Chapter no 13

The Queen of the Damned

SHEN I awoke it was quiet, and the air was clean and warm, with the smell of the sea.

I was now thoroughly confused as to time. And I knew

from my light-headedness that I had not slept through a day. Also I wasn’t in any protective enclosure.

We’d been following the night around the world, perhaps, or rather moving at random in it, as Akasha maybe didn’t need at all to sleep.

I needed it, that was obvious. But I was too curious not to want to be awake. And frankly too miserable. Also I’d been dreaming of human blood.

I found myself in a spacious bedroom with terraces to the west and to the north. I could smell the sea and I could hear it, yet the air was fragrant and rather still. Very gradually, I took stock of the room.

Lavish old furnishings, most likely Italian—delicate yet ornamented—were mingled with modern luxuries everywhere I looked. The bed on which I lay was a gilded four-poster, hung with gauzy curtains, and covered with down pillows and draperies of silk. A thick white carpet concealed the old floor.

There was a dressing table littered with glittering jars and silver objects, and a curious old-fashioned white telephone. Velvet chairs; a monster of a television set and shelves of stereo music equipment; and small polished tables everywhere, strewn with newspapers, ashtrays, decanters of wine.

People had lived here up till an hour ago; but now the people were dead. In fact, there were many dead on this island. And as I lay there for a moment, drinking in the beauty around me, I saw the village in my mind where we had been before. I saw the filth, the tin roofs, the mud. And now I lay in this bower, or so it seemed.

And there was death here too. We had brought it.

I got up off the bed and went out onto the terrace and looked down over the stone railing at a white beach. No land on the horizon, only the gently rolling sea. The lacy foam of the receding waves glistening under the moon. And I was in an old weathered palazzo, probably built some four centuries ago, decked with urns and cherubs and covered with stained plaster, a rather beautiful place. Electric lights shone through the green-painted shutters of other rooms. Nestled on a lower terrace just beneath me was a little swimming pool.

And ahead where the beach curved to the left, I saw another old graceful dwelling nestled into the cliffs. People had died in there too. This was a Greek island, I was sure of it; this was the Mediterranean Sea.

When I listened, I heard cries coming from the land behind me, over the crest of the hill. Men being slain. I leaned against the frame of the door. I tried to stop my heart from racing.

Some sudden memory of the slaughter in Azim’s temple gripped me—a flash of myself walking through the human herd, using the invisible blade to pierce solid flesh. Thirst. Or was it merely lust? I saw those mangled limbs again; wasted bodies contorted in the final struggle, faces smeared with blood.

Not my doing, I couldn’t have . . . But I had.

And now I could smell fires burning, fires like those fires in Azim’s courtyard where the bodies were being burnt. The smell nauseated me. I turned towards the sea again and took a deep clean breath. If I let them, the voices would come, voices from all over the island, and from other islands, and from the nearby land, too. I could feel it, the sound, hovering there waiting; I had to push it back.

Then I heard more immediate noise. Women in this old mansion. They were approaching the bedchamber. I turned around just in time to see the double doors opened, and the women, dressed in simple blouses and skirts and kerchiefs, come into the room.

It was a motley crowd of all ages, including young beauties and stout older matrons, and even some rather frail creatures with darkly wrinkled skin and snow white hair. They brought vases of flowers with them; they were placing them everywhere. And then

one of the women, a tentative slender thing with a beautiful long neck, moved forward with beguiling natural grace, and began to turn on the many lamps.

Smell of their blood. How could it be so strong and so enticing, when I felt no thirst?

Suddenly they all came together in the center of the room and they stared at me; it was as if they’d fallen into a trance. I was standing on the terrace, merely looking at them; then I realized what they saw. My torn costume—the vampire rags—black coat, white shirt, and the cloak—all spattered with blood.

And my skin, that had changed measurably. I was whiter, more ghastly to look at, of course. And my eyes must have been brighter; or maybe I was being deceived by their naive reactions. When had they seen one of us before?

Whatever . . . it all seemed to be some sort of dream, these still women with their black eyes and their rather somber faces—even the stout ones had rather gaunt faces—gathered there staring at me, and then their dropping one by one to their knees. Ah, to their knees. I sighed. They had the crazed expression of people who had been delivered out of the ordinary; they were seeing a vision and the irony was that they looked like a vision to me.

Reluctantly, I read their thoughts.

They had seen the Blessed Mother. That is what she was here. The Madonna, the Virgin. She’d come to their villages and told them to slaughter their sons and husbands; even the babies had been slaughtered. And they had done it, or witnessed the doing of it; and they were now carried upon a wave of belief and joy. They were witnesses to miracles; they had been spoken to by the Blessed Mother herself. And she was the ancient Mother, the Mother who had always dwelt in the grottoes of this island, even before Christ, the Mother whose tiny naked statues were now and then found in the earth.

In her name they had knocked down the columns of the ruined temples, the ones the tourists came here to see; they had burned the only church on the island; they had knocked out its windows with sticks and stones. Ancient murals had burned in the church. The marble columns, broken into fragments, had fallen into the sea.

As for me, what was I to them? Not merely a god. Not merely the

chosen of the Blessed Mother. No, something else. It puzzled me as I stood there, trapped by their eyes, repelled by their convictions, yet fascinated and afraid.

Not of them, of course, but of everything that was happening. Of this delicious feeling of mortals looking at me, the way they had been looking when I’d been on the stage. Mortals looking at me and sensing my power after all the years of hiding, mortals come here to worship. Mortals like all those poor creatures strewn over the path in the mountains. But they’d been worshipers of Azim, hadn’t they? They’d gone there to die.

Nightmare. Have to reverse this, have to stop it; have to stop myself from accepting it or any aspect of it!

I mean I could start believing that I was really—But I know what I am, don’t I? And these are poor, ignorant women; women for whom television sets and phones are miracles, these are women for whom change itself is a form of miracle. . . . And they will wake up tomorrow and they will see what they have done!

But now the feeling of peace came over us—the women and me. The familiar scent of flowers, the spell. Silently, through their minds, the women were receiving their instructions.

There was a little commotion; two of them rose from their knees and entered an adjoining bath—one of those massive marble affairs that wealthy Italians and Greeks seem to love. Hot water was flowing; steam poured out of the open doors.

Other women had gone to the closets, to take out clean garments. Rich, whoever he was, the poor bastard who had owned this little palace, the poor bastard who had left that cigarette in the ashtray and the faint greasy fingerprints on the white phone.

Another pair of women came towards me. They wanted to lead me into the bath. I did nothing. I felt them touch me—hot human fingers touching me and all the attendant shock and excitement in them as they felt the peculiar texture of my flesh. It sent a powerful and delicious chill through me, these touches. Their dark liquid eyes were beautiful as they looked at me. They tugged at me with their warm hands; they wanted me to come with them.

All right. I allowed myself to be taken along. White marble tile, carved gold fixtures; an ancient Roman splendor, when you got right down to it, with gleaming bottles of soaps and scents lining

marble shelves. And the flood of hot water in the pool, with the jets pumping it full of bubbles, it was all very inviting; or might have been at some other time.

They stripped my garments off me. Absolutely fascinating feeling. No one had ever done such a thing to me. Not since I’d been alive and then only when I was a very small child. I stood in the flood of steam from the bath, watching all these small dark hands, and feeling the hairs rise all over my body; feeling the adoration in the women’s eyes.

Through the steam I looked into the mirror—a wall of mirror actually, and I saw myself for the first time since this sinister odyssey had begun. The shock was more for a moment than I could handle. This can’t be me.

I was much paler than I’d imagined. Gently I pushed the women away and went towards the mirror wall. My skin had a pearlescent gleam to it; and my eyes were even brighter, gathering all the colors of the spectrum and mingling them with an icy light. Yet I didn’t look like Marius. I didn’t look like Akasha. The lines in my face were still there!

In other words I’d been bleached by Akasha’s blood, but I hadn’t become smooth yet. I’d kept my human expression. And the odd thing was, the contrast now made these lines all the more visible. Even the tiny lines all over my fingers were more clearly etched than before.

But what consolation was this when I was more than ever noticeable, astonishing, unlike a human being? In a way, this was worse than that first moment two hundred years ago, when an hour or so after my death I’d seen myself in a mirror, and tried to find my humanity in what I was seeing. I was just as afraid right now.

I studied my reflection—my chest was like a marble torso in a museum, that white. And the organ, the organ we don’t need, poised as if ready for what it would never again know how to do or want to do, marble, a Priapus at a gate.

Dazed, I watched the women draw closer; lovely throats, breasts, dark moist limbs. I watched them touch me all over again. I was beautiful to them, all right.

The scent of their blood was stronger in here, in the rising steam. Yet I wasn’t thirsty, not really. Akasha had filled me, but the blood

was tormenting me a little. No, quite a lot.

