knew the sins of Miriam Blaylock.
Her crime, and it was an
unforgivable one, was to enjoy human beings as friends and
lovers, rather than to simply exploit them. She could kiss them
and find it sweet, have sex with them and afterward sleep like a
contented tiger. To her own kind, this was perversion, like a man
with a sheep.
The fact that this prejudice was
nonsense did not make what she was doing now any easier. She
pressed herself back against the seat of the pedicab,
instinctively keeping her face hidden, not only from man, but
from her own kind. The samlor moved swiftly down the wet
street, spattering through puddles left by the last storm. From
the shadows of the passenger compartment, she watched a
concealing fog rising from the moat that surrounded the ancient
Thai city of Chiang Mai.
How could she ever do this
impossible thing? How could she ever face her own
Some theorized that she must have
human blood in her family. The idea that there could be
interbreeding was absurd, of course -- nothing but an old
husband's tale. She despised the narrowness of her kind, hated
what, in recent centuries, their lives had become. They
had once been princes, but now they lived behind walls, kept to
the shadows, appeared in the human world only to hunt. They had
opted out of man's technological society. They knew human
breeding, but human technology was simply too intimidating for
Miriam owned a thriving nightclub
in New York and had bookkeepers and assistants and bartenders,
all humans. She had computers to run her accounts. She could
access her stock portfolios using her PalmPilot, and she made
money on the markets, plenty of it. She had a cell phone and GPS
in her car. They didn't even have cars. Once the buggy no longer
bounced along behind the horse, they had simply stopped riding.
The same with sails. When ships lost their sails, her kind
stopped traveling the world. And airplanes -- well, some of them
probably weren't yet aware that they existed.
The other rulers of the world were
now just shadows hiding in dens, their numbers slowly declining
due to accidents. They called themselves the Keepers, but what
did that mean nowadays? Gone was the time when they were the
secret masters of humankind, keeping man as man keeps
Truth be told, the Keepers were in
general decline, but they were far too proud to realize it.
Conclaves were held every hundred years, and at the last ones
Miriam had seen a change -- Keepers she had known a thousand
years had followed her mother and father into death. Nobody had
brought a child, nobody had courted.
Despite their failure, Miriam
valued her kind. She valued herself. The Keepers were essential
to the justice and meaning of the world. That was why she had
come here, why she had tempted the humiliation and even the
possible danger involved: she wanted to continue her species.
Miriam wanted a baby.
The last of the four eggs that
nature gave a Keeper woman would soon leave her body unless she
found a man to fertilize it. For all that she had -- riches,
honor, power, and beauty -- her essential meaning was
un-fulfilled without a baby. She was here for her last-chance
She gazed across the gleaming back
of the samlor driver at the busy night streets of the
bustling little city. How the world was changing. She had chosen
a samlor out of love for the past, which she most
certainly shared with the rest of her kind. She remembered Chiang
Mai as a small community of wooden houses with theps
carved on the pediments of their soaring, peaked roofs, and
golden temple spires rising above lush stands of trees. Now, the
narrow old streets resounded with the shrill clatter of
tuk-tuks, which were so rapidly replacing the pedal-driven
samlor. The traffic wasn't quite yet the hell on earth of
Bangkok, but it was certainly going in that direction.
She longed to be home, in her
beautiful house, surrounded by her be-loved people, faithful
Sarah and sweet young Leonore, just now learning her
Just like the black, miserable
dens of the other Keepers, her house was full of beautiful
things. But hers were treasures of the heart, not the jade and
silver and gold pieces her peers collected with total
indifference, selling them later just because they'd become
"antiques" among the humans. They didn't enjoy their priceless
jade Buddhas or their Rembrandt drawings or their Egyptian gold.
They just used them. She had a gold Buddha a thousand years old,
before which she meditated, and twin Rembrandts of herself and
her beloved mother. He had captured the sure gleam of their
essence, she thought. She gazed often at her mother's wide,
almost innocent eyes, at the subtle humor in her lips.
Over the millennia, Miriam had
lost both parents and her husband. Her keepsakes of them were at
the center of her life.
