The queen of the damned, p.2

The Queen Of The Damned, page 2

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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PROEM

 

  DECLARATION IN THE FORM OF GRAFFITI

  -written in black felt-tip pen on a red wall in the back room of a bar called Dracula's Daughter in San Francisco-

  Children of Darkness Be Advised of the Following:

  BOOK ONE: Interview with the Vampire, published in 1976, was a true story. Any one of us could have written it-an account of becoming what we are, of the misery and the searching. Yet Louis, the two-hundred-year-old immortal who reveals all, insists on mortal sympathy. Lestat, the villain who gave Louis the Dark Gift, gave him precious little else in the way of explanations or consolation. Sound familiar? Louis hasn't given up the search for salvation yet, though even Armand, the oldest immortal he was ever to find, could tell him nothing of why we are here or who made us. Not very surprising, is it, vampire boys and girls? After all, there has never been a Baltimore Catechism for vampires.

  That is, there wasn't until the publication of:

  BOOK Two: The Vampire Lestat, this very week. Subtitle: His "early education and adventures. " You don't believe it? Check with the nearest mortal bookseller. Then go into the nearest record store and ask to see the album which has only just arrived-also entitled The Vampire Lestat, with predictable modesty. Or if all else fails, switch on your cable TV, if you don't disdain such things, and wait for one of Lestat's numerous rock video films which began to air with nauseating frequency only yesterday. You will know Lestat for what he is immediately. And it may not surprise you to be told that he plans to compound these unprecedented outrages by appearing "live" on stage in a debut concert in this very city. Yes, on Halloween, you guessed it.

  But let us forget for the moment the blatant insanity of his preternatural eyes flashing from every record store window, or his powerful voice singing out the secret names and stories of the most ancient among us. Why is he doing all this? What do his songs tell us? It is spelled out in his book. He has given us not only a catechism but a Bible.

  And deep into biblical times we are led to confront our first parents: Enkil and Akasha, rulers of the valley of the Nile before it was ever called Egypt. Kindly disregard the gobbledygook of how they became the first bloodsuckers on the face of the earth; it makes only a little more sense than the story of how life formed on this planet in the first place, or how human fetuses develop from microscopic cells within the wombs of their mortal mothers. The truth is we are descended from this venerable pair, and like it or no, there is considerable reason to believe that the primal generator of all our delicious and indispensable powers resides in one or the other of their ancient bodies. What does this mean? To put it bluntly, if Akasha and Enkil should ever walk hand in hand into a furnace, we should all burn with them. Crush them to glittering dust, and we are annihilated.

  Ah, but there's hope. The pair haven't moved in over fifty centuries! Yes, that's correct. Except of course that Lestat claims to have wakened them both by playing a violin at the foot of their shrine. But if we dismiss his extravagant tale that Akasha took him in her arms and shared with him her primal blood, we are left with the more likely state of affairs, corroborated by stories of old, that the two have not batted an eyelash since before the fall of the Roman Empire. They've been kept all this time in a nice private crypt by Marius, an ancient Roman vampire, who certainly knows what's best for all of us. And it was he who told the Vampire Lestat never to reveal the secret.

  Not a very trustworthy confidant, the Vampire Lestat. And what are his motives for the book, the album, the films, the concert? Quite impossible to know what goes on in the mind of this fiend, except that what he wants to do he does, with reliable consistency. After all, did he not make a vampire child? And a vampire of his own mother, Gabrielle, who for years was his loving companion? He may set his sights upon the papacy, this devil, out of sheer thirst for excitement!

  So that's the gist: Loiiis, a wandering philosopher whom none of us can find, has confided our deepest moral secrets to countless strangers. And Lestat has dared to reveal our history to the world, as he parades his supernatural endowments before the mortal public.

  Now the Question: Why are these two still in existence? Why have we not destroyed them already? Oh, the danger to us from the great mortal herd is by no means a certainty. The villagers are not yet at the door, torches in hand, threatening to burn the castle. But the monster is courting a change in mortal perspective. And though we are too clever to corroborate for the human record his foolish fabrications, the outrage exceeds all precedent. It cannot go unpunished.

  Further observations: If the story the Vampire Lestat has told is true-and there are many who swear it is, though on what account they cannot tell you-may not the two-thousand-year-old Marius come forward to punish Lestat's disobedience? Or perhaps the King and Queen, if they have ears to hear, will waken at the sound of their names carried on radio waves around the planet. What might happen to us all if this should occur? Shall we prosper under their new reign? Or will they set the time for universal destruction? Whatever the case, might not the swift destruction of the Vampire Lestat avert it?

