Ruby breathed a sigh of relief as Gary took the hint. His face is bright pink, she thought, watching as he rejoined his table. What had her new friend said to him, she wondered?
He reseated himself opposite and lounged back in the hard wooden chair, making it look somewhat comfortable. This guy could make a bin bag look interesting, she thought, smiling.
She stopped when she noticed him watching her. No, not watching; he was scrutinising her. Pinning her down with piercing eyes. Her heart pulsed in her throat. They were a strange shade; a powdery blue so incredibly pale, they were almost white.
It was impossible not to stare. They were striking and stood out against his jet black hair, which Ruby could only describe as organised chaos. His face was cold and handsome with a compelling still, like the calm before a storm.
Her trail of thought was interrupted by that soft masculine voice, rich and velvety.
“A friend of yours?” asked the stranger, looking politely sceptical.
A friend? Well, not exactly. “He's a friend of a friend,” she explained, shrugging. She supposed she at least owed him that much. She took a sip of her drink. “He's a bit of a pain, but harmless enough.”
“That so,” he mumbled, his eyes drifting to the table behind her. When he looked back, he flashed her a smile that briefly touched his eyes. “Ruby, right?”
Ruby blushed as he said her name. Heat rose up from her neck and reached her face, making her warm. Why am I reacting this way? Why is he having this effect on me? “Uh, yeah. Right. “ She fought the urge to ruffle her hair like a girl. “And you are?” There was definitely something about him. She couldn’t put her finger on it.
Ruby blinked. She looked away, then back over, her eyes drawn to him like a magnet. “Well, thanks. It would have been rather awkward had you got up and left me.”
“A consequence of preferring your own company,” he agreed, gazing down at her chest in fascination.
Ruby baulked. Torn between making her escape and hitting him with something hard, suddenly realised that he was looking at her necklace.
Ruby took the charm between two of her fingers. She supposed it was rather pretty. 'It's a family heirloom. Probably not worth much.'
He didn't reply straight away, but paused, a faraway look on his face. Then, his eyes snapped back into focus and flicking up to her face. “I'm sure it's valuable in other ways,” he suggested, voice soft and compelling.
Just then, in one fluid movement he got to his feet and, without another word, walked off and left her by herself.
Ruby was taken aback. Was he offended? Snippets of their conversation replayed themselves in her mind.
Drayvex was back before she'd come to an answer. In his hands were two tumblers of dark, golden liquid.
He took his seat and pushed one towards her, the liquid inside sloshing up to the rim in a heady, honey coloured wave. ‘To life's unavoidable idiots,' he toasted, draining the contents.
Ruby smirked. Following suit, she picked up her glass and held it at eye level. ‘To independence and its dire consequences,' she echoed, draining her own and dropping it down.
The antique jukebox spluttered to life, playing a modern tune. The tavern got louder in response, the background murmur rising in volume to match the song's energy.
“So, if you haven't been stood up...” He flicked a small puddle of liquid across the table in abstract splatter lines. “What's eating you?” He stared at her, expectant, the ghost of a smile playing on his lips.
So we're back to this, are we? What was his game? “Why do you care?”
“I don't.” He shrugged. “It doesn't matter to me what form your misery takes. I'm merely here passing time.”
Ruby stared at him, lost for words. Wow, she thought. Blunt.
“But I'm a good listener.” Holding up his hand, he signalled to the bar for ‘two more'.
Two rounds later, Ruby found herself speaking freely to the dark and charming stranger who had taken an interest in her life. She felt strangely comfortable talking to him. Probably the drinks she supposed, draining her third glass.
“I've been here for over two years.” She traced the swirling patterns in the rustic wooden table with a finger, distracted. “My mum and moved here from Callien.”
She paused and looked up at Drayvex, who was looking at her blankly. “The big city 100 miles from here,” she added for his benefit. “Not local, huh?” Not that she’d ever doubted that.
Drayvex smirked as though enjoying a private joke. “No. In fact, I couldn't be further from home at this moment.”
“Yeah, it's obvious you're not.” She smiled in response to his questioning look. “Well, it's a small place. Everyone knows everyone here. Most people have lived here a very long time. There are no secrets here. It's kind of weird, actually.'
The corners of his mouth lifted. “Right. So…' He got up and moved around the table, seating himself on the padded bench next to her.
His face and body were inches from hers. Ruby gasped at the sudden proximity between them, stunned. He was far more glorious and terrifying up close than she had dared to imagine.
