In the City, there were 5 districts that dealt in different vices. Sex. Drugs. Violence. All these districts lived together in the dark underbelly of the glittering City. Those in the streets, they didn’t last long. They either died or were Collected. West Haven District was the biggest district, sprawling across several former, weaker districts that had been subsumed by demand. Those Collected off of West Haven’s streets were fed, washed, clothed, sheltered. Then those that were beautiful were sent to the Club. The leftovers were sent to the Ring.
Those who fought had to prove themselves. Had to show that they were grateful. Who wanted to survive. Those who survived that first night were few and far between. Those who continued to survive, night after night in the Ring, were even fewer.
Those sent to the Club became currency, entertainment. Their livelihood was their faces, their voices, their bodies. Gambling debts were settled with cash or with flesh. Some lived as pampered favorites. Others starved.
Whether in the Ring or in the Club, both had to fight for survival. As if this was somehow better than being on the streets. And it was, for many. Because this life came with protection. Because these districts were not without their Sponsors. The Sponsors all came from wealth. Because at the end of the day, the districts existed to cater to those who pretended it didn’t exist.
The wealthy and the bored found their way into the dark shadows of the districts. Secret in West Haven was famous for what it could offer it’s cliental in terms of entertainment. This is where the most beautiful of West Haven were sent. The West Haven Ring was notorious for their brutality and skilled fighters. It was never wise to bet against West Haven.
The Sponsor for West Haven was a man named Jasper Bentley. He had grown West Haven into an Empire, forging a place and a name for himself through money and violence. There was no one who would dare cross Jasper. Those who did soon learned that there are worse things in life than the Ring or the Club. Things worse than death. He was the unquestioned King of the Underground.
Tonight, he sat on his throne, overseeing the Ring with the other Sponsors and members who could pay enough to be allowed into the Ring’s warehouse. Everyone was masked. Jasper liked the pomp and mystery of medieval courts, so everyone who paid patronage to Secret and the Ring had to wear a mask.
Jack glanced from where he stood Ring side, slowly wrapping his hands with tape. Jasper’s glittering gaze was enthralled with the fight going on in the raised ring in the center. His hand was resting lightly on the black curls of his favorite. Jack felt bile rise in his throat. The light in Stephan’s grey eyes had faded. Now, he sat on the cold ground, feet bare, wearing loose black pants and a loose black shirt that did nothing to hide his pale chest and stomach. The gold collar around his neck glittered in the low light in the warehouse.
Jack looked away as a light touch on his elbow brought him back. Elle nodded to him, fresh blood trickling from a nasty cut on her lips. Blood dripped from her bandages. It wouldn’t be hers. Jack was surprised her opponent had even managed to clip her. Elle was the fastest fighter after him. Light on their feet and smart, it was little wonder that Jack and Elle were considered the prizes of West Haven’s Ring.
A loud crack sounded from the ring, and they looked to where the match was wrapping up. If they were the prizes, then Ross was king. There was no fight he was in he did not win. Even now, having faced a fighter from South Haven district who was a good fifty pounds heavier, he stood above the fallen man, who lay curled up in a ball of agony. Ross’s gaze went to Jasper, who glanced at the Sponsor of South Haven, who was pale.
“Well, I for one am disappointed. I had thought you had a challenge for me, Wethers.” Jasper said, his voice bored.
Sam Wethers’ gaze flashed in anger behind his opulent emerald mask, but he smoothed it with a smile. “As did I. I’m disappointed. He seemed so promising.” Lifting a shoulder, Wethers sealed the fighter’s fate.
Jasper waved a hand at the men who stood in the shadows. These men were loyal to Jasper and were hand selected to serve him. They stood in the shadows on the perimeter, both to protect the Sponsors and to make sure that the fighters fought. Two came into the light, gently lifting the fallen fighter. A gong sounded, and Ross put his fist in the air as a salute, and stepped carefully to the edge of the ring, slipping between the ropes.
He collapsed on the bench, his face pale under his tan. Blood trickled from the cut that had reopened. Jack went over to him, tilting his face up. It would have to be restitched.
Elle handed Ross the water bottle and he took it gratefully. He gulped water, then flinched, pressing his fist to his mouth. Jack saw the raw split on his lip. He’d have to skip school. Better skip than bring scrutiny.
The Ring bell rang five times. Ring 5. His Ring. He had three matches, at five minutes each. Fifteen minutes. Throw the first one. Win the next two by points alone. He set his jaw, reaching up to his tape, pressing the ends down. He moved towards the Ring, going up the stairs. He slipped between the ropes, rolling out his shoulders. His opponent joined him in the Ring. He was similarly sized, but Jack saw that the boy had slightly more muscle. The odds were probably 12-4 in favor of his opponent overall, 5-1 per match. By throwing the first, he would raise the overall odds. But in order to win he had to first earn enough points to overshadow his opponent’s lead. That meant he had to throw three minutes in, which would make him lose that match, but he wouldn’t sacrifice his points.
The other boy looked at Jack, his brown gaze harsh. It had to be. There was no room for pity or compassion in the Ring. Jack looked back at the boy. Let his gaze rove over his face. He recognized him. He had seen him in several Rings. He had not been fighting well. He would die tonight. Jack knew that for a fact. His shoulders were held too tightly. His lips were white. If Jack did what he was told, the boy would be taken back to his District and killed.
