Through cyberspace comes a message intended for Davian.
"Hi Davian, it's Stephanie from the coffee shop. Are we still on for your party tomorrow?"
"Hi Stephanie, yes, 78 Perry. Starting time is officially 7pm but feel free to arrive a little earlier if you and Veronica want a tour of the house 😉 - Davian"
"That would be wonderful!! See you a little after six, then. Looking forward to it!"
In the stillness of the early morning, Davian is awoken by the sound of his cellphone playing 'Prodigal Son' by the Rolling Stones. Blearily he looks at the clock: 2:30am. This kid.
I reach over and grasp the phone, take a deep breath, then answer:
"Good Morning Dad! How are things in NY?"
"Don't call me that. Things are busy, but good. Just learned of a new mission."
"Ooo. You'll have to tell me all about it, I'm going to be passing through town on my way to check out the Oriole migration. Should arrive late tomorrow, er, late today rather".
"Hmm. I'm sure that's the only reason. Well, you are welcome, as always. There is space in the garage for Gloria. I am throwing a party on Friday, I expect you will attend. See you tomorrow. (a pause). Glad you're stopping by."
"Sounds wonderful, knowing you I won't suffer for lack of 'bird' watching. See you tomorrow, Dad." (Click).
Never quite getting back to sleep, Davian wakes up in the early hours of Friday to prepare his house for the party. A number of the auxiliary rooms have been changed to contain portals to distant locations; one such portal, for example, transports the entrant to a beautiful island in the South Pacific.
The process is time-consuming but worth the effort. By the time afternoon tea rolls around, Davian has just finished his rituals and finally has a moment to collect his breath before the guests start arriving.
Davian spends the remaining hour making sure the food is all laid out, the bar stocked, house ready, the right doors locked...etc.
At just shy of six o'clock in the evening, a knock comes to the door at 78 Perry. It is Stephanie and Veronica.
I open the door, smiling invitingly.
"Ladies, welcome to my home."
"Would you care for a drink?"
Stephanie takes this opportunity to speak for both women. "A drink would be wonderful, thank you so much for having us."
They both step into the house and are immediately impressed by the highly polished woodwork in the entry, and indeed, throughout the entire house. It doesn't seem that any surface has been forgotten in the preparation.
"So, Davian -- your house is beautiful. I'm honestly stunned. What is it exactly that you do?"
Veronica taps her arm hastily, and whispers, though it's impossible to avoid Davian's earshot. "You can't just ask him that!"
Walking over to the bar, I busy myself in making a couple of Cosmopolitans, along with an old fashioned for myself. Upon hearing the exchange between the two ladies, I can't help but smile, which is still on my lips as I hand them their drinks.
"Oh, I'm a wizard."
Veronica gives a pained expression but says nothing. Her eyes crawl around the finely festooned bar. It's not that she doesn't believe you, exactly, but perhaps there is just too much information for her to process right now.
Stephanie tries to avoid doing a double-take. Her very white teeth stand out against her lipstick. "A...A wizard?" She looks around at the finery. "Well, you do have a nice place." She takes it as an attempt at humor but the tone doesn't seem quite right for that. "Can you do any tricks?"
Her companion sits at the bar hesitantly. Her expression is flat and uncertain.
I bark out a laugh. "Not a magician. There is no 'pick a card' stuff..., more like this":
With a quick gesture, I modify the atmosphere in the room, precipitating snow to fall gently around the two women.
Stephanie looks about wide-eyed, mouthing but unable to muster a "Wow!" utterance, but Veronica is not having such a good time. She, too, looks about the room in amazement, but seems distraught and anxious about what she's seeing.
She says in a low tone, "What did you put in those drinks?"
I look at her a touch sadly. "Nothing at all my dear, besides the standard ingredients. This is not some hallucination, nor have you been otherwise drugged. If you don't believe me, the bathroom is right over there. Take a few moments, I promise you that it will be quite ordinary."
"I must apologize for the abruptness of my revelation, a fancy took me when you asked and I thought it might be amusing to cavalier in my reply...but the truth is that I am indeed a mage, someone who can use magick. I wanted to prepare you, as my guests this evening will mostly be of the supernatural variety".
Veronica gets up from the barstool, a slight bit unsteady in her rise. The words he says make sense, and his conviction seems real... But she has been taken off-guard.
"Maybe I'll just powder my nose for a moment then." And she disappears into the bathroom.
Stephanie watches as her companion almost limps off to the bathroom. She waits until just the two of them are alone in the room and then decides to speak quietly.
"I've never..." but words escape her. They sit alone in quiet a moment. "I've never known that magic was real."
She tries to believe but it will take some time for the revelation to truly set in. "I'm sorry about Veronica... She's a bit stand-offish on the best of days. Cautious, I would like to say. But she's a good person."
"There are going to be more like you?" She smiles demurely. "If not tricks, then magic. I'd like to see more magic."
"It's a lot to take in all at once...you are doing an amazing job, actually" I flash her a smile and briefly touch her shoulder in reassurance.
"A few of those coming will also be mages, though there will also be...perhaps you should take another sip of your drink...that's better...vampires and at least 1 werewolf."
"Vampires and a werewolf?!"
"What in heaven's name encouraged you --" And then a sinking feeling of dread brings a white curtain to her face. Her eyes dilate in fear. She thinks she's the prey.
"You won't...let them...feed, will you?"
I look her directly in the eyes and speak firmly and with (honest) conviction: "No. You are in no danger from them while you are my guest."
Taking a step back, I take a sip of my drink and continue reflectively. "My, I am making a mess of this...listen, I enjoyed our flirtation in the coffee shop and thought it might be fun to invite you to the party. You won't be the only mortal here, but the others have had time to come to terms with the fact that the reality of things is very different from what you have been raised to believe".
"It was not my intention to frighten you, though it seems I have done a good job of it...take all the time you need, I promise to answer any questions you have completely and honestly."
I conjure a chair for her to sit on while she collects herself.
I also dispel the snow, which is making a sizable drift in the foyer
"Are you the only...uh...wizard?" But she stumbles over her thoughts, clearly in some sort of startled stream-of-consciousness. "No, you couldn't be the only wizard, you just said you've invited more to the party." She looks around, the exquisitely maintained woodwork seeming suddenly the most comforting, ordinary thing she could see. Its gleam reflected light, and light was good.
"You can...do anything you want? Whenever you want? That's...crazy."
She sits in silence on the chair and begins to twirl a strand of blonde hair, a nervous tic. She tries to say something a few times, but thinks better of it, and simply looks around herself.
Veronica emerges from the bathroom.
"You claimed we're safe from them; they're just other aspects of the world, as are you...?" Her words have the serenity of being plucked from her front-brain while hiding in the bathroom, but still seem to stutter about uncertain. "This is all too crazy."
Stephanie speaks, "Wizards, vampires, werewolves, all here in New York City? Are you the ringleader?" Maybe, she thought, her original conception of him was not too far off-base.
"It might be accurate to call me 'a' ringleader. Without being too arrogant, I am one of the more accomplished mages known to live in NYC, but there are enough to call it a community. Up until recently, there was even a little magic school."
I conjure another chair for Veronica
"As for 'doing whatever I want, whenever' I could, just like Ian Dusk could buy Instagram, but there are always consequences. In most cases, those consequences are enough to rein in the use of magic outside of protected areas such as my house".
"I can't believe...Such information has remained secret for all this time...Was Merlin real? Dracula? The Wolf-Man...?"
She laughs lightly, for the first time in the serious discussion. "I'm sorry, I'm a blogger. I ask questions. It's what I do."
Veronica takes the chair. "I can't believe you chose us. You chose us..."
A knock comes on the door, interrupting their conversation.
"Merlin...definitely, I have read some of his work. Dracula, I'm not the one to ask, but I believe so...at least, there is a Kindred (that's the term they prefer) who was the source of inspiration for that story. As for the last...there are many Shifters, though they probably dislike their portrayal in the Media...they do have anger issues, but don't turn into mindless monsters when they shift." My ramblings are interrupted by the knock.
"A moment please ladies, feel free to help yourself at the bar, or to any of the food."
I open the door with slightly more force than is necessary.
"Hello, how can I help you?"
"Davian, hello, I know we're a bit early but given your guestlist, I thought it a good idea to make sure your bar was well-stocked." It's Cedric, along with a brown-haired man you don't recognize.