Rembrandt had known that there was
something unusual about the two women who had commissioned him, a
sense of independence and self-possession that human women in
those days did not have. He had captured it in the proud, yet
easy stance of the figures he had drawn, humming to himself as he
made tiny pen strokes and smoked a long clay pipe. He had kissed
Miriam's hand and said, "You are cold...so cold."
Not only did she enjoy human
beings, she took pleasure in human things -- painting and
sculpture, writing and music. She had been an opera buff from the
beginning of the genre. She had been at the opening night of a
dozen great operas, had been transported by everyone from Adelina
Patti to Maria Callas to Kiri Te Kanawa. She remembered the
haunting voices of the castrati echoing in the palaces of
the Old World.
The other Keepers looked upon
humans as animals. Miriam thought that they had souls, that you
could feel something leaving their bodies just as they died. It
happened while you were all curled up around them, while you were
comfortably absorbing their life. A sort of electric charge would
seem to come out of them. Only after that would their eyes be
They said it was the
nervous system shorting out because of the fluid loss. Miriam
hoped so. But what if the reality was that men had the souls, not
us? If we were the brilliant animals, they the dim angels? That
would be an irony, that an animal had created an
When she meditated before her
Buddha, she asked these questions: Why do we live so long? Is it
because we have been denied a soul? If so, could I trade? And
why, O God, if you are there, why are we cold...so
The rest of her kind lived to eat.
She ate to live. She spent heavily, just as her family always
had. She consumed money without thought, like so much candy or
caviar. Her club, the Veils, was the most exclusive in New York.
In a strong month, and most of its months were very strong, drugs
and liquor would bring in a half-million-dollar profit. There was
no cover charge, of course. If you were important enough to enter
the Veils at all, you certainly weren't the sort of person who
would be expected to pay a cover.
Miriam had been the friend of
kings for two thousand years. She had seen their generations rise
and fall. She loved them in their pride and momentary lives. She
loved their finest things, the jewels and whispering silks, the
attention paid to the very rich.
When the wallets of her peers
opened, you could practically hear creaking. She had fun; they
had their careful customs and their dreary, conservative habits.
She wanted meaning from life, they wanted only to keep
But now, for all their rejecting
ways, she needed them. Her plan was to travel to all of the
current conclaves, at once charming and, hopefully, seducing a
Deep in memory's mist, she'd had a
baby. She still remembered the moment of conception as if it were
yesterday. For women of her kind, conception was the most
exquisite pleasure they could know. At the moment a man's semen
fertilized one of your eggs, your whole body reacted with an
unforgettable explosion of nerve-tingling delight. Even after all
this time, part of her being remained focused on that stunning
They always knew the sex of the
baby within them, and she and Eumenes named their boy and fell in
love with him from that first, joy-filled night. Then had come
the pregnancy, a year of gestation...and the pain and the loss
she'd felt as the silent, blue form of her dead infant was laid
on her belly. Soon after, her beloved husband also died.
Practically nothing could kill them -- they never got sick, they
couldn't. But he had weakened and wasted, and no one knew why.
All her love, all her care, was not enough to save her dear
Eumenes, not after he stopped eating.
He had grown as narrow and cold as
a mummy, but his eyes had continued to glow...as if death had
some special meaning, as if hunger had become for him a state of
transcendence. She had begged him to eat, had tempted him, had
tried, at the last, to force her own blood into his
Was it grief that had killed him,
or some greater despair? Like her, he respected the mind of man.
Like her, he was unsure about whether or not humankind had
ascended to a point that made it evil to prey on them.
Was it evil to be a Keeper? Was
taking conscious prey murder? She thought that her husband had
starved himself over these questions...and over the blue,
hopeless baby he had so gently deposited upon her
The dead may die to the world, but
they do not die in the heart. Miriam's side of their love affair
had continued on for whole cycles of years. But eventually his
memory faded like the encaustic of his face that she'd had
painted by Eratosthenes, that hurried little genius, in
Old Alexandria...redolent with the
scents of myrrh and cardamom, whispering by night, singing by
day. She remembered Cleopatra's hollow palace, and the Academia
with its great library. She read all 123 of Sophocles' plays
there, and she saw thirty of them performed. How many had
survived? Seven, she thought, only seven.
