Chapter no 11

The Queen of the Damned

HE let me go. Instantly I began to plummet; the wind was a roar in my ears. But the worst part was that I couldn’t see! I heard her say Rise.

There was a moment of exquisite helplessness. I was plunging towards the earth and nothing was going to stop it; then I looked up, my eyes stinging, the clouds closing over me, and I remembered the tower, and the feeling of rising. I made the decision. Go up! And my descent stopped at once.

It was as if a current of air had caught me. I went up hundreds of feet in one instant, and then the clouds were below me—a white light that I could scarcely see. I decided to drift. Why did I have to go anywhere for the moment? Maybe I could open my eyes fully, and see through the wind, if I wasn’t afraid of the pain.

She was laughing somewhere—in my head or over it, I didn’t know which. Come on, prince, come higher.

I spun around and shot upwards again, until I saw her coming towards me, her garments swirling about her, her heavy plaits lifted more gently by the wind.

She caught me and kissed me. I tried to steady myself, holding onto her, to look down and really see something through the breaks in the clouds. Mountains, snow-covered and dazzling in the moonlight, with great bluish flanks that disappeared into deep valleys of fathomless snow.

“Lift me now,” she whispered in my ear. “Carry me to the northwest.”

“I don’t know the direction.”

“Yes, you do. The body knows it. Your mind knows it. Don’t ask them which way it is. Tell them that is the way you wish to go. You know the principles. When you lifted your rifle, you looked at the wolf running; you didn’t calculate the distance or the speed of the bullet; you fired; the wolf went down.”

I rose again with that same incredible buoyancy; and then I realized she had become a great weight in my arm. Her eyes were fixed on me; she was making me carry her. I smiled. I think I laughed aloud. I lifted her and kissed her again, and continued the ascent without interruption. To the northwest. That is to the right and to the right again and higher. My mind did know it; it knew the terrain over which we’d come. I made a little artful turn and then another; I was spinning, clutching her close to me, rather loving the weight of her body, the press of her breasts against me, and her lips again closing delicately on mine.

She drew close to my ear. “Do you hear it?” she asked.

I listened; the wind seemed annihilating; yet there came a dull chorus from the earth, human voices chanting; some in time with each other, others at random; voices praying aloud in an Asian tongue. Far far away I could hear them, and then near at hand. Important to distinguish the two sounds. First, there was a long procession of worshipers ascending through the mountain passes and over the cliffs, chanting to keep themselves alive as they trudged on in spite of weariness and cold. And within a building, a loud, ecstatic chorus, chanting fiercely over the clang of cymbals and drums.

I gathered her head close to mine and looked down, but the clouds had become a solid bed of whiteness. Yet I could see through the minds of the worshipers the brilliant vision of a courtyard and a temple of marble arches and vast painted rooms. The procession wound towards the temple.

“I want to see it!” I said. She didn’t answer, but she didn’t stop me as I drifted downward, stretching out on the air as if I were a bird flying, yet descending until we were in the very middle of the clouds. She had become light again, as if she were nothing.

And as we left the sea of whiteness, I saw the temple gleaming below, a tiny clay model of itself, it seemed, the terrain buckling here and there beneath its meandering walls. The stench of burning bodies rose from its blazing pyres. And towards this cluster of roofs and towers, men and women wound their way along perilous paths from as far as I could see.

“Tell me who is inside, my prince,” she said. “Tell me who is the god of this temple.”

See it! Draw close to it. The old trick, but all at once I began to fall.

I let out a terrible cry. She caught me.

“More care, my prince,” she said, steadying me. I thought my heart was going to burst.

“You cannot move out of your body to look into the temple and fly at the same time. Look through the eyes of the mortals the way you did it before.”

I was still shaking, clutching hold of her.

“I’ll drop you again if you don’t calm yourself,” she said gently. “Tell your heart to do as you would have it do.”

I gave a great sigh. My body ached suddenly from the constant force of the wind. And my eyes, they were stinging so badly again, I couldn’t see anything. But I tried to subdue these little pains; or rather to ignore them as if they didn’t exist. I took hold of her firmly and started down, telling myself to go slowly; and then again I tried to find the minds of the mortals and see what they saw:

Gilded walls, cusped arches, every surface glittering with decoration; incense rising, mingling with the scent of fresh blood. In blurred snatches I saw him, “the god of the temple.”

“A vampire,” I whispered. “A bloodsucking devil. He draws them to himself, and slaughters them at his leisure. The place reeks of death.”

“And so there shall be more death,” she whispered, kissing my face again tenderly. “Now, very fast, so fast mortal eyes can’t see you. Bring us down to the courtyard beside the funeral pyre.”

