The queen of the damned, p.13

The Queen Of The Damned, page 13

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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Chapter 10

 

  They had merely begun their journey towards true vampiric immortality. Didn't he remember-? Well, not actually, but he knew it, that they were fledglings, no more than one or two hundred years along the way! That was the dangerous time, when you first went mad from it, or the others got you, shut you up, burned you, that sort of thing. Many did not survive those years. And how long ago it had been for him, of the First Brood. Why, the amount of time was almost inconceivable! He stopped beside the painted wall of a garden, reaching up to rest his hand on a gnarled branch, letting the cool fleecy green leaves touch his face. He felt himself washed in sadness suddenly, sadness more terrible than fear. He heard someone crying, not here but in his head. Who was it? Stop!

  Well, he would not hurt them, these tender children! No, he wanted only to know them, to embrace them. After all, we are of the same family, blood drinkers, you and I!

  But as he drew nearer, as he sent out his silent yet exuberant greeting, they turned and looked at him with undisguised terror. They fled. Through a dark tangle of hillside lanes they descended, away from the lights of the Plaka, and nothing he could say or do would make them stop.

  He stood rigid and silent, feeling a sharp pain he had not known before. Then a curious and terrible thing happened. He went after them till he had them in sight again. He became angry, really angry. Damn you. Punish you that you hurt me! And lo and behold he felt a sudden sensation in his forehead, a cold spasm just behind the bone. Out of him, a power seemed to leap as if it were an invisible tongue. Instantly it penetrated the hindmost of the fleeing trio, the female, and her body burst into flame.

  Stupefied he watched this. Yet he realized what had happened. He had penetrated her with some sharply directed force. It had kindled the powerful combustible blood that he and she had in common, and at once the fire had shot through the circuit of her veins. Invading the marrow of her bones, it had caused her body to explode. In seconds, she was no more.

  Ye gods! He had done this! In grief and terror, he stood staring down at her empty clothes, unburnt, yet blackened and stained with grease. Only a little of her hair was left on the stones, and this burnt away to wisps of smoke as he watched.

  Maybe there was some mistake. But no, he knew he'd done it. He'd felt himself doing it. And she had been so afraid!

  In shocked silence, he made his way home. He knew he'd never used this power before, or even been aware of it. Had it come to him only now, after centuries of the blood working, drying out his cells, making them thin and white and strong like the chambers of a wasps' nest?

  Alone in his flat, with the candles and incense burning to comfort him, he pierced himself again with his knife and watched the blood gush. Thick and hot it was, pooling on the table before him, glittering in the light of the lamp as if it was alive. And it was!

  In the mirror, he studied the darkening radiance which had returned to him after so many weeks of dedicated hunting and drinking. A faint yellow tinge to his cheeks, a trace of pink to his lips. But never mind, he was as the abandoned skin of the snake lying on the rock-dead and light and crisp save for the constant pumping of this blood. This vile blood. And his brain, ah, his brain, what did it look like now? Translucent as a thing made of crystal with the blood surging through its tiny compartments? And therein the power lived, did it not, with its invisible tongue?

  Going out again, he tried this newfound force upon animals, upon the cats, for which he had an unreasonable loathing-evil things, those creatures-and upon rats, which all men disdain. Not the same. He killed these creatures with the invisible tongue flick of energy, but they didn't catch fire. Rather the brains and hearts suffered some sort of fatal rupture, but the natural blood in them, it was not combustible. And so they did not burn.

  This fascinated him in a cold, harrowing fashion. "What a subject I am for study," he whispered, eyes shining suddenly with unwelcome tears. Capes, white ties, vampire movies, what was this to him! Who in hell was he? The fool of the gods, roaming the road from moment to moment through eternity? When he saw a great lurid poster of the Vampire Lestat mocking him in a video store window, he turned and with the tongue flick of energy shattered the glass.