Over all the intervening years,
she had not been able to find a man of her own kind to replace
Eumenes. Part of the reason was that conclaves only happened once
in a hundred years, and they did not court except during
conclave. For somebody who lived for the moment, that kind of
planning just did not work.
Now she was at the end of her
choices. Either she would find someone or she would never, ever
give another Keeper to the world.
Keeper children learned in school
that humans were bred to appear similar to us on the surface so
that Keepers could go among them more freely. In the beginning,
they did not look at all similar and were not at all smart. They
were little apes with lots of hair and huge teeth. We Keepers
have always been as we are, beautiful beyond compare.
Miriam had drifted into the habit
of taking human lovers because she was lonely and they were
satisfying and the emotional commitment was not great. You found
a cute male or a sweet, sensual female -- the sex mattered not to
Miriam, both had their charms -- and you seduced, softly, gently,
with the caressing eye and the slow hand. Then you put them to
sleep with hypnosis and opened their veins and filled them full
of your blood, and magic happened: They stayed young for years
and years. You told them you'd made them immortal, and they
followed you like foolish little puppies. Like the dear creature
who now kept her home and business in New York, who warmed her
bed and hunted with her...the dear creature, so lovely and
brilliant and torn by her silly human conflicts. She had almost
lost Sarah a few years ago, but had brought her back. The girl
should be grateful and compliant, but that was not always the
case. Sarah made mistakes. Sarah lived much too dangerously. She
was haunted by what she had endured, and Miriam could not blame
her. Indeed, she could hardly imagine what it would be like to
lie in a coffin like that, slowly deteriorating but unable to
Sarah knew that one day the
torment would certainly come again. She strove to save herself,
using all of her considerable knowledge of medicine to attempt to
defeat the process of aging that must slowly consume her, despite
the fact that Miriam's blood now flowed in her veins.
To live, Sarah had to prey on man.
She was even more tormented by this than Miriam's other lovers
had been. Her Hippocratic oath haunted her, poor
Miriam stopped herself. Best not
go down that path again. She was always troubled by the tormented
lives and horrible deaths of her lovers. The delicious little
things were her guilt, her pain.
But not now, not on this nervous,
excited night, the opening night of the Asian conclave. At least
a proper lover would never die as the human ones did, pleading
for deliverance even as their flesh became dust. But she would
have to submit to him, obey him, live in his cold cell...at
least, for a time.
Her body was her life -- its rich
senses, its wild desires, the way it felt when strong hands or
sweet hands traveled her shivery skin.
There would be none of that in her
future, not when she was part of one of their households,
as she would be expected to be, at least for the duration of her
pregnancy. Long, silent days, careful, creeping nights -- that
would be her life behind the walls of their world.
But that was how it had to be. She
could almost feel that little body in her belly, could imagine
hugging it after it came out, while it was still flushed and
coal-hot. Only a newborn or a freshly fed Keeper was ever that
The samlor glided along
Moon Muang Road, heading for the Tapae Gate and the temple
district beyond, moving through the murky, soaked night. How did
the Asians stand this wretched climate? And yet, the heat was
also nice. She enjoyed sweaty beds and long, druggy nights doing
every decadent thing she could imagine.
The others shunned drugs.
They said that they would rather die than become addicted
for the thousands of years of their lives. She hadn't had that
experience at all. Your blood protected you from all disease and
weakness. They were just prejudiced against drugs, which were a
human pleasure and therefore assumed to be trivial. But they had
never done hash in ginger-scented Tangiers, or opium here in
pillow-soft Chiang Mai, the last place in Asia where a good pipe
of well-aged opium could be found. They had never smoked lying on
silk beneath a hypnotic fan. When the nights were hot and the air
was still, she was drawn back to the brilliant oblivion of the
pipe. Drugs were less dangerous to enjoy here than in the States.
No blustery, narrow-eyed policemen were apt to show up, waving
guns and yelling. She'd had to race up too many walls to escape
from those annoying creatures.
Well, all that was going to
change. She was going to become a proper wife, and she certainly
didn't need drugs for that. She wasn't addicted, so it wouldn't
be a problem.
She could imagine her man, tall
and silent, his face narrow, his skin as pale as a shadow. She
could feel him, muscles like mean springs, long, curving fingers
that could crush a human's bones or caress her plump breasts. She
took a deep breath. These thoughts made her feel as if she were
drowning and being rescued at the same time.
