The queen of the damned, p.22

The Queen Of The Damned, page 22

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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Chapter 19

 

  They were lifting her; she heard herself scream, but she had not meant to scream. She saw the screen again and the great tree of names. "Frieda born of Dagmar, born of . . . "

  "Steady now, steady! Goddamn it!"

  The air changed; it went cool and moist; she felt the breeze moving over her face; then all feeling left her hands and feet completely. She could feel her eyelids but not move them.

  Maharet was talking to her. ". . . came out of Palestine, down into Mesopotamia and then up slowly through Asia Minor and into Russia and then into Eastern Europe. Do you see?"

  This was either a hearse or an ambulance and it seemed too quiet to be the latter, and the siren, though steady, was too far away. What had happened to David? He wouldn't have let her go, unless she was dead. But then how could David have been there? David had told her nothing could induce him to come. David wasn't here. She must have imagined it. And the odd thing was, Miriam wasn't here either. "Holy Mary, Mother of God . . . now and at the hour of our death

  She listened: they were speeding through the city; she felt them turn the corner; but where was her body? She couldn't feel it. Broken neck. That meant surely that one had to be dead.

  What was that, the light she could see through the jungle? A river? It seemed too wide to be a river. How to cross it. But it wasn't Jesse who was walking through the jungle, and now along the bank of the river. It was somebody else. Yet she could see the hands out in front of her, moving aside the vines and the wet sloppy leaves, as if they were her hands. She could see red hair when she looked down, red hair in long curling tangles, full of bits of leaf and earth. . . .

  "Can you hear me, honey? We've got you. We're taking care of you. Your friends are in the car behind us. Now don't you worry. "

  He was saying more. But she had lost the thread. She couldn't hear him, only the tone of it, the tone of loving care. Why did he fee! so sorry for her? He didn't even know her. Did he understand that it wasn't her blood all over her shirt? Her hands? Guilty. Lestat had tried to tell her it was evil, but that had been so unimportant to her, so impossible to relate to the whole. It wasn't that she didn't care about what was good and what was right; it was that this was bigger for the moment. Knowing. And he'd been talking as if she meant to do something and she hadn't meant to do anything at all.

  That's why dying was probably just fine. If only Maharet would understand. And to think, David was with her, in the car behind them. David knew some of the story, anyway, and they would have a file on her: Reeves, Jessica. And it would be more evidence. "One of our devoted members, definitely the result of . . . most dangerous . . . must not under any circumstances attempt a sighting. . . "

  They were moving her again. Cool air again, and smells rising of gasoline and ether. She knew that just on the other side of this numbness, this darkness, there was terrible pain and it was best to lie very still and not try to go there. Let them carry you along; let them move the gurney down the hallway.

  Someone crying. A little girl.

  "Can you hear me, Jessica? I want you to know that you're in the hospital and that we are doing everything we can for you. Your friends are outside. David Talbot and Aaron Lightner. We've told them that you must lie very still. . . . "

  Of course. When your neck is broken you are either dead or you die if you move. That was it. Years ago in a hospital she had seen a young girl with a broken neck. She remembered now. And the girl's body had been tied to a huge aluminum frame. Every now and then a nurse would move the frame to change the girl's position. Will you do that to me?

  He was talking again but this time he was farther away. She walked a little faster through the jungle, to get closer, to hear over the sound of the river. He was saying . . .

  ". . . of course we can do all that, we can run those tests, of course, but you must understand what I'm saying, this situation is terminal. The back of the skull is completely crushed. You can see the brain. And the obvious injury to the brain is enormous. Now, in a few hours the brain will begin to swell, if we even have a few hours. . . . "

  Bastard, you killed me. You threw me against the wall. If I could move anything-my eyelids, my lips. But I'm trapped inside here. I have no body anymore yet I'm trapped in here! When I was little, used to think it would be like this, death. You'd be trapped in your head in the grave, with no eyes to see and no mouth to scream. And years and years would pass.

  Or you roamed the twilight realm with the pale ghosts; thinking you were alive when you were really dead. Dear God, I have to know when I'm dead. I have lo know when it's begun!

  Her lips. There was the faintest sensation. Something moist, warm. Something parting her lips- But there's no one here, is there? They were out in the hallway, and the room was empty. She would have known if someone was here. Yet now she could taste it, the warm fluid flowing into her mouth.

  What is it? What are you giving me? I don't want to go under. Sleep, my beloved.