  The Plan: Destroy the Vampire Lestat and all his cohorts as soon as they dare to show themselves. Destroy all those who show him allegiance.

  A Warning: Inevitably, there are other very old blood with nauseating frequency only yesterday. You will know Lestat for what he is immediately. And it may not surprise you to be told that he plans to compound these unprecedented outrages by appearing "live" on stage in a debut concert in this very city. Yes, on Halloween, you guessed it.

  But let us forget for the moment the blatant insanity of his preternatural eyes flashing from every record store window, or his powerful voice singing out the secret names and stories of the most ancient among us. Why is he doing all this? What do his songs tell us? It is spelled out in his book. He has given us not only a catechism but a Bible.

  And deep into biblical times we are led to confront our first parents: Enkil and Akasha, rulers of the valley of the Nile before it was ever called Egypt. Kindly disregard the gobbledygook of how they became the first bloodsuckers on the face of the earth; it makes only a little more sense than the story of how life formed on this planet in the first place, or how human fetuses develop from microscopic cells within the wombs of their mortal mothers. The truth is we are descended from this venerable pair, and like it or no, there is considerable reason to believe that the primal generator of all our delicious and indispensable powers resides in one or the other of their ancient bodies. What does this mean? To put it bluntly, if Akasha and Enkil should ever walk hand in hand into a furnace, we should all burn with them. Crush them to glittering dust, and we are annihilated.

  Ah, but there's hope. The pair haven't moved in over fifty centuries! Yes, that's correct. Except of course that Lestat claims to have wakened them both by playing a violin at the foot of their shrine. But if we dismiss his extravagant tale that Akasha took him in her arms and shared with him her primal blood, we are left with the more likely state of affairs, corroborated by stories of old, that the two have not batted an eyelash since before the fall of the Roman Empire. They've been kept all this time in a nice private crypt by Marius, an ancient Roman vampire, who certainly knows what's best for all of us. And it was he who told the Vampire Lestat never to reveal the secret.

  Not a very trustworthy confidant, the Vampire Lestat. And what are his motives for the book, the album, the films, the concert? Quite impossible to know what goes on in the mind of this fiend, except that what he wants to do he does, with reliable consistency. After all, did he not make a vampire child? And a vampire of his own mother, Gabrielle, who for years was his loving companion? He may set his sights upon the papacy, this devil, out of sheer thirst for excitement!

  So that's the gist: Louis, a wandering philosopher whom none of us can find, has confided our deepest moral secrets to countless strangers. And Lestat has dared to reveal our history to the world, as he parades his supernatural endowments before the mortal public
.

  Now the Question: Why are these two still in existence? Why have we not destroyed them already? Oh, the danger to us from the great mortal herd is by no means a certainty. The villagers are not yet at the door, torches in hand, threatening to burn the castle. But the monster is courting a change in mortal perspective. And though we are too clever to corroborate for the human record his foolish fabrications, the outrage exceeds all precedent. It cannot go unpunished.

  Further observations: If the story the Vampire Lestat has told is true-and there are many who swear it is, though on what account they cannot tell you-may not the two-thousand-year-old Marius come forward to punish Lestat's disobedience? Or perhaps the King and Queen, if they have ears to hear, will waken at the sound of their names carried on radio waves around the planet. What might happen to us all if this should occur? Shall we prosper under their new reign? Or will they set the time for universal destruction? Whatever the case, might not the swift destruction of the Vampire Lestat avert it?

  The Plan: Destroy the Vampire Lestat and all his co-'. horts as soon as they dare to show themselves. Destroy all those who show him allegiance.

  A Warning: Inevitably, there are other very old blood drinkers out there. We have all from time to time glimpsed them, or felt their presence. Lestat's revelations do not shock so much as they rouse some unconscious awareness within us. And surely with their great powers, these old ones can hear Lestat's music. What ancient and terrible beings, incited by history, purpose, or mere recognition, might be moving slowly and inexorably to answer his summons?

  Copies of this Declaration have to been sent to every meeting place on the Vampire Connection, and to coven houses the world over. But you must take heed and spread the word: The Vampire Lestat is to be destroyed and with him his mother, Gabrielle, his cohorts, Louis and Armand, and any and all immortals who show him loyalty.

  Happy Halloween, vampire boys and girls. We shall see you at the concert. We shall see that the Vampire Lestat never leaves it.

  The blond-haired figure in the red velvet coat read the declaration over again from his comfortable vantage point in the far corner. His eyes were almost invisible behind his dark tinted glasses and the brim of his gray hat. He wore gray suede gloves, and his arms were folded over his chest as he leaned back against the high black wainscoting, one boot heel hooked on the rung of his chair.

