Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 57: Heart to Heart

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Cassandra True has discovered that her roommate Cecily has become involved with a vampire and has confronted her about the subject.  In order to gain her friend’s trust, Cassandra decides to share her own apprehensions and concerns about her own relationship with Strephon.

Cassandra made a couple fresh cups of coffee and sat back down on the couch with Cecily.  She told the whole story, from the day she met Strephon in the lobby of Aeser Technologies, through the wolf attack and the dinner party with Aeserman and her date with Strephon at the Club Cyba-Netsu and her ordeal with mad Mrs. Morrigan and above all, her strange dreams.  Cecily squirmed a little when Cassandra described seeing the vampire waiter at the Cyba-Netsu and her ensuing conversation with Ms Kuriyama, but Cassandra did not pursue that particular subject and continued with her story.  She finished up with her discovery of the strange parallels between what she knew about Strephon and the character in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.

“So… this Strephon is a fairy from the waist up?” Cecily said when she had finished.

Cassandra felt her cheeks burn.  Put that way, it did sound stupid.  “Well…”

“And his legs are mortal.  What about the parts in-between?”

“You would ask that question.  And what about you?  You almost made out with a ghost!”

“I didn’t know he was a ghost!  Besides, everyone believes in ghosts; no one believes in fairies.”

“Arthur Conan Doyle believed in both.”  Cecily gave a snort in response.  “And what about Wisp and Banshee?  They were certainly something supernatural.  And don’t tell me you don’t believe in the supernatural.”

“Okay, okay.  I was just playing Devil’s Somethinger’nother.”  Cecily paused a moment to give Cassandra time to sip her coffee.  “How does he feel about you?”

Cassandra grimaced.  “That’s just it.  He keeps me at arm’s length.  But he keeps seeing me.  So I don’t know.”

“Hmm…” Cecily gave her cup a little swirl.  “That could mean he’s jerking you around, which means you should run away as fast as you can.  Or it could mean he’s afraid of a relationship but likes you too much to stay away.  How do you feel about him?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out.”

“Then let’s put it this way.  What bothers you the most; that he’s not exactly human, or that he’s been lying to you?”

Cassandra looked down at her coffee.  That really was the question she’d been trying to avoid.  Cecily was incredibly perceptive when it came to everybody’s problems but her own.  “Neither, I think.  It’s just that ever since I met him, all these weird things have been happening; the wolves, the stuff at Aeser Technologies, Morrigan… I feel like I’m being drawn into something that I can’t understand that’s beyond my control.”

A strange, faraway look had come into Cecily’s eyes.  “Yeah…” she said dreamily, “I know what you mean…”

“And I’m getting you involved too.  It’s my fault!”

“What?”  That seemed to catch Cecily’s attention.  “No, I was the one who introduced you to the Club Cyba-Netsu, remember?  I probably would have met Philippe there anyway.”

“All right then; your turn.”  Cassandra set her coffee down and folded her hands in a business-like manner.  “Tell me about Philippe.”

Cecily scrunched her face.  But she couldn’t very well back out.  “Well, for starters, he doesn’t sparkle.”

“Thank God for that.”

“I met him at the Cyba-Netsu the night after the ghost, remember?  You didn’t want to come with me that night.”

Cassandra remembered.  If only she had been along, maybe… But let Cecily tell her story.  “Go on,” Cassandra urged.

“I saw Kuriyama that night and she invited me to sit at her table with her friends.”

“Friends meaning vampires?”

“Well, I didn’t know that at the time, now, did I?  It was… You’ll laugh.  It was like being at school and being invited to sit at the table with the posh kids.”

Cassandra didn’t laugh.  She knew exactly what Cecily meant. She nodded encouragingly.

“Well, she introduced me to Phillippe, and he was so dark and dangerous and sexy.  I didn’t know he was a vampire until he… until he did it.”  No need to ask what ‘it’ was.  “It was incredible.  It was like he was drawing my soul into his…”  Cecily’s gaze wandered off again and her voice took on a tone of dreamy bliss.

“How does he treat you?  When he’s not… doing it?”  Cassandra tried to keep the disapproval out of her own voice, but didn’t quite succeed.

“What do you mean?”

“As someone once told me, if he’s jerking you around you should run away, fast.”

