The queen of the damned, p.7

The Queen Of The Damned, page 7

 part  #3 of  The Vampire Chronicles Series


The Queen Of The Damned

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Chapter 4


  Eyes wide as if in horror at his own power, Azim sucked the woman dry of blood in one great draught, then dashed the body on the stones before him where it lay mangled as the faithful surrounded it, hands out in supplication to their staggering god.

  She turned her back; she went out in the cold air of the courtyard, moving away from the heat of the fires. Stink of urine, offal. She stood against the wall, gazing upwards, thinking of the mountain, paying no heed when the acolytes dragged past her the bodies of the newly dead and threw them into the flames.

  She thought of the pilgrims she had seen on the road below the temple, the long chain that moved sluggishly day and night through the uninhabited mountains to this unnamed place. How many died without ever reaching this precipice? How many died outside the gates, waiting to be let in?

  She loathed it. And yet it did not matter. It was an ancient horror. She waited. Then Azim called her.

  She turned and moved back through the door and then through another into a small exquisitely painted antechamber where, standing on a red carpet bordered with rubies, he waited silently for her, surrounded by random treasures, offerings of gold and silver, the music in the hall lower, full of languor and fear.

  "Dearest," he said. He took her face in his hands and kissed her. A heated stream of blood flowed out of his mouth into her, and for one rapturous moment her senses were filled with the song and dance of the faithful, the heady cries. Flooding warmth of mortal adoration, surrender. Love.

  Yes, love. She saw Marius for one instant. She opened her eyes, and stepped back. For a moment she saw the walls with their painted peacocks, lilies; she saw the heaps of shimmering gold. Then she saw only Azim.

  He was changeless as were his people, changeless as were the villages from which they had come, wandering through snow and waste to find this horrid, meaningless end. One thousand years ago, Azim had begun his rule in this temple from which no worshiper ever departed alive. His supple golden skin nourished by an endless river of blood sacrifice had paled only slightly over the centuries, whereas her own flesh had lost its human blush in half the time. Only her eyes, and her dark brown hair perhaps, gave an immediate appearance of life. She had beauty, yes, she knew that, but he had a great surpassing vigor. Evil. Irresistible to his followers, shrouded in legend, he ruled, without past or future, as incomprehensible to her now as he had ever been.

  She didn't want to linger. The place repelled her more than she wanted him to know. She told him silently of her purpose, the alarm that she had heard. Something wrong somewhere, something changing, something that has never happened before! And she told him too of the young blood drinker who recorded songs in America, songs full of truths about the Mother and the Father, whose names he knew. It was a simple opening of her mind, without drama.

  She watched Azim, sensing his immense power, the ability with which he'd glean from her any random thought or idea, and shield from her the secrets of his own mind.

  "Blessed Pandora," he said scornfully. "What do I care about the Mother and the Father? What are they to me? What do I care about your precious Marius? That he calls for help over and over! This is nothing to me!"

  She was stunned. Marius calling for help. Azim laughed. "Explain what you're saying," she said. Again laughter. He turned his back to her. There was nothing she could do but wait. Marius had made her. All the world could hear Marius's voice, but she could not hear it. Was it an echo that had reached her, dim in its deflection, of a powerful cry that the others had heard? Tell me, Azim. Why make an enemy of me? When he turned to her again, he was thoughtful, his round face plump, human-looking as he yielded to her, the backs of his hands fleshy and dimpled as he pressed them together just beneath his moist lower lip. He wanted something of her. There was no scorn or malice now.

  "It's a warning," he said. "It comes over and over, echoing through a chain of listeners who carry it from its origins in some far-off place. We are all in danger. Then it is followed by a call for help, which is weaker. Help him that he may try to avert the danger. But in this there is little conviction. It is the warning above all that he would have us heed. "

  "The words, what are they?"

  He shrugged. "I do not listen. I do not care. "

  "Ah!" She turned her back now on him. She heard him come towards her, felt his hands on her shoulders.

  "You must answer my question now," he said. He turned her to face him. "It is the dream of the twins that concerns me. What does this mean?"

  Dream of the twins. She didn't have an answer. The question didn't make sense to her. She had had no such dream.

  He regarded her silently, as if he believed she was lying. Then he spoke very slowly, evaluating her response carefully.

