Blood canticle, p.26

Blood Canticle, page 26

 part  #10 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

Blood Canticle


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Chapter 26

 

  26

  RODRIGO WASN'T A SLOB. The lobby was clean, not a scrap of paper on the desk or in it.

  Nevertheless, the hotel had the air of a haunted place, having been robbed of its vitality and purpose.

  Mammoth kitchen, machines grinding away, countertops clean except for fresh trays littered with fancy china, remnants of lobsters, glasses of milk, fish bones, etc.

  No human presence.

  "Don't you see what that means?" Oberon said, staring at the plates. "That's Taltos food, all white. They very well might be up there. " He was sloughing off his languor, growing even slightly excited.

  I checked out the storage room, cases of powdered milk, some split open, powder on the floor, footprints, cans of condensed milk, empties in a pile.

  "And explain that to me?" I asked.

  He stared at it, shook his head. "I can't," he said. "Unless one of them comes down here in the night and guzzles. It's a possibility. You starve a Taltos for milk, and it will go after it. But let's get upstairs, my sisters are here! I know it. "

  "Hold on," said Mona, her eyes rimmed in red, her voice still quavering. "This doesn't prove a thing. "

  The big central stairway led to the mezzanine floor and into the spacious rooms of what had once been the library. Litter of laptops, bigger computer stations, walls of books, maps, world globes, televisions, huge windows open to the sea. Dust everywhere, or was it sand? The music from above was extremely loud. The place looked uninhabited and untouched.

  "This was Heaven here," said Oberon, "you can't imagine the hours of pleasure I spent in these rooms.

  Saints Preserve Us, I detest that music. Maybe we should hit the breaker box to shut that off. "

  "Bad idea," said Quinn.

  Oberon held his gun with both hands, and he had dropped his disdainful demeanor altogether. He was almost what one would call enthusiastic. But the music was attacking him like a horde of mosquitoes. He shuddered over and over again.

  "First thing I'm going to shoot is that speaker system," he said.

  Again we took the carpeted stairs. Scanning for humans. I caught the scent of one.

  The suite was dead center and wide open to the broad iron-railed porch that looked down on the lobby, the emperor himself seated in a huge gold satin-sheeted bed to the right, bleached wood headboard carved with mermaids, talking rapidly into a phone, costume sleek leather pants, purple satin shirt open to reveal a chest of oiled muscles, lustrous short black hair brushed back from a polished brown face with extraordinarily pretty eyes.

  Thick beige carpet, scattered chairs, lamps. Doors open to other rooms.

  He clicked off the phone as soon as we entered.

  "Oberon, my son, I wasn't expecting you," he said, musical voice barely accented with Spanish, drawing up one knee, eyes moving over the rest of us as he smiled cordially, toenails manicured and buffed to a shine. Extremely amiable manner. "And who have we here? It must be party time. But let's introduce ourselves first, shall we?"

  He lifted a small black gadget and the inundation of purring dance music came to an end. The sound of the breeze was born again, sweeping through the great empty wall that fronted on the Caribbean.

  "Oh, Rodrigo, I am ever so grateful to you for that," sighed Oberon. "I was looking everywhere for the source of that infernally simpering music. "

  "So that's why we're waving that gun around," said Rodrigo agreeably. "And where's my Mamma, didn't you bring her up with you? I can't raise anybody on this island. I'm humiliated. Please, my guests! Be seated! The bar is there-everything you could wish. Miravelle!" he shouted suddenly. "I have guests here! Where exactly did you come from? It's once in a blue moon a boat ties up at my dock. But you're most welcome. We are very private here, you understand, I can't invite you to stay-"

  "Don't you worry at all about that," I said, "we'll soon be on our way. Just wanted to connect with Miravelle and Lorkyn. "

  "Is that so?" he asked skeptically. "Miravelle!" he called out again in a short Latin bark.

  This time with results.

  She entered from the left, the genuine article without doubt, maybe six and a half feet tall, yellow hair, oval face, baby flesh like Oberon, simple black linen sleeveless dress, sandals, round blue eyes, and when she saw Oberon she screamed and ran into his arms. He had only time to shove the gun in his belt before he enfolded her.

  He lost all reserve embracing her and running his lips all over her. He pushed her hair back and broke into sobs suddenly as he kissed her.

