Heart of the Dragon Ch. 02byAurora Black©
June 21, 1995
Gabriel Knight smiled as he led Grace Nakimura to the building reserved for the party. He had a few surprises in store for her this night. This was going to be a celebration to remember.
First, the party was to celebrate the release of "The Lone Wolf," the novel "loosely" based on their last case. Gabriel told his publisher to give Gracie a co-writing credit without her knowledge.
Surprise number one, Gabriel thought, grinning. It was only fitting with the non-stop assistance and support that she gave him since the beginning. He really appreciated it, and her.
Also, the party was a kind of double celebration; it was also a birthday party for Gracie. He deliberately didn't mention it the whole day, and he could tell that she was a bit put out with him for "forgetting". He felt awful about tricking her, but he consoled himself with the thought of how she'll react to the surprise party. He smiled again.
Surprise number two. The third surprise can wait until later, Gabriel decided. When we're alone.
It was at that moment that Grace looked up at him and smirked.
"What are you smiling at, Knight? Something naughty, no doubt."
Gabriel played along, giving her an exaggerated once over and wiggling his eyebrows.
"What do YOU think?"
Grace laughed and squeezed his arm tighter.
"I think that we should hurry and get to this party. It'll keep me from throwing myself at you." She added a mock leer of her own to this statement.
They both giggled and made their way toward the huge double doors at the building's front. They were soon close enough to hear the party guests already in progress.
Before they entered, Gabriel surprised Grace by turning her around and giving her a lengthy kiss which left her breathless. He raised his head, and her lips tingled.
"What was that for?"
Gabriel continued to hold her close, his eyes warm.
"Since when do I have to have a reason?"
She smiled as she looked up into his face, and she had to remind herself to breathe.
"Well, you don't. Even though I was startled when you did it out of the blue like that, I didn't mind a bit. Promise me that you'll do that more often, and never when I'm expecting it."
Smiling with satisfaction, Gabriel held out his arm for her to take.
"Shall we continue to our destination, my lady?"
She returned his grin with one of her own, and took his arm.
"Lead the way, my Knight."
The double doors opened, and they got their first view of the party. The ballroom was lovely, decorated with golden balloons, golden streams, and other golden fixtures.
The balloons were all over the place; tied to fixtures on the walls, floating about on the ceiling, and stuffed inside of nets to be released later. A very beautiful swan ice sculpture was on one side of the room on a table, and a second ice sculpture depicting the scene on the Ritter talisman, the lion and the dragon in combat, was on another table.
Topping it all off, a very large replica of the "Backlash" talisman was suspended in the center of the room, over a table arranged with several copies of the new book, "The Lone Wolf," by Gabriel Knight and Grace Nakimura.
Gabriel looked down at Grace, very pleased with her reaction. Grace was taking everything in with an open look of wonder and excitement.
In the distance, they heard a woman shout, "There they are!"
Up until then, the people weren't aware that they had arrived; they had entered so quietly. The party guests turned, and Gabriel and Grace were greeted with earth-shattering applause. The celebrated authors made their way through the crowd, murmuring thank yous and greetings. Finally they came face-to-face with Ubergrau.
"Ah, our wonderful guests of honor are here at last," beamed the young attorney.
Gabriel shook hands with Ubergrau, glancing again at the decorations.
"You've got a great setup here, Harry. This is gonna be one hell of a party."
Ubergrau brightened even more with the compliment.
"I hope so. You're not paying me for nothing, you know."
Gabriel introduced Grace to Ubergrau.
"Let me present my partner and muse. Harry, Gracie. Gracie, this is Harry Ubergrau."
Harry took Grace's hand and clasped it firmly.
"So glad to finally meet you. You can't believe how much Gabriel talks about you..."
Gabriel flushed. "Come on, Harry..."
Grace smiled. "It's great to meet you too, Harry. You know, without you, we wouldn't have been able to write 'The Lone Wolf.'"
Ubergrau, very pleased with this statement, blushed and grinned. He then excused himself, and Gabriel whispered in her ear.
"There's that Gracie charm that I love."
She shivered at the feel of his warm breath on her ear.