The wind rose, sweeping through
the dark trees, sending ripples shivering across the puddles that
were like lakes in the street. Much lower now, the clouds raced
and tumbled. Voices rose from a little market, two girls singing
some popular song, oblivious to the samlor that whispered
past and to the being within, who was carefully listening to the
patter of their heartbeats from a thousand feet away.
Her interest in them told her that
the hunger was rising within her. She felt it now, a faint
gnawing in her belly, a hint of ice in her veins.
This was bad news. Most of her
kind could detect their hunger coming for days, and they could
prepare carefully to do a hunt. She'd never been able to prepare.
One second she was fine, the next it was starting.
Buddha said it was good to live in
the moment. In the Vedas, she'd read that there was only the
moment. Her species had no holy books, just records of their
possessions. Her mother had told her, "Humans have holy books
because they've journeyed closer to God than we have."
She noticed that the smell of the
samlor driver was washing over her, blown back by the
breeze. She took a deep drag on her strong Thai cigarette,
attempting to blot out the delicious scent.
It did not work. Okay, she
thought, I'll go with it. She looked at the driver's sweating
back. A thirty-second struggle and she'd be fed for another
couple of weeks. The thing was, the hotel had written down her
destination in Thai for him. He would not deviate from the route.
She needed to get him to go down some darker side street. "Speak
He did not respond. So she'd have
to jump him right out here if she wanted him, and that would
never do. You did your kills in private, and you destroyed all
trace of the corpse. Even Miriam Blaylock followed those two
The driver's skin rippled, his
muscles surged. Mentally, she stripped him of his black shorts
and T-shirt. She imagined laying him down upon a wonderful big
bed, his penis like a cute little tree branch. She would kiss him
all over and hold him closer and tighter, filling her mouth with
his salt sweat and her nose with his every intimate smell. Her
mouth would anesthetize his skin as the feeding began and in a
few delightful moments, his blood would be sweeping down her
She closed her eyes, arching her
back and stretching, forcing his smell out of her nose with a
rush of air. Think about opium, she told herself, not blood.
Later, she would smoke to relieve this damned hunger. She needed
to get back to familiar territory before she fed. It wasn't safe
to do it in an unknown place.
Too bad her flight to Paris, where
the European conclave was held, didn't leave until tomorrow
This Asian conclave would end with
dawn, and she'd have liked to have gone straight on to Europe.
She could feed easily in Paris; she knew the city well. She'd
hunted there recently -- no more than fifty or so years ago, when
it was swarming with Germans.
Of course, she might meet a man
here in Chiang Mai. If she did, her new husband would attend to
her need for prey during the pregnancy. If she wasn't leaving
tomorrow, she'd be staying in Asia a long time.
If she was still alone after this
conclave, she'd make her way along Samian Road, then cut into the
welter of little streets that concealed a hole-in-the-wall she'd
discovered called the Moonlight Bar. Down in the cellar a tiny
old woman waited with pipes. Once, there had been thousands of
opium dens in Asia. Now only Chiang Mai was left, with two or
three small establishments.
At home, she kept her
two-hundred-year-old opium in clay pots sealed with beeswax. Her
ancient pipes delivered the vapor cool and easy, and Sarah was
beautifully trained in the art of preparation and
She gazed up at the racing moon,
thought of New York. It was about noon at home, so the cleaning
crew would be at work in the club. Sarah and Leo would be asleep
at home, probably in one another's arms...probably in Miriam's
own bed, a curtained, canopied heaven made for Nellie Salter,
cane-mistress to Sir Francis Bacon, and William Shakespeare's
Dark Lady. She'd drunk too much before she died, had Nellie.
She'd made Miriam positively giddy.
Maybe the thing to do would be to
convince her husband to come back with her. Or, if that proved to
be impossible, maybe she would break even that taboo, and bear
the child without a male's protection.
Suddenly, a positively sumptuous
girl appeared on the sidewalk, her features carved as if by a
master, her skin as soft as mist.
"Speak English?" Miriam called to
her. No answer. "Parlez-vous français?"
