Heart of the Dragon Ch. 04byAurora Black©
The kisses went on and on, and they blocked out everything else in the world as Gabriel and Grace rolled around fully clothed on the bed. Their kisses had started off sweet and slow, but before long they grew more passionate, more intense.
Grace's soft moan was audible in the silence of the room as she increased the pressure of the kiss and threaded her fingers through Gabriel's hair. Gabriel responded by tightening his arms around her waist and pressing her closer to him. He sighed at the adjustment, and he lost himself in the kiss.
Grace enjoyed the moment, but she couldn't help but think about what lay ahead. The explanation of the situation by her grandfather was unavoidable, but she found herself wishing that she could hold it back, if only for a while.
She thought about how things had been just a day before. The peaceful landscape of Rittersberg, the joy of her new home and her new life with Gabriel, the feeling of belonging.
Grace broke off the kiss. She opened her eyes and met Gabriel's puzzled gaze with her own.
"I don't want these new developments to change what we have together."
It took all of her concentration to keep her voice from breaking as she looked up at him.
Gabriel regarded her for a long moment, and his eyes softened.
"We're going to make it through this, Gracie."
He raised a hand to her face and caressed her cheek. She turned her head toward his hand and kissed his palm, and Gabriel's eyes darkened with emotion.
"Christ, I love you. There's no force on earth that can separate us."
They embraced, and Grace let out a sigh of contentment as she rested her head against his strong shoulder. They basked in the warmth of the moment, and they were both reluctant to break the spell.
With a sharp cry, Grace suddenly bolted upright in the bed, her eyes darting frantically around the room. Gabriel sat up and watched her with an alarmed expression on his face. He reached for her, and she flinched at his touch as if he were a stranger. Hurt and confused, he let his arms drop away from her and he continued to watch her, unsure of what else to do.
After a few moments, Grace began to calm down. She passed a trembling hand over her ashen face, and she took several deep breaths. Clearing her throat, she turned and met his concerned gaze. "I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me."
Gabriel framed her face in his hands and he looked into her eyes.
"Are you alright, Gracie?"
Still slightly stunned, she managed a weak smile.
"I'll be okay. I just need some fresh air."
Grace left the bed and slowly walked over to the bedroom window. She concentrated on the latch and opened the window to see clear skies and puffy clouds that shone with twilight. A warm breeze drifted through the window and softly stirred the curtains.
Grace continued to look outside with a feeling of disbelief.
That's very odd. I could have sworn that things were different somehow.
Her thoughts fled as she felt strong arms close around her waist and a set of full lips press against the nape of her neck. "Feeling better?"
Gabriel's breath stirred some loose hairs around her neck, and she shivered at the sensation. She turned around in his arms, facing him.
"I'm much better now. That air worked wonders."
Gabriel smiled. "Your grandfather called us down for dinner. Are you hungry?"
Grace tilted her head to one side, regarding him.
"Yeah, I am, but when did he call? I don't remember hearing him."
"He called while you were in deep thought."
"Oh. Let's go downstairs, then. We don't want to keep him waiting."
Grace stepped out of his arms and turned to close the window when she saw a figure below, walking away from the house. Grace frowned as she peered out of the window.
"Who is that?"
Gabriel came up beside her and looked out. His eyes rested on the departing figure, and his brow furrowed. "Could that be Takeo?"
Grace felt a sudden chill, and she closed the window. "Perhaps. Let's go downstairs."
* * *
They went downstairs and were greeted by delicious smells coming from the kitchen. The two of them weren't sure whose stomach growled first, but the sounds reminded them that they had not eaten in some time.
All of the rooms of the house were bathed in light, and Grace led Gabriel into the kitchen where Yukio was fiddling around with some pots and pans.
"Need any help, Grandfather?"
Yukio's head lifted from his task. "No thank you, my dear. I've just finished."
Grace smiled at Yukio and she and Gabriel glanced at the fabulous spread of food on the nearby dining room table.The table was filled with several mouth-watering dishes, including a lovely garden salad, rice, and steaming bowls of miso soup. Tempura, a traditional Japanese dish of vegetables and fried shrimp was the main course, and juicy pineapple slices were for dessert.
