Prince Lestat. (A taste of things to come)

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Prince Lestat. (A taste of things to come)

Post by Lestat on Sat Nov 15, 2014 9:19 pm





The Voice


YEARS AGO, I heard him. He’d been babbling.

It was after Queen Akasha had been destroyed and the mute red-haired twin, Mekare, had become “the Queen of the Damned.” I’d witnessed all that—the brutal death of Akasha in the moment when we all thought we would die, too, along with her.

It was after I’d switched bodies with a mortal man and come back into my own powerful vampiric body—having rejected the old dream of being human again.

It was after I’d been to Heaven and Hell with a spirit called Memnoch, and come back to Earth a wounded explorer with no appetite anymore for knowledge, truth, beauty.

Defeated, I’d lain for years on the floor of a chapel in New Orleans in an old convent building, oblivious to the ever-shifting crowd of immortals around me—hearing them, wanting to respond, yet somehow never managing to meet a glance, answer a question, acknowledge a kiss or a whisper of affection.

And that’s when I first heard the Voice. Masculine, insistent, inside my brain.

Babbling, like I said. And I thought, Well, perhaps we blood drinkers can go mad like mortals, you know, and this is some artifact of my warped mind. Or maybe he is some massively crippled ancient one, slumbering somewhere nearby, and somehow I, telepathically, get to share in his misery.

There are physical limits to telepathy in our world. Of course. But then voices, pleas, messages, thoughts, can be relayed through other minds, and conceivably, this poor slob could be mumbling to himself on the other side of the planet.

As I said, he had babbled, mixing languages, ancient and modern, sometimes stringing a whole sentence out in Latin or Greek, and then lapsing into repetitions of modern voices … phrases from films and even songs. Over and over he begged for help, rather like the tiny human-headed fly at the end of the B-movie masterpiece, Help me, help me, as if he too were caught in a spiderweb and a giant spider were closing in on him. Okay, okay, what can I do, I’d ask, and he was quick to respond. Near at hand? Or just the best relay system in the Undead world?

“Hear me, come to me.” And he’d say that over and over again, night after night, until it was noise.

I have always been able to tune him out. No problem. Either you learn to tune out telepathic voices when you are a vampire or you go straight out of your mind. I can tune out the cries of the living just as easily. Have to. No other way to survive. Even the very ancient ones can tune out the voices. I’ve been in the Blood for over two hundred years. They’ve been in the Blood for six millennia.

Sometimes he simply went away.

Around the early years of the twenty-first century he began to speak in English.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you like it,” he said in that crisp masculine tone of his. Laughter. His laughter. “Everybody likes English. You must come to me when I call you,” he said. Then he was babbling again, in a mélange of languages, all about blindness, suffocation, paralysis, helplessness. And it devolved into “Help me” again with snatches of poetry in Latin and Greek and French and English.

This is interesting for maybe three-quarters of an hour. After that, it’s repetitious and a nuisance.

Of course I did not even bother to say no.

At one point, he cried out “Beauty!” and babbled on incessantly, always getting back to “Beauty!” and always with an exclamation point I could feel like the jab of a finger against my temple.

“Okay, ‘beauty,’ so what?” I asked. He moaned, wept, went into dizzying incoherent reverie. I tuned him out for a year, I think. But I could feel him rumbling under the surface, and then two years after that—it might have been—he started addressing me by name.

“Lestat, you, Brat Prince!”

“Oh, get off it.”

“No, you, Brat Prince, my prince, boy oh boy, Lestat.…” Then he ran those words through ten modern languages and six or seven ancient ones. I was impressed.

“So tell me who you are, or else,” I said glumly. I had to confess when I was extremely lonely, I was happy to have him around.

And that was not a good year for me. I was wandering aimlessly. I was sick of things. I was furious with myself that the “beauty” of life wasn’t sustaining me, wasn’t making my loneliness bearable. I was wandering at night in jungles and in forests with my hands up to touch the leaves of the low branches, crying to myself, doing a lot of babbling of my own. I wandered through Central America visiting Maya ruins, and went deep down into Egypt to walk in the desert wastes and see the ancient drawings on the rocks on the way to the ports of the Red Sea.

Young maverick vampires kept invading the cities where I roamed—Cairo, Jerusalem, Mumbai, Honolulu, San Francisco—and I grew weary of disciplining them, punishing them for slaughtering the innocent in their misbegotten hunger. They’d get caught, thrown into human jails where they’d burn up when dawn came. Occasionally they’d fall into the hands of actual forensic scientists. Bloody nuisance.

Nothing ever came of it. But more on that later.

The mavericks multiplying everywhere were causing trouble for one another, and their gang fights and brawls have made life ugly for the rest of us. And they think nothing of trying to burn with fire or decapitate any other blood drinker who gets in their way.

It is chaos.

But who am I to police these preternatural nincompoops?

When have I ever been on the side of law and order? I’m supposed to be the rebellious one, l’enfant terrible. So I let them drive me away out of the cities, and even from New Orleans, I let them drive me away. My beloved Louis de Pointe du Lac left soon after, and from that time on lived in New York with Armand.

Armand keeps the island of Manhattan safe for them—Louis, Armand, and two young blood drinkers, Benjamin and Sybelle, and whoever else joins them in their palatial digs on the Upper East Side.

No surprises there. Armand has always been skilled at destroying those who offend him. He was after all for hundreds of years the coven master of the old Children of Satan in Paris, and he’d burn to ashes any blood drinker who didn’t obey the vicious old rules of those miserable religious fanatics. He’s autocratic, ruthless. Well, he can have that mission.

But let me add here that Armand isn’t the moral cipher I once thought he was. So much of what I thought about us, our minds, our souls, our moral evolution or devolution, was just wrong in the books I wrote. Armand’s not without compassion, not without a heart. In many respects, he’s just coming into himself after five hundred years. And what do I really know about being immortal? I’ve been in the Blood since when, 1780? That’s not very long. Not very long at all.

I’ve been to New York, by the way, to spy on my old friends.

I’ve stood outside their gorgeous Upper East Side dwelling on warm nights, listening to the young vampire Sybelle play the piano and Benjamin and Armand talking by the hour.

Such impressive dwellings—three townhouses attached to one another and made into one grand palazzo, each with its own Grecian portico and front steps and little decorative iron fencing. Only the central entrance was used, with the bronze name in script above the door: TRINITY GATE.

Benji’s the vampire responsible for the radio talk show beaming out of New York night after night. In the first years, it was broadcast in the regular way, but now it’s internet radio and reaches the Undead all over the world. Benji’s clever in ways no one could have predicted—a Bedouin by birth, brought into the Blood at age twelve perhaps, so he’ll be five feet two inches tall and small forever. But he’s one of those immortal children whom mortals always take for a diminutive adult.

I can’t “hear” Louis when I’m spying, of course, since I made him, and makers and fledglings are deaf to each other, but my preternatural ears have never been better. Outside their house, I easily picked up his rich, soft voice and the images of Louis in the minds of the others. I could see the vividly colored baroque murals on their ceilings through the billowing lace curtains. Lots of blue there—blue skies with rich rolling gold-tinged clouds. Why not? And I could smell those crackling fires.

The townhouse complex was five stories, Belle Époque, and grand. Basements underneath and, high up there, an immense attic ballroom with a glass ceiling open to the stars. They’d made it into a palace, all right. Armand has always been good at that, drawing on unimaginable reserves to pave his stunning headquarters in marble and antique plank and to furnish the rooms with the finest designs ever produced. And he always made them secure.

The sad little icon painter from Russia, kidnapped and plunged into the West, had long ago embraced its humanist vision utterly. Marius, his maker, surely must have seen this with some satisfaction a long time ago.

I wanted to join them. Always do want to join them and never do. In fact, I marveled at the way they lived—slipping out in Rolls-Royce limousines to attend the opera, the symphony, the ballet, wandering the museum openings together, so well integrated into the human world around them, even inviting mortals to those gilded salons for wine and refreshments. Having mortal musicians in to play. How splendidly they passed for human. I marveled that I had ever lived that way, ever been able to do it with such finesse a century or more ago. I watched them with the eyes of a hungry ghost.

The Voice rumbled and bellowed and whispered whenever I was there, rolling their names around in a stew of invective and rumination and demand. One evening, the Voice said, “Beauty is what drove it, don’t you see? It was the mystery of Beauty.”

A year later, I was walking along the sands of South Beach in Miami when he broke that one on me again. For the moment, the mavericks and rogues had been leaving me alone. They were afraid of me, afraid of all the old ones. But not enough.

“Drove what, dear Voice?” I asked. I felt it was only fair to give him a few minutes before shutting him down.

“You cannot conceive of the magnitude of this mystery.” He spoke in a confidential whisper. “You cannot conceive of this complexity.” He was saying these words as if he’d just discovered them. He wept. I swear it. He wept.

It was an awful sound. I don’t glory in any being’s pain, not even the pain of my most sadistic enemies, and here was the Voice weeping.

I was hunting, thirsting though I didn’t need to drink, at the mercy of the craving, the deep agonizing lust for heated pumping human blood. I found a young victim, female, irresistible in her combination of filthy soul and gorgeous body, white throat so tender. I had her in the fragrant darkened bedroom of her own lodgings, lights of the city beyond the windows, having come over the roofs to find her, this pale woman with glorious brown eyes and walnut-shaded skin, black hair like the snakes of Medusa, naked between the white linen sheets, struggling against me as I sank my fangs right into the carotid artery. Too hungry for anything else. Give me the heartbeat. Give me the salt. Give me the Viaticum. Fill my mouth.

And then the blood erupted, roared. Don’t rush this! I was the victim suddenly laid waste as if by a phallic god, slammed by the rushing blood against the floor of the universe, the heart pounding, emptying the frail form it sought to protect. And lo, she was dead. Oh, too soon. Crushed lily on the pillow, except she’d been no lily and I’d seen her grimy petty purple crimes as that blood made a fool of me, wasted me, left me warm, indeed hot, all over, licking my lips.

Can’t bear to linger near a dead human. Out over the roofs again.

“Did you enjoy that, Voice?” I asked. I stretched like a cat under the moon.

“Hmmm,” he replied. “Have always loved it, of course.”

“Then stop all the weeping.”

He drifted off then. That was a first. He left me. I hit him with one question after another. No answer. No one there.

Three years ago, this happened.

I was in a wretched state, down and out, disgusted and discouraged. Things were bad all over the vampire world, no doubt about it. Benji in his endless broadcasts was calling for me to come out of exile. And others were joining him in that appeal. “Lestat, we need you.” Tales of woe abounded. And I couldn’t find many of my friends anymore—not Marius, or David Talbot, or even the ancient twins. Time was when I could find any and all of them fairly easily, but no more.

“We are a parentless tribe!” Benji cried over the internet vampire radio station. “Young ones, be wise. Flee the old ones when you see them. They are not our elders, no matter how many years they have in the Blood. They have refused all responsibility for their brothers and sisters. Be wise!”

On this dreary cold night, I’d been thirsty, more thirsty than I could bear. Oh, I don’t technically need the blood anymore. I have so much blood from Akasha in my veins—the primal blood from the old Mother—that I can exist forever without feeding. But I was thirsting, and I had to have it to stanch the misery, or so I told myself, on a little late-night rampage in the city of Amsterdam, feeding off every reprobate and killer I could find. I’d hidden the bodies. I’d been careful. But it had been grim—that hot, delicious blood pumping into me and all those visions with it of filthy and degenerate minds, all that intimacy with the emotions I deplore. Oh, same old, same old. I was sick at heart. In moods like this, I’m a menace to the innocent, and I know it only too well.

Around four in the morning, it had me so bad, I was in a little public park, sitting on an iron bench in the damp, doubled over, in a bad seedy part of the city, the late-night lights looking garish and sooty through the mist. And I was cold all over and fearing now that I simply wasn’t going to endure. I wasn’t going to “make it” in the Blood. I wasn’t going to be a true immortal like the great Marius or Mekare or Maharet or Khayman, or even Armand. This wasn’t living, what I was doing. And at one point the pain was so acute, it was like a blade turning in my heart and in my brain. I doubled over on the bench. I had my hands clasped on the back of my neck, and I wanted nothing so much as to die, simply to close my eyes on all of life and die.

And the Voice came, and the Voice said:

“But I love you!”

I was startled. I hadn’t heard the Voice in such a long time, and there it was, that intimate tone, so soft, so utterly tender, like fingers touching me, caressing my head.

“Why?” I asked.

“Of all of them, I love you the most,” said the Voice. “I am with you, loving you now.”

“What are you? Another make-believe angel?” I said. “Another spirit pretending to be a god, something like that?”

“No,” he said.

But the moment he’d started to speak, I had felt this warmth in me, this sudden warmth such as addicts describe when they are infused with the substance they crave, this lovely reassuring warmth that I’d found so fleetingly in the Blood, and I’d begun to hear the rain, hear it not as this dismal drizzle but as a lovely soft symphony of sounds on the surfaces that surrounded me.

“I love you,” said the Voice. “Now, get up. Leave this place. You must. Get up. Start walking. This rain is not too cold for you. You are too strong for this rain and too strong for this sorrow. Come on, do as I tell you.…”

And I had.

I had gotten up and started walking and made my way back to the elegant old Hôtel de l’Europe where I was lodged, and I’d gone into the large exquisitely wallpapered bedroom and closed the long velvet draperies properly over the coming sun. Glare of white sky over the Amstel River. Morning sounds.

Then, I’d stopped. I’d pressed my fingers to my eyelids and buckled, buckled under the weight of a loneliness so terrible I would have chosen death then if only I’d had such a choice.

“Come now, I love you,” said the Voice. “You’re not alone in this! You never were.” I could feel the Voice inside me, around me, embracing me.

Finally, I lay down to sleep. He was singing to me now, singing in French, singing some lyrics put to the beautiful Chopin étude “Tristesse”…

“Lestat, go home to France, to the Auvergne where you were born,” he whispered, just as if he were beside me. “Your father’s old château there. You need to go there. All of you human beings need a home.”

So tender it sounded, so sincere.

So strange that he would say this. I did own the old ruined château. Years ago, I had set architects and stone masons to rebuild it, though why I did not know. I saw an image of it now, those ancient round towers rising from that cliff above fields and valleys, where in the old days so many had starved, where life had been so bitter, where I had been bitter, a boy bound and determined to run away to Paris, to see the world.

“Go home,” he whispered.

“Why are you not winking out the way I am, Voice?” I asked. “The sun’s rising.”

“Because it is not morning where I am, beloved Lestat.”

“Ah, then you are a blood drinker, aren’t you?” I asked. I felt I’d caught him. I began to laugh, to cackle. “Of course you are.”

He was furious. “You miserable, ungrateful, degenerate Brat Prince,” he was muttering … and then he’d left me again. Ah, well. Why not? But I hadn’t really solved the mystery of the Voice, not by a long shot. Was he just a powerful old immortal communicating from another part of the globe by bouncing his telepathic message off vampiric minds in between, like light bouncing from mirror to mirror? No, that wasn’t possible. His voice was too intimate and precise for all that. You can send out a telepathic call to another immortal by that method, of course. But you can’t communicate directly as he had been doing all along with me.

When I woke, it was of course early evening, and Amsterdam was filled with roaring traffic, whizzing bicycles, myriad voices. Scent of blood pumped through beating hearts.

“Still with me, Voice?” I asked.

Silence. Yet I had the distinct feeling, yes, the feeling that he was here. I’d felt wretched, afraid for myself, wondering at my own weakness, inability to love.

And then this happened.

I went to the full-length mirror on the bathroom door to adjust my tie. You know what a dandy I am. Well, even down and out, I was in a finely cut Armani jacket and dress shirt, and, well, I wanted to adjust this bright, flashing, beautifully hand-painted silk tie and—my reflection wasn’t there!

I was there, but not my reflection. It was another me, smiling at me with triumphant glittering eyes, both hands up against the glass as if he were in a prison cell behind it. Same clothes, yes, and me down to the last detail of long blond curling hair and glittering blue-gray eyes. But not a reflection at all.

I was petrified. The dim echo of doppelgänger rose in my ears, and all the horror such a concept connotes. I don’t know if I can describe how chilling this was—this figure of myself inhabited by another, leering at me, deliberately menacing me.