Cedric raises his hands and bows slightly. "This is my friend Caleb Vatore and he'll be providing the goods tonight."
Caleb looks rather effete in his dark eyeliner, posh haircut, and a single feather earring. He carries a large backpack that you assume is bulging with fruit.
"All locally-own, grown, and flown."
"Ah, Cedric. Good to see you again; Caleb, nice to meet you, and thank you for bringing samples to the party...come in. Two other guests have arrived, and perhaps you can help me with something...".
I usher the two into the house, making sure to step over the snowdrift. "You can put the fruit behind any of the bars, I will ensure they are divided equally." (How do Veronica and Stephanie look?)
Cedric and Caleb enter the house somewhat cautiously, surprised to see the snow littering the floor. They round the corner and see, to their genuine surprise, two mortals seated in chairs in the middle of the floor, facing toward the row of barstools.
Caleb goes behind the bar to begin unloading the fruit, while the blond vampire approaches the two startled women.
It would be rude to go without introduction, particularly on this night of festivities, so Cedric is the first to speak. "Hello, I'm Cedric." He thrusts his hand out toward Stephanie.
"Hello, Cedric. My name is Stephanie and this is my friend Veronica."
Caleb watches carefully as Cedric greets the two women and tries to set them at ease. He was aware of a glamour that Cedric passively invoked; mortals did not notice his piercing cyan eyes. They did, however, appear to notice his scar, and followed it down the length of his face.
"Pleased to meet you." Veronica seems to be beginning to calm down a little and reaches her hand out to meet Cedric's.
Caleb, not wanting to be completely left out, awkwardly announces his own name and waves before returning to inspecting his store of fruit to ensure against bumps and bruises.
Cedric feigns interest in a painting and faces away from the girls for a moment before turning back to begin what felt like necessary small-talk. "So how do you two know Davian?"
The women look at each other quizzically before looking toward Davian, desperate for him to alleviate their feelings of confusion.
"Stephanie and Veronica are personal friends, I met them recently while visiting the Marscapones. Shortly before you came to visit, in fact."
"Ladies, Cedric is an associate of a good friend of mine who you will meet later, Count Straud. Straud is the owner of the Blue Velvet nightclub."
"C-Count? Oy vey." Veronica seemed to be trying to fight her trembling with a dose of humor, or at least a nervous attempt at it.
Cedric still feigned interest in the painting, but tears himself away a moment to throw a dubious look at Davian. His look has a hint of mischief and amusement you'd not seen the other day. It seems to say, "what's up with these two chickadees?"
Before anyone else can notice the thrown look, he softens his expression and responds to the young woman's inquiry. "It's an old title but once landed, always landed. He's coming later, as is Kevin, as are a number of our friends. You've got quite the guestlist here, Davian."
"So what's the cause for your party after all? Celebrating the death of the old broad?" He is flippant, but still strangely reverent.
Caleb has just about finished his task. "Myrtle Marscapone?"
"Yes, Myrtle Marscapone. It was last year at about this time that she got into the duel with Agnes. I wish I'd been here to finish her off." Cedric has a confident tone such that you're not sure of which old woman he's speaking of.
"Kevin was out with you and Mandarc, right?"
"Yep, it was just George Henry alone at the Magicademy and he wasn't going to be able to stand up to a witch, let alone two fighting with fire."
I speak into Cedric's mind: Honestly? I picked up these two as props for the party, perhaps some afterhours fun, but I ended up giving them a crash course on the Supernatural. They are still adjusting, so please be nice
Cedric, well-accustomed to these sorts of mental interruptions from his time with Vlad, listens patiently to the voice in his mind before responding in turn. "So... aftershock. Got it."
"Let's get them some coffee. Maybe that's what they need after being thrown into a cold pool."
"I'm not sure Caleb realizes..."
And while they're conversing, Caleb, none-the-wiser, speaks to the ladies from behind the counter. "So how do you two keep your days busy?"
Stephanie speaks first. "I'm a blogger, fashioning myself a bit of a free-agent journalist. I won't say a word to anyone, though."
She leaves a pause in the conversation for her friend, who is slowly coming back to normal. "I'm a paralegal."
A solid wooden table appears, covered in coffee essentia
Hearing the commotion upstairs, Chiasa is moved to investigate. Dav said the party was't for another half-hour...
I open the door from the basement and am slightly surprised to see the crowd forming. Recovering quickly, I analyze the guests before they have a chance to notice my arrival. Hmm, two floozies, a thinblood, and...what kind of Kindred is he?
"I'm not sure Caleb realizes..."
Shaking my head to make my hair shimmer, I grasp Davian's arm in a familiar gesture while turning to look at the two ladies:
"Davian, you didn't tell me you were having people over early? Please introduce me to your guests"
Cedric is shocked to see the appearance of a ravishingly beautiful woman from Nihon. She slinks into the room as if on air and embraces Davian in a friendly hold. Cedric sends a diplomatic look her way. "I'm Cedric. This is Caleb, my business associate. He's providing some of the refreshments tonight." Caleb smiles slightly and waves.
"I'm Stephanie, and this is my friend Veronica." A chilly wind seems to have blown across the room as the women recognize their shared connection. The girls try to seem confident, but the supernaturals in the room know how deflated the pair truly is.
"Cedric,...Dav mentioned your visit. Nice to meet you. And Caleb, you are his friend with the 'special fruit' i'm looking forward to trying one of those...Plasma Janes? I get so thirsty after waking up" (The last line is spoken while looking at Stephanie and Veronica rather than Caleb)
After a lingering pause Chiasa walks over and offers Stephanie her hand: "Nice to meet you Stephanie, and you Veronica; I'm Chiasa".
"Chiasa...Nice to meet you." After seeing Stephanie speak with such calm, Veronica pipes up. "Nice to meet you too."
The pair seem downright ordinary against Chiasa's effortless pink ombre. Stephanie looks toward Davian, but the emergence of Chiasa into the room has completely changed the ambiance.
"Happy to oblige, ma'am." Caleb removes some tools he'd placed underneath the bar and begins to juice the ripe fruit. He doesn't bother offering anything to anyone else; it seems, for one reason or another, no one else should be interested in a plasma jane.
That should change when more guests arrive, Caleb thinks to himself.
"We have the moon to thank for the plasma fruit. A moon that's quickly nearing her renewal." He tries to speak carefully as he separates pulp from juice.
"Now, now Caleb. Let's not get racy in here."
"What are you talking about, Cedric?"
Cedric makes a show of pretending he's going to whisper to Chiasa, but instead speaks using a normal volume. "Caleb's in love with a self-styled moon priestess."
Caleb temporarily lowers his hands and sets the implements down on the bar's counter. "What, you want to make something of it?"
"Gentlemen, please, we have not consumed enough intoxicants to start fighting over women" (pointed look at Chiasa). "Besides, this is my house and therefore my rules. Unless you two wish to engage in Certamen, let's remember we are all friends here".
I check my pocketwatch, "Hmm. We are approaching 7pm. Ladies, will you please join Chiasa and Caleb at the bar? I must dispense with your chairs and the coffee."
To Chiasa You little Minx, that was not nice. Try to be kind to the muggles, eh?
To Cedric: Is this you (shares memory of teenage Cedric)
Cedric feels the momentary pause of shame as his mind is filled with that brown-haired youth. The hair had changed mere moments after he had. It was the hallmark of a time long gone. But when he gazed into the mirror, all he saw was a memory of a boy afraid. Though the face was long dead, it would haunt him for time immemorial.
He seems to shiver as he comes to. Caleb is looking at him crooked, and Davian exudes pure smarm and confidence.
He looks at the mortals and feels a twinge of the thirst, but he shakes free of the compulsion.
The glass plunks down on the counter. "All ready, Chiasa." Caleb tries to shake off the rage at Cedric about Trente.
The mortals peer into the glass and wonder idly about its contents. They both take notice of the lack of ice.
To Cedric: I thought you looked familiar; the hair is an improvement.
Once Stephanie and Veronica have relocated, I wave away the chairs, table, coffee, and remaining snow.
Chiasa smiles at the young vampire across the bar, hoping to put him more at ease.
"To health" I grab the glass and take a deep drink, surprised by the subtle, satisfying flavors. Warm and fresh, delicious.
"This is amazing."
Cedric to Davian: Thanks.
