// CHARM MANSION //
The Charm Mansion is a spacious three-story located in the transition zone to the Pine Barrens. The trees are dense there, tall trees with tidy underbrush. The roads are of a modern refit and are reinforced and strong.
The rest of the palace’s residents were gone on an extended vacation down South. But Trente Gagarin was left behind to fulfill the requirements of the Occupation.
Caleb Vatore drove here, trying to avoid the worst of rush hour traffic. He found himself playing with his hair with idle hands, an old habit he’d been trying to get rid of. It made him look like a anxious youngling.
He knocked on the door and awaited her arrival.
I’M GLAD YOU’RE HERE, CALEB.
Every day with Trente was a little different than the last. He was sure to keep up with his pleasantries.
THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.
IT’S NICE TO SEE YOU.
She opens the door wide to allow him entrance.
I HAVEN’T THOUGHT UP ANY NEW LECTURE TOPICS FOR YOU TODAY AND FOR THAT, I APOLOGIZE.
Trente was wearing shorts and a grey t-shirt; her usual garb for physical activity.
I WAS THINKING IT MAY BE PRUDENT TO SPEAK ON THE RUDIMENTARY ELEMENTS.
I DOUBT YOU’VE RECEIVED A SATISFACTORY EXPLORATION ON THIS TOPIC WITH YOUR EARTH-BASED EDUCATION.
DON’T STRESS YOURSELF OUT; I KNOW YOU’VE BEEN BUSY WITH YOUR FAMOUS FRIENDS.
YOU KNOW IT WEARS ME OUT, CALEB.
BEING AROUND PEOPLE I CAN’T REALLY SHARE MYSELF WITH.
EVEN ONCE PEOPLE KNOW THE TRUTH, I WILL ALWAYS HAVE TO KEEP MYSELF GUARDED.
I HOPE YOU’LL NEVER FEEL THAT WAY ABOUT ME.
YOU UNDERSTAND ME IN A WAY THE EARTHERS NEVER WILL.
YOU’RE WONDERFUL, CALEB.
TRULY YOU ARE.
I WILL DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, PRINCESS.
At this, the conversation begins to break down. Trente reaches forward to begin an embrace with the dark-haired young man. The woman runs her fingers between Caleb’s hair, sending whispers of sensation through his being.
I LOVE IT WHEN YOU DO THAT.
I KNOW YOU DO.
She buries her face beneath his chin and tenderly nuzzles him.
YOUR PEOPLE CALL IT “HYDROGEN”…
At the sudden change of topic, he slowly removes himself from the embrace, bringing his neck and shoulders level.
ENOUGH OF THIS “MY PEOPLE” STUFF.
I DIDN’T GROW UP AMONG THEM.
MY FATHER RAISED ME AND MY SISTER.
WE OWE THEM NOTHING.
I ONLY MEANT TO USE NAMES YOU’RE ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH.
BECAUSE MY PEOPLE USE DIFFERENT NAMES FOR THEM.
I JUST DON’T CONSIDER MYSELF A PART OF THEIR CULTURE AND DON’T WANT YOU THINKING IT’S SOMETHING NEAR AND DEAR TO MY HEART WHEN IT’S NOT.
He seems a bit sheepish in a show of deference.
HYDROGEN HAS ONE PROTON IN ITS NUCLEUS AND CONSEQUENTLY ATTRACTS ONE ELECTRON TO ITS ORBITAL CLOUD.
IT IS MOST COMMON IN THE UNIVERSE AS THE FUEL OF YOUNG STARS, WHERE, OF COURSE, THE CLOUD OF POTENTIAL SURROUNDING THE NUCLEUS DISAPPEARS INTO THE ENERGETIC PLASMA.
THE HYDROGEN FORMS A KEY POINT IN THE ENERGY CYCLES OF THESE STARS, ITS EASY-TO-GRAB PROTON HIGHLY DESIRABLE IN NUCLEAR PROCESSES.
HELIUM IS FAR MORE STABLE THAN ITS SISTER HYDROGEN BUT STILL FAIRLY SIMPLE TO INVOLVE ITSELF IN EXOTHERMIC CYCLES.
NEITHER ARE VERY COMMON ON EARTH IN THEIR MOST BASIC FORMS.
I UNDERSTAND THAT.
HYDROGEN IS HIGHLY REACTIVE AND HELIUM IS RARE TO BEGIN WITH, BUT ALSO VERY LIGHT AND TENDS TO FLOAT OFF INTO SPACE.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE SPECTRUM OF LIGHT THAT’S GIVEN OFF WHEN ELECTRONS –
Caleb seizes up in sudden irritation.