I could have sworn it was done before I’d decided it; I’d done no more than consider the idea! And there I was fallen against a rough plaster wall, with hard stones under my feet, trembling, my head reeling, my innards grinding in pain. My body wanted to keep going down, right through solid rock.

Sinking back against the wall, I heard the chanting before I could see anything. I smelt the fire, the bodies burning; then I saw the flames.

“That was very clumsy, my prince,” she said softly. “We almost struck the wall.”

“I don’t exactly know how it happened.”

“Ah, but that’s the key,” she said, “the word ‘exact.’ The spirit in you obeys swiftly and completely. Consider a little more. You don’t cease to hear and see as you descend; it merely happens faster than you realize. Do you know the pure mechanics of snapping your fingers? No, you do not. Yet you can do it. A mortal child can do it.”

I nodded. The principle was clear all right, as it had been with the target and the gun.

“Merely a matter of degrees,” I said. “And of surrender, fearless surrender.”

I nodded. The truth was I wanted to fall on a soft bed and sleep. I blinked my eyes at the roaring fire, the sight of the bodies going black in the flames. One of them wasn’t dead; an arm was raised, fingers curled. Now he was dead. Poor devil. All right.

Her cold hand touched my cheek. It touched my lips, and then she smoothed back the tangled hair of my head.

“You’ve never had a teacher, have you?” she asked. “Magnus orphaned you the night he made you. Your father and brothers were fools. As for your mother, she hated her children.”

“I’ve always been my own teacher,” I said soberly. “And I must confess I’ve always been my favorite pupil as well.”


“Maybe it was a little conspiracy,” I said. “Of pupil and teacher.

But as you said, there was never anyone else.”

She was smiling at me. The fire was playing in her eyes. Her face was luminous, frighteningly beautiful.

“Surrender,” she said, “and I’ll teach you things you never dreamed of. You’ve never known battle. Real battle. You’ve never felt the purity of a righteous cause.”

I didn’t answer. I felt dizzy, not merely from the long journey through the air, but from the gentle caress of her words, and the fathomless blackness of her eyes. It seemed a great part of her beauty was the sweetness of her expression, the serenity of it, the way that her eyes held steady even when the glistening white flesh of her face moved suddenly with a smile or a subtle frown. I knew if I let myself, I’d be terrified of what was happening. She must have known it too. She took me in her arms again. “Drink, prince,” she

whispered. “Take the strength you need to do as I would have you do.”

I don’t know how many moments passed. When she pulled away, I was drugged for an instant, then the clarity was as always overwhelming. The monotonous music of the temple was thundering through the walls.

“Azim! Azim! Azim!”

As she drew me along after her, it seemed my body didn’t exist anymore except as a vision I kept in place. I felt of my own face, the bones beneath my skin, to touch something solid that was myself; but this skin, this sensation. It was utterly new. What was left of me?

The wooden doors opened as if by magic before us. We passed silently into a long corridor of slender white marble pillars and scalloped arches, but this was but the outer border of an immense central room. And the room was filled with frenzied, screaming worshipers who did not even see us or sense our presence as they continued to dance, to chant, to leap into the air in the hopes of glimpsing their one and only god.

“Keep at my side, Lestat,” she said, the voice cutting through the din as if I’d been touched by a velvet glove.

The crowd parted, violently, bodies thrust to right and left. Screaming replaced the chant immediately; the room was in chaos, as a path lay open for us to the center of the room. The cymbals and drums were silenced; moans and soft piteous cries surrounded us.

Then a great sigh of wonder rose as Akasha stepped forward and threw back her veil.

Many feet away, in the center of the ornate floor stood the blood god, Azim, clothed in a black silk turban and jeweled robes. His face was disfigured with fury as he stared at Akasha, as he stared at me.

Prayers rose from the crowd around us; a shrill voice cried out an anthem to “the eternal mother.”

“Silence!” Azim commanded. I didn’t know the language; but I understood the word.

I could hear the sound of human blood in his voice; I could see it rushing through his veins. Never in fact had I seen any vampire or

blood drinker so choked with human blood as was this one; he was as old as Marius, surely, yet his skin had a dark golden gleam. A thin veil of blood sweat covered it completely, even to the backs of his large, soft-looking hands.

“You dare to come into my temple!” he said, and again the language itself eluded me but the meaning was telepathically clear.

“You will die now!” Akasha said, the voice even softer than it had been a moment ago. “You who have misled these hopeless innocents; you who have fed upon their lives and their blood like a bloated leech.”

Screams rose from the worshipers, cries for mercy. Again, Azim told them to be quiet.

“What right have you to condemn my worship,” he cried, pointing his finger at us, “you who have sat silent on your throne since the beginning of time!”

“Time did not begin with you, my cursed beauty,” Akasha answered. “I was old when you were born. And I am risen now to rule as I was meant to rule. And you shall die as a lesson to your people. You are my first great martyr. You shall die now!”

