Dark Impulse Ch. 02byAurora Black©
Gabriel Knight woke up in a cold sweat, his breath rasping through his lungs. He closed his eyes and willed himself to calm down, to slow the racing of his heart. After several minutes of meditation, he shifted restlessly in his bed, disturbed by his recent dream.
* * *
The room was cold and dark as he stirred, his brain clouded with confusion and fatigue. His breath was visible in the air as he sat up in bed; the fire had been out for a long while. He had no idea what time it was.
Gabriel shuddered as he gathered the blankets to his chest. He wondered why the castle was freezing. It was almost April, and although it was natural for the temperature to plunge during the night so close to the mountains, he'd never been as cold as he was in that moment. He half expected to find icicles on the ceiling.
His thoughts scattered when he suddenly realized that he wasn't alone.
He felt her presence before he saw her; the scent of jasmine filled his senses. Grace's scent. It was the same flowery perfume that had charmed Gabriel when he met her, moved him when he kissed her, and thrilled him when he made love to her.
She was wearing jasmine on the day she left him in France. After he found her goodbye note to him he spent days locked in their hotel room, his face buried in her pillow, smelling her scent. He was such a fool back then; she had every right to leave him. He spent days, months and ultimately years regretting his behavior, haunted by the eternal "what if" questions.
What if he hadn't used her and discarded her like she was garbage? What if he hadn't flirted so shamelessly with Madeline? What if he had finally grown up and realized that he wanted Grace and only Grace? What if he had finally told her how he felt instead of shutting her out?
The familiar wave of self-disgust at the way he had treated her washed over him. Over five years had passed since the Night Stalker case in Rennes-Le-Chateâu, but the memories were still fresh in his mind, the ache still fresh in his heart.
What if he had followed her, instead of staying where he was to wallow in self-pity and despair?
In the darkness, Gabriel reached out his hand. He whispered her name, and as if sparked by some demonic force, the fire ignited in the hearth and he finally saw Grace standing before him.
Her eyes glittered in the light like polished onyx, and Gabriel felt his heart quicken as he stared into them. Moments passed, and she neither said a word nor took his offered hand. He let it drop to his side, not surprised by her reaction but hurt nonetheless.
What on earth did he expect?
He looked at her. The years had changed her appearance; her hair was no longer worn in the sleek pageboy that he had loved, but was now an ebony waterfall which trailed down her creamy back. He longed to touch it, run his fingers through it.
Grace's face had lost its innocence over time, and became more worldly and confident. He had never seen her so beautiful. Gabriel remembered the silkiness of her skin in his hands as he kissed her on that night long ago, and wondered if it would feel the same after all these years.
Her eyes, which were once animated and youthful, had transformed into pools of resignation and deep sadness. The intelligence that made her so dear to him was still there, but her spirit was broken. He searched her face for the reason why, but it eluded him. He sensed that more had happened in her life to bring about this change, something beyond the pain and grief that he caused her. He wished that she would talk to him.
Other than the sadness, he noticed that her eyes were bold as she surveyed him. Her gaze was an intoxicating combination of fire and ice; he wanted to ask her how much she had of each concerning him.
Do you still love me, Gracie? Or did you lose whatever affection you had for me when you went away?
Looking at her, Gabriel thought that she looked as if she wanted to either slap him in the face or kiss him passionately. Perhaps both, perhaps neither. He didn't care which one she chose as long as she touched him. He needed a sign that he still mattered to her, that the passage of time did not do irreversible damage to what they once had together, no matter how brief that bliss was.
With his heart in his mouth, he whispered her name again and was devastated when she turned to walk away. The soft rustling of her nightgown mocked him as her hips swayed within the crimson silk, her steps strong and sure. As she left the room, the fire died again and Gabriel was left in darkness.
* * *
Sleep would not come again that night, Gabriel was certain. He slowly rose from bed and sat at the edge, deep in thought. He was shaken by the dream of Grace; of course he had dreamt of her over the years, but his previous dreams had always involved the past, and they were never in such vivid detail.