“He treats me wonderfully.  Like I’m the center of his universe.  And he doesn’t jerk me around.”  Cecily was starting to get defensive again.

“I’m sorry.  I just keep on thinking of that one girl I saw at the Cyba-Netsu; the one who was begging the green-haired waiter to bite her.  It was like she was an addict or something---“

“I’m not doing drugs!”

The suddenness of Cecily’s response startled Cassandra.  “I didn’t say you were.  I just–“

“We’ll I’m not!  And you have no right to be making those kinds of accusations!”

Cassandra frowned.  She hadn’t thought she was accusing her of anything.”

Cecily stood up, angrily.  “Do you know what I think?  I think you’re an uptight little bitch who’s so afraid of adventure that she can’t handle it when something a little different happens in her life!”

“Cecily, wait!”  But it was too late; Cecily had already stormed back into her room.

Cassandra groaned.  That had gone badly.  She looked at the clock.  She had two hours left to sleep before her alarm went off.

All that coffee was probably a mistake.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 56: Judgment

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

The life of Cassandra True, a reporter recently hired by the Morning Star, has lately been engulfed in the supernatural, ranging from werewolves to a ghost to a deranged witch and her faerie minions.  Perhaps the most mysterious is her new acquaintance, Strephon, whom she has just discovered has even deeper secrets than she imagined.  But now she has discovered that her roommate, Cecily, has become involved with vampires.

Cecily did not roll into the flat, giddy and exhausted, until the far side of 3:00 am.  She did not expect to see Cassandra sitting on the couch waiting for her.

“You shouldn’t have waited up,” Cecily said.

“I know.”  Cassandra’s reply was dangerously quiet.  Cecily realized that they were about to have that conversation which begins “Cecily, we have to talk.”  She had been dreading that conversation for days, and especially did not want to have it now; not when she was so tired and after the night had otherwise gone so well.

“I suppose you went to the Cyba-Netsu,” Cassandra continued.  “Did you have fun?”

“Yah.”  Cecily could guess by the careful way Cassandra phrased the question that it was a trap.  What the hell.  Get it over with.

Cassandra just gave her a hard, long look, like she was trying to nerve herself to say something.  Then she said it.  “I was wondering.  I know when you donate blood at the Red Cross, they give you donuts afterwards.  What do you get at the Cyba-Netsu?”

Cecily’s hand darted to the scarf around her neck.  The accusation veiled in the sarcastic remark felt like a slap in the face.  Sandy didn’t usually do sarcasm, at least not very well.  Cassandra’s face reddened, but she kept her relentless gaze on Cecily, daring her to deny it.

“It’s not what you think.”

“Then show me your neck.”

Damn!  Why did Sandy always have to make things difficult?  She didn’t want to have to deal with this!  She just wanted to crawl into bed.  Cecily felt herself growing angry.  She pulled off the scarf defiantly and let it flutter to the floor.  “There!  Are you happy?”

Cassandra bit her lip and stared at the puncture marks on Cecily’s neck.  Any moment now, it would come:  the disapproval; the anger; the judgment; the disappointment.  Well let it come.

“I’ve been worried about you.”  Cassandra’s voice was low, but it was still a reproach.  “I wish you had told me.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

The two glared at each other for a moment.  At least Cecily glared; she couldn’t tell exactly what Cassandra was thinking.

Finally Cassandra looked away.  “That’s too bad, because I have a problem.”  God, here it comes, she’s going to bring up the rent again, Cecily thought.  “You see, I just found out why Strephon’s been lying to me, and I’m not sure what to do about it.  I’d like to ask a friend I can trust for advice, but I’m not sure if I can trust her if she won’t trust me.”

Cecily wasn’t expecting that.  All the anger, all the defensiveness, all the self-righteous mind-your-own-business-ness she had been building up just oozed out of her.  She was tired.  She just couldn’t maintain it. 

She sat down on the couch next to her.  Cassandra’s eyes were moist with tears, but she was trying not to show it.  Cecily put her arm around her.

“Sandy, we have to talk.”


NEXT: Heart to Heart 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 55: Soap and Opera

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Reporter Cassandra True has been trying to learn more about the enigmatic wheelchair-bound recluse Strephon MacKenzie whom she's been seeing.  But  tonight that will have to wait.