  I don't want to. I want to feel it when I die. I want to know! But the fluid was filling her mouth, and she was swallowing. The muscles of her throat were alive. Delicious the taste of it, the saltiness of it. She knew this taste! She knew this lovely, tingling sensation. She sucked harder. She could feel the skin of her face come alive, and the air stirring around her. She could feel the breeze moving through the room. A lovely warmth was moving down her spine. It was moving through her legs and her arms, taking exactly the path the pain had taken, and all her limbs were coming back. Sleep, beloved.

  The back of her head tingled; and the tingling moved through the roots of her hair.

  Her knees were bruised but her legs weren't hurt and she'd be able to walk again, and she could feel the sheet under her hand. She wanted to reach up, but it was too soon for that, too soon to move.

  Besides she was being lifted, carried.

  And it was best to sleep now. Because if this was death . . . well, it was just fine. The voices she could barely hear, the men arguing, threatening, they didn't matter now. It seemed David was calling out to her. But what did David want her to do? To die? The doctor was threatening to call the police. The police couldn't do anything now. That was almost funny.

  Down and down the stairs they went. Lovely cold air.

  The sound of the traffic grew louder; a bus roaring past. She had never liked these sounds before but now they were like the wind itself, that pure. She was being rocked again, gently, as if in a cradle. She felt the car move forward with a sudden lurch, and then the smooth easy momentum. Miriam was there and Miriam wanted Jesse to look at her, but Jesse was too tired now.

  "I don't want to go, Mother. "

  "But Jesse. Please. It's not too late. You can still come!" Like David calling. "Jessica. "

  Daniel

  About halfway through, Daniel understood. The white-faced brothers and sisters would circle each other, eye each other, even threaten each other all during the concert, but nobody would do anything. The rule was too hard and fast: leave no evidence of what we are-not victims, not a single cell of our vampiric tissue.

  Lestat was to be the only kill and that was to be done most carefully. Mortals were not to see the scythes unless it was unavoidable. Snatch the bastard when he tried to take his leave, that was the scheme; dismember him before the cognoscenti only. That is, unless he resisted, in which case he must die before his fans, and the body would have to be destroyed completely.

  Daniel laughed and laughed. Imagine Lestat allowing such a thing to happen.

  Daniel laughed in their spiteful faces. Pallid as orchids, these vicious souls who filled the hall with their simmering outrage, their envy, their greed. You would have thought they hated Lestat if for no other reason than his flamboyant beauty.

  Daniel had broken away from Armand finally. Why not?

  Nobody could hurt him, not even the glowing stone figure he'd seen in the shadows, the one so hard and so old he looked like the Golem of legend. What an eerie thing th
at was, that stone one staring down at the wounded mortal woman who lay with her neck broken, the one with the red hair who looked like the twins in the dream. And probably some stupid human being had done that to her, broken her neck like that. And the blond vampire in the buckskin, pushing past them to reach the scene, he had been an awe-inspiring sight as well, with the hardened veins bulging on his neck and on the backs of his hands when he reached the poor broken victim. Armand had watched the men take the red-haired woman away with the most unusual expression on his face, as if he should somehow intervene; or maybe it was only that the Golem thing, standing idly by, made him wary. Finally, he'd shoved Daniel back into the singing crowd. But there was no need to fear. It was sanctuary for them in this place, this cathedral of sound and light.

  And Lestat was Christ on the cathedral cross. How describe his overwhelming and irrational authority? His face would have been cruel if it hadn't been for the childlike rapture and exuberance. Pumping his fist into the air, he bawled, pleaded, roared at the powers that be as he sang of his downfall-Lelio, the boulevard actor turned into a creature of night against his will!

  His soaring tenor seemed to leave his body utterly as he recounted his defeats, his resurrections, the thirst inside him which no measure of blood could ever quench. "Am I not the devil in you all!" he cried, not to the moonflower monsters in the crowd but to the mortals who adored him.

  And even Daniel was screaming, bellowing, leaping off his feet as he cried in agreement, though the words meant nothing finally; it was merely the raw force of Lestat's defiance. Lestat cursed heaven on behalf of all who had ever been outcasts, all who had ever known violation, and then turned, in guilt and malice, on their own kind.

  It seemed to Daniel at the highest moments as though it were an omen that he should find immortality on the eve of this great Mass. The Vampire Lestal was God; or the nearest thing he had ever known to it. The giant on the video screen gave his benediction to all that Daniel had ever desired.

