‘MEET ME AT THE SPOKE AFTER SHIFT. NO EXCUSES. DON’T BE LATE! S XOX.’
Ruby tutted and stowed her phone in her jacket. She loved Sandra. She really did. But once Sandra Serling had an idea in her head, there would be no peace until she got what she wanted. Ruby resigned herself to whatever lay in store for her, mentally swapping the comforts of liquid chocolate for an ice cold pint.
As she glanced across the road she felt a drop of water land on the tip of her nose. She looked up towards the dismal sky, squinting against the pale backdrop as the rain dotted her face. Great, she thought, grabbing a handful of hair and tucking it inside her hood. More rain. Did it ever stop?
Ruby despised the wet. She suspected it may have something to do with the fact that hair dye and water simply did not mix. When they'd first moved to Crichton it was a bit of a shock. She’d found herself caught in a few downpours during their first week. Eventually, Ruby had realised that this was actually the norm. The first time she’d arrived home drenched, her mother had almost had a fit insisting they get to a doctor for her nasty head wound.
The rustic village was quiet and empty, but even on slower days such as today, it was never silent. The wind heckled the trees, their rustling protests inescapable in a village so close to the coast. Birds cried out in strangled calls, often echoed by even stranger noises Ruby had trouble connecting to any existing animal.
The distant whine of number twelve attempting to mow the shrivelled remains of his lawn was the only hint of nearby civilisation. Yes, it was quiet – but the people of Crichton seemed to like it this way.
Out of nowhere the wind picked up, throwing an icy blast at her back and a violent shudder shot down her spine in response. Uncomfortable, Ruby pulled at her hood, crossing her arms tightly across her chest. She wasn't so keen on quiet. It wasn't the noises that bothered her, as such. She was a city girl and always would be. No, it was the eerie calm of the country that made her restless.
She glanced both ways before attempting to cross the road; a city habit that felt unnecessary in such a quiet area. As she looked to her left, she was drawn to sharp movement from out of the corner of her eye. She inched her head around and squinted towards it. Nothing was there.
Ruby frowned and cursed her wild imagination. Her mind was conjuring puzzles, to keep her from getting too bored. Was this the start of her long, slow demise? Would she one day be the crazy 'aunt' Mabel of Crichton, with the fifteen cats? She stared at the fence ahead, looking but not really seeing as her imagination ran away with her.
Suddenly, the thin sheet of metal propped against the fence juddered. Ruby was ripped out of her daydream.
She hadn't imagined it.
As a child she'd always had a knack for finding trouble. Now nearly into adulthood, that much hadn't changed – except that these days she tended to go looking for it.
Ruby held her breath, edging forward, her hand outstretched and ready to rip away the sheet. As the rain drummed steadily against the metal, a creeping tension built up inside her. She felt the rain soaking through her fabric hood and she shivered involuntarily, debating in her mind what to do, the moment becoming taut and stretched. Maybe it was something dangerous. Perhaps this wasn't her best idea.
The sheet twitched again and Ruby reacted, snatching the piece of metal away from the wall.
In that brief moment, she managed only to catch a glimpse of the culprit before it fled. But it was enough to tell her that she must be pretty tired.
Upon laying eyes on the creature, the first words that had popped to mind were ‘mangled cat’. It was large enough to be a dog, but was definitely more cat shaped. Whole clumps of fur were missing from its misshapen body and its bones jutted out at odd angles, making it look as if someone had pulled the poor animal apart and put it back together in the wrong order.
As she stared in the direction it had fled, an overwhelming desire overcame her. The curious need to follow the strange animal and get a better look. Having never been one to to deny her impulses, Ruby decided to oblige. She may be delirious, but the least she could do was make sure that the creature wasn’t hurt. After all, it may have been hit by a car.
She followed the pavement as it curved round to the left, moulding her feet to the floor like a cat-burglar as she slipped down between two terraced houses. The rain echoed and bounced off the walls within the little alleyway, the sounds magnified within the small enclosed space. She squinted through the haze, shrinking into her jacket as the occasional gust sent drops splattering against the paintwork in a frenzy. How was she going to find a cat in this weather?
Ruby searched anyway, scanning up and down the alleyway as she crept. It then occurred to her that creeping through weather like this was almost certainly futile.
Ruby straightened up quickly and pulled her feet together, feeling silly. Her toe caught an abandoned crate as she did and she jumped in surprise, hearing it scrape against the concrete. In that exact moment, the cat shot out from behind.
As it darted away, it spared her a fleeting glance, leaving her wobbling on the spot in its wake. Whatever it is, she thought feeling slightly stunned, it's fast!
