Ruby watched, relieved, as Gary took the hint. He looks angry, she thought, a twinge of guilt stirring in the pit of her stomach. What had her new friend said to him?
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. Staring with piercing eyes. Her heart accelerated.
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 she could only describe as organised chaos. His face was cold and handsome with a compelling still, like the calm before a storm.
Ruby's trail of thought was interrupted by a soft masculine voice, rich and velvety.
'A friend of yours?' asked the stranger, looking politely sceptical.
A friend? Well, not exactly. 'He's my friend's brother' she explained, deciding that she owed him at least this much. She shrugged and took a sip of her drink. 'He's a bit of a pain, but he's harmless enough'.
'That so' he mumbled, his eyes flitting 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, a wave of heat rise up from her neck, making her warm. Why am I reacting this way? Why is he having such a strange effect on me? 'Uh, yeah, right,' she stumbled, fighting the urge to ruffle her hair like a girl. 'And you are...?'
There was definitely something captivating about him.
Ruby sat up and blinked, aware that she was staring for far longer than was polite. She glanced away, then back, her gaze drawn like a magnet. 'Thanks. I don't know what I'd have done if you'd have got up and left me'.
'One consequence of preferring your own company,' he agreed, gazing at her chest in fascination.
Horrified, she was torn between making her escape and hitting him with something hard, when she realised he was looking at her necklace.
'Oh.' Ruby took the charm that sat around her neck between two fingers. 'It's just a family heirloom. Probably not worth much.'
He didn't reply straight away, but eventually, his eyes snapped back into focus and flicked back to her face. 'I'm sure it's valuable in other ways,' he suggested, his voice soft and compelling. In one fluid motion, he got to his feet and, without another word, walked away.
Ruby was taken aback. Had she offended him? She replaying snippets of their conversations in her head, looking for blunders on her part. He was back before she'd come to an answer, with two small tumblers of dark, golden liquid.
Drayvex 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 smiled, amused. Following suit, she picked up her glass and held it at eye level. ‘To
independence and dire consequences,' she echoed, draining her own glass and dropping it on the table.
The jukebox started to play a newer tune, and 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? ‘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,' he concluded, signalling to the bar for ‘two more'.
Two rounds later, Ruby found herself speaking freely to the dark, yet charming stranger who had taken an interest in her life. She didn't know why, but she felt comfortable talking to him. It was probably the drinks she supposed, draining her third glass.
‘I've been here over two years now.' She traced the swirling patterns in the rustic wooden table with a finger as she spoke. ‘My mum and I, we... We moved here from Callien.' She paused and looked up at Drayvex, who had a blank expression on his face. ‘The big city 100 miles from here,' she added, for his benefit. ‘You're not local, huh'.
Drayvex smirked, as though he was enjoying a private joke. ‘No, not local. In fact, I couldn't be further from home at this moment.'
‘Yeah, it's obvious you're not.' She paused. ‘Well, it's a small place. Everyone knows everyone here,' she answered in response to his questioning look. ‘Most people in the village have lived here a long time. They there are no secrets here. It's kind of weird, actually.'
Drayvex gave her an amused look. ‘Right. So...' He got up and moved around the table, seating himself on the padded bench next to her.
His face and body were mere inches from hers and she gasped at the sudden proximity between them. 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 piece of hair carefully away from her face. ‘People would talk?'
Ruby found her eyes drawn to his lips as he spoke. In that moment, she wanted those lips. He was warm and there was a heat radiating through his thin jacket, as though he'd just been standing out in the blistering sun. All coherent thoughts seemed to slip through her mind as she struggled to hold onto one single thought. Her eyes moved up from his lips and stopped as their eyes met.
Suddenly, she was snared in his soft, enticing gaze. Those pale eyes that seemed to contain such depth and, as she watched him inch closer still, she couldn't help but feel strangely 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, as though she had been doused in icy water. Her mind reeling, she pulled back, putting space between them. What was she doing? She'd almost given herself to him. A man she'd only met an hour ago.
Drayvex stopped. One arm rested along the back of the cushioned chair behind her.
‘Yes, I imagine they would' she mumbled, glancing at him through the corner of her eye. Truth be told, she didn't know why she had reacted so forwardly, and that scared her.
Drayvex narrowed his eyes. He continued to stare, until she didn't know how much more she could stand.
Finally, he relaxed back into his chair, giving her a half smile. ‘You were saying?'
Ruby took a deep breath and tried to clear her mind, running a hand through her long hair. She watched the lit candle in the middle of the table, a heavy sensation landing in her chest.
Drayvex spoke again. ‘You miss the city,' he surmised, idly flicking something onto the floor.
Ruby looked up from her reverie and opened her mouth to protest at his assumption. She stopped and closed it again, resting her head on a hand in defeat. ‘I miss everything about it' she said, old frustrations returning now that they'd finally made it to her least favourite subject. ‘I miss the noises, the smells, the bustle of the 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. Now, I'm stuck here in the middle of nowhere and...' She left her sentence hanging, her voice fading as prospects too depressing to consider got stuck in her throat.
‘And your life has become a mind numbing bore,' Drayvex finished.
Ruby smiled without humour.
‘So what's keeping you here?'
Deciding that her silence would just spur more questions, Ruby reached out towards the candle on the table and flicked her finger over the top of the flame, feeling the heat lick at it. ‘My mother had an accident on the force. A work thing. Moving here was supposed to calm her nerves and help her forget. It's just the two of us now and, well - ' She sighed. ‘I keep her sane, I guess.'