  "Lestat, you are the damnedest creature!" he whispered under his breath. "You are a brat prince. " He gave a little private laugh. Then he scanned the large shadowy room.

  Not unpleasing to him, the intricate black ink mural drawn with such skill, like spiderwebs on the white plaster wall. He rather enjoyed the ruined castle, the graveyard, the withered tree clawing at the full moon. It was the cliche reinvented as if it were not a cliche, an artistic gesture he invariably appreciated. Very fine too was the molded ceiling with its frieze of prancing devils and hags upon broomsticks. And the incense, sweet-an old Indian mixture which he himself had once burnt in the shrine of Those Who Must Be Kept centuries ago.

  Yes, one of the more beautiful of the clandestine meeting places.

  Less pleasing were the inhabitants, the scattering of slim white figures who hovered around candles set on small ebony tables.

  I Far too many of them for this civilized modern city. And they g knew it. To hunt tonight, they would have to roam far and wide, and young ones always have to hunt. Young ones have to kill.

  They are too hungry to do it any other way. ::! But they thought only of him just now - who was he, where had he come from? Was he very old and very strong, and what would he do before he left here? Always the same questions, though he tried to slip into their "vampire bars" like any vagrant blood drinker, eyes averted, mind closed. Time to leave their questions unanswered. He had what he wanted, a fix on their intentions. And Lestat's small audio cassette in his jacket pocket. He would have a tape of the video rock films before he went home.

  He rose to go. And one of the young ones rose also. A stiff jf silence fell, a silence in thoughts as well as words as he and the jj| young one both approached the door. Only the candle flames moved, throwing their shimmer on the black tile floor as if it were in water.

  "Where do you come from, stranger?" asked the young one |r politely. He couldn't have been more than twenty when he died, and that could not have been ten years ago. He painted his eyes, waxed his lips, streaked his hair with barbaric color, as if the preternatural gifts were not enough. How extravagant he looked, not unlike what he was, a spare and powerful revenant who could with luck survive the millennia.

  What had they promised him with their modern jargon? That gfite should know the Bardo, the Astral Plane, etheric realms, the fiStousic of the spheres, the sound of one hand clapping? :|||: Again he spoke: "Where do you stand on the Vampire Lestat, and the Declaration?"

  "You must forgive me. I'm going now. "

  But surely you know what Lestat's done," the young one , slipping between him and the door. Now, this was not good manners.

  He studied this brash young male more closely. Should he do something to stir them up? To have them talking about it for centuries? He couldn't repress a smile. But no. There'd be enough excitement soon, thanks to his beloved Lestat.

  "Let me give you a little piece of advice in response," he said quietly to the young inquisitor. "You cannot destroy the Vampire Lestat; no one can. But why that is so, I honestly can't tell you. "

  The young one was caught off guard, and a little insulted.

  "But let me ask you a question now," the other continued. "Why this obsession with the Vampire Lestat? What about the content of his revelations? Have you fledglings no desire to seek Marius, the guardian of Those Who Must Be Kept? To see for yourselves the Mother and the Father?"

  The young one was confused, then gradually scornful. He could not form a clever answer. But the true reply was plain enough in his soul-in the souls of all those listening and watching. Those Who Must Be Kept might or might not exist; and Marius perhaps did not exist either. But the Vampire Lestat was real, as real as anything this callow immortal knew, and the Vampire Lestat was a greedy fiend who risked the secret prosperity of all his kind just to be loved and seen by mortals.

  He almost laughed in the young one's face. Such an insignificant battle. Lestat understood these faithless times so beautifully, one had to admit it. Yes, he'd told the secrets he'd been warned to keep, but in so doing, he had betrayed nothing and no one.

  "Watch out for the Vampire Lestat," he said to the young one finally with a smile. "There are very few true immortals walking this earth. He may be one of them. "

  Then he lifted the young one off his feet and set him down out of the way. And he went out the door into the tavern proper.

  The front room, spacious and opulent with its black velvet hangings and fixtures of lacquered brass, was packed with noisy mortals. Cinema vampires glared from their gilt frames on satin-lined walls. An organ poured out the passionate Toccata and Fugue of Bach, beneath a babble of conversation and violent riffs of drunken laughter. He loved the sight of so much exuberant life. He loved even the age-old smell of the malt and the wine, and the perfume of the cigarettes. And as he made his way to the front, he loved the crush of the soft fragrant humans against him. He loved the fact that the living took not . the; slightest notice of him.