"More than the charm, I hope."
He kissed her hand. "The whole package, Gracie. The whole package."
The rest of the evening was a blur of book signings, introductions, and celebrations. Grace, as hoped, was very pleased with the band suddenly playing "Happy Birthday" and a huge cake being wheeled out for her. The cake's design was, of course, the Ritter talisman. The ballroom floor was later cleared, and dancing was on the agenda for the rest of the night.
In the middle of a slow dance, Gabriel whispered for Grace to look up, and she was rewarded with the sight of the previously restrained balloons being set free. She watched them float up, one by one, toward the glorious domed ceiling. Her gaze returned to Gabriel, who was looking at her with another one of those trademark lopsided grins.
"You know what?"
Gabriel's eyes glistened in the light as he watched her. "What?"
Grace moved her arms to wrap them around his neck.
"This was the sweetest thing that you could have done for me tonight."
Gabriel's lips curved at the thought of his next surprise, and it was all he could do not to shout out his joy.
"It won't be the last one, darlin'. Night's not over yet."
He didn't say anything at her puzzled look. He just grinned again.
* * *
Somewhere between Munich and Rittersberg
June 22, 1995
They had taken their leave from the party sometime after midnight, and they were making their way back to Schloss Ritter. They were talking about the events of the evening as they traveled through the stormy countryside in Gabriel's new Mercedes Benz.
"Gabriel? What did you think of Gerde passing on tonight's party?"
"Well, I'm sure that she had her reasons to stay at home. You know, to answer the phone and stuff."
He was trying to loosen the bow tie on his tuxedo and drive at the same time. Grace helped him so he could concentrate on the deserted road. She frowned slightly, worried about her friend's well-being.
"She could have taken a break for one night, at least. She's been working too hard."
Gabriel cleared his throat, his eyes focused on his task. "Perhaps she's acting this way because the anniversary is this week. It's been two years since Wolfgang died. She probably thinks that if she throws herself into her work, then it won't hurt as much."
Grace was stunned, and her frown vanished.
"Oh, God. I had completely forgotten. Poor Gerde."
Gabriel glanced at her, and he felt a surge of tenderness at the sight of her face.
"I'll talk to her when we get back. Give her some time off."
Grace shifted in her seat so she could move closer to Gabriel and rest her head on his shoulder. "That sounds like a good idea."
They fell silent, and . After a few more minutes, Grace spoke again. "Hey, I've been thinking about all those symbols at the party. You know, the ones of the talisman."
Gabriel said before he glanced down at her shiny, raven hair against his shoulder.
"What about them?"
She toyed with the end of his opened bow-tie.
"We know that the Ritters are represented by the Lion, right?"
"Yeah," Gabriel responded, waiting for her to continue.
"Have you ever wondered about whom the Dragon represents?"
Gabriel frowned slightly, trying to recall. "No, can't say that I have. Why?"
A shiver went down Grace's spine. "I was just wondering."
Gabriel sensed that something was going on, but he wasn't sure what.
"Seriously, what made you think of that?"
Grace looked up at him with confused eyes.
"I honestly don't know. I've been thinking about this on and off all day, and seeing all those talisman symbols at the party brought it all to the surface."
They looked into each other's eyes for a long moment before Gabriel broke the silence.
"I know one thing. No matter who the Dragon is, you are my partner. I love you, and I trust you with my life."
After taking a quick glance at the road, he leaned down to kiss her. She made him happy for the first time in what seemed like forever, and he tried to communicate his feelings to her through the kiss. Grace must have gotten the message; after his lips left hers, she sighed with satisfaction and her head returned to his shoulder.
"I can't ask for anything more, then."
Silence fell once again. It was a comfortable silence, like a warm blanket. As the car continued to weave through the German countryside, Gabriel allowed his mind to drift. He reflected with great satisfaction on the success of the party and the evening as a whole.
Gabriel smiled to himself. The surprises that he had planned for Grace pleased her greatly and then some, which left him wondering how she'd take the third and final plan that he had in store for her.
His face sobered as his thoughts turned serious, his reflections involving emotions that ran deep down to the core of his being. It's been a long, hard battle, he thought.
