// MARSCAPONE APARTMENTS //

STRAUD//

Cedric.

Are you willing to entertain today?

STRAUD//

It would be Mandarc and myself.

CEDRIC recalls the position of the sun. It’s late afternoon, but cloudless. Bright and sunny. VLAD tended to dislike travel by daylight but it was not anethema to him.

MANDARC//

In case you weren't aware, I'm back at the mansion.

CEDRIC//

Your reconaissance done?

MANDARC//

On pause for now.

STRAUD//

I was reflecting on our conversation recently and I thought it was about time for me to make a visit.

CEDRIC//

Don't travel alone.

STRAUD//

Mandarc will come with me.

CEDRIC//

Travel safe.

CEDRIC leaves the sanctity of the apartment he’s claimed since his recent relocation to the MARSCAPONE APARTMENTS. He listens to the quiet air. The entrance to the complex has a vaulted ceiling and is bright and airy.

The chandelier is dusty and probably hasn’t been cleaned in years, but it escapes notice.

A piano set on the second floor emits a gentle melody that evokes the calm of spring. Never a musician in her younger days, AVAEL has taken up the science of sound to fight the anxiety between skirmishes.

The sound continues as CEDRIC’s phone dings, just once, indicating a text message.

AVAEL//

The boss is on his way?

The bot was more than capable of talking, but despised yelling. It made a loud, discordant sound, straining the limits of what her speaker could produce. Movement was also taxing, so she avoided it whenever possible.

AVAEL was, of course, permanently connected to the (w)IntraNet. So she used it.

CEDRIC//

Yep.


CEDRIC is sitting in a plush red velvet chair by the front window when he hears the approach of his compatriots. The familiar jingle of metal keys snaps him back to attention.

The door creaks open, sending a rush of chilled air into the entry. Not that it was particularly bothersome; in fact, it was rather pleasant to the young vampire.

The pair stood just out of vision from CEDRIC’s resting place. They shuffled around a bit, removing shoes, as became the custom for this house when MYRTLE MARSCAPONE was the matron.

MANDARC peers around the corner, raising his hand in greeting.

MANDARC

CEDRIC. GREETINGS.

CEDRIC bows his head, timed to accentuate him closing his eyes in deference to the Ancient One and his… Butler. He raises his hand, as if to mimic MANDARC’s gesture.

STRAUD surveys the house, his gaze running down the bookshelf flanking the entry door.

But MANDARC has served his attention upon CEDRIC.

MANDARC

YOU’RE REALLY SERIOUS ABOUT THIS, AREN’T YOU?

CEDRIC

AS SERIOUS AS ANYTHING.

MANDARC

WOULDN’T THAT MAKE YOU A GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE? HOW DO YOU KNOW THE PEOPLE YOU’RE PUTTING BEHIND BARS ACTUALLY DESERVE TO BE THERE?

At this, STRAUD turns toward the men and talks from where he is standing, still standing behind MANDARC.

STRAUD

HE’LL HAVE TO SEARCH THE DREAM FOR KNOWLEDGE.

He walks forward, until forming a triangular formation. AVAEL continues to play somberly.

STRAUD addresses CEDRIC.

KNOW THAT NOTHING YOU SEE OR SMELL IN THAT PLACE IS ABLE TO BE TRUSTED.

AND LEAST OF ALL, WHAT PEOPLE SAY.

WE CAN’T KNOW WHO’S BEEN CORRUPTED BY THE MOON COURT.

CEDRIC responds to MANDARC’s question.

CEDRIC

AND MAYBE I’LL BE ABLE TO FREE THOSE WHO SHOULDN’T BE THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

STRAUD

WELL, I’D BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT DRAWING TOO MUCH ATTENTION TO YOUR ACTIONS. I ASSUME EACH OF THEM HAS BEEN PROFILED AS DANGEROUS TO THEIR OVERARCHING PLAN. AND IF THEY’RE FOUND AGAIN, WHO’S TO SAY THEY COULDN’T TRACE IT BACK TO THAT STRANGE NEW CADET NO ONE SEEMS TO REMEMBER THE NAME OF.

NO, YOU MUST BE CAREFUL.

FREEDOM…

IS OVERRATED AND OVERVALUED.

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS; THEY’RE ALL WE HAVE –

BUT BEWARE THE PINPRICK OF HASTE.

The piano continues, ambient.

AVAEL//

It is safe to assume they're feeding all the data they can to the Doctor.

STRAUD

ONCE HE DECODES THE GENOME, NO LONGER IS THE WORLD SAFE FROM HIS ABILITY TO TAMPER WITH IT.