Ruby jogged to keep warm, her heart thudding in her chest in anticipation. Maybe she should call a vet. She'd never had any pets herself, but there was something off about this animal. Or maybe she'd imagined the whole thing and was chasing the neighbour's cat for no good reason. Either way, she needed to know.
As the pavement began to slope, Ruby found herself hoping with the will of an optimist that the cat would take the next turning. It would pan out well for both of them. Now, where was it…?
Ruby looked up ahead, just in time to see a long, kinked tail disappear behind the ancient brickwork of Wishy Washy Laundrette. Got you, she smiled.
She swung around the corner and braced herself, anticipating a struggle and – stopped dead in her tracks. There was no sign of the cat.
Ruby gaped at the solid iron gate in front of her. Building to her left, building to her right, tall gate in front. No cat.
She couldn't understand it. She'd seen it go in, and those slats were no bigger than the width of a penny. The only way out was back the way you came. It was a dead end, yet – Yet, she thought, frozen in place, the cat had disappeared into thin air.
Ruby turned and paced back through the village, retracing her steps. Let it go, she warned herself. She hugged her wet jacket around her tighter. There was really nothing more she could do. And Sandra was expecting her.
As she approached the welcome light of The Golden Spoke she found her pace quickening, eager to get into warm, dry glow of the tavern.
Within the torrents of rain something pulsed with energy. It called out to him, enticing with promises 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, that 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. As 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 mere human girl. A human girl emanating a throbbing black aura.
Drayvex narrowed his eyes, turning his body to fully face her, and relaxed his stance a fraction. He couldn’t see anything unusual or interesting about her- just a normal, plain human being.
Just then, he noticed what was around her neck. As he stared in growing revelation at the small trinket, everything clicked into place.
It was a simple piece of silver jewellery, hanging on a worn, leather cord. The charm its self was unusually shaped. The main body was a crescent lying on its side, its 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 pincer were inscriptions so old they were practically ancient. Demon inscriptions. Yes, Drayvex affirmed, smiling. 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 of the aura long after her absence. Bringing up his hands, he studied his lethal black claws. These would have to go for what he had planned. Drayvex clenched his hands into tight fists then unclenched them, flexing his fingers as he vaguely studied the human-looking nails that now took their place. Their black sheen was the only thing that gave away his disguise. As he let his tongue wander over a set of sharp teeth, he made a vow to himself then and there. That summon stone would belong to him and he would do whatever it took to have it in his possession.
Drayvex tracked the pulsing entity to a small building with a thatched roof. The sign hanging above the door read The Golden Spoke. He scoffed as he stepped over the threshold. Humans were all the same. They were so predictable, with their habits and rituals all boiling down to one thing. They were weak. Their herd mentality made them all the same in his eyes, most too afraid stick out from one another for fear of being rejected. This was going to be simple.
As he surveyed the antiquated tavern and its few inhabitants, it took him less than a second to pinpoint the girl with the necklace. She was sitting at a table by herself at the far corner of the room, tracing a finger round the rim of a full glass of amber liquid as she stared into space. Once again he found his eyes drawn down to the necklace dangling from around her neck. It swayed gently as she fidgeted in her seat.
He stared at it as he contemplated his next move, watching as the air around it seemed to ripple and distort. No doubt the girl would be a complication. Although, it was certainly nothing he couldn’t take care of. He found himself amused, despite the ridiculous situation, admiring the stone's acquired defences. It was well known amongst all that craved power that once a summon stone was placed around the neck of the wearer, ownership was claimed, meaning that the summon stone would then 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 removed 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 powers such as possession were definitely out of the question.
Yes, he thought, absent-mindedly. Whoever had invented that protection spell all those years ago certainly had a sense of humour. Then again, he mused, he would bet anything they didn’t anticipate 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 clutz and would kill herself. Drayvex smiled, feeling his ego swell in anticipation of challenge. No, all he had to do was take a different angle.
Drayvex tore his eyes away from the necklace and, with great reluctance, made himself look at the human. She was fairly small with a slight frame and bottle green eyes. Her hair was damp and fell down her back in a dark, soggy cascade, its rich burgundy sheen a stark contrast against her pale complexion. She wore a fitted shirt which 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. 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 started to slip towards her.
The girl didn’t see him as he approached her table. He pulled out the chair opposite and sat down uninvited, allowing the legs to scrape against the hard wooden floor as he did. She looked up expectantly.
Her face fell when she saw him, clearly expecting him to be someone else. Drayvex made himself comfortable and lounged back in the cushioned chair, folding his arms as he gazed at her with open curiosity.
The girl stared back, clearly at loss for words. She seemed to arrive somewhere between surprise and confusion as her mouth hung open but no words came out. He could practically hear the cogs grinding inside her head as she took him in with wide, innocent eyes, her attempts to subtly look him up and down failing dismally. He bit his bottom lip and smirked, careful not to trigger the natural sharpening of his currently human teeth into fangs.
