,” Dart thrusted the talisman at Kitaro.

Without even bothering to glance up from his bamboo-bound annals, Kitaro had a ready answer prepared. “Thank you for the offer Miss, but I don’t want to try your tea. I’m sure it is special but it is not for me.”

“Huh?” Dart was utterly confused. “This isn’t about tea.”

Kitaro finally put down his book and looked Dart in the eye. “Oh, my apologies. A lady has been pestering me to try her drink and I thought she had returned.”

Dart’s ears perked up at the mention of the old lady and her tea scam. Aha, so she is also on board! I have to find her! His eyes narrowed with suspicion as he flashed back to how he had been robbed of his only material possessions just hours after landing on Five Knife Island.

“Yeah, you probably shouldn’t drink it,” Dart said ruefully.

“You’re Dart, right?” Kitaro studied him carefully, looking at the talisman still in Dart’s extended hand. “That was quite the entrance at the elimination.”

Dart was both embarrassed and flattered that Kitaro had remembered his name. He dangled the talisman and repeated that he thought that Kitaro might have dropped his talisman.

Kitaro wordlessly looked Dart up and down.

“Why are you staring? Is there something on my face?” Now Dart was feeling uncomfortable being scrutinised.

“I wonder…” Kitaro paused, finding the right words. “Why would you bother returning something as important as this,” Kitaro finally asked. “This is each person’s lynchpin. Wouldn’t you benefit greatly if I lost this?”

Dart was taken aback by Kitaro’s train of thought.

“Isn’t that what people do?” As soon as the words left his mouth, he felt his naivety showing.

“Not when they’re about to kill one another, I imagine. It’s fascinating to me that people are getting along knowing full well that only one of us will return home alive,” Kitaro said bluntly and emotionlessly.

Dart defended his decision. “But it’s not right or fair.” He paused and considered his actions. “I won’t go that low.”

Kitaro pondered the argument and insisted, “It’s not rational either, don’t you agree? And what is ‘right’? Do you know the philosopher Hegel? He once said that ‘The rational is real, and the real is rational.’ What do you make of it?”

Kitaro had taken the conversation into intellectual territory. Dart’s eyes glazed over at the bombastic words and concepts. He shrugged his shoulders and said genuinely, “Well, I don’t know. We are fighting because we have to, not because we’re enemies.”

Kitaro laughed at Dart’s innocent interpretation. “That is true,” he responded neutrally. “Anyway, that’s not my talisman. I have mine on me, why don’t you try him instead?” Kitaro pointed at Gunny, who was sprawled out flat on the ground, snoring. It seemed like he had earlier been seated on a bean bag, only to have rolled off in his slumber.

“Yeah, it’s probably his,” Dart said, slipping the lost-and-found talisman into his pocket. “Wait, do I sound like an old lady to you?” He questioned Kitaro.

A gunshot sounded from the restaurant next door. Dart whipped around in alarm, his eyes wide.

“Hey, isn’t that your friend?” Kitaro asked curiously. Felix had gotten himself into trouble again.

***

As far as politicians went, Minister Glover represented the most despicable of the lot. Short and round, he was well-fed with his coffers from Vinlan Corp’s enterprises. Although he was in charge of the development portfolio, he had gradually siphoned off funds to line his deep pockets and puff up his ego. Nevertheless, the foundations of Vinlan Corp’s big industry, telecommunications, transport and real estate — laid by his predecessors — were strong and there had never been any reason to remove him from his long-held post. This all led to his capricious, condescending attitude towards the rest of the totem pole in capitalist society.

 

“I want to speak to the manager!” Minister Glover was hopping mad with his meal at The Challenger’s so-called premier rooftop dining destination. He brusquely raised his voice at the waitress, berating her. The poor girl ducked her head and ran to fetch her boss without a second word.

 

The front-of-house, dressed in a tuxedo, was a polite professional from Celtia. Hurrying over, he bowed deeply in servitude and humbly enquired if he could assist the VIP at the special waterfront view table.

 

“I ordered a lobster frittata! A frittata worth eating is made with eggs and cheese. Do you see a problem here?” Minister Glover screeched. This Celtian manager knew who he was, and yet didn’t abide by his strict dietary restrictions. He would make him pay for making him eat vegetables!

 

The manager leaned over the dish and squinted. There were no stray hairs or bugs in the food… He was utterly bewildered at this man’s strange request.

 

“It has tomatoes in it!” Minister Glover sputtered, his face turning beet red. “Are you that uneducated?!”

 

“My apologies sir, I’ll have them removed,” the manager seemed to recover. He straightened his back and proceeded to remove the plate with his left hand.

 

“Removed?! REMOVED?!” Minister Glover’s pudgy frame shook the entire dining table as he quaked in anger. “Don’t you know who I am?! I am the Minister of the country your sorry ass is going to.”