  Ah, lovely, lovely. Give me the forests, the stars. He went to Delphi that night, ascending soundlessly above the darkened land. Down into the moist grass he went to walk where the oracle had once sat, in this the ruin of the god's house.

  But he would not leave Athens. He must find the two blood drinkers, and tell them he was sorry, that he would never, never use this power against them. They must talk to him! They must be with him-! Yes.

  The next night upon awakening, he listened for them. And an hour later, he heard them as they rose from their graves. A house in the Plaka was their lair, with one of those noisy, smoky taverns open to the street. In its cellars they slept by day, he realized, and came up by dark to watch the mortals of the tavern sing and dance. Lamia, the old Greek word for vampire, was the name of this establishment in which the electric guitars played the primitive Greek music, and the young mortal men danced with one another, hips churning with all the seductiveness of women, as the retsina flowed. On the walls hung pictures from the vampire movies- Bela Lugosi as Dracula, the pale Gloria Holden as his daughter- and posters of the blond and blue-eyed Vampire Lestat.

  So they too had a sense of humor, he thought gently. But the vampire pair, stunned with grief and fear, sat together, staring at the open door as he peered in. How helpless they looked!

  They did not move when they saw him standing on the threshold with his back to the white glare of the street. What did they think when they saw his long cloak? A monster come alive from their own posters to bring them destruction when so little else on earth could?

  I come in peace. I only wish to speak with you. Nothing shall anger me. I come in . . . love.

  The pair appeared transfixed. Then suddenly one of them rose from the table, and both gave a spontaneous and horrid cry. Fire blinded him as it blinded the mortals who pushed past him in their sudden stampede to the street. The blood drinkers were in flames, dying, caught in a hideous dance with twisted arms and legs. The house itself was burning, rafters smoking, glass bottles exploding, orange sparks shooting up to the lowering sky.

  Had he done this! Was he death to the others, whether he willed such a thing or not?

  Blood tears flowed down his white face onto his stiff shirt front. He lifted his arm to shield his face with his cloak. It was a gesture of respect for the horror happening before him-the blood drinkers dying within.

  No, couldn't have done it, couldn't. He let the mortals push him and shove him out of the way. Sirens hurt his ears. He blinked as he tried to see, despite the flashing lights.

  And then in a moment of violent understanding he knew that he had not done it. Because he saw the being who had! There covered in a cloak of gray wool, and half hidden in a dark alleyway, stood the one, silently watching him.

  And as their eyes met, she softly whispered his name:

  "Khayman, my Khayman!"

  His mind went blank. Wiped clean. It was as though a white light descended on him, burning out all detail. He felt nothing for one serene moment. He heard no noise of the raging fire, nothing of those who still jostled him as they went past.

  He merely stared at this thing, this beautiful and delicate being, exquisite as ever she had been. An unsupportable horror overcame him. He remembered everything-everything he had ever seen or been or known.

  The centuries opened before him. The millennia stretched out, going back and back to the very beginning, first Brood. He knew it all. He was shuddering, crying. He heard himself say with all the rancor of an accusation:

  "You!"

  Suddenly, in a great withering flash he felt the full force of her undisguised power. The heat struck him in the chest, and he felt himself staggering backwards.

  Ye gods, you will kill me, too! But she could not hear his thoughts! He was knocked a
gainst the whitewashed wall. A tierce pain collected in his head.

  Yet he continued to see, to feel, to think! And his heart beat steadily as before. He was not burning!

  And then with sudden calculation, he gathered his strength and fought this unseen energy with a violent thrust of his own.

  "Ah, it is malice again, my sovereign," he cried out in the ancient language. How human the sound of his voice!

  But it was finished. The alleyway was empty. She was gone.

  Or more truly she had taken flight, rising straight upwards, just as he himself had often done, and so fast that the eye could not see. Yes, he felt her receding presence. He looked up and, without effort, found her-a tiny pen stroke moving towards the west above the bits and pieces of pale cloud.

