The Red Heart of Jade
By Marjorie M. Liu
Copyright © 2006
Marjorie M. Liu
All right reserved.
In the moments before Dean Campbell opened his eyes to the
fire burning him alive, he found himself lost within a dream
of stone and light, where bones crunched underfoot and a chain
pressed hard around his ankle, binding him tight within the
center of a raggedy sand circle. A deep dream, an old dream,
the kind he rarely had anymore, and it was only the scent of
roasting meat that pulled him from the mystery of shadows
inside him mind. Pulled him free and floating, consciousness
returning with a hard peeling light that became, after a
moment's confusion, an inferno, a sheet of pure heat washing
over his naked body.
Fire. He was on fire.
Dean screamed. He screamed until his eyes bulged, but he made
no sound. His throat was hostage. And like his voice, his body
refused him. He could not move. Paralyzed, or maybe he was
already dead and this was hell: forced to watch himself burn
to ash, his life given up like a paper doll to a matchstick,
some human sacrifice to the white-hot beast licking his eyes,
melting his mouth, pushing deep inside his ears to roar like
thunder; a sound to ride his terror upon as he silently
screamed, screamed and screamed until something broke inside
his head and shattered.
He felt hands on his body. Real hands, the kind he had not
felt in years. Small and female, delicate. Moving against his
chest, sinking into his splitting flesh. Scratching. Cutting.
Carving an incision above his heart. He felt no pain, no - nerve
endings melting, sloughing away like old skin - but he
sensed those fingers - oh God, oh God - slide into his body
past bone to wrap tight around his hammering heart, and he
thought, This is it, I'm gonna die, I'm already dead, what a
loser, what a goddamn way to end it. But as the hand squeezed
inside his chest, fingers unforgiving, another voice intruded
on Dean's mind, a voice loud and clear and unfamiliar, and he
heard a man say, No, not yet, not again.
And just like that, the fire boomed, puffed, the pressure
eased. The world collapsed into darkness.
Screams. Dean heard terrible screams. He thought someone else
must be hurt, dying - get up, get up, get your gun and fight
- but after a moment of dazed horrified wonder he realized
that it was him - his voice, finally working - and what a
beautiful awful sound. He could not shut his mouth. He could
not stop his body from writhing as the paralysis eased. Yet
still, blindness; a darkness absolute ... until Dean raised a
shaking hand and touched his face
He opened his eyes. The world came into soft-lit focus: a
white ceiling, creamy walls, a darkened window covered in
ivory sheers. Hotel finery at its best. Clean and perfect and
not on fire.
Not on fire.
He sucked in his breath and closed his eyes. Gripped the
rumpled sheets between his fists to steady himself before
slowly, carefully, touching his body. He was naked, covered in
sweat, but his skin was smooth and he felt no pain. He was
whole. Intact. Still had a penis and all the other bits that
went with it. No bad smells, like meat or smoke. Just the
light sweet scent of orchids.
So. Just a dream, then. A goddamn dream.
Dean sat up. Cold metal spilled from the hollow of his throat;
a woman's locket, hanging from a thin chain around his neck.
He gripped the necklace hard, savoring the rounded edge that
cut into his palm. Gulped down long cold breaths that did
nothing to slow his heart. He felt woozy, nauseated. Tried to
imagine the fire as a dream and could not. The heat was still
His knuckles brushed against his chest, the skin above his
heart. He felt a scar, but that was familiar, old news.
Except, just below it he touched something else, a ridge that
should not be, and Dean opened his eyes.
There was a mark. A red curving line, like a welt or bloody
tattoo, the afterthought of a sharp knife. Dean pressed his
fingers against it, tracing the edges. He felt pain. The first
pain since opening his eyes to the fire, the dream.
Or maybe not a dream at all. Dean remembered those small
hands, the sensation of fingers pushing, pushing so damn hard
into his chest, wrapping around his heart. Squeezing. He
remembered that voice in his head. He remembered fire.
All of it, so real. Real enough to kill. Real enough to almost
make sense, considering what he had been chasing for the past
three days. Which, given his luck, meant one thing only.
He was in some very deep shit.
Excerpted from The Red Heart of Jade
by Marjorie M. Liu
Copyright © 2006 by Marjorie M. Liu.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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