He tried to run at her, and I tried to step between them; but it was all too fast to be seen. She caught him by some invisible means and shoved him backwards so that his feet slid across the marble tile and he teetered, almost falling and then dancing as he sought to right himself, his eyes rolling up into his head.

A deep gurgling cry came out of him. He was burning. His garments were burning; and then the smoke rose from him gray and thin and writhing in the gloom as the terrified crowd gave way to screams and wails. He was twisting as the heat consumed him; then suddenly, bent double, he rose, staring at her, and flew at her with his arms out.

It seemed he would reach her before she thought what to do. And again, I tried to step before her, and with a quick shove of her right hand she threw me back into the human swarm. There were half-naked bodies all around, struggling to get away from me as I caught my balance.

I spun around and saw him poised not three feet from her, snarling at her, and trying to reach her over some invisible and

unsurmountable force.

“Die, damnable one!” she cried out. (I clamped my hands over my ears.) “Go into the pit of perdition. I create it for you now.”

Azim’s head exploded. Smoke and flame poured out of his ruptured skull. His eyes turned black. With a flash, his entire frame ignited; yet he went down in a human posture, his fist raised against her, his legs curling as if he meant to try to stand again. Then his form disappeared utterly in a great orange blaze.

Panic descended upon the crowd, just as it had upon the rock fans outside the concert hall when the fires had broken out and Gabrielle and Louis and I had made our escape.

Yet it seemed the hysteria here reached a more dangerous pitch. Bodies crashed against the slender marble pillars. Men and women were crushed instantly as others rushed over them to the doors.

Akasha turned full circle, her garments caught in a brief dance of black and white silk around her; and everywhere human beings were caught as if by invisible hands and flung to the floor. Their bodies went into convulsions. The women, looking down at the stricken victims, wailed and tore their hair.

It took me a moment to realize what was happening, that she was killing the men. It wasn’t fire. It was some invisible attack upon the vital organs. Blood poured from their ears and their eyes as they expired. Enraged, several of the women ran at her, only to meet the same fate. The men who attacked her were vanquished instantly.

Then I heard her voice inside my head:

Kill them, Lestat. Slaughter the males to the last one.

I was paralyzed. I stood beside her, lest one of them get close to her. But they didn’t have a chance. This was beyond nightmare, beyond the stupid horrors to which I’d been a party all of my accursed life.

Suddenly she was standing in front of me, grasping my arms. Her soft icy voice had become an engulfing sound in my brain.

My prince, my love. You will do this for me. Slaughter the males so that the legend of their punishment will surpass the legend of the temple. They are the henchmen of the blood god. The women are helpless. Punish the males in my name.

“Oh, God help me, please don’t ask this of me,” I whispered.

“They are pitiful humans!”

The crowd seemed to have lost its spirit. Those who had run into the rear yard were trapped. The dead and the mourning lay everywhere around us, while from the ignorant multitude at the front gates there rose the most piteous pleas.

“Let them go, Akasha, please,” I said to her. Had I ever in my life begged for anything as I did now? What had these poor beings to do with us?

She drew closer to me. I couldn’t see anything now but her black eyes.

“My love, this is divine war. Not the loathsome feeding upon human life which you have done night after night without scheme or reason save to survive. You kill now in my name and for my cause and I give you the greatest freedom ever given man: I tell you that to slay your mortal brother is right. Now use the new power I’ve given you. Choose your victims one by one, use your invisible strength or the strength of your hands.”

My head was spinning. Had I this power to make men drop in their tracks? I looked around me in the smoky chamber where the incense still poured from the censers and bodies tumbled over one another, men and women embracing each other in terror, others crawling into corners as if there they would be safe.

“There is no life for them now, save in the lesson,” she said. “Do as I command.”

It seemed I saw a vision; for surely this wasn’t from my heart or mind; I saw a thin emaciated form rise before me; I gritted my teeth as I glared at it, concentrating my malice as if it were a laser, and then I saw the victim rise off his feet and tumble backwards as the blood came out of his mouth. Lifeless, withered, he fell to the floor. It had been like a spasm; and then as effortless as shouting, as throwing one’s voice out unseen yet powerful, over a great space.

Yes, kill them. Strike for the tender organs; rupture them; make the blood flow. You know that you have always wanted to do it. To kill as if it were nothing, to destroy without scruple or regret!

It was true, so true; but it was also forbidden, forbidden as nothing else on earth is forbidden. . . .

My love, it is as common as hunger; as common as time. And now

you have my power and command. You and I shall put an end to it through what we will do now.