I remained sober faced, and I continued to adjust my tie, though I could see no reflection of what I was doing. And he continued to smile in that icy mocking way, as the laughter of the Voice rose in my brain.

“Am I supposed to like you for this, Voice?” I asked. “I thought you loved me.”

He was stricken. His face—my face—crumpled like that of a little boy about to sob. He put his hands up as if to shield himself, fingers hovering, eyes quivering. The image vanished, to be replaced by a true reflection of me standing there, puzzled, faintly horrified, and not a little angry. I straightened my tie for the last time.

“I do love you,” said the Voice sadly, almost mournfully. “I love you!” and he began to chatter, and roar, and discourse, and all those vocabularies were suddenly tumbling together, Russian, German, French, Latin.…

That night, when Benji began broadcasting from New York, he said that things could not continue like this. He urged the young ones to flee the cities. He begged once more for the elders of the tribe to step up.

I went to Anatolia to escape it all. I wanted to see Hagia Sophia again, to walk under those arches. I wanted to wander the ruins of Göbekli Tepe, the oldest Neolithic settlement ever discovered. To Hell with the problems of the tribe. Whatever gave Benji the idea that we were a tribe?


Last edited by Lestat on Sat Nov 15, 2014 9:28 pm; edited 2 times in total

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Re: Prince Lestat. (A taste of things to come)

Post by Lestat on Sat Nov 15, 2014 9:22 pm


Benji Mahmoud


I FIGURED THAT Benji Mahmoud was probably twelve years old when Marius made him a vampire, but no one knew for sure, including Benji. He’d been born in Israel to a Bedouin family, then hired and imported into the United States by the family of a young female piano player named Sybelle—who was clearly insane—so that he could be Sybelle’s companion. Both young people met the Vampire Armand in New York in the mid-1990s but weren’t inducted into the Blood till a little later, when Marius worked the Dark Trick on both of them as a gift to Armand. Of course Armand was furious, felt betrayed, deplored that the human lives of his charges had been cut short, etcetera, but Marius had done the only thing that could be done with two humans who were living for all practical purposes in Our World and fast losing taste for any other. Human wards like that are hostages to fortune. And Armand should have known that, that some vampire enemy or other was going to knock off one or the other or both of these two young people just to get at Armand. That’s the way such things can too easily go.

So Marius brought them over.

I was not myself in those days. I was battered and broken thanks to my adventures with Memnoch, a spirit who claimed to have been “the Devil” of the Christian belief system, and I scarcely noticed all this, only knowing that I loved the music that Sybelle made and little more.

By the time I took real notice of Benji Mahmoud, he was living in New York with Armand and Louis and Sybelle, and he had invented the radio station. As I mentioned earlier, it was broadcast at first, but Benji was far too inventive to put up with the mortal world’s constraints on him for long, and he soon operated the program as an internet radio stream out of the townhouse on the Upper East Side, often speaking to the Children of the Darkness nightly and inviting their phone calls from all over the world.

In the broadcast days, Benji had talked in a low voice, under Sybelle’s music, a voice that without specific enhancement couldn’t be heard by mortal ears, hoping that the vampires of the world would get the message. Trouble was, a lot of the vampires couldn’t hear him either. So when Benji went to internet radio he dropped that trick. He just talked, talked to Us and paid no attention whatsoever to the vampire-fiction enthusiasts or little Goths who called the show, weeding them out by the timbre of their voices easily enough to devote his on-air time to real Children of Darkness.

Sybelle’s exquisite piano music was a major part of the show, and sometimes they broadcast as much as five or six hours a night, and sometimes not at all. But Benji’s message was soon heard from one end of the Earth to the other:

We are a tribe; we want to survive; and the elders aren’t helping us.

Now when he first started to talk of this—of the parentless and the undefended haunting every city on Earth and the negligence and selfishness of the “elders,” I thought surely somebody would take offense, shut him down, or at least set him back in some dramatic way.

But Benji was right about things. I was not. Nobody bothered to stop him because in fact nobody cared. And Benji went on talking to the mavericks and rogues and orphans who called his line at night about how to be careful, how to persevere, how to feed on the evildoer, and cover up the kill, and remember always that the world belongs to humans.

Benji gave the Undead everywhere an argot as well, peppering his commentaries with terms from the Vampire Chronicles, including some I hadn’t used before, or ever heard perhaps, establishing a language for all to share. Interesting, that. Or at least I found it so.

A couple of times I went to New York just to spy on Benji. He’d developed a definite personal style by then. He wore expertly tailored three-piece suits, usually in gray- or brown-striped worsted wool, gorgeous pastel dress shirts, and flashing Brooks Brothers silk ties, and he always wore a black felt Italian-made fedora, the perfect gangster hat, and spick-and-span wing-tip shoes.

As the result, even with his small build, small bones, small round cheerful little face, and glittering black eyes, he didn’t look like a child at all, but like a little man, and that had become his favorite pet name for himself. “Little Man.” Little Man owned more than five galleries in Chelsea and SoHo, a Greenwich Village restaurant just off Washington Square, and an old-fashioned haberdashery shop where he bought his hats. He had legal papers galore, including a legal driver’s license, plus credit cards, cell phones, a bicycle or two, and often drove his restored MG TD sports car in New York on summer nights, but mostly went about in a chauffeur-driven black Lincoln stretch limousine, and spent a lot of time in cafés and restaurants pretending to dine with mortals who found him fascinating. He and Sybelle hunted well in the back alleys. They both knew the art of the Little Drink and could satisfy themselves with any number of Little Drinks at nightclubs and charity balls without ever taking a life or disabling some innocent victim.

And whereas Sybelle was something of a remote and mysterious presence at his side—gorgeous in designer gowns and costly gems—Benji had scores of human friends, who thought of him as eccentric and amusing and delightful with his “vampire radio show,” which they considered “performance art” of the most clever sort, assuming he supplied all the voices for the show, including the Japanese- and Chinese-speaking Children of the Night who called in and talked for hours in their native tongue, taxing Benji’s preternatural powers to the max as he strove to keep up with them.

In sum, Benji was a wild success as a vampire. He had a website backing up the radio show and an e-mail address, and sometimes read e-mails over the air, so to speak, but it always came back to the same thing: We’re a tribe, and as a tribe we need to stick together, have loyalty, care about one another, and figure on lasting in this world where immortals could be burnt up or decapitated like anybody else. The elders have sold us out!

And always, always, there was Benji’s warning to the Undead: “Don’t come to New York. Don’t try to find me. I’m here for you by phone and by e-mail, but never set foot in this town, or you’ll have to face Armand, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” In fact, he was always warning them that no one city could really support the numbers of vampires being Born to Darkness now, and fledglings had to be clever, had to seek out new territories, and had to learn to live in peace with others.

On the phone, the callers spilled their woe. They were anxious and afraid; they deplored the brawls happening all over; and they were scared to death of the ancient ones who would burn you up on sight. In vain they searched for the great Lestat, the great Marius, the great Pandora, on and on and on.

Over and over Benji commiserated, advised, and sometimes just shared their grief. “They don’t help us, do they?” Benji would declare. “Why did Lestat write his books! Where is the great scholar David Talbot, and what of the great Jesse Reeves, Born to Darkness in the arms of the ancient Maharet? What a selfish, self-centered, and self-obsessed bunch they are!”

And then he’d start with his “Lestat, where are you?”

Like I’m one of the elders? Come on, now, seriously!

Well, in terms of influence, yes. Of course. I wrote my autobiography. I became the famous rock star, like for five minutes! I wrote the story of how Akasha was destroyed and how the fount of power was taken out of her and into the vampire Mekare. I admit. I did all that. I wrote and published my account of the Body Thief and of Memnoch. Okay, okay. And yes, if my rock music and rock videos hadn’t been loosed into the world, the old queen Akasha might never have risen from her throne and worked the Great Burning, in which vampires all over the planet were turned to ashes. My fault, okay, I admit it.

But I have what?—two hundred and thirty-three years in the Blood? Something like that. As I said before, I’m a brat by anybody’s standards, a reckless kid!

The real elders, the ones he was always taunting, insulting, and deriding, were the Children of the Millennia—the great immortals—Marius, and Pandora, and the ancient twins, of course, Mekare and Maharet, and their companion Khayman. Benji made that clear enough.

“How can this Mekare be the Queen of the Damned if she does not rule?” Benji would ask. “Does not her twin, Maharet, care for us as a great vampire family? And where is Khayman, old as the twins are, and why does he not care for us as we struggle through the world seeking for answers? How is it that Jesse, young Jesse of our world, does not urge these ancient ones to listen to our voices?”

All this was amazing to me and scary to me, as I’ve explained. But even if no one moved to silence Benjamin, was it going to come to anything? Was it going to make anything happen?

And all the while, other things were happening, bad things. Really bad things. And some good things too perhaps.

Benji was not the only vampire doing something entirely new under the stars of Heaven.

There was Fareed, who had come along well before Benji. And I hadn’t thought Fareed would last either.

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Fareed and Seth

Post by Lestat on Mon Dec 15, 2014 12:29 am

Fareed and Seth


I MET FAREED AND SETH six years before the end of the last century. This was after I’d met the Body Thief but before I’d met Memnoch. And though I’d thought the encounter was an accident at the time, I realized later it most certainly was not, as they’d been searching for me.

It was in Los Angeles on a mild and lovely evening when I agreed to talk to them in a garden café not far from where they’d approached me on Sunset Boulevard—two powerful vampires, one ancient and one young who was fueled by the powerful blood of the other.

Seth was the ancient one, and as always with those great survivors, I knew him by his heartbeat long before I ever saw him. They can cloak their minds, these antique monsters, and they can pass for human, yes, no matter how old they are, and they do. But they can’t stop an immortal like me from hearing that heartbeat and along with it a faint sound like respiration. Only it sounds like an engine purring when it comes from them. And that’s the signal of course to run unless you want to be burnt to a fine black powder or a little grease spot on a pavement.

But I don’t run from anything, and I wasn’t very sure I wanted to be alive any longer back then. I’d lately burnt my skin to dark brown in the Gobi Desert in a failed attempt to end it all, and to say I had a devil-may-care attitude would have been an understatement.

Also I’d survived so much; well, wouldn’t I survive an encounter with another ancient one? I knew the twins firsthand, did I not? I knew the reigning Queen. Did I not have their protection?

But I had known something else as well back then, even then. And that was that my rock singing, my videos, and my waking of the Queen had waked a number of immortals around the globe, and who and what they were nobody really knew for certain. I just knew they were out there.

And so here I was walking down Sunset in the thick of the crowds, just loving it kind of, forgetting I was a monster, forgetting I was no longer a rock star, and pretending more or less to be the beautiful Jon Bon Jovi.

I’d just caught a Jon Bon Jovi concert a few months prior to this, and on my little Walkman, I was playing his songs over and over obsessively. And there I was, you know, strutting, flirting now and then, smiling at the pulchritudinous mortals drifting by, now and then lifting my rose-colored sunglasses to wink at this one or that, and letting my hair blow free in that eternal chilling West Coast breeze and just, well, having a good time and a bitter time, when there comes that heartbeat, that fatal heartbeat.

Well, Maharet and Mekare had not disappeared from the world entirely by that point, so I thought, What have I done now? And who’s going to bother me about it, when I spy coming towards me these two remarkable blood drinkers, the shorter one a good six feet in height with magnificent golden skin and blue-black curling hair around his handsome and inquisitive face and enormous green eyes and well-formed lips in an open smile, clothes natty, I suppose, an English bespoke suit, if I was any judge, and beautiful narrow tan bespoke shoes, too, and the taller one, the thin giant very dark of skin too, but burnt, I could tell that, and ancient, his black hair very short all over his well-shaped skull and with almond-shaped eyes, and his clothes eccentric for the streets of West Hollywood, though not perhaps for the city of Cairo or Jetta—a white ankle-length linen thawb and white pants with open sandals.

What a pair, and before I’m five feet away, the shorter man, the young one, new in the Blood, extended his hand in welcome. At once he started speaking with a fluid and resonant Anglo-Indian voice, and saying he was Dr. Fareed Bhansali, and this was his “mentor,” Seth, and they would so love to have the pleasure of my company at their favorite café nearby.

There surged in me some little excitement that almost brought me to tears, but I kept that locked away from them. I made my loneliness, didn’t I? I’d started all the way back then, so why all the emotion?

The café was beautiful with tables draped in blue linen that was almost the color of the night sky with the endless illumination of the great sprawling metropolis bouncing off the layer of moist cloud. And there was a thin, sweet sitar music playing with melodic threads lacing in and out of my thoughts as we sat there, each of us now playing with our food and now and then lifting a forkful of curry to savor the aroma. And the wine was bright and glistening in the sheer glass goblets.

And then they astonished me.

See that building across the street? No, no, that one, well, that was their building and it housed their laboratory, and they’d welcome my cooperation in offering them a few biopsies that would not cause the least pain—skin tissue, hair, blood, that kind of thing.

Then the story unraveled of how, in Mumbai last year, Seth had come into Fareed’s hospital room where Fareed lay dying, a brilliant research scientist and medical doctor in his prime, as the result of a plot on the part of his wife and a fellow medical researcher. Fareed, in a locked-in coma, had thought Seth a figment of his tortured imagination.

“And you know,” he told me in that rippling and exquisite Anglo-Indian accent, “I thought the first thing I would do was take revenge on my wife and her lover. They’d stolen everything from me, including my life. But I forgot those things almost instantly.”

Seth had been a healer in ancient times. When he spoke, his speech was accented too, but I couldn’t place it, and how could I, since he’d been brought into the Blood at the dawn of history?

He was what people call rawboned, with wondrously symmetrical bones to his face, and even his hands with their huge wristbones and knucklebones were interesting to me, as well as the fingernails, like glass of course, and then there was the way his cold face would fire with expression when he spoke, and the masklike smoothness imposed by the Blood would be banished.

“I brought Fareed into the Blood to be a physician,” Seth explained. “I can’t understand the science of these times. And I do not understand why there is no physician or scientific researcher amongst us.”

Now they had their laboratory complete with every conceivable machine that medical science had invented.

And I soon found myself in that building on those upper floors, following them through brightly lighted chamber after chamber, and marveling at the staff of young blood drinkers ready to make the MRI or the CAT scan, or draw my blood.

“But what are you going to do with this data?” I asked. “And how do you do all this, I mean, are you bringing over scientists into the Blood?”

“Have you never seriously thought of such a thing?” Fareed asked.

After the biopsies and vials of blood were taken, we were sitting in their rooftop garden, great banks of tempered glass separating us from the chill Pacific wind and the lights of downtown Los Angeles dazzling in the pretty mist.

“I don’t understand,” said Fareed, “a world in which the most outspoken and high-profile blood drinkers are all romantics, poets, who bring into the Blood only those whom they love for emotional reasons. Oh, I do so appreciate your writing, you understand, every word of it. Your books are scripture for the Undead. Seth gave them to me at once, told me to learn them. But have you never thought to bring over those whom you actually need?”

I admitted I was afraid of the very idea, as afraid as a mortal might have been of designing offspring genetically to enter certain branches of the arts or certain professions.

“But we are not human,” said Fareed, who was immediately embarrassed by how obvious and foolish it sounded. He actually blushed.

“What if another bloody tyrant arises?” I asked. “Someone to make Akasha look like a schoolgirl with her fantasies of world domination? You do realize everything I wrote about her was true, do you not? She would have transformed the world if we hadn’t stopped her, made herself into a goddess.”

Fareed was speechless and then glanced at Seth with the most anxious expression on his face. But Seth was only regarding me with intense interest. He reached over with one of his enormous hands and gently laid it on Fareed’s right hand.

“This is all well and good,” he said to Fareed. “Please, Lestat, continue.”

“Well, suppose such a tyrant rose amongst us again,” I said, “and suppose that tyrant brought into the Blood the technicians and soldiers he needed to implement some true takeover. With Akasha, it was all primitive, her scheme, with a ‘revealed religion’ at the core that would have set the world back, but suppose with laboratories like this, a tyrant could create a vampire race of weapons makers, makers of mind-altering drugs, makers of bombs, planes, whatever is needed to wreak havoc on the existing technological world. What then? Yes, you are right, those of us who are known to everyone today are romantics. We are. We are poets. But we are individuals, with an immense faith in the individual and a love of the individual.”

