The final scene of “Ruby Descent” Chapter 2 is up 🙂 Though faced with many life-altering decisions, Ethlyne gathers her resolve and meets the man she fears most within his lair. With her past hopelessly broken, and a treacherous future, Ethlyne chooses to endure. However, old pain doesn’t dissolve easily, and only shallow hope carries her this time. Image is of Silas Blane, business mastermind and bone shaman extraordinaire.
A queasy sensation clenched her gut when the limousines slowed at their destination, on the executive level of the hotel. She reached for one of the dainty slices of toast beside the champagne. Warm butter sounded good at first, but as soon as she spread it, the smell struck her as disgusting. Bile rose in the back of her throat. She tossed it back onto the tray, drank some ice water, and nibbled on a plain slice to settle her stomach.
Snaps barked and shoved his head under her hand. She slumped over the seat, petting him.
“I’m okay, precious,” she said. “But this is another sign. Mercy, why is this happening to me right now? Like someone’s played the worst joke on me.” A thin laugh escaped her.
Snaps sneezed, ears perked, his beady eyes bugging in concern.
“It means there’s probably a bun in the oven. A little brother or sister for you and Ginger. It just better be your daddy’s. If it’s the big bad wolf’s puppy, I’ll–“
Everything swirled. A retch cut her short. She lunged for the wastebasket, and lost her cookies. Well, actually, she lost her toast. And the wine, and the…damn it all. Eyes watering, she swooned back onto the seat. She flung an arm over her face and groaned.
Snaps scratched at the door of the limo, yapping for help.
She dabbed her lips clean with a handkerchief, red smears of lipstick staining it. How rotten to get sick, with Silas expecting her. Her eye makeup was probably smudged to hell, too.
The chauffeur opened the door, and the clever, chiseled face of Miss Nelli Avangaline peered in. Snaps scurried around Nelli’s feet, barking orders.
“Mrs. Blane, are you ill?” Nelli asked, reaching into the vehicle to help Ethlyne sit upright.
“I was. Better now that my stomach evicted all that slop.” Ethlyne wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and sipped more water.
“Dear me, you’re pale as a sheet.” Nelli waved and whistled to the bodyguards near the other limo. “Trey, Franklin, get over here!”
While her staff fussed over her, Ethlyne collected herself again. There was no time for weakness. A lady carried on, no matter the odds, and did what had to be done. Only way she’d ever gotten to this point in her life. She popped open her pearly compact, fixed her makeup, and smoothed her coif. Another swill of water and a peppermint freshened her breath. It would have to suffice.
Mr. Ling appeared, his intimidating posture emphasized with hands behind his back. He studied Ethlyne down his bladed nose. “May I fetch anything for you, Mrs. Blane?”
She forced herself to stand, clinging to Trey and Franklin’s muscled arms for support. “No, thank you. Lead the way, Mr. Ling.”
Heeled pumps and polished wingtips ticked with Snaps’ tiny claws along the checkered tile floor. Ethlyne pulled her stole tighter, her fingers pressed like talons into the soft fur. She and her assistants followed Mr. Ling down a vaulted corridor. Columns of stepped copper stretched upward to the arched marble ceiling, while rows of fleur style sconces and potted fronds interspersed elegance.
The hall converged into a spacious lounge, affluent hotel guests mingling about. Top hats and tails, silk and chiffon draped over genteel postures, vape atomizers and cocktail glasses cradled over conversations. The walls were decorated with geometric mirrored insets, reflecting the posh cliques and their robotic servants into wedged fans and curls.
A holographic avatar misted into view before them, projecting a sprite of a young woman. Blonde and snazzy in the tailored uniform of the Royal Crown, her smile and eyes were too bright to be human. The avatar bowed her head. “Good day, Mrs. Ethlyne Blane. Welcome back to the Royal Crown Orbital Plaza And Resort. It’s always a pleasure to see you.”
Ethlyne nodded to the simulated hostess. “Thank you, Zora.”
“If you require anything to make your stay more comfortable, you have but to ask.” Zora’s voice accommodated to excess. Only programmed protocol, yet Zora was the most sentient and adaptable system in the known worlds. Everything in the hotel, and the five lifts as well, ran on this incredible service network.
People approached Ethlyne and tried to start conversation, but she only waved. The mad king of Everblue despised dalliance when important business was at hand. These guests were either off to the party, or breaking from the bedlam. The anniversary party had lasted three days already, and the final blow would be aboard the Ruby lift. The wildest ride was yet to come. Ethlyne had to be a smiling goddess of good will for the corporate overlords of water one last time.
