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Gabriella’s apartment was a real home, not like the mansion Giglamesh’s parents had adorned with keepsakes for the sake of calling it a family home. It was a small place that Gabriella had rented since she moved to the city but she had transformed it into a cosy nook. To Gilgamesh, this place—and Gabriella herself—were his refuge.

Gilgamesh lay his head on Gabriella’s lap, breathing heavily. Her thighs were soft and pillowy, and her hands caressed his face gently. Her touch calmed him immediately.

“No matter what I do, no matter how good I am, no matter what I achieve... it’s never enough for them,” Gilgamesh whispered sadly. “I’m never enough.”

Gabriella stroked his hair tenderly. “I’m sorry Gilga... I wish there was something I could do to help.”

Gilgamesh was lost in his thoughts. “I don’t think you can help… They don’t understand that I didn’t want it, I don’t want any of it. I didn’t ask to be born to fulfill their wishes,” he said. He was the only child and son.

“You are enough for me,” Gabriella soothed. “Think of it from their perspective. They just want you to succeed in the way they know how.”

Gilgamesh groaned. “You sound like my mother. I won’t be able to handle it. Even if I choose that life, I won’t be happy. Nothing in that house makes me happy.”

He grew quiet for a minute.

***

“You know what? I have an idea,” Gilgamesh sat up and looked into Gabriella’s eyes with a serious expression.

“Run away with me,” he proposed. “We can leave.”

Gabriella was unready for this. “What?”

Gilgamesh continued, “I just want a simple life, and I want you in it.”

“Are you being serious?” she sputtered.

“Yes, I am,” Gilgamesh cupped her chin with one hand and tilted it towards him. There was a fire lit in his eyes that she had never seen before. “We can leave in four days. Prepare your bags. Just say yes.”

Gabriella let the proposal sink deep into her, and took a deep breath. Gilgamesh played absentmindedly with Gabriella’s hair, waiting for her answer. He gazed expectantly at her, all hope on the line.

“Yes. Okay. Yes. Sure,” Gabriella breathed. “I’ll come with you,” she said.

Before she could even finish her sentence, Gilgamesh’s lips met hers.

“Discrepancy in the accounts? Why?” Gilgamesh’s father shouted into the rotary telephone. “HE WHAT??? Took out how much cash?” He slammed the phone down angrily.

“What is this idiot thinking, taking out so much money?” he bellowed into the empty house. Gilgamesh was up to no good, and he had to get to the bottom of it.

He stormed up the stairs to his son’s room. It was a complete mess, with piles of clothes strewn all over the floor. This man was still a boy. But his eye caught sight of some suspicious activity. The wall calendar had a date circled around it. On the table was a map and a pamphlet of train schedules. Looking under the bed, he found a suitcase zipped up. It was packed full with clothes, Gilgamesh’s ice skates and competition outfit. Tucked into a side pocket: two train tickets for the date that Gilgamesh had marked out. It was just two days away.

***

“Yes, send her in,” Gilgamesh’s father told his secretary.

Gabriella nervously walked into the home office.

“Ah, Miss Gabriella,” he said. “Please take a seat.”

“What’s this about?” Gabriella asked tentatively, reluctantly sitting down.

“Would you like something to drink? I have coffee made of specially imported roasted beans from the forests of Xin,” he winked.

“What is all this about?” Gabriella asked again, pointedly this time.

His father sipped his own coffee deliberately. Drawing on the tension in the room, he set down his cup on the table. “You see, Gilgamesh’s future is very much like coffee. It tastes good as hot, concentrated espresso. It’s terrible when you add sugar cubes... and the whole point of coffee is lost. The taste is masked by cheap sweetness. One dimensional. It’s what happens when you mix good pedigree with something that’s pedestrian. Gilgamesh’s future is somewhat the same…I trust that you get my drift.”

Gabriella was confused. “No, I don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t have time for this,” she said impatiently.

“That’s right! You have some packing to do for your trip with my son!” he said sarcastically, leaning forward.

Gabriella got up to leave. “This was a bad idea.”

His father latched onto the point. “Of course you understand! I couldn’t have said it better myself. It is a bad idea, and you know it. The fact that you came here means you care about Gilgamesh’s future as much as I do,” he said. “Or, perhaps let me guess. Maybe, you don’t want to leave either, do you?”

Gabriella grew quiet.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Gilgamesh’s father smiled. “My son is a lot of things, but he’s as straight as they come. That makes him fairly easy to read.”

Gabriella took a deep breath and finally said, “I love him. If going away from you is what he wants, then so be it.” Her voice shook as she said it, betraying her hesitation.

“How much?”

“Excuse me?” Gabriella was affronted by the question.

“How much would you say your love is worth?”

“You think you can buy me?” Gabriella’s eyes flashed with anger.

“No, no I’m sure you’re not that kind of woman,” he said pacifyingly. “I want to buy my son back.”

There was a knock at the door. Miss Gabriella’s coffee was ready.

The butler entered, and placed a large kettle on the desk in front of Gabriella. He opened the lid of the kettle, revealing that there were wads of cash bundled up inside. It wasn’t coffee at all.

“So Miss Gabriella, would you like some sugar with it, or is this enough?” Gilgamesh’s father quipped. He had seen the look on her eyes when the money was revealed, even though she had tried not to react. She was a simple girl, and she didn’t belong in his son’s future. It would be easy for her to disappear.

“You’re a smart person, Miss Gabriella,” he said soothingly. “You don’t have to decide right this instant. Just take the kettle with you. But ask yourself this question: poor love or a rich future?”

***

The rendezvous point was the Celtian National Stadium.

They were supposed to meet by the ice-skating rink, like they always did. But there was no sign of Gabriella. Gilgamesh rubbed his hands together to keep warm as he drank his watery takeaway coffee. His suitcase was packed right next to him, and he had two train tickets in his jacket pocket.

The clock in the stadium chimed midnight.

She’s late. Did something happen to her?

As minutes turned into hours, reality kicked in.

She’s not coming.

Tears fell onto the ice.

She didn’t pick me.

Gilgamesh fell asleep, his heart colder than the spectator bench he slept on.

The next day, Gilgamesh awakened with a head-splitting headache from heartbreak and the sounds of… a large crowd?

Outside, a crowd was forming for the selection process of God’s Tournament.

“Am I at the right place?” a blank-looking man questioned Gilgamesh. His name was Ginther, and he had come for the job applications mentioned in a half-torn flyer. The location was a little odd: the National Stadium.

“Huh? Sure, I guess,” Gilgamesh said absentmindedly. He wasn’t listening at all. Behind the two of them, more people began to form an orderly queue.

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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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