  At last the moist air, the busy early evening pavements of Castro Street. The sky still had a polished silver gleam. Men and women rushed to and fro to escape the faint slanting rain, to be clotted at the corners, waiting for great bulbous colored lights to wink and signal.

  The speakers of the record store across the street blared Le-stat's voice over the roar of the passing bus, the hiss of wheels on the wet asphalt:

  In my dreams, I hold her still, Angel, lover, Mother. And in my dreams, I kiss her lips, Mistress, Muse, Daughter.

  She gave me life I gave her death My beautiful Marquise.

  And on the Devil's Road
we walked Two orphans then together.

  And does she hear my hymns tonight of Kings and Queens and Ancient truths? Of broken vows and sorrow?

  Or does she climb some distant path where rhyme and song can't find her?

  Come back to me, my Gabrielle My Beautiful Marquise. The castle's ruined on the hill The village lost beneath the snow But you are mine forever.

  Was she here already, his mother?

  The voice died away in a soft drift of electric notes to be swallowed finally by the random noise around him. He wandered out into the wet breeze and made his way to the corner. Pretty, the busy little street. The flower vendor still sold his blooms beneath the awning. The butcher was thronged with after-work shoppers. Behind the cafe windows, mortals took their evening meals or lingered with their newspapers. Dozens waited for a downhill bus, and a line had formed across the way before an old motion picture theater.

  She was here, Gabrielle. He had a vague yet infallible sense of it.

  When he reached the curb, he stood with his back against the iron street lamp, breathing the fresh wind that came off the mountain. It was a good view of downtown, along the broad straight length of Market Street. Rather like a boulevard in Paris. And all around the gentle urban slopes covered with cheerful lighted windows.

  Yes, but where was she, precisely? Gabrielle, he whispered. He closed his eyes. He listened. At first there came the great boundless roar of thousands of voices, image crowding upon image. The whole wide world threatened to open up, and to swallow him with its ceaseless lamentations. Gabrielle. The thunderous clamor slowly died away. He caught a glimmer of pain from a mortal passing near. And in a high building on the hill, a dying woman dreamed of childhood strife as she sat listless at her window. Then in a dim steady silence, he saw what he wanted to see: Gabrielle, stopped in her tracks. She'd heard his voice. She knew that she was watched. A tall blond female, hair in a single braid down her back, standing in one of the clean deserted streets of downtown, not far from him. She wore a khaki jacket and pants, a worn brown sweater. And a hat not unlike his own that covered her eyes, only a bit of her face visible above her upturned collar. Now she closed her mind, effectively surrounding herself with an invisible shield. The image vanished.

  Yes, here, waiting for her son, Lestat. Why had he ever feared for her-the cold one who fears nothing for herself, only for Lestat. All right. He was pleased. And Lestat would be also.

  But what about the other? Louis, the gentle one, with the black hair and green eyes, whose steps made a careless sound when he walked, who even whistled to himself in dark streets so that mortals heard him coming. Louis, where are you?

  Almost instantly, he saw Louis enter an empty drawing room. He had only just come up the stairs from the cellar where he had slept by day in a vault behind the wall. He had no awareness at all of anyone watching. He moved with silky strides across the dusty room, and stood looking down through the soiled glass at the thick flow of passing cars. Same old house on Divisadero Street. In fact, nothing changed much at all with this elegant and sensuous creature who had caused such a little tumult with his story in Interview with the Vampire. Except that now he was waiting for Lestat. He had had troubling dreams; he was fearful for Lestat, and full of old and unfamiliar longings.

  Reluctantly, he let the image go. He had a great affection for that one, Louis. And the affection was not wise because Louis had a tender, educated soul and none of the dazzling power of Gabrielle or her devilish son. Yet Louis might survive as long as they, he was sure of that. Curious the kinds of courage which made for endurance. Maybe it had to do with acceptance. But then how account for Lestat, beaten, scarred, yet risen again? Lestat who never accepted anything?

  They had not found each other yet, Gabrielle and Louis. But it was all right. What was he to do? Bring them together? The very idea. . . . Besides, Lestat would do that soon enough.

  But now he was smiling again. "Lestat, you are the damnedest creature! Yes, a brat prince. " Slowly, he reinvoked every detail of Lestat's face and form. The ice-blue eyes, darkening with laughter; the generous smile; the way the eyebrows came together in a boyish scowl; the sudden flares of high spirits and blasphemous humor. Even the catlike poise of the body he could envisage. So uncommon in a man of muscular build. Such strength, always such strength and such irrepressible optimism.