Technically speaking, this was Cecily’s week to do laundry, but Cecily had come home early from work complaining of a wham-bugger of a headache and begged Cassandra to do it.  Of course, as soon as the sun went down, Cecily arose as bright and chipper as ever.  She breezed out of the flat with a cheery, “Thanks, much!  I owe you, Sandy!”

“I’ll say, you owe me!” Cassandra grumbled as she sorted the dirty laundry.  “Why do I always have to be the responsible one?”

She had intended to spend a quiet evening at home.  Then Billy reminded her of the puff piece he had assigned her on the Redemption Culture Claque and their Gilbert & Sullivan festival and dumped a load of promotional material from the group in her lap.  He did it at the last moment too, the bastard.  Now she had to sort out Cecily’s knickers on top of things.  Oh well, she could multi-task.

Cassandra lugged the basket of laundry downstairs and fed coins into the building’s ancient washing machine., a formidable beast that had been in the basement since at least the Thatcher administration.  Then she went back upstairs to tackle the Culture Claque.

The press kit included a brief history of the organization and of their Gilbert & Sullivan festival, (“Extravaganza!” In her mind she could hear Mrs. Trotter correct her.) There were several photographs of past productions and of celebrities who had appeared at the festival over the years.  The kit also included a DVD of last year’s production of something called “Iolanthe”.  Great, Cassandra thought; “My spell-checker’s going to love that one.”

She fed the DVD into her player and let the overture of the operetta flitter in the background as she skimmed over the rest of the kit.  Apparently Henry Lytton had debuted his controversial interpretation of Jack Point in Redemption during a touring production of “Yeoman of the Guard” in 1888.  Except that the write-up didn’t explain who Lytton was, who Jack Point was or what was so controversial about it.  More research to do.

She looked up at the TV again when the overture ended and the singing began.  A swarm of tiny lights were dancing about a darkened stage.  As the lights came up, she saw that they were wands – battery operated, probably – held by the female chorus.  Cassandra remembered that this one was supposed to be about fairies or something.  And it was supposed to be political satire.  Hundred-year-old political jokes and fairies; now that was bound to be knee-slapping. 

“We are dainty little fairies,
Ever singing, ever dancing;
We indulge in our vagaries
In a fashion most entrancing…”

She remembered Wisp, one of Morrigan’s captives, and his disdain for Victorian depiction of fairies.  This was probably exactly what he meant.

Suddenly, as if summoned by the memory, Morrigan herself strode onto the stage, in the role of the Queen of the Fairies.  Cassandra was startled by her appearance, until she remembered that Mrs. Morrigan played many of the “Katisha roles” in the group’s productions; the intimidating, middle-aged women who wind up marrying the patter-singer.  There were some tasteless jokes about the Queen’s girth and Morrigan played the part with oblivious gravity.  You’d hardly know the woman was completely deranged.

The second shock came with the entrance of Iolanthe, evidently some sort of fairy princess.  Something about the piercingly beautiful voice seemed familiar to Cassandra.   It had an unearthly quality, evident even on this poorly-recorded amateur DVD. Then she recognized the singer:  Banshee, the other fae Morrigan had enslaved.  Or was it?  Cassandra dimly recalled that Morrigan had first introduced the two captives as her niece and nephew.  She dug through the press kit again and found a program for the performance.  Sure enough, under the Dramatis Personae, she found IOLANTHE – Sheila Morrigan.

But something else caught Cassandra’s eye:  At the very top of the cast list was the name “STREPHON, An Arcadian Shepherd”  What?  And further down the list was “PHYLLIS, a Ward in Chancery”.

It’s a coincidence, Cassandra told herself.  Or perhaps his parents were Gilbert and Sullivan fans and named him after the character in the operetta.  She recalled that Strephon expressed a decided dislike for Gilbert and Sullivan; this was probably the reason.  But wait, his grandfather had been named Strephon too – (or was that his great-grandfather?  She still wasn’t clear on how many generations of MacKenzies were in Strephon’s family).  Where had Old Man MacKenzie gotten the name?

She was so distracted by this train of thought that she nearly missed the next part.  Onstage, the character of Strephon the Shepherd, a prancing prat in knee-breeches playing some sort of flute, was lamenting about the difficulties in being half a fairy.