After this, never again. Once the Goodridger reached Earth, she would go home to Mars. She hoped Castor would go with her. They’d return to their peaceful lives together, and Silas and his corrupt empire would face the consequences for all their lies. It seemed a far-fetched expectation at this point, as she followed Mr. Ling down another hall, to a pair of open ebony doors. The room inside yawned shadows like a tomb of lore, treasures and death secluded within the bowels of time.
Her staff waited in the hall. Nelli handed Snaps to her, knowing the dog never left her side. Mr. Ling waved Ethlyne and Snaps through, then closed the doors behind them. The click of the latch startled her. An odd numbness crept up her skin, goosebumps of tiny knives. So dark in here, hot, like drowning. The very air pressed, almost choking. She mustn’t get sick again, and steeled herself.
Cigarette smoke and sophistication adorned the office. What she could see of it, anyway. Mr. Silas Blane always preferred things dim, or sliced with firelight. He conducted occasional business at the Royal Crown, and rented a large space here for the convenience.
“Ah, there you are, my dear. Please, sit. Make yourself cozy. If you’ll excuse me, I must finish this call.” Silas grinned and leaned back in his chair, oozing deceptive charm. His dark glasses rested atop his head, as he didn’t need their protection in his self-imposed gloom. He shied from sunlight due to a strange malady of his vision. His dark brown eyes and hair appeared black when wrapped in dark corners like this one.
The logo of Everblue glowed in a single blue raindrop on the wall, providing ghastly illumination. Its flickering neon splintered across his shielded lenses, his smooth and calculating features, the gleaming display panels set into his desktop. He puffed an imported cigarette in blatant disregard of the hotel’s policy, smoke snaking about his fingers. Silas did whatever he wished, and no one questioned him. Such was his privilege as the CEO and Chairman of the most powerful mega-corporation in the solar system.
Ethlyne sat in the chair opposite the desk, setting Snaps and her handbag in her lap. Her gaze wandered to the eccentric decor, anything to avoid staring at her brother-in-law while he chatted on his wristcom. Silas adored dead things, human and animal. Specifically, bones. In every office and lair he owned, his skull collection gaped at visitors with dark, empty sockets. Trophy animal heads from his hunting expeditions covered an entire wall, but there was no fur or glass-eyed taxidermy to emulate life. Only the glaring white bone of their demise.
A human skull brazier rested on a corner altar, incense smoke wafting out of the hollowed eyes and nose. Offerings of crystals, dried herbs, a wolf’s skull etched with strange runes, and other small bone figurines rested around it. Beside the brazier was a photograph of two women, set in an ornate frame. Ethlyne recognized Silas’ wife and teenage daughter, their faces solemn, the daughter’s hand resting across the back of her mother’s wheelchair. Though Silas seemed a devoted husband and father to outsiders, Ethlyne was a Blane family member, and knew of the actual alienation.
“Yes, indeed. Bring the crews onto the main lobby floor when we board the lift, Reuben. It’ll be splendid, simply glorious. I must have at least one favorable segment before I depart. Hold the front, good man, hold the front. Cheers.” Silas disconnected his call, and swiveled his chair to face Ethlyne. His smile broadened over his brazen white teeth. He must spend a fortune to keep them so perfect, as he was a chain smoker. Though he bore a celebrity’s practiced panache, his grin always seemed more a predator’s sneer, the fangs of a beast bared to kill. “How marvelous to see you. You’re right on time. And hello, Snaps. Looking dapper as always.”
Snaps replied with a growl.
“It’s nice to see you as well.” She chose the most obvious conversation filler. “How are Tamsin and Cerise doing?” It was a double-edged question, one she hoped would unsettle him.
Silas shifted his weight to a more relaxed position. “They’re well. I thank you for asking. Tamsin mentions you often, and wonders why you don’t visit anymore. I’m never sure what to tell her.”
Ethlyne tensed. Why was Silas being so casual with her? They hadn’t spoken in person for weeks, and he acted now as if the event of two months ago was forgiven and forgotten. It’s all a show, and the last act at that. Just a while longer.
“I’m ready for the boarding ceremony, and I received your message with the final specifications,” she said, resting an arm against the desk in feigned interest. “What do you wish to discuss?”
He leaned closer, gaze razored as obsidian. The golden teardrop ring on his left little finger gleamed, a sample of the first water purified by Everblue encased within its faceted prison. He exhaled a cloud of smoke, and at least had the gentility to blow it away from her. “There’s been a change of plans at the last minute. Due to unexpected circumstances, I won’t be attending the descent with you. I must go to Mars at once, to deal with certain discrepancies in the company. That being the case, you and my charming brother must represent me, and be the hosts for our friends.”
Ethlyne raised a fine penciled eyebrow. She’d expected bad news, but this was a lucky turn. “I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the trouble, if I may ask?”
