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Chapter 1:

Bishop

“It’s like they’re trying to get us killed,” Ecker chuckles cynically beside me as the head of a hammer connects with the current fighter’s jaw, causing a slobbery spray of blood from his mouth.

“That’s because they are,” Titus snarls, no room for humor, his unrelenting rigidity and hatred for The Echelon as much a part of him as his skeleton. He kicks a loose tooth on the ground. It skitters across the sloped concrete of the abandoned underground parking garage. “As if one of their pretty boys could survive five seconds down here.” He cracks his neck and rolls his broad shoulders back. He fights next.

On the next swing, it seems the claw of the hammer finds purchase in the soon-to-be-dead man’s eye. There’s no mat or ring. The only thing designating the fighting area is the rowdy circle of on-lookers so when the momentum flings him down it’s on the unforgiving concrete. 

The crowd seems to pulse, coming in closer like they can smell blood in the water. We’re in the front, being pushed and shoved forward as people fight for a better view. Each time someone bumps into Titus, he shuts his eyes and slowly breathes in. He’s holding on by a thread. I’m sure he wants nothing more than to rip the head off the next person to touch him. But we can’t afford to get kicked out before he fights. 

Somehow still alive, the alpha on the ground groans something resembling a whimper. His face looks like raw, cleaved meat. He makes no attempt to rise, effectively tapping out. 

Unfortunately for him, that’s not an option down here.

The opposing alpha comes to stand above his broken body. Before he’s dealt the fatal blow, he mutters a pained, “Mother, forgive me.” 

The crowd of blood-thirsty people erupt as the loser is pronounced dead. The victor champions his bloody hammer above his head to cheers while the dead man’s body is dragged out of the circle without a single soul’s attention or care. 

Illegal alpha fights like these are always heavily attended by unmated omegas. With wild eyes, the victor takes advantage of that fact and licks the blood and brain matter from his weapon. I grimace. Nasty motherfucker. 

He unleashes a growl, his eyes beginning to flash with the tell-tale gold streaks of rut, and the scent of multiple omega’s arousal floods my senses. I know Titus and Ecker smell it too. Ecker dons a lazy smile and half-lidded eyes, running a hand leisurely through his blond hair while Titus inhales deeply, using the scents to heighten his alpha instincts before his fight. 

It’s merely a cloying nuisance to me. While alphas will typically find most omegas at least moderately pleasing, I’ve yet to scent anyone that did more than make me want to cover my nose. 

I push the noxious smell to the back of my mind when Titus is called to the middle. He waits a beat for the previous alpha to leave. An omega in torn denim and a black bra jumps into his arms, her eyes also glowing with gold flecks. I look away as their mouths collide in a mess of tongues and growls. 

Titus steps forward, his six-four frame nearly tall enough to graze the bottom of the parking level above us. I feel Ecker straighten next to me, shaking off the lust in the air to give his full attention to our brother. We are all Ceruleans by blood. Growing up exiled from the Echelon didn’t prevent us from becoming a fierce pack. 

Titus isn’t new to the underground fight scene, but it’s his first time in this particular ring. The twisted rules dictate that newcomers aren’t allowed weapons. No doubt that was one of the reasons the Elders made winning one of these fights a condition for our re-application to The Echelon.

Titus may be a surly bastard, but he was right. They’d rather see all of our lineages wiped out than see us back among their ranks.

That’s fine.

Our fists are deadly enough.

Less than ten minutes later, Titus proves just as much. He maneuvers his opponent into a headlock then twists until their neck makes a final snapping sound. The crowd stomps their feet and hollers, delighted by the upset. 

Titus uses one hand to pull his white shirt, now swatched with red, over his head and uses it to wipe his bloody knuckles and nose. While Ecker and I try to create a gap in the crowd for him, we are jostled by bodies clambering forward, another plume of omega arousal perfuming the air.

One of Titus’s steel-grey eyes is nearly swollen shut, but the other flickers with gold. Violence has always been Titus’s biggest trigger and I can tell from his pulsing jaw he’s struggling to hold back the rut flooding his bloodstream.

He can’t go into rut here. There’s too many people. Too many witnesses.

We try to usher him out of the crowd as quickly as possible, but his heightened pheromones right now are antagonizing other alphas while making omegas crazed. We finally break through the thick ring of people and Ecker snarls, low and commanding, to dissuade anyone with ideas to follow us. 

Titus shakes as we climb the garage’s stairs, a constant grumble reverberating from this chest. It’s painful to resist the rut, especially when it’s powerfully triggered. It feels like every muscle fiber is being stretched and torn while a fever begins to rage.

“We’re almost to our floor.” My words echo in the empty stairwell.

“Fuck,” Titus curses and eyes the last flight with gritted teeth, putting more of his weight on me as Ecker runs ahead to get the heavy metal door.

I hear it open then his voice sighs, annoyed, “Oh, goodie. It’s you.”

My neck prickles knowing exactly who has been waiting for us. I may be more in favor of rejoining the Echelon than either of my brothers, but that doesn’t mean I like them popping up wherever we go. A  constant reminder of what’s at stake. 

“Congratulations, Mr. Titus,” the masked Elder says with condescending calmness. “You’re alive,” he states with a hint of frustration. “Must be that Cerulean blood,” his nostrils flare, under the curve of his mask, “even muddied as it is.”

“Of course, he’s alive,” Ecker steps forward, lip curled.

Titus scoffs dryly, “Sorry to disappoint.” He drops a large gym bag at the man’s feet. It lands with a heavy thud, full of what I know are clean, already-laundered bills–his prize money. He glances at the bag then back to man’s hollow eyes only partially hidden by the golden mask. “For our tribute.”

The man picks it up and nods smugly. Without another word, he walks to an idling black sedan with blacked-out windows and no license plate.