A young man rushed at me, crazed, hands out to catch my throat. Kill him. He cursed me as I drove him backwards with the invisible power, feeling the spasm deep in my throat and my belly; and then a sudden tightening in the temples; I felt it touching him, I felt it pouring out of me; I felt it as surely as if I had penetrated his skull with my fingers and was squeezing his brain. Seeing it would have been crude; there was no need to see it. All I needed to see was the blood spurting from his mouth and his ears, and down his naked chest.

Oh, was she ever right, how I had wanted to do it! How I had dreamed of it in my earliest mortal years! The sheer bliss of killing them, killing them under all their names which were the same name

—enemy—those who deserved killing, those who were born for killing, killing with full force, my body turning to solid muscle, my teeth clenched, my hatred and my invisible strength made one.

In all directions they ran, but that only further inflamed me. I drove them back, the power slamming them into the walls. I aimed for the heart with this invisible tongue and heard the heart when it burst. I turned round and round, directing it carefully yet instantly at this one, and that one, and then another as he ran through the doorway, and yet another as he rushed down the corridor, and yet another as he tore the lamp from its chains and hurled it foolishly at me.

Into the back rooms of the temple I pursued them, with exhilarating ease through the heaps of gold and silver, tossing them over on their backs as if with long invisible fingers, then clamping those invisible fingers on their arteries until the blood gushed through the bursting flesh.

The women crowded together weeping; others fled. I heard bones break as I walked over the bodies. And then I realized that she too was killing them; that we were doing it together, and the room was now littered with the mutilated and the dead. A dark, rank smell of blood permeated everything; the fresh cold wind could not dispel it; the air was filled with soft, despairing cries.

A giant of a man raced at me, eyes bulging as he tried to stop me with a great curved sword. In rage I snatched the sword from him

and sliced through his neck. Right through the bone the blade went, breaking as it did so, and head and broken blade fell at my feet.

I kicked aside the body. I went in the courtyard and stared at those who shrank from me in terror. I had no more reason, no more conscience. It was a mindless game to chase them, corner them, thrust aside the women behind whom they hid, or who struggled so pitifully to hide them, and aim the power at the right place, to pump the power at that vulnerable spot until they lay still.

The front gates! She was calling me. The men in the courtyard were dead; the women were tearing their hair, sobbing. I walked through the ruined temple, through the mourners and the dead they mourned. The crowd at the gates was on its knees in the snow, ignorant of what had gone on inside, voices raised in desperate entreaty.

Admit me to the chamber; admit me to the vision and the hunger of the lord.

At the sight of Akasha, their cries rose in volume. They reached out to touch her garments as the locks broke and the gates swung open. The wind howled down the mountain pass; the bell in the tower above gave a faint hollow sound.

Again I shoved them down, rupturing brains and hearts and arteries. I saw their thin arms flung out in the snow. The wind itself stank of blood. Akasha’s voice cut through the horrid screams, telling the women to draw back and away and they would be safe.

Finally I was killing so fast I couldn’t even see it anymore: The males. The males must die. I was rushing towards completion, that every single male thing that moved or stirred or moaned should be dead.

Like an angel I moved on down the winding path, with an invisible sword. And finally all the way down the cliff they dropped to their knees and waited for death. In a ghastly passivity they accepted it!

Suddenly I felt her holding me though she was nowhere near me.

I heard her voice in my head:

Well done, my prince.

I couldn’t stop. This invisible thing was one of my limbs now. I couldn’t withdraw it and bring it back into myself. It was as if I was

poised to take a breath, and if I did not take that breath I should die. But she held me motionless, and a great calm was coming over me, as if a drug had been fed into my veins. Finally I grew still and the power concentrated itself within me and became part of me and nothing more.

Slowly I turned around. I looked at the clear snowy peaks, the perfectly black sky, and at the long line of dark bodies that lay on the path from the temple gates. The women were clinging to one another, sobbing in disbelief, or giving off low and terrible moans. I smelled death as I have never smelled it; I looked down at the bits of flesh and gore that had splashed my garments. But my hands! My hands were so white and clean. Dear God, I didn’t do it! Not me. I didn’t. And my hands, they are clean!

Oh, but I had! And what am I that I could do it? That I loved it, loved it beyond all reason, loved it as men have always loved it in the absolute moral freedom of war—

It seemed a silence had fallen.

If the women still cried I didn’t hear them. I didn’t hear the wind either. I was moving, though why I didn’t know. I had dropped down to my knees and I reached out for the last man I had slain, who was flung like broken sticks in the snow, and I put my hand into the blood on his mouth and then I smeared this blood all over both my hands and pressed them to my face.

Never had I killed in two hundred years that I hadn’t tasted the blood, and taken it, along with the life, into myself. And that was a monstrous thing. But more had died here in these few ghastly moments than all those I’d ever sent to their untimely graves. And it had been done with the ease of thought and breath. Oh, this can never be atoned for! This can never never be justified!