* * *
Only two years before, he considered love to be a foreign emotion, one that trapped people into becoming complete fools. He had led a very lonely existence, content with numerous one-night stands with women whose names he usually forgot by the next morning. Or so he told himself.
He had lived each day of his life as if it was the last, making no real plans for the future, because he'd convinced himself that he did not have one. He had lived his life in fear that if something were to happen to him, no one would miss him. In a way, that assumption was ridiculous. Back then he had his Gran and Mosely, but that wasn't enough. Not nearly enough.
He had resigned himself to the idea that there was no one who would truly care for him as he was, to see past the many layers that made up the Gabriel Knight that he showed to the outside world and find the genuine article, the heart and soul of him.
Like an answer to an unspoken prayer, Gracie came into his life. She was such a little thing, but she took him by surprise when she demonstrated her strength and her spirit. He was charmed by her from the beginning.
Throughout his first case with the Voodoo Murders, he had relied on her quick wit and sound judgment. Without her, he knew that he could have been killed on several occasions. And she was very helpful to him while he was struggling to come to terms with what happened to Malia, his first love. Her death had left a gaping hole where his heart had been, and he'd shut down completely.
After the Voodoo Murders case, he left to establish his claim to his birthright, Schloss Ritter, and along with it the lifestyle of a Shadow Hunter. He shut himself away in his castle, brooding over the death of Malia, the situation that he had found himself in.
He had thought about Grace a lot, as well. He didn't understand at the time why the business with his family was so important to her. He only concentrated on feeling sorry for himself, convincing himself that he was incapable of falling in love again.
Then, during the Black Wolf case, he was angry and shocked after learning that Gracie had come to Germany to help him. He used every trick that he could think of to mislead and divert her, deliberately keeping her away from him. He wanted her to stay at the castle for her own safety, or so he had convinced himself. He had wanted her to be safe, but he had also wanted to fight the emotions that she stirred up in him.
When he was bitten by Von Zell and brought back to Rittersberg, he tried his damnedest to keep himself emotionally withdrawn when he realized how much she had to care about him to help him during that very difficult time. How strong she was, his Gracie. She had stuck by him, helping him without complaint.
Especially when the tainted blood worked its way into his mind, causing him to treat her so unfairly. His memories of what he had said to her in the Opera House basement made him want to retch. He didn't blame her when she announced her plans to go back to school after the Von Glower case was over. He had let her go, knowing that it would rip his heart out to do so.
The summer turned into autumn, and soon the leaves fell from the trees and the land was covered with winter snow. Gabriel went back to his faithful typewriter to crank out another novel, but his heart wasn't in it. After she left, it wasn't in anything. It took those many months for him to realize that his heart was with Gracie.
Love had conquered him a second time.
The love that he felt for Grace was as powerful as a tempestuous storm. It was pure, deep, and all consuming. It had developed so gradually that it first came as a shock, but it quickly melted into recognition; he knew all along how he felt about her.
He knew that there would always be a special place in his heart for Malia, but she was dead. He was tired of the dead. He needed the living; he needed Grace.
He set off for New York on the next plane. He drove non-stop from New York to New Haven, and frantically searched the grounds of Yale. He found her, sitting on a bench, sketching. He knew that she was shocked by his presence there, but she recovered quickly.
Gabriel knew that he had to be careful, or risk losing her forever. He opened the emotional floodgates, and he told her about his hopes, his fears, and he confessed his love for her. He apologized for all the hell that he had put her through back in Germany, and Grace was silent from shock, sorting through all that he had told her. His heart had sunk when she didn't respond, and he started to walk away, convinced that it was too late for them.
It's over, he thought. I lost my chance, and I have no one to blame but myself.
He had left the snowy courtyard when he suddenly heard someone shouting behind him. He turned around, and he saw Grace, standing a few yards behind him.
"What did you say?"
Grace smiled and walked the remaining distance between them.
"I said, 'come back, you asshole.'"
With that, they both laughed until she silenced him with a kiss. They stood there holding each other until Grace spoke again, pulling him closer.
