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The panther made killer strikes with teeth gnashing and claws exposed at Dart’s head and upper torso. Dart instinctively lifted his knife to protect himself.

The panther’s teeth caught onto the blade of the knife and held firm. Dart tried to tug his weapon back, and the panther’s grip got tighter. As the panther shook its head, the blade shattered.

Dart was dumbfounded. His weapon was broken! His eyes grew wide as he contemplated his fate, flashing back to the elimination round. Back then, Cerberus stared right into his soul, about to seize his life. Now, the panther was about to do the same.

Krystal grimaced as she saw the panther attack, and a red glow emanating from where Dart had been hiding. She was still trying to reach Dart when the entire mass of meat and carcass moved from under her feet. How could Dart have survived that hit?

The entire mass shifted as Dart emerged. From the toppled pile emerged Dart—except that he was transformed.

His power had activated.

His teeth turned black and transformed into fangs. His nails sharpened into black claws. Around his hands were a bright red glow as the energy of rōōh pulsed through them. Clutched between his fingers was the tail of the panther—sliced clean off of the rest of the panther’s armoured body by Dart’s razor-sharp claws.

The panther was even more incensed, now that its tail had been chopped off. Wounded, the panther sprang out of reach as Dart heaved the entire mass and began to throw hunks of meat at the panther.

The new and improved Dart was on the offensive. He was strong. And he seemed to be more chaotic than usual. He leapt towards the panther, and raked his nails into the animal’s back, clinking with the bones of the exoskeleton as he scratched.

Disoriented after falling from the pile, Krystal looked around to find a sustainable solution. She pressed the button for the dumbwaiter. The door opened automatically.

“Bring it here!” she yelled.

Dart’s nails were dug deep into the panther’s back, cutting into its flesh. The panther recklessly thrashed from side to side, hoping to throw off Dart. As the panther bucked furiously towards the dumbwaiter, Dart held on via his nails. Seizing this opportunity, Dart jumped off the panther’s back. He planted his feet firmly on the ground and used his weight as a pivot to toss the panther’s momentum directly into the open doors of the elevator. With a clang, Dart forced the gate shut.

“Great, now it’s trapped,” Dart wiped the sweat from his brow, his hands bloodier than before. His eyes had returned to their normal hue, and the slightly feral expression on his face was replaced.

The dumbwaiter began to rumble upwards.

Someone in the kitchen upstairs had summoned it.

“Wait a minute, don’t the doors open automatically?” Krystal said slowly, realisation dawning.

Dart’s eyes grew large.

“We need to stop it before it harms others upstairs!” Dart cried. “You go check on your brother. I’ll handle this.”

Krystal nodded. Dart knew her priorities. “I’ll come as soon as I can.”

***

“Aye boys tonight we are serving a medium-rare steak cut with potatoes and bacon ham-wrapped asparagus skewers. Meat’s on its way up. Mise en place and let’s get this show on the road!” the head chef clapped his hands as his kitchen staff briskly got to work at their stations. There would be a huge pound of meat that needed to be marinated and prepped for the hot grill for dinner service.

Except what showed up at the kitchen dumbwaiter when the door opened automatically was a huge pound of meat... that was very, very much still alive.

After having taken a short elevator ride to the top of the ship, the panther had come to terms with the fact that it no longer had its tail. When it came face to face with a crew of burly looking men wearing white top hats and wielding knives, it went into the offensive. Within seconds, there was blood splattered all over the once-spotless kitchen countertops.

There would be no steak served for dinner tonight.

***

“So that’s the story of how I got this tattoo for the tournament,” Felix told the Xin girl sitting by the pool. He flexed his biceps to show off a little, and kissed the tattoo on his shoulder.

The girl’s expression contorted into horror. She had seemed mildly interested just seconds ago, but now she was terrified. Without a second word, she turned and fled.

“Hey, wait! Was it something I said?” Felix was confused.

Felix turned around. The entire open area of the upper deck had gone topsy turvy. People were overturning beach chairs as they ran for cover; drinks flew and people screamed. Among the chaos was a red panther with a bony exoskeleton, dripping in blood and snarling at anyone in its path.

Flabbergasted, Felix shook his head in disbelief. “Lady spiders, floating squirrels and now bloody cats! What did I get myself into?!”

He picked up the closed giant umbrella that had once shaded the beach chairs by the pool. As the panther lunged at him, he opened the umbrella forcefully, tossing the panther backwards.

Dart followed the trail of blood and direction of the screams up the stairs to the upper deck. His heart was pounding in the back of his throat, as fury and anger rose within. Deep inside, he blamed himself for allowing the panther to get away. It had entered the restaurant kitchen and made it out into the pool area, leaving a trail of destruction as it went.

He spotted his friend and let out a warning. Felix and the panther were caught in a face-off, and Felix was wielding an interesting choice of weapon—a giant umbrella shade.

“Felix! Be careful!”

Felix yelled back, “What did you do?!”

“Why do you think this is my fault?” Dart choked back, half in disbelief.

It was the two of them, versus the panther. It looked comical: two behind an umbrella shield, and a big armoured feline hissing at them.

“How do we kill it?!” Felix asked as they danced around the panther, trying to avoid its sharp claws. “And what is that terrible stench?!”

“Go for the panther’s neck. It’s weak,” Dart suggested. He sniffed his own armpit. His entire body had been slathered in the juice of raw meat. “It’s a long story.”

“You know what else is weak?” Felix said mischievously as an idea came to him.

The panther pounced towards Felix. In a fell swoop, Felix slammed the umbrella shut and thrust it forward like a javelin. The pointed tip of the umbrella passed cleanly through the panther’s exposed eye socket armour, piercing its eye.

“The eyes,” Felix said proudly. “Go for the eyes. Always.”

Kitaro looked over at Felix and Dart. He had been sitting on one of the remaining upright beach chairs completely unperturbed by the commotion around him. In his hands were his choice of poolside reading—his bamboo annals. He slid his shades down his nose an inch, and nodded. That, he agreed.

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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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