I stood staring at the snow, through my bloody fingers; weeping and yet hating that as well. Then gradually I realized that some change had taken place with the women. Something was happening around me, and I could feel it as if the cold air had been warmed and the wind had risen and left the steep slope undisturbed.

Then the change seemed to enter into me, subduing my anguish and even slowing the beat of my heart.

The crying had ceased. Indeed the women were moving by twos and threes down the path as if in a trance, stepping over the dead.

It seemed that sweet music was playing, and that the earth had suddenly yielded spring flowers of every color and description, and that the air was full of perfume.

Yet these things weren’t happening, were they? In a haze of muted colors, the women passed me, in rags and silks, and dark cloaks. I shook myself all over. I had to think clearly! This was no time for disorientation. This power and these dead bodies were no dream and I could not, absolutely could not, yield to this overwhelming sense of well-being and peace.

“Akasha!” I whispered.

Then lifting my eyes, not because I wanted to, but because I had to, I saw her standing on a far promontory, and the women, young and old, were moving towards her, some so weak from the cold and from hunger that others had to carry them over the frozen ground.

A hush had fallen over all things.

Without words she began to speak to those assembled before her. It seemed she addressed them in their own language, or in something quite beyond specific language. I couldn’t tell.

In a daze, I saw her stretch out her arms to them. Her black hair spilled down on her white shoulders, and the folds of her long simple gown barely moved in the soundless wind. It struck me that never in all my life had I beheld anything quite as beautiful as she was, and it was not merely the sum of her physical attributes, it was the pure serenity, the essence that I perceived with my innermost soul. A lovely euphoria came over me as she spoke.

Do not be afraid, she told them. The bloody reign of your god is over, and now you may return to the truth.

Soft anthems rose from the worshipers. Some dipped their foreheads to the ground before her. And it appeared that this pleased her or at least that she would allow it.

You must return now to your villages, she said. You must tell those who knew of the blood god that he is dead. The Queen of Heaven has destroyed him. The Queen will destroy all those males who still believe in him. The Queen of Heaven will bring a new reign of peace on earth. There will be death for the males who have oppressed you, but you must wait for my sign.

As she paused the anthems rose again. The Queen of Heaven, the

Goddess, the Good Mother—the old litany sung in a thousand tongues the world over was finding a new form.

I shuddered. I made myself shudder. I had to penetrate that spell! It was a trick of the power, just as the killing had been a trick of the power—something definable and measurable, yet I remained drugged by the sight of her, and by the anthems. By the soft embrace of this feeling: all is well; all is as it should be. We are all safe.

Somewhere, from the sunlit recesses of my mortal memory a day came back, a day like many before it, when in the month of May in our village we had crowned a statue of the Virgin amid banks of sweet-smelling flowers, when we had sung exquisite hymns. Ah, the loveliness of that moment, when the crown of white lilies had been lifted to the Virgin’s veiled head. I’d gone home that night singing those hymns. In an old prayer book, I’d found a picture of the Virgin, and it had filled me with enchantment and wondrous religious fervor such as I felt now.

And from somewhere deeper in me even, where the sun had never penetrated, came the realization that if I believed in her and what she was saying, then this unspeakable thing, this slaughter that I had committed against fragile and helpless mortals would somehow be redeemed.

You kill now in my name and for my cause and I give you the greatest freedom ever given man: I tell you that to slay your brother is right.

“Go on,” she said aloud. “Leave this temple forever. Leave the dead to the snow and the winds. Tell the people. A new era is coming when those males who glorify death and killing shall reap their reward; and the era of peace shall be yours. I will come again to you. I will show you the way. Await my coming. And I will tell you then what you must do. For now, believe in me and what you have seen here. And tell others that they too may believe. Let the men come and see what awaits them. Wait for signs from me.”

In a body they moved to obey her command; they ran down the mountain path towards those distant worshipers who had fled the massacre; their cries rose thin and ecstatic in the snowy void.

The wind gusted through the valley; high on the hill, the temple bell gave another dull peal. The wind tore at the scant garments of the dead. The snow had begun to fall, softly and then thickly,

covering brown legs and arms and faces, faces with open eyes.

The sense of well-being had dissipated, and all the raw aspects of the moment were clear and inescapable again. These women, this visitation. . . . Bodies in the snow! Undeniable displays of power, disruptive and overwhelming.

Then a soft little sound broke the silence; things shattering in the temple above; things falling, breaking apart.

I turned and looked at her. She stood still on the little promontory, the cloak very loose over her shoulders, her flesh as white as the falling snow. Her eyes were fixed on the temple. And as the sounds continued, I knew what was happening within.

Jars of oil breaking; braziers falling. The soft whisper of cloth exploding into flame. Finally the smoke rose, thick and black, billowing from the bell tower, and from over the rear wall.

