Crimson Touch

"Everything bent to his will. It was only a matter of time and eventually, she would bend to it, too."

Go-getter city girl Ruby is desperate to get out of Crichton and back where she belongs. But when a silver-tongued stranger takes an interest in her and her mundane country problems, she gets far more than a sympathetic ear. Drawn into the world of demons, darkness and deceit, she may well get the adventure she craves after all.

Be careful what you wish for...

When restless Demon Lord Drayvex stumbles across a small girl with a powerful demonic pendant, he makes stealing it from her his number one goal. But the stone does not wish to be stolen from its human owner. In fact, it seems to be perfectly content being dear old Grandma's necklace.

Game on.

Crimson Touch is a new adult dark fantasy novel and the first in a planned series of four.

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1. Chapter One

 

The first words that sprung to mind were 'mangled cat'.

Ruby squinted at the creature through the torrential rain and, for a moment, it stared back. Its muddy yellow eyes were large and round, almost glowing.

It was large enough to be a dog, but was unmistakably cat shaped. Whole clumps of fur were missing from its misshapen torso and its bones jutted out at odd angles, as though someone had pulled the poor animal apart and put it back together in the wrong order.

Then, as wild animals do, it bolted.

As she stood gawking at the spot where it had just been, a curiosity overwhelmed her. It was a sudden itch, an impulsive desire that pressed into her mind. She had to get a closer look.

Almost in a trace, Ruby followed the puddle riddled pavement that curved round to the left and slipped down between two houses. As a child she'd always had a knack for finding trouble. Now into adulthood, things were pretty much the same. Except that these days she tended to go looking for it.

Her leg buzzed. Ruby pulled out her phone and glanced at the rain dotted screen:

'MEET ME AT THE SPOKE AFTER SHIFT. NO EXCUSES. DON'T BE LATE! S XOX.'

She smiled and slipped the phone back into her pocket. Once Sandra Serling had an idea in her head, there was usually no peace until she got her own way. Well today, Sandra would have to wait.

The rain echoed and bounced within the little passageway, its sound magnified tenfold within the enclosed space. Finding a cat in this weather was going to be a challenge. Ruby searched anyway. The idea of a place like Crichton having skeletons in its closet was more than she could resist.

A rogue gust sent drops splattering against the paintwork in a frenzy. She shrunk into her jacket, her clothes already sticking to her. On a normal day, the rustic village of Crichton was eerily quiet. Yet, somehow it was never truly silent. The wind heckled the trees, their rustles of protest inescapable in a village so close to the coast. Then there were the birds that cried out in strangled calls, in turn echoed back by noises Ruby had trouble connecting to any existing animal. The sound of rain on the windows was a lullaby she was now too familiar with. Hardcore country nightlife. But the villagers of Crichton seemed to like it this way. Personally, she was a city girl and this strange calm just made her restless.

Suddenly, Ruby kicked something solid. She jumped, the grinding noise at her feet short and sharp.

The crate skidded across the ground through the collecting rain, stopping in the middle of the alley. Simultaneously, something shot out from behind. It was the cat, moving as though its tail was on fire.

And, just like that, it was gone again.

Ruby's heart hammered in her chest. Her arms prickled, the hair standing on end as she glanced back over at the crate. Whatever it was, it was fast.

The wind picked up, throwing an icy blast of rain against her back. Ruby tugged at her hood, feeling the beginnings of dampness soaking through the fabric. She folded her arms, making herself smaller, and gave an involuntary shiver. Maybe it needed a vet. She'd never had any pets herself, but she knew what a healthy cat looked like and it was far from that. Yet, logic argued otherwise. What were the chances of something that moved that fast being injured?

Ruby glanced both ways before crossing the road, then trudged up the sloping pavement leading to the grocery store. She was starting to think that she'd imagined the whole damn thing. Maybe she was actually chasing the neighbour's cat for no good reason. Maybe, bored out of her mind, Crichton was already starting to drive her mad. She shuddered, pushing such miserable thoughts out of her head. Now, where had it gotten to...

