I tap my fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the line to the front of the large mansion to move, checking my watch, it has just gone past ten.
Is this what a $200,000 party gets me? A queue?
The FolkWhore invitation lays on the passenger side, the gold font sits delicately on the black card, shimmering under the moonlight, next to the equally shimmering black mask that had been sent with it.
Privacy costs money.
A FolkWhore event required what seems to be the biggest house in the state; located near the edge of Seattle the house is as big as a school, and good reason too. Every single important figure seems to be here, or at least that's what Lincoln had told me when I called yesterday.
"Think of it as a runway show, but with an auction element to it."
I frowned, twirling the corner of the letter on the desk. I could hear the sounds of Mae tidying her room before her car arrived.
"I don't like the idea of people seeing me there, not with the FBI and IRS perched underneath me."
"That's the beauty of it dear brother, no one will know. Did you get the mask?"
I opened the black velvet box to reveal the black mask, I run my thumb over the similar velvet material.
"What does it do? I mean, I'm not in a superhero movie covering my eyes won't change my identity."
Lincoln laughed on the other end.
"Well the masks distorts your projection to others, you'll see when you get there. Go enjoy yourself see how much your girl is worth."
"You not coming? You don't want to see how Lara will fair?" There was some silence on the other end. Lincoln and I hadn't talked about new year's, we simply pretended that we hadn't both been intimate with Mae at one point and that my brother liked a bit more than the LGBT+ community.
"No, I'll end up spending too much money on her to make sure no one else gets her."
"Oh," was all I could say. At least he's honest. The door to Mae's bedroom closed.
"I'll need to go, Link."
"Let me know how much she gets you to spend."
I hang up the phone, dropping the invitation on the table and head out the room.
I step out of the car, handing the keys to the valet who jumps into the grey Mercedes and drives it away. The flight of stone steps in front of me have been draped with carpet. I fix the mask to my face. The doors are open, and the lights, chatter, and soft music are evident before I reach the top.
A gloved hand stretches in front of me, preventing me from progressing into the main hall, I turn to the owner.
The Oni mask is painted in black and gold, which seems to be the running colour scheme of the event. The teeth and horn are gold while the rest are shades of black to depict the face. In the eye's space is completely empty, no pupil or iris to even suggest it is looking at me. I crane my neck slightly to get an incline of his scent but nothing.
It's certainly not human. This is what Lincoln meant by distorting projection.
My eyes travel from the seven-foot Oni masked thing to the chipper Chinese boy next to it. He pulls out a tablet from a small box on a side table and hands it to me.
"Here you will find our available employees tonight." He presses the home button, and the screen lights up; rows of numbers and pictures are visible.
"There is a filter tab if you have a certain type you'd like, and a search bar if you know their number, click on the employee number and you'll find where they are based on site." The boy presses a random employee— a brown-haired woman who seemed to hail from the eastern side of the world. Just underneath her number is the words 'Kerchee'— a fae type creature who lives under the sand dunes in Egypt. Rare and extremely hostile to non-natives.
The employee index minimises, revealing the layout of the area, a green dot flashing at the back of the house.
"You'll also see the three highest bids." He points to the top right corner, a box of ever-changing figures next to guest numbers, the highest being $13,000. At the bottom is the text tab with the guest number #3092, my number.
"How will I know who's up for sale?" I ask.
"If they aren't wearing a mask, then they are up for bidding. Enjoy your evening, there's a bar in each sector and food will be making their way around the floor."
I take the tablet under my arm walking into the bustling of guests, not a scent in sight.
I just hope my projection is the same.
Streams of black masks weave in between one of another, some attached to suits, other dresses. I can feel the gaze of Magenta long before I see her perched at the top of the stairs on the far end, her hands leaning on the railing as she watches her money accumulate below.
I came here for Mae, and I wasn't about to trail through "black, female, human" filter results to find her.
If everyone without a mask is an employee, then we are looking at, at least several hundred.
I keep to the edge of the room heading to the stairs, not even giving the other guests a glance. Magenta didn't even look my way as I approach her, her amethyst eyes still surveying the fruits of her labour.
"Excellent turnout," I say, folding my arms and resting them on the railing.
"There always is, people travel from far and wide to get priority. Our personal financial year begins in July, employees are open for new contracts."
"Where is she?" I ask simply, tired of the feigned interest I have for Magenta, my money has been spent she is making all the profit.
"Employee number 4902."