The bell tower trembled; a great roaring noise echoed against the far cliffs; and then the stones broke loose; the tower collapsed. It fell down into the valley, and the bell, with one final peal, disappeared into the soft white abyss.

The temple was consumed in fire.

I stared at it, my eyes watering from the smoke that blew down over the path, carrying with it tiny ashes and bits of soot.

Vaguely, I was aware that my body wasn’t cold despite the snow. That it wasn’t tired from the exertion of killing. Indeed my flesh was whiter than it had been. And my lungs took in the air so efficiently that I couldn’t hear my own breathing; even my heart was softer, steadier. Only my soul was bruised and sore.

For the first time ever in my life, either mortal or immortal, I was afraid that I might die. I was afraid that she might destroy me and with reason, because I simply could not do again what I’d just done. I could not be part of this design. And I prayed I couldn’t be made to do it, that I would have the strength to refuse.

I felt her hands on my shoulders.

“Turn and look at me, Lestat,” she said.

I did as she asked. And there it was again, the most seductive beauty I’d ever beheld.

And I am yours, my love. You are my only true companion, my finest

instrument. You know this, do you not?

Again, a deliberate shudder. Where in God’s name are you, Lestat! Are you going to shrink from speaking your heart?

“Akasha, help me,” I whispered. “Tell me. Why did you want me to do this, this killing? What did you mean when you told them that the males would be punished? That there would be a reign of peace on earth?” How stupid my words sounded. Looking into her eyes, I could believe she was the goddess. It was as if she drew my conviction out of me, as if it were merely blood.

I was quaking suddenly with fear. Quaking. I knew what the word meant for the first time. I tried to say more but I merely stammered. Finally I blurted it out:

“In the name of what morality will all this be done?”

“In the name of my morality!” she answered, the faint little smile as beautiful as before. “I am the reason, the justification, the right by which it is done!” Her voice was cold with anger, but her blank, sweet expression had not changed. “Now, listen to me, beautiful one,” she said. “I love you. You’ve awakened me from my long sleep and to my great purpose; it gives me joy merely to look at you, to see the light in your blue eyes, and to hear the sound of your voice. It would wound me beyond your understanding of pain to see you die. But as the stars are my witness, you will aid me in my mission. Or you will be no more than the instrument for the commencement, as Judas was to Christ. And I shall destroy you as Christ destroyed Judas once your usefulness is past.”

Rage overcame me. I couldn’t help myself. The shift from fear to anger was so fast, I was boiling inside.

“But how do you dare to do these things!” I asked. “To send these ignorant souls abroad with mad lies!”

She stared at me in silence; it seemed she would strike out at me; her face became that of a statue again; and I thought, Well, the moment is now. I will die the way I saw Azim die. I can’t save Gabrielle or Louis. I can’t save Armand. I won’t fight because it’s useless. I won’t move when it happens. I’ll go deep into myself, perhaps, if I must run from the pain. I’ll find some last illusion like Baby Jenks did and cling to it until I am no longer Lestat.

She didn’t move. The fires on the hill were burning down. The

snow was coming more thickly and she had become like a ghost standing there in the silent snowfall, white as the snow was white.

“You really aren’t afraid of anything, are you?” she said. “I’m afraid of you,” I said.

“Oh, no, I do not think so.”

I nodded. “I am. And I’ll tell you what else I am. Vermin on the face of the earth. Nothing more than that. A loathsome killer of human beings. But I know that’s what I am! I do not pretend to be what I am not! You have told these ignorant people that you are the Queen of Heaven! How do you mean to redeem those words and what they will accomplish among stupid and innocent minds?”

“Such arrogance,” she said softly. “Such incredible arrogance, and yet I love you. I love your courage, even your rashness, which has always been your saving grace. I even love your stupidity. Don’t you understand? There is no promise now that I cannot keep! I shall make the myths over! I am the Queen of Heaven. And Heaven shall reign on earth finally. I am anything that I say I am!”

“Oh, lord, God,” I whispered.

“Do not speak those hollow words. Those words that have never meant anything to anyone! You stand in the presence of the only goddess you will ever know. You are the only god these people will ever know! Well, you must think like a god now, my beauty. You must reach for something beyond your selfish little ambitions. Don’t you realize what’s taken place?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know anything. I’m going mad.”

She laughed. She threw back her head and laughed. “We are what they dream of, Lestat. We cannot disappoint them. If we did, the truth implicit in the earth beneath our feet would be betrayed.”

She turned away from me. She went back up again to the small outcropping of snow-covered rock where she had stood before. She was looking down into the valley, at the path that cut along the sheer cliff beneath her, at the pilgrims turning back now as the fleeing women gave them the word.