  "Two women, red hair. Terrible things befall them. They come to me in troubling and unwelcome visions just before I would open my eyes. I see these women raped before a court of onlookers. Yet I do not know who they are or where this outrage takes place. And I am not alone in my questioning. Out there, scattered through the world, there are other dark gods who have these dreams and would know why they come to us now. "

  Dark gods! We are not gods, she thought contemptuously.

  He smiled at her. Were they not standing in his very temple? Could she not hear the moaning of the faithful? Could she not smell their blood?

  "I know nothing of these two women," she said. Twins, red hair. No. She touched his fingers gently, almost seductively. "Azim, don't torment me. I want you to tell me about Marius. From where does his call come?"

  How she hated him at this moment, that he might keep this secret from her.

  "From where?" he asked her defiantly. "Ah, that is the crux, isn't it? Do you think he would dare to lead us to the shrine of the Mother and the Father? If I thought that, I would answer him, oh, yes, oh, truly. I would leave my temple to find him, of course. But he cannot fool us. He would rather see himself destroyed than reveal the shrine. "

  "From where is he calling?" she asked patiently.

  "These dreams," he said, his face darkening with anger. "The dreams of the twins, this I would have explained!"

  "And I would tell you who they are and what they mean, if only I knew. " She thought of the songs of Lestat, the words she'd heard. Songs of Those Who Must Be Kept and crypts beneath European cities, songs of questing, sorrow. Nothing there of red-haired women, nothing. . . .

  Furious, he gestured for her to stop. "The Vampire Lestat," he said, sneering. "Do not speak of this abomination to me. Why hasn't he been destroyed already? Are the dark gods asleep like the Mother and the Father?"

  He watched her, calculating. She waited.

  "Very well. I believe you," he said finally. "You've told me what you know. "

  "Yes. "

  "I close my ears to Marius. I told you. Stealer of the Mother and the Father, let him cry for help until the end of time. But you, Pandora, for you I feel love as always, and so I will soil myself with these affairs. Cross the sea to the New World. Look in the frozen north beyond the last of the woodlands near the western sea. And there you may find Marius, trapped in a citadel of ice. He cries that he is unable to move. As for his warning, it is as vague as it is persistent. We are in danger. We must help him so that he may stop the danger. So that he may go to the Vampire Lestat. "

  "Ah. So it is the young one who has done this!"

  The shiver passed through her, violent, painful. She saw in her mind's eye the blank, senseless faces of the Mother and the Father, indestructible monsters in human form. She looked at Azim in confusion. He had paused, but he wasn't finished. And she waited for him to go on.

  "No," he said, his voice dropping, having lost its sharp edge of anger. "There is a danger, Pandora, yes. Great danger, and it does not require Marius to announce it. It has to do with the red-haired twins. " How uncommonly earnest he was, how unguarded. "This I know," he said, "because I was old before Marius was made. The twins, Pandora. Forget Marius. And
hearken to your dreams. "

  She was speechless, watching him. He looked at her for a long moment, and then his eyes appeared to grow smaller, to become solid. She could feel him drawing back, away from her and all the things of which they'd spoken. Finally, he no longer saw her.

  He heard the insistent wails of his worshipers; he felt thirst again; he wanted hymns and blood. He turned and started out of the chamber, then he glanced back.

  "Come with me, Pandora! Join me but for an hour!" His voice was drunken, unclear.

  The invitation caught her off guard. She considered. It had been years since she had sought the exquisite pleasure. She thought not merely of the blood itself, but of the momentary union with another soul. And there it was, suddenly, waiting for her, among those who had climbed the highest mountain range on earth to seek this death. She thought also of the quest that lay before her-to find Marius-and of the sacrifices it would entail.

  "Come, dearest. "

  She took his hand. She let herself be led out of the room and into the center of the crowded hall. The brightness of the light startled her; yes, the blood again. The smell of humans pressed in on her, tormenting her.

  The cry of the faithful was deafening. The stamp of human feet seemed to shake the painted walls, the glimmering gold ceiling. The incense burned her eyes. Faint memory of the shrine, eons ago, of Marius embracing her. Azim stood before her as he removed her outer cloak, revealing her face, her naked arms, the plain gown of black wool she wore, and her long brown hair. She saw herself reflected in a thousand pairs of mortal eyes.

  "The goddess Pandora!" he cried out, throwing back his head.