  How could the others resist? Surely the fierceness of their intended victim made him all the more inviting. The final message behind all Lestat's lyrics was simple: Lestat had the gift that had been promised to each of them; Lestat was unkillable. He devoured the suffering forced upon him and emerged all the stronger. To join with him was to live forever:

  This is my Body. This is my Blood.

  Yet the hate boiled among the vampire brothers and sisters. As the concert came to a close, Daniel felt it keenly-an odor rising from the crowd-an expanding hiss beneath the strum of the music.

  Kill the god. Tear him limb from limb. Let the mortal worshipers do as they have always done-mourn for him who was meant to die. "Go, the Mass is ended. "

  The houselights went on. The fans stormed the wooden stage, tearing down the black serge curtain to follow the fleeing musicians.

  Armand grabbed Daniel's arm. "Out the side door," he said. "Our only chance is to get to him quickly. "

  Khayman

  It was just as he had expected. She struck out at the first of those who struck at him. Lestat had come through the back door, Louis at his side, and made a dash for his black Porsche when the assassins set upon him. It seemed a rude circle sought to close, but at once the first, with scythe raised, went up in flames. The crowd panicked, terrified children stampeding in all directions. Another immortal assailant was suddenly on fire. And then another.

  Khayman slipped back against the wall as the clumsy humans hurtled past him. He saw a tall elegant female blood drinker slice unnoticed through the mob, and slide behind the wheel of Lestat's car, calling to Louis and Lestat to join her. It was Gabrielle, the fiend's mother. And logically enough the lethal fire did not harm her. There wasn't a particle of fear in her cold blue eyes as she readied the vehicle with swift, decisive gestures.

  Lestat meantime turned around and around in a rage. Maddened, robbed of the battle, he finally climbed into the car only because the others forced him to do so.

  And as the Porsche plowed viciously through the rushing youngsters, blood drinkers burst into flame everywhere. In a horrid silent chorus, their cries rose, their frantic curses, their final questions.

  Khayman covered his face. The Porsche was halfway to the gates before the crowd forced it to stop. Sirens screamed; voices roared commands; children had fallen with broken limbs. Mortals cried in misery and confusion.

  Get to Armand, Khayman thought. But what was the use? He saw them burning everywhere he looked in great writhing plumes of orange and blue flame that changed suddenly to white in their heat as they released the charred clothes which fell to the pavements. How could he come between the fire and Armand? How could he save the young one, Daniel?

  He looked up at the distant hills, at a tiny figure glowing against the dark sky, unnoticed by all who screamed and fled and cried for help around him.

  Suddenly he felt the heat; he felt it touch him as it had in Athens. He felt it dance about his face, he felt his eyes watering. Steadily he regarded the distant tiny source. And then for reasons that he might never himself understand, he chose not to drive back the fire, but rather to see what it might do to him. Every fiber of his being said, Give it back. Yet he remained motionless, washed of thought, and feeling the sweat drip from him. The fire circled him, embraced him. And then it moved away, leaving him alone, cold, and wounded beyond his wildest imagining. Quietly he whispered a prayer: May the twins destroy you.

  Daniel

  "Fire!" Daniel caught the rank greasy stench just as he saw the flames themselves breaking out here and there all through the multitude. What protection was the crowd now? Like tiny explosions the fires were, as groups of frantic teenagers stumbled to get away from them, and ran in senseless circles, colliding helplessly with one another.

  The sound. Daniel heard it again. It was moving above them. Armand pulled him back against the building. It was useless. They could not get to Lestat. And they had no cover. Dragging Daniel after him, Armand retreated into the hall again. A pair of terrified vampires ran past the entrance, then exploded into tiny conflagrations.

  In horror, Daniel watched the skeletons glowing as they melted within the pale yellow blaze. Behind them in the deserted auditorium a fleeing figure was suddenly caught in the same ghastly flames. Twisting, turning, he collapsed on the cement floor, smoke rising from his empty clothing- A pool of grease formed on the cement, then dried up even as Daniel stared at it.

  Out into the fleeing mortals, they ran again, this time towards the distant front gates over yards and yards of asphalt.

  And suddenly they were traveling so fast that Daniel's feet had left the ground. The world was nothing but a smear of color. Even the piteous cries of the frightened fans were stretched, softened. Abruptly they stopped at the gates, just as Lestat's black Porsche raced out of the parking lot,-past them, and onto the avenue. Within seconds it was gone, like a bullet traveling south towards the freeway.

  Armand made no attempt to follow it; he seemed not even to see it. He stood near the gatepost looking back over the heads of the crowd, beyond the curved roof of the hall to the distant horizon. The eerie telepathic noise was deafening now. It swallowed every other sound in the world; it swallowed every sensation.