  The fact was, he did not know his own mind about the entire enterprise, only that he was amused and fascinated. Of course there was no thought of vengeance against Lestat for telling his secrets. And surely Lestat had counted upon that, but then one never knew. Maybe Lestat truly did not care. He knew no more than the fools back there in the bar, on that score.

  What mattered to him was that for the first time in so many years, he found himself thinking in terms of past and future; he found himself most keenly aware of the nature of this era. Those Who Must Be Kept were fiction even to their own children! Long gone were the days when fierce rogue blood drinkers searched for their shrine and their powerful blood. Nobody believed or even cared any longer!

  And there lay the essence of the age; for its mortals were of an even more practical ilk, rejecting at every turn the miraculous. With unprecedented courage, they had founded their greatest ethical advances squarely upon the truths embedded in the physical.

  Two hundred years since he and Lestat had discussed these very things on an island in the Mediterranean-the dream of a godless and truly moral world where love of one's fellow man would be the only dogma. A world in which we do not belong. And now such a world was almost realized. And the Vampire Lestat had passed into popular art where all the old devils ought to go, and would take with him the whole accused tribe, including Those Who Must Be Kept, though they might never know it.

  It made him smile, the symmetry of it. He found himself not merely in awe but strongly seduced by the whole idea of what Lestat had done. He could well understand the lure of fame.

  Why, it had thrilled him shamelessly to see his own name scrawled on the wall of the bar. He had laughed; but he had enjoyed the laughter thoroughly.

  Leave it to Lestat to construct such an inspiring drama, and that's what it was, all right. Lestat, the boisterous boulevard actor of the ancien regime, now risen to stardom in this beauteous and innocent era.

  But had he been right in his little summation to the fledgling in the bar, that no one could destroy the brat prince? That was sheer romance. Good advertising. The fact is, any of us can be destroyed. . . one way or another. Even Those Who Must Be Kept, surely.

  They were weak, of course, those fledgling "Children of Darkness," as they styled themselves. The numbers did not increase their strength significantly. But what of the older ones? If only Lestat had not used the names of Mael and Pandora. But were there not blood drinkers older even than that, ones of whom he himself knew nothing? He thought of that warning on the wall: "ancient and terrible beings . . . moving slowly and inexorably to answer his summons. "

  A frisson startled him; coldness, yet for an instant he thought he saw a jungle-a green, fetid place, full of unwholesome and smothering warmth. Gone, without explanation, like so many sudden signals and messages he received. He'd learned long ago to shut out the endless flow of voices and images that his mental powers enabled him to hear; yet now and then something violent and unexpected, like a sharp cry, came through.

  Whatever, he had been in this city long enough. He did not know that he meant to intervene, no matter what happened! He was angry with his own sudden warmth of feeling. He wanted to be home now. He had been away from Those Who Must Be Kept for too long.

  But how he loved to watch the energetic human crowd, the clumsy parade of shining traffic. Even the poison smells of the city he did not mind. They were no worse than the stench of ancient Rome, or Antioch, or Athens-when piles of human waste fed the flies wherever you looked, and the air reeked of inevitable disease and hunger. No, he liked the clean pastel-colored cities of California well enough. He could hav
e lingered forever among their clear-eyed and purposeful inhabitants.

  But he must go home. The concert was not for many nights, and he would see Lestat then, if he chose. . . . How delicious not to know precisely what he might do, any more than others knew, others who didn't even believe in him!

  He crossed Castro Street and went swiftly up the wide pavement of Market. The wind had slackened; the air was almost warm. He took up a brisk pace, even whistling to himself the way that Louis often did. He felt good. Human. Then he stopped before the store that sold television sets and radios. Lestat was singing on each and every screen, both large and small.

  He laughed under his breath at the great concert of gesture and movement. The sound was oft", buried in tiny glowing seeds within the equipment. He'd have to search to receive it. But wasn't there a charm in merely watching the antics of the yellow-haired brat' prince in merciless silence?

  The camera drew back to render the full figure of Lestat who played a violin as if in a void. A starry darkness now and then enclosed him. Then quite suddenly a pair of doors were opened- it was the old shrine of Those Who Must Be Kept, quite exactly! And there-Akasha and Enkil, or rather actors made up to play the part, white-skinned Egyptians with long black silken hair and glittering jewelry.

  Of course. Why hadn't he guessed that Lestat would carry it to this vulgar and tantalizing extreme? He leant forward, listening for the transmission of the sound. He heard the voice of Lestat above the violin:

  Akasha! Enkil!

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