The queen of the damned, p.21

The Queen Of The Damned, page 21

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


The Queen Of The Damned

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Chapter 18



  Ah, such a belief in goodness, in heroism. Khayman could see it even in the creature's eyes, a dark gray shadow there of tragic need. Lestat threw back his head and roared again; he stamped his feet and howled; he looked to the rafters as if they were the firmament.

  Khayman forced himself to move; he had to escape. He made his way clumsily to the door, as if suffocating in the deafening sound. Even his sense of balance had been affected. The blasting music came after him into the stairwell, but at least he was sheltered from the flashing lights. Leaning against the wall, he tried to clear his vision.

  Smell of blood. Hunger of so many blood drinkers in the hall. And the throb of the music through the wood and the plaster.

  He moved down the steps, unable to hear his own feet on the concrete, and sank down finally on a deserted landing. He wrapped his arms around his knees and bowed his head.

  The music was like the music of old, when all songs had been the songs of the body, and the songs of the mind had not yet been invented.

  He saw himself dancing; he saw the King-the mortal king he had so loved-turn and leap into the air; he heard the beat of the drums; the rise of the pipes; the King put the beer in Khayman's hand. The table sagged beneath its wealth of roasted game and glistening fruit, its steaming loaves of bread. The Queen sat in her golden chair, immaculate and serene, a mortal woman with a tiny cone of scented wax atop her elaborate hair, melting slowly in the heat to perfume her plaited tresses.

  Then someone had put the coffin in his hand; the tiny coffin that was passed now among those who feasted; the little reminder: Eat. Drink. For Death awaits all of us.

  He held it tight; should he pass it now to the King?

  He felt the King's lips against his face suddenly. "Dance, Khayman. Drink. Tomorrow we march north to slay the last of the flesh eaters. " The King didn't even look at the tiny coffin as he took it; he slipped it into the Queen's hands and she, without looking down, gave it to another.

  The last of the flesh eaters. How simple it had all seemed; how good. Until he had seen the twins kneeling before that altar.

  The great rattle of drums drowned out Lestat's voice. Mortals passed Khayman, hardly noticing him huddled there; a blood drinker ran quickly by without the slightest heed of him.

  The voice of Lestat rose again, singing of the Children of Darkness, hidden beneath the cemetery called Les Innocents in superstition and fear.

  Into the light

  We come

  My Brothers and Sisters!


  My Brothers and Sisters!

  Sluggishly, Khayman rose. He was staggering, but he moved on, downward until he had come out in the lobby where the noise was just a little muted, and he rested there, across from the inner doors, in a cooling draft of fresh air.

  Calm was returning to him, but only slowly, when he realized that two mortal men had paused nearby and were staring at him as he stood against the wall with his hands in his pockets, his head bowed.

  He saw himself suddenly as they saw him. He sensed their apprehension, mingled with a sudden irrepressible sense of victory. Men who had known about his kind, men who had lived for a moment such as this, yet dreaded it, and never truly hoped for it.

  Slowly, he looked up. They stood some twenty feet away from him, near to the cluttered concession stand, as if it could hide them-proper British gentlemen. They were old, in fact, learned, with heavily creased faces and prim formal attire. Utterly out of place here their fine gray overcoats, the bit of starched collar showing, the gleaming knot of silk tie. They seemed explorers from another world among the flamboyant youth that moved restlessly to and fro, thriving on the barbaric noise and broken chatter.

  And with such natural reticence they stared; as if they were too polite to be afraid. Elders of the Talamasca looking for Jessica.

  Know us? Yes, you do of course. No harm. Don't care.

  His silent words drove the one called David Talbot back a pace. The man's breathing became hurried, and there was a sudden dampness on his forehead and upper lip. Yet such elegant composure. David Talbot narrowed his eyes as if he would not be dazzled by what he saw; as if he would see the tiny dancing molecules in the brightness.

  How small it seemed suddenly the span of a human life; look at this fragile man, for whom education and refinement have only increased all risks. So simple to alter the fabric of his thought, his expectations. Should Khayman tell them where Jesse was? Should he meddle? It would make no difference ultimately.

  He sensed now that they were afraid to go or to remain, that he had them fixed almost as if he'd hypnotized them. In a way, it was respect that kept them there, staring at him. It seemed he had to offer something, if only to end this awful scrutiny.

  Don't go to her. You 'd be fools if you did; She has others like me now to look after her. Best leave here. I would if I were you.

  Now, how would all this read in the archives of the Talamasca? Some night he might find out. To what modern places had they removed their old documents and treasures?

  Benjamin, the Devil. That's who I am. Don't you know me? He smiled at himself. He let his head droop, staring at the floor. He had not known he possessed this vanity. And suddenly he did not care what this moment meant to them.

