The front door was unlocked.
Drayvex stepped over the threshold of the green house, and closed the door behind him. Really, they were all but inviting him inside. Who was he to refuse such an offer?
He walked into the first room, tracking the non-Ruby presence. As he entered, he stopped in his tracks.
His first thought, as he scanned the room and its contents, was that something had beaten him to the punch. Got here before him, ransacked the place and taken anything remotely useful. No sooner had this thought entered his mind than he dismissed it. No demon looking for valuable information would make such a spectacular mess without breaking anything.
“You must be Ruby’s mother,” Drayvex said, speaking to the far end of the room.
The small woman had her back to him. She was hunched over a desk, motionless, as though absorbed in what was on top.
Drayvex wasn’t fooled. Her heartbeat was quick, her postured stiff and ready. She knew he was there. “I’ve heard so much about you. I feel like I know you.”
Her breath hitched.
Drayvex approached the woman, stepping over the cluttered assortment of objects around his feet. He moved slowly, deliberately, allowing her to track his footsteps.
By the time she reacted, he was right behind her.
The thin woman whipped around, putting a handgun in his face. “Stay back,” she demanded in a quiet voice. “It’s loaded.” Her heart raced, but her aim was steady. A near-perfect still. “What do you want?”
Drayvex smiled, unperturbed. “I’m a friend of Ruby’s. Speaking of, does your daughter know of her mother’s spirited way of greeting guests?”
The woman stared at him with hard eyes that hinted at an impenetrable exterior, and pink swollen rims that suggested otherwise. A contradiction of a creature if he ever saw one. He narrowed his eyes, studying her. She had a thin, wiry frame that boasted an active lifestyle, but her pallor and posture were anything but healthy. Used to be active.
“She … that’s not …” The fear in her features was masked by an air of sullen defiance. Drayvex caught a glimpse of Ruby in her face, which quickly disappeared.
She aimed the gun at him for a few seconds longer, before lowering it a fraction. Her mouth set into a thin line. “It’s the middle of the night.” She shook her head, the corners of her eyes creasing. “Tea?”
Drayvex put his hand on the barrel of the gun and pushed it down to face the floor. “No.”
The woman’s breathing evened, slowing as seconds passed. She looked back down at the gun in her hand.
“Where did Ruby get her necklace?”
A clock ticked on the mantelpiece. Slow, heavy. “Her grandma. Coffee?”
“No. And where did Grandma get it?”
The gun raised a fraction. Drayvex took her wrist, immobilising her arm. The crazy mare would wake Ruby any minute now. That wasn’t going to happen.
She shifted in his grip, her glare boring into him. “I don’t know,” she said, raising her voice. “It looks old as hell. It’s a part of the family now. Who did you say you were, again?”
Drayvex watched her eyes as she spoke, measured her pulse, her facial movements. She wasn’t lying. She was utterly clueless.
“Ruby’s in bed. Come back later.”
A flash of annoyance flared inside him, brief but destructive. Maybe she knows something she doesn’t know she knows, he thought, glaring down at the feeble woman still in his grip.
“Later,” he said, putting his free hand on her shoulder. She tried to step back, but Drayvex held firm. “I’m afraid that just doesn’t work for me.”
He struck out at her in a psychic attack, pushing his way deep inside her mind. He met staggered resistance. The woman struggled in his grip, letting out a soft whine as he hit her mental barriers. Drayvex pushed harder. Be still, he projected.
She complied, falling limp. The gun clattered to the floor. Her walls fell at his touch.
Drayvex set to work, recalling memories from the past five minutes. He combed through her responses to his questions, analysing her private thoughts and triggered memories.
Nothing. There was nothing new. Hell.
Drayvex pulled out sharply, causing Ruby’s mother to shudder. She was pale, her eyes unfocused. If he pushed her any harder, he might as well just kill the woman.
He debated it, running over various schemes in his mind that might involve Ruby’s defunct mother. If he killed her, Ruby would have no reason to stay in this miserable place. He’d be doing her a favour. Making his own life more difficult.
Making up his mind, he looked straight into her eyes and prepared to wipe her mind of his presence. The woman was more trouble dead than she was alive. Drayvex scoffed, somewhat amused by the irony.
Still, he mused, pushing his way into her mind once again. She may be useful yet. She was certainly worth a lot to Ruby.
Drayvex stopped. Something wasn’t right.
He tried again, threading strands of power within the corridors of her mind. They hit a snag, a block of interference that diluted his strands upon contact. Drayvex pulled back, intrigued by the mystery this human’s mind presented. Why could he influence her, but not wipe her recent memories?
He recalled more memories, going back further, to before their recent meeting. Twelve … twenty-four hours.
As he hit his limit, he paused in thought. Her life was mundane. Human. And yet, it was almost as though something had …
Drayvex promptly withdrew. It all made perfect sense. This wasn’t her first contact with a demon. No, at some point in her short human life span, something had been here before him. Something powerful and damaging.
He paused, staring at the human in his grip. She stared back, her eyes glassy and distant. So, he couldn’t make her forget. But his earlier conclusion still stood. Ruby’s mother was worth more to him alive than dead.
Drayvex manoeuvred the fragile woman round to the right, then let her go. She dropped, collapsing onto the cushioned chair behind her. He turned his back on her, disgusted. Useless.
“Ruby … doesn’t have friends … like you.”
The defiant mumble that floated from the chair stopped him in his tracks. He stood, his back to the chair. After a moment’s debate, he turned back to face the woman, curiosity winning over.
She lay slumped in the chair where he’d dropped her. But as he narrowed his eyes at her in thought, her shadowed eyes rose to meet his.
“If you go near her again … I will kill you.”
Drayvex watched the broken woman who, quite frankly, had been at death’s door before he even got here, threaten his life, and smiled. Despite himself, he found a grudging admiration for this weak creature with balls of steel. If Ruby was half as strong-willed as her mother, she may hold his attention for more than five minutes after he’d taken the stone.
As he made for the exit, he thought about Ruby. If her mother had had a mental tussle with a demon elite at some point in her past and lost, then what was Ruby’s story? What was she hiding?
Switching trains of thought, he stepped back out into the night. If it came to it, the girl would have to decide whose word was strongest. Who would she believe; the person who had protected her, listened to her, who had proved to be dependable? Or her poor, demented mother who greeted people with cold metal and blabbed about demons?
Drayvex smiled. Tomorrow, it wouldn’t even matter who she believed. Tomorrow, he would take the stone. And by the end of the day, he would be holding the key to the ultimate power play: immortality.
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