A rickety old car in teal drives up to the MARSCAPONE APARTMENTS. Today, it belongs to KEVIN but it originally belonged to his father, the Elder VINCENT MARSCAPONE. The car has a tendency to remind CEDRIC of the years it sat fallow in the driveway of the MAGICADEMY, awaiting rehabilitation. In those days, rust collected in the wheel-wells, eating away at the frame. It had sat through snowstorm and sunbeams alike, never graced by a cover.
CEDRIC doesn’t like cars.
Today is a cloudy day. The sunlight is just trickling a dappled yellow from behind the clouds. His sunglasses are safely stowed away inside the apartment. He should no longer need them this afternoon.
The car’s engine sputters.
CEDRIC stands alert on the front stoop, looking around the street, listening for mischief carried on the wind.
KEVIN rolls down his window.
HOW GOES IT.
CEDRIC slowly abandons his guard. Inside the house is the Vampress AVAEL. He doesn’t like to leave her unattended, despite her assertion that she’s capable of protecting herself. He can’t stay here forever.
He walks up to the car lingering over the beginning of the driveway and peeks into the windows.
In the backseat of the car is the girl TZU PRANO.
Or at least, she’d been young once.
He walks around the front of the car, right hand seeming to graze the nose of the car.
He’d been taught to always walk around a horse this way, granting them a steady, affirming hand. He saw no reason to treat the car any differently.
CEDRIC opens the door, sits in the front seat, aligns his feet, and closes the door behind him.
Without looking behind him, he speaks.
WELCOME BACK TO THE CITY.
I HEARD YOU MADE ACQUAINTANCE WITH THE CRONE.
KEVIN shifts the car into first gear and navigates back into traffic.
YEAH… I SAW THAT HER SPIRIT HAS BEEN RE-BOUND.
I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE THAT SHE’S REALLY GONE.
I WISH I’D BEEN HERE TO HELP HER BUT EVEN SO, I MIGHT HAVE MISSED THE MARK.
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.
YEAH, I KNOW IT’S NOT MY FAULT BUT.
IT WOULDA BEEN NICE TO GET A PUNCH IN ON AGNES.
RIGHT UNDER OUR NOSES.
I HADN’T EVEN HEARD OF HER.
NONE OF US HAD.
MOTHER CLAIMED SHE WAS SOME OLD FRIEND FROM THE WAR. GAVE A GLOWING RECOMMENDATION.
WE DIDN’T KNOW ANY BETTER.
SHE DIDN’T SEEM TO ME TO HAVE ANY EXCEPTIONAL ABILITY BUT I GUESS SHE WAS MASKING HERSELF.
I SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE SKEPTICAL.
The car’s passengers hang heavy with regret.
WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE.
I THINK WE SHOULD STOP AND GET SOMETHING TO EAT.
I DON’T THINK YOU’LL BE TOO IMPRESSED WITH THE CONTENTS OF STRAUD’S REFRIGERATOR.
The trio stops at a nearby diner located at the intersection of the freeway and elevated train. It’s a noisy junction but the restaurant offers parking, a godsend for drivers.
Soon they are seated at a generously cushioned booth done up in bright retro colors.
Every so often, a train outside rumbles past, the clatter necessitating a more forceful tone of speech.
They order three cups of coffee.
I DON’T THINK YOU’VE EVER MET MANDARC, HAVE YOU?
NO, I HAVEN’T.
WHAT YEAR DID YOU LEAVE FOR SULANI?
I STARTED MEDICAL SCHOOL IN TWENTY-ELEVEN.
SHOOT. WAS IT THAT LONG AGO?
YEAH, IT WAS.
WOW. THEN YEAH, DEFINITELY. YOU COULDN’T HAVE MET HIM BEFORE THAT.
A man comes by with three beige mugs and saucers and places them on the table. He pours coffee from a carafe, steaming and filling the air with its warm scent.
MANDARC’S A NICE KID.
YEAH WELL. DUMBO’S GOT NO IDEA HOW OLD HE IS.
HIS MEMORIES ARE ALL SCRAMBLED.
NO IDEA WHAT TRELAINE DID TO THE POOR THING.
HE’S ONE OF TRELAINE’S?
BUT HE DEFECTED A WHILE BACK.
BEEN WITH US EVER SINCE.
AND THAT’S OKAY WITH THE PROFESSOR?
AS FAR AS HE SEES IT, IT’S A VICTORY, REHABILITATING THE GUY.
I DON’T THINK HE WOULD HAVE MADE IT VERY FAR WITH THE DOCTOR.
YEAH – HE’S A SOFTIE.
