Blackwood farm, p.41

Blackwood Farm, page 41

 part  #9 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


Blackwood Farm

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  "BEFORE THE SUNRISE Arion took me to the cellar beneath the house and showed me the crypt in which I would sleep. He told me simply that, young as I was, the sun could destroy me, and that even when I had attained a great age, such as he had, it would still render me powerless and unconscious. He told me also that fire could mean my death. But that no other injury could kill me.

  "I felt, unwisely, no doubt, that I understood these things. He told me as well that all the wounds inflicted on me by Petronia in her rage would heal over the day's time, as they weren't very serious for one of my strength, and that he would come for me when the sun had set, and I should wait for him.

  " 'Don't be afraid of the narrow box, my child,' he said. 'Make it your refuge. And don't be afraid of your dreams. You are an immortal now, and all your faculties are enhanced. Accept it and rejoice in it. ¡¯

  " 'I lay down then in the crypt, and I did suffer the most unspeakable horror of it, but there was nothing to be done about it, the granite lid was closed over me, and very soon, weeping quietly, I lost consciousness.

  "I dreamed a dream of Patsy. She smelled like cotton candy. Her lips tasted like candy apples. I dreamed I was a little child, and I sat on her lap, and she pushed me off, and I grew to be a man in a twinkling and I killed her. I drank her blood. It tasted like maple syrup. Her diseases and her meanness could not contaminate me. I tried to wake up. I dreamed this over and over and I woke once, or so I dreamed, with her body in my arms. A Barbie. I pushed her down into the green water of the swamp and as I watched her sink below the surface I felt horror. But she was gone and dead, and blood came up. It was too late to save her. Bye Patsy. Rebecca laughed. A death for my death. 'Oh yes,' I scoffed, 'you think you planned everything. ' 'The Damnation of Quinn,' said Fr. Kevin.

  "When I opened my eyes the next time Arion was there looking down at me. The sun had only just set and the sky was still red and the golden light filled the crypt, and he was pleased to see that I was conscious. He led me up the stairs and to the terrace.

  "The stars drifted in the purple sky. The gold hung behind the clouds. It was magnificent.

  " 'Some Blood Hunters don't wake till the sky is full dark,' he said, 'and they never know this quiet glory. I see you shade your eyes, but it doesn't hurt you. ¡¯

  "In fact it didn't and it was only with difficulty that I absorbed the reality that I would never see 'the light of day' again.

  "He saw the trouble in my face. He said, 'Look back on nothing. I'll take you out to hunt now. You're my apprentice for the evening. ¡¯

  " 'And so I've disappointed her,' I asked, 'and she'll have nothing further to do with me?¡¯

  " 'No,' he said with a short honest laugh. 'She's eager to see you. But it happens that she's a miserable teacher. And so I've told her no, and that I'll take you out, and so we'll hunt the caf¨¦s and the clubs of Napoli. ¡¯

  "He was dressed informally tonight in a black silk shirt open at the neck and a finely cut jacket of dark red silk and a pair of sleek trousers.

  "He took me to a room where the young mortal boy waited to help me select a similar suit of clothes, which I did hastily. Once again, I thanked him for his kindness.

  " 'If I had any money,' I said, 'I'd give it to you. ¡¯

  "He smiled at me. And I patted his shoulder.

  "Then we were off to the caf¨¦s and bars for more lessons.

  "We moved through all manner of crowds, taking the Little Drink over and over until I was very skilled at it, and then, cornering for ourselves two 'perfect killers,' we had our fill of them in a back alley in the oldest part of Naples. We left their bodies because Arion said it didn't matter there, but there would be other times when it did and the bodies had to be disposed of. As it was, he slashed the throats of the two so it would seem they had bled to death.

  " 'To thrive without killing,' he said, 'that is everything. If you can live without bringing death, you will endure. But now and then the urge to kill will overrule -- you'll want the burning bitter heart -- and so I've taught you how to do it. ¡¯

  "I was exhilarated all this while, and the elegant figure of Arion constantly thrilled me. I imitated his grace. I wanted him for my model in everything. And in some ways he is my model to this very moment. He had a feline way of moving and speaking in a hushed tone that commanded respect and loyalty of me.