‘Uhm.. Can I help you?’ she enquired with polite restraint, breaking the silence. She began to twist a piece of hair around a finger as she watched him through big green eyes. A nervous habit?
He didn’t immediately answer, and for a moment Drayvex didn’t move or speak as he allowed the tension to build between them. When he was satisfied that he'd gotten under her skin, he leaned forward, resting an arm on the table in front.
A small candle flickered in the centre of the table, throwing the light as it danced, creating patches of moving shadow across her face. ‘Yes, maybe you can’ he replied smoothly, catching her gaze directly and holding it. Drayvex smiled, confident of his abilities. He concentrated the full effect he knew his gaze had on humans towards her.
The girl seemed to be wavering, doubt showing in the tiny creases on her forehead. Her eyes lost their focus briefly, before she quickly recovered herself. ‘Are you... looking for someone?’ she asked, not once taking her eyes off him.
Distracted, he reached out and picked up a stray bottle cap, rolling it between two fingers. ‘No’, he answered in a low voice, spinning the cap on the surface of the table. ‘I was wondering why you look so miserable.’
The girl stared back at him, clearly wondering if he was in possession of his sanity. ‘Excuse me?’ she challenged, changing her position suddenly. So suddenly in fact that her arm collided with her glass, knocking it straight over the edge of the table.
Drayvex moved with lightning fast reflexes, reaching down and plucking the glass from the air before it could fall and shatter. He produced the sloshing glass of liquid from under the table and placed it back on the surface. He slid the it across the table with a finger and watched as she moved to receive it.
‘I... Wow. That was quite something’ she mumbled, seeming dazed. She laughed once, a sound of disbelief, and looked down at her glass. ‘Thanks’ she said as she swirled its contents gently. Her laugh had a warmth to it. He found himself wondering how often she genuinely used it.
Drayvex leaned forward, letting the table take a portion of his weight. He picked up the cap once again and started to spin it on table surface as if nothing had happened. ‘Have you been stood up?’
‘Have I..’ she trailed off, and it was her turn to narrow her eyes. ‘No,’ she replied rather frostily, turning her head away a fraction. ‘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. However, he didn’t find it too hard to believe that she preferred to be alone. This one didn’t seem to feel the need to surround herself unnecessarily. ‘I see,’ he responded softly, using his mind to spin the cap. Occasionally he used his fingers to keep it going, for the sake of the girl. ‘Well,’ he persisted, ‘there's something to be said for good company.’
‘Hey, Ruby!’ someone shouted from behind. Someone with an irritating voice.
Drayvex turned a fraction to see a tall, ginger mop bobbing over to their table.
‘Hey, I wasn’t expecting to see you here,’ he enthused. 'How are you?’
Ruby seemed to shrink into her seat somewhat and the grimace that flashed across her face in that moment was not something he missed. ‘Hey Gary’, she said, sounding resigned. ‘I’m great.’
The ginger boy smiled and stared at her unashamedly. ‘Wanna join us?’ he asked, pointing in the vague direction of a table of people. Drayvex watched as Ruby cringed and then smiled politely back. She seemed to flounder for a few seconds as the human named Gary stood waiting for her reply.
‘Actually’ she replied after a pause, her green eyes settling on him from across the table. They seemed to be pleading with him and Drayvex thought that if her eyes could speak, they’d probably have a hefty speech prepared. ‘I’m kind of already with someone', she finished, taking the plunge. 'Sorry.’
Gary's eyes grew wide, as though he’d just been slapped. I’d be happy to oblige, Drayvex thought, irritated, but I won’t stop there. Gary seemed to notice him sitting at the table for the first time since arriving, gawking as though he’d just appeared out of thin air. Drayvex ignored the weed next to him and focused his attention on the girl. She continued to plead with her eyes. He rewarded her with a smirk. Okay, he thought to himself. I’ll bite.
‘Gary’, he drawled without looking over.
There was a brief pause before Gary spoke. ‘And who are you?’ he demanded rudely.
Drayvex smiled humourlessly. He stood and turned to fully face the boy, matching his height. ‘I’m busy,’ he replied in a bored voice, meeting his gaze directly. ‘In fact, we're both busy. Ruby and I have a lot to talk about.’ He continued, allowing his voice to become cold and unfriendly. ‘Or -’. Drayvex moved his face close to Gary's ear. ‘We may not talk at all’. He winked for added effect and watched Gary change from pale to flame red within seconds.
‘I see,’ Gary snapped. He threw one last glance Ruby’s way, before skulking off back towards his table.
Drayvex smirked, amused at how easily he’d been able to bait the boy. Humans really were stupid.