The queen of the damned, p.20

The Queen Of The Damned, page 20

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


The Queen Of The Damned

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Chapter 17


  Khayman turned and embraced Mael, and smiled at him. But this merely frightened Mael, and Khayman felt the disappointment heavily. Politely, he stepped away. For a moment he was painfully confused. He stared down at Armand. Beautiful Armand who met his gaze with utter passivity. But it was time to say now what he'd come to say.

  "You must make your shield stronger, my friend," he explained to Mael gently. "Don't let your love for that girl expose you. The girl will be perfectly safe from our Queen if you curb your thoughts of the girl's origins and her protector. That name is anathema to the Queen. It always has been. "

  "And where is the Queen?" Mael asked, his fear surging again, along with the rage that he needed to fight it.

  "She's close. "

  "Yes, but where?"

  "I cannot say. She's burnt their tavern house. She hunts the few rogues who haven't come to the hall. She takes her time with it. And this I've learned through the minds of her victims. "

  Khayman could see the creature shudder. He could see subtle changes in him that marked his ever increasing anger. Well and good. The fear withered in the heat of the anger. But what a basically quarrelsome creature this one was. His mind did not make sophisticated distinctions.

  "And why do you give me this warning," demanded Mael, "when she can hear every word we speak to each other?"

  "But I don't think that she can," Khayman replied calmly. "I am of the First Brood, friend. To hear other blood drinkers as we hear mortal men, that curse belongs only to distant cousins. I could not read her mind if she stood on this spot; and mine is closed to her as well, you can be sure of it. And so it was with all our kind through the early generations. "

  That clearly fascinated the blond giant. So Maharet could not hear the Mother! Maharet had not admitted this to him.

  "No," Khayman said, "and the Mother can only know of her through your thoughts, so kindly guard them. Speak to me now in a human voice, for this city is a wilderness of such voices. "

  Mael considered, brows puckered in a frown. He glared at Khayman as if he meant to hit him.

  "And this will defeat her?"

  "Remember," Khayman said, "that excess can be the very opposite of essence. " He looked back at Armand as he spoke. "She who hears a multitude of voices may not hear any one voice. And she who would listen closely to one, must shut out the others. You are old enough to know the trick. "

  Mael didn't answer out loud. But it was clear that he understood. The telepathic gift had always been a curse to him, too, whether he was besieged by the voices of blood drinkers or humans.

  Khayman gave a little nod. The telepathic gift. Such nice words for the madness that had come on him eons ago, after years of listening, years of lying motionless, covered with dust in the deep recesses of a forgotten Egyptian tomb, listening to the weeping of the world, without knowledge of himself or his condition.

  "Precisely my point, my friend," he said. "And for two thousand years you have fought the voices while our Queen may well have been drowned by them. It seems the Vampire Lestat has outshouted the din; he has, as it were, snapped his fingers in the corner of her eye and brought her to attention. But do not overestimate the creature who sat motionless for so long. It isn't useful to do so. "

  These ideas startled Mael somewhat. But he saw the logic of them. Below, Armand remained attentive.

  "She can't do all things," Khayman said, "whether she herself knows it or not. She was always one to reach for the stars, and then draw back as if in horror. "

  "How so?" Mael said. Excited, he leaned closer. "What is she really like!" he whispered.

  "She was full of dreams and high ideals. She was like Lestat. " Khayman shrugged. "The blond one down there who would be good and do good and gather to himself the needy worshipers. "

  Mael smiled, coldly, cynically.

  "But what in the name of hell does she mean to do?" he asked. "So he has waked her with his abominable songs. Why does she destroy us?"

  "There's a purpose, you can be sure of it. With our Queen there has always been a purpose. She could not do the smallest thing without a grand purpose. And you must know we do not really change over time; we are as flowers unfolding; we merely become more nearly ourselves. " He glanced again at Armand. "As for what her purpose may be, I can give you only speculations . . . "

  "Yes, tell me. "

  "This concert will take place because Lestat wants it. And when it is finished, she will slaughter more of our kind. But she will leave some, some to serve this purpose, some perhaps to witness. "

  Khayman gazed at Armand. Marvelous how his expressionless face conveyed wisdom, while the harried, weary face of Mael did not. And who can say which one understood the most? Mael gave a little bitter laugh.