  Raw sounds shocked him-sirens, voices, the crackle of the burning house as its last timbers collapsed. The little narrow street was jam-crowded; the bawling music of the other taverns had not stopped. He drew back, away from the place, weeping, with one backward glance for the domain of the dead blood drinkers. Ah, how many thousands of years he could not count, and yet it was still the same war.

  For hours he wandered the dark back streets. Athens grew quiet. People slept behind wooden walls. The pavements shone in the mist that came as thick as rain. Like a giant snail shell was his history, curling and immense above him, pressing him down to the earth with its impossible weight.

  Up a hill he moved finally, and into the cool luxurious tavern of a great modern steel and glass hotel. Black and white this place, just as he was, with its checkered dance floor, black tables, black leather banquettes.

  Unnoticed he sank down on a bench in the flickering dimness, and he let his tears flow. Like a fool he cried, with his forehead pressed to his arm.

  Madness did not come to him; neither did forgetfulness. He was wandering the centuries, revisiting the places he had known with tender thoughtless intimacy. He cried for all those he had known and loved.

  But what hurt him above all things was the great suffocating sense of the beginning, the true beginning, even before that long ago day when he had lain down in his house by the Nile in the noon stillness, knowing he must go to the palace that night.

  The true beginning had been a year before when the King had said to him, "But for my beloved Queen, I would take my pleasure of these two women. I would show that they are not witches to be feared. You will do this in my stead. "

  It was as real as this moment; the uneasy court gathered there watching; biack-eyed men and women in their fine linen skirts and elaborate black wigs, some hovering behind the carved pillars, others proudly close to the throne. And the red-haired twins standing before him, his beautiful prisoners whom he had come to love in their captivity. I cannot do this. But he had done it. As the court waited, as the King and the Queen waited, he had put on the King's necklace with its gold medallion, to act for the King. And he had gone down the steps from the dais, as the twins stared at him, and he had defiled them one after the other.

  Surely this pain couldn't last.

  Into the womb of the earth he would have crawled, if he had had the strength for it. Blessed ignorance, how he wanted it. Go to Delphi, wander in the high sweet-smelling green grass. Pick the tiny wild flowers. Ah, would they open for him, as for the light of the sun, if he held them beneath the lamp?

  But then he did not want to forget at all. Something had changed; something had made this moment like no other. She had risen from her long slumber! He had seen her in an Athens street with his own eyes! Past and present had become one.

  As his tears dried, he sat back, listening, thinking.

  Dancers writhed on the lighted checkerboard before him. Women smiled at him. Was he a beautiful porcelain Pierrot to them, with his white face and red-stained cheeks? He raised his eyes to the video screen pulsing and glittering above the room. His thoughts grew strong like his physical powers.

  This was now, the month of October, in the late twentieth century after the birth of Christ. And only a handful of nights ago, he had seen the twins in his dreams! No. There was no retreat. For him the true agony was just beginning, but that did not matter. He was more alive than he had ever been.

  He wiped his face slowly with a small linen handkerchief. He washed his fingers in the glass of wine before him, as if to consecrate them. And he looked up again to the high video screen where the Vampire Lestat sang his tragic song.

  Blue-eyed demon, yellow hair flung wild about him, with the powerful arms and chest of a young man. Jagged yet graceful his movements, lips seductive, voice full of carefully modulated pain.

  And all this time you have been telling me, haven't you? Calling me! Calling her name!

  The video image seemed to stare at him, respond to him, sing to him, when of course it could not see him at all. Those Who Must Be Kept! My King and my Queen. Yet he listened with his full attention to each syllable carefully articulated above the din of horns and throbbing drums.

  And only when the sound and the image faded did he rise and leave the tavern to walk blindly through the cool marble corridors of the hotel and into the darkness outside.

  Voices called out to him, voices of blood drinkers the world over, signaling. Voices that had always been there. They spoke of calamity, of converging to prevent some horrid disaster. The Mother Walks. They spoke of the dreams of the twins which they did not understand. And he had been deaf and blind to all this!