  "His skin was so black that under the lights of the caf¨¦s and bars it had a bluish tinge to it, and his deep yellow eyes had tiny flecks of brown and green in them. His teeth were powerfully white, and his lips small for his face, and his smile very smooth and loving.

  "Finally, after we had hunted perhaps more than was required, we settled in a somewhat quiet caf¨¦ where he could talk to me and educate me, and this thrilled me almost as much as our hunting.

  "But as soon as the stillness settled over me, as soon as I had the coffee in my hands, which I couldn't and didn't want to drink, I found myself in a state of shock and I began to shiver violently.

  "He reached over and laid his hand on mine, and then, kissing his fingers, he repeated the gesture. Then he drew back.

  " 'Understand the gift you've been given, as best you can,' he said. 'Don't forswear it in the first years. Too many perish in that way. Of course you despise Petronia for giving it to you -- all this is natural and right. When she drained you, when she almost killed you, you saw a vision of those who'd gone to Paradise before you. And you turned away. ¡¯

  " 'How did you know?' I asked.

  " 'I could read your mind then. It's not the same now. We've exchanged too much blood. It's the same with her too. Don't let her fool you. She's mercilessly clever and eternally whimsical and persistently unhappy. But for whatever it's worth, she loves you and she can't read your mind any longer. ¡¯

  " 'Is she always a woman for you? Do you ever see her as a man?¡¯

  "He laughed. 'She made her choice in life early on to be the woman with me. When she fought in the arena centuries ago, it was as a woman. Those who came up against her marveled at her musculature and her stamina. But they thought her a woman. She switches back and forth. She's truly both. But we don't need to talk of her now. Let's talk of you. ¡¯

  " 'And what is there to say about me?' I asked. 'Did I will myself into this? I did not. And yet I blame myself that it happened. I turned away from my grandparents in that vision of Paradise, you're right, and can you tell me now, even if the answer torments me -- was what I saw real?¡¯

  " 'I can't tell you,' he said with an easy graceful shrug. 'I don't know. I only know what you saw. It's the same with my victims. Often they see the light of Paradise and those they once loved call to them, and so they leave my embrace, in spirit, and I am left with the corpse. ¡¯

  "That answer rattled me. And I sat quietly for a long moment. I even picked up the cup of coffee and then set it down. The caf¨¦ was half empty. The street outside was noisy with passersby. There was a nightclub opposite. The music was throbbing beyond the neon sign. I wondered if I had been in this street when I was alive. I didn't remember it. But Nash and I had gone a-wandering in Naples. It was possible. And now, how would I see Nash again? How would I even go home?

  " 'Now let me take up the point again,' said Arion. 'Don't be destroyed in the first years. It happens with too many. There's so much danger all around you. It's easy to despair. It's easy to succumb to bitter hatred of yourself. It's easy to feel that the world no longer belongs to you, when nothing is further from the truth. It's all yours and the passage of the years is yours. And now you must simply and plainly live up to it. ¡¯

  " 'How long do we have?' I asked.

  "He was surprised by the question. 'Forever,' he said with another shrug. 'There is no lifetime for us. When I gave you my blood I tried to hide my life from you, but you saw the place of my mortal happiness. You knew it was Athens. You knew the Acropolis. You recognized it immediately. You saw the Temple of Athena in all its
grandeur. I couldn't keep from you the secret of the sheer brilliance of that time, and the Athenian sunshine, so harsh, so hot, so merciless and wonderful. You breathed this knowledge from me. And you must certainly know how long I have been alive, how long I've walked the Earth as we say, how many centuries I've wandered. ¡¯

  " 'What sustains you? What supports you? Surely not Petronia and the Old Man. ¡¯

  " 'Don't be so quick to judge,' he said gently. 'Some night far distant from now -- if you survive -- you'll laugh when you remember asking me such a question. Besides, I love Petronia, and I can control her. You wonder perhaps why I didn't stop her from making you, as we call it, why I didn't call upon my authority to stop her from defiling you? Because you must understand I saw her as giving you immortality. ¡¯

  "He paused, smiling at me faintly and touching my hand again with his hand, which was warm.

