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Authors: Margaret Weis;David Baldwin

Tags: #Fantasy

Dark Heart

BOOK: Dark Heart
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D
ARK
H
EART
 

BOOK I     
of Dragon’s Disciple      

 
 
M
ARGARET
W
EIS
AND
D
AVID
B
ALDWIN
 
Dedication
 

With sincerest thanks and gratitude to
Todd Fahnestock and William Quick,
for their inspiration, hard work, and
diligence. Without their help and
valuable contributions, this book
would never have been possible.

 
Contents
 
 

One

Justin lay hidden, watching as the girl entered her room,…

 
 

Two

Detective Jack Madrone growled as he bumped into the car…

 
 

Three

It was well after midnight when Detective Sandra McCormick stepped…

 
 

Four

Aspattering of rain fell upon the dark rooftop. Deep music…

 
 

Five

Centuries twisted and intermingled. The cusp of the twenty-first…

 
 

Six

Sandra woke up for the third time that night, chased…

 
 

Seven

Tina floated somewhere between bliss and terror. The backseat of…

 
 

Eight

Tina sat in the wreck of the car, shivering in…

 
 

Nine

Usually, the lights of the city made Justin feel at…

 
 

Ten

Sandra threw her blouse on the floor and shoved her…

 
 

Eleven

She picked her way slowly toward the spot where she’d…

 
 

Twelve

Sandra slid to the edge of the bed. The air…

 
 

Thirteen

Wet leaves slapped her face. Sandra ran as fast as…

 
 

Fourteen

Looking at Tina Danforth was like looking into a mirror,…

 
 

Fifteen

Sandra sat in an uncomfortable chair in Chicago’s O’Hare International…

 
 

Sixteen

Justin woke with a start, sweat standing on his brow,…

 
 

Seventeen

It was close to eleven o’clock the next evening when the cab dropped..

 
 

Eighteen

Justin Sterling’s eyes closed slowly. He nodded, caught himself, then…

 
 

Nineteen

The clacking of keyboards and the buzz of voices in…

 
 

Twenty

Nick Seder walked up to the back door of Gwendolyne’s…

 
 

Twenty-One

Justin dropped in through the skylight and landed heavily on the floor…

 
 

Twenty-Two

The cathedral was practically empty, but it was always open…

 
 

Twenty-Three

Sandra pulled into the District Eighteen lot and parked close…

 
 

Twenty-Four

On a normal day, Sandra would race up the stairs…

 
 

Twenty-Five

As soon as Benny shut the door, Justin set Benny’s…

 
 

Twenty-Six

The cathedral had three entrances, the great double doors in…

 
 

Twenty-Seven

Sandra’s body slid down the length of his arm, her…

 
 

Twenty-Eight

Benny watched from an inconspicuous entryway at the front of…

 
 

Epilogue

Vincent Carthy didn’t know why he had been chosen to…

 
 
one
 
 

J
ustin lay hidden, watching as the girl entered her room, shut the door, and locked it. He sighed inwardly. She wasn’t really a girl, but to him, she seemed so young. All of them did, all the girl-women who filled this modern world.

Her fairy face could transform from child to woman and back again in half a minute, allowing him to peer through her thin veneer of adulthood to the child beneath. The cosmetics she applied, the clothes she wore, the airs she affected, these were her defenses: the thorns of a rosebush that thought itself invulnerable, safely ignorant of the world’s sharp shears. Shears to which youthful thorns were no threat at all.

She paused in front of the mirror and stared at her image. Standing behind her, he knew the silvered surface would show nothing but her own reflection against the walls of her bedroom, though he was close enough to touch her.

He wondered what she would do if he materialized behind her. He could do it merely by wishing to. But he had no wish to terrify her, especially not now as she reached out to touch the glass before her, fingers brushing gently over the reflection of her face. He wondered what she was thinking.

With a small sigh, she unbuttoned her blouse and tossed it away. The silk fluttered down, a silent ripple of creamy femininity.

She crossed to her closet, hips swaying. She opened the door, looked inside, riffled through the clothing there. She tossed a few things onto the bed. The air smelled of her; he drank in her scent and sighed again.

She turned back to the closet, paused, reached for another pair of pants, stopped. She took her jeans off, kicked them away, and stood there in her white under-garments. He willed himself to ignore the display, to concentrate on her face.