I heard cries echo off the stone face of the mountain. I heard the men dying down there, as she, unseen, struck them with that power, that great seductive and easy power. And the women stammering madly of miracles and visions. And then the wind rose,

swallowing everything, it seemed; the great indifferent wind. I saw her shimmering face for an instant; she came towards me; I thought this is death again, this is death coming, the woods and the wolves coming, and no place to hide; and then my eyes closed.

WHEN I awoke I was in a small house. I didn’t know how we’d gotten here, or how long ago the slaughter in the mountains had been. I’d been drowning in the voices, and now and then a dream had come to me, a terrible yet familiar dream. I had seen two redheaded women in this dream. They knelt beside an altar where a body lay

waiting for them to perform some ritual, some crucial ritual. And I’d been struggling desperately to understand the dream’s content, for it seemed that everything depended upon it; I must not forget it again.

But now all that faded. The voices, the unwelcome images; the moment pressed in.

The place where I lay was dark and dirty, and full of foul smells. In little dwellings all around us, mortals lived in misery, babies crying in hunger, amid the smell of cooking fires and rancid grease.

There was war in this place, true war. Not the debacle of the mountainside, but old-fashioned twentieth-century war. From the minds of the afflicted I caught it in viscid glimpses—an endless existence of butchery and menace—buses burned, people trapped inside beating upon the locked windows; trucks exploding, women and children running from machine gun fire.

I lay on the floor as if someone had flung me there. And Akasha stood in the doorway, her cloak wrapped tightly around her, even to her eyes, as she peered out into the dark.

When I had climbed to my feet and come up beside her, I saw a mud alley full of puddles and other small dwellings, some with roofs of tin and others with roofs of sagging newspaper. Against the filthy walls men slept, wrapped from head to toe as if in shrouds. But they were not dead; and the rats they sought to avoid knew it. And the rats nibbled at the wrappings, and the men twitched and jerked in their sleep.

It was hot here, and the warmth cooked the stenches of the place

—urine, feces, the vomit of dying children. I could even smell the hunger of the children, as they cried in spasms. I could smell the

deep dank sea smell of the gutters and the cesspools.

This was no village; it was a place of hovels and shacks, of hopelessness. Dead bodies lay between the dwellings. Disease was rampant; and the old and the sick sat silent in the dark, dreaming of nothing, or of death perhaps, which was nothing, as the babies cried.

Down the alley there came now a tottering child with a swollen belly, screaming as it rubbed with a small fist its swollen eye.

It seemed not to see us in the darkness. From door to door it went crying, its smooth brown skin glistening in the dim flicker of the cooking fires as it moved away.

“Where are we?” I asked her.

Astonished, I saw her turn and lift her hand tenderly to stroke my hair and my face. Relief washed through me. But the raw suffering of this place was too great for that relief to matter. So she had not destroyed me; she had brought me to hell. What was the purpose? All around me I felt the misery, the despair. What could alter the suffering of these abject people?

“My poor warrior,” she said. Her eyes were full of blood tears. “Don’t you know where we are?”

I didn’t answer.

She spoke slowly, close to my ear. “Shall I recite the poetry of names?” she asked. “Calcutta, if you wish, or Ethiopia; or the streets of Bombay; these poor souls could be the peasants of Sri Lanka; of Pakistan; of Nicaragua, of El Salvador. It does not matter what it is; it matters how much there is of it; that all around the oases of your shining Western cities it exists; it is three-fourths of the world! Open your ears, my darling; listen to their prayers; listen to the silence of those who’ve learned to pray for nothing. For nothing has always been their portion, whatever the name of their nation, their city, their tribe.”

We walked out together into the mud street; past piles of dung and filthy puddles and the starving dogs that came forth, and the rats that darted across our path. Then we came to the ruins of an ancient palace. Reptiles slithered among the stones. The blackness swarmed with gnats. Derelicts slept in a long row beside a running gutter. Beyond in the swamp, bodies rotted, bloated and forgotten.

Far away on the highway, the trucks passed, sending their rumble through the stifling heat like thunder. The misery of the place was like a gas, poisoning me as I stood there. This was the ragged edge of the savage garden of the world in which hope could not flower. This was a sewer.

“But what can we do?” I whispered. “Why have we come here?” Again, I was distracted by her beauty, the look of compassion that suddenly infected her and made me want to weep.

“We can reclaim the world,” she said, “as I’ve told you. We can make the myths real; and the time will come when this will be a myth, that humans ever knew such degradation. We shall see to that, my love.”

“But this is for them to solve, surely. It isn’t only their obligation, it’s their right. How can we aid in such a thing? How can our interference not lead to catastrophe?”