  " 'Were there other reasons? I don't honestly know,' he went on. 'Perhaps I harbored a heated desire to see you transformed. You are so very admirable. So young. So splendid in all your parts. And with the sole exception of Manfred, it's been centuries since she worked the Dark Trick, as some of us call it. Centuries. And she has an idea that the desire builds in us and then must be discharged, and so she brings someone into our midst and makes of that one a Blood Hunter. ¡¯

  " 'But the girls who prepared me, and the boy -- they spoke as if there had been others. ¡¯

  " 'She plays with others, and then she destroys them. The servants? What do they know? They're told that the postulant is being prepared for great gifts, and then fails. That's all. Now the girl, I don't know about her. She's ignorant and greedy. But there is some spark in the boy. Perhaps Petronia will bring him to us. ¡¯

  " 'And has it been well done?' I asked.

  " 'Oh, yes, of course it's been well done,' he said, almost as if I'd insulted him with my question, 'not without much more cursing and kicking I think than was ever necessary, but in the main well done; I saw to it that it was well done, though I have more to tell you. ¡¯

  "He made a little gesture with the coffee, playing with it, as though he liked to see it move in the cup and savor the aroma of it, which was dark and thick and alien to me. Then he spoke.

  " 'I'm watching you, of course,' he said. 'When you drink from the evil ones you have to revel in it, not cringe from the evil. It's your chance to be evil as the one you kill. Follow your victim's evil as you empty his soul. Make it your adventure into crimes you yourself would never wantonly commit. When you've finished, you take your soul back with what you've learned and you're clean again. ¡¯

  " 'I feel anything but clean,' I said.

  " 'Then feel powerful,' he said. 'Disease can't touch you. Neither can age. Any wound you receive will heal. Cut your hair and it will grow back within the space of a night. Forever you will look just as you are now, my Caravaggio Christ. Remember, only fire and the sun can harm you. ¡¯

  "I listened intently as he continued.

  " 'Fire you must avoid at all costs,' he said, 'for your blood will burn, and terrible suffering may result, which you may survive, healing slowly over centuries. As for the sun -- one day of it cannot kill me. But in these early years, either can destroy you. Don't yield to the desire for death. It claims too many of the young in their impetuosity and grand emotions. ¡¯

  "I smiled. I knew what he meant -- grand emotions.

  " 'You needn't find a crypt every day of your life,' he said. 'You're strong from me and Petronia combined, and even the Old Man's blood has been good for you. A room that is shut up and sealed away from the sun, a hiding place, that will suffice, but eventually you should choose a refuge to which you can retire, a place that is yours where no one can find you. Remember when you do this that you are some ten times stronger than mortals now. ¡¯

  " 'Ten times,' I marveled.

  " 'Oh, yes,' he said. 'When you took the pretty bride you broke her neck in the final moments. You weren't even conscious of it. It was the same with the killer in the alley. You snapped his spine. You have to learn to be careful. ¡¯

  " 'I'm drenched with murder,' I said. I looked at my hands. I knew I would never see Mona again, because I knew that a witch like Mona would see blood all over them.

  " 'You feed from mortals now,' said Arion in his usual graceful manner. 'It's your nature. Blood Hunters have existed since the beginning of time, and probably before that. Old myths are told and written that we once had among us parents from whom the primal fount poured forth to us all, and that whatever happened to them happened to us and so they must be kept forever inviolate. But I'll give you the books to read which tell these tales. . . ¡¯

  "He paused, looking around the caf¨¦. I wondered what he saw. I saw blood in every face. I heard blood in every voice. At will I could receive the thoughts of any mind like so much static. He went on.