  "How much you do not understand, Lestat," he whispered.

  He climbed to a dim promontory finally and gazed at the High City of temples far beyond-broken white marble gleaming beneath the feeble stars.

  "Damn you, my sovereign!" he whispered. "Damn you into hell for what you did, to all of us!" And to think that in this world of steel and gasoline, of roaring electronic symphonies and silent gleaming computer circuitry, we wander still.

  But another curse came back to him, far stronger than his own.

  It had come a year after the awful moment when he had raped the two women-a curse screamed within the courtyard of the palace, under a night sky. as distant and uncaring as this.

  "Let the spirits witness: for theirs is the knowledge of the future-both what it would be, and what I will: You are the The Queen Of The Damned, that's what you are! Evil is your only destiny. But at your greatest hour, it is I who will defeat you. Look well on my face. It is I who will bring you down. "

  How many times during the early centuries had he remembered those words? In how many places across desert and mountains and through fertile river valleys had he searched for the two red-haired sisters? Among the Bedouins who had once sheltered them, among the hunters who wore skins still and the people of Jericho, the oldest city in the world. They were already legend.

  And then blessed madness had descended; he had lost all knowledge, rancor, and pain. He was Khayman, filled with love for all he saw around him, a being who understood the world.

  Could it be that the hour had come? That the twins had somehow endured just as he had? And for this great purpose his memory had been restored?

  Ah, what a lustrous and overwhelming thought, that the First Brood would come together, that the First Brood would finally know victory.

  But with a bitter smile, he thought of the Vampire Lestat's human hunger for heroism. Yes, my brother, forgive me for my scorn. I want it too, the goodness, the glory. But there is likely no destiny, and no redemption. Only what I see before me as I stand above this soiled and ancient landscape-just birth and death, and horrors await us all.

  He took one last look at the sleeping city, the ugly and careworn modern place where he had been so content, wandering over countless old graves.

  And then he went upwards, rising within seconds above the clouds. Now would come the greatest test of this magnificent gift, and how he loved the sudden sense of purpose, illusory though it might be. He moved west, towards the Vampire Lestat, and towards the voices that begged for understanding of th
e dreams of the twins. He moved west as she had moved before him.

  His cloak flared like sleek wings, and the delicious cold air bruised him and made him laugh suddenly as if for one moment he were the happy simpleton again.

  THE STORY OF JESSE, THE GREAT FAMILY, AND THE TALAMASCA

  The dead don't share. Though they reach towards us from the grave (I swear they do) they do not hand their hearts to you. They hand their heads, the part that stares.

  STAN RICE

  from "Their Share" Body of Work (1983)

  Cover her face: mine eyes dazzle; she died young.

  JOHN WEBSTER

  THE TALAMASCA

  Investigators of the Paranormal

  We watch And we are always here.

  London Amsterdam Rome 136

  JESSE WAS MOANING IN HER SLEEP. SHE WAS A delicate woman of thirty-five with long curly red hair. She lay deep in a shapeless feather mattress, cradled in a wooden bed which hung from the ceiling on four rusted chains.

  Somewhere in the big rambling house a clock chimed. She must wake up. Two hours until the Vampire Lestat's concert. But she could not leave the twins now.

  This was new to her, this part unfolding so rapidly, and the dream was maddeningly dim as all the dreams of the twins had been. Yet she knew the twins were in the desert kingdom again. The mob surrounding the twins was dangerous. And the twins, how different they looked, how pale. Maybe it was an illusion, this phosphorescent luster, but they appeared to glow in the semidark-ness, and their movements were languid, almost as if they were caught in the rhythm of a dance. Torches were thrust at them as they embraced one another; but look, something was wrong, very wrong. One of them was now blind.