Jack lifted his hands in ready position. The gong sounded and the boy threw a tight punch to Jack’s left, right, left again. Jack floated on his feet, shifting just out of the way. He let himself take the fifth punch. The boy saw him allow it. It had the desired effect of enraging him. Jack now danced around the Ring as the boy went after him with vicious fury. He took two more punches. He was counting under his breath, waiting for the moment to throw the game.
He was taken by surprise when the boy changed tactics and kicked Jack in the stomach. He stumbled backwards, the wind knocked out of him. But he held his ground. It wasn’t time yet. He parried with a few punches of his own, connecting with flesh. He did not have the power that Ross did, but his punches were fierce and angled perfectly to cause maximum damage.
The three-minute mark came quickly, and Jack lowered his hands ever so slightly. The boy darted forward as if in a desperate bid. He caught Jack around the middle, whipping them around, slamming Jack into the ground. Jack had been expecting it, so his body hit the ground limply, before he retaliated with a headbutt and a twist, easily escaping the boy’s grasp. He got to his feet, and the boy swung around, kicking his feet out from under him. He hit the mat again, the fabric smarting, his ribs aching. But he just rolled back to his feet the moment his skin touched the floor. Several hits and two mat hits. The match was lost. The boy was smiling.
The gong sounded, and a flag went to the opponent’s side. Jack glanced at Jasper. Jasper inclined his head to him, his fingers caressing Stephan’s hair. The soft, almost sweet touch made Jack sick.
He went to West Haven’s side of the Ring, taking the water passed to him. He gulped it, handed it back, and turned back to the boy, who was watching him critically. The boy knew that Jack had thrown. Jack could almost feel the rage coming off the boy. His Sponsor was sitting forward, his gold half mask glittering in the light. The boy had ten minutes left to live.
The gong sounded and Jack went to work. He threw his punches with fierce precision, pushing the boy back. They collided and grappled, but neither hit the mat this time. Jack clenched his core, forcing himself to stay upright. He wished he could just knock the boy out. But Jasper had a reason for his orders. And Jack would follow them to the letter.
The five minutes passed, and the gong sounded again. The boy was pale, sweat from exertion and fear covering his body. Jack went to West Haven Ring side, took a drink of water. This was why he was considered the best in the Ring. Ross was powerful and dominating. But Jack could expertly play the odds with lethal precision. Any fight he was in, he controlled. His fights were the most visually appealing to watch, as he coordinated each and every punch with his opponent to precisely what he wanted. There was no fight where he was not in control.
He handed the water back, ruffling his cherry hair. He had a few bruises, but nothing serious. This next round he would probably take more damage. The boy was now down to his last five minutes.
The gong sounded and Jack was surprised by the ferocity in which the boy attacked. He could not stop himself from hitting the ground, but he rolled the boy with him, taking him to the mat too, cancelling out the hit. He rolled back to his feet, dancing around the boy who sprang to his feet. The two exchanged punches, then the boy kicked into Jack’s ribs. White hot pain flooded his limbs, making him go numb. For only a moment. But it was enough. The boy, gripped by some existential panic, reached out and gripped Jack in a vice-like grasp. Then, shocking everyone, Jack included, the boy threw Jack out of the Ring.
He hit the concrete agonizingly. But the fight wasn’t over. The boy climbed out of the Ring, following to where Jack was desperately trying to orient himself. He threaded his fingers into Jack’s hair, slamming his head into the concrete. Jack saw stars. He had three minutes to even out the fight.
He managed to roll the boy, once again cancelling out his recent meeting with the ground. He stood, and as the boy stood, Jack delivered a vicious upper cut, a right hook, and a final kick. The boy staggered back. He wouldn’t pass out, he simply couldn’t breathe. One minute.
Jack went to him, wrestling him into a headlock, pinning him down. Time slowed down for both of them. This wasn’t just a match. Jack could see the fear in the boy’s gaze. He tightened his hold. The boy’s nails dug into his skin, leaving deep cuts as he desperately tried to escape.
But the gong sounded. The boy froze. The faceless Sponsors, in their glittering masks, were watching with interest. Jack met Jasper’s gaze underneath the man’s ruby mask. The gold masked Sponsor sat back, his head turning away, as if he had no interest in the outcome.
Jack felt wetness on his arm. He glanced down. Mingling with the blood on his forearm, were the boy’s tears. He looked up at Jack, from where Jack still held him immobilized. “Please,” he whispered, eyes wide. “Please.”
Jack understood, and he looked up at Jasper, who tilted his head in assent. Then with a decisive twist, Jack broke the boy’s neck. He went limp in Jack’s grasp.
Jack got shakily to his feet. Everything hurt. He looked down at the boy. His eyes were open. Jack knelt and closed them. He walked back to the Ring. He climbed the stairs, ducking under the ropes. Even the air on his skin was agonizing. He distantly heard Elle gasp. He was running on pure adrenaline now. There were two flags on West Haven’s side. The final flag, the flag for the game, was being slotted into place. He faced the Sponsors.
The gold masked one looked angry, but he dare not speak up. Jasper had given the order. A mercy killing. Jack saluted the Sponsors, then turned, forcing one foot in front of the other.
He fell out of the Ring. He had no more strength left. His head hurt. His heart hurt. Everything hurt. He didn’t hit the ground. Someone caught him, and he grunted in pain. Then, everything went dark.