I broke off. I sounded far too much like someone who actually believed in something. Lestat, the dreamer. What did I believe? That we were an accursed race, and that we ought to be exterminated.

Seth picked up the thought, and at once responded. His voice was deep, slow, sharpened by that indefinable Eastern accent. “Why do you believe these things of us, you who have rejected the revealed religions of your world so thoroughly? What are we? We are mutations. But all evolution is driven, surely, by mutations. I don’t claim to understand it, but was it not true what you wrote, about how Akasha was destroyed, and how the Core, the fount, whatever you call it, the root that animates us was transferred into the body and brain of Mekare?”

“Yes, it was all true,” I said. “And they are out there, those two, and they are of the retiring kind, I assure you, and if they think we have any right to exist as a species, they’ve never made it known to the rest of us. If they find out about this laboratory they will destroy it—perhaps.”

I hastened to add that I wasn’t certain about that at all.

“Why would they do that when we can offer them so much?” asked Fareed. “For I can fashion immortal eyes for Maharet, the blind one, so that she no longer must use human eyes, ever changing them as they die in her eye sockets? It is a very simple matter to me to make these immortal eyes with the proper blood protocols. And the mute Mekare, I could determine whether there is any brain left to her which will ever fully awaken.”

I must have smiled bitterly. “What a vision.”

“Lestat, don’t you want to know what your cells are made of?” he asked. “Don’t you want to know what chemicals are in the blood that’s keeping senescence in your body completely at bay?”

“Senescence?” I didn’t know quite what the word meant. We are dead things, I was thinking. You are a physician for the dead.

“Ah, but Lestat,” Fareed said. “We’re not dead things. That’s poetry, and it’s old poetry, and it will not endure. Only good poetry endures. We’re very much alive, all of us. Your body’s a complex organism playing host to another predatory organism that is somehow transforming it little by little year by year for some distinct evolutionary purpose. Don’t you want to know what that is?”

These words changed everything for me. They were light dawning, because I saw then a whole realm of possibility that I’d never seen before. Of course he might do things like that. Of course.

He talked on and on then, scientifically and I suppose brilliantly, but his terminology became thicker and more foreign. Try as I might, I’d never been able to fathom modern science at all. No amount of preternatural intelligence allowed me to really absorb medical texts. I had only the layman’s smattering of the words he was using—DNA, mitochondria, viruses, eukaryotic cell tissue, senescence, genome, atoms, quarks, whatever. I pored over the books of those who wrote for the popular audience, and retained little or nothing but respect and humility and a deepening sense of my own wretchedness at being outside of life when life itself involved such magnificent revelations.

He sensed it was useless.

“Come, let me show you a very small part of what I can do,” said Fareed.

And down we went into the laboratories again. Almost all the blood drinkers were gone, but I caught the faint scent of a human. Maybe more than one human.

He offered me a tantalizing possibility. Did I want to feel erotic passion, the same way I’d known it when I was a young man of twenty in Paris, before I died? Well, he could help me achieve this. And if he did, I would produce semen, and he would like to take a sample of that.

I was stunned. Of course, I wasn’t about to turn this down. “Well, just how are we going to collect this semen?” I asked, laughing, and even blushing in spite of myself. “Even when I was alive, I preferred to carry out all my erotic experiments with others.”

He offered me a choice. Behind a glass wall there sat, on a large soft bed, a young human female, clad only in a white flannel sleeping shirt, reading a thick hardcover book under a dim lamp. She couldn’t see us through the one-way glass. She couldn’t hear us. I figured her to be perhaps thirty-five or -six, which was quite young for these times, though it would not have been two hundred years ago, and I had to confess to myself, she looked familiar to me. Her hair was thick and long and wavy and distinctly blond though rather dark blond, and she had deep-set blue eyes that were a little too pale perhaps to be beautiful, and well-balanced features and a rather innocent-looking but generous mouth.

The room was like a stage set with its blue toile wallpaper and bedding, and frilly shaded lamps, and even a picture on the wall that one might find in a common bedroom, of an old nineteenth-century English village street. Geese and a creek and a bridge. Only the medical texts on the bedside table and the heavy book in the woman’s hands seemed out of place.

She looked luscious in her white flannel shirt, with high firm breasts and long well-shaped legs. She was marking something in her book with a pen.

“You may couple with her, in which case I shall take the sample from her,” Fareed explained. “Or you may take the sample for me yourself as you desire in the old solitary way.” He made a gesture with his right hand opening his five fingers.

I didn’t ponder for long. When I’d slipped into a human body thanks to the machinations of the Body Thief, I’d enjoyed the company of two beautiful women, but that had not been in this body, my body, my vampiric body.

“The woman is well paid, respected, at home here,” said Seth. “She is a doctor herself. You will neither surprise her nor horrify her. She has never been a part of such an experiment before, but she is prepared for it. And she will be well rewarded when it’s over.”

Well, if no harm comes to her, I thought. How clean and pretty she was, with that well-scrubbed American look to her, and those shiny blue eyes, and her hair the color of fields of grain. I could almost smell her hair. In fact, I could smell it, a lovely fragrance of soapsuds or shampoo and sunshine. She looked delectable, and irresistible. I wanted every single drop of her blood. Could erotic feeling override that?

“All right, I’ll do it.”

But just how exactly could these gentlemen make a dead body like mine actually produce seed as if it were living?

The answer came swiftly with a series of injections and indeed an intravenous line that would continue throughout the experiment to deliver a powerful elixir of human hormones into my blood, overriding the vampiric body’s natural tendency to resist senescence long enough for the desire to develop, the sperm to be produced, and then ejaculated.

I thought it was hilariously funny.

Now I could write an essay of five hundred pages on how this experience unfolded, because I did feel biological erotic desire again, and I fell on the young woman about as mercilessly as any greedy aristocrat of my time ever fell on a milkmaid in his village. But it was precisely as my beloved Louis had said a long time ago, “the pale shadow of killing,” that is, the pale shadow of drinking blood, and it was over almost at once, it seemed, and then the passion was gone, back into the depths of memory once more as if it had never been aroused, the pinnacle, the ejaculation forgotten.

I’d felt strangely awkward afterwards. I was sitting on the bed beside this blond-haired fair-skinned human female, my back to a nest of sweet-smelling linen-covered pillows, and I felt I ought to talk to her, ask her how she came to be here, and why she was here.

And then quite suddenly, as I sat there, wondering if this was proper or even wise, she told me.

Her name was Flannery Gilman, she said. In a clear fresh West Coast American voice, she explained that she’d been studying “us” since the night I’d appeared on the stage as a rock star outside San Francisco, and so many of our kind had died as the result of my great scheme to be a mortal performer. She’d seen vampires that night with her own eyes, and had no doubt of their existence. She’d seen them immolated in the parking lot afterwards. Indeed, she’d scraped up samples of their burnt and oozing remains from the asphalt. She’d gathered burnt vampiric bones in plastic sacks, and she’d developed hundreds of photographs later of what she’d witnessed and captured on film. She’d spent five years studying and writing up her various specimens, preparing a thousand-page document to prove our existence and counter every objection she could anticipate from her medical colleagues. She’d gone broke because of her obsession.

What had it all come to? Utter ruin.

Even though she’d connected with at least two dozen other doctors who claimed to have seen and experimented upon vampires—perusing their samples, reviewing their material, and referencing it—she had found the doors of every reputable medical association in the world slammed in her face.

She was laughed at, ridiculed, denied grant money, and ultimately denied admission to conventions and conferences, and pointed out publicly as a laughingstock by those who ostracized her and advised her to “get psychological help.”

“They destroyed me,” she said calmly. “They ruined me. They did it to all of us. They cast us out along with the believers in ancient astronauts, pyramid power, ectoplasm, and the lost city of Atlantis. They sent me into the wilderness of crackpot websites and New Age conventions and fringe gatherings where we were welcomed only by enthusiasts who believed in everything from Ouija boards to Bigfoot. My license to practice medicine was revoked in California. My family turned against me. I was for all practical purposes dead.”

“I see,” I said dismally.

“I wonder if you do,” she said. “There’s abundant evidence in the hands of science all over the planet that you exist, you know, but nobody’s ever going to do a damned thing about it. At least not as things are now.”

I was speechless. I should have known.

“I used to think that once a vampire fell into the hands of doctors, it would be over.”

She laughed.

“It’s happened many times,” she said. “And I can tell you exactly what takes place. The vampire, having been taken captive in some sheltered place by day, wakes up at sundown to destroy his captors and lay waste their jail or their laboratory or their morgue. If he or she is too weak to do that, then the captors are generally spellbound and befuddled into releasing the victim, and retribution soon follows with all photographic or medical evidence immolated along with the witnesses. Sometimes other blood drinkers come to help free the captive. Sometimes an entire lab facility goes up in flames and almost everyone on the premises is killed. I documented at least two dozen accounts that fit this pattern. Every single one had a series of official ‘rational’ explanations of what happened attached to it, with marginalized survivors ridiculed and ultimately ignored. Some survivors have wound up in mental hospitals. You don’t have to worry about a thing.”

“And so you work now with Fareed.”

“I have a place here,” she said with a gentle smile. “I’m respected here for what I know. You could say I’ve been reborn. Oh, you cannot imagine the little fool I was that night when I saw you on the stage, so certain I was going to take the medical world by storm with all those pictures.”

“What did you want to happen? I mean what did you want to happen to us?”

“I wanted to be believed, first and foremost, and then I wanted you to be studied! The very thing that Fareed’s doing here. There is no rhyme or reason to what is actually studied ‘out there.’ ” She gestured as if the mortal world were on the other side of the wall. “Doesn’t matter anymore to me,” she added. “I work for Fareed.”

I laughed under my breath.

The warm natural erotic feeling was long gone. What I wanted to do now again, of course, was drain every drop of blood out of her precious, adorable, curvaceous, hot little body. But I settled for kissing her, snuggling up to her, and pressing my lips against her warm throat, listening to that thunder of blood in the artery.

“They’ve promised to bring you over, haven’t they?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “They’re honorable. That’s more than I can say for my colleagues in American medicine.” She turned to me, drawing close enough to kiss me quickly one more time on the cheek. I didn’t stop her. Her fingers went up to my face and she touched my eyelids.

“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for these priceless moments. Oh, I know you didn’t do this for me. You did it for them. But thank you.”

I nodded and I smiled. I held her face in my hands as I kissed her now with a fervor that came from the Blood. I could feel her body warming, opening like a flower, but the moment was gone, and I took my leave.

Later, Fareed and Seth told me they meant to keep that promise. She wasn’t the only crazy vampire-obsessed doctor or scientist they’d invited in. As a matter of fact, they went out of their way to recruit these poor “loonies” whom the world had ostracized. It was easier after all to invite into our miracle those whose human lives were already ruined.

Well before dawn, the three of us hunted together. Sunset Boulevard was a mob scene, as they say, and the Little Drink was everywhere to be had, and so were a couple of despicable rogues whom I fed on with cruel abandon in the backstreets.

I think the medical experiments had left me desperately thirsting. I was letting the blood fill my mouth and holding it like that for a long time before swallowing, before feeling that great wash of warmth through my limbs.

Seth was a ruthless killer. The ancient ones almost always are. I watched him drain a young male victim, watched the body shrivel as Seth drew quart after quart of the vital fluid. He held the dead boy’s head against his chest. I knew he wanted to crush the skull, and then he did, tearing open the hairy wrapping around it and sucking the blood from the brain. Then he’d composed the corpse almost lovingly on piles of refuse in the alley, folding the arms across the chest, closing the eyes. He’d even reshaped the skull and smoothed the torn scalp over it, and stepped back from it as if he were a priest inspecting a sacrifice, murmuring something under his breath.

Seth and I sat in the roof garden as the morning was coming. The birds had begun to sing, and I could feel the sun, smell the trees welcoming the sun, smell the jacaranda blossoms opening far below.

“But what will you do, my friend,” I said, “if the twins come? If the twins don’t want this grand experiment to continue?”

“I am as old as they are,” Seth answered quietly. He raised his eyebrows. He looked elegant in the long white thawb with its neat collar, rather priestly in it in fact. “And I can protect Fareed from them.”

He seemed completely sure of it.

“Long centuries ago,” he said, “there were two warring camps, as the Queen told you. The twins and their friend Khayman, they were known as the First Brood, and they fought the cult of the Mother. But I was made by her to fight the First Brood, and I have more of her blood in me than they ever had. Queens Blood, that is what we were aptly called, and she brought me for one very important reason: I was her son, born to her when she was human.”

A dark chill ran through me. For a long time I couldn’t speak, couldn’t think.

“Her son?” I finally whispered.

“I do not hate them,” he said. “I never wanted even in those times to fight them, really. I was a healer. I did not ask for the Blood. Indeed I begged my mother to spare me, but you know what she was. You know how she would be obeyed. You know as well as anyone from those times knows those things. And she brought me into the Blood. And as I said, I do not fear those who fought against her. I am as strong as they are.”

I remained in awe. I could see in him now a resemblance to her, see it in the symmetry of his features, the special curve of his lips. But I couldn’t sense her in him at all.

“As a healer, I traveled the world in my human life,” he said, responding to me, to my thoughts. His eyes were gentle. “I sought to learn all I could in the cities of the two rivers; I went far into the northern forests. I wanted to learn, to understand, to know, to bring back with me great healers to Egypt. My mother had no use for such things. She was convinced of her own divinity and blind to the miracles of the natural world.”

How well I understood.

It was time for me to be taking my leave. How long he could withstand the coming dawn, I didn’t know. But I was about spent, and it was time to seek shelter.

“I thank you for welcoming me here,” I said.

“You come to us anytime that you wish,” he said. He gave me his hand. I stared into his eyes, and I felt strongly again that I did see his resemblance to Akasha, though she had been far more delicate, far more conventionally beautiful. He had a fierce and cold light in his eyes.

He smiled.

“I wish I had something to give you,” I said. “I wish I had something to offer you in return.”

“Oh, but you gave us much.”

“What? Those samples?” I scoffed. “I meant hospitality, warmth, something. I am passing through. I’ve been passing through for the longest time.”

“You did give us both something else,” he said. “Though you do not know it.”

“What?”

“From your mind we learned that what you wrote of the Queen of the Damned was true. We had to know if you described truthfully what you saw when my mother died. You see, we could not entirely fathom it. It is not so easy to decapitate one so powerful. We are so strong. Surely you know this.”

“Well, yes, but even the oldest flesh can be pierced, sliced.” I stopped. I swallowed. I couldn’t speak of this in such a crude and unfeeling way. I couldn’t think of that spectacle again—her severed head, and the body, the body struggling to get to the head, arms reaching.

“And now you do know,” I said. I took a deep breath and banished all that from my mind. “I described it precisely.”

He nodded. A dark shadow passed over his face. “We can always be dispatched in that way,” he said. He narrowed his eyes as if reflecting. “Decapitation. Surer than immolation when we’re speaking of the ancient ones, of the most ancient.…”

A silence fell between us.

“I loved her, you know,” I said. “I loved her.”

“Yes, I do know,” he said, “and, you see, I did not. And so this doesn’t matter to me very much. What matters much more is that I love you.”

I was deeply moved. But I couldn’t find words to say what I wanted so much to say. I put my arms around him, and kissed him.

“We’ll see each other again,” I said.

“Yes, that’s my devout wish,” he whispered.

Years later, when I came searching for them again, hungering for them, desperate to know if they were all right, I couldn’t find them. In fact, I never actually found them again.

I didn’t dare to send out a telepathic call for them. I had always kept my knowledge of them tightly locked in my heart, out of fear for them.

And for a long time I lived in terror that Maharet and Mekare had destroyed them.

Sometime later, a few years into the new century, I did something that was rather unusual for me. I’d been brooding over how Akasha died, thinking about the mystery of how we could so easily be destroyed by decapitation. I went into the shop of a specialist in antique armor and weaponry and hired him to make a weapon for me. This was in Paris.

I’d designed the weapon myself. It looked on paper like a medieval horseman’s ax, with a narrow two-foot handle and a half-moon blade with a length of maybe twelve inches. I wanted the handle to be weighted, as heavy as the craftsman could make it. And that blade, it had to be weighted too but deadly sharp. I wanted the sharpest metal on earth, whatever it was. There was to be a hook and a leather thong on the end of the handle, just like in medieval times, so I could wear that thong around my wrist, or carry the ax blade down beneath one of my long frock coats.

