Dev sat in his car, leaning his forearms on the wheel. He gazed at the dimly lit warehouse. For almost an hour now, cars had streamed into the side garage entrance into the warehouse. Presumably to hide vehicles from prying eyes. Dev glanced at the clock on his dash. The first Ring was set for 11. All bets had to be in by 10:45. It was just 10:20 now.
He started his car, rolling it forward silently towards the entrance. He was stopped by two guards who had materialized out of the shadows. He rolled down his window, showing them his phone. Lex had emailed him the ticket, along with instructions to come masked. He hadn’t specified if it should be a full or half mask, so Dev had opted for a black half mask he had worn once for a Halloween gala.
The guard by his window took his phone, scanning the QR code. The device beeped, and the guard nodded, handing Dev’s phone back. “Bets are cash only. Please proceed.” He said, gesturing Dev forward.
Dev nodded, and drove into the warehouse. He parked in an empty space alongside other luxury brand cars. He looked around, and saw a seating area arranged like luxury bleachers. They were set behind a dome of chain link fencing that had, of all things, fairy lights woven through the links. He didn’t see a way to enter the seating area from the ground floor. He ran his gaze over the area, and saw the open door. He went to it, and saw stairs leading upwards. He came out onto a large platform that overlooked the center of the warehouse. The seating for the event were on the right of the platform. The left had long tables full of hor d’oeuvres and standing tables for patrons to mingle with others. There were maybe sixty people here. They were all wearing white or black masks, like him. They were all dressed immaculately. Like they were at a party. While all wealthy, none of them looked like the infamous Sponsors. A handful were unmasked, their masks dangling by the ribbons from their languid fingers. Dev recognized them from past galas. He ran his gaze over the crowd again. He realized he recognized many if not most of the patrons here. His skin crawled and he fought the expression of distaste that tightened his lips.
He walked towards the low railing that separated the seating area from the rest. At the top, there were a set of ten seats arranged along three rows that were cordoned off with a black velvet rope. If he had to guess, that’s where the Sponsors sat. His gaze wandered from the plush seats to the floor of the warehouse, where the raised Ring stood. There were benches around it, a couple coolers, and a first aid kit. The Ring was currently empty.
Dev turned. In the far right, there was a table set up, surrounded by guards. He went over to it, and saw that the table was full of betting forms. He glanced at the man sitting at the table. “May I?” He asked.
The man gave him a questioning look at his politeness. “Of course. But hurry. We close soon.”
Dev nodded, and took one of the forms. He scanned the list as he moved carefully to take a seat in the far right, third row. This put him in a good place to observe both the Ring and the Sponsor’s circle. He looked back at the form.
Ring 1 – WHD vs EHD
Ring 2 – SHD vs NHD
Ring 3 – WHD vs SHD
Ring 4 – EHD vs NHD
Ring 5 – WHD vs NHD
Ring 6 – EHD vs SHD
Ring 7 – WHD vs NHD
Ring 8 – EHD vs SHD
Ring 9 – WHD vs SHD
Ring 10 – EHD vs NHD
Ring 11 – WHD vs NHD
Ring 12 – EHD vs SHD
Each Ring had the option for the patron to select which district would win the fight, though no individual fighters were listed. Dev folded the list, pocketing it. A light cough at his elbow made him turn. A server dressed all in black with a red mask silently offered him champagne. He accepted the glass with a lift of his lips. The server left, and Dev turned back to look out over the Ring below.
There was a chiming noise, much like a clock, and Dev turned. The other patrons were moving en mass to take their seats. Dev hoped none of them would object to his chosen spot. Thus far, no one had paid him any mind. He wanted it to stay that way.
He breathed a sigh of relief when it seemed not only was his seat uncontested, no one was interested in sitting anywhere near him. Probably because he was a new figure. He reached up, touching the mask. He felt that it was securely in place. He doubted that anyone would recognize him. He hadn’t been to many events the past few years since he finished the awkward stages of puberty.
A hush fell over the patrons as a door in the back opened. Dev watched as three masked men came out. Two were alone, one had a beautiful woman in a short sequin dress on each arm. Each of the men had a different color mask. They went to the cordoned off area, where a red masked server was standing by, allowing them to pass. Four more men came out, wearing similar colors to the men who had come in. Maybe second in commands to the three who had come out first. They were all seated, leaving only the central chair empty. Jasper Bentley’s throne, if Dev had to hazard a guess. The waiting patrons had started talking again, with a few ambitious ones leaning over the black velvet ropes to address the Sponsors.