“What’s the use of being half a fairy”  My body can creep through a keyhole, but what’s the good of that when my legs are kicking behind?  I can make myself invisible down to the waist, but that’s of no use when my legs remain exposed to view.  My brain is a fairy brain, but from the waist downward I’m a gibbering idiot.  My upper half is immortal, but my lower half grows older every day, and some day or other must die of old age.  What’s to become of my upper half when I’ve buried my lower half, I really don’t know…”

“I know just what you’ll do.  You’ll go about in a wheelchair and tell people you had polio.”

Cassandra didn’t mean to say it aloud.  She didn’t know why the thought came to her at all.  It was preposterous.  And yet…

She knew that fairies were real.  Wisp and Banshee were fairies, or at least some kind of supernatural creatures.  Why not Strephon?  It explained so much:  his quaint, old-fashioned manners, his evasive past, his cryptic allusions to his many eccentric aunts, his weird, otherworldly cousin Devon.  Then there were those strange dreams she’d been having lately…

The timer she had set went off.  That meant the laundry was done.  The chore of running down to the basement, unloading the dryer and lugging the laundry basket back upstairs temporarily distracted her from the matter of Strephon ; but as she folded the warm shirts and linens, it came back to haunt her.  It all seemed so ridiculous; so fanciful; but what if it were true?  And if it were, what should she do?

She absently picked up one of Cecily’s scarves from the basket to fold, then noticed a stain that had set in the wash.  It looked like a spot of blood – no, two small blood spots just maybe an inch or two apart.

Thoughts of Strephon and his mystery left her mind.  Cassandra suddenly felt very cold.

NEXT:  Judgment

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 54: Wolf in the Fold

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Strephon Mackenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae has been tasked by the Faerie Queen with the mission of investigating a renegade faerie lord named Melchior who has established himself in the city.  He has come to visit Lydia Palmer, the wife of the local vicar, who is active in the witching community.


“Pastor Shepherd?”  Strephon tried to place the name. “I don’t believe I know him.”

“He used to be pastor of St. Matthias, the Methodist church over on Eighth Street,” the vicar’s wife replied.  “He was involved in a wolf attack several years ago.”

“Ah yes.”  Now Strephon remembered reading about it..  The man had the misfortune to lead his church’s youth group on a camping trip on a weekend when the moon was full, and was attacked by wolves.  At great personal risk, he held off the pack with an aluminum tent pole so that his charges could get to the safety of the church’s van. The youths escaped unharmed, but Pastor Shepherd was badly mauled.  “What happened to him, anyway?”

“He was laid up in hospital for a couple weeks.  Arthur visited him once.  He said he had changed; that he was graver, more introspective than before.  Of course, considering how close he came to death, that is hardly surprising.”

“And he had become a werewolf?”

Lydia did not answer directly.  “The trouble did not begin until after he was released and went back to his congregation.  He spent a couple weeks in seclusion, and then suddenly came out all bursting with enthusiasm, as energetic as ever.  But Arthur said there was something not quite natural about his new lease on life; something not canny.  His theology began to show hints of disturbing heresies – even for a Methodist.  That is what Arthur said, mind you.”

“Of course.”

“I think it was when he tried to replace the bread of the Holy Eucharist with actual meat – cooked meat, of course, but still – that his parishioners complained to their bishop.  The church had him quietly removed from the congregation.”

“And where did they place this renegade Methodist?”

“Oh, he’s still in town.  He started his own mission on Foxglove Avenue; sort of a combination soup kitchen and flophouse with worship services twice a week.  I’ve heard it said that he particularly ministers to the lone wolves, itinerants without a pack of their own.  I did NOT hear that from Arthur.”

“I imagine not.”  Strephon thoughtfully munched on a biscuit.  “I have been out of touch far too long.  I should be more aware of what is going on in my own city.  You’re right.  I might do well to look up this Reverend Shepherd.”

“I’ll get the address of his mission for you,” Lydia said gathering up the tea dishes.  As she did so, her husband came out of his study.

“Ah, leaving so soon, Strephon?  Pity we couldn’t chat a bit more.  Say, would you like me to offer a prayer this Sunday for your Mother?”

“My Mother?”  The question came as a shock.

“For her birthday.”