The girl hurried off, disappearing
into a doorway. Miriam knew that she appeared enormous and
intimidating to these people, an improbable apparition with
ash-gray eyes and improbably elegant clothes.
Chanel sent her a couturier
and staff each year, and she bought a new ensemble. Still, she
was told it was all much too conservative.
It was true enough that her kind
had trouble with fashion. Fifty years would pass in a blink, and
suddenly you would find yourself wearing the last bustle in the
world or the last top hat. That's why the few even slightly
accurate stories about them so often portrayed them in antique
clothes. Bram Stoker, she thought, must have known a little
something about the real thing. How else could he have known to
portray his Dracula as such a stodgy dresser?
An odor struck Miriam with the
force of a slap. Involuntarily, she hissed. The driver's head
snapped around, his eyes wide and white. The scent of human blood
had invaded her nostrils, raw and still very much alive. Then she
saw why: there was an accident ahead.
A powerful instinct urged her to
leap out of the cab and suck the bodies dry while the life force
was still there to consume. But this was another instinct that
had to be stifled.
As they passed the site, she held
her breath. She could not trust herself with the scent of raw
blood, not when the hunger was spreading through her body. Her
skin was already cooling, making her feel heavy and slow. She'd
be as pale as ashes when she got to the conclave. They'd all
think, Look at her, she can't even feed
The moon burst out from behind
furious clouds. Lightning flickered on the spire of Wat Chedi
Luang. The temple spires here in Chiang Mai were so lovely and
exotic. She was used to the canyons of Manhattan.
Again the smell of the driver
reached her nostrils. This time her body started to prepare to
eat, her muscles growing tight for the assault, her mouth
swimming in the mucus that would anesthetize her prey.
She took a long, last drag on the
cigarette. If you pulled their blood into your gut with
sufficient strength, your feed ended with delicious
"Be sure and get the organ juice,
dear," her mother would admonish her. "It makes for strong
Mother Lamia was hard to remember
and hard to forget. When Miriam needed to fall out of love with a
human, she would use her memory of what humans had done to her
mother to help her along. It had come as a great surprise, the
capture. When Keepers slept, their bodies reached a state near
death. They were entirely helpless. So sleep was carried out in
deep hiding, or -- in those days -- in great and protected
A man they had thought a friend
had betrayed Lamia. He had been a faithful partner at cards, had
been the Graf von Holbein. But it evolved that he was not a petty
count but a powerful priest, and his name was not Holbein but
Muenster, Father Deitrich Muenster.
Miriam had escaped across the
roofs of the little town where they were living. She had not been
able to take her comatose mother, nor to hide her. Miriam had
expected to remove her from their prison either by bribery or by
But they had not tried her. They
had not even imprisoned her. They had wasted no time. Mother
Lamia had awakened already chained to her stake. She realized
instantly what was happening. But all of her struggles and
strength did not break the chains or topple the stake.
Mother Lamia had stood proud on
the pyre they had made for her, her hair flaring sparks into the
night. She had stood there for a long, long time, because Keepers
could only die when their blood stopped completely.
They had laughed when she
screamed, and when they realized that she was dying so unusually
slowly, they were even more delighted. Mother had been burned for
a witch in 1761, in a village near Dresden. She had been the most
alive, the best person Miriam had ever known. She had a fabulous
sense of humor. She loved to have adventures, and she loved to
dance. Mother introduced Miriam to music -- sackbuts,
violas...her beloved viola da gamba. Miriam had been taught to
sing, to read and speak many human languages, so many that she'd
lost count. The languages of the ancient world had been works of
art, Sumerian and Egyptian and Zolor, among many others. They had
been supplanted by Greek, with its sublime verbs, and Latin,
which was too rigidly constructed -- somehow crude. English was a
practical tongue. Of the modern languages, Miriam thought that
French and Mandarin Chinese stood out as being the most
satisfying to speak.
Unfortunately, she had never
learned Thai, so she was at a disadvantage here. "Will you hurry,
you stupid creature," she growled at the driver in English. He
sped up. Her tone needed no common language to make itself
The spires of the temple district
rose all around her now. The district bore an ancient
enchantment, for it was sacred to her kind, too. Here in the deep
eons they had met, ten thousand years ago, fifteen
thousand...when the world had been their toy and man a mute race
of cattle. Look at the pavements left by her kind, still perfect
after all this time. Look at the foundations of Wat Phra Singh
and Wat Chedi Chet Yot -- no human engineer could fashion such
precision in stone. Stars curse what had happened among her kind,
to make them vagrants in their own world. Give me opium, let me
smoke. Let me forget.