 

“Apologies again sir, I will replace your dish, compliments of the house,” the manager tried again, slightly shaken by his difficult customer. He bowed deeply again.

 

“Oh you will pay for this mistake all right!” Minister Glover’s words dripped with malice. Impulsively, he grabbed his glass of red wine and upturned it all over the poor manager’s head. Aghast but still composed, the manager straightened his back once again. As the red liquid trickled down the manager’s temples, it looked as if he had been shot. He seethed with disdain, but knew that this was not just a simple VIP customer. The ties between Vinlan Corp and Celtia were… complicated. And this was as much a power play on politics as it was racism.

 

Wordlessly, the manager turned and began to leave with the plate.

 

“Get back here!” Minister Glover ordered him. “Look what you made me do! I have wine stains on my shoes. These are worth more than this restaurant. And I will make sure your restaurant pays for a new pair. Get down on your knees.”

 

“Pardon?” The manager was perplexed.

 

“Lick it off. Unless you want your restaurant and all of your employees to end up in jail once you land in Vinlan, you do as I say,” Minister Glover said imperiously. “Lick. it. Off.” Everyone was watching.

 

Whispers buzzed between the group of patrons inside the restaurant and the gaggle of interested parties who had gathered to watch from the nearby cafe.

 

It was an outrageous threat. Would he seriously do it? This Celtian service member, threatened by a political douchebag of their former colony, with so much at stake. Utterly humiliated, the manager slowly began to get on the floor. The crease in his firmly-pressed tuxedo pants looked as limp as his body did. Grimacing with closed eyes, he moved his head down to Minister Glover’s shiny boots, sticking his tongue out. He wished that he could have done this in an out-of-body experience.

 

All of a sudden, Minister Glover’s chair tipped back violently. “That’s enough.”

 

Caught in a vulnerable position, his face met with Felix’s upside-down stare. Felix breathed uncomfortably close on him.

 

“EXCUSE ME?!” Minister Glover sputtered in disbelief. Felix let the chair fall back onto all four of its legs.

 

Minister Glover staggered out of his seat and faced Felix. The manager took his chance to scurry away in fright.

 

“I’ve seen you before!” He shouted, realisation dawning.

 

“I’m sure you have, so I don’t need to explain to you why walking out of here is a good idea,” Felix squared his shoulders confidently. Even standing upright, Minister Glover barely came up to Felix’s chest height. Unperturbed, the smaller man drew a gun and aimed it at Felix.

 

The crowd gasped and people started to back up. A Minister attacking a Tournament fighter!

 

In one fell swoop, Minister Glover pressed the trigger. Felix put out his right hand to stop him as a reflex. It was an instinctive reaction.

 

But there was no hit, no blood.

 

The bullet clattered to the ground.

 

What was that?! The crowd murmured with conjectures and hearsay. Minister Glover’s jaw dropped as he stared at the spent bullet.

 

Felix touched his shoulder. The tattoo that OLO had given him was glowing brightly. His hand had turned white where the bullet had bounced right off. As he flexed his right hand, it shimmered with rooh and felt hard as a shell, and gradually regained normality.

 

He grinned.

 

“Do you want to try that again?” He joked. “Looks like that didn’t go as expected.”

 

Minister Glover pocketed his gun and adjusted his necktie. “I’m done with my food.”

 

“You forgot to pay,” Felix provoked further cheekily.

 

Minister Glover’s eyes were filled with spite. The manager had offered his food on the house, but his dignity was at stake. He opened his wallet and began to count bills for the amount. His wine bottle was also half-full, perhaps he need not pay the full amount…

 

Felix grunted.

 

“Fine!” Minister Glover slammed the contents of his wallet onto the table. It was a huge wad of cash. He slinked away as the crowd dispersed.

 

Felix looked back at his hand. It had regained its full flexibility and was completely back to normal. The flesh was supple and tender. His power had activated! He smiled.

 

“So now you’re picking on the weak too?” a voice sneered from behind him. It was Shae. “You’re the asshole from the inauguration!”

 

Felix suddenly felt very, very small. He tried to walk past Shae as if she had not spoken.

Having come late to the party, Shae had only seen Felix bullying a fat older man, and assumed that he had instigated the fight. Felix opened his mouth, ready to address the mistaken identity of the accused.

 

“It’s not what it looks like, and I’ve already apologised to you lady…” Felix started to say.

 

Shae was not having any of it. She was having a bad day, and Felix was her target.

 

She took a dagger out of her pocket and jabbed it in Felix’s direction. She was already in a battle stance; her eyes and jaws were set hard.

“You will fight me now. I will put you in your place,” Shae said, challenging Felix.

“Whoa whoa whoa…” Felix put up both of his hands in mock surrender, waving his palms furiously. “Hold on!”

It was all just a big misunderstanding.

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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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