She picked up a short, flowered cotton shirt and pressed it against her shoulders, the gesture impossibly vulnerable in her ignorance of his presence.

He still considered clothes a kind of architecture. In his youth, he’d worn rich fabrics, carefully cut and finely worked. The resulting attire had obscured virtually every portion of his body except his hands and face, creating an image that only a select few could aspire to. But that time was long gone, and those rules no longer applied to current fashions.

These days, in this place, the body itself was the major architectural structure, shaped and molded by pumping iron, rigorous dance, endless hours on tread-mills, starvation, distance running…the machines and regimented tortures that were the real tailors of this time.

Smooth, tanned skin over well-muscled flesh was the most appealing garment now. The body as a self-creation, and clothing simply stretched over it, hiding little or nothing, only accentuating. Especially true for the young…

The girl moved closer to the mirror. He watched her fingers work at the back of her bra. Suddenly, inexplicably embarrassed, he turned away an instant before she bared herself.

He looked out the window into the beginning of the evening, listening to her movements instead of watching.

You were once this young, weren’t you, Gwendolyne? And she resembles you so closely…

He caught the tiny, whispering hiss of her underwear sliding down her legs. A drawer opened and closed. He heard the rustle of silk moving across skin. He listened to her skirt rustle into place, to the soft sounds as she buttoned her blouse. He turned around.

Her long, dark tresses tumbled down around her shoulders. She took a comb off the dresser, her hair responding with tiny electric snaps and hisses as she pulled the teeth through.

Another half an hour and the child had become a woman. He watched her every move, from the way she twisted and styled her thick hair to the small movements her hands made as she brushed hints of rose onto her cheeks and lips.

No matter how many times he observed her, her fascination never lessened. So like Gwendolyne. The memory of his dead wife burned in the light that danced around her.

A knock sounded: “Tina?”

The girl’s mother.

“Zack is downstairs.”

“I’m almost ready. Tell him I’m on my way.”

Tina regarded herself in the mirror, pressed her lips together experimentally, nodded. With a final murmur of approval she turned her back on the mirror, snatched her purse from the nightstand, and clicked off the light.

He stood alone in the darkness, listening to her feet patter down the hall. He knew her name. He knew her destination. Tonight, as he often did, he would follow her.

Justin walked to the dresser and picked up her comb. He removed a strand of her hair, drew it slowly through his fingers. Standing there, thinking of her, thinking of her light and his darkness, he forgot himself. His gaze crossed the mirror.

Two glowing red glints appeared, strangely glimmering
beneath
the surface of the glass.

Caught!
His stomach clenched and his eyes ached. He gritted his teeth. The two burning slits of red grew brighter. In the mirror, wisps of crimson smoke began to drift upward from the blazing eyes.

A familiar voice filled his mind like steel searing into a mold, hissing and glowing with unbearable heat.

“My servant,” it said.

“Master,” he whispered.

“My own gallant knight, Justinian, the honorable Earl of Sterling,” the voice mused, as if enumerating the features of a particularly prized possession. The sound wrapped him in its coils. He could feel the pressure, suddenly found it hard to breathe.

“Yes, master.”

“Are you well this evening?”

“Quite well, master.”

“I rejoice in the news. Do inform me, my loyal servant, of your mission here. I’m curious.”

“I am merely watching, master.”

“As am I. Such a fragile flower, is she not?” The Dragon’s fiery gaze bored into him. “And, of course, one so easily crushed. Like all such flowers.”

Sudden heat flared in Justin’s brain. He knew better than to try to evade the flames. He swallowed and said nothing.

The slit-eyes narrowed. Smoke continued to float up from their rims. “Ah, my Justinian. For the moment, at least, I choose not to crush. I am not small. I won’t begrudge you your petty amusements.”

“Thank you, master.”

“Do you know what Kalzar Kaman has asked of me?”

Justin shrugged. “The dog? No, lord, I don’t.”

“The dog, as you call him, bids me to grind you into dust.”

“For what, master?”

“For your inattention to your duty.”

“And am I undutiful, master?” Justin paused. “I wonder why Kalzar doesn’t say these things to me?” His voice was steady, his rage carefully cloaked in seeming unconcern.

The eyes in the mirror glinted red-orange. “He fears you, Lord Sterling. Did you know that?”