I wanted their blood—and it had nothing to do with thirst. I wanted it the way a man can want vintage wine, though he’s drunk water. Only magnify that by twenty or thirty or a hundred. In fact, it was so powerful I could imagine taking all of them, tearing at their tender throats one after another and leaving their bodies lying here on the floor.

No, this is not going to take place, I reasoned. And the sharp, dangerous quality of this lust made me want to weep. What’s been done to me! But then I knew, didn’t I? I knew I was so strong now that twenty men couldn’t have subdued me. And think what I could do to them. I could rise up through the ceiling if I wanted to and get free of here. I could do things of which I’d never dreamed. Probably I had the fire gift now; I could burn things the way she could burn them, the way Marius said that he could. Just a matter of strength, that’s all it was. And dizzying levels of awareness, of acceptance. . . .

The women were kissing me. They were kissing my shoulders. Just a lovely little sensation, the soft pressure of the lips on my skin. I couldn’t help smiling, and gently I embraced them and kissed them, nuzzling their heated little necks and feeling their breasts against my chest. I was utterly surrounded by these malleable creatures, I was blanketed in succulent human flesh.

I stepped into the deep tub and allowed them to wash me. The hot water splashed over me deliriously, washing away easily all the dirt that never really clings to us, never penetrates us. I looked up at the ceiling and let them brush the hot water through my hair.

Yes, extraordinarily pleasurable, all of it. Yet never had I been so alone. I was sinking into these mesmerizing sensations; I was drifting. Because really, there was nothing else that I could do.

When they were finished I chose the perfumes that I wanted and told them to get rid of the others. I spoke in French but they seemed to understand. Then they dressed me with the clothes I selected from what they presented to me. The master of this house had liked handmade linen shirts, which were only a little too large for me. And he’d liked handmade shoes as well, and they were a tolerable fit.

I chose a suit of gray silk, very fine weave, and rather jaunty

modern cut. And silver jewelry. The man’s silver watch, and his cuff links which had tiny diamonds embedded in them. And even a tiny diamond pin for the narrow lapel of the coat. But all these clothes felt so strange on me; it was as if I could feel the surface of my own skin yet not feel it. And there came that déjà vu. Two hundred years ago. The old mortal questions. Why in the hell is this happening? How can I gain control of it?

I wondered for a moment, was it possible not to care what happened? To stand back from it and view them all as alien creatures, things upon which I fed? Cruelly I’d been ripped out of their world! Where was the old bitterness, the old excuse for endless cruelty? Why had it always focused itself upon such small things? Not that a life is small. Oh, no, never, not any life! That was the whole point actually. Why did I who could kill with such abandon shrink from the prospect of seeing their precious traditions laid waste?

Why did my heart come up in my throat now? Why was I crying inside, like something dying myself?

Maybe some other fiend could have loved it; some twisted and conscienceless immortal could have sneered at her visions, yet slipped into the robes of a god as easily as I had slipped into that perfumed bath.

But nothing could give me that freedom, nothing. Her permissions meant nothing; her power finally was but another degree of what we all possessed. And what we all possessed had never made the struggle simple; it had made it agony, no matter how often we won or lost.

It couldn’t happen, the subjugation of a century to one will; the design had to be foiled somehow, and if I just maintained my calm, I’d find the key.

Yet mortals had inflicted such horrors upon others; barbarian hordes had scarred whole continents, destroying everything in their path. Was she merely human in her delusions of conquest and domination? Didn’t matter. She had inhuman means to see her dreams made real!

I would start weeping again if I didn’t stop reaching now for the solution; and these poor tender creatures around me would be even more damaged and confused than before.

When I lifted my hands to my face, they didn’t move away from me. They were brushing my hair. Chills ran down my back. And the soft thud of the blood in their veins was deafening suddenly.

I told them I wanted to be alone. I couldn’t endure the temptation any longer. And I could have sworn they knew what I wanted. Knew it, and were yielding to it. Dark salty flesh so close to me. Too much temptation. Whatever the case, they obeyed instantly, and a little fearfully. They left the room in silence, backing away as if it weren’t proper to simply walk out.

I looked at the face of the watch. I thought it was pretty funny, me wearing this watch that told the time. And it made me angry suddenly. And then the watch broke! The glass shattered; everything flew out of the ruptured silver case. The strap broke and the thing fell off my wrist onto the floor. Tiny glittering wheels disappeared into the carpet.

“Good God!” I whispered. Yet why not?—if I could rupture an artery or a heart. But the point was to control this thing, to direct it, not let it escape like that.

I looked up and chose at random a small mirror, one standing on the dresser in a silver frame. I thought Break and it exploded into gleaming fragments. In the hollow stillness I could hear the pieces as they struck the walls and the dresser top.

Well, that was useful, a hell of a lot more useful than being able to kill people. I stared at the telephone on the edge of the dresser. I concentrated, let the power collect, then consciously subdued it and directed it to push the phone slowly across the glass that covered the marble. Yes. All right. The little bottles tumbled and fell as it was pushed into them. Then I stopped them; I couldn’t right them however. I couldn’t pick them up. Oh, but wait, yes I could. I imagined a hand righting them. And certainly the power wasn’t literally obeying this image; but I was using it to organize the power. I righted all the little bottles. I retrieved the one which had fallen and put it back in place.

I was trembling just a little. I sat on the bed to think this over, but I was too curious to think. The important thing to realize was this: it was physical; it was energy. And it was no more than an extension of powers I’d possessed before. For example, even in the beginning, in the first few weeks after Magnus had made me, I’d

managed once to move another—my beloved Nicolas with whom I’d been arguing—across a room as if I’d struck him with an invisible fist. I’d been in a rage then; I hadn’t been able to duplicate the little trick later. But it was the same power, the same verifiable and measurable trait.

“You are no god,” I said. But this increase of power, this new dimension, as they say so aptly in this century. . . . Hmmmm. . . .

Looking up at the ceiling, I decided I wanted to rise slowly and touch it, run my hands over the plaster frieze that ran around the cord of the chandelier. I felt a queasiness; and then I realized I was floating just beneath the ceiling. And my hand, why, it looked like my hand was going through the plaster. I lowered myself a little and looked down at the room.

Dear God, I’d done this without taking my body with me! I was still sitting there, on the side of the bed. I was staring at myself, at the top of my own head. I—my body at any rate—sat there motionless, dreamlike, staring. Back. And I was there again, thank God, and my body was all right, and then looking up at the ceiling, I tried to figure what this was all about.

Well, I knew what it was all about, too. Akasha herself had told me how her spirit could travel out of her body. And mortals had always done such things, or so they claimed. Mortals had written of such invisible travel from the most ancient times.

I had almost done it when I tried to see into Azim’s temple, gone there to see, and she had stopped me because when I left my body, my body had started to fall. And long before that, there had been a couple of other times. . . . But in general, I’d never believed all the mortal stories.

Now I knew I could do this as well. But I certainly didn’t want to do it by accident. I made the decision to move to the ceiling again but this time with my body, and it was accomplished at once! We were there together, pushing against the plaster and this time my hand didn’t go through. All right.

I went back down and decided to try the other again. Now only in spirit. The queasy feeling came, I took a glance down at my body, and then I was rising right through the roof of the palazzo. I was traveling out over the sea. Yet things looked unaccountably different; I wasn’t sure this was the literal sky or the literal sea. It

was more like a hazy conception of both, and I didn’t like this, not one bit. No, thank you. Going home now! Or should I bring my body to me? I tried, but absolutely nothing happened, and that didn’t surprise me actually. This was some kind of hallucination. I hadn’t really left my body, and ought to just accept that fact.

And Baby Jenks, what about the beautiful things Baby Jenks had seen when she went up? Had they been hallucinations? I would never know, would I?


Sitting. Side of the bed. Comfortable. The room. I got up and walked around for a few minutes, merely looking at the flowers, and the odd way the white petals caught the lamplight and how dark the reds looked; and how the golden light was caught on the surfaces of the mirrors, all the other lovely things.

It was overwhelming suddenly, the pure detail surrounding me; the extraordinary complexity of a single room.

Then I practically fell into the chair by the bed. I lay back against the velvet, and listened to my heart pounding. Being invisible, leaving my body, I hated it! I wasn’t going to do it again!

Then I heard laughter, faint, gentle laughter. I realized Akasha was there, somewhere behind me, near the dresser perhaps.

There was a sudden surge in me of gladness to hear her voice, to feel her presence. In fact I was surprised at how strong these sensations were. I wanted to see her but I didn’t move just yet.

“This traveling without your body—it’s a power you share with mortals,” she said. “They do this little trick of traveling out of their bodies all the time.”