"Now, then... How does Rittersberg look during Christmastime?"
* * *
The sudden sound of a thunderclap brought Gabriel back to the present. That day at Yale had been six months before, and they'd been an item ever since.
I've never felt this strongly for any woman before Grace, Gabriel thought. I love her, and I'll keep loving her until my last breath. If she'll have me for that long.
He glanced at Grace, and he saw that she was asleep. He unconsciously felt the pocket of his tuxedo jacket, and was rewarded with the bulge of the square box within.
As soon as we get home, he kept thinking. As soon as we get home.
* * *
The rumbles of thunder echoed through the desolate halls of Schloss Ritter. Gerde was pacing back and forth in the main hall, checking the antique grandfather clock with each pass.
It's 2:00 in the morning, and they still haven't returned. Where the hell are they?
She had been on edge since the phone call from Grace's mother earlier in the evening. From what Grace had told her about her mother, Gerde pictured Keiko Nakimura as a very stable personality. The earlier phone call contradicted her impression of her. It seemed like Mrs. Nakimura was very close to the edge of panic.
The feeling of impending doom that had suddenly closed around Gerde after the phone call wouldn't go away. Gerde hadn't felt this way since right before Wolfgang died. When she'd learned that he was on his way to Africa, deep down she knew he would not return alive.
She couldn't take it anymore. Gerde raced towards the castle's heavy front doors, grabbing her raincoat on the way out. She knew where to go for guidance.
At the church, she prayed as if her own life hung in the balance. She prayed that her feelings concerning Grace and her family were wrong, that nothing would happen to endanger their lives and those of others.
Before she left, she visited Wolfgang's tomb and sobbed. She spoke aloud to the grave, which was often her custom. She asked him for advice, for guidance. No answer.
When she felt that she could do no more, she returned to the castle. She saw that the Mercedes was back in the driveway. Gabriel and Grace had returned. She entered just in time to catch Gabriel, with a sleeping Grace in his arms, about to climb the stairs.
She gently tapped Gabriel on the shoulder. "Gabriel. I have to talk to you. It's important."
Gabriel turned to glance at her. "Are you sure it can't wait?"
"I'm positive. Come on."
Gabriel gently placed the still sleeping Grace on a nearby couch and went to follow Gerde into another room. "Okay. What's up?"
Gerde took a deep breath. "Earlier this evening, right after the two of you left, Mrs. Nakimura called asking for Grace. I told her that she had just missed Grace and it sounded like she was about to panic. She tried to act calm, but her voice betrayed her. It was as if it was a life and death situation."
Gabriel had a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. "What else, Gerde?"
"I feel that this is very serious, Gabriel. I can't explain it, but my instincts never lie to me. It is truly a matter of life and death."
Gabriel let out a long sigh. Gerde was right. She was able to sense things that he was only beginning to learn about; instincts and premonitions. He trusted her.
He turned around and looked at Grace, still sleeping where he had left her. He felt the need to protect her from whatever this serious situation was, but he suspected that if he were to keep it from her, it would end up hurting her more than he could ever imagine. He sighed again. He walked over to the couch and gently shook her awake.
"Gracie. Gracie, we're home."
Grace slowly came awake, blinking. "Hmm? Oh. How long have we been back?"
"Only a few minutes." Gabriel cleared his throat, and Grace looked up at him.
"Your mom called right after we left. She said that it was urgent."
Grace frowned. She sincerely hoped that this wouldn't involve her mom giving her grief because of her decision to move to Germany. "Okay. I'll call."
A moment later, she held the phone against her ear with a furrowed brow.
What's taking them so long?
She didn't understand why Gabriel and Gerde were hovering around nearby while she was making the call, but she didn't mind because all she was concerned with at the moment was getting her parents on the phone and finding out what they wanted.
After what seemed like an eternity, the phone on the other end picked up. "Hello?"
Mom sounds like she's been crying, Grace thought.
She cleared her throat. "Yeah, Mom. It's me. Is everything okay?"
No words on the other end. Only heavy breathing.
More crying, and then the sudden knock of the receiver being put down somewhere. An instant later, she heard her father's voice on the line.