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Shae was restless. Her mind would not stop working overtime. The little window looked out upon the vast distance of the ocean, but from her perch on the single bed, all she could see was the sun. The small cabin, musty with cigarette smoke, lit up with the false hope of sunshine rays.

It was just like her prison cell in Al Tehar, where she had been trapped for her crimes against the monarchy. Too familiar.

I hate this world we live in.

I hate how it breaks people. I hate how it takes everything. It’s unfair. The worst part is that everyone seems to have accepted the flaws of war and destruction. And now this tournament. It makes me sick. Not the world, but the people that do absolutely nothing to change it.

Her face was wet and her eyes red. She hadn’t realised that hot, angry tears were flowing down her face.

Why am I thinking about this now?

She slapped herself hard and fiercely wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

I need some fresh air.

She stubbed out her cigarette and tossed it out the window.

***

Shae flipped up her hood as she made her way to the top deck of The Challenger. She liked the anonymity of baggy sweatshirts that hid her frame and allowed her to slink around unnoticed. For protection, she always had her dagger with her in her pocket. The cafe, Moonbucks, seemed like a good spot for some zen in nature. Maybe some tea will clear my mind, she thought.

Gunny was sprawled out on one of the woven rattan lazy boy recliners. Drunk and vaguely incoherent as always.

“Cheers mate! Would you like to join me for a drink? I have enough for two,” Gunny called out to Shae.

Well, this isn’t any better. Shae thought to herself, somewhat amused. “It takes your mind off all your troubles!” Gunny coaxed.

Shae ignored Gunny and continued walking.

He called after her. “You know, I can see that you’re in pain.”

Shae stopped walking and whipped around, annoyed at his insinuation of her weakness. “What?”

“Nothing really… but I’m good at reading people. Your face tells me about the horrors it’s been through,” Gunny said, “I guess that’s probperbly the reassorns *hic* why…” he trailed off mid-sentence, falling asleep.

With a thump, he slumped off the recliner, rolling onto the floor with his face planted on the ground. It looked terribly uncomfortable, but Gunny was completely unconscious and unaware.

What was that? Shae was bewildered and bemused.

Even as she moved away from the cafe, she couldn’t shake the fact that Gunny had sensed that something was going on with her. Further up ahead, there was a scuffle and some commotion attracting a small crowd.

***

People had gathered around in the restaurant to watch the scene revolving around Vinlan Corp’s Minister Glover. Shae had arrived on the scene just as a familiar figure, Felix, had forced himself into the altercation. Felix was the rude show-off who had caused a human pile-up at the inauguration with the falling bicycle fiasco.

She took her dagger out. Blood was running hot in her veins as she knew what she was about to do.

“You will fight me now. I will put you in your place,” she snarled. She had picked Felix to fight her emotions out.

“I don’t want to fight you!” Felix was quickly backing away from her. “Besides, I don’t have a weapon,” he added.

The crowd that had gathered was still eager to see some action, after hopes for a fight were diminished by Minister Glover’s quick retreat after a single bullet. Someone tossed Felix a wooden stick. “Here you go, mate!!” the helpful by-stander encouraged.

Felix was taken aback. “Fuckkkk!”

He fiddled with the wooden stick, then squared his shoulders. “Fine! You asked for it. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

“Fight! Fight! Fight!” The crowd chanted.

Shae made the first lunge. Felix was in control, reacting to her provocations calmly. He was holding the wooden stick in front of him with one hand, and his other hand was behind his back. As if to show that he wasn’t trying to attack Shae.

How does he keep getting himself into these situations? Dart shook his head at the lost cause that was his friend.

Shae upped the ante a notch. She drove the sheath hard into his ribcage. Felix dodged in the nick of time, and pushed her off-balance. Is he taunting me? Shae felt the mood of the spectators sway towards supporting Felix, and she grew even angrier. She charged at Felix with the sheath, and Felix blocked with as much pressure as he could. With a 180-degree swing, he pushed her to the ground into a position of weakness, until he was basically on top of her. He was heavier and stronger than her in one-to-one combat. But Shae’s weakness was of the hour.

“Have you had enough?” Felix pushed down with his wooden stick. Even now, kneeling under him, Shae was still fighting, still pushing back against his grip. It was only in the light that Felix had a good look at Shae’s face for the first time. She had delicate facial features and an exotic cheekbone structure, but her forehead was knitted with worry. He spotted the tell-tale redness in her flushed cheeks and the brimming of surface tension in her eyes.

Shae was holding back tears.

Was she crying? She looks so sad, Felix thought.

Without a second warning, Shae kneed Felix in his nuts.

“AGAINNN?!” Felix yelled, buckling in pain and dropping his wooden stick. Shae got up and repeatedly hit Felix’s back with the sheath over and over while Felix begged for mercy.

Felix cursed under his breath. If only his power could have activated again.

Dart chuckled at his friend’s ability to instigate fights and comically lose. I should help him… he thought. Nah, he's doing fine.

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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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