  Her eyelids were shut tight, the tender flesh wrinkled and sunken. Yes, they have plucked out her eyes. And the other one, why does she make those terrible sounds? "Be still, don't fight anymore," said the blind one, in the ancient language which was always understandable in the dreams. And out of the other twin came a horrid, guttural moaning. She couldn't speak. They'd cut out her tongue!

  I don't want to see any more, I want to wake up. But the soldiers were pushing their way through the crowd, something dreadful was to happen, and the twins became suddenly very still. The soldiers took hold of them, dragged them apart.

  Don't separate them! Don't you know what this means to them? Get the torches away. Don't set them on fire! Don't burn their red hair.

  The blind twin reached out for her sister, screaming her name: "Mekare!" And Mekare, the mute one, who could not answer, roared like a wounded beast.

  The crowd was parting, making way for two immense stone coffins, each carried on a great heavy bier. Crude these sarcophagi, yet the lids had the roughened shape of human faces, limbs. What have the twins done to be put in these coffins? I can't stand it, the biers being set down, the twins dragged towards the coffins, the crude stone lids being lifted. Don't do it! The blind one is fighting as if she can see it, yet they are overpowering her, lifting her and putting her inside the stone box. In mute terror, Mekare is watching, though she herself is being dragged to the other bier. Don't lower the lid, or I will scream for Mekare! For both of them-

  Jesse sat up, her eyes open. She had screamed.

  Alone in this house, with no one to hear her, she'd screamed, and she could feel the echo still. Then nothing but the quiet settling around her, and the faint creaking of the bed as it moved on its chains. The song of the birds outside in the forest, the deep forest; and her own curious awareness that the clock had struck six.

  The dream was fading rapidly. Desperately she tried to hold on to it, to see the details that always slipped away-the clothing of these strange people, the weapons the soldiers carried, the faces of the twins! But it was already gone. Only the spell remained and an acute awareness of what had happened-and the certainty that the Vampire Lestat was linked to these dreams.

  Sleepily, she checked her watch. No time left. She wanted to be in the auditorium when the Vampire Lestat entered; she wanted to be at the very foot of the stage.

  Yet she hesitated, staring at the white roses on the bedside table. Beyond, through the open window, she saw the southern sky full of a faint orange light. She picked up the note that lay beside the flowers and she read it through once more.

  My darling,

  I have only just received your letter, as I am far from home and it took some time for this to reach me. I understand the fascination which this creature, Lestat, holds for you. They are playing his music even in Rio. I have already read the books which you have enclosed. And I know of your investigation of this creature for the Talamasca. As for your dreams of the twins, this we must talk about together. It is of the utmost importance. For there are others who have had such dreams. But I beg you-no, I order you not to go to this concert. You must remain at the Sonoma compound until I get there. ( am leaving Brazil as soon as I can.

  Wait for me. I love you.

  Your aunt Maharet

  "Maharet, I'm sorry," she whispered. But it was unthinkable that she not go. And if anyone in the world would understand, it was Maharet.

  The Talamasca, for whom she'd worked for twelve long years, would never forgive her for disobeying their orders. But Maharet knew the reason; Maharet was the reason. Maharet would forgive.

  Dizzy. The nightmare still wouldn't let go. The random objects of the room were disappearing in the shadows, yet the twilight burned so clear suddenly that even the forested hills were giving back the light. And the roses were phosphorescent, like the white flesh of the twins in the dream.

  White roses, she tried to remember something she'd heard about white roses. You send white roses for a funeral. But no, Maharet could not have meant that.

  Jesse reached out, took one of the blossoms in both hands, and the petals came loose instantly. Such sweetness. She pressed them to her lips, and a faint yet shining image came back to her from that long ago summer of Maharet in this house in a candle-lighted room, lying on a bed of rose petals, so many white and yellow and pink rose petals, which she had gathered up and pressed to her face and her throat.

  Had Jesse really seen such a thing? So many rose petals caught in Maharet's long red hair. Hair like Jesse's hair. Hair like the hair of the twins in the dream-thick and wavy and streaked with gold.

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