  He thought listlessly of those olden times in France when he had played with their kind. "Allow us but to speak to you!" they'd pleaded. Dusty scholars with pale eternally red-rimmed eyes and worn velvet clothing, so unlike these two fine gentlemen, for whom the occult was a matter of science, not philosophy. The hopelessness of that time suddenly frightened him; the hopelessness of this time was equally frightening.

  Go away.

  Without looking up, he saw that David Talbot had nodded. Politely, he and his companion withdrew. Glancing back over their shoulders, they hurried down the curve of the lobby, and into the concert.

  Khayman was alone again, with the rhythm of the music coming from the doorway, alone and wondering why he had come here, what it was he wanted; wishing that he could forget again; that he was in some lovely place full of warm breezes and mortals who didn't know what he was, and twinkling electric lights beneath the faded clouds, and flat endless city pavements to walk until morning.


  "Let me alone, you son of a bitch!' Jesse kicked the man beside her, the one who had hooked his arm around her waist and lifted her away from the stage. "You bastard!" Doubled over with the pain in his foot, he was no match for her sudden shove. He toppled and went down.

  Five times she'd been swept back from the stage. She ducked and pushed through the little cluster that had taken her place, sliding against their black leather flanks as if she were a fish and rising up again to grab the apron of unpainted wood, one hand taking hold of the strong synthetic cloth that decorated it, and twisting it into a rope.

  In the flashing lights she saw the Vampire Lestat leap high into the air and come down without a palpable sound on the boards, his voice rising again without benefit of the mike to fill the auditorium, his guitar players prancing around him like imps.

  The blood ran in tiny rivulets down his white face, as if from Christ's Crown of Thorns, his long blond hair flying out as he turned full circle, his hand ripping at his shirt, tearing it open down his chest, the black tie loose and falling. His pale crystalline blue eyes were glazed and shot with blood as he screamed the unimportant lyrics.

  Jesse felt her heart knocking again as she stared up at him, at the rocking of his hips, the tight cloth of the black pants revealing the powerful muscles of his thighs. He leapt again, rising effortlessly, as if he would ascend to the very ceiling of the hall.

  Yes, you see it, and there is no mistake! No other explanation!

  She wiped at her nose. She was crying again. But touch him, damn it, you have to! In a daze she watched him finish the song, stomping his foot to the last three resounding notes,
as the musicians danced back and forth, taunting, tossing their hair over their heads, their voices lost in his as they struggled to meet his pace.

  God, how he loved it! There was not the slightest pretense. He was bathed in the adoration he was receiving. He was soaking it up as if it were blood.

  And now as he went into the frenzied opening of another song, he ripped off the black velvet cloak, gave it a great twirl, and sent it flying into the audience. The crowd wailed, shifted. Jesse felt a knee in her back, a boot scraping her heel, but this was her chance, as the guards jumped down off the boards to stop the melee.

  With both hands pressed down hard on the wood, she sprang up and over on her belly and onto her feet. She ran right towards the dancing figure whose eyes suddenly looked into hers.

  "Yes, you! You!" she cried out. In the corner of her eye was the approaching guard. She threw her full weight at the Vampire Lestat. Shutting her eyes, she locked her arms around his waist. She felt the cold shock of his silky chest against her face, she tasted the blood suddenly on her lip!

  "Oh, God, real!" she whispered. Her heart was going to burst, but she hung on. Yes, Mael's skin, like this, and Maharet's skin, like this, and all of them. Yes, this! Real, not human. Always. And it was all here in her arms and she knew and it was too late for them to stop her now!

  Her left hand went up, and caught a thick tangle of his hair, and as she opened her eyes, she saw him smiling down at her, saw the poreless gleaming white skin, and the tiny fang teeth.

  "You devil!" she whispered. She was laughing like a mad woman, crying and laughing.

  "Love you, Jessica," he whispered back at her, smiling at her as if he were teasing her, the wet blond hair tumbling down into his eyes.

  Astonished, she felt his arm around her, and then he lifted her on his hip, swinging her in a circle. The screaming musicians were a blur; the lights were violent streaks of white, red. She was moaning; but she kept looking up at him, at his eyes, yes, real. Desperately she hung on, for it seemed he meant to throw her high into the air over the heads of the crowd. And then as he set her down and bowed his head, his hair falling against her cheek, she felt his mouth close on hers.

  The throbbing music went dim as if she'd been plunged into the sea. She felt him breathe into her, sigh against her, his smooth fingers sliding up her neck. Her breasts were pressed against the beat of his heart; and a voice was speaking to her, purely, the way a voice had long ago, a voice that knew her, a voice that understood her questions and knew how they must be answered.