She touched the golden key that
lay at the bottom of her new purse, the key that would let her
into the sanctum in the cellar of the Moonlight Bar. The purse
was a Gucci bought at the local night market for 2500 baht. It
was a luxurious item and finely made. She didn't need another
purse, but she loved to shop and she'd been unable to resist.
Every Keeper loved exquisite leather, and calfskin was
deliciously close to human...which was very taboo to wear outside
the home. The prey might notice something -- the remains of a
tattoo or a human birthmark on your gloves or your pocketbook.
Personally, she never wore leather from human skin. They might be
prey, but they were sensitive, conscious beings and that had to
be respected. But their skins tanned très softly, the
flay off a smooth back or buttock.
The samlor driver hunched
forward as if some deep instinct was drawing him away from her.
The thought again crossed her mind to just jump him. She'd ride
him like a little bullock. He would shriek and buck, and it would
be a thrill.
His living scent stung the
flower-sweet air. Then he turned the samlor, going down a
narrow street. It was little more than a passageway, very
She shoved another cigarette into
her mouth and lit it. Closer they came to the ancient temple of
Wat Chiang Man, the chedi within it buttressed to the four
corners of the world by four gilded elephants.
The samlor stopped. Beneath
the chedi, in a cellar no human being had ever entered,
was the ancient ho trai of the Asian clans, a place founded
before Siddh¯artha was Buddha, indeed before Siddhartha was
born. "Stay," Miriam said. "Wait."
An eye took her in. The slightest
of nods. She knew that this temple had a reputation among the
ghost-conscious Thai. He sat with his head bowed and his feet
clicking his pedals.
Her heels clattering on the wet
paving stones, she crossed the short distance to the temple, then
entered the chedi. Here, it was suddenly quiet. There was
a scent of sandalwood and smoke from the single guttering lantern
that hung from a rafter, shining on the great Buddha that
reclined in the center of the ornate chamber.
She paid respect to the Buddha,
drawing her hands together and bowing. Had any of her peers seen
her, they would have scorned her utterly.
She ran her fingers along the
cunning mortise work, then tapped softly three times, causing the
concealed mechanism to give way with a soft click. It was a
little surprising, the way the mechanism felt. It was almost as
if the lock were sprung. She thought she might have been able to
open it just with a push. You'd never find this kind of
carelessness in Europe or America.
She went down the steep, curving
steps. She didn't need illumination, of course. Theirs was a
nocturnal species...miserably enough in this electric era. How
her father had moped when the humans had discovered electricity.
"We should have kept it from them," he'd said.
Keeper men and women did not live
together except during pregnancy and, to some extent,
child-rearing. But the love between them could be great, and he
had never recovered from the loss of his Lamia. "I find myself
searching the world for her," he would say. He'd persisted in
doing dangerous things -- climbing mountains, dueling, and
traveling, endlessly traveling. It was death he sought, when he
sought the far hills.
Her father had died in the
explosion of the Hindenburg in 1937 -- taken like his Lamia by
fire. He saved human beings from the flames, and those he helped
can be seen in the newsreel film scrambling from the windows as
the ship descends. He comes out last, and his form disappears in
Over and over and over again, she
watched that film, longing for one more rolling murmur of his
voice, one more touch from his kindly hand.
She stopped on the fourth step.
There was sound down below, definitely. Good, the conclave was in
session. For most of the Keepers down there, this would be the
first contact in a century with any of their own kind. Lovers met
in sweet battle, and mothers lived with their children. But for
the most part, they were a species as solitary as the
A little farther along, she
stopped again. Something she was hearing below did not seem quite
right. Her people didn't laugh. She'd never heard anybody laugh
except her mother and herself. Not even her dad had done
She went a little farther -- and
then she saw something incredible. On the dark wall there was a
figure drawn. Or no, it was painted -- spray-painted. She had to
raise her head to see the whole of it. When she did, she saw that
it was a crudely sprayed painting of a human penis in full
Farther along yet, there were
paper cartons from a restaurant, still smelling of pepper and
garlic. Nobody ate human food. They had no way to digest it.