“I know,” I said dismally. “They can have it. If I can fly with my body, that’s what I intend to do.”

She laughed again; soft, caressing laughter that I’d heard in my dreams.

“In olden times,” she said, “men went to the temple to do this; they drank the potions given them by the priests; it was in traveling the heavens that men faced the great mysteries of life and death.”

“I know,” I said again. “I always thought they were drunk or stoned out of their minds as one says today.”

“You’re a lesson in brutality,” she whispered. “Your responses to things are so swift.”

“That’s brutal?” I asked. I caught a whiff again of the fires burning on the island. Sickening. Dear God. And we talk here as if this isn’t happening, as if we hadn’t penetrated their world with these horrors. . . .

“And flying with your body does not frighten you?” she asked.

“It all frightens me, you know that,” I said. “When do I discover the limits? Can I sit here and bring death to mortals who are miles away?”

“No,” she said. “You’ll discover the limits rather sooner than you think. It’s like every other mystery. There really is no mystery.”

I laughed. For a split second I heard the voices again, the tide rising, and then it faded into a truly audible sound—cries on the wind, cries coming from villages on the island. They had burned the little museum with the ancient Greek statues in it; and with the icons and the Byzantine paintings.

All that art going up in smoke. Life going up in smoke.

I had to see her suddenly. I couldn’t find her in the mirrors, the way they were. I got up.

She was standing at the dresser; and she too had changed her garments, and the style of her hair. Even more purely lovely, yet timeless as before. She held a small hand mirror, and she was looking at herself in it; but it seemed she was not really looking at anything; she was listening to the voices; and I could hear them again too.

A shiver went through me; she resembled her old self, the frozen self sitting in the shrine.

Then she appeared to wake; to look into the mirror again, and then at me as she put the mirror aside.

Her hair had been loosened; all those plaits gone. And now the rippling black waves came down free over her shoulders, heavy, glossy, and inviting to kiss. The dress was similar to the old one, as if the women had made it for her out of dark magenta silk that she had found here. It gave a faint rosy blush to her cheeks, and to her breasts which were only half covered by the loose folds that went up over her shoulders, gathered there by tiny gold clasps.

The necklaces she wore were all modern jewelry, but the profusion made them look archaic, pearls and gold chains and opals and even rubies.

Against the luster of her skin, all this ornament appeared somehow unreal! It was caught up in the overall gloss of her person; it was like the light in her eyes, or the luster of her lips.

She was something fit for the most lavish palace of the imagination; something both sensuous and divine. I wanted her blood again, the blood without fragrance and without killing. I wanted to go to her and lift my hand and touch the skin which seemed absolutely impenetrable but which would break suddenly like the most fragile crust.

“All the men on the island are dead, aren’t they?” I asked. I shocked myself.

“All but ten. There were seven hundred people on this island.

Seven have been chosen to live.” “And the other three?”

“They are for you.”

I stared at her. For me? The desire for blood shifted a little, revised itself, included her and human blood—the hot, bubbling, fragrant kind, the kind that—But there was no physical need. I could still call it thirst, technically, but it was actually worse.

“You don’t want them?” she said, mockingly, smiling at me. “My reluctant god, who shrinks from his duty? You know all those years, when I listened to you, long before you made songs to me, I loved it that you took only the hard ones, the young men. I loved it that you hunted thieves and killers; that you liked to swallow their evil whole. Where’s your courage now? Your impulsiveness? Your willingness to plunge, as it were?”

“Are they evil?” I said. “These victims who are waiting for me?” She narrowed her eyes for a moment. “Is it cowardice finally?”

she asked. “Does the grandeur of the plan frighten? For surely the killing means little.”

“Oh, but you’re wrong,” I said. “The killing always means something. But yes, the grandeur of the plan terrifies me. The chaos, the total loss of all moral equilibrium, it means everything. But that’s not cowardice, is it?” How calm I sounded. How sure of

myself. It wasn’t the truth, but she knew it.

“Let me release you from all obligation to resist,” she said. “You cannot stop me. I love you, as I told you. I love to look at you. It fills me with happiness. But you can’t influence me. Such an idea is absurd.”

We stared at each other in silence. I was trying to find words to tell myself how lovely she was, how like the old Egyptian paintings of princesses with shining tresses whose names are now forever lost. I was trying to understand why my heart hurt even looking at her; and yet I didn’t care that she was beautiful; I cared about what we said to each other.

“Why have you chosen this way?” I asked.

“You know why,” she said with a patient smile. “It is the best way. It is the only way; it is the clear vision after centuries of searching for a solution.”

“But that can’t be the truth, I can’t believe it.”

“Of course it can. Do you think this is impulse with me? I don’t make my decisions as you do, my prince. Your youthful exuberance is something I treasure, but such small possibilities are long gone for me. You think in terms of lifetimes; in terms of small accomplishments and human pleasures. I have thought out for thousands of years my designs for the world that is now mine. And the evidence is overwhelming that I must proceed as I have done. I cannot turn this earth into a garden, I cannot create the Eden of human imagination—unless I eliminate the males almost completely.”

“And by this you mean kill forty percent of the population of the earth? Ninety percent of all males?”

“Do you deny that this will put an end to war, to rape, to violence?”

“But the point . . . ”

“No, answer my question. Do you deny that it will put an end to war, to rape, and to violence?”

“Killing everyone would put an end to those things!” “Don’t play games with me. Answer my question.”

“Isn’t that a game? The price is unacceptable. It’s madness; it’s

mass murder, it’s against nature.”

“Quiet yourself. None of what you say is true. What is natural is simply what has been done. And don’t you think the peoples of this earth have limited in the past their female children? Don’t you think they have killed them by the millions, because they wanted only male children so that those children could go to war? Oh, you cannot imagine the extent to which such things have been done.

“And so now they will choose female over male and there will be no war. And what of the other crimes committed by men against women? If there were any nation on earth which had committed such crimes against another nation, would it not be marked for extermination? And yet nightly, daily, throughout this earth these crimes are perpetrated without end.”

“All right, that’s true. Undoubtedly that’s true. But is your solution any better? It’s unspeakable, the slaughter of all things male. Surely if you want to rule—” But even this to me was unthinkable. I thought of Marius’s old words, spoken long ago to me when we existed still in the age of powdered wigs and satin slippers

—that the old religion, Christianity, was dying, and maybe no new religion would rise:

“Maybe something more wonderful will take place,” Marius had said, “the world will truly move forward, past all gods and goddesses, past all devils and angels . . . ”

Wasn’t that the destiny Of this world, really? The destiny to which it was moving without our intervention?

“Ah, you are a dreamer, my beautiful one,” she said harshly. “How you pick and choose your illusions! Look to the eastern countries, where the desert tribes, now rich on the oil they have pulled up from beneath the sands, kill each other by the thousands in the name of Allah, their god! Religion is not dead on this earth; it never will be. You and Marius, what chess players you are; your ideas are nothing but chess pieces. And you cannot see beyond the board on which you place them in this or that pattern as suits your small ethical souls.”

“You’re wrong,” I said angrily. “Not about us perhaps. We don’t matter. You’re wrong in all this that you’ve begun. You’re wrong.”

“No, I am not wrong,” she said. “And there is no one who can stop me, male or female. And we shall see for the first time since

man lifted the club to strike down his brother, the world that women would make and what women have to teach men. And only when men can be taught, will they be allowed to run free among women again!”

“There must be some other way! Ye gods, I’m a flawed thing, a weak thing, a thing no better than most of the men who’ve ever lived. I can’t argue for their lives now. I couldn’t defend my own. But, Akasha, for the love of all things living, I’m begging you to turn away from this, this wholesale murder—”

“You speak to me of murder? Tell me the value of one human life, Lestat. Is it not infinite? And how many have you sent to the grave? We have blood on our hands, all of us, just as we have it in our veins.”

“Yes, exactly. And we are not all wise and all knowing. I’m begging you to stop, to consider . . . Akasha, surely Marius—”

“Marius!” Softly she laughed. “What did Marius teach you? What did he give you? Really give you!”

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. And her beauty was confusing me! So confusing to see the roundness of her arms; the tiny dimple in her cheek.

“My darling,” she said, her face suddenly tender and soft as her voice was. “Bring to mind your vision of the Savage Garden, in which aesthetic principles are the only enduring principles—the laws that govern the evolution of all things large and small, of colors and patterns in glorious profusion, and beauty! Beauty everywhere one looks. That is nature. And death is everywhere in it.

“And what I shall make is Eden, the Eden all long for, and it shall be better than nature! It shall take things a step further; and the utter abusive and amoral violence of nature shall be redeemed. Don’t you understand that men will never do more than dream of peace? But women can realize that dream? My vision is amplified in the heart of every woman. But it cannot survive the heat of male violence! And that heat is so terrible that the earth itself may not survive.”