‘And what about you?'
Ruby shrugged in a pathetic way.
Drayvex reached out towards the candle and without flinching, pinched the flame between two fingers, extinguishing it. ‘So, that's it then? You're going to sacrifice a large portion of your life giving your mother what she needs? Admirable.' Still with fingers pinching the candle wick, he gave her a calculating look. ‘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. So unless you plan to leave this place a pensioner,' he said, looking down at his fingers, ‘I suggest you draw a line and stick to it.'
In that moment, he let go of the wick and the candle burst back into flame again. ‘You only get one shot at life, Ruby. Make it count.'
Ruby stared at him, unable to string her words together. She couldn't remember the last time anyone had been so brutally honest with her. The people here had this awful habit of tiptoeing around her, treating her like she was 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 home will destroy her,' she argued.
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.
'Well, what about you? Surely, you must have ties of your own... somewhere…' She left the question dangling, curious, but half regretting having been so openly rude.
Drayvex met her gaze directly and she blushed in response. The corners of his mouth lifted, his eyes alight with wicked humour. Ruby couldn't tell if he was laughing at her, or enjoying a private joke. 'Irrelevant,' he said.
Ruby raised her eyebrows in question. 'What?'
Drayvex continued. '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 feeling compelled 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 kind of smart remark, but her mind was blank. His expression and body language were devil may care, and as she processed his words she found an uncharacteristic bitterness seeping into her heart. It must be nice to wake up and go wherever you want, whenever you want, she thought, feeling a stab of jealousy from within.
She stopped short, stunned by her poisonous reaction. Was she that girl, now? Always wanting what other's had?
‘Ruby!' shouted a familiar voice from across the tavern. Ruby looked up and clocked Sandra, her short blond pigtails bobbing as she waved from the doorway. Ruby exchanged a fleeting look with Drayvex, who seemed to be watching her once again, an expectant smirk on his face.
As Sandra made her way across the room, Ruby wondered how she was going to explain this 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 and old Mrs Hargreaves wouldn't let me go. Who's this?' Sandra looked to Drayvex, who was looking at Ruby, clearly amused. She knew what he was thinking, and she cringed in her seat as she recalled her earlier protests of not being stood up.
‘Sandra,' she said rather forcefully, spinning to sit in her seat sideways. ‘Why didn't you call or something? I've been here over an hour!'
‘Well, at least you had company' she giggled, turning to look for a chair.
Oh no you don't, Ruby thought scathingly, standing. ‘No Sar, we're leaving.' She turned back towards the table, hesitating as she glanced at Drayvex. She bit her lip, unsure of how to leave.
‘Owwh,' Sandra winged, ‘but I've just got here, and my feet are killing me.'
After a few seconds thought, she settled with a rather weak ‘It was nice to meet you,' and paced off, Sandra in tow.
As Ruby stepped outside into the cool, moist air she took deep, calming breaths. She waited and when she heard the door open again she started to walk.
‘I'm sorry,' Sandra called, not too far behind. Ruby ignored her and continued to make her way along past the tavern. ‘Ruby!' she shouted again. ‘Who was that?'
Ruby stopped and turned, her feet crunching on the gravelled pavement. ‘Who was who?' she replied as nonchalantly as she could manage. She didn't see the point in playing stupid, but she did want to make Sandra work for her juicy gossip.
Sandra sighed, raising her eyebrows dramatically. ‘The guy!' she exclaimed. ‘That guy sitting at your table. You know, the one you were having a conversation with?'
‘Oh,' she said lamely. ‘I don't know. He just kind of invited himself over, I guess.' As soon as these words had left her lips she knew they were a mistake.
‘Oooh, I see,' Sandra winked. ‘Rube, maybe he likes you!' Her voice contained far too much enthusiasm for Ruby's liking.
Ruby cringed. ‘No Sar, I'm sure 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 and broke it. ‘But he is gorgeous, though, right?,' she enthused, picking at a loose thread on her jacket.
Ruby laughed and gave a small smile. ‘Yeah, I guess'. Her smile faded as the image of Drayvex staring at her sent 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 every time she looked at him, two conflicting emotions battled within her for dominance. One was almost certainly lust, and that one was easy enough to explain. But she was pretty sure the other one was fear. That was a little more difficult to justify. Why would she be scared of him? She didn't know him from adam.
They walked side by side down the little cobbled lane, past Wishy Washy Laundrette, which was now closed and in darkness. Ruby couldn't help but glance down the little alleyway as they passed, her thoughts slipping back to the cat that had eluded her. That little mystery was going to bug her.
The sky was beginning to darken as the day drew to a close, leaving varying shades of grey 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 dirty 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,' she began, grabbing her by the shoulders. ‘This is what I want.'
‘But – Why now? What's the rush? Where's the fire?'
‘Ruby. This is what I want!'
Ruby stared into the eyes of her oldest friend, unwilling to accept anything she'd said. Yet, how could she deny her this? What kind of friend would she be to stand in the way of what she wanted?
‘I will be 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 she felt an emptiness spreading from her core, threatening to engulf her.
‘I'm sorry,' Sandra muttered, before swiftly turning and abandoning her at the side of the road.
Ruby felt an overwhelming sense of panic and anger take root inside her as stood, watching her best friend walk out of her life. ‘You coward!' she screamed.
Now, she 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