“If someone were to see us here, together,” he continued, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face. “… people would talk?”
Ruby found her eyes drawn to his lips as he spoke. In that moment, she wanted those lips. Drayvex was warm and a soft heat radiated through his thin jacket, as though he'd been standing out in the blistering sun.
All coherent thought slipped through her fingers as she struggled to hold onto one single thought. Her eyes scanned up from his lips and stopped as their eyes met.
Suddenly, she was snared in his soft, enticing gaze. Those pale eyes seemed to contain such depth and, as he inched closer still, she couldn't help but feel a touch light-headed. Hypnotised even. As though she was the bird and he was the snake. Snake…
Ruby snapped back to her senses. She was cold, on high alert, as though she had been doused in icy water. Her mind reeled.
Drayvex stopped. His arm rested along the back of the cushioned chair behind her.
She pulled back, putting some space between them. What the hell was she doing? She'd almost given herself to him. A man she'd only met an hour ago.
‘Yes, I imagine they would,' she mumbled, glancing at him through the corner of her eye. Truth be told, she had no idea why she had reacted so forwardly. And that scared her.
Drayvex narrowed his eyes. He continued to gaze, until Ruby didn't know how much more she could stand.
Finally, he relaxed back into his seat and gave her a half smile. ‘You were saying?'
Ruby took a deep breath and tried to focus her mind. She ran a hand through her tangled hair, watching the lit candle sway in the centre of the table. Misery. Her chest grew heavy, a lead weight settling in the pit of her stomach.
Drayvex spoke again. “You miss the city.”
Ruby looked up from her reverie, opening her mouth in an automatic defence. Then, She stopped and closed it again. She rested her head on a hand in defeat. ‘I miss everything about it,' she said. Old frustrations crept to the surface now that they'd finally made it to her least favourite subject. ‘I miss the noises, the smells, the to-ing and fro-ing of people who live there. I miss my old job, my old friends. The night life.'
She made herself take a deep, calming breath before continuing. ‘Every day was an adventure. I'm was going places. Now, I'm stuck here in the middle of nowhere and…” She left her sentence hanging, her voice becoming small as prospects too depressing to consider stuck in her throat.
“And your life is now a mind numbing bore,” Drayvex finished.
Ruby smiled without humour.
‘So, what's keeping you here?'
Deciding that her silence would just prompt more questions, Ruby reached out towards the candle on the table. She flicked her finger over the top of the flame, feeling the heat lick at it. Where to begin. “My mother had an accident on the force. A work thing, you know? Well, moving here was supposed to calm her nerves and help her forget. It's just the two of us now, and I - ' She sighed. ‘I keep her sane, I guess.'
‘And what about you?'
Ruby shrugged in a pathetic way. What about her?
Drayvex reached out towards the candle and without flinching, pinched the flame between two fingers. It sizzled out. ‘So, that's it, then? You're going to sacrifice a large portion of your life giving your mother what she needs? Admirable.'
Ruby frowned at his words.
Still with fingers pinching the candle wick, he narrowed his eyes in a calculating way. ‘Looking at you, taking a wild guess at your mothers age, she may well have another forty or so years of life left in her. Unless you plan to leave this place a pensioner,' he said, “I suggest you draw a line and stick to it.”
In that moment, he let go of the wick. The candle burst back into flame, flickering as though nothing had happened.
Ruby did a double take.
“You only get one shot at life, Ruby. Don’t waste it.”
She stared at him, then at the flame, trying to gather her thoughts. She couldn't remember the last time anyone had been so brutally honest with her. Since they’d moved to the village people had been tiptoeing around her, like some poor fragile thing that needed protecting from the truth. Having somebody speak this way to her was refreshing.
‘But, I can't be selfish when I know that leaving would destroy her,' she said.
This time, Drayvex shrugged. ‘When you break a leg, you often have to re-break it to set it on the right track. Counterproductive and then productive.'
Well yes, that was true. She scrambled, lost for words. 'What about you? Surely, you must have ties of your own, somewhere… at home…' She left the question dangling, curiosity giving way to ingrained politeness half way through.
Drayvex’s eyes found hers, their eyes meeting, and she blushed in response. The corners of his mouth lifted, eyes alight with wicked humour. “Irrelevant.”
Ruby couldn't tell if he was laughing at her, or enjoying a private joke. Her eyebrows raised in question. 'What?'