  "That's it, get back!" declared Rodrigo from the bed. He clapped his hands imperiously. "You hear me, both of you, I said get back! Oberon, did you hear what I said?"

  But the two had fallen to kissing and speaking what seemed an alien language in high-pitched whistling words that none of us could understand, astonishing Quinn, though Mona seemed not one bit surprised by it. It was a spectacle.

  Rodrigo was off the bed in an instant. He had the cell phone unfolded and was barking orders in Spanish. Then shaking the phone.

  "They're all dead," I said. "I killed them all. "

  "What are you talking about?" he said, the graciousness gone, his face the picture of rage. He drew his gun out of his belt and leveled it at me. "You're being rude to me in my own room," he said, "which I won't tolerate. "

  I sent the power to push the gun out of his hand and far to the right wall. It hit the sheetrock and fell to the floor. His eyes grew large, but he wasn't humbled by this display of strength. He glared at me, trying to make sense of what he'd just seen, then scoping Mona and Quinn.

  Meanwhile the two Taltos had settled down somewhat and were watching him. Mona came up beside them. Quinn was beside me.

  I scanned the hotel. There was another being walking on the floor above, but I didn't know whether it was Taltos or human.

  "All right, what do you want from me?" Rodrigo said. "You want money, what? You killed all my men, you did that? For what reason? You want this island, it doesn't belong to me, take it. I was leaving tonight anyway. I don't care what you do. Miravelle, get away from him!"

  He was suddenly distracted by a roar and a particular sound which I knew and couldn't place until he named it:

  "The copter! They're taking off without me!" He ran to the open balcony. "Stop them, damn them. " He want into a Spanish aria of denunciations and execrations.

  I sent the scan. Two human beings. Male. What good was it to us or the future of this place to have them escape? I held tight to the iron railing of the balcony and I sent the Fire.

  I didn't know if the power was viable over such a distance, but no one would know if I failed. My body was rigid with the attempt, the knot inside me burning with all the energy I could feed it, and suddenly the Fire hit the copter with a force that knocked it to one side. I gave every particle of consciousness in me to the heat. The Fire. The copter went up in flames. Then it exploded.

  It was plenty far away from us, but everyone in the room cringed from the blast. It lit up the island.

  Rodrigo was speechless.

  I hung on to the rail, dizzy, sweating all over, and then I backed away, glaring at the spectacle of the huge machine coming down lopsided to the runway. It was slowly incinerated. I was sickened again, to think that I could do that, to think that I had done it. And the feeling of emptiness, of meaninglessness took hold of me. I believed in nothing. I was good for nothing. I ought to die. All that seemed fixed in my mind. I couldn't move or speak.

  Quinn took over; I could hear his crisp voice right beside me.

  "Well, old man," he said to Rodrigo, "it's no longer leaving without you. Any more favors you want from us? And now tell me: What did you do with the pair in the penthouse suite, the ones that Miravelle and Oberon call Mother and Father?"

  Rodrigo turned slowly and looked at me, eyes narrow and vicious, and his mouth twisted with anger. He picked up his little cell phone again, and let loose a barrage of Spani
sh into it with only one recognizable word: Lorkyn.

  Steps overhead.

  "Hmmm. So she's alive too," said Oberon, from behind him.

  A light singing voice came from Miravelle:

  "Oh, please, please, if you're here to save us, let us go up to Mother and Father's room. Let us see them.

  Rodrigo promised they are there, they are on ice, let us go! They are safe and sound on ice. Please, Oberon, please! Before Lorkyn comes. "

  "You imbecile," said Rodrigo, his eyes fixed on me, then darting to Mona and Quinn, trying vainly to comprehend what we were, how to play this. He had no gun, but there was a knife in his boot, and he was desperate for the appearance of Lorkyn.

  And Lorkyn satisfied everyone on that score immediately.

  We could hear her striding down the steps from the floor above. We could hear her tread on the balcony, and then she appeared in the open doors to the suite.

  I heard Oberon's deep despairing sigh before I made sense of what I saw, and Mona let out a bitter laugh.

  The creature was the predictable six and a half feet tall, with the predictable baby flesh face and naked arms and legs, but her face was round, not oval, and she had almond-shaped green eyes, extraordinarily pretty, with lashes so thick you'd think they were fake but they weren't, and a kitten nose, and a sweet mouth, very pink, and a small firm chin. She had Mona's red hair, brushed back from her shining forehead and apparently clipped on the top of her head, because it appeared to be spilling down behind her.