WE NO LONGER HAVE THE LUXURY OF PATIENCE.

I FEAR THE DAY OF THE GREAT REVEAL DRAWS CLOSER AND CLOSER.

MORE AND MORE MAGES DABBLE IN FORCES THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND.

OUR ANIMAL COMPANIONS GROW WEAKER WITH EACH PASSING DAY, THE WILDS SOON SLIPPING INTO LEGEND.

OUR DEARLY DEPARTED FRIEND PERKINS WAS JUST ONE OF MANY WHO FIND THEIR POWERS INCREASING.

AND NOTHING IN THEM THINKS TO ASK ‘WHY?’

STRAUD rubs his finger against his thumb, as if gleaning the texture of an invisible scrap of fabric.

YOUR PEOPLE ARE NOT AS GOD-FEARING AS MINE WERE.

THEY HAVE CONSTRUCTED THEIR OWN GODS AND SO EACH THINKS OF HIMSELF AS MASTER OF HIS OWN UNIVERSE.

THAT, I SUPPOSE, IS A CONSEQUENCE OF THE DREAM. EACH MAN THINKS OF HIMSELF AS THE PRIME ARTIST.

BUT THAT ISN’T TO SAY PRAYER SENT TO THE WRONG ADDRESS IS WORTH MUCH MORE THAN NONE SENT AT ALL.

WERE YOU EVER A CHRISTIAN, CEDRIC?

The question seems a non sequitur.

CEDRIC stammers a bit, trying to conjure an appropriate response.

CEDRIC

ME? I… UH.

NOT REALLY.

I TRIED, A FEW TIMES, TO FIND BELIEF IN MYSELF –

WITHIN – MYSELF.

I WENT TO SUNDAY SCHOOL, A FEW CAMPS WHERE WE WERE LED IN PRAYER… BUT IT NEVER STUCK.

STRAUD

FEWER AND FEWER PEOPLE CONCEIVE OF ANYTHING OUTSIDE THEIR OWN SENSES.

There seems to be no judgment from the Elder to the Younger. Just intake of information.

MANDARC remains silent.

LOOKING INSIDE PEOPLE’S MINDS IS DANGEROUS, CEDRIC. IT MEANS ADDING THOSE VISIONS TO YOUR OWN. IT MEANS DISSOLUTION OF THE SELF.

BUT YOU CAN’T LOSE YOURSELF. WE NEED YOU.

MANDARC looks toward CEDRIC, who remains seated.

LONG AGO, I WAS WANDERING THE WILDS, TRYING TO FIND ANY WAY I COULD HELP THE UN-HUMAN PEOPLES OF EARTH.

THE ANIMALS.

BUT I WAS LOST AND I WAS ANGRY.

THE CREATURES WERE LOSING THEIR WILL TO FIGHT, SO MANY OF THEM –

LOST TO – …

STRAUD trails off, quiet, as if he’s searching for a term.

MANDARC

HUNTERS?

STRAUD

NO–

The silver-haired man shudders, enunciating his chosen word as if to convey accurately his disgust.

‘DOMESTICATION’.

A pause falls over the trio.

EACH YEAR MORE AND MORE FOREST DESTROYED TO BE SHAVED INTO FARMLAND.

I WANDERED THE LAND WHEN THIS COUNTRY WAS A WHISPER IN THE DISTANCE: THE LAND OF THE SETTING SUN.

BUT INCREASINGLY THE DREAM WAS BEGINNING TO NAG AT ME.

I KILLED ANIMALS I FOUND CRUEL; ONES I SAW PREYING ON THE WEAK. FOR EVEN I KNEW THAT AMONG THEIR KIND MANY ARE NOT JUST AND FAIR.

BUT I COULD NOT SHAKE THE FEELING THAT MY INACTION AND RETICENCE TO ACT UPON THE AFFAIRS OF MAN WAS CAUSING THE PROBLEM TO WORSEN.

MANDARC

COULDN’T IT BE SAID THAT REGARDLESS OF WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE, THE ANIMALS NEED US NOW? WE CAN’T JUST THROW THEM ALL IN SOME NEW GROWTH FOREST AND EXPECT THINGS TO JUST WORK OUT IN THE END.

WHO’S GOING TO TAKE MY DOG TO THE VET?

ALL IN ALL, THERE’S SO LITTLE WE HAVE CONTROL OVER.

STRAUD

BUT AT THE SAME TIME THERE IS SO MUCH WE CAN DO.

MANDARC seems in an argumentative mood.