  "To witness?" Mael asked. "I think not. I think she is cruder than that. She spares those whom Lestat loves, it's that simple. "

  This hadn't occurred to Khayman.

  "Ah, yes, think on it," Mael said, in the same sharply pronounced English. "Louis, Lestat's companion. Is he not alive? And Gabrielle, the mother of the fiend, she is near at hand, waiting to rendezvous with her son as soon as it is wise to do so. And Armand, down there, whom you so like to look at, it seems Lestat would see him again, so he is alive, and that outcast with him, the one who published the accursed book, the one the others would tear limb from limb if only they guessed . . . "

  "No, there's more to it than that. There has to be," Khayman said. "Some of us she can't kill. And those who go to Marius now, Lestat knows nothing of them but their names. "

  Mael's face changed slightly; it underwent a deep, human flush, as his eyes narrowed. It was clear to Khayman that Mael would have gone to Marius if he could. He would have gone this very night, if only Maharet had come to protect Jessica. He tried now to banish Maharet's name from his thoughts. He was afraid of Maharet, deeply afraid.

  "Ah, yes, you try to hide what you know," Khayman said. "And this is just what you must reveal to me. "

  "But I can't," Mael said. The wall had gone up. Impenetrable. "I am not given answers, only orders, my friend. And my mission is to survive this night, and to take my charge safely out of here. "

  Khayman meant to press, to demand. But he did neither. He had felt a soft, subtle change in the atmosphere around him, a change so insignificant yet pure that he couldn't call it movement or sound.

  She was coming. She was moving close to the hall. He felt himself slip away from his body into pure listening; yes, it was she. All the sounds of the night rose to confuse him, yet he caught it; a low irreducible sound which she could not veil, the sound of her breathing, of the beat of her heart, of a force moving through space at tremendous and unnatural speed, causing the inevitable tumult amid the visible and the invisible.

  Mael sensed it; so did Armand. Even the young one beside Armand heard it, though so many other young ones did not. Even some of the more finely tuned mortals seemed to feel it and to be distracted by it.

  "I must go, friend," Khayman said. "Remember my advice. " Impossible to say more now.

  She was very close. Undoubtedly she scanned; she listened.

  He felt the first irresistible urge to see her, to scan for the minds of those hapless souls out there in the night whose eyes might have passed over her.

  "Good-bye, friend," he said. "It's no good for me to be near you. "

  Mael looked at him in confusion. Below, Armand gathered Daniel to him and made for the edge of the crowd.

  The hall went dark suddenly; and for one split second Khayman thought it was her magic, that some grotesque and vengeful judgment would now be made.

  But the mortal children all around him knew the ritual. The concert was about to begin! The hall went mad with shrieks, and cheers, and stomping. Finally it became a great collective roar. He felt the floor tremble.

  Tiny flames appeared as mortals struck their matches, ignited their chemical lighters. And a drowsy beautiful illumination o
nce again revealed the thousands upon thousands of moving forms. The screams were a chorus from all sides.

  "I am no coward," Mael whispered suddenly, as if he could not remain silent. He took hold of Khayman's arm, then let it go as if the hardness of it repelled him.

  "I know," Khayman said.

  "Help me. Help Jessica. "

  "Don't speak her name again. Stay away from her as I've told you. You are conquered again, Druid. Remember? Time to fight with cunning, not rage. Stay with the mortal herd. I will help you when and if I can. "

  There was so much more he wanted to say! Tell me where Maharet is! But it was too late now for that. He turned away and moved along the aisle swiftly until he came to an open place above a long narrow flight of cement stairs.

  Below on the darkened stage, the mortal musicians appeared, darting over wires and speakers to gather their instruments from the floor.

  The Vampire Lestat came striding through the curtain, his black cloak flaring around him, as he moved to the very front of the platform. Not three feet from Jesse he stood with microphone in hand.

  The crowd had gone into ecstasies. Clapping, hooting, howling, it was a noise such as Khayman had never actually heard. He laughed in spite of himself at the stupid frenzy, at the tiny smiling figure down there who loved it utterly, who was laughing even as Khayman laughed.