  She wore a leather sleeveless shirt, low-slung belt, miniskirt and high-heel boots, laced up the back.

  The shocker? She was armed, not just with a gun in a holster over her shoulder, but with an AK-47 slung over her shoulder as well.

  She sized up the situation in an instant. But for insurance Rodrigo let loose with another aria of Spanish in which he told her to kill us all, including Oberon, but to spare Miravelle.

  "You move for that gun, precious," I said, "and I'll burn you to a cinder where you stand. "

  Oberon was transformed with rage.

  "You filthy trash!" Oberon declared. "You murderous little traitor to the Secret People!" He began to shake all over, the tears spilling from his eyes. "You're in with them and you let me rot in that room below! You treacherous beast!" He drew out his gun and aimed it right at her.

  Mona snatched it out of his hand.

  "Honey darling," she said, shivering all over, "she's a specimen now. Rowan Mayfair can decide what to do with her. "

  "Rowan Mayfair?" asked Lorkyn in a soft ironic voice. "Rowan Mayfair has found this island?"

  "Shoot them!" Rodrigo cracked out in English.

  Lorkyn didn't move. "And Rowan Mayfair sends Blood Hunters to take us away from here?" Her voice had a sweetness to it that was entirely physical and had little to do with her intentions. Her facial features were mobile, expressive of emotion. But she dropped her voice to a whisper. "No wonder Father fell in love with this woman. What amazing resources she commands. "

  "Oh, he never did, he loved Mother!" cried Miravelle. "Please don't say all those old hateful things! We have Oberon free again. We're together! Rodrigo, you have to let us stay together. "

  "Shoot them!" screamed Rodrigo. He cursed Lorkyn a thousand times over in Spanish.

  "Why not kill this one now?" Quinn asked pointing to Rodrigo.

  "Lorkyn, where are the Mother and the Father?" I asked. "Do you know?"

  "Safe on ice," she said.

  "And where precisely would that be?" Mona asked with exhausted exasperation.

  "I won't speak to anyone but Rowan Mayfair," said Lorkyn.

  "Let me see them, please!" cried Miravelle. "Oberon, make her unlock the penthouse. "

  "Rodrigo, I don't think there's any reason now to keep you alive," I said.

  "Let me shoot him," said Oberon.

  "No," I said, "you'd take the gun and shoot Lorkyn. "

  Rodrigo went mad after a fashion. He tried to jump from the front balcony. I turned his head around on his neck, killing him instantly. I dropped him down to the tiles below. He lay there in a splat of blood.

  I turned around in time to see Lorkyn shoved back against the wall, her arms out in the form of a crucifix. She'd reached for the gun in her holster and Quinn had done this by pure force. Lorkyn was staring at him. Her calm was impressive.

  Mona was studying her as if trying in vain to understand her.

  Oberon was glaring at Lorkyn, and bitterly weeping. Miravelle clung to him.

  "You were in with them all the time," Oberon said despairingly. "What were you, the brains behind Rodrigo's glory? You with all your intellect and cunning? You could have reached help! You could have gotten us off this island! Damn you for what you did! Why did you do it?"

  Lorkyn of the kitten face didn't answer. Her face never lost its softness, its expression of receptivity.

  I went to her and gently removed her automatic weapon and broke it into pieces. I took the gun and threw it way out over the patio into the sea. She had a knife in her boot. Beautiful knife. I took it and put it in my own boot.

  She said nothing to me, her exquisite eyes watching me as patiently as if I was reading her a poem.

  I scanned but it got me nowhere.

  "Take us to the Mother and the Father," I said.

  "I'll reveal them to Rowan Mayfair and no one else," said Lorkyn.

  "They're in the penthouse on ice!" said Miravelle. "Rodrigo always said. On ice. Let's go. I can lead the way. Rodrigo said that when he came into the penthouse, Father said 'Don't kill us, we can't do you any harm, keep us on ice and you can sell us to Rowan Mayfair and Mayfair Medical for millions of dollars. ' "

  "Oh, please," said Oberon through his tears, "Miravelle, darling dear, for once don't be a perfect idiot! They can't be in the penthouse on ice. I know where they are. I know where they have to be. If you can keep Lorkyn in custody, I know precisely where to go. "

  We moved as quickly as we could. Quinn had Lorkyn firmly by the arm. Oberon led the way. Down the stairs and down the stairs.