Suddenly, everything went silent. Unlike before, where the silence was out of deference, this silence was out of fear. Ice slid down Dev’s spine. The temperature of the warehouse felt like it dropped several degrees.
In the silence, a man walked out, a man unlike Dev ever expected. He knew what Jasper looked like. Had seen pictures of the man. But nothing prepared him for the man himself, dress all in black, with a black mask encrusted with gold and rubies. The little gems were set just off the edge of the mask, making it appear as if at any moment, blood would spill over onto his chiseled pale cheeks.
But what truly offset the man from the others wasn’t his domineering stature, nor his calculated late arrival. No, it was slim youth that he held in his arms, the youth’s collar glittering in the light. The youth’s legs were wrapped around Jasper’s waist, his face buried in Jasper’s neck. Jasper held him to the side, just over one hip. The collar, made from gold and rubies, was thick and most likely heavy, fully covering the youth’s neck. From his spot, Dev could see the small gold padlock that locked the collar to the youth’s neck. His stomach churned. Even the women, who the man had been showing off as trophies, had been allowed to walk in on their own power. This youth was more than a trophy. He was a possession.
Jasper reached the velvet barrier, and tapped the youth’s lower back. The youth let go, sliding down Jasper’s body in an uncomfortably sensual manner, and Dev saw that his feet were bare. Jasper went to sit, and Dev realized that the youth had two options. Sit in Jasper’s lap, or sit on the cold concrete floor. Like a pet.
The youth made to sit on the ground, but Jasper tugged his hand, and the youth slid into Jasper’s lap, his face bowed. Jasper’s fingers threaded through the youth’s dark curls, petting him, his lips curving in a smile.
As a gong sounded and everyone faced front, except Dev, who couldn’t tear his eyes off the youth. The youth turned his head, and suddenly grey eyes met Dev’s gaze. Realization and recognition sparked between both. Dev felt his heart break. Stephan. The beautiful boy. Dev held Stephan’s gaze for a long moment before the other turned and buried their face into Jasper’s neck. Jasper seemed surprised, as he leaned down, whispering like a lover would into Stephan’s ear, his touch gentle on the other’s back.
Dev faced front slowly as some MC started announcing the fighters for the night. He looked down as the fighters started coming and lining up at the side of the Ring. He saw Ross and Elle, along with other people he didn’t recognize. He exhaled in relief to see that the cherry red hair was missing from the group. They were letting Jack rest.
Ross and Elle were sitting together, talking quietly. He watched as Ross carefully wrapped his hands while Elle drank water. Her hair was pulled back, coiled into a tight bun, leaving no strands free. Ross was shirtless, wearing loose shorts. Elle was in a sports bra and fitted leggings that came down to her mid-calf. Both were barefoot. Elle’s tape was already on, and it was bright pink. Dev felt his lips curve upwards.
He saw Ross glance towards the viewer’s dome, his gaze fleeting. But Dev already knew who he was looking for. Dev glanced back, and saw that Stephan was still on Jasper’s lap, his hands tightly fisting the other’s shirt. His gaze was firmly ahead, his face ashen.
Dev turned back as a gong sounded, and Ross stood. He saluted the Sponsors, and climbed into the Ring. Dev took out the form, his gaze no longer on the fighters, but on the audience. He couldn’t forget why he was here. He tuned out the sound of flesh hitting flesh, focusing solely on the cheers, the sighs, the expressions of joy or disappointment.
Shortly after Ring 6, while the fighters rested and the patrons got more food, the server from before came by. Dev glanced at them. “No, thank you,” he said softly to the offered champagne.
“Compliments of a friend,” the server murmured, holding the tray closer. Dev saw that underneath the glass’s base was a small slip of paper.
“Ah, express my thanks,” Dev said, taking the glass and paper carefully.
He sipped the champagne, slipping the paper into his pocket. He’d look at it when the attention was back on the main event. He could feel eyes on him, but he refused to see who was looking at him. He didn’t need to know, and he had no interest in being recognized any further.
As the gong sounded again, he felt the burning gaze leave him. Sighing in relief, he slipped the paper out, looking at it.
Go to Secret after the final Ring. We need to talk – S
Dev lifted his glass slightly, as if signaling the server back. A server in a green mask came, taking his glass. He focused on the Ring in progress. It was Elle vs some other girl. Elle was clearly the much better fighter. The Ring was over shortly, and Elle was once again declared the victor. She had a light bruise on her arm, but was otherwise unscathed.
Dev watched the rest of the Rings impassively, the form and the slip of paper burning in his pocket, a plan formulating in his mind.