CAN YOU PASS ME THE SUGAR?
CEDRIC grabs the sugar and scoots it left-to-right, propelling it over the table’s surface toward TZU.
TZU takes a sugar packet and pours half of it into her cup. She attempts to fold over the remains, but it resists the creases and unfurls as she places it upon the edge of the saucer.
HOW’S THE PROFESSOR BEEN, ANYWAY?
PROFESSOR’S BEEN ALRIGHT.
WENT ON A RECRUITING SPREE A COUPL’A YEARS BACK AND WE LOST A FEW.
MADE SOME FRIENDS, THOUGH.
GLAD TO HEAR IT.
YOUR OLD FRIEND FRIDAY WANTED TO BE ONE OF THE NEW INITIATES BUT…
TZU stops stirring her coffee.
WHAT? FRIDAY WANTED …
YOU KNOW THE FUNNY PART WAS THAT SHE WAS ALREADY PART OF THE CREW, REALLY.
SHE AND MANDARC WERE A THING.
SHE WEASLED HER WAY INTO ALL OUR FUNCTIONS. MIGHT AS WELLA’ BEEN PART OF THE SCENE.
BUT NO, THAT WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH FOR HER.
SHE WANTED ALL THE BELLS AND WHISTLES.
SHE WANTED TO GIVE UP?
SHE WAS ALWAYS SO TALENTED.
I THINK SHE REALLY FLOURISHED UNDER MY MOTHER’S FIRM HAND.
WHEN MOM STARTED RETREATING, SHE KIND OF WENT OFF THE DEEP END.
SHE TOOK ADVANTAGE OF MANDARC, IF YOU ASK ME.
HOW OLD IS MANDARC?
WE DON’T KNOW EXACTLY HOW OLD HE IS, BUT…
EH. NOT OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER.
TZU resumes stirring sugar into her coffee. The spoon makes a gentle ‘CLINK CLINK’ against the inside of the porcelain mug.
I HAVEN’T TALKED TO FRIDAY SINCE I GRADUATED.
I DON’T THINK YOU BEEN MISSING MUCH.
SHE RAN OFF LAST YEAR TO SAINT LOUIE TO BEG OFF THE WEASLIE FAMILY.
PROBABLY GOING TO SEE TRELAINE COURTING HER SOONER RATHER THAN LATER.
CAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL.
The STRAUD MANSION is located somewhere at the end of a cul-de-sac tucked away in a tree-lined street in JAMAICA ESTATES. A graveyard sits adjacent to the property collecting autumn’s leavings.
The sun is sinking beneath the horizon, staining the sky in reds and purples.
YOU KNOW, I’VE NEVER BEEN OUT HERE.
IN ALL MY YEARS.
CAN’T SEE WHY YOU WOULD HAVE NEEDED TO.
KEVIN drives the car up to the house’s approach. He turns it to the left, angling it against the plane of the house. It’s a touch haphazard, but seems to suit.
He removes a set of keys from the center console and shifts through them, quickly selecting a large silver key.
I TOLD THEM TO EXPECT US BUT IT NEVER HURTS TO BE PREPARED.
LOCK THE DOORS WHEN YOU GET OUT, OKAY?
WE’RE NOT USED TO THESE OLD BUGGIES ANYMORE.
The three exit the car. KEVIN shakes the keys, providing auditory confirmation that they’re on his person. The doors close in their turn. A light breeze brushes past and leaves scuttle over the cement.
They walk up the stairs and board the stoop of the forboding mansion. KEVIN is about to insert the key into the lock when –
MANDARC opens the door.
THE MASTER IS STILL ABED BUT PLEASE, ENTER.
Underfoot of MANDARC is his companion animal, a white ‘whippet’ named DEXX.
MANDARC glances at TZU as she enters the palatial foyer. The walls are dark, contrasting a crimson carpet upon the floor.
TZU, IS IT?
LOVELY TO FINALLY MAKE YOUR ACQUAINTANCE.
THE MASTER’S NEVER HAD ANYTHING BUT POSITIVE THINGS TO SAY.
Before TZU can reply, CEDRIC speaks loudly, jovial.
SO FRIENDLY. SO NICE.
TZU removes her jacket and folds it upon her arm.
I HAD A DREAM ABOUT YOU LAST NIGHT.
MANDARC raises a singular eyebrow in skepticism.
CEDRIC reaches up and wraps his arm around the back of MANDARC’s neck, embracing him and baring his left fist, preparing to deliver what the Mortals have termed “NOOGIE”.