“What if there’s something you don’t understand,” I said. I was struggling, grasping for the words. “Suppose the duality of masculine and feminine is indispensable to the human animal.

Suppose the women want the men; suppose they rise against you and seek to protect the men. The world is not this little brutal island! All women are not peasants blinded by visions!”

“Do you think men are what women want?” she asked. She drew closer, her face changing imperceptibly in the play of the light. “Is that what you’re saying? If it is so, then we shall spare a few more of the men, and keep them where they may be looked at as the women looked at you, and touched as the women touched you. We’ll keep them where the women may have them when they want them, and I assure you they shall not be used as women have been used by men.”

I sighed. It was useless to argue. She was absolutely right and absolutely wrong.

“You do yourself an injustice,” she said. “I know your arguments. For centuries I have pondered them, as I’ve pondered so many questions. You think I do what I do with human limitations. I do not. To understand me, you must think in terms of abilities yet unimagined. Sooner will you understand the mystery of splitting atoms or of black holes in space.”

“There has to be a way without death. There has to be a way that triumphs over death.”

“Now that, my beauty, is truly against nature,” she said. “Even I cannot put an end to death.” She paused; she seemed suddenly distracted; or rather deeply distressed by the words she’d just spoken. “An end to death,” she whispered. It seemed some personal sorrow had intruded on her thoughts. “An end to death,” she said again. But she was drifting away from me. I watched her close her eyes, and lift her fingers to her temples.

She was hearing the voices again; letting them come. Or maybe even unable to stop them for a moment. She said some words in an ancient tongue, and I didn’t understand them. I was struck by her sudden seeming vulnerability, the way the voices seemed to be cutting her off; the way her eyes appeared to search the room and then to fix on me and brighten.

I was speechless and overwhelmed with sadness. How small had my visions of power always been! To vanquish a mere handful of enemies, to be seen and loved by mortals as an image; to find some place in the great drama of things which was infinitely larger than I

was, a drama whose study could occupy the mind of one being for a thousand years. And we stood outside time suddenly; outside of justice; capable of collapsing whole systems of thought. Or was it just an illusion? How many others had reached for such power, in one form or another?

“They were not immortals, my beloved.” It was almost an entreaty.

“But it’s an accident that we are,” I said. “We’re things that never should have come into existence.”

“Don’t speak those words!” “I can’t help it.”

“It doesn’t matter now. You fail to grasp how little anything matters. I give you no sublime reason for what I do because the reasons are simple and practical; how we came into being is irrelevant. What matters is that we have survived. Don’t you see? That is the utter beauty of it, the beauty out of which all other beauties will be born, that we have survived.”

I shook my head. I was in a panic. I saw again the museum that the villagers on this island had only just burnt. I saw the statues blackened and lying on the floor. An appalling sense of loss engulfed me.

“History does not matter,” she said. “Art does not matter; these things imply continuities which in fact do not exist. They cater to our need for pattern, our hunger for meaning. But they cheat us in the end. We must make the meaning.”

I turned my back. I didn’t want to be drugged by her resolution or her beauty; by the glimmer of light in her jet black eyes. I felt her hands on my shoulders; her lips against my neck.

“When the years have passed,” she said, “when my garden has bloomed through many summers and gone to sleep through many winters; when the old ways of rape and war are nothing but memory, and women watch the old films in mystification that such things could ever have been done; when the ways of women are inculcated into every member of the population, naturally, as aggression is now inculcated, then perhaps the males can return. Slowly, their numbers can be increased. Children will be reared in an atmosphere where rape is unthinkable, where war is

unimaginable. And then . . . then . . . there can be men. When the world is ready for them.”

“It won’t work. It can’t work.”

“Why do you say so? Let us look to nature, as you wanted to do only moments ago. Go out in the lush garden that surrounds this villa; study the bees in their hives and the ants who labor as they have always done. They are female, my prince, by the millions. A male is only an aberration and a matter of function. They learned the wise trick a long time before me of limiting the males.

“And we may now live in an age where males are utterly unnecessary. Tell me, my prince, what is the primary use of men now, if it is not to protect women from other men?”

“What is it that makes you want me here!” I said desperately. I turned around to face her again. “Why have you chosen me as your consort! For the love of heaven, why don’t you kill me with the other men! Choose some other immortal, some ancient being who hungers for such power! There must be one. I don’t want to rule the world! I don’t want to rule anything! I never did.”

Her face changed just a little. It seemed there was a faint, evanescent sadness in her that made her eyes even deeper in their darkness for an instant. Her lip quivered as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t. Then she did answer.

“Lestat, if all the world were destroyed, I would not destroy you,” she said. “Your limitations are as radiant as your virtues for reasons I don’t understand myself. But more truly perhaps, I love you because you are so perfectly what is wrong with all things male. Aggressive, full of hate and recklessness, and endlessly eloquent excuses for violence—you are the essence of masculinity; and there is a gorgeous quality to such purity. But only because it can now be controlled.”

“By you.”

“Yes, my darling. This is what I was born for. This is why I am here. And it does not matter if no one ratifies my purpose. I shall make it so. Right now the world burns with masculine fire; it is a conflagration. But when that is corrected, your fire shall burn ever more brightly—as a torch burns.”

“Akasha, you prove my point! Don’t you think the souls of

women crave that very fire? My God, would you tamper with the stars themselves?”

“Yes, the soul craves it. But to see it in the blaze of a torch as I have indicated, or in the flame of a candle. But not as it rages now through every forest and over every mountain and in every glen. There is no woman alive who has ever wanted to be burnt by it! They want the light, my beauty, the light! And the warmth! But not the destruction. How could they? They are only women. They are not mad.”

“All right. Say you accomplish your purpose. That you begin this revolution and it sweeps the world—and mind you I don’t think such a thing will happen! But if you do, is there nothing under heaven that will demand atonement for the death of so many millions? If there are no gods or goddesses, is there not some way in which humans themselves—and you and I—shall be made to pay?”

“It is the gateway to innocence and so it shall be remembered. And never again will the male population be allowed to increase to such proportions, for who would want such horrors again?”

“Force the men to obey you. Dazzle them as you’ve dazzled the women, as you’ve dazzled me.”

“But Lestat, that is just the point; they would never obey. Will you obey? They would die first, as you would die. They would have another reason for rebellion, as if any were ever wanting. They would gather together in magnificent resistance. Imagine a goddess to fight. We shall see enough of that by and by as it is. They cannot help but be men. And I could rule only through tyranny, by endless killing. And there would be chaos. But this way, there shall be a break in the great chain of violence. There shall be an era of utter and perfect peace.”

I was quiet again. I could think of a thousand answers but they were all short-circuited. She knew her purpose only too well. And the truth was, she was right in many things she said.

Ah, but it was fantasy! A world without males. What exactly would have been accomplished? Oh, no. No, don’t even accept the idea for a moment. Don’t even. . . . Yet the vision returned, the vision I’d glimpsed in that miserable jungle village, of a world without fear.

Imagine trying to explain to them what men had been like.

Imagine trying to explain that there had been a time when one could be murdered in the streets of the cities; imagine trying to explain what rape meant to the male of the species . . . imagine. And I saw their eyes looking at me, the uncomprehending eyes as they tried to fathom it, tried to make that leap of understanding. I felt their soft hands touching me.

“But this is madness!” I whispered.

“Ah, but you fight me so hard, my prince,” she whispered. There was a flash of anger, hurt. She came near to me. If she kissed me again I was going to start weeping. I’d thought I knew what beauty was in women; but she’d surpassed all the language I had for it.

“My prince,” she said again in a low whisper. “The logic of it is elegant. A world in which only a handful of males are kept for breeding shall be a female world. And that world will be what we have never known in all our bloody miserable history, in which men now breed germs in vials with which to kill continents in chemical warfare, and design bombs which can knock the earth from its path around the sun.”

“What if the women divide along principles of masculine/feminine, the way men so often divide if there are no females there?”

“You know that’s a foolish objection. Such distinctions are never more than superficial. Women are women! Can you conceive of war made by women? Truly, answer me. Can you? Can you conceive of bands of roving women intent only on destruction? Or rape? Such a thing is preposterous. For the aberrant few justice will be immediate. But overall, something utterly unforeseen will take place. Don’t you see? The possibility of peace on earth has always existed, and there have always been people who could realize it, and preserve it, and those people are women. If one takes away the men.”

I sat down on the bed in consternation, like a mortal man. I put my elbows on my knees. Dear God, dear God! Why did those two words keep coming to me? There was no God! I was in the room with God.

She laughed triumphantly.

“Yes, precious one,” she said. She touched my hand and turned me around and drew me towards her. “But tell me, doesn’t it excite

you even a little?”