He had forgotten that taradiddle.  “Oh no.  That won’t be necessary,” he said a bit too quickly.  Holy symbols, he knew, were anathema to the Fair Folk; he wasn’t sure if a clergyman’s blessing was something his Mother would appreciate.  The troubled and puzzled look the Vicar gave him made Strephon feel guilty, so he added, “But my cousin Devon has been going through a particularly stressful time lately.  I’m sure he would appreciate your concern.”

NEXT:  Soap and Opera

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 53: Everything is Connected

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Strephon Mackenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae has been tasked by the Faerie Queen with the mission of investigating a renegade faerie lord named Melchior who has established himself in the city.  He has come to visit Lydia Palmer, the wife of the local vicar, who is active in the witching community.

Strephon gave the vicar’s wife a précis of his investigation into Melchior Aeserman.  It irked him to realize how much of that investigation had been spent pursuing matters irrelevant to the matter.  No wonder Devon was always so cross with him.

Lydia listened intently, and sipped her tea without interrupting.  When he finished, she said, “This girl, Strephon.  How do you feel about her?”

Strephon flushed.  He hadn’t meant to mention Cassandra at all.  And yet somehow she kept coming into his narrative.  What was happening to him?  He used to be better at dissembling than this.  “Miss True is not my main concern.”

“I see,” the vicar’s wife said with a sage nod which somehow suggested a total lack of belief.

“My problem is Melchior and what to do about him,” Strephon insisted, perhaps a bit too forcefully to be persuasive.  “Miss True is in no way connected with the matter.”

“Oh, everything is connected. It’s an essential principle of the Craft.  But setting aside the girl for the moment…” Lydia put down her teacup with a business-like air and folded her hands; “…I’m not sure how I can help you.   Cynthia Belltree is our representative on the Council, but she’s a career politician.  Her motto is: Don’t Make Waves.  I doubt she’ll make a stand about this Melchior fellow.  And as for computer games, that’s really more of Albert’s line.  Not that he’s ever played Virtual Hot Tub to my knowledge, but I’m sure he’s heard of it.”

“I thought you might help me with this.”  Strephon leaned forward and with his finger drew a small quadrilateral on the coffee table.  A small focusing ritual.  As he leaned back an illusion appeared above the space of a silver collar.  “The wolves who attacked Miss True and I last week wore these.  They are marks of the Reaver clan, I’m told.  The collars are inlaid with faerie runes.”

Lydia cautiously reached out to touch the collar.  Strephon gave the illusion enough substance for her to handle it and observe it more closely. “Is it silver?”  Strephon nodded.  “It can’t be very comfortable, not for a werewolf, certainly.”

“It’s a machismo thing, I imagine.  Although I fancy it’s also their leader’s way of reminding his pack who is in charge.  From what I’ve seen of Mr. Lukas Bianca, he does not seem to strike me as a terribly subtle person.”

“And you think this Melchior had a hand in this?”

“I don’t know.  His administrative assistant denies it; and although the collars possess faerie magic, I do not believe they are fae workmanship.  But the coincidence is suggestive; and as you observed, everything is connected.”

The vicar’s wife pursed her lips for a moment.  “I hate to say it… but this might be Belladona’s work.  She made jewelry, and of the witches I know, she was the one most knowledgeable about faerie lore.”

Strephon scowled.  “I was afraid of that.”  If he had thought to speak with Morrigan a week ago, he might have gotten some answers.  Or perhaps the results would have been the same.  In any case, it was too late now; Morrigan was out of his reach, spirited away to who knows where.

“You might try asking around at the artisan’s market in Wildmere forest.  It’s held every other Saturday.  Belle used to sell her things there.  Maybe someone there knows something about it.”

Strephon nodded.  “It’s certainly worth looking into.”

“Another possibility.  If you want to know more about werewolves, you might try Pastor Shepherd…”


NEXT:  The Wolf in the Fold

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 52: Tea at the Vicarage

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Strephon Mackenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae has been tasked by the Faerie Queen with the mission of investigating a renegade faerie lord named Melchior who has established himself in the city.