The craftsman produced a beauty. He warned me it was too heavy for a man to comfortably swing. I wasn’t going to like it. I laughed. It was perfect. The gleaming crescent-shaped blade could slice a piece of ripe fruit in half or a silk scarf blowing in the breeze. And it was heavy enough to destroy a tender tree in the forest with one powerful swing.

After that, I kept my little battle-ax near at hand, and often wore it, hung from a button inside my coat, when I went out roaming. Its weight was nothing to me.

I knew I wouldn’t have too much of a chance against the Fire Gift from an immortal like Seth or Maharet or Mekare. But I could use the Cloud Gift to escape. And in a face-to-face confrontation with other immortals, with this ax I’d have a terrific advantage. If used with the element of surprise it could probably take down anyone. But then how do you surprise the very ancient ones? Well, I had to try to protect myself, didn’t I?

I don’t like being at the mercy of others. I don’t like being at the mercy of God. I polished and sharpened the ax now and then.

I worried a lot about Seth and Fareed.

I heard tell of them once in New York, and another time in New Mexico. But I couldn’t find them. At least they were alive. At least the twins hadn’t destroyed them. Well, maybe then the twins would not.

And as the years passed, there were more and more indications that Maharet and Mekare thought little or not at all about the world of the Undead, which leads me now into my meeting with Jesse and David two years ago.

_________________


[EVERY NOW AND THEN, I demand to be treated like the supernatural hero that I am.]
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Re: Prince Lestat. (A taste of things to come)

Post by Lestat on Mon Dec 15, 2014 12:38 am

Trouble in the Talamasca and in the Great Family



BENJI HAD BEEN broadcasting for quite a long while by the time I finally met Jesse Reeves and David Talbot in Paris.

I’d overheard David’s telepathic plea to the vampire Jesse Reeves to come to him. It was something of a coded message. Only someone who knew that both blood drinkers had once been members in the ancient Order of the Talamasca would have understood it—David calling to his red-haired fellow scholar to please meet with her old mentor, if she would be so kind, who’d been searching for her in vain, with news to share of their old compatriots. He’d gone so far as to reference a café on the Left Bank for a meeting, a place they’d known in earlier years, “those sunny times,” and vowed he’d be on the watch for her nightly until he saw her or heard from her.

I was shocked by all this. In my wanderings, I’d assumed always that Jesse and David were fast companions, still studying together in the ancient archives of Maharet’s secret jungle compound, which she shared with her twin sister in Indonesia. It had been years since I’d visited the compound, but I had had it in my mind to go there sometime soon due to the troubles I was suffering in my heart, and my general doubts about my own stamina to survive the misery I was now enduring. Also, I’d been very concerned that Benji’s persistent broadcasts to “the vampire world” might eventually rile Maharet and draw her out of her retreat to punish Benji. Maharet could be provoked. I knew that firsthand. After my encounter with Memnoch, I’d provoked her and drawn her out. I worried about that more than I cared to admit to myself. Benji, the nuisance.

And now this, David searching for Jesse as if he hadn’t seen her in years, as if he no longer knew where Maharet or Mekare could be found.

I had half a mind to go looking for the twins first. And finally I did.

I took to the skies easily enough and went south, discovering the spot and discovering that it had long been abandoned.

It was chilling to walk through the ruins. Maharet had once had many stone rooms here, gated gardens, screened-in areas where she and her sister could roam in solitude. There had been a bevy of native mortal servants, generators, satellite dishes, and even cooling machines, and all the comforts the modern world could provide in such a remote spot. And David had told me of the libraries, of the shelves of ancient scrolls and tablets, of his hours of speaking to Maharet about the worlds she’d witnessed.

Well, it was ruined and overgrown, and some of the rooms had been intentionally knocked down, and there were old tunnels down into the earth which were now half caved in with rocks and dirt, and the jungle had swallowed a wilderness of rusted electrical equipment. All traces of human or vampiric habitation had been obliterated.

So that meant the twins had vanished from here and not even David Talbot knew where they were, David, who had been so fascinated and fearless with the twins, so eager to learn what they had to teach.

And now David was calling to Jesse Reeves and begging for a meeting in Paris.

Red-haired confidante, I must see you, I must discover why it is I cannot find you.

Now understand I made David a vampire, so I can’t hear his telepathic messages directly, no, but I caught them from other minds as so often happens.

As for Jesse, she was a fledgling vampire, yes, made the night of my travesty of a rock concert in San Francisco some decades before. But she’d been made by her beloved aunt Maharet, a true ancestor of hers, and a vampiric guardian, whom as I’ve explained had some of the oldest and most potent Blood in the world. So Jesse was no ordinary fledgling by any means.

David’s call was going out over and over again, with the intelligence that he’d haunt the Left Bank till Jesse showed up there.

Well, I decided I’d haunt it too until I found David or both of them.

I headed for Paris to a suite I’d maintained for years, in the gorgeous Hôtel Plaza Athénée in the Avenue Montaigne, the closets stocked with a splendid wardrobe (as if that was going to hide the crumbling ruin which I had become), and I prepared to stay in residence and search until David and Jesse appeared. The safe in that suite held all the usual papers, plastic bank cards, and currency I’d need for a comfortable stay in the capital. And I brought with me a cell phone I’d recently had my attorneys obtain for me. I didn’t want to greet Jesse or David as the ragged, dusty, windblown suicidal vagabond. I really was no longer that in spirit, and though I had scant interest in all things material, I felt more at ease in the capital as a member of human society.

It was good to be back in Paris, better than I expected, with all that dizzying life around me, and the magnificent lights of the Champs-Élysées, to be drifting through the galleries of the Louvre again in the early hours of the morning, or haunting the Pompidou or just walking the old streets of the Marais. I spent hours in Sainte-Chappelle, and in the Musée de Cluny loving the old medieval walls of the place, so like the buildings I had known when I was a living boy.

Over and over I heard the misbegotten blood drinkers near at hand, warring with one another, playing cat and mouse in the alleyways, harassing and torturing their mortal victims with a viciousness that astonished me.

But they were a cowardly bunch. And they did not detect my presence. Oh, now and then they knew an old one was passing. But they never got close enough to confirm their suspicions. In fact they fled at the sound of my heartbeat.

Over and over, I got those disconcerting flashes of olden times, my times, when there had been bloody executions in the Place de Grève, and even the most popular thoroughfares had run with mud and filth, and the rats had owned the capital as surely as humankind. Gasoline fumes owned it now.

But mostly, I had to admit I felt good. I even went to the grand Palais Garnier, for a performance of Balanchine’s Apollo, and wandered the magnificent foyer and stairway at my leisure, loving the marble, the columns, the gilt, the soaring ceilings as much as the music. Paris, my capital, Paris, where I’d died and been reborn, was buried beneath the great nineteenth-century monuments I beheld around me, but it was still Paris where I’d suffered the worst defeat of my immortal life. Paris where I might live again every night if I could overcome my own tiresome misery.

I didn’t have long to wait for Jesse and David.

The telepathic cacophony of the fledglings let me know that David had been seen in the streets of the Left Bank, and within hours they were singing songs of Jesse as well.

I was tempted to send out a warning blast to the fledglings to leave the pair entirely alone, but I did not want to break the silence I’d maintained for so long.

It was a chilly night in September, and I soon spotted the pair behind glass, in a noisy crowded brasserie called the Café Cassette in the Rue de Rennes. They had just seen each other as Jesse approached David’s table. I stood concealed in a dark doorway across the way, spying on them, confident they knew someone was out there, but not me.

Meanwhile the fledglings were darting up, photographing them apparently with cell phones that looked like the slab of glass given to me by my attorneys, and then tearing away as fast as they could, without David or Jesse giving them the slightest acknowledgment.

This sent a stab through me, as I knew I’d be photographed too the moment I made my approach. This is the way it is with us now. This was what Benji had been talking about. This was what was happening with the Undead. There was no avoiding it.

I continued to listen and watch.

Now David isn’t a vampire in the body into which he was born. The notorious Body Thief I encountered years ago was largely responsible for that, and when I brought David over into Darkness, as we so quaintly put it, he was a seventy-four-year-old man inhabiting a young, robust, dark-haired, and dark-eyed male body. So that is how he looks and how he will always look, but in my heart of hearts he remains David—my old mortal friend, once the gentle gray-haired Superior General of the Talamasca, and my partner in crime, my ally in my battle against the Body Thief—my forgiving fledgling.

As for Jesse Reeves, Maharet’s near-incomparable blood had made her a formidable monster. She was a tall, thin woman, with bones like a bird, and rippling light red hair down to her shoulders, whose fierce eyes always regarded the world from an uncommitted remove and a deep isolation. She had an oval face, and looked far too chaste and ethereal to be what anyone would call beautiful. In fact, she had the neuter-gender quality of an angel.

She had come to the meeting in refined safari wear with pressed khaki jacket and pants, and there sat David beaming when he saw her, the British gentleman in gray Donegal tweed with a brown suede vest and elbow patches. He rose to take her in his arms, and at once they fell to confiding in one another in hushed whispers that I could easily hear from my shadowy hiding place.

Well, I could stand this for maybe three minutes. Then the pain was just too much. I almost fled. After all, I’d given up on all this, had I not?

But then I knew I had to see them, had to hold them each in my arms, had to put my heart close to their hearts. So I plunged across the rainy street and into the café and sat down right beside them.

There was a sudden rush of paparazzi blood drinkers from doorways here and there, and they massed beyond the glass to take the inevitable pictures—It’s Lestat—. And then they vanished.

David and Jesse had seen me before I was halfway there and David rushed to meet me and threw his arms around me. Jesse hugged both of us. I was lost for a moment to the beating of their hearts, to the subtle scents rising from their hair and skin, and the sheer softness of affection emanating from the firmest of touches. Mon Dieu, why had I ever thought this was a good idea!

Now came all the tears and recriminations, along with more embraces of course, and the tender fragrant kisses, and Jesse’s lovely soft hair against my cheek again and David’s strict disapproving eyes fixing me mercilessly even though there were blood tears on his face and he had to wipe at them with one of his perfect linen handkerchiefs.

“Okay, we’re getting out of here,” I said, and headed for the door with both of them struggling to keep up with me.

The hovering paparazzi vampires shot away in all directions, except for one intrepid young female with an actual camera flashing away as she danced backwards in front of us.

I had a car waiting to take us to the Plaza Athénée, and we were silent for the short trip, though it was the strangest and most sensuous experience to be with them, so close, in the backseat of the car, pressing on through the rain with the dim lights blurred in the downpour and the paparazzi following us. I felt pain, being so close to them, and so glad of it. I didn’t want them to know how I felt; indeed, I didn’t want anyone to know how I felt; I didn’t want to know how I felt. So I grew hard and quiet and stared out the windows as Paris was rolling by, with all the endless undying energy of a great capital around us.

Halfway home, I threatened the paparazzi streaking on both sides with immolation if they didn’t scatter now. And that did it.

The sumptuous wallpapered living room of my suite was a perfect sanctuary.

We were soon settled under the soft electric lights in the bland but comfortable mélange of eighteenth-century and modern-style sofas and chairs. I loved the comfort of these sturdy furnishings and relished the cabriole legs and bits of brass ormolu and the satin gloss of fruitwood tables and chests.

“Look, I’m not making any excuses for being in exile,” I said at once, speaking my usual rough brash brand of English. “I’m here now and that’s enough and if I want to tell you what I’ve been doing all these years, well, I’ll write a damned book about it.” But I was so glad to be with them. Even yelling at them was a sublime pleasure, instead of merely thinking about them and missing them and longing for them and wondering about them.

“Of course,” David said sincerely, his eyes suddenly rimmed in red. “I’m simply glad to see you, that’s all. The whole world’s glad to know you’re alive. You’ll know that soon enough.”

I was about to say something sharp and unkind when I realized that indeed “the whole world” would know soon enough with all those mavericks out there disseminating their iPhone images and videos. The initial telepathic blast must have been like a meteor crashing into the sea.

“Don’t underestimate your own fame,” I said under my breath.

Well, we’d be gone from here soon enough. Or I’d tough it out and go on enjoying Paris in spite of the little pests. But Jesse was talking now in that cool American-British voice of hers, drawing me back into the room.

“Lestat, it’s never been more important,” Jesse said, “that we come together.” She looked like a nun with a ragged red veil of hair.

“And why is that?” I demanded. “How can we change what’s happening out there? Wasn’t it always like this, more or less, I mean what has changed really? It must have been this way before.”

“A great deal has changed, apparently,” she replied, but not argumentatively. “But there are things I must confide in you and in David, because I don’t know where else to go or what to do. I was so glad when I realized David was looking for me. I might never have had the courage to come to you on my own—either of you. David, let me speak first, while I have the courage. Then you can explain what it is you want to tell me. It’s about the Talamasca, I understand. But for now the Talamasca is not our greatest concern.”

“What is it then, dearest?” David asked.

“I’m torn,” she said, “because I have no leave to discuss these things, but if I don’t …”

“Trust in me,” David said reassuringly. He took her hand.

She sat on the edge of her chair, small shoulders hunched, her hair tumbled down around her in that veil of waves.

“As you both know,” she said, “Maharet and Mekare have gone into hiding. This began some four years ago with the destruction of our sanctuary in Java. Well, Khayman is still with us, and I come and go as I please. And nothing’s been said to forbid me from coming to you. But something’s wrong, deeply wrong. I’m afraid. I’m afraid that our world may not continue … unless something is done.”

Our world. It was perfectly plain what she meant. Mekare was the host of the spirit that animated us. If Mekare were destroyed, we would all be destroyed as well. All blood drinkers the world over would be destroyed, including that riffraff out there encircling this hotel.

“There were early signs,” Jesse said hesitatingly, “but I didn’t notice them. Only in retrospect did I come to realize what was going on. You both know what the Great Family meant to Maharet. Lestat, you weren’t with us when she told the story, but you knew and you wrote the entire account of this accurately. David, you know all of this as well. My aunt’s human descendants have kept her alive through the millennia. In every generation she reinvented a human persona for herself so that she might care for the Great Family, care for the genealogical records, distribute the grants and the trusts, keep branches and clans in touch with one another. I grew up in this family. Long before I ever dreamed there was any secret surrounding my aunt Maharet, I knew what it was like to be part of it, the beauty of it, the richness of the heritage. And I knew even then what it meant to her. And I know well enough now that this was the vocation that maintained her sanity when everything else failed.

“Well, sometime before we left the Java compound, she’d succeeded in making the Great Family entirely independent of herself. She confessed to me that the process had taken years. The family’s huge; branches exist in almost every country in the world; she’d spent most of the first decade of the new millennium sitting in law offices and bank offices and building libraries and archives so that the family would survive without her.”

“But all this is quite understandable,” said David. “She’s tired, perhaps. Perhaps she wants a rest. And the world itself has changed so dramatically in the last thirty years, Jesse. What with computers now it is entirely possible to unite and strengthen the Great Family in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.”

“All that’s true, David, but let’s not forget what the Great Family meant to her. I didn’t like to see the weariness. I didn’t like to hear it in her voice. I asked her many times if she would keep watch as she’d always done, even though she no longer had to play an official role.”

“Surely she will,” David offered.

“She said no,” Jesse responded. “She said that her time with the Great Family was over. And she reminded me that it was her interfering in my life, as she called it, her coming to me as my beloved aunt Maharet, that eventually resulted in my being inducted, as she put it, into our world.”

All this was true obviously. It had been Maharet’s custom to visit many of her mortal descendants. And she’d been particularly drawn to the young Jesse. And the young Jesse had been kept too long in the company of blood drinkers not to realize that something profoundly mysterious set these “people” apart from others. So Maharet was right.

“I didn’t like it,” Jesse continued. “I feared it, but when I pressed her, she said this had to be. She said we were living in an internet age when scrutiny made impossible the secrecy of the past.”

“Well, I think she’s right about that too,” David said.

“She said that the information age was creating a crisis of unbelievable dimensions for any race or group or entity that had depended on secrecy. She said that people alive today were not realizing just how grave the crisis was.”