  Then in a great white flash, light flooded the small stage. Khayman stared, not at the small figures strutting in their finery, but at the giant video screen that rose behind them to the very roof. The living image of the Vampire Lestat, thirty feet in height, blazed before Khayman. The creature smiled; he lifted his arms, and shook his mane of yellow hair; he threw back his head and howled.

  The crowd was on its feet in delirium; the very structure rumbled; but it was the howl that filled all ears. The Vampire Lestat's powerful voice swallowed every other sound in the auditorium.

  Khayman closed his eyes. In the heart of the monstrous cry of the Vampire Lestat, he listened again for the sound of the Mother, but he could no longer find it.

  "My Queen," he whispered, searching, scanning, hopeless though it was. Did she stand up there on some grassy slope listening to the music of her troubadour? He felt the soft damp wind and saw the gray starless sky as random mortals felt and saw these things. The lights of San Francisco, its spangled hills and glowing towers, these were the beacons of the urban night, as terrible suddenly as the moon or the drift of the galaxies.

  He closed his eyes. He envisioned her again as she'd been in the Athens street watching the tavern burn with her children in it; her tattered cape had hung loose over her shoulders, the hood thrown back from her plaited hair. Ah, the Queen of Heaven she'd seemed, as she had once so loved to be known, presiding over centuries of litany. Her eyes had been shining and empty in the electric light; her mouth soft, guileless. The sheer sweetness of her face had been infinitely beautiful.

  The vision carried him back now over the centuries to a dim and awful moment, when he'd come, a mortal man, heart pounding to hear her will. His Queen, now cursed and consecrated to the moon, the demon in her demanding blood, his Queen who would not allow even the bright lamps to be near to her. How agitated she had been, pacing the mud floor, the colored walls around her full of silent painted sentinels.

  "These twins," she'd said, "these evil sisters, they have spoken such abominations. "

  "Have mercy," he had pleaded. "They meant no harm, I swear they tell the truth. Let them go again, Your Highness. They cannot change it now. "

  Oh, such compassion he had felt for all of them! The twins, and his afflicted sovereign.

  "Ah, but you see, we must put it to the test, their revolting lies," she had said. "You must come closer, my devoted steward, you who have always served me with such devotion-"

  "My Queen, my beloved Queen, what do you want of me?"

  And with the same lovely expression on her face, she had lifted her icy hands to touch his throat, to hold him fast suddenly with a strength that terrified him. In shock, he'd watched her eyes go blank, her mouth open. The two tiny fang teeth he'd seen, as she rose on tiptoe with the eerie grace of nightmare. Not me. You would not do this to me! My Queen, I am Khayman!

  He should have perished long before now, as so many blood drinkers had afterwards. Gone without a trace, like the nameless multitudes dissolved within the earth of all lands and nations. But he had not perished. And the twins-at least one-had lived on also.

  Did she know it? Did she know those terrible dreams? Had they come to her from the minds of all the others who had received them? Or had she traveled the night around the world, dreamless, and without cease, arid bent upon one task, since her resurrection?

  They live, my Queen, they live on in the one if not in the two together. Remember the old prophecy! If only she could hear his voice!

  He opened his eyes. He was back again in the moment, with this ossified thing that was his body. And the rising music saturated him with its remorseless rhythm. It pounded against his ears. The flashing lights blinded him.

  He turned his back and put his hand against the wall. Never had he been so engulfed by sound. He felt himself losing consciousness, but Lestat's voice called him back.

  With his fingers splayed across his eyes, Khayman looked down at the fiery white square of the stage. Behold the devil dance and sing with such obvious joy. It touched Khayman's heart in spite of himself.

  Lestat's powerful tenor needed no electric amplification. And even the immortals lost among their prey were singing with him, it was so contagious, this passion. Everywhere he looked Khayman saw them caught up, mortal and immortal alike. Bodies twisted in time with the bodies on the stage. Voices rose; the hall swayed with one wave of movement after another.

  The giant face of Lestat expanded on the video screen as the camera moved in upon it. The blue eye fixed upon Khayman and winked. "WHY DON'T YOU KILL ME! YOU KNOW WHAT I AM!"

  Lestat's laughter rose above the twanging scream of the guitars.
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