I looked at her. “What do you mean?”

“You, the impulsive one. You who made that child, Claudia, into a blood drinker, just to see what would happen?” There was mockery in her tone but it was affectionate. “Come now, don’t you want to see what will happen if all the males are gone? Aren’t you even a little curious? Reach into your soul for the truth. It is a very interesting idea, isn’t it?”

I didn’t answer. Then I shook my head. “No,” I said. “Coward,” she whispered.

No one had ever called me that, no one.

“Coward,” she said again. “Little being with little dreams.” “Maybe there would be no war and no rape and no violence,” I

said, “if all beings were little and had little dreams, as you put it.” She laughed softly. Forgivingly.

“We could argue these points forever,” she whispered. “But very soon we will know. The world will be as I would have it be; and we shall see what happens as I said.”

She sat beside me. For a moment it seemed I was losing my mind. She slipped her smooth naked arms around my neck. It seemed there had never been a softer female body, never anything as yielding and luscious as her embrace. Yet she was so hard, so strong.

The lights in the room were dimming. And the sky outside seemed ever more vivid and darkly blue.

“Akasha,” I whispered. I was looking beyond the open terrace at the stars. I wanted to say something, something crucial that would sweep away all arguments; but the meaning escaped me. I was so drowsy; surely it was her doing. It was a spell she was working, yet knowing it did not release me. I felt her lips again on my lips, and on my throat. I felt the cool satin of her skin.

“Yes, rest now, precious one. And when you wake, the victims will be waiting.”

“Victims. . . . ” Almost dreaming, as I held her in my arms.

“But you must sleep now. You are young still and fragile. My blood’s working on you, changing you, perfecting you.”

Yes, destroying me; destroying my heart and my will. I was vaguely conscious of moving, of lying down on the bed. I fell back into the silken pillows, and then there was the silk of her hair near me, the touch of her fingers, and again, her lips on my mouth. Blood in her kiss; blood thundering beneath it.

“Listen to the sea,” she whispered. “Listen to the flowers open. You can hear them now, you know. You can hear the tiny creatures of the sea if you listen. You can hear the dolphins sing, for they do.”

Drifting. Safe in her arms; she the powerful one; she was the one they all feared.

Forget the acrid smell of the burning bodies; yes, listen to the sea pounding like guns on the beach beneath us; listen to the sound of a rose petal breaking loose and falling onto marble. And the world is going to hell, and I cannot help it, and I am in her arms and I am going to sleep.

“Hasn’t that happened a million times, my love?” she whispered. “On a world full of suffering and death, you turned your back as millions of mortals do every night?”

Darkness. Splendid visions taking place; a palace even more lovely than this. Victims. Servants. The mythical existence of pashas, and emperors.

“Yes, my darling, anything that you desire. All the world at your feet. I shall build you palace upon palace; they shall do it; they that worship you. That is nothing. That is the simplest part of it. And think of the hunting, my prince. Until the killing is done, think of the chase. For they would surely run from you and hide from you, yet you would find them.”

In the dwindling light—just before dreams come—I could see it. I could see myself traveling through the air, like the heroes of old, over the sprawling country where their campfires flickered.

In packs like wolves they would travel, through the cities as well as the woods, daring to show themselves only by day; for only then would they be safe from us. When night fell, we would come; and we would track them by their thoughts and by their blood, and by the whispered confessions of the women who had seen them and maybe even harbored them. Out in the open they might run, firing their useless weapons. And we would swoop down; we would destroy them one by one, our prey, save for those we wanted alive,

those whose blood we would take slowly, mercilessly.

And out of that war shall come peace? Out of that hideous game shall come a garden?

I tried to open my eyes. I felt her kiss my eyelids. Dreaming.

A barren plain and the soil breaking. Something rising, pushing the dried clods of earth out of its way. I am this thing. This thing walking across the barren plain as the sun sinks. The sky is still full of light. I look down at the stained cloth that covers me, but this is not me. I’m only Lestat. And I’m afraid. I wish Gabrielle were here. And Louis. Maybe Louis could make her understand. Ah, Louis, of all of us, Louis who always knew. . . .

And there is the familiar dream again, the redheaded women kneeling by the altar with the body—their mother’s body and they are ready to consume it. Yes, it’s their duty, their sacred right—to devour the brain and the heart. Except that they never will because something awful always happens. Soldiers come. . . . I wish I knew the meaning.


I woke up with a start. Hours had passed. The room had cooled faintly. The sky was wondrously clear through the open windows. From her came all the light that filled the room.

“The women are waiting, and the victims, they are afraid.”

The victims. My head was spinning. The victims would be full of luscious blood. Males who would have died anyway. Young males all mine to take.

“Yes. But come, put an end to their suffering.”

Groggily I got up. She wrapped a long cloak over my shoulders, something simpler than her own garment, but warm and soft to touch. She stroked my hair with her two hands.

“Masculine—feminine. Is that all there ever was to it?” I whispered. My body wanted to sleep some more. But the blood.

She reached up and touched my cheek with her fingers. Tears again?

We went out of the room together, and onto a long landing with a

marble railing, from which a stairs descended, turning once, into an immense room. Candelabra everywhere. Dim electric lamps creating a luxurious gloom.

At the very center, the women were assembled, perhaps two hundred or more of them, standing motionless and looking up at us, their hands clasped as if in prayer.

Even in their silence, they seemed barbaric, amid the European furniture, the Italian hardwoods with their gilt edges, and the old fireplace with its marble scrolls. I thought of her words suddenly: “history doesn’t matter; art doesn’t matter.” Dizzy. On the walls, there ran those airy eighteenth-century paintings, full of gleaming clouds and fat-cheeked angels, and skies of luminescent blue.

The women stood looking past this wealth which had never touched them and indeed meant nothing to them, looking up at the vision on the landing, which now dissolved, and in a rush of whispered noise and colored light, materialized suddenly at the foot of the stairs.

Sighs rose, hands were raised to shield bowed heads as if from a blast of unwelcome light. Then all eyes were fixed upon the Queen of Heaven and her consort, who stood on the red carpet, only a few feet above the assembly, the consort a bit shaken and biting his lip a little and trying to see this thing clearly, this awful thing that was happening, this awful mingling of worship and blood sacrifice, as the victims were brought forth.

Such fine specimens. Dark-haired, dark-skinned, Mediterranean men. Every bit as beautiful as the young women. Men of that stocky build and exquisite musculature that has inspired artists for thousands of years. Ink black eyes and darkly shaved faces; and deep cunning; and deep anger as they looked upon these hostile supernatural creatures who had decreed the death of their brothers far and wide.

With leather straps they’d been bound—probably their own belts, and the belts of dozens of others; but the women had done it well. Their ankles were tethered even, so that they could walk but not kick or run. Naked to the waist they were, and only one was trembling, as much with anger as with fear. Suddenly he began to struggle. The other two turned, stared at him, and started to struggle as well.

But the mass of women closed on them, forcing them to their knees. I felt the desire rise in me at the sight of it, at the sight of leather belts cutting into the dark naked flesh of the men’s arms. Why is this so seductive! And the women’s hands holding them, those tight menacing hands that could be so soft otherwise. They couldn’t fight so many women. Heaving sighs, they stopped the rebellion, though the one who had started the struggle looked up, accusingly, at me.

Demons, devils, things from hell, that is what his mind told him; for who else could have done such things to his world? Oh, this is the beginning of darkness, terrible darkness!

But the desire was so strong. You are going to die and I am going to do it! And he seemed to hear it, and to understand it. And a savage hatred of the women rose out of him, replete with images of rape and retribution that made me smile, and yet I understood. Rather completely I understood. So easy to feel that contempt for them, to be outraged that they had dared to become the enemy, the enemy in the age-old battle, they, the women! And it was darkness, this imagined retribution, it was unspeakable darkness, too.

I felt Akasha’s fingers on my arm. The feeling of bliss came back; the delirium. I tried to resist it, but I felt it as before. Yet the desire didn’t go away. The desire was in my mouth now. I could taste it.

Yes, pass into the moment; pass into pure function; let the bloody sacrifice begin.

The women went down on their knees en masse, and the men who were already kneeling seemed to grow calm, their eyes glazing over as they looked at us, their lips trembling and loose.

I stared at the muscled shoulders of the first one, the one who had rebelled. I imagined as I always do at such moments the feel of his coarse rough-shaven throat when my lips would touch it, and my teeth would break through the skin—not the icy skin of the goddess—but hot, salty human skin.

Yes, beloved. Take him. He is the sacrifice that you deserve. You are a god now. Take him. Do you know how many wait for you?