I type in the number in the search tab, and there is Mae's picture, the words "human" underneath, I press her image, the green light flashes in the left-wing of the map. My eyes subconsciously travel to the top right-hand corner, my teeth rubbing against each other. Compared to the Kerchee woman, Mae's highest bid is at $30,000, and the event only began 45mins ago.
To be expected, she knows how to gain a man's favour.
"If it's any consolation bidding starts at $10,000."
"Thank you, have a good evening, Magenta."
"Let the girl work, Mr Aldrek, she's not yours tonight."
I tsked loudly, taking my leave and following the direction to where she is.
Drinks flowing a mile a minute escorts open for buying, I'd be more surprised if they didn't have gambling. The map leads me to the casino like section. Three rows of six roulette tables stretch down the room, and from the pulsing green light, Mae is at table number four.
At the entrance, another employee stands with their own personal Oni masked giant beside them.
Bodyguards to protect the merchandise. The blonde-haired woman stands by an identical black box on a tall side table, she is waiting for me to be close enough to speak.
"Welcome, complimentary chips, sir?" She pulls out a small, sealed clear box and hands it to me. "if you'd like more chips, our dealers have a chip and pin machine on hand. We only accept debit tonight. Enjoy your evening."
Mae is dressed in a white tailored shirt with a short red tie, her hair has been slicked into a high ponytail, her curls resting on her shoulders. She is catering to three guests; two of them taking there leave while the one still sitting down is talking to her.
I take a seat to Mae's left, two stools down from the floundering, stubby man. It is hard to see much of him after that, his face is fuzzy.
"So, I said no, I won't spend money on a new boob job, and that is how marriage three ended."
Mae laughs, giving the man her full attention. I open the transparent container, three rows of different coloured chips. I pull out a red one, $1,000 marked on its face.
I watch Mae turn her attention to the spinning wheel and ball, it bouncing between numbers before landing on a red three. She takes the chips that the other guest has put on black 29. He is down to about six chips and shows no signs of stopping.
"Welcome to the table, sir," she says, smiling. "Gentlemen, place your bets." Mae turns her smile to the other guest, who is all too happy to receive her attention. I place the chip on one of the numbers. I'm not too bothered where it goes, it is complimentary.
"Blow on this would ya doll?" The other guest holds out his hands, three chips of varying colour and value. Mae giggles and leans over the table, pursing her lips and blows onto the man's hands. The guest places all three chips on a single number.
Mae spins the wheel before turning the ball in the opposite direction, it bounces before landing.
"Black eight, congrats sir your reward of $49,750." Mae smiles, pushing a small stack of chips towards me. The guest two stools down curses loudly, hitting his palm down on the side.
Mae goes to grab the chips the man has lost, and her hand is caught inches from them. She looks at the guest who has a hold on her, and my eyes narrow.
"Unfortunately, sir, you have lost these chips, please unhand me so we can begin the next round."
"You unlucky little bitch," he spits, his grip on her wrists tightening. I hear Mae wince slightly, but her face remains as kind as ever.
My stool screeches as I stand up ready to tackle this guy to the floor, yet Mae's personally Oni mask is quicker.
A bigger, thicker hand seized the guest's wrist forcing him to swivel in his chair to face him. The beast removes his mask slowly, the lights begin to flicker, causing guests to gaze up at the ceiling in awe.
Tension corrodes the air, and a sense of fear creeps up my spine. Even at my distance, I want to be further away. I can only imagine what the guest in front of me is feeling. His hold on Mae is weakening as it shakes violently. What he is witnessing is the real face of the demon, the embodiment of damnation and evil,
The demon has only moved it inch downwards, but it is enough to get the point across, Mae's hand is free, and she has taken the chips away.
The beast went back to its position beside Mae, she turns to the Oni mask, smiling as her tongue makes movements inaudible to everyone. Her pupils dilate until the black covers the entire eye, it looks like more than a quick flash, but I notice it.
She's speaking the language of hell.
I shiver that sort of realisation makes my stomach roll. Most human words are branches of supernatural origin, mutations of kinds; but hell is a different level, to hear it is instant insanity and to speak is immediate damnation to our soul.
How? Why? Mae isn't as human as I thought.
"Gentlemen, if you make your way to the garden, the show will begin. Feel free to cash in your chips with our employees near the entrance." She smiles at both me and the other guest, his hand is beginning to turn to stone. A part of me laughs at the fight or stone mentality of gargoyles.
A.N. So this chapter was a lot! Not only did we see Magenta has demon bodyguards, but Mae can speak the language, she isn't your innocent little human. Things will begin to pick up guys from here on out we are reaching the climax of the story, and boy it is a rollercoaster.