Caleb removes a second fruit and begins to prepare a plasma jane for himself. "Thank you. The orchard was a gift from my father who cultivated the fruit to grow here in our local soil. What I brought today I harvested just yesterday. It's best when it's fresh."
"My father thought the fruit would be a way for our kind to exist without preying on -- " and here he turns to Veronica, "your kind."
"I like to think of the world as a delicate ecosystem where all things exist in balance. Too long has our kind preyed on theirs. I offer a way out."
The mortals continue to listen spout off tales about his father and his trials getting the fruit to finally grow in America. He has a number of them, and it fills the time.
"If you treat the fruit like rancid produce, that's all you'll get. Many think the pit is useless but you can use it to clean your fangs and if you pulverize it, the powder can be used as an insect deterent or even a piney deodorant."
I finish my drink, savoring the mouthfeel (so much like the real thing!), then turn to surreptitiously observe Davian as he greets his guests, only half listening to the thinblood's diatribe.
I walk up the steps of the townhouse, surprisingly nervous. It hasn't been that long. I take a deep breath then knock on the door.
Cedric has stood by patiently, trying to affect civility, while Caleb schmoozes with the young women. When he starts talking about the uses of powdered plasma fruit pit, his patience begins to wear thin. But there seems to be no reason to scare the guests, not this early in the night.
Reluctantly, he admits that Caleb may have the proper, delicate approach.
He splits the two mortals and leans over the bar. "So what kind of monsters did you two believe in as children? Perhaps I can help put your minds at ease."
Stephanie speaks up first. "I believed in Santa until I was far too old for it."
"I've never met him, but should he exist, he's a mage with facility over the spheres of time, forces, matter -- "
There comes a knock on the door, interrupting Cedric.
Hearing the knock, I open the door. Adam stands on the threshold, wearing those stupid sunglasses even though the sun has almost set.
"Adam. Good to see you." I extend my hand and give him an honest smile.
The door opens and there stands Davian. I can see his eyes crinkle as he notices the sunglasses. Mission accomplished.
He looks stressed. More than just fatigue.
I look down at his hand and return the smile, then rush forward and embrace him in a big bear hug. He stiffens, then relaxes, returns the embrace, and starts to laugh.
While we are hugging, I reach for his mind: Good to see you too, Dad. What's going on, and how can I help?
I push out of the hug and stare at Adam for a moment:
Later, son. I promise I will tell you everything.
At the edge of your consciousness, you overhear Cedric pontificating about the supernatural qualities of the Greench. He even gets Caleb in on the conversation. Stephanie and Veronica are participating intently, more fixated on listening than trying to speak.
Cedric gets up from the bar, abandoning his current conversation, and walks over to where Davian has greeted the newcomer.
"Hi, I'm Cedric."
"Adam. Pleased to meet you." While shaking his hand I take a peek at his aura.
Cedric's aura is clearly vampiric from its pale hue but otherwise the color is somewhat difficult to place. Your first inclination is a light blue, but on second look it may be yellow or white. It's bright but very pale. At any rate, the man is calm and seemingly harmless.
"Cedric is one of Straud's Lieutenants" I add helpfully.
"Ah, a double welcome then; Dad has always had the utmost respect for the Count. Are we to be graced with his presence this evening?"
"I expect he should be arriving any moment now. Mandarc is probably driving him. He does have a penchant for being fashionably late, however."
(They didn't look anything alike but he couldn't debate there was something familial between the two, like a grand lion wrestling with an overgrown cub.)
Cedric's cellphone dings but he shovels it away, still in the midst of the greeting ritual.
"Come on in, I'll see if Caleb won't mix you up something nice. What do you drink?"
"Thanks. Manhattan, straight up."
"And no worries, I can appreciate the importance of making an entrance."
Caleb catches wind of the requested drink and begins to mix it up.
Cedric finishes penning a text message and slips the phone back into his pocket and reenters the buzz of the sitting room.
Veronica speaks up in the quiet of the room. "Could I have a vodka gimlet, Caleb?"
(Such a charmer, Caleb. Be careful or you might catch yourself trying to get a glimpse of their exposed neck.)
Cedric slips over toward you and you notice he employs just the smallest hint of vampiric speed. He speaks to you covertly, hoping his voice will be drowned in Caleb's chatter.
"During your rounds at the Magicademy, did you ever meet Vincent?"
"Unfortunately not. I knew of him, but not much more; Myrtle was quite secretive on the subject and at the time I didn't care enough to push the issue."
"He taught me everything I needed in those early years. The school meant everything to him. He'd hate to see it shuttered. What did you make of Myrtle's situation?"
"Unenviable. For reasons including and besides the obvious. Yes, it would be a shame, but as I am sure you know, there are larger issues facing us at the moment."
I pause, catching a glimpse of Adam. "But, on the other hand, we owe much to that school, and we may need to draw on the talent it attracts."
"The Marscapones poured their life and souls into protecting young Talent. Maybe it falls to us to continue their vision." Cedric and Davian sit in silence a moment, listening to Caleb talk to the bar.
"I'm glad you're sympathetic to our cause, it's more than I can say for most of your kind. But it still stands that ours is not a forward-facing mission. We are not meant to be orphan matrons. We will keep watch at the fence but I will not do well stewarding over children and their coloring books."
"Tzu Prano was always the stellar student. Maybe we should call on her when the time comes."
"Hmm. I can understand a young man's desire to be at the front, not 'changing diapers'." Davian looks as though he might say more but he pauses and continues in a different direction.
"It has been many years since I spoke to anyone from the Magicademy, though I understand Tzu is now living in LA."
"She is, though she makes it back into town from time to time. I can appreciate her desire to go forward with her career, but LA...? It would be nice to have her and Sebastian here."
"There are a few others that might be able to help us put the Academy back together, but none I'd trust with my life. Beggars can't be choosers."
"True, though with Adam now here a plan is forming. Perhaps we can restore the Matron to her rightful place."
"Except maybe we can do it better this time."
The conversation is interrupted by the doorbell.
"One moment please". I make my way to the door, and wave it open telekinetically with a free hand.
At the door is a pale young man with jet-black hair. As soon as he sees you, he breaks out into a diatribe. "Did you know parking in your neighborhood is atrocious? We drove around for twenty minutes before finally settling on a garage. The Master was not happy about leaving his car in the care of some random mortals."
"Thanks for having us." Mandarc looks over his shoulder at Straud and Ben, just now approaching the stairs into the apartment.
Straud bows his head to Davian as he ascends the stairs and enters the residence. "Yes, thank you, Davian. It is good to be gathered together."
He gestures toward the third member of their party. "Davian, this is Askuwheteau, a dear friend of mine. He has traveled over a sizable distance and I thought he might enjoy your soiree this evening. I hope I have not tread on your hospitality by inviting him."
Mandarc rushes into the sitting room where he spies Caleb and Chiasa at the bar and Cedric leaning up against a wall with his arms crossed, looking sulky as usual.
He forms his hands into the shape of a gun and clicks toward Cedric in greeting. "'Ey, Chief." Cedric nods back toward him wordlessly and watches as Mandarc approaches the bar.
"Can you throw one of those my way, Caleb? I'm parched. Drivin' the boss all the way here... Traffic was awful, parking was awful; I hate driving."
Mandarc has made little notice of the mortals outside of noticing the seats were occupied. He continues to ramble excitedly about the happenings of the drive through the boroughs.
I smile at the black-haired man and murmur "Hello Mandarc, good to see you" as he rushes past me.
Upon seeing Straud, I nod my head respectfully. "So glad you could make it Vlad, I hope the entertainment is up to your standards" wink. I then turn and look up at Askuwheteau and after a moment's pause:
"Kwey kwey Askuwheteau, ki mino pimadiz na" (Hello Askuwheteau, how are you?)
"Indeed. I have high expectations for you, Magister."
The three make their way into the house. Straud surveys the sitting room and approaches the two mortal women. "Good evening, ladies. My name is Vladislaus Straud. Your two personages are new to me."
The mortals introduce themselves. Anyone with heightened senses will notice that a fresh perfume of perspiration begins to waft from the girls; Straud's presence, while not enough to send them fleeing in terror, has inspired a layer of sweat to exude from their skin. The vampires in the room feel their willpower test underneath the pressure of being in such proximity to the prey. But they all hold steady, encouraged by the shows of humanity from their compatriots. The odor soon begins to dissipate.