It seemed the women understood what to do. They lifted him as I stepped forward; there was another struggle, but it was no more than a spasm in the muscles as I took him into my arms. My hand closed too hard on his head; I didn’t know my new strength, and I

heard the bones cracking even as my teeth went in. But the death came almost instantly, so great was my first draught of blood. I was burning with hunger, and the whole portion, complete and entire in one instant, had not been enough. Not nearly enough!

At once I took the next victim, trying to be slow with it, so that I would tumble into the darkness as I’d so often done, with only the soul speaking to me. Yes, telling me its secrets as the blood spurted into my mouth, as I let my mouth fill before I swallowed. Yes, brother. I am sorry, brother. And then staggering forward, I stepped on the corpse before me and crushed it underfoot.

“Give me the last one.”

No resistance. He stared up at me in utter quiet, as if some light had dawned in him, as if he’d found in theory or belief some perfect rescue. I pulled him to me—gently, Lestat—and this was the real fount I wanted, this was the slow, powerful death I craved, the heart pumping as if it would never stop, the sigh slipping from his lips, my eyes clouded still, even as I let him go, with the fading images of his brief and unrecorded life, suddenly collapsed into one rare second of meaning.

I let him drop. Now there was no meaning.

There was only the light before me, and the rapture of the women who had at last been redeemed through miracles.

The room was hushed; not a thing stirred; the sound of the sea came in, that distant monotonous booming.

Then Akasha’s voice:

The sins of the men have now been atoned for; and those who are kept now, shall be well cared for, and loved. But never give freedom to those who remain, those who have oppressed you.

And then soundlessly, without distinct words, the lesson came.

The ravening lust which they had just witnessed, the deaths they had seen at my hands—that was to be the eternal reminder of the fierceness that lived in all male things and must never be allowed free again. The males had been sacrificed to the embodiment of their own violence.

In sum, these women had witnessed a new and transcendent ritual; a new holy sacrifice of the Mass. And they would see it again; and they must always remember it.

My head swam from the paradox. And my own small designs of not very long ago were there to torment me. I had wanted the world of mortals to know of me. I had wanted to be the image of evil in the theater of the world and thereby somehow do good.

And now I was that image all right, I was its literal embodiment, passing through the minds of these few simple souls into myth as she had promised. And there was a small voice whispering in my ear, hammering me with that old adage: be careful what you wish for; your wish might come true.

Yes, that was the heart of it; all I’d ever wished for was coming true. In the shrine I had kissed her and longed to awaken her, and dreamt of her power; and now we stood together, she and I, and the hymns rose around us. Hosannas. Cries of joy.

The doors of the palazzo were thrown open.

And we were taking our leave; we were rising in splendor and in magic, and passing out of the doors, and up over the roof of the old mansion, and then out over the sparkling waters into the calm sweep of the stars.

I had no fear of falling anymore; I had no fear of anything so insignificant. Because my whole soul—petty as it was and always had been—knew fears I’d never imagined before.

SHE was dreaming of killing. It was a great dark city like London or Rome, and she was hurrying through it, on an errand of killing, to bring down the first sweet human victim

that would be her own. And just before she opened her eyes, she had made the leap from the things she had believed all her life, to this simple amoral act—killing. She had done what the reptile does when it hoists in its leathery slit of a mouth the tiny crying mouse that it will crush slowly without ever hearing that soft heartbreaking song.

Awake in the dark; and the house alive above her; the old ones saying Come. A television talking somewhere. The Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared on an island in the Mediterranean Sea.

No hunger. Maharet’s blood was too strong. The idea was growing, beckoning like a crone in a dark alley. Killing.

Rising from the narrow box in which she lay, she tiptoed through the blackness until her hands felt the metal door. She went into the hallway and looked up the endless iron stairs, crisscrossing back over itself as if it were a skeleton, and she saw the sky through the glass like smoke. Mael was halfway up, at the door of the house proper, gazing down at her.

She reeled with it—I am one of you and we are together—and the feel of the iron rail under her hand, and some sudden grief, just a fleeting thing, for all she had been before this fierce beauty had grabbed her by the hair.

Mael came down as if to retrieve her, because it was carrying her away.

They understood, didn’t they, the way the earth breathed for her now, and the forest sang, and the roots prowled the dark, coming through these earthen walls.

She stared at Mael. Faint smell of buckskin, dust. How had she ever thought such beings were human? Eyes glittering like that. And yet the time would come when she would be walking among

human beings again, and she would see their eyes linger and then suddenly move away. She’d be hurrying through some dark city like London or Rome. Looking into the eyes of Mael, she saw the crone again in the alleyway; but it had not been a literal image. No, she saw the alleyway, she saw the killing, purely. And in silence, they both looked away at the same instant, but not quickly, rather respectfully. He took her hand; he looked at the bracelet he’d given her. He kissed her suddenly on the cheek. And then he led her up the stairs towards the mountaintop room.

The electronic voice of the television grew louder and louder, speaking of mass hysteria in Sri Lanka. Women killing men. Even male babies murdered. On the island of Lynkonos there had been mass hallucinations and an epidemic of unexplained deaths.

Only gradually did it dawn on her, what she was hearing. So it wasn’t the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she had thought how lovely, when she first heard it, that they can believe something like that. She turned to Mael but he was looking ahead. He knew these things. The television had been playing its words to him for an hour.

Now she saw the eerie blue flicker as she came into the mountaintop room. And the strange spectacle of these her new brethren in the Secret Order of the Undead, scattered about like so many statues, glowing in the blue light, as they stared fixedly at the large screen.

“ . . . outbreaks in the past caused by contaminants in food or water. Yet no explanation has been found for the similarity of the reports from widely divergent places, which now include several isolated villages in the mountains of Nepal. Those apprehended claim to have seen a beautiful woman, called variously the Blessed Virgin, or the Queen of Heaven, or simply the Goddess, who commanded them to massacre the males of their village, except for a few carefully chosen to be spared. Some reports describe a male apparition also, a fair-haired deity who does not speak and who as yet has no official or unofficial title or name . . . ”

Jesse looked at Maharet, who watched without expression, one hand resting on the arm of her chair.

Newspapers covered the table. Papers in French and Hindustani as well as English.

“ . . . from Lynkonos to several other islands before the militia was called in. Early estimates indicate some two thousand men may have been killed in this little archipelago just off the tip of Greece.”

Maharet touched the small black control under her hand and the screen vanished. It seemed the entire apparatus vanished, fading into the dark wood, as the windows became transparent and the treetops appeared in endless, misted layers against the violent sky. Far away, Jesse saw the twinkling lights of Santa Rosa cradled in the dark hills. She could smell the sun that had been in this room; she could feel the heat rising slowly through the glass ceiling.

She looked at the others who were sitting there in stunned silence. Marius glared at the television screen, at the newspapers spread out before him.

“We have no time to lose,” Khayman said quickly to Maharet. “You must continue the tale. We don’t know when she will come here.”

He made a small gesture, and the scattered newspapers were suddenly cleared away, crushed together, and hurtling soundlessly into the fire which devoured them with a gust that sent a shower of sparks up the gaping smokestack.

Jesse was suddenly dizzy. Too fast, all of that. She stared at Khayman. Would she ever get used to it? Their porcelain faces and their sudden violent expressions, their soft human voices, and their near invisible movements?

And what was the Mother doing? Males slaughtered. The fabric of life for these ignorant people utterly destroyed. A cold sense of menace touched her. She searched Maharet’s face for some insight, some understanding.

But Maharet’s features were utterly rigid. She had not answered Khayman. She turned towards the table slowly and clasped her hands under her chin. Her eyes were dull, remote, as if she saw nothing before her.

“The fact is, she has to be destroyed,” Marius said, as if he could hold it in no longer. The color flared in his cheeks, shocking Jesse, because all the normal lines of a man’s face had been there for an instant. And now they were gone, and he was visibly shaking with anger. “We’ve loosed a monster, and it’s up to us to reclaim it.”

“And how can that be done?” Santino asked. “You speak as if it’s a simple matter of decision. You cannot kill her!”

“We forfeit our lives, that’s how it’s done,” Marius said. “We act in concert, and we end this thing once and for all as it should have been ended long ago.” He glanced at them all one by one, eyes lingering on Jesse. Then shifting to Maharet. “The body isn’t indestructible. It isn’t made of marble. It can be pierced, cut. I’ve pierced it with my teeth. I’ve drunk its blood!”

Maharet made a small dismissive gesture, as if to say I know these things and you know I know.

“And as we cut it, we cut ourselves?” Eric said. “I say we leave here. I say we hide from her. What do we gain staying in this place?”

“No!” Maharet said.

“She’ll kill you one by one if you do that,” Khayman said. “You’re alive because you wait now for her purpose.”

“Would you go on with the story,” Gabrielle said, speaking directly to Maharet. She’d been withdrawn all this time, only now and then listening to the others. “I want to know the rest,” she said. “I want to hear everything.” She sat forward, arms folded on the table.