YOU KNOW WHAT?
I DON’T THINK I’M IN THE MOOD TO TALK ABOUT ELECTRONS.
I’M SORRY, CALEB.
I’M JUST NOT IN THE PROPER HEADSPACE.
ANYTHING YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT?
But there was something.
FOR MY PART, SOMETHING I’M WORRIED ABOUT IS YOUR FRIENDSHIP WITH VLADISLAUS.
IT WAS MY FATHER WHO DECLARED AN ALLIANCE WITH HIM.
Now was her chance to strike at a hot iron.
WHAT ARE YOUR COMPLAINTS ABOUT HIM?
LET ME NUMBER THEM.
FIRST OFF, HE CLAIMS HIMSELF MORE POWERFUL THAN MY FATHER, WHICH DOESN’T AGREE WITH WHAT I’VE SEEN.
MAYBE BACK IN THE DAY THINGS WERE DIFFERENT BUT TODAY HE IS A FEEBLE OLD MAN WHO ENJOYS USING THE LITTLE ENERGY HE HAS LEFT TO STICK HIS NOSE IN EVERYONE ELSE’S BUSINESS.
THE INDIVIDUALS THAT HE CHOOSES TO SPONSOR ARE WEAK-WILLED AND PATHETIC EXCUSES FOR VAMPIRES.
THEY’RE THE WORST SORT OF EXCLUSIONARY OLD BOY’S CLUB THAT DOESN’T FOSTER ANY USEFUL PERSONALITY TRAITS – AND STRAUD THINKS THE WORLD OF THEM.
IT’S NO MYSTERY WHY – HE CULTIVATES HIS OWN SORT OF FILTH.
Caleb reflexively steps back, having had surprised himself at the condemnation. He looks at the ground.
THEY THINK THEY’RE FIGHTING SOME KIND OF HOLY WAR BUT IT’S JUST AN OLD GRUDGE WITH THE DOCTOR TRELAINE.
WHY SHOULD THEIR SQUABBLES MEAN ANYTHING TO ME?
IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.
EXCEPT OF COURSE, YOUR CLASSMATE KEVIN MARSCAPONE. HE’S ABOUT THE SAME AGE AS YOUR SISTER.
HE’S A FOOL. WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN HIS FAMILY AND THE DOCTOR DOESN’T CONCERN ME.
WHY WOULD HE GIVE UP IMMORTALITY?
A FEW CHEAP PARLOR TRICKS?
Trente pauses and looks at the palm of her hand, searching for answers.
WHAT BAFFLES ME IS HOW HE DID IT.
YOU SAID YOUR PEOPLE CURSED HIM, ISN’T IT TRUE THAT HE’S JUST FIGURED OUT THE COUNTER-CURSE?
IT SHOULDN’T BE THAT EASY.
BESIDES WHICH, THE TWO HE’S CURED WEREN’T CURSED IN THE SAME WAY THAT HE WAS, LEADING ME TO BELIEVE HE’S DOING SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.
THE GIRL HE CURED CLAIMED SHE WAS FORCE-FED A MIXTURE OF MOSTLY GARLIC.
IF THERE WERE OTHER OLD WORLD ADDITIVES, SHE WOULDN’T HAVE KNOWN.
HER TESTIMONY WAS NEAR USELESS.
BUT SHE DID CLAIM TO HAVE NEVER SEEN VLADISLAUS THERE. FOR WHATEVER HER WORDS ARE WORTH.
Caleb knew the attack to have taken place at Widowshild, one of Straud’s holdings in a backwater suburb. Even if he had not been personally involved, there was no telling how far the Count’s influence could be felt.
Why was it that no one saw this threat for what it was? Did everyone simply believe in the old “Not me, never me” mantra? To kill one another was a threat to their very livelihood. Vampires did not murder each other. That was one of their agreements from a much earlier time. It kept the peace, it kept them focused on domination of Mortals, rather than infighting. Didn’t anyone see the value in keeping the old ways?
Of course, the customary punishment for killing another of one’s own kind was death. Straud, however, seemed to have avoided the judgment.
I BELIEVE HE’S BEEN PRAYING TO THE OLD GODS FOR ASSISTANCE.
THAT’S THE ONLY WAY HE COULD…
THE GODS YOU BRING WITH YOU ARE FAR MORE POWERFUL THAN OURS.
LET US HOPE IT STAYS THAT WAY.