  Once again, the giant kitchen.

  A pair of huge doors. Refrigerator? Freezer? One was laden with locks.

  I broke them off immediately.

  As soon as the white mist cleared I stepped inside and I saw in the light over my shoulder the bodies frozen on the floor.

  The tall black-haired man with the white hair above his ears, and the red-haired woman, both with their eyes closed, serene, tender to behold in each other's arms, white cotton garments, bare feet, angels sleeping together. Covered with frost, as if in the deep claw of intentional winter.

  Scattered end to end on them, but not on their faces, were frozen yet once beautiful flowers.

  I stood to one side gazing down at them, as the others peered through the door. I gazed at the frozen fluids on the floor, at the discoloration of their skin here and there, at the perfection of their embrace and their utter stillness.

  Miravelle let out a high-pitched scream: "Mother. Father. "

  Oberon sighed and turned away. "And so down the long centuries he comes to this," he murmured, "at the hands of his own sons and daughters, and she the mother of us all who might have lived a millennium. And who put the flowers here, may I ask? Was it you, Lorkyn, you traitor to everything they believed? It had to be, did it not? You petty deserter. May God forgive you that you made peace with our enemy. Did you lead them here by the hand yourself?"

  Mona stepped into the lighted rectangle of the door. "That's my daughter," she whispered. No tears. No sobs.

  I felt the immense falling off in her of hope, of dreams, of love itself. I saw the bitter acceptance in her face, the deep drifting.

  Miravelle was crying. "So he made them hard as ice, that's what he did," she cried. She put her hands to her face and cried and cried.

  I knelt down beside the pair, and I laid my hand on the man's head. Frozen solid. If there was a soul in there,
I couldn't feel it. But what did I know? Same with the red-haired woman, so resembling Mona in her fresh Nordic beauty.

  I walked carefully out of the freezer until I reached the warm air, and I took Mona in my arms. She was shaking all over but her eyes were dry and squinting in the white mist. Then she roused herself as best she could.

  "Come on, Miravelle, my dear," she said. "Let's close the door. Let's wait for help to come. "

  "But who can help?" said Miravelle. "Lorkyn will make us do what she wants us to do. And all the others are gone. "

  "Don't worry about Lorkyn," said Quinn.

  Oberon wiped away his tears disgustedly, and once again he took Miravelle in his arms and embraced her warmly. He reached out his right hand, with its long delicate fingers, and stroked Mona's bowed head, and drew her close to him.

  We closed the freezer door.

  "Quinn," I said, "punch in First Street for me, then give me the little phone. "

  He obliged with one-handed dexterity, still keeping Lorkyn prisoner with a left-handed grip.

  Lorkyn's face was sweet and musing, revealing nothing. Oberon, though he held Miravelle and Mona both, was glaring at Lorkyn with undisguised malice.

  "Watch," I whispered to Mona.

  Then I was on the phone:

  "Lestat to speak to Rowan about Morrigan. "

  Her low husky voice came on the line: "What have you got for me, Lestat?"

  I told her everything. "How fast can you get here?"

  Mona took the phone from me. "Rowan, they could be alive! They could be in suspended animation!"

  "They're dead," said Lorkyn.

  Mona surrendered the phone.

  Rowan asked: "Will you stay until I get there?"

  "We're creatures of the dark, my beloved," I said. "As mortals are wont to say: Make it snappy. "

  It was two a. m. when the jet landed. It barely made it on the long runway.

  By that time, Mona and I-leaving Oberon and Lorkyn in the custody of Quinn-had spent two hours getting rid of every corpse on the island. To the devouring sea we fed the remains even to the grisly remnants of the charred and smoking copter-a grim task, save for the placid overpowering waves of the Caribbean, so quickly forgiving every unclean offering.

  Just before the plane landed, Mona and I had also discovered Lorkyn's digs-quite gorgeous, with a

  computer that was indeed hooked up to the outside world, and loaded with information about the Drug Merchants, and bank accounts in a dozen places at least.

  But what had astonished both of us was the medical information of all kinds-countless articles downloaded from seemingly respectable sources on every aspect of health care, from studies of diet to neurosurgery and the intricacies of heart bypass operations and the removal of tumors of the brain.

  In fact, there was far more medical information than we could conceivably examine.

  Then we hit the material on Mayfair Medical.