  " 'Suffice it to say that the Mother rose from her slumber of thousands of years and on a rampage destroyed many of her children. It was at random that she moved. And I thank the gods that she passed over us. I could have done nothing against her power, because she had the Mind Gift -- that is, to destroy by will -- and the Fire Gift -- that is, to burn by will -- and she burnt those Blood Hunters whom she found, and they numbered in the hundreds.

  " 'At last she herself was destroyed, and the sacred nucleus -- the primal blood from which we all come -- was passed into another, otherwise we would all have withered as so many flowers upon a dead vine. But that root has been preserved without interruption. ¡¯

  " 'This one, this one who has the nucleus or the root, is he very old?¡¯

  " 'It's a woman,' he replied, 'and she is ancient, as old as the Mother was, and she has no desire to rule, only to keep the root safe and to live as a witness to time, in a place apart from the world and its worries. With that kind of age comes a peace from the blood. She no longer needs to drink it. ¡¯

  " 'When will that peace come for me?' I asked.

  "He laughed softly, gently. 'Not for thousands of years,' he said. 'Though with the blood I gave you, you can go many nights with just the Little Drink or even nothing. You'll suffer but you won't become weak unto dying. That's the trick, remember. Don't become so weak that you can't hunt. That you must never do. Promise me. ¡¯

  " 'It matters to you what happens to me?¡¯

  " 'Of course,' he said. 'I wouldn't be with you here if it didn't. I gave you my blood, did I not?' He laughed but it was kindly. 'You don't know what a gift it was, my blood. I've lived for so long. In the parlance of our kind, I'm a Child of the Millennia, and my blood is considered too strong for the young and unwise, but I hold you to be wise and so I gave it. Live up to it. ¡¯

  " 'What do you expect of me now? I know that I'm to kill those who are evil and no others, yes, and the Little Drink must be done with stealth and grace, but what else do you expect?¡¯

  " 'Nothing, really,' he said. 'You go where you wish to go and do what you wish to do. What will sustain you, how you will live, these are things you must figure out for yourself. ¡¯

  " 'How did you do it?' I asked.

  " 'Oh, you ask me to go back so many years,' he said. 'My Master and my Maker were one, a great writer of the Greek tragedy just before and during the time of Aeschylus. He had been something of a roamer before he set to work in Athens writing for the theater, and he had traveled into India, where he bought me from a man I scarcely remember who kept me for his bed, and had educated me for his library, and who sold me for a dear price to the Athenian who brought me home to Athens to copy for him and be his bed slave. I loved it. The world of the stage delighted me. We worked hard on the scenery, the training of the chorus and of the solitary actor whom Thespis had introduced into the mix of the early theater as it was then.

  " 'My Master wrote scores of plays -- satires, comedies, tragedies. He wrote odes to celebrate victorious athletes. He wrote long epic poems. He wrote lyrics for his own pleasure. He was always waking me in the middle of the nig
ht to copy or merely to listen. "Wake up, Arion, wake up, you won't believe what I've done here!" he would say, shaking me and shoving a cup of water into my hands. You know that meter and rhythm were much more important to the Greeks back then. He was the past master of it all. He made me laugh with his pure cleverness.

  " 'He wrote for every festival, every contest, every conceivable excuse, and was ever busy on every detail of the performance down to the procession that might precede it or the painting of the masks to be used. It was his life. That is, when we weren't traveling.

  " 'It was his joy to go to other Greek colonies and there participate in the theater as well, and it was here in Italy that he encountered the sorceress who gave him the Power. We were living then in the Etruscan city that would later become Pompeii, and he had been involved in putting on a theatrical in the festival of Dionysus for the Greeks.

  " 'I can still remember the night he came back to me, and how at first he would have nothing to do with me, and then he brought me into his presence and clumsily he drank from me, and when it seemed that I would die, when I was sure of it, he gave me the Blood in a blundering terrible moment, weeping and desperate and pleading with me to understand that he didn't know what had happened to him.