"Looks like you've been busy, Grandfather. Everything looks delicious."
Yukio put the last of the cooking pots away before leaving the kitchen, and he joined them in the dining room. He shrugged his shoulders.
"Alas, I cannot take all of the credit. Takeo helped me prepare dinner."
Gabriel's eyes met Grace's briefly before he spoke up. "Did Takeo leave the house just now?"
Yukio turned away from them and slowly walked towards a pair of glass doors. He watched the early evening twilight fade into darkness.
"Yes. He told me that he wasn't feeling well, and he left to get some rest in his cabin."
Yukio's shoulders rose and fell with a silent sigh. Grace came up behind Yukio and laid a hand on his back. She felt him stiffen briefly before he slowly relaxed and turned to her. His head, which had been previously lowered, rose as his gaze met hers. He saw that her eyes held both concern and confusion, and Yukio longed to banish them forever.
He remembered the vow that he made years before, when he promised himself to keep nothing from his granddaughter concerning the family legacy when the time came.
The time is now at hand, but how shall I proceed?
Meanwhile, Gabriel watched the exchange, intrigued by the emotions that played across the old man's features. Yukio recovered with a shake of his head and an exhalation of breath. He removed Grace's hand which had moved to his arm and held it between his own. He then nodded his head toward the dining room table.
"Shall we eat? I'm sure that you'll both be pleased with tonight's arrangement."
Grace allowed her grandfather to lead her back to the table, her mind filled with questions. She was puzzled by the tension that she sensed in Yukio's every word and gesture.
What does he have in store for us tonight, she wondered as her grandfather pulled out a chair for her to sit. She looked across the table at Gabriel, and she saw a mirror of her own thoughts in his expression.
Having sat down, Grace and Gabriel watched as Yukio sat at the head of the oval table and they waited for something, anything to happen to ease the feelings of anticipation and dread that had gathered in their stomachs.
Their expectations were met with silence.
The silence continued throughout the meal, and several times Grace glanced at the head of the table to find Yukio's gaze on her before he would look away. She stared at the half-eaten food on her plate and she felt herself growing restless.
Since the night before, Grace wondered at the events that surrounded her family and as the shock of Takeo's earlier outburst began to wear off, she found herself becoming intrigued by what she may learn.
"Your role in this family has been planned since before you were born. Your role as a protector and a defender of the family against evil."
Her pulse quickened and she closed her eyes. I knew in my heart this day would come.
Grace thought over her uncle's words and she remembered a time in her life, not so long ago, when she was content to hide behind books and let life pass her by. When she drove herself constantly to succeed.
Succeed in what exactly, Grace asked herself. To get the initials "Ph.D." next to my name? To spend my life behind a professor's desk and give long, boring lectures? To work myself into a frenzy concerning history while I'm powerless to create my own history?
No, I don't want that for myself. Not yet. I deserve more. There is more to life than books and classrooms, and a whole world to explore. I intend to do just that; as soon as this is over, I'll...
Her thoughts were interrupted by the feel of a hand covering hers on the table. She glanced up and met Gabriel's eyes. She let her eyes travel over the face that she knew and loved so well. His hair shone crimson, his jade eyes were fixed on hers, and for a moment Grace knew nothing but him. His smile, which had the power to light a thousand candles and make her melt, was absent. She knew why.
He's still concerned over what happened upstairs. So am I. I've never felt like that before; I had no sense of myself. It felt as if my body was in the room, yet my mind was elsewhere.
Grace clasped hands with Gabriel and held on tight.
After taking a deep breath, Grace turned her head toward her grandfather once more. Yukio was looking straight at her, and this time he didn't glance away.
"I need to know what's going on, Grandfather. Please."
Yukio looked down at the tablecloth, sighed and nodded his head. He looked into Grace's eyes. "My dear granddaughter, you know that we love you and that we've always tried to do what's best for you. It is extremely hard for me to tell you this..."
Yukio tore his eyes away from hers and focused once again on the tablecloth.
"Our family isn't exactly..."
What you were made to believe all these years, Yukio thought as he felt his throat grow dry.
He stood up from the dining room table and walked again towards the glass doors. He watched the sky grow stormy and he felt as if it had fallen on him.