"So please, enlighten me as to how you met this proper scoundrel of a man." He says loud enough for Davian to hear him.
The girls launch into a short tale of adventure, talking more about themselves than the mage himself. Stephanie notes that they spoke about space exploration and hopeful colonization by none other than the famous billionaire.
"Ah, Ian Dusk. A show of what can go wrong when one grows up surrounded by every need granted. It is a pity that so many throw their loyalty behind him and his misguided companies. But if they can conjure such a following, perhaps there is still hope for the rest of us."
"I, myself, run a little cabaret. We don't perform just any old dramas, no, our content is handpicked by the most well-read individuals with which I can fetch an audience. We sell a vision of a world of good Samaritans, environmentalists, and other do-gooders. But do we enjoy the same fame?"
He leaves the question hanging and no one dares answer it.
"Vatore. It is good to see you."
"And you too, Count."
Straud turns to Chiasa and reaches out his hand, looking to greet her with a kiss on the back of her hand. "I am glad to see Davian is taking such good care of you."
"Melwancike wa, eckantam wa, Askuwheteau, ki lawena tipa-cimo pa-nima" (Eat well and drink up, Askuwheteau, we will talk later).
"I think the ladies hit most of the important points" I saw as I casually head over to Straud. "Though don't let him downplay the BV, even Sebastian Erikksson has been known to stop by".
I graciously give Straud my hand; it is a welcome distraction from the prey pheromones the two Uzai are giving off.
"I am an easy houseguest, though I would love another night on the town."
Somewhat taken aback that this Paleface knows Algonquin, I shuffle off and begin drinking heavily, giving suspicious looks at the leeches that writhe around openly, trying hard to extend them the respect Grandfather would want.
Veronica lights up at a familiar name. "Sebastian Eriksson? You have got to be kidding me. Did you see Combustion? It was fantastic."
Caleb gently responds. "I saw it."
"I didn't -- what's this one about?" Mandarc asks.
Veronica gives a general description of the film -- a space thriller where Sebastian finds himself alone in space and must contend with a presumably killer alien who lurks in the shadows of an abandoned lab on the Moon.
"I can't believe I missed this one, I try to keep up with Seb's filmography." Mandarc remarks.
Straud surprisingly responds to the commentary. "It was released a few years ago."
Veronica seems to be a bit of an expert on Sebastian Eriksson and continues to talk about him. "He seems to be taking a bit of a break from acting over the past few years. He hasn't been in anything."
Caleb provides some clarification. "He's engaged. Maybe he's taking some time for himself and his bride-to-be."
"A bit ballsy if you ask me -- making all these movies. It could quickly take a turn for the worse." Cedric delivers a healthy dose of pessimism to the conversation.
Adam, who has been listening on the periphery, sends to Davian: How do you think Cedric likes those sour grapes?
Davian almost chokes on his drink and looks up to give Adam a scandalized grin.
Straud snaps up the conversation, sensing it devolving into hearsay and gossip.
"I daresay that his fame may be something we can work to our advantage, should we need it."
"We've talked at length about his chosen vocation and about the safety precautions he must take. I trust his judgment." And of course, the implication was "and you should too."
Veronica seizes the silence to clear her mind. Unfortunately it is mostly drivel resulting from Sebastian's glamour.
"I just can't believe he's really a...a..."
"Vampire?" Mandarc fills in the gap.
"If you'd have told me before today --" Veronica stumbles over her words.
"Are you telling me that today is your first introduction into the world of the occult?"
Straud to Davian: My, my. What lucky little girls you've brought into your web.
"It's true... Stephanie and I are new to everything. I just hope it's not a dream that fades as soon as we step out that door."
"How fortunate you are to be privy to a very serious set of truths. I certainly hope -- " he pauses for a moment, and you feel a shift in the tone, "you will not be taking advantage of our favor. You are to tell no one about your meeting this evening. In fact, it will be most believable if the two of you were to have gathered at a local bar and drank too much to fathom speaking about it in polite conversation."
Straud is still rather relaxed, although both Cedric and Mandarc have become quiet, lending a serious air to the gathering.
"I am not the type to make idle threats, nor would you sense my hand upon your fates should you disobey me. I suggest you regard what you have seen and will see tonight as entirely confidential. You two have stumbled upon a world of wonder through sheer dumb luck. Do not undervalue that."
Davian catches the duo's eye and gives them a quick wink to put them a bit more at ease.
"Count Straud speaks the truth; this is no fairy party - I will still live here tomorrow and wouldn't care to have to cast another ritual to cover my tracks...I get enough paperwork from the Order as it is."
"The two of you have shown remarkable poise given all what you have seen...and I am placing no small amount of trust in you, as have my guests by proxy. "
To Straud: Indeed. Though I have some plans for them, plans that might help mitigate any potential risk.
"You can trust us." Stephanie speaks for the both of them, a shaky voice betraying the difficulty in fully absorbing all she's been shown. "I mean, who would believe us? I don't think we could just walk into the police station --" She stops, the image feeling ridiculous. "They'd throw us in the crazy house."
Ever the diplomat, Straud responds with measured calm. "An outcome we would all like to avoid."
"Speaking of paperwork, as an exchange for your vow of silence, I offer you both protection from my kind. So long as you remain within Queens, none of my kind will prey upon you or your family. You will be one of our esteemed friends. And we will protect you from becoming the victims of those that live outside our borders. I cannot speak for the other boroughs."
Veronica seems desperate to speak of Sebastian Eriksson. Or anything less heavy than this conversation.
Cedric's cellphone buzzes and he leaves out the front door, standing on the porch.
"T-thank you, sir." Veronica speaks, unsure of how exactly to address Straud, being unaccustomed to using titles.
"I think I speak for both of us, Count," Stephanie chimes in, "When I say that neither of us will speak a word of this night to anyone else. Not even ourselves, even, because someone could overhear us. No, there's nothing to say, nothing to talk about, unless we are in your company."
Mandarc smirks (letting the silence speak for itself for a moment) and then swiftly fades over toward a curio cabinet. "You've got quite the collection of baubles here, Davian. I've been in the market for a good telescope --" but he stops when the sound of the door echoes through the room.
Kevin and Cedric enter the room and you think you catch the faint scent of the devil's lettuce.
I turn my body to the Stephanie and Veronica, but keep my face directed at Straud: "Dear ladies, I hope you are suitably humbled by the offer the good Count has offered, he is a man of honor and thus you can trust him implicitly."
I now shift to address the whole group.
"Now that that's out of the way, let's take a vote: shall we spend some time on the beach or at my ski lodge?"
"I didn't bring sunscreen, so I'm boned either way." Mandarc says bombastically, trying to keep up the spirits of the group.
"What about the beach at night? We could all go star-gazing." Stephanie pipes up.
The party seems to gravitate toward this option, with Caleb voicing gentle agreement and Straud seeming to wait for everyone else to make up their mind.
Kevin greets Davian with a handshake that seems relaxed, genial.
"Kevin, glad you could make it. Good timing as well, I was about to open door no.1."
Addressing the group: "Beach by night sounds great, and if it happens to get too bright I can whip something up." He walks over to a nondescript door just a few feet down.
"Stephanie and Veronica, would you do the honors?" I instruct the two women to grab the handle and open the door together. A tropical breeze wafts through the room, full of floral perfumes mingled with the tang of sea water. Through the doorway lies a crescent shaped white-sand beach, gentle waves lapping at the shore. The moon hangs high in the sky, bathing the scene in a gentle, silver light. A number of teak and canvas beach chairs lie haphazardly on the sand, along with a number of small tables and a bar with tiki torches.
"Ladies and gentlemen, last in the water is a rotten egg".
The group goes through the door single-file, each in turn marveling at the seamless transition from sitting room to beach. The beach is perfection, truly like a scene from one's imagination.
"Davian -- you've really outdone yourself. This is marvelous." He walks onto the beach, stopping afterward to remove his shoes.
Veronica sheepishly approaches the Magister. "Davian, is there any way... My bathing suit. Can you bring it here? I'm sorry if I'm asking too many questions..."
Cedric, Kevin, and Mandarc have also removed their shoes and are wading in the water, crystal-clear in the moonlight.
Caleb, too, has entered the beach, but remains sort of off-set from the other vampires, choosing instead to wander off by himself.