“Any ties I may or may not have bear little significance to my actions. I'm here now because I want to be. The very word means compulsion to carry out an action against your will. I never do anything I don't want to do. Therefore, these ties, as you put it, have no power. Their existence is irrelevant.”
Ruby opened her mouth to follow up with some sort of smart remark, but her mind was blank. She studied the stranger. His expression and body language were devil may care. As she processed his words, an uncharacteristic bitterness seeped into her heart. Yes, it must be nice to wake up and go wherever you want, whenever you want, she thought, squashing the stab of jealousy that followed.
Ruby’s head snapped up in recognition. She scanned the tavern, searching for the occupant of the voice.
Just then, she clocked Sandra by the door. Her short blond pigtails bobbed as she waved at them from across the room. Ruby threw a fleeting glance at Drayvex. He was watching her again, and smirking.
As Sandra made her way across the room, Ruby wondered how she was going to explain the man at her table in a way that didn't lead to a thousand questions.
‘Rube, I'm so sorry I'm late. I got held up at work. Old Mrs Hargreaves just wouldn't let me go. Who's this?'
Sandra was looking at Drayvex.
Drayvex was looking at Ruby, clearly amused — and enjoying her discomfort. She knew what he was thinking. Ruby cringed in her seat, recalling her earlier protests of not being stood up.
“Sandra.” Ruby spun in her seat to face her friend. “Why didn't you call? I've been here over an hour.”
“Well, at least you had company,” she giggled, searching for a chair.
Oh no you don't, thought Ruby, rising to her feet. “Don’t bother, Sand. We're leaving.” Ruby fussed over her damp, crumpled jacket, smoothing out the soggy folds. When she turned back to face the table, she hesitated. Drayvex. She bit her lip, unsure of how to leave.
“Ugh,” Sandra winged. “But I've just got here. And my feet are killing me.”
After a few seconds thought, Ruby settled with a rather weak “it was nice to meet you,” and stalked off, Sandra in tow.
As she pushed out through the swinging double doors and into the cool, night air, she filled her lungs with calming breaths. When the door swooshed open again behind her, she set off at a leisurely pace.
“I'm sorry,” Sandra called, her voice only a foot or two away.
Ruby ignored her and continued along past the tavern, hearing her shoes squelch against the wet ground.
“Ruby. Who was that?”
Ruby rolled her eyes. She stopped and turned, her feet crunching against the pavement. She didn't really see the point in playing stupid. But she did want to make Sandra work for her juicy gossip. “Who was who?”
Sandra sighed and raised her eyebrows in a dramatic manner. “The guy!” she exclaimed. ‘That guy sitting at your table. You know, the one you were having a conversation with?'
“Oh,” Ruby said lamely. “The guy.”
“Yes, you dummy. Him.”
“I don't know, Sand. He just kind of invited himself over.” No sooner had the words left her lips, she realised they were a mistake.
“Oh. Oh, ooh, I see,” Sandra winked. ‘Rube, maybe he likes you!' Her voice contained far too much enthusiasm for Ruby's liking.
She cringed. ‘No Sand, he’s not from around here. He was just being friendly.' She started walking again.
Sandra walked beside her in silence, the two of them almost in perfect sync until a car splashed by, breaking the rhythm. ‘But he’s gorgeous, though, right?'
Ruby laughed, giving her friend a small smile. ‘Yeah, I guess'. It faded as a memory of Drayvex staring at her sprang into mind, sending a cold, but not entirely unpleasant shiver down her spine.
She could still see his eyes in her mind. It was like looking at a bright light for too long and being temporarily blinded, seeing nothing but the light after looking away. It was hard to describe. It was as though when she looked at him, two conflicting emotions battled for dominance. The first was almost certainly lust, understandable enough. But the second, she was sure, was fear. Something deep and primal within her, warning her to get as far away from him as possible. And that one was a little more difficult to explain.
They walked side by side down the little winding lane, passing Wishy Washy Laundrette and the modest food shop the whole village relied on, now closed and in darkness. Ruby stole a glance down the passageway they passed, her thoughts reverting back to the cat that had eluded her. That little mystery was really going to bug her.
The sky darkened as the day drew to a close, painting varying shades of grey and black in its wake. Ruby felt the prickle of cold air on her skin as a breeze drifted by, and the hairs on her arms stood on end. She moved to rub them, but stopped. She glanced into the shadows, unable to shake the strange sensation of being watched.
‘I wanted to tell you something.' Sandra spoke from beside her, interrupting her thoughts. She was fiddling with a button on her shirt, looking everywhere but at her. Ruby felt her shoulders tense in apprehension.