She squinted at the turning ahead, just in time to notice a kinking tail slipping behind the fading bricks of Wishy Washy Laundrette. A smile spread on her face. Got you, kitty cat.

Ruby swung around the corner, bracing herself for a fight or flight reaction. Then, she skidded to a standstill.

The large wooden panel that boarded up the way ahead made it a solid dead end. The perfect place for catching runaway cats. Only, the passageway was empty.

Ruby blinked. Her brief surprise was quickly replaced by thrill as she gave the scene a once-over. A thin sheet of corrugated metal was propped against the boarded up walkway. Debris big enough to hide a large animal. Holding her breath she edged forward, working hard not to startle the creature behind it. Her hand stretched out, her fingers twitching, eager to rip away the sheet.

Raindrops pounded the metal like a drum roll. Tension crept down into her muscles, rooting her to the spot. Something cold and wet trickled down the back of her neck and she shivered in response. As moment dragged, a doubt began to prickle at the back of her mind. It could something dangerous. She should let it be. Why couldn't she let it be?

Reacting with sudden childish impulse, Ruby snatched the sheet away from the wall —

— and did a double take. Nothing.

She gawked at the wooden panel in front of her, searching the nearby ground. House to her left, laundrette to her right. Dead end. No cat.

Ruby gripped the sheet of rusted metal and stared at it stupidly. She lifted it above her head, flipped it over. Checked the back, flipped it back, as if, defying all explanation, the animal was clinging to the underside of the sheet. It wasn't.

She didn't understand it. She'd seen it go in. The only way out was back the way you came, and yet, she reasoned, the cat had disappeared into thin air.

Heart heavy, Ruby turned and backtracked, retracing her steps. Just let it go, she willed herself, tightening her soggy jacket around her. There was really nothing more she could do. And Sandra was expecting her.

As the welcoming light of The Golden Spoke lit up the wet ground like a beacon, Ruby picked up her pace, eager to reach the warm, dry glow of the tavern. 

 

Within the torrents of rain, something pulsed with energy. It called out to him, enticing with a promise of unimaginable power, demanding his full attention. From the moment he had arrived he'd sensed it, and it was getting stronger by the second.

When he'd first stood breathing in the alien atmosphere, gathering his bearings, he'd discovered two things: one, the powerful presence was moving towards him, and two, it was extremely close. So close in fact that Drayvex had tensed in response to its proximity, his body automatically reacting to the unknown entity.

In that moment, a low level demon skittered around the corner. It took him a second to realise that it was, in fact, his demon. Drayvex glowered from his rooftop perch. Kaelor had followed him through the portal and his idea of blending in was truly spectacular. Moron.

The rain lashed around him in waves, throwing itself at him, then evaporating into a fine mist upon contact with his hot flesh. The pulsing presence finally moved within view. He looked down, his sharp eyes cutting through the downpour, and zoned in on the source of power. What he saw threw him momentarily off his guard.

It was a girl. A human girl emanating a throbbing black aura.

Drayvex narrowed his eyes and relaxed his stance a fraction. He couldn't see anything unusual or interesting, about her. Just a normal, plain human being.

Then he noticed what was around her neck. As he stared at the small trinket in revelation, everything clicked into place.

It was a simple piece of silver jewelery, hanging on a worn, leather cord. The charm its self was unusually shaped. Its main body was a crescent lying on its side, points facing downward. Underneath that was a smaller crescent, and under that a crescent so small it looked like a pincer. There was a small blood red gem in the centre, and written along each arm were inscriptions so old they were practically ancient. Demon inscriptions. This was exactly the kind of distraction he'd been looking for.

The girl began to backtrack, Kaelor having given her the slip. Drayvex made a mental note to punish the worthless ingrate. If he'd wanted to be followed, he would have told someone he was leaving.

He continued to feel the presence long after her absence. He brought up his hands, studying the curved black claws at his fingertips. These would have to go for what he had planned.

Drayvex clenched his hands into tight fists, then unclenched them. He flexed his fingers and examined the blunt human nails that now took their place. Their black sheen was the only thing that gave away his disguise. As his tongue wandered over a set of sharp teeth, he made a vow to himself then and there. The summon stone would soon belong to him. And he would do whatever it took to possess it.