“We shall see that it does not,” she said calmly. “Ah, but you don’t begin to comprehend. You don’t realize the strength we now possess. Nothing can stop us. But you must watch now. You are not ready and I would not push you again. When you kill again for me you must have perfect faith and perfect conviction. Be assured that I love you and I know that a heart can’t be educated in the space of a night. But learn from what you see and hear.”

She went back out in the street. For one moment she was merely a frail figure, moving through the shadows. Then suddenly I could hear beings roused in the tiny hovels all around us, and I saw the women and children emerge. Around me the sleeping forms began to stir. I shrank back into the dark.

I was trembling. I wanted desperately to do something, to beg her to have patience!

But again that sense of peace descended, that spell of perfect happiness, and I was traveling back through the years to the little French church of my childhood as the hymns began. Through my tears I saw the shining altar. I saw the icon of the Virgin, a gleaming square of gold above the flowers; I heard the Aves whispered as if they were a charm. Under the arches of Notre Dame de Paris I heard the priests singing “Salve Regina.”

Her voice came, clear, inescapable as it had been before, as if it were inside my brain. Surely the mortals heard it with the same

irresistible power. The command itself was without words; and the essence was beyond dispute—that a new order was to begin, a new world in which the abused and injured would know peace and justice finally. The women and the children were exhorted to rise, and to slay all males within this village. All males save one in a hundred should be killed, and all male babies save one in a hundred should also be slaughtered immediately. Peace on earth would follow once this had been done far and wide; there would be no more war; there would be food and plenty.

I was unable to move, or to voice my terror. In panic I heard the frenzied cries of the women. Around me, the sleeping derelicts rose from their wrappings, only to be driven back against the walls, dying as I had seen the men die in Azim’s temple.

The street rang with cries. In clouded flashes, I saw people running; I saw the men rushing out of the houses, only to drop in the mud. On the distant road the trucks went up in flames, wheels screeching as the drivers lost control. Metal was hurled against metal. Gas tanks exploded; the night was full of magnificent light. Rushing from house to house, the women surrounded the men and beat them with any weapon they could find. Had the village of shanties and hovels ever known such vitality as it did now in the name of death?

And she, the Queen of Heaven, had risen and was hovering above the tin rooftops, a stark delicate figure burning against the clouds as if made of white flame.

I closed my eyes and turned towards the wall, fingers clutching at the crumbling rock. To think that we were solid as this, she and I. Yet not of it. No, never of it. And we did not belong here! We had no right.

But even as I wept, I felt the soft embrace of the spell again; the sweet drowsy sensation of being surrounded by flowers, of slow music with its inevitable and enthralling rhythm. I felt the warm air as it passed into my lungs; I felt the old stone tiles beneath my feet.

Soft green hills stretched out before me in hallucinatory perfection—a world without war or deprivation in which women roamed free and unafraid, women who even under provocation would shrink from the common violence that lurks in the heart of every man.

Against my will I lingered in this new world, ignoring the thud of bodies hitting the wet earth, and the final curses and cries of those who were being killed.

In great dreamy flashes, I saw whole cities transformed; I saw streets without fear of the predatory and the senselessly destructive; streets in which beings moved without urgency or desperation. Houses were no longer fortresses; gardens no longer needed their walls.

“Oh, Marius, help me,” I whispered, even as the sun poured down on the tree-lined pathways and endless green fields. “Please, please help me.”

And then another vision shocked me, crowding out the spell. I saw fields again, but there was no sunlight; this was a real place somewhere—and I was looking through the eyes of someone or something walking in a straight line with strong strides at incredible speed. But who was this someone? What was this being’s destination? Now, this vision was being sent; it was powerful, refusing to be ignored. But why?

It was gone as quickly as it had come.

I was back in the crumbling palace arcade, among the scattered dead; staring through the open archway at the rushing figures; hearing the high-pitched cries of victory and jubilation.

Come out, my warrior, where they can see you. Come to me.

She stood before me with her arms extended. God, what did they think they were seeing? For a moment I didn’t move, then I went towards her, stunned and compliant, feeling the eyes of the women, their worshipful gaze. They fell down on their knees as she and I came together. I felt her hand close too tightly; I felt my heart thudding. Akasha, this is a lie, a terrible lie. And the evil sown here will flourish for a century.

Suddenly the world tilted. We weren’t standing on the ground anymore. She had me in her embrace and we were rising over the tin roofs, and the women below were bowing and waving their arms, and touching their foreheads to the mud.

“Behold the miracle, behold the Mother, behold the Mother and her Angel . . . ”

Then in an instant, the village was a tiny scattering of silver roofs

far below us, all that misery alchemized into images, and we were traveling once again on the wind.

I glanced back, trying in vain to recognize the specific location— the dark swamps, the lights of the nearby city, the thin strip of road where the overturned trucks still burned. But she was right, it really didn’t matter.

Whatever was going to happen had now begun, and I did not know what could possibly stop it.

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