“You think you’ll discover some way to vanquish her in these old tales?” Eric asked. “You’re mad if you think that.”

“Go on with the story, please,” Louis said. “I want to . . . ” He hesitated. “I want to know what happened also.”

Maharet looked at him for a long moment.

“Go on, Maharet,” Khayman said. “For in all likelihood, the Mother will be destroyed and we both know how and why, and all this talk means nothing.”

“What can prophecy mean now, Khayman?” Maharet asked, her voice low, devitalized. “Do we fall into the same errors that ensnare the Mother? The past may instruct us. But it won’t save us.”

“Your sister comes, Maharet. She comes as she said she would.” “Khayman,” Maharet said with a long, bitter smile.

“Tell us what happened,” Gabrielle said.

Maharet sat still, as if trying to find some way to begin. The sky

beyond the windows darkened in the interval. Yet a faint tinge of red appeared in the far west, growing brighter and brighter against the gray clouds. Finally, it faded, and they were wrapped in absolute darkness, except for the light of the fire, and the dull sheen of the glass walls which had become mirrors.

“Khayman took you to Egypt,” Gabrielle said. “What did you see there?”

“Yes, he took us to Egypt,” Maharet said. She sighed as she sat back in the chair, her eyes fixed on the table before her. “There was no escape from it; Khayman would have taken us by force. And in truth, we accepted that we had to go. Through twenty generations, we had gone between man and the spirits. If Amel had done some great evil, we would try to undo it. Or at least . . . as I said to you when we first came to this table . . . we would seek to understand.

“I left my child. I left her in the care of those women I trusted most. I kissed her. I told her secrets. And then I left her, and we set out, carried in the royal litter as if we were guests of the King and Queen of Kemet and not prisoners, just as before.

“Khayman was gentle with us on the long march, but grim and silent, and refusing to meet our gaze. And it was just as well, for we had not forgotten our injuries. Then on the very last night when we camped on the banks of the great river, which we would cross in the morning to reach the royal palace, Khayman called us into his tent and told us all that he knew.

“His manner was courteous, decorous. And we tried to put aside our personal suspicions of him as we listened. He told us of what the demon—as he called it—had done.

“Only hours after we had been sent out of Egypt, he had known that something was watching him, some dark and evil force. Everywhere that he went, he felt this presence, though in the light of day it tended to wane.

“Then things within his house were altered—little things which others did not notice. He thought at first he was going mad. His writing things were misplaced; then the seal which he used as great steward. Then at random moments—and always when he was alone

—these objects came flying at him, striking him in the face, or landing at his feet. Some turned up in ridiculous places. He would find the great seal, for instance, in his beer or his broth.

“And he dared not tell the King and Queen. He knew it was our spirits who were doing it; and to tell would be a death sentence for us.

“And so he kept this awful secret, as things grew worse and worse. Ornaments which he had treasured from childhood were now rent to pieces and made to rain down upon him. Sacred amulets were hurled into the privy; excrement was taken from the well and smeared upon the walls.

“He could barely endure his own house, yet he admonished his slaves to tell no one, and when they ran off in fear, he attended to his own toilet and swept the place like a lowly servant himself.

“But he was now in a state of terror. Something was there with him in his house. He could hear its breath upon his face. And now and then he would swear that he felt its needlelike teeth.

“At last in desperation he began to talk to it, beg it to get out. But this seemed only to increase its strength. With the talking, it redoubled its power. It emptied his purse upon the stones and made the gold coins jingle against each other all night long. It upset his bed so that he landed on his face on the floor. It put sand in his food when he wasn’t looking.

“Finally six months had passed since we had left the kingdom. He was growing frantic. Perhaps we were beyond danger. But he could not be sure, and he did not know where to turn, for the spirit was really frightening him.

“Then in the dead of night, as he lay wondering what the thing was up to, for it had been so quiet, he heard suddenly a great pounding at his door. He was in terror. He knew he shouldn’t answer, that the knocking didn’t come from a human hand. But finally he could bear it no longer. He said his prayers; he threw open the door. And what he beheld was the horror of horrors—the rotted mummy of his father, the filthy wrappings in tatters, propped against the garden wall.

“Of course, he knew there was no life in the shrunken face or dead eyes that stared at him. Someone or something had unearthed the corpse from its desert mastaba and brought it there. And this was the body of his father, putrid, stinking; the body of his father, which by all things holy, should have been consumed in a proper funeral feast by Khayman and his brothers and sisters.

“Khayman sank to his knees weeping, half screaming. And then, before his unbelieving eyes, the thing moved! The thing began to dance! Its limbs were jerked hither and thither, the wrappings breaking to bits and pieces, until Khayman ran into the house and shut the door against it. And then the corpse was flung, pounding its fist it seemed, upon the door, demanding entrance.

“Khayman called on all the gods of Egypt to be rid of this monstrosity. He called out to the palace guards; he called to the soldiers of the King. He cursed the demon thing and ordered it to leave him; and Khayman became the one flinging objects now, and kicking the gold coins about in his rage.

“All the palace rushed through the royal gardens to Khayman’s house. But the demon now seemed to grow even stronger. The shutters rattled and then were torn from their pivots. The few bits of fine furniture which Khayman possessed began to skitter about.

“Yet this was only the beginning. At dawn when the priests entered the house to exorcise the demon, a great wind came out of the desert, carrying with it torrents of blinding sand. And everywhere Khayman went, the wind pursued him; and finally he looked down to see his arms covered with tiny pinpricks and tiny droplets of blood. Even his eyelids were assaulted. In a cabinet he flung himself to get some peace. And the thing tore up the cabinet. And all fled from it. And Khayman was left crying on the floor.

“For days the tempest continued. The more the priests prayed and sang, the more the demon raged.

“The King and Queen were beside themselves in consternation. The priests cursed the demon. The people blamed it upon the red-haired witches. They cried that we should never have been allowed to leave the land of Kemet. We should be found at all costs and brought back to be burnt alive. And then the demon would be quiet.

“But the old families did not agree with this verdict. To them the judgment was clear. Had not the gods unearthed the putrid body of Khayman’s father, to show that the flesh eaters had always done what was pleasing to heaven? No, it was the King and Queen who were evil, the King and Queen who must die. The King and Queen who had filled the land with mummies and superstition.

“The kingdom, finally, was on the verge of civil war.

“At last the King himself came to Khayman, who sat weeping in

his house, a garment drawn over him like a shroud. And the King talked to the demon, even as the tiny bites afflicted Khayman and made drops of blood on the cloth that covered Khayman.

“ ‘Now think what those witches told us,’ the King said. ‘These are but spirits; not demons. And they can be reasoned with. If only I could make them hear me as the witches could; and make them answer.’

“But this little conversation only seemed to enrage the demon. It broke what little furniture it had not already smashed. It tore the door off its pivots; it uprooted the trees from the garden and flung them about. In fact, it seemed to forget Khayman altogether for the moment, as it went tearing through the palace gardens destroying all that it could.

“And the King went after it, begging it to recognize him and to converse with him, and to impart to him its secrets. He stood in the very midst of the whirlwind created by this demon, fearless and enrapt.

“Finally the Queen appeared. In a loud piercing voice she addressed the demon too. ‘You punish us for the affliction of the red-haired sisters!’ she screamed. ‘But why do you not serve us instead of them!’ At once the demon tore at her clothes and greatly afflicted her, as it had done to Khayman before. She tried to cover her arms and her face, but it was impossible. And so the King took hold of her and together they ran back to Khayman’s house.

“ ‘Now, go,’ said the King to Khayman. ‘Leave us alone with this thing for I will learn from it, I will understand what it wants.’ And calling the priests to him, he told them through the whirlwind what we had said, that the spirit hated mankind because we were both spirit and flesh. But he would ensnare it and reform it and control it. For he was Enkil, King of Kemet, and he could do this thing.

“Into Khayman’s house, the King and the Queen went together, and the demon went with them, tearing the place to pieces, yet there they remained. Khayman, who was now free of the thing, lay on the floor of the palace exhausted, fearing for his sovereigns but not knowing what to do.

“The entire court was in an uproar; men fought one another; women wept, and some even left the palace for fear of what was to come.

“For two whole nights and days, the King remained with the demon; and so did the Queen. And then the old families, the flesh eaters, gathered outside the house. The King and Queen were in error, it was time to seize the future of Kemet. At nightfall, they went into the house on their deadly errand with daggers raised. They would kill the King and Queen; and if the people raised any outcry, then they would say that the demon had done it; and who could say that the demon had not? And would not the demon stop when the King and Queen were dead, the King and Queen who had persecuted the red-haired witches?