“Once again, she’s right about that too,” said David.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I agreed. The great international Roman Catholic Church was being brought to its knees by the internet or information age. And that was only one such institution.

Benji’s incessant broadcasts, websites, and blogs; maverick blood drinkers with picture-capturing iPhones; satellite mobiles that were better than telepathy at reaching individuals at any time in any part of the world—all were revolutionary beyond imagining.

“She said the time was past when an immortal could shepherd a network of human beings as she’d done with the Great Family. She said the ancient records wouldn’t even have survived modern investigation if she had not done what she did. Understand, she said, no one would ever really catch on as to who she was and what she’d done with the Great Family. That was a story for us to understand; human beings would always believe it was fictive nonsense even if they read it in Lestat’s books. But sooner or later new and enterprising members of the family would begin researching with exhaustive depth. Had she not withdrawn and covered her tracks, the whole endeavor would have become mired in unanswerable questions. The Great Family itself would have been hurt. Well, she said, she’d taken care of it. It had taken six years, but she’d done it and now everything was finished and she could be at peace.”

“At peace,” David repeated respectfully.

“Yes, well, I sensed a deepening sadness in her, a melancholy.”

“And at the same time,” David offered, “she showed little interest in anything else.”

“Precisely,” said Jesse. “You are so exactly right. For hours on end, she’s listened to Benji’s broadcasts out of New York, Benji’s complaining that the tribe was parentless, that blood drinkers were orphans, and she said time and again that Benji was correct.”

“So she wasn’t angry with him,” I said.

“Never,” said Jesse. “But I’ve never known her to be angry with anyone. I’ve known her only to be sad.”

“And what about Mekare in all this?” I asked. “How has it been with Mekare since Akasha was killed? That’s the question tormenting me most of the time though I don’t particularly want to admit it. How goes it with the one who is the true Queen of the Damned?” I knew well enough that Mekare had from the beginning seemed unchangeable, uncommunicative, mute in soul as well as mute in body, a mysterious thing that obviously loved one person and one person only, her twin, Maharet.

“Has there been no change in her over these years?” I pushed.

Jesse didn’t respond. She looked at me in silence and then her face broke. I thought she’d break down completely but she pulled herself up.

She looked at David. David sat back on the sofa, and took a deep breath. “Mekare has never shown any sign of understanding what in fact happened to her,” David said. “Oh, in the beginning, Maharet had hopes.”

“If there’s a true mind there,” said Jesse, “no one can reach it. How long it took for my aunt to resign herself to this I can’t say.”

I wasn’t surprised, but I was horrified. And anytime in my life I’d been in contact with Mekare, I’d been uneasy, as if dealing with something that looked human but was in no way human anymore. Now, all blood drinkers truly are human; they never cease being human. They may talk of being more or less human, but they are human, with human thoughts, desires, human speech. Mekare’s face had never been more expressive than that of an animal, as mysterious and unreachable as the face of an animal, a thing that seems intelligent yet is not intelligent in the way we are at all.

“Oh, she knows she’s with her sister and she shows love to her sister,” said David, “but beyond that, if any thought, any coherent verbal thought, has ever emanated from Mekare, I’ve never heard it, and neither has Jesse. And neither has Maharet as far as I ever knew.”

“But she remains docile, manageable,” I said. “She always seemed that way, utterly compliant. Isn’t that so?”

Neither replied. Jesse was looking uneasily at David and then she turned to me as if just hearing my question. “It certainly did seem that way,” she said. “In the beginning, Maharet would spend nights, weeks even, talking with her, walking with her, taking her about the jungle compound. She sang to her, played music for her, sat her down before the television screens, playing films for her, brilliant colorful films full of sunlight. I don’t know if you remember how large it was, the compound with all those salons, or how much of an enclosed area it provided for solitary walks. They were always together. Maharet was obviously doing everything in her power to draw Mekare out.”

I did remember those massive overarching screened enclosures, with the jungle exploding against the steel mesh. Orchids, the wild screeching South American birds with their long blue and yellow feathers, the vines dripping pink or yellow blossoms. Had there not been tiny Brazilian monkeys chattering in the upper branches? Maharet had imported every small colorful tropical creature or plant imaginable. It had been marvelous to roam the paths discovering secretive and picturesque stone grottoes, streams, and little waterfalls—to be in the wilderness and yet somehow safe from it at the same time.

“But I knew early on,” said Jesse, “that Maharet was disappointed, almost brutally disappointed, only of course she’d never say. All those long centuries searching for Mekare, certain that Mekare could be alive somewhere, and then Mekare appearing to fulfill her curse against Akasha, and then this.”

“I can imagine it,” I said. I remembered Mekare’s masklike face, those eyes as empty as the paperweight eyes of a French doll.

Jesse went on, a frown creasing her smooth forehead, her reddish-blond eyebrows catching the light.

“There was never a mention, never a declaration or a decision. But the long hours of talking stopped. No more reading aloud, or music, or films. And after that there was simple physical affection, the two walking arm in arm, or Maharet at her reading with Mekare sitting motionless on a bench nearby.”

And of course, I thought to myself, the horrifying thought that this thing, this motionless, thoughtless being, contained the Sacred Core. But then was it so bad? Was it so bad for the host of the Sacred Core to be without thought, without dreams, without ambition, without designs?

Akasha, when she had risen from her throne, had been a monster. “I would be the Queen of Heaven,” she’d said to me as she slew mortals, and urged me to do the same. And I, the consort, had done her bidding all too easily, to my everlasting shame. What a price I’d paid for the powerful Blood she’d given me, and the instructions. No wonder I kept to my refuge now. When I looked back over my myriad adventures sometimes all I saw was shame.

Maharet had rightfully described her sister as the Queen of the Damned.

I stood up and went to the window. I had to stop. Too many voices out there in the night. Benji in faraway New York was already broadcasting of the appearance of Lestat in Paris, with David Talbot and Jesse Reeves. His amplified voice poured forth from countless devices out there, warning the fledglings: “Children of the Night, leave them alone. For your own safety, leave them alone. They will hear my voice. They will hear me begging them to speak to us. Give them time. For your own safety, leave them alone.”

I went back to the couch. David was patiently waiting, and so was Jesse. Surely their preternatural hearing was as acute as mine.

“And then there was the time when Marius came to her,” said Jesse, looking at me eagerly.

I nodded for her to continue.

“You know these things. Marius came wanting Maharet’s permission to put an end to Santino, the vampire who’d done so much to harm him over the centuries, the vampire who brought the Children of Satan against him in Venice.”

David nodded, and so did I. I shrugged.

“She had hated that she was asked to sit in judgment, that Marius wanted her to convene a court of sorts, to give permission for what he wanted to do. She refused permission to Marius to harm Santino, not because she didn’t believe he should but because she did not want to be the judge. And she did not want a murder beneath her roof.”

“That was clear,” said David.

Marius had recounted this story in his memoir. Or somebody had recounted it. The memoir might have been polished up by David for all I knew. Probably was. Pandora and Armand had been present for this court or tribunal when Marius had come before Maharet with his request, wanting vengeance on Santino but forswearing it if Maharet would not give her blessing. And somebody had brought Santino there, but who precisely had done that? Maharet?

It was Marius who’d said somebody has to rule. It was Marius who had raised the entire issue of authority. What were we to expect from someone who came into the Blood during the age of the great Pax Romana? Marius had forever been the rational Roman, the believer in reason and law and order.

And then it had been another blood drinker, Thorne, an ancient fledgling of Maharet, an old Norseman, red-haired, romantic, newly emerged from the blessed solitude of the earth, who had destroyed Santino for reasons of his own. An ugly violent scene it had been with Santino burnt by Thorne right before Maharet’s eyes. Maharet had wept. Her outrage had not been that of a queen so much as the mistress of a household defiled. And Thorne had followed this act of disobedience and defiance by offering Maharet a precious gift: his preternatural eyes.

Maharet had been blind all her long life as a blood drinker. Blinded by Akasha before she came into the Blood, she’d used the eyes of her mortal victims; but they had never endured very long. Thorne had given her his vampire eyes. He’d asked the mute and impassive Mekare to take his eyes from him and give them to her sister. And that Mekare had done. Thorne had remained in the compound after that for all anyone ever knew, a prisoner of the twins, blind, suffering, maybe content.

When I’d read that account in Marius’s memoir, I’d thought back on Fareed’s promise to achieve permanent preternatural eyes for Maharet. Had he ever had the opportunity?

“That broke something inside of her,” said Jesse, “that awful trial. Not Thorne’s rebellion, you understand. She loved and forgave Thorne. She kept Thorne with us after. But simply the fact of Marius appealing to her, saying that there had to be a law amongst us, that somebody had to have authority. That broke her. That made it all too plain that she was no sovereign for the Undead.”

This had never occurred to me. I had assumed that one so old and so powerful had simply gone on, pursuing a path well beyond our various disputes.

“I think it was after that that she began to obliterate all contact with the Great Family, and I saw her slipping ever deeper into her own silence.”

“But she’d summoned young ones from time to time, didn’t she?” I asked. “And David, you were still coming and going.…”

“Yes, she did continue to invite others to the archives,” said David. “She was especially tolerant of me. But I think I disappointed in those early years too. There were times when I could not bear the archives, and all the secret knowledge there that the outside world would never see. She knew how I felt. She knew that reading of lost cities and empires only made me feel less human, less vital, less purposeful. She saw all that. She knew.”

“But she told me once we go through cycles, all of us,” I protested. “I’m in a bad cycle now. That’s why I so wanted to talk to her for a little while. I thought she was the great expert on cycles of despair and cycles of confidence. I thought she had to be. I thought she was the strongest of us all.”

“She’s a fallible being ultimately,” said David, “just as you or I. Very likely her gift for survival depends on her limitations. Isn’t that always the way it is?”

“How the Hell do I know!” I said crossly, but he only smiled as if he was on to my bad behavior and had always been. He waved it away and looked to Jesse.

“Yes, she did bring young ones to the compound,” Jesse said, picking up the thread. “But only a few. Then four years ago something completely unexpected happened.”

She took a deep breath, and sat back again, putting the sole of her boot up against the coffee table. Small delicate brown leather boot.

David was waiting, and from the world beyond I heard the voice of Benji broadcasting out of New York: “If you don’t want disaster, I tell you leave them alone. Play my voice. Let my voice plead with them to come to us, to speak to us, yes, but do not approach them. You know their power. You know what they can do.”

I closed my mind to the voices.

“All right,” said Jesse as if she’d won an exhausting argument with herself. She sat up straight again, crossing her legs rather gracefully, and stretching her left arm along the back of the chair. “This was four years ago, as I said. And she’d been visited by a very strange blood drinker, perhaps the strangest blood drinker I’d ever encountered or heard of, and he took her completely by surprise. His name was Fareed Bhansali, and if you can believe it, he is a physician and a research scientist. This was something that Maharet had in particular always feared—a scientist blood drinker, a blood drinker who might use knowledge that she viewed as magical to take power in the world.”

I was about to protest that I knew Fareed, had known him well, though we’d only met once, when I perceived that she understood this, understood it from my thoughts, and David was signaling that he knew Fareed as well. Very well. The story of Seth and Fareed was out there.

“But Fareed Bhansali would never seek to use power unwisely or wrongly,” David said. “I’ve met him, sat with him, talked to him, talked to Seth, his mentor.” (“Mentor,” it seemed, had become interchangeable with the word “maker,” which was fine with me.)

“Well, that’s what she came to discover soon enough. He told her he could easily restore Thorne’s eyes to Thorne and provide her with eyes from a blood drinker that would last her for eternity. He said he could implant these new eyes for her with surgical delicacy so that they would endure forever. He explained that he knew how to override the Blood in us and stop its relentless war on change long enough to make the alterations in tissue required for a true wedding of nerves and biological threads.” Jesse sighed. “I didn’t understand most of it. I don’t think Maharet did either. But he was brilliant, undeniably brilliant. He explained he was a true physician for our kind. He said he’d recently attached a full-functioning vampiric leg to an ancient vampire named Flavius who had lost the limb before he was ever brought into the Blood.”

“Of course, Flavius,” said David. “Pandora’s Flavius, her Athenian slave. But this is marvelous.”

I knew that story as well. I smiled. Of course, Fareed could do such a thing. But what else might he do?

Jesse continued.

“Well, Maharet took him up on the offer. She did not like the idea that a young fledgling would be blinded for these purposes. But he soon got around this ethically, telling her to choose a victim for herself, one upon whom she thought it entirely proper and just to feed. He would take that victim, render him or her unconscious, and then infuse the body with the vampiric blood. When he’d removed the eyes, he would do away with the victim. She might be present at all stages if she wished. And once again, he emphasized that the placement of the eyes would involve his skills as a surgeon with more infusions of vampiric blood to perfect the result. Her eyes would be her eyes forever. She had only to pick the victim, as he said, from all those within her hearing, all those with the proper-color eyes.”

That sent a chill through me: “the proper-color eyes.” Brought back flashes of something horrible, but I didn’t want to see exactly what it was. I shook myself all over and fastened my attention on Jesse.

“She took him up on it,” said Jesse. “But she took him up on more than that. He wanted to welcome her and Mekare both to his laboratory in America. He had a huge place, apparently a mad scientist’s dream. I believe it was in New York at that time. They’d tried a number of locations. But Maharet wouldn’t risk trying to take Mekare to this place. Instead she spent a king’s ransom bringing all Fareed’s staff and equipment to us. She had everything flown into Jakarta, and brought out by truck to the compound. Electricians were brought in, new generators purchased and installed. When it was finished Fareed had what he needed to do every kind of test known to modern science on Mekare.”

Again, she broke off.

“You’re talking about magnetic imaging,” I said, “CAT scans, all of it.”

“Yes, exactly,” said Jesse.

“I should have known. And all these years, I’ve been afraid for Fareed, afraid that she’d done away with him, blasted him and his staff off the planet.”

“And how could she have done that with Seth protecting Fareed?” asked David. “When you met Fareed, surely you met Seth.”

“She might have made a considerable dent in operations,” I said. “She could have burned them both out. But you’re saying”—I looked at Jesse—“you’re saying, they’re all friends.”

“Allies,” said Jesse.

“Did Mekare submit to the tests?”

“Completely,” said Jesse. “Meekly. Mekare has never balked at anything that I was ever aware of. Nothing. And so they did the tests. There were these physician fledglings with them, and Seth was always working with Fareed. It was frightening to me to meet Seth. It was frightening to Khayman to meet him. Khayman had known Seth when Seth had been a human child. When Seth had been the Crown Prince of Kemet. Sometime after the Blood came into Akasha, she’d sent Seth away. Khayman had never had any knowledge of Seth being made into a blood drinker. He feared him, feared some old blood tie between mother and son that he said might be more powerful than our Blood. Khayman didn’t care for anything that was happening, for these scientists taking tissue samples and X-rays, and sitting around with Maharet until early morning, discussing all the properties of our bodies, the properties of the force that makes us what we are.”

“I’ve given up on scientific language,” I said. “I never thought I’d need it. And now I wish I had been there, and understood everything they’d said.” But this wasn’t entirely true. I’d left Fareed and Seth of my own accord years ago when I might have asked to remain indefinitely. I’d fled from the intensity of both of them and what they might discover about us.

“So what the Hell was the upshot of all of it?” I said suddenly, unable to contain myself. “What the Hell did they find out?”

“They said Mekare was mindless,” said Jesse. “They said the brain in her head was atrophied. They said there was so little indication of brain activity that she was like a human in a coma, kept alive by the brain stem alone. Apparently she’d been entombed so long, possibly in a cave, no one knew, that even her sight had been affected. The powerful Blood has actually hardened the atrophied tissue over time. I couldn’t fathom it. Of course they took some three nights to say this with incredible disclaimers, qualifiers, and tangents, but that was the gist.”

“And what about the other?” I asked.

“What other?” Jesse said.

I glanced at David and then back at her. They both appeared sublimely puzzled. This surprised me.

“What about the Sacred Core?” I asked.

Jesse didn’t respond.

“So what you’re asking is,” David interjected, “could these various diagnostic instruments detect the Sacred Core?”

“Well, of course that’s what I’m asking. Good grief. Fareed had the Mother in his clutches, didn’t he? You don’t think Fareed would be looking for evidence of a parasite inside her with some sort of cerebral activity of its own?”