He left the bed, pausing briefly to slip on a pair of shoes before leaving his room. He walked through the corridors of his castle, knowing every inch, every curve. He did not need light to know his way. Many lonely nights spent pacing through the same halls had created that familiarity.
He climbed a winding staircase up to the attic, which Gabriel turned into a studio when the castle renovation was finished a few years back. He switched on the lights and looked around at his work.
He had inherited his father's gift after all; the extremely large space was filled with dozens of finished paintings, and hundreds of sketches. Over half of them featured Grace: Grace reading a book in the garden, a look of pure pleasure on her face. Grace in the library, her brow furrowed in contemplation. Grace sitting underneath a tree, communing with nature. Her portraits hung on the walls, reminding him of what he had lost, what he had driven away.
With a sigh, Gabriel set up a brand-new canvas and prepared his equipment. He was determined to capture this new vision while it was still fresh in his mind. He analyzed the dream as he mixed his oil paints; remembering every detail as he brushed the canvas steadily, deliberately. Ardently.
Finally, hours later, the portrait was finished. The sun rose over the mountains, casting light on his newest creation. He stared at Grace's image, reflecting again on the level of detail; the painting was so realistic that he felt as if he could reach out and touch her. It was his best work to date.
A frown crossed his face as he considered the change in her eyes. He didn't question how he knew about her emotional state; his years of experience as a Shadow Hunter had served well to build and sharpen his intuition. It was now second nature to him. He knew that somehow he was bound to her, soul to soul. That was all he needed to know.
Her eyes tell me of a great despair. What caused such hopelessness? I have to find her and help in any way that I can. I would give anything to take away her pain. I must find her.
With those last four words repeating in his head like a mantra, Gabriel left the studio and returned to his room, heading straight for the Shattenjager library.
Sitting at his desk, he leafed through the telephone directory and found the listing that he wanted: The Golden Lion, a travel agency in town. Hoping that it wasn't too early in the morning to call, Gabriel dialed the number, holding his breath with each turn of the old-fashioned rotary.
"Hallo?" The voice sounded both sleepy and annoyed.
Gabriel's stomach was filled with butterflies as he made his reservations, the German flowing from his lips flawlessly.
Gabriel's eventual mastery of the language was a wonder to those who had known him from the beginning; even Gerde still couldn't believe the change at times. He'd had a lot of time to practice; some months after Grace left, he forced himself out of his self-imposed exile at the castle and went more often into town. In addition to his extensive book learning, he socialized with the locals whenever he needed to buy art supplies and typing paper, or send the occasional letter to Gran, or when he would grab a quick bite to eat at the gasthof.
The villagers, even though they didn't know what to make of him at first, had in time developed a great respect for the Ritter heir; this esteem helped Gabriel to secure plane tickets on such short notice. The travel agent was no doubt cranky at being disturbed so early in the morning - his office and house were one and the same - but once he heard the name "Knight," he was more than happy to be of assistance.
By the end of the phone call, Gabriel was booked for a flight that afternoon to New Orleans with a connection in Washington, D.C. He figured that he owed it to Gran to pay her a visit, and he could also check on St. George's. A part of him also hoped that Grace would be there, watching over the shop like old times.
A cynical laugh erupted from his throat.
Not damned likely. What the hell do you expect from her, Knight? You think that she'll still be sitting at that old desk after all this time, playing shopkeeper? Waiting for YOU? That when you come back, striding in like some two-bit cowboy in a B-movie western, she'll drop everything and run into your arms? Think again, damn it.
Gabriel swallowed down the lump that was lodged in his throat, shutting out the sarcasm of his thoughts.
I'm not going there just for Gran and the shop, he thought with a feeling of helplessness. I honestly don't know where else to look. Gracie, where are you?
He left the library and went to take a shower, his movements mechanical and his mind disconnected from what he was doing. He was barely conscious of stripping off his clothes, the feel of the hot water on his body, the scent of the soap. He was too busy thinking about Grace and what she had told him about her background, searching for clues as to where she could be.