  And it was there, in that strange place, in moments sandwiched between violence and mystery, that I realized how immense the Mayfair Medical project was, how multifaceted and daring and full of promise. I saw the layout of the hospital and laboratories. I saw lists of doctors, lists of units and programs and research teams.

  In addition, Lorkyn had downloaded dozens of articles about the Center which had appeared in medical journals.

  And finally we came upon an immense amount of material on Rowan herself-her career, her achievements in research, her personal plans for the Center, her pet projects, her attitudes, her goals.

  We couldn't possibly cover it all.

  We decided we had to take the microprocessor with us. No choice really. Had to take Oberon's as well. No traces of the tragedy would be left for strangers.

  Rowan and Stirling were first off the plane, Rowan in jeans and plain white shirt and Stirling in a tweed suit. Immediately they reacted to the spectacle of the three Taltos, in fact, Rowan appeared to go into a silent shock.

  I presented Rowan with the microprocessors from the two computers, which she entrusted to an assistant who put them safely on the plane. Lorkyn watched all this with eyes as unreadable as Rowan's, though they looked much softer, perhaps part of a very sweet mask. She had been absolutely silent all during the wait and she showed no change now.

  Miravelle was weeping. Oberon, having relieved himself of the bandanna and brushed his hair, looked beyond handsome, and deigned to give Rowan a slight nod of his head.

  Then Rowan said to Mona:

  "Where are the bodies?"

  Out of the plane as if on cue came a crew of men in white scrubs, on down the metal stair carrying what looked like a giant sleeping bag. They had other equipment I couldn't decipher or describe.

  We went back to the freezer.

  All this time Lorkyn made no protest, though Quinn held her tightly, but she kept her large exquisite eyes on Rowan, except for occasional glances at Oberon who never stopped staring at her with a look of pure venom.

  Rowan stepped cautiously inside the freezer as I'd done before. She examined the bodies minutely. She touched the stains of frozen fluid on the floor. She studied patches of discoloration on their skin. Her hands returned to their heads. Then finally she withdrew and let the team do its work of taking the bodies to the plane.

  She looked at Mona:

  "They're dead," she said. "They died a long time ago. Most likely right after they first lay down together here. "

  "Perhaps not!" said Mona desperately. "Maybe they can survive temperatures that we can't. " She looked frail and worn in her black feathered dress, her mouth shuddering.

  "They're gone," Rowan said. Her voice was not cruel. It was solemn. She was fighting her own tears and I knew it.

  Miravelle began to cry again. "Oh Mother, oh Father. . . . "

  "There's evidence of widespread decay," Rowan said. "The temperature was not consistently maintained. They didn't suffocate. They fell asleep as people do in the snow. They were probably warm at the end, and they died peacefully. "

  "Oh, that is so lovely," said Miravelle with the purest sincerity. "Don't you think, Mona? It's so very pretty. Lorkyn, darling, don't you think it is very sweet?"

  "Yes, Miravelle, dear," said Lorkyn softly. "Don't worry anymore about them. Their intent has been fulfilled. "

  She had not spoken in so long that this warmth took me by surprise.

  "And what was their intent?" I asked.

  "That Rowan Mayfair know of their fate," said Lorkyn calmly. "That the Secret People not vanish. "

  Rowan sighed. Her face was indescribably sad.

  She opened wide her arms and shepherded us out of the kitchen, a doctor leading us away from a deathbed.

  We went out into the warm air, and the landscape seemed peaceful and given over to the rhythm of the waves and the breeze-cleansed by violence and mercilessness.

  I looked beyond the lighted buildings to the huge mass of hovering jungle. I scanned again for any presence, human or Taltos. The dense growth was too thick with living things for me to detect any one creature.

  I felt soul sick and empty. At the same time the three Taltos were worrying me in the extreme. What precisely was going to happen to them?

  The crew with the frozen bodies ran past us to board the plane, and we made our way slowly to the metal steps on the tarmac.

  "Did Father really ask for this, this freezing?" Oberon wanted to know. He had lost all of his scornful manner. "Did he go willingly to this death?" he asked sincerely.