They continued to stare at me as if I were mad.

“Fareed told me,” I went on, “that this thing, Amel, was a creature just as we are creatures, that it has cellular life, boundaries, is knowable. Fareed made all this clear to me. I simply couldn’t understand all his deductions, but he made it clear that he was obsessed with the physical properties of the Sacred Core.”

Oh, why hadn’t I listened more? Why had I been so pessimistic about the future of Fareed? Why did I have such a grim apocalyptic mind-set?

“Well, if he detected anything,” said Jesse, “I heard nothing of it.” She reflected for a long moment, and then asked: “What about you?”

“What about me when?”

“When you drank from Akasha,” she pushed gently. “When you held her in your arms. Did you hear anything, detect anything? You were in direct contact with the Sacred Core.”

I shook my head. “No, nothing that I could identify. She showed me things, visions, but they all came from her, always from her. As far as I know, from her.” But I had to admit, that was an interesting question.

“I’m no Fareed,” I muttered. “I had only the vaguest and most religious ideas, I confess, about the Sacred Core.”

My mind traveled back and back to my memories of Maharet describing the genesis of the vampires. Amel had gone into the Mother and then Amel was no more. Or so the spirits had told Maharet. This thing that was Amel, invisible yet huge, was now diffused amongst more blood drinkers than ever before in history. It was a root planted in the earth from which myriad plants have sprung so that the root has lost its shape, its boundaries, its “rootness.”

Even after all these years, I didn’t like to speak of that intimacy with Akasha, being the Queen’s lover, drinking her thick and viscid and magnificent blood. I didn’t like to think of her dark eyes, and shining white skin, her curling smile. What a face, what a picture of innocence in one who would conquer the human world, in one who wanted to be the Queen of Heaven.

“And Mekare,” I said. “Have you never drunk from her?” I asked.

Jesse regarded me again for a long moment as if I’d said something shocking and unpleasant and then she simply shook her head. “I’m not aware that anyone has ever approached her for her blood. I’ve never seen Maharet drink Mekare’s blood or offer her blood to Mekare. I’m not sure they’d ever do such a thing, or ever did—that is, after the very first encounter.”

“I have a deep suspicion that if anyone ever did try to drink her blood,” said David, “she’d regard it as vile and she’d destroy that person, perhaps in some crude way, as with her fist.”

Her fist. The six-thousand-year-old fist. Something to consider. A six-thousand-year-old immortal could destroy this hotel with her fist if she had a mind to do it, and the time.

Mekare had destroyed Akasha in a crude and simple way, that was certain, throwing her back against a plate-glass window with such force that she broke the glass. I saw that again, saw that great jagged sheet descending like the blade of a guillotine to sever her head. But I hadn’t seen everything. Perhaps nobody really had except Maharet. How had the skull of Akasha been broken? Ah, the mystery of it: the combination of vulnerability and overwhelming strength.

“I never knew Mekare to have any sense of her powers,” said David, “any sense of the Cloud Gift or the Mind Gift or the Fire Gift. From all you’ve told me, she came against Akasha with the certainty of an equal, nothing more.”

“Thank the gods for that,” said Jesse.

When she’d risen to kill the Queen, Mekare had come over land, walking night after night through jungle and desert, over mountain and valley, until she’d reached the Sonoma compound where we had all come together, guided by what images, what voices, we never knew. Out of what grave or cave she’d come we were never to know either. And I understood now the full implications of all that Jesse had been telling us: There never would be answers to our questions about Mekare. There never would be a biography of Mekare. There never would be a voice speaking on behalf of Mekare. There would never be a Mekare typing away on a computer to pour out her thoughts to us.

“She doesn’t know she’s the Queen of the Damned, does she?” I asked.

Jesse and David stared at me.

“And did Fareed offer to make for her a new tongue?” I pushed.

Again my question shocked both of them. Obviously it was extremely hard for all of us to deal with the implications of the existence and knowledge of Fareed. And the power and mystery of Mekare. Well, we were here to talk, weren’t we? The question of the tongue seemed obvious to me. Mekare had no tongue. Her tongue had been ripped out before she was brought into the Blood. Akasha was guilty. She’d blinded one and ripped the tongue from the other.

“I think that he did make this offer,” Jesse explained, “but there was no way to communicate this to Mekare or to make her cooperate. I’m only surmising. I’m not sure. They’re all deaf to each other’s thoughts, these ancient ones, as you know. But as usual, I heard nothing emanating from Mekare. I’d accepted the idea that she was mindless. She was willing enough to be the passive victim of tests, that was no problem. But beyond that, whenever he drew near to her or tried to examine her mouth, she stared at him as if she were watching the falling rain.”

I could well imagine how frightening that must have been even for the intrepid Fareed.

“Was he able to narcotize her?” I asked.

David was clearly shocked. “You know you really are past all patience,” he muttered.

“Why, for not putting it poetically?”

“Only for very short intervals,” Jesse said, “and only a few times. She grew tired of the needles and stared at him like a statue come to life. He didn’t try again after the first three times.”

“But he took her blood,” I said.

“That he did before she quite realized what was happening,” said Jesse, “and of course Maharet was assisting and coaxing her and stroking her hair and kissing her and begging her permission in the ancient tongue. But Mekare didn’t like this. She stared at the vials with a kind of revulsion as if she were looking at a loathsome insect feeding on her. He managed to take scrapings of her skin, samples of her hair. I don’t know what else. He wanted everything. He asked us for everything. Saliva, biopsies of organs—biopsies he could take with needles, you understand—bone marrow, liver, pancreas, whatever he could get. I gave all that to him and so did Maharet.”

“She liked him, respected him,” I said.

“Yes, loves him,” she hastened to say, emphasizing the present tense, “respects him. He did provide the eyes of a blood drinker for her, and restore to Thorne his eyes, the eyes he’d given Maharet. He did all that, and took Thorne under his wing when he left, took Thorne with him. Thorne had been languishing in the compound for years, but Thorne had been slowly restored over that time. Thorne wanted to find Marius again and Daniel Malloy, and Fareed took Thorne away with him. But Maharet loved Fareed, and she loved Seth also. We all loved Seth.” She was rambling now, repeating herself, reliving it.

“Seth had been there the night long ago in ancient Kemet when Akasha had condemned Mekare and Maharet to death,” Jesse said. She was picturing it. I was picturing it. “As a boy, he’d seen Mekare’s tongue torn out and seen Maharet blinded. But Seth and Maharet spoke together as if this old history had no claim on them. None whatsoever. They agreed on many things.”

“Such as what?” I prodded.

“Would you try to be polite, just try!” David whispered.

But Jesse answered me without stopping.

“They agreed that whatever they discovered on our behalf, they must never seek to interfere with human life in this world. That no matter what they achieved for us, they must never offer it to the human world. There might come a time, Maharet said, when a science of the vampires would be their greatest defense against persecution, but that time was in the remote future, and likely might never come at all. The human world must be respected. They agreed on all that. Fareed said he had no ambitions anymore in the realm of human beings, that we were his people. He called us that, his people.”

“Benji would love him,” I remarked. But I was hugely relieved to hear all this. More relieved than I could say.

“Yes,” Jesse said sadly. “Surely Benji would. Fareed had a way of referring to us as ‘the people’ and the ‘Blood People’ and ‘the People in the Blood.’ ”

“Our people, our tribe,” I said, echoing Benji.

“So what did happen, dearest,” asked David, “to make you all abandon the old compound?”

“Well, it was like this. Seth told Maharet of other ancient ones. He told her what I’m sure won’t surprise anyone here, that there were ancient ones everywhere who’d survived Akasha’s Time of Burning, who’d observed it but never feared it. And then he told her of ancient ones roused by it as he’d been. Seth had been in the earth for a thousand years when he heard your music, Lestat, and when he heard his mother’s voice answering yours. Seth said that Maharet was not aware of how much Lestat’s rock music and the Mother’s rise had changed the vampiric world. She had no inkling of how these events had not only awakened old ones, but brought others to a global consciousness.”

“Mon Dieu, a global consciousness,” I said. “So I’m going to be blamed one way or another for everything?”

“Well, that may be the least important aspect of all this,” David said, reaching out and taking my hand. “Whether you’re blamed or not isn’t the point, is it? Please, stop being the Brat Prince for five minutes, and let’s listen to Jesse.”

“Yes, Professor,” I said. “Don’t I always end up listening?”

“Not enough, I would say.” He sighed and looked back to Jesse.

“Well, Maharet wanted to find one of these ancient ones—not one newly risen but one especially wise in Seth’s estimation, and that was a blood drinker living now in Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva, a being with a powerful footprint in the human world. He’d maintained something of a vampire family since late antiquity. In fact, the vampire Flavius was the trusted friend and follower of this ancient one.”

“What name does he use with us?” I asked.

“She never told me precisely,” said Jesse. “But I do know his vast wealth is associated with pharmaceutical corporations and investments. I remember Seth saying as much. To continue, she went off to Switzerland to find him. She called me often while she was there.”

“By phone?”

“She’s never been a stranger to phones, computers, mobiles, whatever,” said Jesse. “Remember she was my aunt Maharet in the world before I ever knew her true secret. She was the mentor of the Great Family for centuries. She’s always functioned well in the world.”

I nodded.

“Turns out she loved this ancient one in Geneva, loved the life he’d built for himself and for those under his care. She did not reveal herself to him. She was spying upon him, through the minds of his loved ones. But she loved him. When she called me, she wouldn’t disclose his name or location by phone for obvious reasons, but all her reports were jubilant. This blood drinker had been brought over by Akasha to fight rebels like Maharet and Mekare and Khayman. Where they were called the First Brood, this vampire had been the Captain of the Queens Blood. But none of the old hatred mattered anymore to her, or so she said. And several times over the phone she told me that observing this creature had taught her all sorts of things, that his enthusiasm for life was contagious. I assumed all this was good for her.”

I could see David knew nothing of this being either and he was fascinated.

“And this is only one of a number of immortals of which we don’t know?” he asked gently.

Jesse nodded. “She said further that this Geneva blood drinker was tragically in love with Lestat.” She looked at me. “In love with your music, your writings, your musings—tragically convinced that if he could talk with you about all the ideas in his head, he would find a soul mate in you. Apparently, he loves his devoted family of blood drinkers—but they tire of his relentless passion for life and his endless speculations on the tribe and the changes we experience. He feels you’d understand him. She never said whether she agreed with him on that or not. She wanted to approach the being. She was strongly considering it. It seemed to me that she wanted to bring you all together with him at some point. But she left without approaching him. And what she had wanted, well, all this soon changed.”

“So what happened? Why didn’t she do this?” I pressed. I’d never doubted that Maharet could find me wherever I was. I figured this great and powerful blood drinker in Geneva could find me too. I mean I’m not all that hard to find, really.

“Oh, yes, you are,” Jesse said in answer to my thoughts. “You’re very well hidden.”

“Well, so what!”

“But back to the story, please,” said David.

“It’s what happened at the compound while she was gone,” said Jesse. “I’d remained behind with Khayman and Mekare, and several young blood drinkers who’d been studying in the archives. I’m not sure who these young ones were. Maharet had brought them there before leaving, and all I knew was that she had approved of each of them and given them access to the old records. Well, Khayman and I shared the responsibility of maintaining the hearth, as you might say. And for two nights I went into Jakarta to hunt and left things to Khayman.

“When I came back, I discovered that half the compound had been burnt down, some of the young ones—maybe all of them—had obviously been immolated, and Khayman was in a state of confusion. Maharet had also returned. Some instinct had told her to return. The devastation was horrific. Many of the screened courtyards were burnt out, and some of the libraries burnt to the ground. Old scrolls, tablets, had been lost, but the truly hideous sight was the remains of those who’d apparently been burnt to death.”

“Who were they?” I demanded.

“I honestly don’t know,” Jesse said. “Maharet never told me.”

“But hadn’t you met these young blood drinkers?” I pushed. “Surely you remember something about them.”

“I’m sorry, Lestat,” she said. “I don’t remember them, except to say that I didn’t know them by name or appearance. They were young, very young. There were always young ones coming and going. Maharet would bring them there. I don’t know who perished. I simply don’t know.”

David was clearly shocked. He’d seen the ruins just as I’d seen the ruins but hearing about it had a fresh effect.

“What did Khayman have to say about all this?” David asked.

“That’s just it. He couldn’t remember what had happened. He couldn’t remember where he’d been or what he’d done or what he’d seen during my absence. He was complaining of confusion and physical pain, actually physical pain in his head, and worse, he was drifting in and out of consciousness right in front of us, sometimes talking in the ancient tongue, and sometimes talking in other tongues I’d never heard before. He was babbling. And at times he seemed to be talking to someone inside his head.”

I noted this and locked my mind like a vault.

“He was obviously suffering,” Jesse said. “He asked Maharet what he could do for the pain. He appealed to her as a witch to heal the pain as if they were in ancient Egypt again. He said something was in his head hurting him. He wanted someone to take it out. He asked if that vampire doctor, Fareed, could open up his head and take this thing out. He kept reverting to the ancient tongue. I caught the most unbelievable and vivid cascade of images. And sometimes I think he did think they were back in those times. He was injured, crazy.”


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Re: Prince Lestat. (A taste of things to come)

Post by Lestat on Mon Dec 15, 2014 12:40 am

Trouble in the Talamasca and in the Great Family ~ Continued.


“And Mekare?”

“Almost the same as ever. But not quite.” Jesse stopped.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She wiped the images from her mind before I could catch them. She went for words.

“There’s always been a demeanor to Mekare,” said Jesse. “But when I first entered the compound, when I first saw all the burnt timber and the collapsed roofing, well, I came on Mekare standing in one of the passageways, and she was so altered, so different, that for a moment I felt I was looking at a stranger.” Again she paused, looking away and then back to us. “I can’t explain it. She was standing there, arms at her sides, and leaning against the wall. And she was looking at me.”

Now the image did blaze up. I saw it. Surely David saw it.

“Now I know that doesn’t sound remarkable at all,” said Jesse, her voice having dropped to a murmur. “But I tell you, I’d never seen her look at me in that way before, as if suddenly she knew me, recognized me, as if some intelligence had flared in her. It was like encountering a stranger.”

I could see it, all right. I’m sure David could too. But it was subtle.

“Well, I was afraid of her,” said Jesse. “Very afraid. I don’t fear other blood drinkers for obvious reasons. But in that moment I feared her. The expression on her face was so uncharacteristic. At the same time she was merely staring at me. I was petrified. I thought, This creature has powers enough to have done this, burned this place, burned those young ones. This creature can burn me. But then of course Khayman had that power too, and I didn’t know yet that he couldn’t remember anything.

“Maharet appeared, and she put her arm around Mekare, and then it seemed Mekare was Mekare again, drifting, eyes serene, eyes almost blind, standing upright and softening all over, and resuming her old characteristic grace—walking with the old simple movements, her skirts flowing around her, her head slightly bowed, and when she looked at me again her eyes were empty. Empty. But they were her eyes, if you follow me.”

I said nothing. The image continued to blaze in my mind. I felt a chill all over.

David wasn’t speaking. I wasn’t speaking.

“And Maharet dismantled the compound and we left there,” said Jesse. “And she never left Mekare alone after that, not for very long. No young ones were ever invited again to visit with us. No one was ever invited. In fact, she told me we must seal ourselves off from the world. And as far as I know she never contacted the Geneva blood drinker, though I can’t be too sure of that.

“When we established our new refuge she set up more technical equipment than in the past, and she used the computers regularly for all manner of things. I thought she went into a new level of involvement with the age. But now I wonder. Maybe she simply didn’t want to leave again. She had to communicate by computer. I don’t know. I can’t telepathically read my maker. And Maharet can’t read Khayman or Mekare. The First Brood can’t read each other. All too close. She told me she couldn’t read this Geneva blood drinker either. Queens Blood or First Brood, the really old ones can’t read each other’s thoughts. I suppose technically that Seth is Queens Blood. Queens Blood were the true heirs of Akasha’s blood drinker religion. First Brood remained the rebels, and First Brood gave the Blood without rules or codes to those they enlisted over the centuries. If one could trace the lineage of most of the blood drinkers of this era, I suspect they’d go back to First Brood.”

“Probably right,” I said.

“What happened with Khayman?” asked David. “How is it with Khayman?”