As he leaned back under the spray to wash his hair, Gabriel remembered that when they first met, Grace had two years left of school to earn her doctorate. She may have returned to finish at some point. Yale was in New Haven, Connecticut. Grace was born in Japan, but she was raised in New York. Yet she had also told him more than once that she disliked the frantic pace of the Big Apple, and that she had been charmed and fascinated by the Crescent City, not just the historical aspect of it but also the laid-back philosophy of its residents.
But that was her opinion when I knew her before. Time and circumstances can change a person, and after the way I treated her I suppose that, like Rittersberg, New Orleans would be the last place she'd want to be.
He stepped out of the shower and toweled off. There was still the matter of whether or not she was still living abroad; he recalled her excitement over that community that she'd found in India, the one led by Chadrel. Could she have gone there after she left him? Very likely.
There was something in his gut, however, that told him that she was now in the States. It was only a question of where.
With that in mind, Gabriel dressed and went downstairs to find Gerde.
Gerde no longer lived in the castle, but she still came every other day to cook and clean. She had moved out two years before when she fell in love and married Axel, the local carpenter. According to her, one day she decided that it was time for her to stop mourning Wolfgang and move on with her life. He would have wanted it that way. She was very happy in her new life with Axel, and recently they were blessed with an adorable baby girl which they named Anna.
Gabriel found Gerde in the kitchen preparing breakfast. She greeted him with a smile. Anna was seated in a high chair, gurgling happily. She was exactly like her mother; all shiny blond curls and sparkling blue eyes. The baby laughed at Gabriel.
"Good morning, ladies. Beautiful day, isn't it?"
He couldn't help but grin at the domestic scene before him. Eight years ago, back when he was a struggling writer who lived from hand to mouth (and bed to bed), he never thought that he'd have anything to do with that sort of thing.
But back then I didn't believe in the existence of witches, werewolves or vampires either. Times change.
Gerde turned away from the stove, poured some coffee for Gabriel and then reached for the eggs. She began cracking them over a bowl.
"What are you doing up so early, Gabriel? It's seven o' clock; you're usually asleep until at least ten."
He sat down at the table and took tentative sips of the hot, freshly brewed coffee; it was heavenly. He paused, peering at Gerde over the rim of the mug.
"I had trouble sleeping last night. I had a dream and afterwards I couldn't go back to sleep, so I went to the attic to paint. It was about Grace."
Gerde froze, stopping the egg she was holding in mid-crack. She sucked in her breath sharply, and she slowly released it. She carefully finished her work on the eggs before washing her hands and turning around, a look of pain on her features.
Like Gabriel, she had also been hurt by Grace's sudden departure and had missed her a great deal since. As far as he knew, Gerde hadn't heard from her at all since her disappearance. Neither had he.
"What happened in the dream?"
She had wrapped her arms around herself, a protective gesture that let Gabriel know that she was preparing herself for the worst. Although the dream didn't sit well with him, he knew through personal experience that worse things could have happened in his vision of Grace. Much worse.
The room was silent except for the soft crackling of cooking food; even the baby had quieted down, her eyes darting between her mother and Gabriel. He lowered his mug.
Gabriel cleared his throat. "I was alone in my room. The fire was gone and the room was freezing. I laid there, shivering in the darkness until I noticed that someone was standing next to the bed. It was Grace; even in the dark, I knew it was her. I called out to her, and the flames burned again in the fireplace and she was revealed to me. She was so beautiful, but in a tragic way."
His voice cracked on the word "tragic." He paused a moment before continuing.
"Her eyes were so sad that I wanted to take her into my arms, but something in the way she looked at me told me that she'd rather die than come to me. But there was also something else in her stare that called to me, that practically begged me to help her. I didn't know what to do. I called her name again, and she just walked away. I felt my heart literally break in my chest as she left, and then there was only darkness."
His eyes had strayed to the floor while he spoke of the dream, and when his gaze returned to Gerde, he saw that her eyes were filled with tears. He immediately felt guilty about upsetting her, so he put down his mug and went to her.
"Come here," he said softly, and she cried against his shoulder.
He held her for a moment, until she finally broke away and asked, "Could you show me what you painted of her?"