  Screams rose over the rapid thudding of drums. Countless human hands stroked her. "Pandora, Pandora, Pandora!" The chant mingled with the cries of "Azim!"

  A young brown-skinned man danced before her, white silk shirt plastered to the sweat of his dark chest. His black eyes, gleaming under low dark brows, were fired with the challenge. I am your victim! Goddess! She could see nothing suddenly in the flickering light and drowning noise but his eyes, his face. She embraced him, crushing his ribs in her haste, her teeth sinking deep into his neck. Alive. The blood poured into her, reached her heart and flooded its chambers, then sent its heat through all her cold limbs. It was beyond remembrance, this glorious sensation- and the exquisite lust, the wanting again! The death shocked her, knocked the breath out of her. She felt it pass into her brain. She was blinded, moaning. Then instantly, the clarity of her vision was paralyzing. The marble columns lived and breathed. She dropped the body, and took hold of another young male, half starved, naked to the waist, his strength on the verge of death maddening her.

  She broke his tender neck as she drank, hearing her own heart swell, feeling even the surface of her skin flooded with blood. She could see the color in her own hands just before she closed her eyes, yes, human hands, the death slower, resistant, and then yielding in a rush of dimming light and roaring sound. Alive.

  "Pandora! Pandora! Pandora!"

  God, is there no justice, is there no end?

  She stood rocking back and forth, human faces, each discrete, lurid, dancing in front of her. The blood inside her was boiling as it sought out every tissue, every cell. She saw her third victim hurling himself against her, sleek young limbs enfolding her, so soft this hair, this fleece on the back of his arms, the fragile bones, so light, as if she were the real being and these were but creatures of the imagination.

  She ripped the head half off the neck, staring at the white bones of the broken spinal cord, then swallowing the death instantly with the violent spray of blood from the torn artery. But the heart, the beating heart, she would see it, taste it. She threw the body back over her right arm, bones cracking, while with her left hand she split the breast bone and tore open the ribs, and reached through the hot bleeding cavity to pull the heart free.

  Not dead yet this, not really. And slippery, glistening like wet grapes. The faithful crushed against her as she held it up over her head, squeezing it gently so that the living juice ran down her fingers and into her open mouth. Yes, this, forever and ever.

  "Goddess! Goddess!"

  Azim was watching her, smiling at her. But she did not look at him. She stared at the shriveled heart as the last droplets of blood left it. A pulp. She let it fall. Her hands glowed like living hands, smeared with blood. She could feel it in her face, the tingling warmth. A tide of memory threatened, a tide of visions without understanding. She drove it back. This time it wouldn't enslave her.

  She reached for her black cloak. She felt it enclosing her, as warm, solicitous human hands brought the soft wool covering up over her hair, over the lower part of her face. And ignoring the heated cries of her name all around her, she turned and went out, her limbs accidentally bruising the frenzied worshipers who stumbled into her path.

  So deliciously cold the courtyard. She bent her head back slightly, breathing a vagrant wind as it gusted down into the enclosure, where it fanned the pyres before carrying their bitter smoke away. The moonlight was clear and beautiful falling on the snow-covered peaks beyond the walls.

  She stood listening to the blood inside her, and marveling in a crazed, despairing way that it could still refresh her and strengthen her, even now. Sad, grief-stricken, she looked at the lovely stark wilderness encircling the temple, she looked up at the loose and billowing clouds. How the blood gave her courage, how it gave her a momentary belief in the sheer rightness of the universe-fruits of a ghastly, unforgivable act.

  If the mind can find no meaning, then the senses give it. Live for this, wretched being that you are.

  She moved towards the nearest pyre and, careful not to singe her clothes, reached out to let the fire cleanse her hands, burn away the blood, the bits of heart. The licking flames were nothing to the heat of the blood inside her. When finally the faintest beginning of pain was there, the faintest signal of change, she drew back and looked down at her immaculate white skin.

  But she must leave here now. Her thoughts were too full of anger, new resentment. Marius needed her. Danger. The alarm came again, stronger than ever before, because the blood made her a more powerful receptor. And it did not seem to come from one. Rather it was a communal voice, the dim clarion of a communal knowledge. She was afraid.

  She allowed her mind to empty itself, as tears blurred her vision. She lifted her hands, just her hands, delicately. And the ascent was begun. Soundlessly, swiftly, as invisible to mortal eyes, perhaps, as the wind itself.