"Oh, uh, sorry Veronica...sure thing. Might be easier if just transmute your clothing. Preference for style?"
"Red, one-piece, with a flower motif?" Her voice raises considerably at the end of her sentence, still skeptical, and yet, desperately wanting to believe.
"At your command my lady".
All at once a glimmer falls over Veronica and she instantly is re-outfitted in an impeccably tailored red and white bathing suit. It doesn't have flowers on it, but it does have delicate frills of lace around the legs and arms. The red panel over the front and back is a lovely fabric with a striped texture and there is a copper zipper coming up the front of the suit.
Veronica is visibly impressed with your transfiguration. It seems to bolster her resolve, seeing magic used for something she can wrap her head around.
The scene has been watched over by the rest of the crew despite being relatively dispersed over the beach; Stephanie acknowledges the feat and even seems a little jealous. She quickly goes to Davian to ask him the favor.
"So you've been talking with Kali about getting released? What about Roxanne?" Mandarc tries to speak covertly but his voice is fairly easy to eavesdrop.
"Roxanne is doing well. She's on the mend." Cedric talks a little more quietly as Straud approaches the group.
"I don't think any good can be derived from keeping her locked up. If she doesn't want to ally with us, that's her prerogative. But she's just a burden on us this way." Kevin spoke carefully, diplomatically.
They continue shooting the shit about the prisoner.
Caleb seems to be watching small fish swim about his toes, eager to get away from the commotion that constantly surrounded the Caitiff of Queens.
A giggle can be heard from Stephanie as the two girls engage in chatter. Their mood seems to have improved since escaping to the beach.
After making Stephanie's bikini, I approach the circle, but stay on the fringes, listening by careful not to interject unless prompted.
"Kali is wild, almost feral. I doubt the Camarilla is going to have much patience for her antics." Cedric remarks.
Mandarc has a question. "Roxanne really isn't holding a grudge? If I got sliced by a feral vampiress...there'd be hell to play."
Cedric can't help himself. "The phrase is 'hell to pay'."
"Shit. Is it?"
I attempt to sneak into the water without Caleb noticing. Once there, I am going to use my gifts to shift into a giant shark that will start circling Caleb's location
Caleb notices nothing at first, entranced by the tiny fish swimming about his ankles. He looks over his shoulder at the rest of the party, eyeing their gathering and noticing the girls were now clad in bathing suits. He stares for a while, pondering the nature of mages.
When he turns back around, he is caught off-guard by the pattern of ripples in the water.
"Uh... Guys?" He backs away, slowly at first, and then turns around and runs as fast as he can toward the beach.
Mandarc is the first to notice the disturbance. "Caleb?" he calls out as Caleb splashes messily toward the shore.
I keep at his heels as he runs; when he reaches the shallows I make a big splash and shift into human form and exit the water, laughing heartily.
Caleb steps on a shell and takes a tumble while running from the 'shark'. He falls into the water, soaking his clothes from head to foot.
But Ben reaches his hand forward and helps Caleb to his feet.
Caleb laughs nervously, but he is not overly perturbed. More amused. "T-that was you? You had me."
Off to the side, Straud smiles slightly at the show of mischief.
Mandarc starts clapping. "Ben! That was great. Caleb, you okay? Sorry that had to be at your expense but that was..."
Cedric interrupts. "Very impressive."
Straud delivers a quiet aside. "Indeed."
The girls have barely noticed the excitement; they're wrapped up in building a sandcastle.
Caleb chuckles half to himself. "Well after all that excitement, I could use another drink." He walks over to Davian. "This portal is...two-way, right? I can pop over and head back?"
Kevin speaks quietly. "I think I missed introductions. Ben --"
But Straud interrupts. "Ben is a werecat. An old friend of mine. His ability to change his shape is unparalleled."
Kevin seems to be coming into understanding. "Is he one of the Glasswalkers?"
"No, he has journeyed over a far distance. I am not sure we could get through to the Glasswalkers. Old grudges die slowly. At any rate, it is good Ben is on our side. He brings much wisdom to our circle. I am comforted by his presence. I have not seen him in many, many years."
Kevin continues. "A werecat, very unusual. Father had some dealings with the werewolves upstate some years ago but a cat -- He must have traveled from far away."
"I suspect his home has been subject to the same decay much of the Wild has been suffering." Straud keeps his eyes on the scene, as do his fellow vampires.
"We are his home for the time being."
Walking out of the water, I overhear part of their conversation. Good time as any to start our working relationship
I walk over to the circle and bear my teeth in a smile.
"One thing you should know about Fera, we have great hearing."
I meet Kevin's gaze directly but without overt hostility.
"You are correct; the years have not been kind to my people, even before the Europeans came to the Pure Land."
"I am impressed you know of the Glass Walkers, they are a reclusive bunch, even for shifters."
"We have traipsed over their territory before, although not intentionally." Straud admits. "I extended an invitation to the Blue Velvet but no one ever came."
"Perhaps it is better this way."
"We can't help that they hate us for being what we are." Mandarc says rather matter-of-factly. "I didn't choose to be what I am. What makes me any less natural than one of the Fera? I still obey the laws of physics."
"That's not what they mean and you know it." Cedric quips with irritation. "Parasitism is what they object to."
"Parasites exist in nature."
"It doesn't mean anyone is going to tolerate it. People don't like snakes or spiders either. They aren't like them. We're not like them. We are an affront to nature."
"See, that's always stuck in my craw. Natural this, natural that...It's natural for humanity to progress. It's natural for Man to explore his environment, make his life easier, have babies, what-have-you. Just because he chops down a few trees in the process doesn't make him unnatural. Everyone utilizes the things around him, that's just basic tool use."
"We're not essential to the ecosystem in any way, shape, or form. If every vampire burst into flames tomorrow there would be little change to life on Earth as we know it. We're a hanger-on, a leech, even." Cedric speaks plainly, with a surprising amount of distance.
"We'll see if they still feel that way when the Visitors arrive." Mandarc speaks with a quiet, defeated tone.
I shrug uncomfortably at this change in the conversation and turn to address Mandarc. "You will excuse me, but there is a flaw in your reasoning. You are not alive, nor are you dead. You are a static element in the ever-changing sea of life, a manifestation of the Wyrm's sickness that will never return the gifts it has taken to the earth. It is not your status as a predator that provokes the ire of my kind, but your very essence."
"However, in the long years I have spent in Gaia's embrace I have seen many strange and 'unnatural' things, and have gained some measure of wisdom, including the limits of my own understanding. Perhaps you were born for a greater purpose, one that has yet to be fully revealed."
I shrug again and meet Cedric's gaze "I often wonder how I would behave if I had my identity suddenly stripped away, and I know what it is to be considered a monster".
"By that reasoning," Mandarc posits, "Shouldn't all immortals be suspect?"
"I don't even remember receiving the dark gift. I have tendrils of memory, but I have no way to know what's real and what's imagined. I didn't choose this path, or at least I don't remember choosing, so how am I supposed to do penance? What I did choose to do was run away from Trelaine."
"Trelaine is an old associate of Straud's with whom we're on shaky terms." Cedric clarifies for Ben.
"We were friends. Once." Straud comments.
"You wanna talk about a monster. He uses his powers of persuasion to seduce mortals into near-slavery. He makes promises he never intends to keep. He splices --" Mandarc seems to get jittery at the discussion.
"Enough." Straud commands. "This is not the time nor the place for this topic. I know I certainly have no desire to gossip about my old rival."
I nod deferentially. "As you say, Nixkamich."
I look around the island and take a deep breath, then make a sound that could only be describe as a purr.
"Davian, where are we, this is as unspoiled a place as I have ever encountered".
I crack a self-congratulatory smile before responding.
"We are on an a small island I own in the South Pacific, hundreds of miles from the nearest human settlement. I have a few such places, for those moments when I need to 'get away' from it all. Wait until you see the next one."
"This is wonderful, Davian. You've really outdone yourself." Kevin states with genuine awe in his tone.
"Yeah, no kidding. When you said party, this isn't exactly what I was expecting. But I like it. Though I hope you aren't going to leave us stranded out here. I don't think Uber drives out this way." Mandarc jokes.
Straud seems relaxed, and you think you him resist a smile. "Cedric, there was a time that any time you saw an open space, you insisted you needed to spar."
"You always let me win."
While the men are having their little circle jerk, I head to the bar and and mix myself something, then saunter over to 'the girls':
"How are you ladies doing?"