I made a vow, but it is not so easy to tell her. The 300 years of waiting are over, and she must know everything. Everything.
The word echoed in Yukio's mind. He balled his hand into a fist and placed it against his heart. He closed his eyes and immediately recalled the sounds of a child's laughter.
So long ago. No.
A child's scream.
Grace and Gabriel had watched him as he walked away, and they grew alarmed as Yukio appeared to have trouble breathing. They bolted from the table to assist him.
Yukio was trembling where he stood, his eyes fixated on the growing storm outside.
"Dragons. Light. So long ago."
Gabriel picked up the old man and headed for the living room while Grace followed closely with a knot of fear in her belly. Yukio was sweating hard, and for a moment they feared he was having a heart attack. They made it as far as the living room threshold when Yukio began to protest. "I'm fine. Really, I'm fine!"
The statement ended with a fit of coughing while Gabriel laid the elderly Nakimura gently on the sofa and Grace ran to fetch Yukio a glass of water.
Grace returned to the room to find Yukio sitting upright, his eyes brimming with moisture as he looked upon her. She handed him the water, and he nodded his head in thanks while wiping his eyes hurriedly with a handkerchief. She watched him drink the water as if he was dying of thirst, and as he handed the empty glass back to her, Yukio avoided her eyes once more.
Grace's brow creased in confusion as she walked slowly back to the kitchen to return the glass, and Yukio watched her from beneath lowered lids. Gabriel was starting a fire in the nearby fireplace, but his senses were tuned into Yukio and how he reacted to Grace.
Something's going on with both him and Takeo, and I don't think that this homecoming will be the same quality as those damned "Waltons" reruns on television.
The flames came to flickering life, and Gabriel warmed his hands before turning towards Yukio. "Everything alright, Mr. Nakimura?"
The old man's gaze switched from the fire to Gabriel. "I'm better, Gabriel. Thank you."
Gabriel nodded his head at Yukio and he was about to say something else when Yukio gave him a perceptive look. "What are your intentions towards Grace?"
Gabriel was caught completely off-guard by the question, and he was at a loss for words. Yukio waited patiently for an answer, his midnight eyes ripe with intelligence and power.
Yeah, those eyes definitely run in the family.
Gabriel thought about that "special surprise" that he had meant to show Grace back in Rittersburg, and he inwardly sighed. He had it all planned out; after they returned home from the "Lone Wolf" party he was going to propose to her.
Now this is happening, and I have no clue what to do. Part of me is glad over the discovery; I am not alone in this supernatural business. But will we be able to handle this? I hope to God that we will.
Gabriel closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Maybe when things cool down, I can try again. I can't imagine my life with any other woman. I want Gracie as my wife, now and forever.
Yukio cleared his throat, and Gabriel opened his eyes. He saw that the corners of the old man's mouth were turned upward. Whether he was smiling or smirking, Gabriel wasn't sure which. They heard light footsteps approaching the living room, and Yukio gave him a quick wink. "We'll discuss this later. Privately."
Gabriel nodded to Yukio just before Grace entered the living room. She walked over to where Yukio was sitting and he held his hand out to her. She took it without hesitation, and Yukio pulled her to the couch to sit next to him.
Gabriel sat in an armchair across from Grace and Yukio, anticipation racing through his veins. Grace felt the same way. She felt as if she was standing on the edge of a cliff; her senses were heightened, her body tense. Release me, Grandfather. Tell me.
The old man looked directly at Grace and began. "It has been said that the Dragons of Light have been on this earth since the beginning of time, forged by fire..."
Grace's eyes widened as she listened to her grandfather's words, breathlessly waiting for him to continue. Gabriel's eyes flicked between Grace and Yukio. Grace had inched closer to her grandfather, and Gabriel noted that Yukio's fingers were clutching one of the pillows on the sofa tightly.
"Warriors who fought for many centuries in defense of everything that was fine and just, scholars who used their minds as effectively and sharply as any sword to defeat their adversaries and those of God, human beings who used their supernatural gifts to help others in need as well as to aid in their quests. These were the Dragons of Light... and they were all women."