  "That's what Rodrigo always said," replied Miravelle, who was now in Stirling's arms, weeping piteously. "Father had told me to hide from the bad men, so I wasn't with him. They didn't find me until the next day. Lorkyn and I were together, hiding in the little house by the tennis courts. We didn't see what happened. We never saw Father and Mother again. "

  "I don't want to board this plane as a prisoner," said Lorkyn very politely. "And I'd like to know where I'm going. It's un
clear to me, the source of authority here. Dr. Mayfair, would you please explain?"

  "You're the victim of concern right now, Lorkyn," said Rowan in the same mild tone that Lorkyn had used with her.

  Rowan reached into her pants pocket, pulled out a syringe and, as Lorkyn stared in horror and desperately struggled, sank a needle into the arm by which Quinn held her. Lorkyn went down clawing at Quinn and then finally totally collapsed, all hips, knees and spidery hands, kitten face asleep.

  Oberon watched with narrow eyes and a chilling smile.

  "You should have slit her throat, Dr. Rowan Mayfair," he said, with the rise of one eyebrow. "As a matter

  of fact, I think I can break all the bones in her neck if you'll kindly allow me to try it. "

  Miravelle spun around out of Stirling's loving grip and glared at Oberon: "No, no, you can't do such a horrible thing to Lorkyn. It's not Lorkyn's fault she's wise and knowing! Oberon, you can't do mean things to her, not now. "

  Mona gave a short bitter laugh. "Maybe you've got your prize specimen, Rowan," she said in her frail voice. "Hook her up to every machine known to science, vivisect her, freeze her in fragments and on slides, make her lactate the marvelous Taltos milk!"

  Rowan stared so icily at Mona it was difficult to tell if she heard the words. She called for help from inside the plane.

  The sleeping Lorkyn was placed on a stretcher with restraints and taken on board as we waited in silence.

  Stirling followed with Miravelle, who was still weeping for Mother and Father. "If only Father had called Rowan Mayfair when he wanted to. But Mother was so jealous. She knew Father loved Rowan Mayfair. Oh, if only Father had not listened. And now the Secret People are just us three. "

  Rowan caught those words, glanced at me and then at Mona. Mona registered them too with a dark flashing glance at Rowan. The darkness overcame Rowan.

  Oberon stood quite free, the picture of relaxation, with his weight on one hip, thumbs in his back pockets, studying Rowan in detail, his huge eyes half-mast again and his cheeks still wet from weeping.

  "Don't tell me," he drawled, his head thrown back, "you want me to get in that plane too and go back with you to your Center of Medical Marvels. "

  "Where else are you going to go?" asked Rowan with a coolness that matched his own. "You're going to leave Miravelle and Lorkyn?"

  "Rowan's your kin," said Mona, her voice strained and impatient, "she's your family, she'll take care of you, Oberon. If you have an ounce of sense let it override your crushing sarcasm and caustic wit, and get on the plane, and behave yourself. You might just discover you belong to an extremely rich clan of remarkably generous people. "

  "Your optimism touches me," he tossed off to Mona. "Shall we assume that it was devotion to the remarkable generous clan that drove you to run away with a couple of Blood Hunters and allow them to transform you into what you are?"

  "Oberon," I said. "I set you free, did I not?"

  "Here it comes," he said, rolling his eyes, "for the sake of Saint Juan Diego, will I please behave for Rowan Mayfair, the only human being Father ever truly loved, and will I not blind Lorkyn with my thumbs first chance I get, or something even more deliciously cruel?"

  "Precisely," I said. "Cooperate with Rowan in every respect. You have nothing to lose by it. And don't jump Miravelle and make a baby. Okay? And when you're tempted to do otherwise, remember Saint Juan Diego. "

  Oberon gave a short laugh, threw up his hands, then lowered them and turned them out, then went up the metal steps to the open door.

  "This must be one hell of a saint," said Rowan under her breath.

  "On board," I said, "Oberon can tell you all about him. "

  "Wait, I'm forgetting the statue!" Oberon cried out at the top of the stairs. "How could I do such a thing?"

  "I promise to bring it to you," I said. "Besides, the Mayfairs will buy you whatever you want. Go on, board. "

  He did as I told him to do, then appeared again:

  "But remember, that's the statue connected to the miracle! You have to get it!"

  "I have no intention of forgetting it," I said. He disappeared.

  Now only Rowan was left, standing there with Mona and Quinn and me.

  "Where are you going now?" asked Rowan.

  "Blackwood Farm," said Quinn. "We three, we stick together. "

  Rowan looked at me. No one has ever looked at me in quite the same way that Rowan does.