“Something is very wrong with him,” said Jesse. “Wrong with him to this very moment. He disappears for nights on end. He doesn’t remember where he goes or what he does. Most of the time he sits silent staring at old movies on the flat screens in the compound. Sometimes he listens to music all night. He says that music helps the pain. He watches your old rock videos, Lestat. He turns them on for Mekare and he watches and I suppose in some way she watches them too. Other times he doesn’t do much of anything. But he always comes back to the pain in his head.”

“But what about Fareed, what does Fareed say about this pain?” I asked.

“That’s just it, Maharet has never invited Fareed again to visit us. She’s never invited anyone, as I’ve said. If she e-mails Fareed, I know nothing of it. Her involvement with the computer is actually part of her withdrawal if you follow me. I’ve come here to tell you these things because I think you should know, both of you. And you should share this with Marius, and with the others, however you want to do it.” She sat back. She gave a long sigh as if to say to herself, Well, now it is done, you’ve confided and it cannot be undone.

“She’s protecting all the others from Mekare now,” David said in a soft voice. “That’s why she’s hidden herself.”

“Yes. And there is no connection at all anymore with her human family as I’ve said. We live from night to night in peace and contentment. She does not ask where I go when I leave, or where I’ve been when I come back. She advises me in a multitude of small things, just as she’s always done. But she doesn’t confide in me about the deepest things! To tell the truth, she behaves like someone who’s being watched, monitored, spied upon.”

Neither David nor I spoke, but I knew perfectly well what she meant. I pondered. I was not prepared to share with them any of my vague and troubling suspicions as to what was happening. Not at all prepared. I was not sharing my suspicions with myself.

“But still,” said David, “it might have been Khayman who burnt the archives and destroyed the young ones.”

“It might have been, yes,” Jesse said.

“If she really thought it was Khayman, she’d do something,” I said. “She’d destroy him if she felt she had to. No, it’s Mekare.”

“But how can she destroy Khayman? Khayman’s as strong as she is,” David said.

“Nonsense. She could get the jump on him,” I said. “Any immortal can be decapitated. We saw that with Akasha. She was decapitated by a heavy jagged piece of glass.”

“That’s true,” Jesse said. “Maharet herself told me this when she first brought me into the Blood. She said I’d grow so strong in the future that fire couldn’t destroy me and the sun couldn’t destroy me. But the sure way to murder any immortal was to separate the head from the heart and let the head and the body bleed out. She told me that even before Akasha came to the Sonoma compound with you. And then that’s just what happened with Akasha, only Mekare took Akasha’s brain and devoured it before the head or the heart bled out.”

We all reflected for a long time in silence.

“Again, there’s never been the slightest sign,” said David gently, “that Mekare knows her own powers.”

“Correct,” said Jesse.

“But if she did this, she must know her own powers,” David continued. “And Maharet is there to be a check upon her every waking moment.”

“Perhaps.”

“So where is all this going?” I asked. I tried not to sound exasperated. I loved Maharet.

“I don’t think she will ever destroy herself and Mekare,” said Jesse. “But I don’t know. I do know she listens all the time to Benji’s broadcasts out of New York. She listens to them on her computer. She sits back and listens for hours. She listens to all those young blood drinkers who call Benji. She listens to everything that they have to say. If she were going to bring the tribe to an end, I think she would warn me. I simply don’t think she means to do it. But I think she agrees entirely with Benjamin. Things are in a very bad way. Things have changed. It wasn’t only your music, Lestat, or Akasha rising. It’s the age itself, it’s the accelerated rate of technological advancement. She said once, as I believe I told you, that all institutions which depended upon secrecy are now threatened. She said that no system based on arcana or esoteric knowledge would survive this age. No new revealed religion could take hold in it. And no group that depended upon occult purpose could endure. She predicted that there would be changes in the Talamasca. ‘Human beings won’t fundamentally change,’ she said. ‘They’ll adapt. And as they adapt they’ll explore all mysteries relentlessly until they have found the fundamentals behind each and every one.’ ”

“My thoughts on the matter exactly,” I offered.

“Well, she’s right,” said David. “There have been changes in the Talamasca, and that’s what I wanted to tell you. That’s why I sent out the call for you. I wouldn’t have dared to disturb Maharet when she obviously did not want to be disturbed, but I have to confess I was hoping for news of her when you surfaced, and now I’m a bit stunned. What’s been happening with the Talamasca of late doesn’t mean so very much.”

“Well, what has been happening?” I asked. I wondered if I was becoming a nuisance. But without my goading them, these two would have lapsed into long periods of silence and meaningful stares, and frankly, I wanted information.

Information age. I guess I’m part of it, even if I can’t remember how to use my iPhone from week to week, and have to learn how to send e-mails all over again every couple of years, and can’t retain any profound technological knowledge about the computers I sometimes use.

“Well, the answer to all that,” Jesse said, responding to my thoughts, “is to use the technology regularly. Because we know now that our preternatural minds don’t give us any superior gift for all knowledge, only the same kinds of knowledge we understood when we were human.”

“Yes, right. That is certainly true,” I confessed. “I’d thought it was different, because I’d learned Latin and Greek so easily in the Blood. But you’re absolutely right. So on to the Talamasca. I assume they’ve digitized all their records by now?”

“Yes, they completed that process several years back,” said David. “Everything’s digitalized; and relics are in museum-quality environments under the Motherhouses in Amsterdam and in London. Every single relic has been photographed, recorded on video, described, studied, classified, etcetera. They had begun all that years ago when I was still Superior General.”

“Are you talking to them directly?” asked Jesse. She herself had never wanted to do that. Since she came into the Blood, she’d never sought to contact her old friends there. I’d brought David over. She had not. For a while, I’d harassed the Talamasca, baited them, engaged now and then with their members, but that was now a long time ago.

“No,” said David. “I don’t disturb them. But I have occasionally visited those old friends of mine on their deathbeds. I have felt an obligation to do that. And it’s simple enough for me to get into the Motherhouses and get into those sickrooms. I do that because I want to say goodbye to those old mortal friends, and also I know what they’re experiencing. Dying without so many answers. Dying without ever having learned anything through the Talamasca that was transformative or transcendent. What I know now of the present state of the Talamasca I know from those encounters and from watching, simply watching and listening and prowling about, and picking at the thoughts of those who know someone is listening, but not who or what.” He sighed. He looked weary suddenly. His dark eyes were puckered and there was a tremor in his lips.

I saw his soul so clearly now in the new youthful body that it was as if the old David and the new David had completely fused for me. And indeed his old persona did shape the expression of his youthful face. A multitude of facial expressions had reshaped the piercing black eyes of this face. Even his old voice sounded now through the newer vocal cords as if he had retuned them and refined them merely by using them for all those softly spoken, unfailingly polite words.

“What’s happened,” he said, “is that the mystery of the Elders and the origins of the Order have been buried in a new way.”

“What do you mean?” asked Jesse.

David looked at me. “You’re familiar with this. We never knew our origins really. You know that. We always knew the Order had been founded in the mid–eighth century, and we knew there was unaccountable wealth somewhere which financed our existence and our research. We knew the Elders governed the Order but we didn’t know who they were or where they were. We had our hard-and-fast rules: observe but do not interfere, study but do not ever seek to use the power of a witch or a vampire for one’s own gain, that sort of thing.”

“And this is changing?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “The Order’s as healthy and virtuous as ever. If anything they’re thriving. There are more young scholars coming in today who know Latin and Greek than before, more young archaeologists—like Jesse—who are finding the Order attractive. The secrecy has been preserved, in spite of your charming books, Lestat, and all the publicity you so generously heaped on the Talamasca, and as far as I know there have been few scandals in recent years. In fact none whatsoever.”

“So what’s the big problem?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it a problem,” said David. “I’d call it a deepening of the secrecy in a new and interesting way. Sometime in the last six months newly appointed Elders started introducing themselves to their colleagues and welcoming communication with them.”

“You mean Elders actually chosen from the ranks,” said Jesse with a bit of an ironic smile.

“Precisely.

“Now in the past,” David went on, “we were always told that the Elders came from the ranks, but once they were chosen they became anonymous except to other Elders, and their location was never revealed to anyone. In olden times they communicated by letter, sending their own couriers to deliver and retrieve all correspondence. In the twentieth century, they moved to fax communication and computer communication, but again, they themselves remained anonymous and their location unknown.

“Of course the mystery was this; no one ever knew personally any member called to be an Elder. No one ever encountered personally anyone who claimed to be an Elder. So it was strictly a matter of faith that the Elders were chosen from the ranks, and as early as the Renaissance, as you know, members of the Talamasca had suspicions about the Elders, and were profoundly uncomfortable with not knowing who they really were or how they passed their power on to succeeding generations.”

“Yes, I remember all this,” I said. “Of course. Marius talked about it in his memoir. Even Raymond Gallant, his friend in the Talamasca, had asked Marius what he knew about the origins of the Talamasca, as if he, Raymond, were uneasy with not knowing more.”

“Correct,” said Jesse.

“Well, now it seems everybody knows who the new Elders are,” said David, “and where their meetings will take place, and all are invited to communicate with these new Elders on a daily basis. But obviously, the mystery of the Elders before this time remains. Who were they? How were they chosen? Where did they reside? And why are they handing off power now to known members?”

“Sounds like what Maharet’s done with the Great Family,” I said.

“Exactly.”

“But you never seriously thought they were immortals, did you?” asked Jesse. “I never did. I simply accepted the need for secrecy. I was told the Talamasca was an authoritarian order when I joined. I was told it was like the Church of Rome, in that its authority was absolute. Never expect to know who the Elders are or where they are or how they know what they know.”

“I’ve always thought they were immortals,” said David.

Jesse was shocked and a little amused. “David, you’re serious?”

“Yes,” said David. “I’ve thought all my life that immortals founded the Order to spy on and record the goings-on of other immortals—spirits, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, whatever. And of course we were to spy on all those mortals who can communicate with immortals.”

I was reflecting. “So the Order’s collected all this data over the centuries, while the central mystery—the origins—remains unexplored.”

“Exactly. And if anything this change moves us farther away from the central mystery,” said David. “Within a few generations the entire mystery might well be forgotten. Our shadowy past will be no more intriguing than the shadowy past of any other ancient institution.”

“That does seem to be what they want,” I said. “They’re bowing out before any serious investigation is mounted, either within or without the Order, to find out who they are. Another decision prompted by the information age? Maharet was right.”

“What if there’s a deeper reason?” David asked. “What if the Order was indeed founded by immortals, and what if these immortals are no longer interested in pursuing the knowledge they wanted so badly? What if they’ve abandoned their quest? Or what if they’ve found out what they wanted to know all along?”

“What could that possibly be?” Jesse asked. “Why, we know no more about ghosts, witches, and vampires than we ever did.”

“That’s not true,” David said. “What have we been discussing here? Think.”

“Too many unknowns,” I said. “Too many suppositions. The Talamasca has an amazing history, no doubt about that, but I don’t see why it couldn’t have been founded by scholars and maintained by them, and what any of this proves. On the surface of it, the Elders have simply changed their method of interacting with the members.”

“I don’t like it,” said Jesse softly. She appeared to shiver. She rubbed the backs of her arms with her long white fingers. “I don’t like it at all.”

“Has Maharet ever told you anything about the Talamasca, anything entirely personal that she alone knew?” asked David.

“You know she hasn’t,” Jesse responded. “She knows all about them; she thinks they’re benign. But no, she’s confided nothing. She’s not terribly interested in the Talamasca. She never has been. You know that. David, you asked her these questions yourself.”

“There were legends,” said David, “legends we never discussed. That we were founded to track the vampires of the Earth, and all the rest of the research was essentially unimportant, that the Elders themselves were vampires.”

“I don’t believe that,” I said, “but then you lived with all the talk, I didn’t.”

“It used to be said that when you died within the Order, the Elders came to you right before death and revealed themselves. But who started that old tale I never knew. And as I kept watch with one dying colleague after another in my time, I came to know this wasn’t true. People died with many unresolved questions about their life’s work, and its value.” David looked at me. “When we first met, Lestat, I was a disillusioned and burnt-out old man. You remember that. I wasn’t sure all my work studying the supernatural had come to anything.”

“Whatever the case, the mystery remains unresolved,” I said. “And maybe I should try to find the answer. Because I think this new development does have something to do with the crisis our kind is facing.” But I broke off, uncertain of what more I could say.

They sat there in silence.

“If it’s all connected, I don’t like it,” I muttered. “All this is too apocalyptic,” I said. “I can live with the notion that this world is a Savage Garden, that things are born and die for random reasons, that suffering is irrelevant to the great brutal cycle of life. I can live with all that. But I don’t think I can live with great overarching connections between things as enduring as the Great Family and the Talamasca and the evolution of our tribe.…”

Fact was, I simply couldn’t put it all together. So why act like the idea of it was frightening me? I wanted to put it all together, didn’t I?

“Oh, well, then you do admit there is a crisis,” David said with a trace of a smile.

I sighed. “All right. There’s a crisis. What I don’t understand is why, exactly. Oh, I know, I know. I woke up the Undead world with my songs and videos. And Akasha awoke and went on a rampage. All right. I get it. But why are all those mavericks everywhere now? They weren’t before. And what’s the impact of these ancient ones rising, and why do we need a Queen of the Damned in the first place? So Mekare and Maharet don’t care to rule. So what? Akasha never ruled. Why didn’t things simply lapse back to the way they’d always been?”

“Because the whole world was changing,” said David impatiently. “Lestat, don’t you see, what you did in ‘coming out’ as a vampire to the public was part of the zeitgeist. No, it didn’t change the mortal world in any way, of course not, but how can you underestimate the effects of your books, your words, all of it on all the blood drinkers in existence? You gave the inchoate masses out there an origin story, a terminology, and a personal poetry! Of course this waked old ones. Of course this invigorated and charged apathetic ones. Of course this roused from torpor wanderers who’d given up on their own kind. Of course this emboldened mavericks to make other mavericks using the famous Dark Trick, Dark Gift, Dark Blood, etcetera!”

None of this was said with contempt, no, but it was said with a kind of scholar’s fury.

“And yes, I did my part, I know that,” David continued. “I published the stories of Armand, Pandora, and finally Marius. But the point I’m trying to make is this: you gave a legacy and a definition to a population of shrinking, self-loathing predators who had never dared to claim any such collective identity for themselves. So yes, it changed everything. It had to.”

“And then the human world gave them computers,” said Jesse, “and more and better planes, trains, and automobiles, and their numbers have grown exponentially and their voices have become a chorus heard by all from sea to shining sea.”

I got up off the couch and went to the windows. I didn’t bother to pull back the loose filmy curtains that covered them. The lights of all the surrounding towers were magnificently beautiful through this cloud of white gauze. And I could hear the fledglings out there, milling, pondering, covering the various entrances of the hotel, and reporting to one another, variations of “No action here. Keep watching.”

“You know why this disconcerts you so very much?” David said. He drew up beside me. He was angry. I could feel the heat coming off him. In this strong, stout-chested young body he was my height, and those intense black eyes fixed me with David’s soul. “I’ll tell you why!” he said. “Because you never admitted to yourself that what you did in writing your books, in writing your songs, in singing your songs … you never admitted that it was all for us. You always pretended it was some great gesture to humankind and for their benefit. ‘Wipe us out.’ Really! You never admitted that you were one of us, talking to the rest of us, and what you did, you did as part of us!”

I was suddenly furious. “It was for me that I did it!” I said. “All right. I admit it. It was a disaster, but it was for me that I did it. There was no ‘us.’ I didn’t want the human race to wipe us out, that was a lie, I admit it. I wanted to see what would happen, who would show up for that rock concert. I wanted to find all those I’d lost … Louis, and Gabrielle, and Armand and Marius, maybe Marius most of all. That’s why I did it. Okay. I was alone! I didn’t have any grand reason! I admit it. And so goddamned what!”

“Exactly,” he said. “And you affected the entire tribe and you never took one ounce of responsibility for having done so.”

“Oh, for the love of Hell, are you going to preach vampire ethics from a pulpit?” I said.

“We can have ethics and we can have honor and we can have loyalty,” he insisted, “and every other key virtue we learned as humans.” He was roaring at me under his breath, as the British so often do it, with a veneer of silvery politeness.