  " 'We were neophytes together. We were Children in the Blood together. He burnt his plays, all of them. He said that all he had written was worthless. He was no more among humankind. To the end of his existence he sought sorcerers and witches to try to find some way to cure the Evil Blood in himself. And he perished before my very eyes, immolating himself when scarcely twenty-five years had passed. He left me a hardened orphan.

  " 'But I have always been a resourceful soul, and, never wanting death, have not been tempted by it. I saw Greece fall to Rome. I saw my Master's plays in the bookshops and the marketplaces for a very long time -- centuries. I saw my Master's personal poetry read and studied by young Roman boys, and then I saw the rise of Christianity and the loss of thousands of works -- poetry, the drama, yes, even plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides lost -- history, letters -- and with them the loss of my Master's name, and the salvage of a precious few from those days when I had known so many.

  " 'I am content. I am resourceful still. I deal in diamonds and pearls. I use the Mind Gift to make me rich. I cheat no one. I am clever beyond what I need. And I keep Petronia always with me. I love the company of Manfred. He and I play chess and cards and we talk and we roam the streets of Naples together. I remember so vividly the night that she brought him here, cursing that she had had to keep a bargain.

  " 'They had met here in Naples, she and he, and she had taken a fancy to visiting the swamps where he lived, and having there a hideaway. It had seemed to her an appropriate wilderness from which she could hunt the drifters and the drinkers and gamblers of New Orleans and all the Southland. And eventually, he built her a domicile and a fancy tomb such as she desired, and she loved to retreat to that place whenever she was angry with me, or whenever she wanted what was new and raw, and would be away from Italy, where everything had been done a hundred times over.

  " 'But in time she'd come to promise Manfred that she would give him the Blood, because she had told him what she was, and at last she had had to keep her word, or so I told her, and do it she did, and brought him here, so that those he loved would think he had died in the swampland.

  " 'Now it will be the same with you. They will imagine that you died in the swamp. Is that not so?¡¯

  "I didn't answer him.

  "Then I said:

  " 'Thank you for all you told to me, and for all you've taught me. I'm humble in your presence. I'd be a fool if I claimed to fully understand your age, the value of your perspective, your patience. I can only offer gratitude. May I put one more question to you?¡¯

  " 'Of course you may. Put any question. ' He smiled.

  " 'You've lived over two thousand years, perhaps closer to three,' I said.

  "He paused, then he nodded.

  " 'What have you given back to the world on account of this?' I asked.

  "He stared at me. His face became thoughtful but it remained warm and cordial. And then he said gently, 'Nothing. ¡¯

  " 'Why?' I asked.

  " 'What should I give?' he asked.

  " 'I don't know,' I said. 'I feel as though I'm going mad. I feel as though if I'm to live forever I have to give something back. ¡¯

  " 'But we're not part of it, don't you see?¡¯

  " 'Yes,' I said with a gasp. 'I see only too clearly. ¡¯

  " 'Don't torment yourself. Think on this matter for a while. Think. You have time, all the time in the world. ¡¯

  "I was near to weeping. But I swallowed it back down.

  " 'Let me ask you,' he said. 'When you were alive, did you feel you had to give back something for life?¡¯

  " 'Yes,' I said. 'I did. ¡¯

  " 'I see. And so you are like my old Master with his poetry. But you mustn't follow his example! Imagine it, Quinn, what I have seen. And there are small things to do. There are loving things. ¡¯

  " 'You think so?' I asked.

  " 'I know so,' he said. 'But come, let's go back to the palazzo. I know Petronia is waiting for you. ¡¯

  "I laughed a short ironic little laugh. 'That's comforting,' I said.

  "As we stood to leave the caf¨¦ I stopped and looked at myself intently in the mirrored wall. I looked human enough even to my enhanced vision. And no one in the caf¨¦ had so much as stared at us, except for an occasional pair of pretty girls who had come and gone after their espresso. Human enough. Yes. I was pleased with it. I was magnificently pleased with it. "
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