MANDARC escapes the hold in a flash, employing supernatural speed to slip down and away from CEDRIC’s grip. His visual is blurred and for a moment, TZU is unsure of exactly where he is.
The blur stops an arm’s reach from the group and the pale, raven-haired man is again seen.
YEAH. YOU APPEARED IN MY DREAM.
YOU FINALLY LET ME LEAN IN FOR A SNUGGLE.
IT WAS SWEET.
MANDARC is wearing a serious expression, but he seems to be holding it intentionally, perhaps inwardly smiling.
He turns his head toward TZU, expression hospitable.
CAN I GET YOU SOMETHING?
TZU is somewhat taken aback.
WATER WOULD BE FINE.
CEDRIC leaves the entrance and enters the sitting room, now unseen by the guests.
WE MADE A PIT STOP ON OUR WAY IN.
He turns toward TZU.
BUT DON’T LET THAT STOP YOU.
SPARKLING OR FLAT?
CEDRIC yells, bottles clanging against each other in the other room.
VLAD KEEPS A WELL-STOCKED BAR!
SINK IS FINE.
KEVIN, TZU enter the sitting room. MANDARC disappears into the kitchen on the opposite side.
CEDRIC is pushing around bottles beneath a bar.
WE COULD ALWAYS GO DOWNSTAIRS BUT I WASN’T SURE IF I WANTED TO BOTHER THE OLD MAN.
Soon, MANDARC reappears with a glass of tap water and places it atop the edge of the bar.
YOU GOT ANY OF RABBIT’S EAR?
MANDARC speaks dryly, a hint of disapproval in his tone.
IT’S IN THE KITCHEN. I’VE…
– YET TO UNPACK IT.
YOUR COMPANY WAS… UNEXPECTED.
I’LL GET IT.
IT’S ON THE FLOOR?
CEDRIC is already walking out of the room.
MANDARC speaks without changing his facing.
OVER BY THE STOVE.
KEVIN seizes the opportunity to change the topic.
TZU WAS A STUDENT OF MY MOTHER’S.
WE GOT HER ON THE WEB TO CHAT WITH HER.
MANDARC turns toward TZU.
YOU WERE A STUDENT AT THE MAGICADEMY, HUH?
OH, I DON’T THINK I INTRODUCED YOU.
MANDARC crouches to greet his dog, who has been quietly lurking.
THIS IS MY DOG, DEXX.
TZU lends her hand to the dog for him to sniff.
AW. WHAT A CUTIE.
CEDRIC re-enters the room with a bottle of deep golden liquid in hand.
SEBASTIAN HAS A DOG TOO.
TZU scratches DEXX behind the ears. He wags his tail affectionately.
HIS NAME IS CHANCE.
HUH. I HAD NO IDEA SEBASTIAN WAS A DOG GUY.
CEDRIC opens the bottle of whiskey.
YOU HAVIN’ ANY OF THIS?
I DON’T, USUALLY.
I’M AWARE OF THAT.
QUESTION STILL STANDS.
YOU HAVING ANY OF THIS?
MANDARC pauses, considering.
CEDRIC kneels down, retreiving glasses from underneath the counter.
…YOU KNOW WHAT?
CEDRIC removes a fourth glass and places it next to the others emphatically.
AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR.
He turns each of them over and pours the liquor, generous.
The four remove a cup each from the counter and raise it.
TO THE OLD CRONE;
TO ALL THOSE SHE’S SAVED.
TO ALL THOSE WHO ARE YET TO BE SAVED.
AND THE REST OF US IN-BETWEEN.
TO THE OLD CRONE.
Welcome to the wIntraNet, Tzu.
Straud, you in here?
I started putting this together about twenty years ago.
As they say, it's still a work-in-progress.
It seems very nice. And useful.
Nice picture we've got for you.
Can we get Sebastian in here?
What time is it out there?
Hi, Tzu. I don't think we've met.
My name's Roxanne. Nice to meet you.
Pleasure's all mine.
Tzu was a student at Myrtle's Magicademy.
She arrived not too long after I did.
We didn't know each other well though.
I was just a baby.
We can't all be as ancient as Cedric.
THERE IS NO MAJOR NEWS TO REPORT.
SOME CATS GOT IN A FIGHT NEAR THE SIDE ENTRANCE.
TOONCES WAS UNINVOLVED.
That's good to hear.
TZU PRANO, PLEASE ENTERTAIN US WITH TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE.
This is AVAEL, another friend of ours.
Two truths and a lie?
1.) I've never been stung by a bee.
2.) I'm allergic to shellfish.
and 3.) When I was little, my dream was to be a firefighter.