“A sabotage,” he said. “The Administration has ordered an emergency shutdown of all space transport, including the Ruby lift. Boarding has been delayed by thirty standard minutes. Apparently, the Martian extremists responsible for the recent bombings on Farswept have escaped, and the officials fear they’ll try and retreat to Earth. Security will be escalated along the descent.” His stare speared her over his folded hands . “Everything, everyone will be monitored closely. Though you and Castor surely have no objections to that. Do you?”
“Of course not,” she said, widening her eyes to appear naive.
Silas sauntered around the desk, the tip of his cigarette brimstone red as he took a deep drag. Always the epitome of fashion, his black suit flattered his lean, rakish figure, his tie tacked with a silver pin bearing the Everblue logo. He leaned at the edge of the desk, and crossed one ankle over the other. “So, tell me, where has your husband been for the past two months? He ignores my calls, and refuses to tell me his location. I only hope you’ve kept him up to date with all the requirements for the descent.”
She took a deep breath. “He’s…away. He refuses to speak to me on a personal level, but I assure you I’ve briefed him on all professional points. Please don’t ask me to elaborate. You know the reason for his solitude all too well.” A slight pout of her lips, a slow blink, she allowed only a fraction of her enmity to flare. Her exaggerated expression of dismay, even flirtatious disappointment, was presented to mislead him. Would he fall for it?
Silent, he stared through her, as if seeing things beyond her senses. An eerie habit of his. Castor had once told her Silas possessed strange powers–uncanny foresight, and a talent for swaying things to his whim. She’d always scoffed, assuming it was her husband’s wit, always teasing her with silly jokes. But after she’d experienced Silas’ true nature, she wasn’t sure anymore.
He extinguished his cigarette into a chromed ashtray. “Aren’t we a happy family?” His laughter rolled like a soothing tide. “One error doesn’t validate another. Ethlyne, there’s much I’d like to tell you. However, I can’t see the point when there’s so much you won’t tell me. I’d once believed we were business partners. Even friends. Why the sudden reversal of your regard, I wonder?”
He spread his fingers across the desktop, and muttered something. The torrid smother of the air intensified.
Snaps jumped down and cowered under her chair. Sweat beaded on Ethlyne’s face and neck, and she coughed.
“Is something the matter?” Silas asked. “You seem distracted. May I get you some water?”
“No, thank you.” She’d never accept another drink from this man, even though her mouth and throat burned with thirst. The room compressed around her, bringing back the fearful memories. Flashes, glimpses, were all she could recall. Pale flesh, flamed with desire and remorse, tattoos of a wolf and esoteric sigils dancing along Silas’ skin. A skull with living eyes, rhythmic songs burrowing into forgotten parts of her mind. Daggers of bone, smoldering ash, blood. Incapacitated. Silas’ voice had echoed inside her head, probing her entire being. “Tell me the truth.”
He dared to torment her again. The tattooed marks around her navel itched and stung. She hunched, hands over her abdomen. “Don’t do this.” She gasped. “I’ll fulfill my contract to you, and to Everblue. Please, just leave me alone. As for Castor, I have no knowledge of, nor influence on what he does. He despises me, now. I’m of no use to you there.”
Silas stepped closer, and bent over her chair. Ethlyne froze, as if pinched in an unseen vise. Her heart thrashed against her ribs, panic surging in her veins. She smelled the clean, spiced undertone of his cologne, the tonic in his sleek hair. His breath mocked her, lips skimming the edge of her ear.
“You’ll always be of use.” He sidled behind her, hands resting on her shoulders. “What a tragedy my brother has abandoned you. His devotion must be trite, if he’d leave his true love over a simple mistake.”
“Stop, at once,” Ethlyne said, shrinking from him.
A snarl exploded beneath her. Snaps dove to protect, sinking his teeth into Silas’ ankle.
Silas shouted and stumbled, the dog tugging at his pant leg.
“Snaps, come.” Ethlyne pointed to her lap. Snaps let go, still growling, and leaped into her arms.
“Dogs are the most loyal friends,” Silas said, smoothing his lapels. “A bond even death can’t sever.”
With a huff, Ethlyne stood and gathered her things. “Do you have anything else to say? If not, please dismiss me, as I have much to prepare for the descent.”
Silas grinned and shook his head. “You may go. I appreciate your time, Ethlyne. Your virtues commend you.”
A paltry attempt to conceal his manipulations with a compliment. She might have been gullible to Silas’ intentions before, but she was no fool, now. Once bitten, a thousand times shy, baby. Gotta survive.
She didn’t say goodbye, and paced out of the office with her head up and her hips weaving outrage. Minutes later, she checked into her ready suite a level down. The bed called to her. She told her staff she was still feeling out of sorts, and laid down for a while with Snaps. For the first time in weeks, a tear fled down her cheek. She didn’t dry it. It carried her suffering away, and left a damp stain on the pillowcase.