Veronica tries to stifle a blush at Chiasa's smooth voice. She was beautiful, in a way that made other women angry, whether or not they wanted to be.
Veronica was simply ashamed at her own plainness.
"We're doing okay, I haven't built a sandcastle in years. My father and I used to go to the beach a lot when I was a little girl. We never won any contests but I always remember the time fondly."
Stephanie tries to think of something to say, a question to ask, but everything seems trite. But her impatience gets the better of her and she blurts out the question that's been nagging at her.
"Are you and Davian married?"
I finish my drink and join in making the sandcastle, using my knowledge of engineering to help shore up the structure and add some detail.
"It is satisfying, and a bit poetic..." Stephanie's interruption derails my train of thought and elicits a gale of laughter.
"Me and Dav? No. What we have goes beyond friendship, but..." (a wistful look enters my expression) "he is loyal, almost to a fault."
My expression hardens slightly.
"And there are...other things that, despite his good and kind nature, will always stand between us."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Stephanie replies. "Really, I am. You and your friends seem nice, diamonds in the rough."
"Is it too rude to ask how old you are?" she laughs disarmingly. "Please forgive me if I'm stepping out of line, I was just wondering...and can't imagine...All that you've seen."
"It's true, I'm having trouble wrapping my head around the whole thing." Veronica says. "What is life for those that never die? How do you deal with the meaninglessness of it all?"
Stephanie seems a little embarrassed for her friend. "Probably no different than the rest of us; they just have more time to dwell on it."
"Why, thank you Stephanie. If I may say, you both are taking all of this better than I would have expected. I don't know what Dav was thinking, dropping this on you all at once, but in spite of all his power, he is not infallible... Oh, I don't mind, it's not like it shows (big smile) I was born in 1944."
"As for the ennui of immortality...when you are given the Dark Gift, you become a metaphorical child again: there are new rules to learn and a complex culture to understand in addition to the physical changes. Once those are processed...it helps to have a passion. I am a musician, and the thought of endless ages to perfect my craft keeps me going."
"It's probably going to hit me once I get home," Stephanie remarks.
"I'm not exactly sure if it could have been better...I don't know. The fact that the world isn't what we thought it was..."
"Honestly the worst part is that the rest of it doesn't seem to matter anymore. I'm going to have trouble paying attention at work on Monday, that's for sure."
Veronica's interest is piqued when when Chiasa mentions music. "I play a little piano. I'm okay. What do you play?"
"Well, if it's any consolation, I don't think Davian is done with you yet...he tends to draw people into his orbit. I think he likes the adulation, but you'll never get him to admit to it."
"Another musician, wonderful! I play most instruments, though the piano, flute, and cello are my favorites...actually, this gives me a chance to show off"
I focus my will and gather Vitae...suddenly a portable electronic keyboard and chair appear a short distance away.
"That's better." I turn to Veronica.
"Well, show me what you've got (wink)."
Veronica says nothing but looks shocked.
"Non-stop surprises with this lot, eh?" Stephanie remarks. "Thank goodness I was a theatre kid. Woulda liked to have learned to play something though."
Veronica stops for a moment. "You can do that too? Geez." She walks over and sits down at the bench and breathes in and out a few times. "You can do this," she mutters to herself.
She stretches her fingers and then bends them over the keys. She improvises a piece, playing a cheerful melody on her left hand with a simple harmony on the right.
The boys stop what they've been talking about and pay her the proper attention.
She's decent, although nervous. She misses a few keys, but the melody continues and it's easy to get lost in the dreamy notes. The waves continue to lap the shore, providing a gentle ambiance in the moment's pause.
"Beautiful! I know I surprised you, but that was well done, definitely better than 'ok'. Make sure to extend your thumb more to give your hand a bit more spread."
"Yeah, I definitely am a bit tense on the hands," she reluctantly admits.
She stands up. "Maybe you could show us what you can do. I'm curious..."
"I think that's fair."
I take my place and crack my knuckles ostentatiously.
A reverent silence falls over the group as they listen to Chiasa's playing. The soprano voice is particularly bright, plinking, beautiful. A castle made of ice and dusted with fresh white snow. Caleb takes this opportunity to walk over toward the group of vampires, now done with his fishy distraction.
They all begin to applaud when she finishes her song, still hanging in its austere peace.
I stand and do a small stage bow. "Thank you. Playing makes me thirsty, Caleb can you whip up another one of those Plasma Janes?"
"Sure thing, my lady." He rushes off toward the portal into the living room.
Mandarc sends Straud a knowing glance, but he shrugs it off, raising his hand in a gentle dismissal.
Slightly defeated, he turns toward Ben and tries at diplomacy. "You have an affinity with the Spirit Realm, right? When did you first enter there?"
"Affinity? I suppose that would be accurate. The spirits guide the Fera and bestow their gifts on those they deem worthy. We learn to Step Sideways soon after the Realization, and spend a good portion of our lives in those realms. Are you one of those called Medium?"
"Me? I don't think so. I mean, I've tried... But no spirit guide seems to have taken an interest in me. I've had some fantastic nightmares though."
"Be grateful you can still stand and tell the tale." Straud gently states.
"I suppose 'fantastic' isn't the right word. I meant something... I don't know. 'Incredible' but frightening as well." Mandarc searches for the proper word. "But I haven't seen anything that gives me definitive evidence that it's truly someone in the Spirit Realm reaching out to me. I don't know what I'd be looking for but I feel I'd just know what I'm seeing and I haven't felt that yet. What I've seen is probably just the musings of a searching mind."
I stare at Mandarc for an uncomfortably long time, taken aback at his candor.
"I have never guided one of the Kindred into the Spirit realm, but...it is clear that Nixkamich trusts you, and it is also clear you are searching for answers. When the time is right, I will be your Guide."
Mandarc, surprised at your generosity, stammers a bit over his words. "I... You can do that? I would be honored." He bows to Ben, trying to show gratitude.
You think you can see Cedric grinning slightly in the background.
Stephanie looks back at her companion and throws her a knowing glance. She walks up to Davian with her head slightly bowed.
"I think it's about time for Veronica and I to head out. It's been a great time but we need some rest."
I am a but surprised at Stephanie's pronouncement, but after a moment of reflection, I nod and give an understanding smile.
"Of course, today must have been exhausting; please forgive me, I Awakened as a child, so I often forget how others see the world."
I look up to catch Veronica's gaze.
"Please feel free to stop by if you have any more questions; I hope you both had a good time, all things considered".
"We will certainly be back. We had a wonderful time."
Wanting to make sure her voice is heard, Veronica speaks up for herself. "I had a great time. Thank you for everything, Davian." She looks around at the rest of the party, bows her head, and then steps through the portal.
"Oh," she laughs lightly, backing up from entering the portal. "Can we have our clothes back before we're forced back into the open world?"
"A gentlemen always leaves his guests with a present".
I re-create their clothing from memory, and it drops softly onto the sand at their feet.
"Feel free to use the bathroom off the foyer to change. I'll see you off" (I turn to the others :"Do excuse me for a moment")
I walk through the portal and take up station beside the front door, waiting for the ladies to finish their preparations.
The two women take turns using the hallway bathroom to change back into their street clothes. They are quiet amongst themselves, their waking thoughts heavy with the secrets of the new world they've been brought into.
Veronica leaves the bathroom and allows Stephanie in after her. She takes the moment to steal a moment with Davian.
"Thank you for inviting us to your party... You didn't have to, but it's been a really great time." She looks down at her hands. "Thank you, too, for being... honest."
"My pleasure. You two make a wonderful impression, I'm only sorry I couldn't arrange for Sebastian to stop by" (the last said with a little smile).
Veronica blushes. "That... Would be interesting."
"Have a nice night and thank you for having us. It was truly an unforgettable evening." Stephanie bids Davian adieu and the two disappear into the darkened night.
I shut the door and turn back to my guests, my mood only lightly touched with the unease that follows endings and farewells. Laughter comes echoing through the portal, and I smile and stride forward.
You see Caleb hand Mandarc another plasma jane and wonder off-hand if he's been keeping count.
"I've been spending less and less time out at Riverhead, worried some mage is going to drop by the homestead looking for mother's guidance." Kevin remarks. "Wouldn't want to leave a hopeful out on the stoop in the rain."