  Evil, Jesse. As you have always known.

  Hands pulled her back. Human hands. She was being separated from him. She screamed.

  Bewildered, he stared at her. He was reaching deep, deep into his dreams for something he only faintly remembered. The funeral feast; the red-haired twins kneeling on either side of the altar. But it was no more than a split second; then gone; he was baffled; his smile flashed again, impersonal, like one of the lights that were constantly blinding her. "Beautiful Jesse!" he said, his hand lifted as if in farewell. They were carrying her backwards away from him, off the stage.

  She was laughing when they set her down.

  Her white shirt was smeared with blood. Her hands were covered with it-pale streaks of salty blood. She felt she knew the taste of it. She threw back her head and laughed; and it was so curious not to be able to hear it, only to feel it, to feel the shudder running through her, to know she was crying and laughing at the same time. The guard said something rough to her, something crude, threatening. But that didn't matter.

  The crowd had her again. It just swallowed her, tumbling against her, driving her out of the center. A heavy shoe crushed her right foot. She stumbled, and turned, and let herself be pushed along ever more violently, towards the doors.

  Didn't matter now. She knew. She knew it all. Her head spun. She could not have stood upright if it were not for the shoulders knocking against her. And never had she felt such wondrous abandon. Never had she felt such release.

  The crazy cacophonous music went on; faces flickered and disappeared in a wash of colored light. She smelled the marijuana, the beer. Thirst. Yes, something cold to drink. Something cold. So thirsty. She lifted her hand again and licked at the salt and the blood. Her body trembled, vibrated, the way it so often did on the verge of sleep. A soft delicious tremor that meant that dreams were coming. She licked at the blood again and closed her eyes.

  Quite suddenly she felt herself pass into an open place. No one shoving her. She looked up and saw that she had come to the doorway, to the slick ramp that led some ten feet into the lobby below. The crowd was behind her, above her. And she could rest here. She was all right.

  She ran her hand along the greasy wall, stepping over the crush of paper cups, a fallen wig with cheap yellow curls. She lay her head back suddenly and merely rested, the ugly light from the lobby shining in her eyes. The taste of the blood was on the tip of her tongue. It seemed she was going to cry again, and it was a perfectly fine thing to do. For the moment, there was no past or present, no necessity, and all the world was changed, from the simplest things to the grandest. She was floating, as if in the center of the most seductive state of peace and acceptance that she had ever known. Oh, if only she could tell David these things; if only somehow she could share this great and overwhelming secret.

  Something touched her. Something hostile to her. Reluctantly she turned and saw a hulking figure at her side. What? She struggled to see it clearly.

  Bony limbs, black hair slicked back, red paint on the twisted ugly mouth, but the skin, the same skin. And the fang teeth. Not human. One of them! Talamasca?

  It came at her like a hiss. It struck her in the chest. Instinctively her arms rose, crossing over her breasts, fingers locking on her shoulders. Talamasca?

  It was soundless yet deafening in its rage. She moved to back away, but his hand caught her, fingers biting into her neck. She tried to scream as she was lifted off her feet. Then she was flying across the lobby and she was screaming until her head slammed into the wall.

  Blackness. She saw the pain. It flashed yellow and then white as it traveled down her backbone and then spread out as if into a million branches in her limbs. Her body went numb. She hit the floor with another shocking pain in her face and in the open palms of her hands and then she rolled over on her back.

  She couldn't see. Maybe her eyes were closed, but the funny thing was, if they were, she couldn't open them. She heard voices, people shouting. A whistle blew, or was it the clang of a bell? There was a thunderous noise, but that was the crowd inside applauding. People near her argued. Someone close to her ear said: "Don't touch her. Her neck's broken!" Broken? Can you live when your neck is broken? Someone laid a hand on her forehead. But she couldn't really feel it so much as a tingling sensation, as if she were very cold, walking in snow, and all real feeling had left her. Can't see.

  "Listen, honey. " A young man's voice. One of those voices you could hear in Boston or New Orleans or New York City. Fire-fighter, cop, saver of the injured. "We're taking care of you, honey. The ambulance is on its way. Now lie still, honey, don't you worry. "

  Someone touching her breast. No, taking the cards out of her pocket. Jessica Miriam Reeves. Yes.

  She stood beside Maharet and they were looking up at the giant map with all the tiny lights. And she understood. Jesse born of Miriam, who was born of Alice, who was born of Carlotta, who was born of Jane Marie, who was born of Anne, who was born of Janet Belle, who was born of Elizabeth, who was born of Louise, who was born of Frances, who was born of Frieda, who was born of-

  "If you will allow me, please, we are her friends-"


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