“Perhaps he has reason to fear me.”

“You are both my disciples, Justinian. Mine. You know it. It was my hand that banished you from your ancient home. My hand that keeps you away. That is proof, if you need any. You wish to return, and I do not permit it.”

“Yes, my lord. I know.”

A moment of burning silence.

“What is it you seek in England, in any event? Your estate was broken up centuries ago. Nothing is left of what you remember.”

“Home is more to me than the land I was born on.”

“Perhaps. Kalzar tells me there is fine collection of modern eateries that stink of frying fat where your home once stood. The world you knew is gone. Perhaps I do you a favor by not permitting you to see the ruins.”

“But that’s not why, is it?”

“Of course not. You are headstrong, Justinian. It pleases me to make you feel my power. To know it in the hardest places and ways. So on the matter of your homeland I give you into the charge of Kalzar, whom you hate.”

“And I do feel it, master. I feel your power.”

Even though nearly seven hundred years had passed, some part of Justin still refused to believe that nothing of the England he once knew still remained. Surely some vestige of the impregnable castles and soaring cathedrals he’d known in his short time as the Earl of Sterling must yet endure, no matter how battered by the passage of the years.

“Perhaps someday I will lift my hand. But not yet.”

The voice of the Dragon went silent for a moment, while Justin listened to the sound of his own heartbeat.

“Kalzar,” the Dragon said suddenly, “has some justice for his complaints.”

“Kalzar is rash and foolish. He puts us all in danger. I still think you should let me kill him.”

“And free you for your homecoming. To England’s green and pleasant shore?”

“Yes.”

“I have a greater use for you in this new land.”

“Then I ask that you—”

“Then you ask me
nothing
, Lord Sterling.” The voice squeezed him more tightly. Justin shuddered, releasing one slow, anguished breath. “You will
obey
. As for Kalzar, if any disciple takes up claws against another, both will find themselves enduring a time beyond my mirror. Do you understand me, my lord?”

Justinian felt his ribs creak.

“Yes, master.”

“Enough, then.”

Suddenly the grinding coils that had crushed him relaxed. He gasped with relief.

“Now I bid you tell me,” said the Dragon. “How have you dealt with the female detective charged with investigating the errand you performed for me recently? Detective Sandra McCormick appears to show more initiative than most of her kind. She steps too close to the truth.”

Justin lifted his head, stared directly at the mirror.

“Nothing she has discovered endangers us in any way. I give you my word on it.”

“And so you say. But I am not entirely convinced you have the right of it, though I will agree that matters have not yet reached a crisis point.” The Dragon paused for a moment. “Well. You are one of my highest, Justinian. I have raised you because I trust you, and so I suppose I should continue to trust you. As you say, then. For now, she may live.”

“Yes, master.”

“Return to your tavern. Await my word. There may be another task for you.”

Justinian nodded. “Yes, master.”

The monstrous eyes flared once more, scorching his soul. And were as quickly gone.

The darkness returned and touched him, soothed him. The mirror was as it had been before Tina left, reflecting the room around it. But not him.

Justin moved to the French doors leading from Tina’s bedroom to a small balcony. His hand slid over the latch and the door opened. He walked outside.

The rain had stopped. The stench of the city had been purged. The air smelled fresh and clean.

It was so like him, this city. Its surface could be smoothed and made fresh for a few moments, but the cracks beneath the cleansing seethed with a hundred years of rot, and could never be made pure again.

He looked down into the street. Time twisted in strange ways when he conversed with his master. Days might have passed. But this time, he’d been gone only seconds.

Tina ran down the steps toward a red Camaro that waited in the driveway. Justinian watched, feeling the weight of his own presence, of the many things both named and unnamable he’d done through the centuries. It was a heavy burden.

He braced one hand on the rail and leapt over it. A clap of thunder, muffled by distance, muttered from the fleeing storm. The dark, liquid grumble masked the splashing thud of his landing on the turf twenty feet below.

He watched the Camaro back into the rain-wet street, watched the flashy car drive a hole into the silver-washed dark, stood silent and unmoving until she had vanished beyond the spectral halos that marked the lonely street lamps.

How many other times? How many other roads? All different, but all still the same…

He waited a few more seconds, then moved off into the dregs of the night, on his way to do his master’s bidding.

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