I conjure a Paloma and join the group.
"Anything that gets you out of Riverhead..."
"It's a great house for entertaining and guests -- Mom had great taste even though she only made it out there but once a year or so. She never did schmooze with the locals much and we're still something of strangers out there."
"I'm sure there are mages out East but I wouldn't know. I'm sure some of our alumni have moved out to the island but I haven't kept up with them."
"I would check the lab. Places like those attract the attentions of ne'er-do-wells such as yourself." Cedric comments.
"Cassandra Goth was once my in for intel but I advised her to quit after I heard the place was no longer safe." Kevin replies.
"Maybe we ought to look into getting our own spot rather than be forced out entirely." Cedric speaks calmly, with the composure of someone in the middle of plotting and scheming.
"That's what I was going to do!" Mandarc protests. "A few years at community college, get a degree, transfer out... I figured that'd be enough to get me in the door."
"It's not a bad plan --" Kevin starts.
"A bad plan? It's ridiculously optimistic. A few classes at a community college and you think the national lab is going to throw out the red carpet?" Cedric is animated in his denial of the idea. "You need credentials. Job experience. Words of recommendation. Mortals take these things very seriously. They vet potential job hires more than they do their mates."
"I can furnish Mandarc with the proper credentials, but, it might serve the cause better to place a human operative, someone beyond suspicion or detection."
"two words: plausible deniability. If we can find a recent hire and turn them to our cause, it keeps our risk low and allows Mandarc to stay in the city".
"Though if you wanted to pursue higher learning, Mandarc, I can put in a good word at Columbia...the Dean owes me a few favors."
Mandarc seems visibly deflated. "I just thought... If the Reveal is really going to happen... it would help to have one of our kind speaking for our interests. What with the fruit and all --"
"The fruit does not thrive on science." Straud gently reminds.
"Which is why I was hoping to be a spokesperson for our interests!"
"Mandarc, mad scientist, claims vampires don't have to drink blood, they just really really like to." Cedric says in a mocking tone.
"You really really like to." Mandarc says in a defeated tone. "There could be a change of outcome for our people if you just gave it a chance."
"We're not 'a people', we're an affliction, a symptom of a dying world."
Unable to make headway with Cedric, he turns to Davian. "I might like that. Now that my dreams of being the next Bill Nye are dashed, I might as well get a little education out of it."
"I will make a few inquiries."
I pause at Mandarc's defeated visage.
"Buck up Mandarc, think of this as a chance to prepare for your role. After all the only constant is change."
"Yeah, I guess I was just getting a little ahead of myself. Been watching too much TV."
But nothing can quite keep him down. "I've just been a little hopeful lately. If Stephanie and Veronica can take the truth in stride then there's hope for the rest."
"There has to be a future for us besides just lurking in the shadows."
"I'm having a vision of the future, Mandarc, your smiling face underneath the words "From the Heart: synthetic blood."
"I may have to work on my smile though. Somehow you were able to seduce two mortals to your table where the rest of us had none." Mandarc seems genuinely thankful for your vote of confidence.
"The girls seemed nice though. I hope they don't just wake up in the morning thinking they were taking crazy pills."
I take the opportunity to break into the conversation: "Always helps that he looks like he walked out of the Private Banking office at JP Morgan and has an address in the West Village..."
"hmph. No one made you live out of that...conveyance."
"Best way to travel. It even has a device that lets you speed and slow the passage of time".
"hmmm yes, I think you showed it to me last April..." I share a wink and a laugh with Adam and return my attention to the group.
"Gentlemen, I think our time at this venue has run it's course. I propose we head to my next surprise before the evening runs its course."
"The beach was a nice touch, though. I think the girls really enjoyed themselves." Cedric says with a surprising amount of civility.
"I think the girls did enjoy themselves, but I'm surprised you are concerned with their welfare." Mandarc chimes in.
"They are our guests. I assume we'll be seeing them again." Cedric states.
"Another chance for you to scare them with some doom and gloom." Mandarc teases gently. "Where are we off to?" He asks, pointing the question at Davian.
"Somewhere out of this world."
(going to cast a three-round spell)
"Now, please wait for me to set some things up before you cross through the portal."
I hold my hands together and a scintillating sphere appears between my hands. As I concentrate, it expands into an orb of absolute darkness that hungrily consumes the heat in the air. After a few more seconds, the sphere expands again, now 10ft in radius, and the gathered observers now perceive this to be another portal, looking out onto a desolate waste of nothing but rock and dust backdropped by stars.
I step through: for a moment the air shimmers, then an almost invisible sphere appears around him, rippling when hit by passing dust.
"It should be ready, come on everyone...come see the seat of Olympus."
I have opened a portal to a small asteroid that is sufficiently far from Jupiter so that it fills the horizon.
"This is really incredible, Davian." Caleb says as he steps through the portal in his turn.
"Yeah, wow." Kevin observes the portal closely before stepping through and turning his attention to the gas giant before them.
"Speeding and slowing the passage of time ain't got nothin' on this, right Ced?" Mandarc files through the portal with the rest.
"I'm off the clock." Cedric states.
"This is very impressive, Davian. You've outdone yourself." Straud compliments as he walks through the portal. "You'd better be careful or I'll start throwing my parties at your home."
"All the more reason we need to get the school up and running again." Cedric says to Kevin.
"Get the school up and running again? Is that the kind of gossip you've been parroting while I've been out of the room?" Kevin seems a little flustered. "I don't know if reopening the school is the best option for us right now. We don't have the staff, we don't have the materials -- much of our collection was damaged in the fire."
"I'm just... Not sure about reopening the school. It was my parents' dream, I know... But I fear it will just attract the wrong kind of publicity nowadays."
"Is it the school you want? New talent? Surely bleaching pinafores and playclothes is not exactly what you have in mind but I'm not sure we have the time necessary to relaunch the school in a meaningful way. There are other ways to find new talent..."
"We need mages." Cedric protests. "Their magic is limitless. Look at this! Vampires cannot accomplish such feats. There was a reason you took the cure."
"I don't contest the fact that dynamic magic would be useful to our cause, but I'm not so convinced that the school is the way to do it."
"I am pleased you all enjoy the vista; Jupiter has always fascinated me...without his guardianship, the Earth would be a very different place."
I spend a quiet moment with Straud before turning back to 'the boys'.
"What if Myrtle could resume her duties?"
"Jupiter is indeed a boon to the community around him. Without his protections, we'd all be lost." Straud agrees with Davian.
But Cedric and Kevin are straying dangerously close to an argument, their voices becoming slightly heated.
"What's come over you, anyway? I thought you would be happy to see the school remain closed." Kevin accuses Cedric.
"I have been working over what I've seen, what Davian can accomplish, and it's reminded me that our mission, our world, will perish without us expanding our vision. New talent, young talent, that's what I want to see. Get at the kids before someone else puts the wrong sorts of ideas in their heads."
Kevin turns to Davian to respond to his inquiry, continuing his train of thought. "I'm sure Mother would be happy to take up the mantle of Headmistress again, I'm just not sure she's ready. She was depressed for years after her students left, ready to toss her fate to the wind. One might say the return of her students would help, but I'm not so certain. She's hardly the voice of the young generation."
"Then we'll find someone else to lead." Cedric suggests. "It was your father's idea to start the school in the first place, was it not?"
"Father probably saw the world much like you do, in need of great feats. But it still stands that he wasn't able to lead classes himself, or lecture about the history of witchcraft in the Americas during the midday sun when the children were awake. And though my father had all the best intentions, he laid a lot on my mother's lap. And, I would argue, she was unable to handle all the pressure. We're lucky we had such good kids pass through those doors. Tzu, Elmer, even Larry's not a bad guy. But is Mother really going to be able to handle a young person who doesn't have the best interests of the world at heart?"
"I find the Modern World in desperate need of some Old School discipline, yet there is truth to your words. Myrtle is a product of a different time, and, (forgive me Crone) was never the most hip to start...we need a Maiden and a Mother. Tzu would be a good choice, but I think she and Sebastian have settled into LA?"
"Taking a step back from logistical issues, I must agree with Cedric. You can be sure that the Nephandi are recruiting every Spark they can find, and this...Trelane, is no doubt embracing every likely prospect. If we fail to foster new talent, we might find ourselves short at the wrong moment."