Drayvex tracked the pulsing entity to a small building with a thatched roof. The sign hanging above the door read 'The Golden Spoke' and propped against the front wall was large, golden wheel. He scoffed as he stepped over the threshold. Humans. They were all the same. So predictable, with their habits and rituals, all boiling down to one thing — they were weak. The herd mentality they possessed made them all the same in his eyes, the majority too afraid stand out from one another for fear of rejection.

This was going to be simple.

She was sitting by herself at the far end of the room. Her finger traced the rim of a full glass of amber liquid while she stared into space, a glazed expression on her face.

Once again, his eyes were drawn to the necklace dangling at her throat. It swayed gently as she shifted in her seat, the air around it rippling and distorting in its path. No doubt the girl would be a complication, although, nothing he couldn't take care of.

More than anything, he found himself amused by the ridiculousness of the situation. You had to admire the power of a summon stone. Its acquired defences were well known amongst all that craved status. Once a summon stone made physical contact with the wearer, ownership was secured, and the summon stone would protect its owner voraciously. This made it almost impossible to steal.

The only guaranteed way a claimed summon stone could change hands was when the wearer discarded the necklace themselves, or died with it. The fact that the stone protected its wearer from malicious harm and intent made it all the harder to take it from them forcefully, and manipulative powers such as possession were definitely out of the question.

Yes, he mused. Whoever had placed that protection spell all those years ago certainly had a sense of humour. Then again, he would bet anything they hadn't anticipated a human getting their hands on one. He could wait for the girl to die of natural causes, of course. Seventy years was nothing to someone of his calibre. Or maybe she was a klutz and would take herself out. Drayvex smiled, feeling his ego swell in anticipation of challenge. No, there was always a way to get what he wanted.

Drayvex tore his eyes away from the necklace and, with great reluctance, made himself look at the soggy girl.

She was small with a slight frame and bottle green eyes. Her hair was damp and fell down her back in a matted cascade, its rich burgundy sheen a stark contrast against her anaemic complexion. Water steadily dripped from the tips, making small pink puddles on the table that she was fingering into patterns. The small stud in her nose, along with the unnatural shade of her locks appeared to be her small attempt at human individuality. Her plain shirt accentuated what little curves she had, casually unbuttoned at the top.

There was something about the way she held herself that made her look older than she was. He narrowed his eyes as he drank her in. Her body language screamed insecurity, but her sullen pout said 'bite me'. As far as humans go, this one would be easy to seduce. Maybe he would devour her when he was done playing games. He smirked in response to that last dark thought and slipped across the room.

The girl was oblivious as he approached her table. He pulled out the opposite chair and sat down uninvited, allowing the legs to scrape against the hard wooden floor.

She glanced up, hope gleaming in her eyes... which died when she saw him.

She was expecting someone. Drayvex made himself comfortable, lounging back in the chair. He folded his arms and gazed at her with open curiosity.

The girl stared back, clearly at loss for words. She seemed to arrive somewhere between surprise and confusion, her mouth hanging open as though she'd forgotten how to use it. He could practically hear the cogs grinding inside her head as she took him in with wide, green eyes, her dismal attempts at subtlety failing.

He smirked, being careful not to trigger the natural sharpening of his human stumps into fangs.

"Can I, help you?" she asked, breaking the silence. The tension was audible in the tightness of her voice. She lifted a hand and began twisting a piece of hair around her index finger. A nervous habit?

A candle flickered in the centre of the table, throwing the light as it danced, creating patches of moving shadow across her unblinking face. Drayvex didn't immediately answer. For a moment, he didn't move or speak, allowing the moment to stretch and distort.

When he was satisfied that he'd gotten under her skin, he leaned forward and rested an arm on the table between them. "Yes, maybe you can," he purred, catching her gaze and holding it. He smiled, confident of his abilities, knowing the effect his gaze had on humans.

The girl seemed to waver, doubt forming in the tiny creases at the corners of her eyes, which glazed over for the briefest of moments.

