Home > Forget What You Know (Last Seen in Gothic #2)

Forget What You Know (Last Seen in Gothic #2)
Author: Christina Dodd



   A thousand years ago, when the filthy, skinny miner tore the stone from the mud that cradled it for millennium and brought it to the surface, a sunbeam touched its craggy surface and in that instant, it blazed with the color of fresh blood. He had found a ruby, the largest and most magnificent ever forged in the fires of the earth. As he gazed in reverence, his son saw the interesting gemstone pulsing in the light, and driven by greed, he slit his father’s throat and took the ruby for himself. Torn between the need to keep it as his prize, the desire to sell it for unimaginable riches and guilt for murdering the man who had given him life, he brooded over the unique stone...and fell into madness.

   His wife imprisoned him in a miserable place among other madmen. To support her children, she searched his possessions. She found the stone and without hesitation, sold it to a wealthy merchant.

   Seeking wisdom, the merchant took the ruby to the highest mountains and presented it to the holy man to serve him in his meditations. The holy man recognized that in its beauty, the gem held the potential to incite violence and so the holy man decreed the ruby should become the Heart of the Dragon.

   This culture revered the dragon as a great laughing beast who with long claws patted his scaly belly and laughed with the voice of thunder. Artisans and craftsman carved black rock into a rough-hewn shape, and in its center they nestled the ruby. When they hesitated to shut the vibrant bloodred gem away from the light, the holy man assured them the ruby would take life and pulse in the dragon’s chest. He ordered that the dragon’s scales be plated in porcelain and painted with symbols of prosperity, wisdom, luck and community.

   Perhaps the holy man foresaw the dragon’s fate, for next he ordered two precious cat’s-eye gems to be embedded in the dragon’s face to serve as its eyes. When the light changed so did the color of the eyes, from greenish-yellow to purplish-red, and they would, he prayed, protect the dragon from harm.

   That was the holy man’s last command. One of the dragon’s craftsmen killed the holy man and took the dragon to his cavern home. There he intended to crack open the dragon, retrieve the ruby and, with his newfound fortune, marry the woman he desired.

   But the dragon ensnared him with its cat’s-eye gaze and instead, the craftsman began a lifetime of work embellishing the dragon with precious metals. All his earnings were spent acquiring silver and especially gold. All his greatest skills were honed to plate first the dragon’s chest and back, then its tail, four legs and many claws. When he had finished, he began again, placing gold beads across the dragon’s breastplate, hiding the ruby heart behind more and more layers until the dragon was unbreakable. When the craftsman was sick and old, he stared into the cat’s-eye gems, he heard the dragon’s roar and saw the dragon wave an imperious claw—and the earth shook mightily.

   The earthquake brought the mountain down, burying the aged man and trapping him with the Heart of the Dragon. For a thousand years, as flesh and bone turned to dust, the dragon and its ruby became, for most of the world, the stuff of myth...until a soldier, lost in the mountain tunnels, armed with a rifle, broke into what remained of the cavern. When he shone his flashlight into the dragon’s eyes, he recognized what he had found. In his people, this legend lived and breathed. They called it the Dragon’s Heart and he believed the cat’s-eyes would see the way to the surface. They did, and when other men of his culture saw what he carried, he died in bloody battle against his kin.

   Now the Dragon’s Heart traveled among the wealthy and the poor, inciting love and violence, scholarly interest and bitter rivalry. It disappeared into private collections, was stolen, sold, passed from hand to hand by whatever means possible. Its teeth, horns and claws acquired glittering sapphires, amethysts, emeralds and diamonds. Jade of every color formed the scales along its spine. It was said that to disguise its worth, one collector dipped it in a smooth coating the color of rich mud, but left the eyes free, and he was killed for his audacity. Men and women pursued the Dragon’s Heart until...it vanished.

   Collectors hunted, made frauds, discarded them, killed and obsessed about the Dragon’s Heart, never imagining the Dragon’s Heart had disappeared into an unlikely suburban home in a small California town...




   Today in Citation, Northern California

   The medium-handsome and perfectly coiffed news anchor droned on about the rising cost of living and how it was impacting the middle class and poor, then switched to,

   “You’ll remember we brought you an exclusive interview with the woman who spearheaded the effort to have the almost-one-hundred-year-old Caballo Blanco Dam removed from the

Caballo Salvaje River...”

   “Stupid tree huggers,” Bonnie Torbinson muttered. Since her husband died, she constantly kept the TV on. Before the stroke, when he could speak, he said the way she talked to herself was a clear indication of impending insanity. She figured talking to the television kept her sane. “Put the seaplanes out of business. No more docks. No more boats. No more waterskiing. All for a few migrant fish.” She carried her lunch dishes from the dining room into the kitchen.

   Living in the Torbinson Mansion, she had a housekeeping service once a week. Darrell had insisted on that. But she cooked for herself, and now as she loaded the dishwasher, she listened with half an ear to the noon news out of Santa Barbara.

   “...As the water level behind the dam has slowly lowered, vehicles that plunged off Goldpan Highway at different times in its history have been revealed...”

   “Dumb kids.” That road had been constructed at the same time as the dam, and it clung high on the cliffs as it wound its way between the tiny town of Horseshoe Bend and Bonnie’s own, larger town of Citation. Ever since it had been built, teens had considered it a rite of passage to drive like bats out of hell around its curves. Missed corners resulted in fiery head-on collisions and watery deaths. Her own son had assured her he never drove that route, and never drove while intoxicated, and then!

   That ticket had cost her and Darrell dearly.

   But it was only the one time.

   Bonnie finished putting the glasses into the top rack, set the cycle and defiantly pushed Heat Dry. Normally she was environmentally conscious and let her dishes dry naturally, but if the tree huggers were going to take down all the dams, to hell with them, and to hell with the environment.

   Jackie was a good boy, always had been. It was that thief, that Vadim Somova, who had got released from jail and on the same day broke into her house, took her son and her four-year-old granddaughter hostage, and stole that stupid statue Darrell brought back from one of his trips to Pakistan or Roughistan or whatever that place was. What did he call it?

   The Dragon’s Heart.

   Bonnie slumped onto one of the cracked leather barstools. She hated Vadim Somova. Right from the start, that kid had been a bad influence on Jackie. And Vadim’s family—a bunch of Russian hoodlums, every one of them. Right now, Somova’s crime king brother lived in an estate on Lake Tahoe, living high like he was the Godfather or something.

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