“Oh, preach it in the streets,” I said disgustedly. “Go on Benji’s radio show. Call in and tell him and all of them out there. And you wonder why I go into exile?”

“Gentlemen, please,” said Jesse. She sat there still in her armchair looking small, fragile, shaken, shoulders hunched as if against the blast of our argument.

“Sorry, dearest,” said David. He returned to his chair beside her.

“Look, I need the remaining time before dawn,” she said. “Lestat, I want you to give me your iPhone, and you, David, let me give you all the numbers too. E-mail, mobile numbers, everything. We can stay connected with one another. You can e-mail Maharet and me. You can call us. Please, let’s share all our numbers now.”

“So what, the reigning Queen in hiding is willing to share her mobile number?” I asked. “And e-mails?”

“Yes,” said Jesse. David had complied with her request and she was tapping away on the shiny little device, fingers fluttering over it with such speed they were a bit of a blur.

I came back, flopped heavily on the sofa, and threw down my iPhone as if it were a gauntlet on the coffee table. “Take that!”

“Now, please, share with me all the information you’re willing to share,” she said.

I told her again what I’d told Maharet years ago. Contact my attorneys in Paris. As for my e-mails, well, I changed them all the time as I forgot how to use them and tried to learn all over again with some new and superior service. And I always forgot or lost the old devices or the old computers and then had to begin again.

“All the info’s in the phone,” I said. I unlocked it for her and gave it to her.

I watched as she brought the devices up to date. I watched as she shared my information with David, and David’s information with me, and I was ashamed to admit that I was glad I had these ephemeral numbers. I’d shoot a record of all this to my attorney and he’d keep it through thick and thin, even when I’d forgotten how to access it online myself.

“Now, please,” Jesse said finally. “Spread the word. Express my concerns to Marius, to Armand, to Louis, to Benji, to everyone.”

“It will drive Benji out of his gourd to have ‘secret intelligence’ about the twins perhaps immolating themselves,” David said. “That I will not do. But I will indeed try to find Marius.”

“Surely there are old ones in Paris,” I said, “old enough to have spied on us here tonight.” I wasn’t speaking of the riffraff.

Yet I had the feeling Jesse didn’t care. Let the riffraff hear it, for all Jesse cared. Let the old ones hear it. Jesse was frayed from conflict and anxiety. And even confiding in us had not eased her pain.

“Were you ever happy in the Blood?” I asked suddenly.

She was startled. “What do you mean?”

“In the beginning, during those first years. Were you happy?”

“Yes,” she said. “And, I know that I will be happy again. Life is a gift. Immortality is a precious gift. It shouldn’t be called the Dark Gift. That’s not fair.”

“I want to see Maharet in person,” said David. “I want to go with you home.”

Jesse shook her head. “She won’t allow it, David. She knew what I meant to say when I found you. She allowed this. But she will not receive anyone now at home.”

“Do you still trust in her?” asked David.

“In Maharet?” Jesse asked. “Always. Yes, in Maharet.”

That was significant. She didn’t trust the other two.

She was backing away from us towards the double doors to the hallway.

“I’ve given you what I have to give for now,” she said.

“And what if I want to find that vampire in Geneva?” I asked.

“That would be your decision. He’s in love with you. I can’t imagine him hurting you. Does anyone ever try to hurt you?”

“Are you joking?” I asked bitterly. Then I shrugged again. “No, I don’t guess anyone ever does anymore.”

“You’re the one they look to …,” she said.

“So Benji says!” I muttered under my breath. “Well, there’s no reason for them to look to me. I may have started it but I sure as Hell can’t finish it.”

She didn’t answer.

David sprang up suddenly and went to her and took her in his arms. They held each other silently for a moment and then he went with her to the doors.

I knew she was as good at the Cloud Gift as I was, what with all that ancient blood. She’d leave the hotel by the roof so fast she might as well have been invisible.

David closed the doors behind her.

“I want to go walking,” I said. My voice was thick, and suddenly I realized I was weeping. “I want to see that old district where the markets used to be, and the old church. Haven’t been there since … Will you come with me?” I had half a mind to flee now, just go. But I didn’t.

He nodded. He knew what I wanted. I wanted to see the area of Paris where once les Innocents, the ancient cemetery, had existed—beneath which, in torch-lit catacombs, Armand and his Children of Satan coven had held court. It was there that, orphaned by my maker, I’d discovered with shock the others of our kind.

He embraced me and kissed me. This was David whom I knew intimately in this body. This was David’s powerful heart against me. His skin was silken and fragrant with some subtle male perfume, and his fingers were thrilling me vaguely as he took my hand. Blood of my Blood.

“Why do people want me to do something about all this?” I asked. “I don’t know what to do?”

“You’re a star in our world,” he said. “You made yourself that. And before you say anything rash or angry, remember. That’s what you wanted to be.”

We spent hours together.

We moved over the rooftops far too fast for the fledglings below to track us.

We drifted through the streets of les Halles, and through the darkened interior of the great old church of Saint-Eustache with its paintings by Rubens. We sought out the little Fontaine des Innocents in the Rue Saint-Denis—a tiny relic of the olden times—which had once stood beside the wall of the vanished cemetery.

This made my heart both glad and anguished. And I let the memories come back to me of my battles with Armand and his followers who believed so fervently we were anointed servants of the Devil. Such superstition. Such rot.

Eventually some of the paparazzi vampires found us. They were persistent. But they kept their distance. We didn’t have much time.

Pain, pain, and more pain.

No trace remained of the old Théâtre des Vampires or where it had once stood. Of course I’d known that but had to visit the old geography anyway, confirm that the old filthy world of my time had been paved over.

Armand’s magnificent nineteenth-century house—which he’d built in Saint-Germaine-de-Prés—was shut up and maintained by unwitting mortals, full of murals, carpets, and antique furniture covered in white sheets.

He’d refurbished that house for Louis right before the dawn of the twentieth century, but I don’t think Louis had ever been at home in it. In Interview with the Vampire he did not so much as even mention it. The fin de siècle with its glorious painters, actors, and composers had meant nothing to Louis, for all his pretensions to sensitivity. Ah, but I couldn’t blame Louis for shunning Paris. He’d lost his beloved Claudia—our beloved Claudia—in Paris. How could he be expected ever to forget that? And he’d known Armand was a jungle wildcat among revenants, hadn’t he?

Still … Paris … I’d suffered here too, had I not? But not at the hands of Paris, no. Paris had always fulfilled my dreams and expectations. Paris, my eternal city, my home.

Ah, but Notre Dame, the great vast cathedral of Notre Dame was as always Notre Dame, and there we spent hours together, safe in the cold shadows in that great forest grove of arches and columns where I’d come more than two hundred years ago to weep over my transformation, and was in some way weeping over it even now.

David and I walked the narrow quiet streets of the Île Saint-Louis talking together. The fledgling paparazzi were within blocks of us but dared not come closer. The grand townhouse in which I’d made my mother, Gabrielle, into a Child of Darkness was still there.

Gradually we fell to talking again, naturally. I asked David how he had come to know Fareed.

“I sought out Fareed,” David said. “I’d heard plenty of whispers of this mad vampire scientist and his ancient guardian angel, and their ‘evil’ experiments, you know, the gossip of the misbegotten. So I went to the West Coast and looked for him till I found him.”

David described the new compound where Seth and Fareed were now, safe and secure in the wastes of the California desert, beyond the city of Palm Springs. Out there, they had built the perfect facilities for themselves—isolated and protected by two sets of high walls and mechanical gates, with tunnels for emergency evacuation and a heliport. They ran a small clinic for mortal incurables, but their real work took place in secure laboratories in sprawling three-story buildings. They were close enough to other medical facilities for their activities to attract little or no attention and far enough away from everything else to have the isolation and land they had needed but could not have in Los Angeles.

They’d welcomed David immediately. Indeed they’d been so hospitable that one could not imagine them being anything but that to everyone.

David had pressed Fareed on a very special issue: how was his mind and his soul anchored now in this body in which he had not been born, his own body being in a grave in England?

Fareed had done every conceivable test that he could on David. He could find no evidence that any “intelligence” existed inside him that was not generated by and expressed through his own brain. As far as he could see, David was David in this body. And his connection with it was utterly secure.

“Before you came into the Blood,” Fareed had told David, “very possibly you could have exited this body. You could have been some sort of discarnate entity, a ghost, in other words, capable of possessing other susceptible bodies. I don’t know. I can’t know. Because you are in the Blood now and very likely this Blood has more securely than ever bound you to your physicality.”

Speculation. But David had been comforted.

He too felt that Fareed and Seth would never seek to use their scientific knowledge against humans.

“But what about their underlings?” I asked. “They were already bringing doctors and scientists into the Blood when I met them.”

“Be assured. They pick and choose carefully. The vampire researchers I encountered were like idiot savants of their profession, obsessed, focused, completely devoid of any grand schemes, in love with studying our blood under microscopes.”

“And that is his central project, is it not?” I asked. “To study our blood, the Blood, so to speak?”

“It’s a frustrating proposition from what I understand, as whatever the Sacred Core is physically, we cannot see it. If it’s made of cells, the cells are infinitely smaller than the cells that we can see. So Fareed’s working with properties.”

David rambled on, but it was science poetry again, and I couldn’t absorb it.

“Do you think they’re still there, in that same location?”

“I know they are,” David said. “They tried a number of others first that did not work out.”

Perhaps that was when I was searching for them.

“They’re there. You can easily find them. In fact, they would be overjoyed if you would come to see them.”

The night was rolling to an end. The paparazzi had retreated to their coffins and lairs. I told David he could keep my suite at the hotel as long as he liked, and I had to head home soon.

But not quite yet. We’d been walking in the Grand Couvert of the Tuileries—in tree-shrouded darkness. “I’m thirsting,” I said aloud. At once he suggested where we might hunt.

“No, for your blood,” I said, pushing him backwards against the slender but firm trunk of a tree.

“You damnable brat,” he seethed.

“Oh, yes, despise me, please,” I said as I closed in. I pushed his face to one side, kissing his throat first, and then sinking my fangs very slowly, my tongue ready for those first radiant drops. I think I heard him say the single word, “Caution,” but once the blood struck the roof of my mouth, I wasn’t hearing clearly or seeing clearly and didn’t care.

I had to force myself to pull back. I held a mouthful of blood as long as I could until it seemed to be absorbed without my swallowing, and I let those last ripples of warmth pass through my fingers and toes.

“And you?” I asked. He was slumped there against the tree, obviously dizzy. I went to take him in my arms.

“Get away from me,” he growled. And started off walking, fast away from me. “Stick your filthy droit du seigneur right through your greedy heart.”

But I caught up with him and he didn’t resist when I put my arm around him and we walked on together like that.

“Now, that’s an idea,” I said, kissing him quickly though he stared forward and continued to ignore me. “If I was ‘King of the Vampires,’ I’d make it the right of every maker to drink from his fledgling anytime he chose. Maybe it would be good to be king. Didn’t Mel Brooks say, ‘It’s good to be the king’?”

And then in his droll cultured British voice he said with uncharacteristic brashness, “Kindly shut up.”

Seems I heard other voices in Paris; seems I sensed things. Seems I might have paid a little more attention, and not so cavalierly lumped all intrusions on my mind with the paparazzi vampires.

There was a point right after that when we were walking near the old catacombs, where the bones of the old eighteenth-century cemetery, Les Innocents, had been gathered, that I heard something, something distinct and plaintive, the voice of an old immortal singing, laughing, murmuring, “Ah, young one, you are riding the Devil’s Road in such glory.” I knew that voice, knew that timbre, that slow lilting tone. “And with your venerable battle-ax beneath your splendid raiment.” But I closed my ears. I wanted to be with David just then, and only David. We made our way back to the Tuileries. I didn’t want complications, or new discoveries. I wasn’t ready yet to be open as I’d once been to the mysteries surrounding me. And so I ignored that strange rumbling song. I never even knew if David could hear it.

And finally I told David I had to go back now into exile, I had no choice. I assured him that I was not in danger of trying to “end it,” just not ready at all to come together with others or to think about the horrific possibilities that had alarmed Jesse. He was all mollified by then and didn’t want me to vanish on him.

Yes, I have a safe refuge, I insisted. A good refuge. Be assured. Yes, I will use the iPhone magic to communicate.

I had turned to leave him when he took hold of me. His teeth went into the artery before I could think what was happening, and his arms went tight around my chest.

His pull was so strong that I swooned. Seems I turned and put my arms around him, catching his head in my left hand, and struggled with him, but the visions had opened up, and I didn’t know one realm from the other for a moment, and the manicured paths and trees of the Tuileries had become the Savage Garden of all the world. I’d fallen into a divine surrender, with his heart pounding against my heart. There was no restraint in him, no caution such as I’d shown in feeding on him.

I came to myself on the ground, my back to the trunk of a young chestnut tree, and he was gone. And the mild balmy night had turned to a gray winter dawn.

Home I went—to my “undisclosed location,” only minutes away on the currents of the wind, to ponder what I’d learned from my friends because I couldn’t do anything else.

The next night on rising, I caught the scent of David on my jacket, even on my hands.

I fought off the desire for him and forced myself to relearn how to use my powerful computer, and to obtain yet another e-mail address through another service, and then I sent a long missive to Maharet. I asked if I might visit her, wherever she was, and if not, would she communicate with me in this way? I let her know that I was aware of how things were changing for us, and how Benji’s pleas for leadership on the part of the older ones echoed the feelings of many, but I myself did not know how to respond. I asked for her thoughts.

Her communication was brief. I must not try to find her. Under no circumstances approach her.

Of course I asked why.

She never replied.

And six months later, her numbers were disconnected. E-mail no longer valid.

And in time I forgot again how to use the computer. The little iPhone rang a number of times. It was David. We’d talk, it would be brief, and then I’d forget to recharge the little thing. He did tell me he’d found Marius in Brazil and he was heading there to talk with him. He told me that Daniel Malloy, Marius’s companion, was in very good spirits and that Daniel was taking him to Marius. But I didn’t hear from him again.

Truth was, I lost the little iPhone. And went back to calling my attorneys in Paris and New York now as I had always done, with an old-fashioned landline phone.

A year passed.

I was lodged now in my father’s château in the mountains of the Auvergne—in my special hiding place in “plain sight,” so to speak, and where no one thought to look for me—the renovations on it now almost complete.

And the Voice came again.

“Have you no desire to punish those fledglings in the capital?” he asked. “Those vermin who chased you out of Paris last time you were roaming there?”

“Ah, Voice, where have you been?” I asked. I was at my desk drawing up plans for the new rooms that would soon be added to this old château. “Have you been well?”

“Why did you not destroy them?” he asked. “Why do you not go there and destroy them now?”

“Not my style, Voice,” I said. “Too often in the past I’ve taken life, both human and preternatural. I have no interest now in doing such things.”

“They drove you out of your city!”

“No, they didn’t,” I said. “Goodbye, Voice. I have things to do.”

“I was afraid you would take this attitude,” he said. “I should have known.”

“Where are you, Voice? Who are you? Why do we always meet like this in audial encounters at odd moments? Aren’t we ever going to meet again face-to-face?”

Ah, what a blunder. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than I looked to the great eighteenth-century mirror over the mantelpiece, and there he was of course in the guise of my reflection, down to the old bag-sleeve shirt I wore, and my loose hair, only he wasn’t reflecting me otherwise, but rather peered at me as if he were trapped in a glass box. Lestat’s face twisted with anger, almost petulant, childish.

I studied the image in the mirror for a moment and then I used my considerable powers to force it to disappear. That felt extremely good. Subtle and good. I could do that now. I knew. And though I could hear a low rumbling in my head, I was able to sink it down, down below the lovely music, the music of Sybelle playing the piano that came from my computer, Sybelle broadcasting from New York.

The simple fact was, I wasn’t interested in him anymore. I didn’t even bother to thank him for advising me to come home here, home to these stone rooms in which I’d been born, home to the quiet of this mountaintop. Why didn’t I do that? It was he who’d put the idea in my head, he who’d guided me back to the old fields and forests, to this sublime rural quiet, this breathtaking and familiar solitude where I felt so safe, so content.

I didn’t care enough to thank him.

Oh, it would have been nice to identify him before banishing him forever. But we don’t always get what we want.

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