Inside, they were not made like humans at all. Liquor, however,
was a different story. They could get drunk, fortunately. The
others disdained alcohol, of course, but Miriam enjoyed fine
wines and adored every form of distilled liquor from Armagnac to
She moved a few more steps down,
getting past the odor of the cartons. Her nostrils sought scent
Then she stopped. Fear did not
come easily to her kind, so she was not frightened by what she
smelled, only confused. She smelled humans -- the dense odor of
men, the sweet-sharp scent of boys.
A shock went through her as
powerful as one of the lightning bolts that had been tearing
through the clouds. She saw, suddenly and with absolute clarity,
that the reason for all the odd signs was that there were human
beings in this secret place. She was so surprised that she
uttered an involuntary cry. The sound shuddered the walls, the
moaning, forsaken howl of a tiger at bay.
From below there came a rush of
voices, then the wild flicker of flashlights. Footsteps pummeled
the stairs, and suddenly two Occidental men and three Thai boys
came racing past her, cursing and pulling on their
Behind them they left a greasy
silence, interrupted after a few moments by the scuttle of
roaches and the stealthy sniffing of rats. Treading as if her
feet were touching sewage, Miriam descended into the sanctum. She
growled low, striding about in the filth and ruins.
They must have moved the
sanctuary. But why hadn't they told anybody? Keepers might be a
solitary lot, but ancient custom dictated that everybody be
informed of something so basic as this. Unless -- was she really
that shunned, that they would move a place of conclave and
keep only her in the dark?
Surely not. They were far too
conservative to alter an ancient convention. So maybe there had
been an emergency. Maybe the sanctuary had been discovered and
they'd had to move it suddenly.
That must be it. She hadn't gotten
the message because there'd been no time.
But then she saw, lying in a
corner beneath the ruins of a shattered bookcase, a familiar red
shape. She caught her breath, because what she was seeing was
impossible. Her skin grew taut, her muscles stirred -- the
predator sensed danger.
She picked up the red-leather book
cover and held it in reverent, shaking hands. From the time their
eyes came open, Keepers were taught that the Books of Names were
sacred. By these books, a whole species knew itself, all who
lived and had died, and all its works and days.
That red leather was unmistakable,
as was the inscription in the beloved glyphs of their own tongue,
glyphs that no human knew. The Names of the Keepers and the
They called themselves Keepers
because they kept herds. If the rest of the book had been here,
there would have been descriptions of the various territories
that belonged to the different Asian Keepers and who had the
right to use which human herd.
She ran her fingers over the heavy
leather. It had been cured from the skin of a human when they
were still coarse, primitive creatures. These books were begun
thirty thousand years ago -- a long time, even in the world of
the Keepers. But not all that long. Her
great-great-grandfather, for example, had been able to imitate
the cries of the Neanderthals. Buried in the Prime Keep in Egypt
were careful wax paintings of the human figure going back to the
She crouched to the crumbled mass
of paper, tried to smooth it, to somehow make it right. When she
touched the pages, roaches sped away. She spread a crumpled page
to see if any useful information remained.
The roaches had eaten the ink,
what hadn't been smeared by the vile uses to which the paper had
apparently been put. She laid the page down on the dirty floor,
laid it down as she might lay to rest the body of a beloved
She made another circuit of the
chamber, looking into its recesses and crannies, but not a page
She was face-to-face with what was
without a doubt the greatest astonishment of her life. Some of
the richest and most ancient Keepers were Asian. There had been
-- oh, easily a hundred of them.
She slumped against a wall. Had
man somehow done this, simple, weak little man?
Keepers could be hurt by man --
witness her mother and father -- but they couldn't be destroyed
by man, not this way. They owned man!
She looked from empty wall to
empty wall and fully grasped the fact that the Asian Keepers must
have been destroyed. If even one was left alive, this book would
When she grasped this enormous
reality, something so rare happened to Miriam that she lifted her
long, tapering fingers to her cheeks in amazement.
Far below the crazy streets, in
the fetid ruin of this holy place, a vampire wept.
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