MANDARC

IS THERE? IF THE STARTING CONDITIONS ARE UNFAVORABLE THEN THERE ARE CERTAIN STATES IMPOSSIBLE TO ATTAIN WITH THE TIME LIMITATION.

But STRAUD resists MANDARC’s rhetoric. He is gently firm in his response.

STRAUD

WE DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE TIME LIMITATION.

MANDARC

WE KNOW THAT PEOPLE ARE ABLE TO COLLAPSE POSSIBILITY, BRING TIMELINES TO THEMSELVES, ELIMINATING ITERATIONS FROM THE SYSTEM.

SO IT FOLLOWS THAT EACH SECOND THAT PASSES US BY REDUCES THE LIKELIHOOD FOR ANOTHER SECOND TO COME TO PASS.

STRAUD bargains with him.

STRAUD

SO IT FOLLOWS THAT THE TIME FOR PLAY IS OVER.

The old man continues his meandering speech-making.

I’VE BEEN THINKING UPON THE PAST. A TIME, NEAR THE END OF MY WANDERING.

I USED MY ABILITY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME.

I TOOK HIS LAST CONFESSION.

BUT I WAS NOT READY FOR IT.

A FLASH OF IMAGES ASSAULTED MY MIND – IN A SPEED AND INTENSITY THAT WAS FORGOTTEN DURING MY TIME IN THE WILDS.

HIS SWEETHEART – SINCE CHILDHOOD – SINCE EVER –

DIED OF DISEASE.

SUCH HOPES THEY HAD…

NEVER TO LIVE, NEVER TO HOPE.

THAT IS ONE WAY IN WHICH ANIMALS ARE DIFFERENT –

THEY DO NOT HOLD THEIR HOPES SO CLOSE TO THEIR HEARTS AS WE DO.

THEY TRUST, A BLIND TRUST WE WILL NEVER QUITE UNDERSTAND –

BUT HOPE.

HOPE IS BORN FROM FEAR OF THE PAIN THAT DEHABILITATES US ALL.

MANDARC shifts around, antsy, but attempting attention. He looks up toward the second floor, where AVAEL has been plunking away delicately.

IT STUCK WITH ME FOR YEARS AFTERWARD.

AND IT ONLY GOT WORSE AS I LEARNED THAT IN HIS DESPAIR, HE’D BEEN MIXED UP IN A WAR FAR DEEPER THAN HE EVER COULD HAVE UNDERSTOOD.

INNOCENTS.

WE MUST TRY TO SPARE THE BLOOD OF INNOCENTS.

IT IS ONE THING TO ASK A MAN TO ENLIST.

IT IS ANOTHER TO OPEN A DRAFT.

THESE SOLDIERS MAY AS WELL BE CONSIDERED DEAF, DUMB, AND BLIND.

AVAEL//

Don't let the Conduits hear you say that.

All the men are staring down at their phones, reading AVAEL’s response.

MANDARC hastily keys in a response.

MANDARC//

Isn't it their fault the animals are like this?

STRAUD

YES AND NO.

IF I’M BEING CHARITABLE, I’LL REMIND YOU OF WHAT YOU JUST REMARKED;

THERE IS SO LITTLE OVER WHICH WE HAVE CONTROL.

ONCE UPON A TIME THE ANIMALS RULED THIS PLANET. OR, AT LEAST, THAT’S THE STORY WE’VE BEEN SOLD.

CERTAINLY I CAN TELL YOU THAT THE WILD DOMAIN HAS BEEN DECREASING IN POWER FOR MANY, MANY CENTURIES.

A moment of reverence for the news of death.

CEDRIC, HAVE YOU CHECKED IN WITH OBOROVSKY LATELY?

CEDRIC

NOT IN SOME TIME.

AVAEL//

The Queen of Cats.

CEDRIC

I SPOKE WITH HER DAUGHTER.

SVETLANA SUSPECTS THE DEATH OF A ONE JOELLE RUCKER.

A YOUNG VAMPIRE WHO CLAIMS LINEAGE FROM BOTH THE OBOROVSKY LINE AND THE VATORES.

STRAUD

THE YOUNG MAN HAS RECENTLY RETURNED TO HIS ANCESTRAL HOME.

I THINK IT NO COINCIDENCE.

YOU’RE FRIENDS WITH HIM?

CEDRIC

FRIENDLY.

STRAUD

HIS FATHER WAS A NOTORIOUS FLIRT WITH THE MOON’S GLOW.

AS THEY SAY OF APPLES…

He turns to the man with the dark hair.

AND I HOPE YOU WILL EXCUSE THE ALLUSION.

MANDARC

NONE TAKEN.