The queen of the damned, p.39

The Queen Of The Damned, page 39

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series

 

The Queen Of The Damned
 



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Chapter 36

 

  For a moment it seemed she would say something more. Then she rose from the table. She glanced at each of the others, and then she looked at Jesse.

  "Now I want you to come with me. I want to show you what this family has become. "

  Quietly, all rose and waited as Maharet walked round the table and then they followed her out of the room. They followed her across the iron landing in the earthen stairwell, and into another great mountaintop chamber, with a glass roof and solid walls.

  Jesse was the last to enter, and she knew even before she had passed through the door what she would see. An exquisite pain coursed through her, a pain full of remembered happiness and unforgettable longing. It was the windowless room in which she'd stood long ago.

  How clearly she recalled its stone fireplace, and the dark leather furnishings scattered over the carpet; and the air of great and secret excitement, infinitely surpassing the memory of the physical things, which had forever haunted her afterwards, engulfing her in half-remembered dreams.

  Yes, there the great electronic map of the world with its flattened continents, covered with thousands and thousands of tiny glowing lights.

  And the other three walls, so dark, seemingly covered by a fine black wire mesh, until you realized what you were seeing: an endless ink-drawn vine, crowding every inch between floor and ceiling, growing from a single root in one corner into a million tiny swarming branches, each branch surrounded by countless carefully inscribed names.

  A gasp rose from Marius as he turned about, looking from the great glowing map to the dense and delicately drawn family tree. Armand gave a faint sad smile also, while Mael scowled slightly, though he was actually amazed.

  The others stared in silence; Eric had known these secrets; Louis, the most human of them all, had tears standing in his eyes. Daniel gazed in undisguised wonder. While Khayman, his eyes dulled as if with sadness, stared at the map as if he did not see it, as if he were still looking deep into the past.

  Slowly Gabrielle nodded; she made some little sound of approval, of pleasure.

  "The Great Family," she said in simple acknowledgment as she looked at Maharet.

  Maharet nodded.

  She pointed to the great sprawling map of the world behind her, which covered the south wall.

  Jesse followed the vast swelling procession of tiny lights that moved across it, out of Palestine, spreading all over Europe, and down into Africa, and into Asia, and then finally to both continents of the New World. Countless tiny lights flickering in various colors; and as Jesse deliberately blurred her vision, she saw the great diffusion for what it was. She saw the old names, too, of continents and countries and seas, written in gold script on the sheet of glass that covered the three-dimensional illusion of mountains, plains, valleys.

  "These are my descendants," Maharet said, "the descendants of Miriam, who was my daughter and Khayman's daughter, and of my people, whose blood was in me and in Miriam, traced through the maternal line as you see before you, for six thousand years. "

  "Unimaginable!" Pandora whispered. And she too was sad almost to the point of tears. What a melancholy beauty she had, grand and remote, yet reminiscent of warmth as if it had once been there, naturally, overwhelmingly. It seemed to hurt her, this revelation, to remind her of all that she had long ago lost.

  "It is but one human family," Maharet said softly. "Yet there is no nation on earth that does not contain some part of it, and the descendants of males, blood of our blood and uncounted, surely exist in equal numbers to all those now known by name. Many who went into the wastes of Great Russia and into China and Japan and other dim regions were lost to this record. As are many of whom I lost track over the centuries for various reasons. Nevertheless their descendants are there! No people, no race, no country does not contain some of the Great Family. The Great Family is Arab, Jew, Anglo, African; it is Indian; it is Mongolian; it is Japanese and Chinese. In sum, the Great Family is the human family. "

  "Yes," Marius whispered. Remarkable to see the emotion in his face, the faint blush of human color again and the subtle light in the eyes that always defies description. "One family and all families-" he said. He went towards the enormous map and lifted his hands irresistibly as he looked up at it, studying the course of lights moving over the carefully modeled terrain.

  Jesse felt the atmosphere of that long ago night enfold her; and then unaccountably those memories-flaring for an instant- faded, as though they didn't matter anymore. She was here with all the secrets; she was standing again in this room.

  She moved closer to the dark, fine engraving on the wall. She looked at the myriad tiny names inscribed in black ink; she stood back and followed the progress of one branch, one thin delicate branch, as it rose slowly to the ceiling through a hundred different forks and twists.

  And through the dazzle of all her dreams fulfilled now, she thought lovingly of all those souls who had made up the Great Family that she had known; of the mystery of heritage and intimacy. The moment was timeless; quiet for her; she didn't see the white faces of her new kin, the splendid immortal forms caught in their eerie stillness.

  Something of the real world was alive still for her now, something that evoked awe and grief and perhaps the finest love she had ever been capable of; and it seemed for one moment that I natural and supernatural possibility were equal in their mystery.

  They were equal in their power. And all the miracles of the immortals could not outshine this vast and simple chronicle. The Great Family.

  Her hand rose as if it had a life of its own. And as the fight caught Mael's silver bracelet which she wore around her wrist still, she laid her fingers out silently on the wall. A hundred names covered by the palm of her hand. .

  "This is what is threatened now," Marius said, his voice softened by sadness, his eyes still on the map.

  It startled her, that a voice could be so loud yet so soft. No, she thought, no one will hurt the Great Family. No one will hurt the Great Family!

  She turned to Maharet; Maharet was looking at her. And here we are, Jesse thought, at the opposite ends of this vine, Maharet and I.

  A terrible pain welled in Jesse. A terrible pain. To be swept away from all things real, that had been irresistible, but to think that all things real could be swept away was unendurable.