‘Okay,' Ruby encouraged, trying to make it easier for her. ‘What is it?'
Ruby had gone a few steps ahead before she realised Sandra wasn't with her. Turning back to face her friend she stood, waiting.
Sandra seemed to become visibly smaller as she slouched, her tall frame becoming small and squashed. ‘I'm moving in with my dad.' she rushed, her words tumbling out in a hurry.
Ruby didn't respond.
Ruby didn't speak. Couldn't speak. She'd become numb, unable to feel anything. No opinions were voiced in her head. No words broke the emptiness that had overcome her.
Sandra sighed and trudged over towards her. She stopped a couple of feet away, her eyes fixed on the perfetly manicured fingernail she picked at. ‘I'm going to work for him. Become his apprentice,' she continued, her voice breaking slightly with forced enthusiasm.
Ruby's sluggish brain attempted to kick start its self as she groped around in her head for some kind of emotional response. What she found was unwelcome; a dull, throbbing panic that pushed away at her consciousness, forcing her to respond. ‘You're leaving?' she asked, her voice almost a whisper.
‘I didn't want to tell you until it was set it stone.' Sandra finally looked up and faced her.
Sandra opened her mouth and hesitated, looking guilty. ‘Tomorrow. But everything's happened so fast, and my mother is really keen for me to go.'
‘But you hate your dad,' she pushed, trying and failing to understand. ‘When was the last time you spoke? Did you even get a birthday card this year?'
‘Ruby.' Sandra grabbed her by the shoulders and squeezed. ‘This is what I want.'
‘But — But why now? What's the rush? Where's the fire?'
‘Ruby, this is what I want.'
Ruby stared into the eyes of her dearest friend, unwilling to accept anything she'd said. And yet, how could she deny her this one thing? What kind of friend would she be to stand in the way of what she wanted?
‘I’ll come back for you,' Sandra said, emphasising with a look. ‘I promise'.
Ruby couldn't speak. She had nothing more to say. As Sandra took her hands off her shoulders, an emptiness spread out from her core. Threatening to engulf her.
‘I… I'm sorry,' Sandra mumbled, before turning and abandoning her to the night.
As she watched her best friend walk out of her life, an overwhelming sense of panic, and anger, and grief engulfed her where she stood.
‘You coward,' she screamed.
No response. Ruby was completely and utterly alone.
Coming here was not coincidence – it was fate.
Drayvex had never believed in fate, until today. Believing that some higher power had their own plans for him, whether fortunate or catastrophic, was entirely ridiculous. For one, there was no higher power. He was top of the food chain. There was nothing out there with an ego big enough to think they had any say over his actions. On the other hand, sometimes you had to stop and think about it.
Drayvex stood, surrounded by mountains of earth and dust, feeling a clarity that he hadn't felt years. He was thinking about it now. What were the chances that, of all the planets he could have chosen, of all the countries and cities that covered its surface, he ended up in the one tiny spit of a place that contained a summon stone?
The moon was full and bright, an eyesore in an otherwise pitch black sky. Drayvex breathed out, clouding the night air, briefly blocking it from view. The air on Earth was different. It always took him longer than he expected to adjust to the disparate atmosphere. Then again, he'd rarely been given such a favourable reason to stick around.
Drayvex smiled, feeling his fangs sharpen in anticipation. Coincidence? No, he alone was meant to find this stone. Fated or not, it belonged to him and it was now just beyond his grasp.
He approached the hidden portal and stopped, standing in the wide open space. His senses told him there were no demonic presences in the vicinity. At least, none worth his time. Still, Drayvex never left anything to chance.
Raising a hand, he reached out towards the hunk of concrete and stopped within an inch of touching it. He concentrated, drawing on power from his core, sending it down his arm to the tips of his fingers. When he felt it burn, he stopped.
Drayvex inched forward, placing his hand gently on the concrete. The portal shifted, throwing out judders of protest as it fought against his wishes.
Drayvex held fast, absorbing the impact. Everything bent to his will, eventually. It was only a matter of time.
The portal rippled and pulsed once, before falling still. Drayvex stared at the rubble, satisfied. Now nothing else would get through. At least, nothing with any real power. Any demon with a half decent reputation would want the summon stone for themselves, but only weaklings would be allowed to pass through.
He turned and stalked away, his job here done. Ruby and the stone would both soon be his. Eventually, she would bend to his will too.