  High over the temple, her body pierced a soft thin agitated mist. The degree of light astonished her. Everywhere the shining whiteness. And below the crenellated landscape of stone peak and blinding glacier descending to a soft darkness of lower forests and vale. Nestled here and there were clusters of sparkling lights, the random pattern of villages or towns. She could have gazed on this forever. Yet within seconds an undulating fleece of cloud had obscured all of it. And she was with the stars alone.

  The stars-hard, glittering, embracing her as though she were one of their own. But the stars claimed nothing, really, and no one. She felt terror. Then a deepening sorrow, not unlike joy, finally. No more struggle. No more grief.

  Scanning the splendid drift of the constellations, she slowed her scent and reached out with both hands to the west. The sunrise lay nine hours behind her. And so she commenced her journey away from it, in time with the night on our way to the other side of the world.


  Who are these shades we wait for and believe will come some evening in limousines from Heaven? The rose though it knows is throatless and cannot say. My mortal half laughs. The code and the message are not the same. And what is an angel but a ghost in drag?


  from "Of Heaven" Body of Work (1983)

  HE WAS A TALL, SLENDER YOUNG MAN, WITH ashen hair and violet eyes. He wore a dirty gray sweatshirt and jean
s, and in the icy wind whipping along Michigan Avenue at five o'clock, he was cold.

  Daniel Molloy was his name. He was thirty-two, though he looked younger, a perennial student, not a man, that kind of youthful face. He murmured aloud to himself as he walked. " Ar-mand, I need you. Armand, that concert is tomorrow night. And something terrible is going to happen, something terrible. . . . "

  He was hungry. Thirty-six hours had passed since he'd eaten. There was nothing in the refrigerator of his small dirty hotel room, and besides, he had been locked out of it this morning because he had not paid the rent. Hard to remember everything at once.

  Then he remembered the dream that he kept having, the dream that came every time he closed his eyes, and he didn't want to eat at all.

  He saw the twins in the dream. He saw the roasted body of the I woman before them, her hair singed away, her skin crisped. Her heart lay glistening like a swollen fruit on the plate beside her. :The brain on the other plate looked exactly like a cooked brain. Armand knew about it, he had to know. It was no ordinary I dream, this. Something to do with Lestat, definitely. And Armand would come soon.

  God, he was weak, delirious. Needed something, a drink at least. In his pocket there was no money, only an old crumpled royalty check for the book Interview with the Vampire, which he I had "written" under a pseudonym over twelve years ago. Another world, that, when he had been a young reporter, roaming the bars of the world with his tape recorder, trying to get the flotsam and jetsam of the night to tell him some truth. I Well, one night in San Francisco he had found a magnificent subject for his investigations. And the light of ordinary life had suddenly gone out.

  Now he was a ruined thing, walking too fast under the lowering night sky of Chicago in October. Last Sunday he had been in Paris, and the Friday before that in Edinburgh. Before Edinburgh, he had been in Stockholm and before that he couldn't recall. The royalty check had caught up with him in Vienna, but he did not know how long ago that was.

  In all these places he frightened those he passed. The Vampire Lestat had a good phrase for it in his autobiography: "One of those tiresome mortals who has seen spirits . . . " That's me!

  Where was that book, The Vampire Lestat? Ah, somebody had stolen it off the park bench this afternoon while Daniel slept. Well, let them have it. Daniel had stolen it himself, and he'd read it three times already.

  But if only he had it now, he could sell it, maybe get enough for a glass of brandy to make him warm. And what was his net worth at this moment, this cold and hungry vagabond that shuffled along Michigan Avenue, hating the wind that chilled him I through his worn and dirty clothes? Ten million? A hundred million? He didn't know. Armand would know. I You want money, Daniel? I'll get it for you. It's simpler than you ' think.

  A thousand miles south Armand waited on their private island, the island that belonged in fact to Daniel alone. And if only he had a quarter now, just a quarter, he could drop it into a pay phone and tell Armand that he wanted to come home. Out of the sky, they'd come to get him. They always did. Either the big plane with the velvet bedroom on it or the smaller one with the low ceiling and the leather chairs. Would anybody on this street lend him a quarter in exchange for a plane ride to Miami? Probably not.