  She nodded.

  She turned to go, then turned back and put her arms around me, a warm bundle of life entrusted to me. Every barrier inside me collapsed.

  We kissed as if no one was there to see it, over and over, until it was a little language of its own, her breasts very hot against my chest, my hands clutching her hips, my eyes closed, my mind mute for once

  as if my body had driven it back, or so inundated it with sensation that it could not tell me what to do. And at last, she pulled away, and I turned my back. The blood thirst was paralyzing me. The want was paralyzing me. And then there broke loose the love, the pure love.

  I stood motionless, realizing it for what it was. Pure love. And connecting it suddenly and helplessly with the love I'd felt when I'd kissed Patsy's phantom at the edge of the swamp: pure love.

  And my mind cast back over the centuries, like the mechanism of conscience determined to ferret out sin, only it searched for moments of pure love. And I knew them, secret, silent, few, splendid. Splendid in their own power, whether the loved one ever knew it or not, splendid to have loved-.

  Flash on the couple in each other's arms, Ash and Morrigan, the white mist rising from them. Emblem of pure love.

  The awareness dissolved. Quinn moved me away from the roar of the jet engines. We walked off the tarmac.

  We were silent in the noise of the departing plane. At last it made its smooth ascent. And was gone into the clouds.

  The age-old mystery of the Caribbean unfolded-another tiny island soaked in blood-that this most glorious part of the world should bear witness to so many tales of violence.

  Mona stood looking out to sea. The breeze lifted her full red hair. Her eyes were beyond tears. She was the very picture of mourning.

  Could she begin now? Really begin, my perfect one?

  I drew close to her. I didn't want to intrude on this bereavement. But she reached out with her left arm and brought me in, and let her weight rest against me.

  "This was my search," she said, eyes faraway, "this was my dream, my dream that overleapt the Dark Blood-the dream that carried me through all the pain that preceded it. "

  "I know," I said. "I understand you. "

  "That I would find my Morrigan," she said, "that I would find them living in happiness, that I would know her again with all her madness and we would talk the long nights away, exchanging kisses, our lives touching and then parting. And now . . . it's all ruin. "

  I waited, out of respect for what she'd said. Then I spoke:

  "They did live in happiness for a very long time," I said. "Oberon described it to us. They lived for years as the Secret People. " I reminded her as best I could of what Oberon had told us.

  Slowly she yielded to a nod, her eyes on the placid and warm sea. It made no impression upon her. "They should have let us help!" she whispered. "Michael and Rowan would have helped! Oh, the folly of it! To think that Morrigan wouldn't let him call Rowan. Because she was jealous! Oh, Rowan, Rowan. "

  I held my thoughts to myself.

  "Come home to Blackwood Farm," said Quinn. "There's time to mourn and time to know Miravelle and Oberon and even Lorkyn. "

  She shook her head.

  "No," she said. "These Taltos are not for me, not now. Miravelle is some pure and lithesome thing without my fire, without her mother's fire. The link is broken. Morrigan went down in pain. They'll care for Miravelle. Poor tender creature, salvaged from the ancient one and a mutant birth. I have nothing to give to Miravelle. As for Oberon, he's too dark for me, and what
can I give him? He'll kill Lorkyn sooner or later, don't you think? And how will Rowan justify the keeping of Lorkyn? It's not my concern. It's not my passion. I want to be with you, you are my people. "

  "Don't try to decide these things now," I said. I felt so sorry for her. And in my heart I felt a burning concern for the tasks that lay ahead of Rowan.

  "Maharet's words are clear. " She went on in the same torn voice, her eyes never turning to me or to Quinn. "It was nature taking its course. It was inevitable. "

  "Perhaps, perhaps not," said Quinn. "But it is finished. "

  I turned, and looked at the distant villa with all its lighted windows. I looked at the broad mass of rocky jungle rising behind the brashly illuminated beach. I scanned. I caught the small beasts of the wild place, the tamarinds, the birds, perhaps a wild boar deep in there. I couldn't tell.

  Yet I was reluctant to leave. I wasn't sure why.

  I wanted to move through the jungles. The jungles I had not searched, and they were thick. Only this was not the time.

  We bid the island good-bye. Quinn took Mona in his arms, and they made for the clouds.

  I went back for the statue of my beloved saint, and was soon on my way to the safe refuge of Blackwood

  Farm.
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