“It was the Queen who saw them coming; and as she rushed forward, crying in alarm, they thrust their daggers into her breast and she sank down dying. The King ran to her aid, and they struck him down too, just as mercilessly; and then they ran out of the house, for the demon had not stopped his persecutions.

“Now Khayman, all this while, had knelt at the very edge of the garden, deserted by the guards who had thrown in with the flesh eaters. He expected to die with other servants of the royal family. Then he heard a horrid wailing from the Queen. Sounds such as he had never heard before. And when the flesh eaters heard these sounds, they deserted the place utterly.

“It was Khayman, loyal steward to the King and Queen, who snatched up a torch and went to the aid of his master and mistress.

“No one tried to stop him. All crept away in fear. Khayman alone went into the house.

“It was pitch-black now, save for the torchlight. And this is what Khayman saw:

“The Queen lay on the floor writhing as if in agony, the blood pouring from her wounds, and a great reddish cloud enveloped her; it was like a whirlpool surrounding her, or rather a wind sweeping up countless tiny drops of blood. And in the midst of this swirling wind or rain or whatever it could be called, the Queen twisted and turned, her eyes rolling up in her head. The King lay sprawled on his back.

“All instinct told Khayman to leave this place. To get as far away from it as he could. At that moment, he wanted to leave his homeland forever. But this was his Queen, who lay there gasping for breath, her back arched, her hands clawing at the floor.

“Then the great blood cloud that veiled her, swelling and contracting around her, grew denser and, all of a sudden, as if drawn into her wounds, disappeared. The Queen’s body went still; then slowly she sat upright, her eyes staring forward, and a great guttural cry broke from her before she fell quiet.

“There was no sound whatsoever as the Queen stared at Khayman, except for the crackling of the torch. And then hoarsely the Queen began to gasp again, her eyes widening, and it seemed she should die; but she did not. She shielded her eyes from the bright light of the torch as though it was hurting her, and she turned and saw her husband lying as if dead at her side.

“She cried a negation in her agony; it could not be so. And at the same instant, Khayman beheld that all her wounds were healing; deep gashes were no more than scratches upon the surface of her skin.

“ ‘Your Highness!’ he said. And he came towards her as she crouched weeping and staring at her own arms, which had been torn with the slashes of the daggers, and at her own breasts, which were whole again. She was whimpering piteously as she looked at these healing wounds. And suddenly with her long nails, she tore at her own skin and the blood gushed out and yet the wound healed!

“ ‘Khayman, my Khayman!’ she screamed, covering her eyes so that she did not see the bright torch. ‘What has befallen me!’ And her screams grew louder and louder; and she fell upon the King in panic, crying, ‘Enkil, help me. Enkil, do not die!’ and all the other mad things that one cries in the midst of disaster. And then as she stared down at the King, a great ghastly change came over her, and she lunged at the King, as if she were a hungry beast, and with her long tongue, she lapped at the blood that covered his throat and his chest.

“Khayman had never seen such a spectacle. She was a lioness in the desert lapping the blood from a tender kill. Her back was bowed, and her knees were drawn up, and she pulled the helpless body of the King towards her and bit the artery in his throat.

“Khayman dropped the torch. He backed halfway from the open door. Yet even as he meant to run for his life, he heard the King’s voice. Softly the King spoke to her. ‘Akasha,’ he said. ‘My Queen.’ And she, drawing up, shivering, weeping, stared at her own body,

and at his body, at her smooth flesh, and his torn still by so many wounds. ‘Khayman,’ she cried. ‘Your dagger. Give it to me. For they have taken their weapons with them. Your dagger. I must have it now.’

“At once Khayman obeyed, though he thought it was to see his King die once and for all. But with the dagger the Queen cut her own wrists and watched the blood pour down upon the wounds of her husband, and she saw it heal them. And crying out in her excitement, she smeared the blood all over his torn face.

“The King’s wounds healed. Khayman saw it. Khayman saw the great gashes closing. He saw the King tossing, heaving his arms this way and that. His tongue lapped at Akasha’s spilt blood as it ran down his face. And then rising in that same animal posture that had so consumed the Queen only moments before, the King embraced his wife, and opened his mouth on her throat.

“Khayman had seen enough. In the flickering light of the dying torch these two pale figures had become haunts to him, demons themselves. He backed out of the little house and up against the garden wall. And there it seems he lost consciousness, feeling the grass against his face as he collapsed.

“When he waked, he found himself lying on a gilded couch in the Queen’s chambers. All the palace lay quiet. He saw that his clothes had been changed, and his face and hands bathed, and that there was only the dimmest light here and sweet incense, and the doors were open to the garden as if there was nothing to fear.

“Then in the shadows, he saw the King and the Queen looking down at him; only this was not his King and not his Queen. It seemed then that he would cry out; he would give voice to screams as terrible as those he had heard from others; but the Queen quieted him.

“ ‘Khayman, my Khayman,’ she said. She handed to him his beautiful gold-handled dagger. ‘You have served us well.’

“There Khayman paused in his story. ‘Tomorrow night,’ he said, ‘when the sun sets, you will see for yourselves what has happened. For then and only then, when all the light is gone from the western sky, will they appear together in the rooms of the palace, and you will see what I have seen.’

“ ‘But why only in the night?’ I asked him. ‘What is the

significance of this?’

“And then he told us, that not one hour after he’d waked, even before the sun had risen, they had begun to shrink from the open doors of the palace, to cry that the light hurt their eyes. Already they had fled from torches and lamps; and now it seemed the morning was coming after them; and there was no place in the palace that they could hide.

“In stealth they left the palace, covered in garments. They ran with a speed no human being could match. They ran towards the mastabas or tombs of the old families, those who had been forced with pomp and ceremony to make mummies of their dead. In sum, to the sacred places which no one would desecrate, they ran so fast that Khayman could not follow them. Yet once the King stopped. To the sun god, Ra, he called out for mercy. Then weeping, hiding their eyes from the sun, crying as if the sun burnt them even though its light had barely come into the sky, the King and the Queen disappeared from Khayman’s sight.

“ ‘Not a day since have they appeared before sunset; they come down out of the sacred cemetery, though no one knows from where. In fact the people now wait for them in a great multitude, hailing them as the god and the goddess, the very image of Osiris and Isis, deities of the moon, and tossing flowers before them, and bowing down to them.

“ ‘For the tale spread far and wide that the King and Queen had vanquished death at the hands of their enemies by some celestial power; that they are gods, immortal and invincible; and that by that same power they can see into men’s hearts. No secret can be kept from them; their enemies are immediately punished; they can hear the words one speaks only in one’s head. All fear them.

“ ‘Yet I know as all their faithful servants know that they cannot bear a candle or a lamp too close to them; that they shriek at the bright light of a torch; and that when they execute their enemies in secret, they drink their blood! They drink it, I tell you. Like jungle cats, they feed upon these victims; and the room after is as a lion’s den. And it is I, Khayman, their trusted steward, who must gather these bodies and heave them into the pit.’ And then Khayman stopped and gave way to weeping.

“But the tale was finished; and it was almost morning. The sun

was rising over the eastern mountains; we made ready to cross the mighty Nile. The desert was warming; Khayman walked to the edge of the river as the first barge of soldiers went across. He was weeping still as he saw the sun come down upon the river; saw the water catch fire.

“ ‘The sun god, Ra, is the oldest and greatest god of all Kemet,’ he whispered. ‘And this god has turned against them. Why? In secret they weep over their fate; the thirst maddens them; they are frightened it will become more than they can bear. You must save them. You must do it for our people. They have not sent for you to blame you or harm you. They need you. You are powerful witches. Make this spirit undo his work.’ And then looking at us, remembering all that had befallen us, he gave way to despair.

“Mekare and I made no answer. The barge was now ready to carry us to the palace. And we stared across the glare of the water at the great collection of painted buildings that was the royal city, and we wondered what the consequences of this horror would finally be.

“As I stepped down upon the barge, I thought of my child, and I knew suddenly I should die in Kemet. I wanted to close my eyes, and ask the spirits in a small secret voice if this was truly meant to happen, yet I did not dare. I could not have my last hope taken from me.”

MAHARET tensed.

Jesse saw her shoulders straighten; saw the fingers of her right hand move against the wood, curling and then opening again, the gold nails gleaming in the firelight.

“I do not want you to be afraid,” she said, her voice slipping into monotone. “But you should know that the Mother has crossed the great eastern sea. She and Lestat are closer now . . . ”

Jesse felt the current of alarm passing through all those at the table. Maharet remained rigid, listening, or perhaps seeing; the pupils of her eyes moving only slightly.

“Lestat calls,” Maharet said. “But it is too faint for me to hear words; too faint for pictures. He is not harmed, however; that much I know, and that I have little time now to finish this story ”

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