  During all her long years with the Talamasca, when she had seen spirits and restless ghosts, and poltergeists that could terrify their baffled victims, and clairvoyants speaking in foreign tongues, she had always known that somehow the supernatural could never impress itself upon the natural. Maharet had been so right! Irrelevant, yes, safely irrelevant-unable to intervene!

  But now that stood to be changed. The unreal had been made real. It was absurd to stand in this strange room, amid these stark and imposing forms, and say, This cannot happen. This thing, this thing called the Mother, could reach out from behind the veil that had so long separated her from mortal eyes and touch a million human souls.

  What did Khayman see when he looked at her now, as if he understood her. Did he see his daughter in Jesse?

  "Yes," Khayman said. "My daughter. And don't be afraid. Mekare will come. Mekare will fulfill the curse. And the Great Family will go on. "

  Maharet sighed. "When I knew the Mother had risen, I did not guess what she might do. To strike down her children, to annihilate the evil that had come out of her, and out of Khayman and me and all of us who out of loneliness have shared this power- that I could not really question! What right have we to live? What right have we to be immortal? We are accidents; we are horrors. And though I want my life, greedily, I want it as fiercely as ever I wanted it-I cannot say that it is wrong that she has slain so many-"

  "She'll slay more!" Eric said desperately.

  "But it is the Great Family now which falls under her shadow," Maharet said. "It is their world! And she would make it her own. Unless . . . "

  "Mekare will come," Khayman said.
The simplest smile animated his face. "Mekare will fulfill the curse. I made Mekare what she is, so that she would do it. It is our curse now. "

  Maharet smiled, but it was vastly different, her expression. It was sad, indulgent, and curiously cold. "Ah, that you believe in such symmetry, Khayman. "

  "And we'll die, all of us!" Eric said.

  "There has to be a way to kill her," Gabrielle said coldly, "without killing us. We have to think on this, to be ready, to have some sort of plan. "

  "You cannot change the prophecy," Khayman whispered.

  "Khayman, if we have learned anything," Marius said, "it is that there is no destiny. And if there is no destiny then there is no prophecy. Mekare comes here to do what she vowed to do; it may be all she knows now or all she can do, but that does not mean that Akasha can't defend herself against Mekare. Don't you think the Mother knows Mekare has risen? Don'1 you think the Mother has seen and heard her children's dreams?"

  "Ah, but prophecies have a way of fulfilling themselves," Khayman said. "That's the magic of it. We all understood it in ancient times. The power of charms is the power of the will; you might say that we were all great geniuses of psychology in those dark days, that we could be slain by the power of another's designs. And the dreams, Marius, the dreams are but part of a great design. "

  "Don't talk of it as if it were already done," Maharet said. "We have another tool. We can use reason. This creature speaks now, does she not? She understands what is spoken to her. Perhaps she can be diverted-"

  "Oh, you are mad, truly mad!" Eric said. "You are going to speak to this monster that roamed the world incinerating her offspring!" He was becoming more frightened by the minute. "What does this thing know of reason, that inflames ignorant women to rise against their men? This thing knows slaughter and death and violence, that is all it has ever known, as your story makes plain. We don't change, Maharet. How many times have you told me. We move ever closer to the perfection of what we were meant to be. "

  "None of us wants to die, Eric," Maharet said patiently. But something suddenly distracted her.

  At the same moment, Khayman too felt it. Jesse studied both of them, attempting to understand what she was seeing. Then she realized that Marius had undergone a subtle change as well. Eric was petrified. Mael, to Jesse's surprise, was staring fixedly at her.

  They were hearing some sound. It was the way they moved their eyes that revealed it; people listen with their eyes; their eyes dance as they absorb the sound and try to locate its source.

  Suddenly Eric said: "The young ones should go to the cellar immediately. "

  "That's no use," Gabrielle said. "Besides, I want to be here. " She couldn't hear the sound, but she was trying to hear it.

  Eric turned on Maharet. "Are you going to let her destroy us, one by one?"

  Maharet didn't answer. She turned her head very slowly and looked towards the landing.

  Then Jesse finally heard the sound herself. Certainly human ears couldn't hear it; it was like the auditory equivalent of tension without vibration, coursing through her as it did through every particle of substance in the room. It was inundating and disorienting, and though she saw that Maharet was speaking to Khayman and that Khayman was answering, she couldn't hear what they were saying. Foolishly, she'd put her hands to her ears. Dimly, she saw that Daniel had done the same thing, but they both knew it did no good at all.

  The sound seemed suddenly to suspend all time; to suspend momentum. Jesse was losing her balance; she backed up against the wall; she stared at the map across from her, as if she wanted it somehow to sustain her. She stared at the soft flow of the lights streaming out of Asia Minor and to the north and to the south.

  Some dim, inaudible commotion filled the room. The sound had died away, yet the air rang with a deafening silence.

  In a soundless dream, it seemed, she saw the figure of the Vampire Lestat appear in the door; she saw him rush into Ga-brielle's arms; she saw Louis move towards him and then embrace him. And then she saw the Vampire Lestat look at her-and she caught the flashing image of the funeral feast, the twins, the body on the altar. He didn't know what it meant! He didn't know.

  It shocked her, the realization. The moment on the stage came back to her, when he had obviously struggled to recognize some fleeting image, as they had drawn apart.

  Then as the others drew him away now, with embraces and kisses again-and even Armand had come to him with his arms out-he gave her the faintest little smile. "Jesse," he said.

  He stared at the others, at Marius, at the cold and wary faces. And how white his skin was, how utterly white, yet the warmth, the exuberance, the almost childlike excitement-it was exactly as it had been before.
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