  Daniel couldn't keep his hands from going to his ears, couldn't keep his knees from buckling. He felt Armand draw close. But he could no longer see. He knew that if it was meant to happen it would be now, yet still he couldn't feel the fear; still he couldn't believe in his own death; he was paralyzed with wonder and confusion.

  Gradually the sound faded. Numb, he felt his vision clear; he saw the great red shape of a lumbering ladder truck approach, the firemen shouting for him to move out of the gateway. The siren came as if from another world, an invisible needle through his temples.

  Armand was gently pulling him out of the path. Frightened people thundered past as if driven by a wind. He felt himself fall. But Armand caught him. Into the warm crush of mortals, outside the fence
they passed, slipping among those who peered through the chain mesh at the melee.

  Hundreds still fled. Sirens, sour and discordant, drowned out their cries. One fire engine after another roared up to the gates, to nudge its way through dispersing mortals. But these sounds were thin and distant, dulled still by the receding supernatural noise. Armand clung to the fence, his eyes closed, his forehead pressed against the metal. The fence shuddered, as if it alone could hear the thing as they heard it.

  It was gone.

  An icy quiet descended. The quiet of shock, emptiness. Though the pandemonium continued, it did not touch them.

  They were alone, the mortals loosening, milling, moving away.

  And the air carried those lingering preternatural cries like burning tinsel again; more dying, but where?

  Across the avenue he moved at Armand's side. Unhurried. And down a dark side street they made their way, past faded stucco houses and shabby corner stores, past sagging neon signs and over cracked pavements.

  On and on, they walked. The night grew cold and still around them. The sound of the sirens was remote, almost mournful.

  As they came to a broad garish boulevard, a great lumbering trolleybus appeared, flooded with a greenish light. Like a ghost it seemed, proceeding towards them, through the emptiness and the silence. Only a few forlorn mortal passengers peered from its smeared and dirty windows. The driver drove as if in his sleep.

  Armand raised his eyes, wearily, as if only to watch it pass. And to Daniel's amazement the bus came to a halt for them.

  They climbed aboard together, ignoring the little coin box, and sank down side by side on the long leather bench seat. The driver never turned his head from the dark windshield before him. Armand sat back against the window. Dully, he stared at the black rubber floor. His hair was tousled, his cheek smudged with soot. His lower lip protruded ever so slightly. Lost in thought, he seemed utterly unconscious of himself.

  Daniel looked at the lackluster mortals: the prune-faced woman with a slit for a mouth who looked at him angrily; the drunken man, with no neck, who snored on his chest; and the small-headed teenage woman with the stringy hair and the sores at the corners of her mouth who held a giant toddler on her lap with skin like bubblegum. Why, something was horribly wrong with each of them. And there, the dead man on the back seat, with his eyes half mast and the dried spit on his chin. Did nobody know he was dead? The urine stank as it dried beneath him.

  Daniel's own hands look dead, lurid. Like a corpse with one live arm, the driver seemed, as he turned the wheel. Was this a hallucination? The bus to hell?

  No. Only a trolleybus like a million he had taken in his lifetime, on which the weary and the down-and-out rode the city's streets through the late hours. He smiled suddenly, foolishly. He was going to star! laughing, thinking of the dead man back there, and these people just riding along, and the way the light made everyone look, but then a sense of dread returned.

  The silence unnerved him. The slow rocking of the bus unnerved him; the parade of dingy houses beyond the windows unnerved him; the sight of Armand's listless face and empty stare was unbearable.

  "Will she come back for us?" he asked. He could not endure it any longer.

  "She knew we were there," Armand said, eyes dull, voice low. "She passed us over. "

  Khayman

  He had retreated to the high grassy slope, with the cold Pacific beyond it.

  It was like a panorama now; death at a distance, lost in the lights, the vapor-thin wails of preternatural souls interwoven with the darker, richer voices of the human city.

  The fiends had pursued Lestat, forcing the Porsche over the edge of the freeway. Unhurt, Lestat had emerged from the wreck, spoiling for battle; but the fire had struck again to scatter or destroy those who surrounded him.

  Finally left alone with Louis and Gabrielle, he had agreed to retreat, uncertain of who or what had protected him.

  And unbeknownst to the trio, the Queen pursued their enemies for them.

  Over the roofs, her power moved, destroying those who had fled, those who had tried to hide, those who had lingered near fallen companions in confusion and anguish.
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