  Armand, now I want to be safe with you when Lestat goes on that stage tomorrow night.

  Who would cash this royalty check? No one. It was seven o'clock and the fancy shops along Michigan Avenue were for the most part closed, and he had no identification because his wallet had somehow disappeared day before yesterday. So dismal this glaring gray winter twilight, the sky boiling silently with low metallic clouds. Even the stores had taken on an uncommon grimness, with their hard facades of marble or granite, the wealth within gleaming like archaeological relics under museum glass. He plunged his hands in his pockets to warm them, and he bowed his head as the wind came with greater fierceness and the first sting of rain.

  He didn't give a damn about the check, really. He couldn't imagine pressing the buttons of a phone. Nothing here seemed particularly real to him, not even the chill. Only the dream seemed real, and the sense of impending disaster, that the Vampire Lestat had somehow set into motion something that even he could never control.

  Eat from a garbage can if you have to, sleep somewhere even if it's a park. None of that matters. But he'd freeze if he lay down again in the open air, and besides the dream would come back.

  It was coming now every time he closed his eyes. And each time, it was longer, more full of detail. The red-haired twins were so tenderly beautiful. He did not want to hear them scream.

  The first night in his hotel room he'd ignored the whole thing. Meaningless. He'd gone back to reading Lestat's autobiography, and glancing up now and then as Lestat's rock video films played themselves out on the little black and white TV that came with that kind of dump.

  He'd been fascinated by Lestat's audacity; yet the masquerade as rock star was so simple. Searing eyes, powerful yet slender limbs, and a mischievous smile, yes. But you really couldn't tell. Or could you? He had never laid eyes on Lestat.

  But he was an expert on Armand, wasn't he, he had studied every detail of Armand's youthful body and face. Ah, what a delirious pleasure it had been to read about Armand in Lestat's pages, wondering all the while if Lestat's stinging insults and worshipful analyses had put Armand himself into a rage.

  In mute fascination, Daniel had watched that little clip on MTV portraying Armand as the coven master of the old vampires beneath the Paris cemetery, presiding over demonic rituals until the Vampire Lestat, the eighteenth-century iconoclast, had destroyed the Old Ways.

  Armand must have loathed it, his private history laid bare in flashing images, so much more crass than Lestat's more thoughtful written history. Armand, whose eyes scanned perpetually the living beings around him, refusing even to speak of the undead. But it was impossible that he did not know.

  And all this for the multitudes-like the paperback report of an anthropologist, back from the inner circle, who sells the tribe's secrets for a slot on the best-seller list.

  So let the demonic gods war with each other. This mortal has been to the top of the mountain where they cross swords. And he has come back. He has been turned away.

  The next night, the dream had returned with the clarity of a hallucination. He knew that it could not have been invented by him. He had never seen people quite like that, seen such simple jewelry made of bone and wood.

  The dream had come again three nights later. He'd been watching a Lestat rock video for the fifteenth time, perhaps-this one about the ancient and immovable Egyptian Father and Mother of the vampires, Those Who Must Be Kept:

  Akasha and Enkil, We are your children, but what do you give us? Is your silence A better gift than truth?

  And then Daniel was dreaming. And the twins were about to begin the feast. They would share the organs on the earthen plates. One would take the brain, the other the heart.

  He'd awakened with a sense of urgency, dread. Something terrible going to happen, something going to happen to all of us . . . And that was the first time he'd connected it with Lestat. He had wanted to pick up the phone then. It was four o'clock in the morning in Miami. Why the hell hadn't he done it? Armand would have been sitting on the terrace of the villa, watching the tireless fleet of white boats wend its way back and forth from the Night Island. "Yes, Daniel?" That sensuous, mesmerizing voice. "Calm down and tell me where you are, Daniel. "

  But Daniel hadn't called. Six months had passed since he had left the Night Island, and this time it was supposed to be for good. He had once and for all forsworn the world of carpets and limousines and private planes, of liquor closets stocked with rare vintages and dressing rooms full of exquisitely cut clothing, of the quiet overwhelming presence of his immortal lover who gave him every earthly possession he could want.

  But now it was cold and he had no room and no money, and he was afraid.

  You know where I am
, you demon. You know what Lestat's done. And you know I want to come home.

  What would Armand say to that?

  But I don't know, Daniel. I listen. I try to know. I am not God, Daniel.
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