She quickly recovered herself, sitting up straight in one sudden movement. The stone bounced against her chest and fell still. The air around it thrummed. "Are you, looking for someone?"

Distracted, Drayvex reached out and picked up a stray bottle cap from the table, rolling it between two fingers. His demon blood screamed in his veins, yearning to be one with the presence. "No," he answered, hearing a new edge to his voice. "I was wondering why you look so damn miserable."

The girl stared at him, clearly wondering if he was in possession of his sanity. "Excuse me?" She moved to grip the table. "What did you —" As she did, her arm collided with her drink, pushing it straight off the edge.

The girl gasped and froze as the glass disappeared from her line of sight, her reactions not unlike that of a week old corpse.

Drayvex moved with preternatural reflexes, plucking the glass from the air before it could fall and shatter. As he produced the sloshing glass from beneath the table her eyes grew wide. He placed it back on the surface, sliding it towards her with the push of a finger.

The girl moved to receive it. "I, um... oh, wow." She laughed once, a sound of disbelief, her eyes flicking down to her glass. "I can't believe I just did that. You're fast." Her laugh had warmth to it. He found himself wondering how often she genuinely used it. "Thanks."

Drayvex leaned forward, letting the table take a portion of his weight. He picked up the discarded cap and spun it on the varnished surface, proceeding as though the glass had never left the table. "Have you been stood up?"

The smile slipped from her face. She laughed again, this time, without warmth. "Stood up?"Her eyes narrowed minutely, then shot to the side, her voice frosty despite the telltale lilt. "I actually prefer my own company."

As he watched her stare at a rather interesting patch of wall, it was obvious she thought she could lie to him. Although, he didn't find it hard to believe that she preferred to be alone. This one didn't seem to possess the ridiculous need to surround herself and blend in.

"That so," he responded, using his mind to spin the cap. Occasionally he let it fall, using his fingers to start it again, for the sake of the girl. "Well, I hope you're good company."

'Hey, Ruby. Rubeey!' An irritating voice behind him penetrated their bubble.

Drayvex turned his a fraction and took in the tall, ginger mop bobbing over to their table.

"Hey," he panted, stopping to hover behind Drayvex's left shoulder. "I wasn't expecting to see you here. How are you?"

She seemed to visibly shrink into her seat as the boy threw this question her way. The grimace that flashed across her face was not something he missed either. "Hey Gary," she said, sounding resigned. "I'm fine."

"Wanna join us? We're just over in the other corner." The level of hope his voice projected was pathetic.

Drayvex watched the girl named Ruby cringe. Then, with what looked like a fair amount of effort, she smiled politely back. She seemed to flounder for a second as the human named Gary stood, waiting for her reply.

"Actually, I..." She paused, her green eyes falling on him across the table. They pleaded with him, and Drayvex thought that if her eyes could speak they'd have a speech prepared. "... I'm already with someone," she finished, taking the plunge. "Sorry."

Drayvex watched Gary in the wall mirror. His beady eyes grew wide as they fell on him. The boy gawked as if he'd just appeared out of thin air, but his clenched fists told a different story, turning white as though he'd just been slapped.

I'd be happy to oblige, Drayvex thought, irritated, but I won't stop there. He ignored the weed and focused on the girl as she proceeded to communicate with him using her eyes. He rewarded her with a smirk. Okay, he thought. I'll bite.

"Gary," he drawled.

It took the boy a moment to reply. "Who are you?" he demanded rudely. 

Drayvex smiled without humour. He stood and fully turned to face the boy, matching him in height. "I'm busy," he replied in a bored voice, directly meeting his gaze. "In fact, we're both busy. You see, Ruby and I have a lot to talk about." He continued, allowing his voice to become cold and unfriendly. "Or —" Drayvex moved in close, putting his mouth next to Gary's ear. "We may not talk at all." He winked for added effect.

Gary change from pale to flame red within seconds. He shot one last glance Ruby's way, then back, before turning and skulking away. 

Drayvex smirked, amused at how easily he'd been able to bait the boy. Humans really were stupid. 

 

 

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