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Authors: Anne Rice

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BOOK: Prince Lestat
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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.

4
T
rouble in the
T
alamasca and in the
G
reat
F
amily

B
ENJI 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.

BOOK: Prince Lestat
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