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beat on anxiously, yet there was no communal conviction. The dark-
eyed woman vampire was not joined with the others in their wailing.
And others had stopped as well. And the woman who had come in
with the leader, a strange creature clothed as an ancient queen might
have been in ragged gown and braided girdle, commenced to laugh.
The coven or whatever it called itself was quite understandably
stunned. One of the kettledrums stopped. The queen creature
laughed louder and louder. Her white teeth flashed through the filthy
veil of her snarled hair. Beautiful she'd been once. And it wasn't
mortal age that had ravaged her. Rather, she appeared the lunatic, her
mouth a horrid grimace, her eyes staring wildly before her, her body
bent suddenly in an arc with her laughing, as Magnus had bent when
he danced around his own funeral pyre.
"Did I not warn you? " she screamed. "Did I not? " Far behind her,
Nicolas moved in the little cage. I felt the laughter scorning him. But
he was looking steadily at me, and the old sensibility was stamped on
his features in spite of their distortion. Fear struggled with malice in
him, and this was tangled with wonder and near despair. The auburn-
haired leader stared at the queen vampire, his expression unreadable,
and the boy with the torch stepped forward and shouted for the
woman to be silent at once. He made himself rather regal now, in
spite of his rags. The woman turned her back on him and faced us.
She sang her words in a hoarse, sexless voice that gave way to a
galloping laughter.
"A thousand times I said it, yet you would not listen to me, " she
declared. Her gown shivered about her as she trembled. "And you
called me mad, time's martyr, a vagrant Cassandra corrupt by too long
a vigil on this earth. Well, you see, every one of my predictions has
come true. " The leader gave her not the slightest recognition.
"And it took this creature, " she approached me, her face a hideous
comic mask as Magnus's face had been, "this romping cavalier to
prove it to you once and for all. " She hissed, drew in her breath, and
stood erect. And for one moment in perfect stillness she passed into
beauty. I longed to comb her hair, to wash it with my own hands, and
to clothe her in a modern dress, to see her in the mirror of my time.
In fact, my mind went suddenly wild with the idea of it, the reclaiming
of her and the washing away of her evil disguise. I think for one
second the concept of eternity burned in me. I knew then what
immortality was. All things were possible with her, or so for that one
moment it seemed. She gazed at me and caught the visions, and the
loveliness of her face deepened, but the mad humor was coming back.
"Punish them, " the boy screamed. "Call down the judgment of
Satan. Light the fire. " But no one moved in the vast room. The old
woman hummed with her lips closed, some eerie melody with the
cadence of speech. The leader stared as before. But the boy in panic
advanced upon us. He bared his fangs, raised his hand in a claw. I
snatched the torch from him and dealt him an indifferent blow to the
chest that sent him across the dusty circle, sliding into the kindling
banked against the pyre. I ground out the torch in the dirt. The queen
vampire let out a shriek of laughter that seemed to terrify the others,
but nothing changed in the leader's face.
"I won't stand here for any judgment of Satan! " I said, glancing
around the circle. "Unless you bring Satan here. "
"Yes, tell them, child! Make them answer to you! " the old woman
said triumphantly. The boy was on his feet again.
"You know the crimes, " he roared as he reentered the circle. He was
furious now, and he exuded power, and I realized how impossible it
was to judge any of them by the mortal form they retained. He might
well have been an elder, the tiny old woman a fledgling, the boyish
leader the eldest of them all.
"Behold, " he said, stepping closer, his gray eyes gleaming as he felt
the attention of the others. "This fiend was no novice here or
anywhere; he did not beg to be received. He made no vows to Satan.
He did not on his deathbed give up his soul, and in fact, he did not die!
" His voice went higher, grew louder.
"He was not buried! He has not risen from the grave as a Child of
Darkness! Rather he dares to roam the world in the guise of a living
being! And in the very midst of Paris conducts business as a mortal
man! " Shrieks answered him from the walls. But the vampires of the [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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