Cedric laughs at Davian's use of Myrtle's less-polished title. "The Crone IS a product of a different time. Although I daresay she's become a bit closer to technology over the past year... It must have blown her mind to realize the glowy-box is useful for more than just Judge Judy."
Cedric chuckles half to himself, then turns to Straud. "She does browse the archives, right? She's gotten some use out of her imprisonment?"
Straud speaks carefully and without humor. "I am not in the habit of disclosing other's habits on the Web, lest you'd like to also be found without the promise of privacy."
"There's always the yearbook, Davian. We could look through and try to contact some of our alumni and see if they'd be interested in teaching."
"You're really serious about this, aren't you?" Kevin reiterates, surprised.
"If you can't reach the Moon, at least you'll end up in the stars." Cedric says with a grin.
"I've always hated that expression."
"Indeed. I am sure there are prospects worth pursuing; I will also reach out to the Order."
Caleb takes the pause in the conversation to reach out to Kevin.
"Kevin... Is it true that your parents' school didn't teach about the vampire?"
He sighs regretfully. "Mother taught the essentials. She didn't want to get too... personal. I'm not sure there was much she could have said without getting in too deep. She wanted the school to thrive."
"But it had your father's name on it." Caleb protests.
"I do not think Father always loved his lot. I think sometimes he wished for the world to be a different place."
"We all have regrets." Straud interjects and everyone looks at him, hoping for him to deliver some sound sliver of advice. But he ends the commentary there.
"What do you think?" Kevin points the question right at Straud in an almost aggressive manner. "Should we reopen the school? You knew Father better than anyone else here."
"It does not concern your father. It does not concern your mother. It concerns only the children you hope to bring to fruition. Your parents have raised many good younglings and for that they should be proud."
Straud turns to Davian. "If we can find people we trust, then I give my blessing. But it all hinges on that. Just one grain of rice can tip the scale."
"But let us all not forget our commitments at home. Cedric, the Zhou family has only just recently come under your umbrella. Kevin, your mind is not fully your own."
"Something I struggle with every day." Kevin admits quietly.
"I won't be neglecting the Zhou family." Cedric responds with measured calm. "They're more experienced than they let on."
"Something I agree with but they still require our protection. They always will, as their children will never age." Straud gently reminds him.
"I won't let my responsibilities hold me back. But I think the school is our best bet at ensuring the continued safety of our little... clan."
Mandarc, feeling left out of the conversation, bursts in, "If only Friday Perkins hadn't run off with that twat."
Cedric, trying his best despite his nature to cheer up Mandarc, replies, "She was a bitch. You deserve better."
"Kevin. Too long have you lived with this affliction; many of the things we have spoken about today require time, however, I believe Adam and I can provide you with some immediate assistance."
"We're having that talk now? Ok. I'm ready and willing whenever he is".
"W-what?" Kevin stammers over his words. "Right here, right now?" Being of a somewhat mortal persuasion, his face becomes overcome with a red. "You're able t-to..." but the words get lost in translation.
"I mean, I've been gladdened that my father's spirit wasn't lost to the ether when Trelaine destroyed his body but I've grown weary of housing his spirit..."
"It doesn't have to be right this second, but yes, I have spent a long time thinking of how something like this might be done, and with your help I believe we have the necessary sphere resonance to accomplish our goal."
"I will create a new body for your father's spirit, while you focus on migrating his essence; Adam will be responsible for moving and integrating his mind into the new form."
"As with all Great Works, 3 is a good number."
"I --" Kevin is at a loss for words as Davian speaks. He seems frozen, contemplating the change.
Straud steps forward and places a hand gently on Kevin's shoulder. "You can do this." he says to Kevin.
"It..." he looks down at the ground, a bed of rock and ice, and back at Jupiter again. "It couldn't be any worse than having the Curse lifted from me. Feeling completely weak." he lifts his arms and clutches at his biceps, seeming to shiver despite the atmosphere around them.
"I'll do it."
"Excellent. Let me lay the diagrams."
I begin tracing various complicated, linked geometric figures in the ground, many surrounded by glyphs and bizarre tracings. 10 minutes later the diagram is complete, including 4 open circles; three on the points of the triangle, and one in the center.
Mandarc and Cedric join Caleb, Ben, & Chiasa, who are collected a fair bit away from the ritual.
"So I finally get to meet the esteemed Elder Marscapone. Good thing you've told me so much about him." Mandarc says cheerfully to Cedric.
"I've told you next to nothing about him."
"Exactly my point." Mandarc replies. "I think he'll like me, though. He sounds like a chipper sort of fellow."
"Adam and Kevin, Attend." I command. Despite my formal tone, an undercurrent of excitement can be heard in my voice: these are the moments I live for.
Kevin steps forward, leaving Straud's affirming pat behind.
Davian, Adam, and Kevin take their places, and hold hands, creating the triangle. Dust begins to sheet away from the diagram, pushed aside by the eldritch forces being summoned, and arcs of energy jump between the participants in dazzling patterns. A body forms in the center circle, slowly gaining definition.
After what seems like hours, the observers notice a change in the flow of energy accompanied by a sensation of tearing, as if reality itself strains with the energies being unleashed. With a final catastrophic nova of incandescent motes, four people stand at the center of a small crater.
I stand back and look around at the crowd of observers.
"And that ladies and gentlemen, is no humbug".
The rest of the crowd looks on with amazement toward the display. It takes a considerable amount of time, but time seems nothing here. The sparks of light compete with the planet's swirling gases for the onlookers' attentions. The light fades and there is a tall man unsteady on his feet in the center circle.
Kevin rushes forward and catches the man before he stumbles.
"Dad? Are you okay?"
But nothing can be heard from the man at first -- he walks uneasily, leaning on his son for support.
"Where are we?" are Vincent's first words.
Kevin laughs gently at the question. "We're... uh... Just outside of Jupiter. Just an ordinary day..."
Vincent mumbles a humorous obscenity and then makes to sit on the ground. "What have you all done?"
"We've freed you, Dad. You're back with us, on Earth. Or, at least, soon."
Vincent is wearing the same clothes he wore on the day he suffered Death -- a thinning grey sweater and dockers the color of tree bark. His shoes are a gently tapered dress shoe with a rounded toe, also brown.
"The three of you did... that... for me?"
"Yeah, Dad. We did."
He pauses for a moment, then looks around, arms supported by his knees. He looks tired.
"Straud. Cedric. And is that Caleb Vatore? It's good to see the three of you again. It's been a little while."
Mandarc rushes forward and pushes his hand toward the seated man. "Vincent Marscapone. I'm Mandarc Soo."
"'Soo'? As in my wife's last name?"
As if he's stuck his foot in his mouth, Mandarc pauses. "Yes... It is your wife's maiden name. I never had a last name and I took it to honor the effort she put into making me feel welcome here among your family."
"Does your mother know?" Vincent asks Kevin.
"Not yet. But Davian was hoping to help her as well..."
Vincent climbs to his feet and approaches Davian, standing next to Adam. "Davian. We haven't met. I'm Vincent Marscapone. I want to thank you for showing mercy toward me and my family. You are an unusual mage."
I offer my hand "Pleasure. You are most welcome, but, it is not mercy to help a friend. As to the latter, that may be, but I stand in good company in that respect." (I make a small gesture that encompasses the group).
"I'm fortunate to count you among my friends."
With a flourish, Straud employs the simplest of instruments, applause. Starting slow, soon everyone joins in as the group recollects now that the ritual is complete. Walking toward each other, there is a genuine feeling of warmth and camaraderie in the air. Straud and Vincent start a gesture that blends handshake into hug. "Welcome back, friend."
Next, Vincent turns to Cedric and hugs him. Cedric breaks into a bright smile. "Nice to see you again, Master."
There is a pause, and Vincent looks behind him, where Kevin is talking with Adam. The chatter is parted with a moment of silence as Vincent gets a look at his son, for the first time in twenty years. Vincent walks over toward him and hugs him. "Thank you, son."
"So where were we before we were on a rock outside Jupiter?"
Laughter ripples through the group as Davian guides Vincent and the rest to the gateway; passing through, they find themselves in the Foyer at 78 Perry.
The party continues for several more hours, no one quite ready to break the giddiness that comes with accomplishing the impossible. All good things must come to an end, however, and the first touch of light on the horizon finds Davian and Adam alone by the fireplace, sharing a Scooby Snack and watching 'The Matrix".