Grace felt a surge of pride at her grandfather's statement. Well I'll be damned. It's nice to know that women had at least some power in Japan back then. And they were my ancestors, she reflected in awe.
Yukio cleared his throat, and Grace gave her attention back to him.
"The Dragons were very powerful and influential, yet very secret. They concealed the fact that they were female in order to safeguard their reputations, their possessions, and to prevent any unwarranted trouble from outsiders. They fought admirably in the face of fierce foes, whether feuding clans of Japan or dangerous otherworldly beings, and they never gave up on their principles..."
Yukio trailed off, remembering that there was a case where the Dragon's code was forsaken. Ignored completely. Wasted.
He looked at Grace and he saw the wonder in her eyes. That incident was the origin of this whole twisted game in which we are now pawns. God help us, the ones that must pay for the actions of long ago. Yukio's eyes remained fixed on his granddaughter. God help her.
Grace tilted her head to the side when she realized that Yukio had stopped. She glanced at Gabriel. He appeared to be as eager to hear more as she was. Grace touched her grandfather on the shoulder.
"Grandfather, how is the role of Dragon passed from generation to generation? In societies such as this, I thought that..."
She broke off her sentence, wondering what she should share. She remembered that Takeo had leaked the information on the ride to the house without Yukio's knowledge.
I wouldn't want Grandfather to be angry with Uncle Takeo for his giving us a "sneak peek" of what I was going to be told. I also don't think that it would be a good idea to say anything to suggest that I've encountered anything like this before, at least not yet.
Grace looked around the living room. What should I say? Think carefully, girl... got it!
Grace started again. "I mean, whenever anything was passed down in a family, especially in the old days...it was usually given to the men, wasn't it? How did it work with women in this case? Also, wouldn't there have been marriages to mix things up through the years?"
Yukio folded his hands in his lap. "Well, needless to say the Dragons were unique in many ways. In ancient Japan, when there were no male children in a family, it was customary for the daughters to be married off to continue the family line. Here is the twist: In these cases of marriage, the women kept their last names. When a woman in old world Japan kept her last name, her husband would adopt the name as his own and so would any children produced from the union.
In the case of the Dragons of Light, the Lady Nakimura would marry and give birth to daughters. When their day came the Nakimura daughters would marry, keep the family name, have their own daughters and so on. The Dragon's power was passed from mother to daughter, and the system of marriages and inheritances of gifts helped to ensure the continuity of the bloodline."
Gabriel sat up in the armchair. "What kinds of 'gifts' did the Nakimura women inherit, exactly?"
Yukio's gaze, which had been glued to Grace, quickly shifted towards Gabriel. The old man blinked several times, startled. It was as if he had forgotten that Gabriel was in the room with them.
"The supernatural gifts depended on the individual woman. The women became Dragons when they reached a certain age, but the gifts... the abilities appeared a bit before that time. Each ability was unique and suited for the owner. For example, if a Nakimura woman was kind-hearted and nurturing, then she would gain the gift of healing power. If a Nakimura woman was mean-spirited and cruel... yes, the gifts depended on the woman."
Grace tensed as she felt a shiver run through her at her grandfather's words.
Yukio continued. "Just over three centuries ago, the vast branches of the Nakimura family tree began to lessen as members of the family became victims of bloody battles, bizarre accidents, or they simply vanished altogether. By the late 1690s, the only Dragons left standing were three Nakimura women. They were sisters; their names were Sayuri, Matsuri, and Hana."
Grace was shocked. "Only THREE of them were left? What on earth could have befallen the family to cause such misfortune?"
Yukio's eyes were dark with sadness. "I wish that I knew, my child. I wish to God that I knew."
Gabriel's mind was going a mile a minute. "So what became of the three sisters?"
The old man sighed. "Well, Sayuri and Matsuri both... died shortly after Sayuri was initiated as Dragon. Hana, who was much younger than the two, was left to fend for herself after their deaths."
Grace gasped. "Oh God, how awful that must have been for her..."
Yukio placed an aged hand over hers. "She was taken in by a long-time friend of the family, and she lived a very long and fruitful life. However, she renounced any and all claims to the Dragon title and she bore all sons. Sons..."
The old man stood up and began to pace around the living room.