Gabriel nodded silently and turned to leave the kitchen. Gerde returned to the stove to switch off the heat and remove the frying pan so that the eggs wouldn't burn. She checked on the baby, who had fallen asleep, before following him.
In the attic, Gerde saw the painting and wept silently. The look in the eyes was misery incarnate; a labyrinth of conflicting emotions that would have driven a weaker person mad. She saw more than just sadness in Grace's expression; she saw loneliness and regret. There was also anger and bitterness. But more than anything else she saw fear and desperation, and she shuddered despite the warmth of the room. Something was definitely wrong.
What are you up against, my old friend? Why haven't you tried to contact us for help?
Gabriel stood beside her, waiting for her response. He looked at the painting, his eyes overflowing with pain. He felt as if he had been kicked hard in the stomach. Gerde forced herself to turn away from the painting and face him. She took a deep breath.
"So what are you going to do?"
Gabriel ran a hand through his flame-colored hair, trying to compose himself after seeing the painting again.
"I've decided to go back to the States for a while. I'm going to visit Gran for a few days first, but afterwards I'm going to try and find Grace. I don't know when I'll return."
Back in the kitchen, they talked over breakfast while the baby slept. Gerde remained melancholy throughout the meal, and her voice held more than a tinge of bitterness as she spoke. Her resentment came from unpleasant memories of the past.
She was clearly distraught by the recent turn of events; she was both concerned over Grace's well-being and angry at being so abruptly reminded of the person that she had tried so hard to forget.
In all the years since the Night Stalker case, Gerde never understood why Grace left without so much as a word, a phone call, or even a trip to the castle to pick up her things. She knew that something significant must have happened in France, something powerful enough to crumble the foundation on which friendships were built.
Grace had severed the bond between the three of them with silence, and it broke Gerde's heart.
Gabriel and Grace weren't the only ones to suffer in this. Why didn't she confide in me? I would have done anything in my power to help her. Obviously my feelings of friendship weren't shared, if it was so easy for her to cut me off as well as him.
What started all of this? Whatever did happen on that case, it almost destroyed Gabriel before it eventually made him stronger and wiser.
Her thoughts drifted back to the day Gabriel returned from Rennes-Le-Chateâu, alone. The look in his eyes told her all that she needed to know; Grace had left for good. He looked so broken and defeated that Gerde offered her support, but he coldly declined. He refused to answer her questions concerning Grace's leaving, and he cut himself off from the world for a time.
Since that day, Gabriel threw himself into studying all of the Shattenjager archives, having the castle restored to its former glory, continuing his education in many subjects and enhancing his gifts, both artistic and supernatural. In the few, uneventful cases that followed, he learned to investigate objectively as well as by instinct. By integrating Grace's expertise with his own, it was as if he was trying to fill the gap that she'd left behind in his life.
As a result of the whole process, which took several years to accomplish, Gabriel's outlook on life and his fellow man had drastically changed for both better and worse. On the outside, he was the perfect example of the good Samaritan; he was always available to those who needed help, he genuinely cared about their problems and was willing to listen and offer assistance. But at the same time, he set himself apart from them all; he never let them in. With the exception of Gerde herself, Gabriel maintained an emotional barrier between himself and everyone around him. It was a very lonely existence, and Gerde often prayed that someday he would find peace.
Gerde stared at him as he spoke, not hearing his words. She didn't know whether to laugh or scream. All she could think of was the fact that if Gabriel hadn't been so deeply affected by what happened all those years ago, Grace's disappearance and the knowledge of the true origin of his legacy, he would have remained the caustic personality that he had always been. Never fully serious about anything or anyone, always drifting.
Like the insistent beeping of an alarm clock, Gabriel's shock and pain forced him to open his eyes and see the path that he was always meant to take as the Shattenjager, the Shadow Hunter. Before the Night Stalker case, he was always ready to joke around or deliver a sarcastic comment about his situation. Afterwards, he devoted himself to his duty, body and soul. The careless, modern-day Peter Pan finally grew up and became, ironically, everything that Grace had once wished him to be.