When Strephon attended church, which he admitted, was more out of a sense of nostalgia and a fondness for the Anglican hymnody that any piety, he went to St. Onesimus, a small neighborhood parish not far from his home.  The grand Cathedral of the Holdy Redemption, built on the medieval shrine from which the city took its name, was a bit too “High Church” for his tastes.  He preferred St. Onesimus, where he and Phyllis had been married and to which they had walked on pleasant Sunday mornings in his more ambulatory days.

Devon would not have approved of him visiting the church, which is why Strephon didn’t tell him.  The fae have a long-standing antipathy towards churches, largely stemming from the ancient war waged between the Children of Oberon and the Inheritors of St. Augustine.  To Strephon this was ancient history, but the immortal fae have long memories about these things.  Perhaps this was the reason why holy things dispelled faerie glamours, and were an anathema to the Fair Folk in general.  Strephon didn’t know; no one had ever told him why, just that it was the way things were.  He did not share this vulnerability to Sanctity, partially because of his half-human heritage, and partially, he surmised, because his mortal father had him christened, and the rite had conveyed a sort of immunization against it.

But the real reason Strephon didn’t want to tell his cousin was that if he did, he would have to admit that he wasn’t going to visit the Vicar, but rather the Vicar’s wife, Lydia; and he’d had quite his fill of Devon’s remarks about his social life.

In addition to being the vicar’s wife, Lydia Palmer was a member of  the International Sisterhood of Independent Sorceresses; a group founded by the Wobblies back in the 1930s in an attempt to organize the witches of England.  How she managed to reconcile this affiliation with her position as a clergyman’s wife, Strephon often wondered; but never felt impudent enough to ask.  He suspected that she found it expedient not to tell her husband about these things.

The International Sisterhood was never quite the political force its founders envisioned; witches tend to be independent-minded and treated the organization more as a social group.  Phyllis had been a member back when the two of them had been more active in the magical community; sort of an “honorary witch” deemed magical by marriage.  But that was long, long ago.  When Second-Wave Feminism hit the organization in the early ‘70s, it briefly took on a more activist role and successfully lobbied to have witches added to the Council.  About that time Strephon re-established his connection with the group in order to oppose a development plan to build a shopping center in Stillwell Forest, one of the large areas of parkland in the city.  He had met Lydia then and the two had remained cordial acquaintances.

“Mister Strephon, so good to see you!” the vicar greeted him.  “Lydia told me you would be dropping by.  May I help you in?”

“Yes, thank you.”  Strephon preferred to manage his wheelchair by himself when at all possible, but Albert was a good soul and allowing him to do this small charity was a charity in itself.  And the vicarage, like many old houses, were beastly difficult for wheelchairs.

“I wished to speak with your wife about donating some flowers to the Altar Guild.  It’s my mother’s birthday, you see.”  Actually, he wasn’t sure faeries even had birthdays; being immortal, they certainly didn’t celebrate them; but it seemed a harmless enough taradiddle.

“I don’t think we’ve seen you at service in a while.”  The vicar tried to make the remark sound casual, but as he was also trying to manhandle Strephon’s chair over the front steps of the vicarage, he couldn’t avoid a grunt in the middle of it.

Strephon expected the comment; it was, after all, part of the man’s job.  And he was certain that the vicar expected his reply:  “I’m afraid not, vicar.  I do find it difficult to get out and about these days.”

“Do you have a computer?  I’ve been putting my sermons and our Bible study outlines on our website.  I’m trying to convince the Parish Board to let me do live streaming of our services.”

Strephon tried not to shudder.  Did everything have to involve computers these days?  Still, he should have expected this too.  Albert always was a tech enthusiast.  When they had first met, it was cassette tapes, and then videos.

Fortunately, at this point Lydia rescued him.  “Albert, are you going on about your computers again?  I thought you were working on your hymn schedule.”

The vicar gave a guilty acknowledgement and excused himself.

“Albert hates selecting hymns and tends to put if off ‘til the last moment.  It drives our organist mad!” the vicar’s wife explained

“I imagine.”

“So he’s taken to doing it all at once, once a year, to get it all over and done with.”

Strephon agreed that this was quite sensible.

When her husband had left the room, Lydia quietly shut the door and turned to Strephon.  “Now then, why are you really here?”

NEXT:  Everything is Connected.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 51: Accepting Rides From Strangers

Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and picturesque facade of the City of Redemption lies another city; a community of dark and ancient magic populated by creatures of the night. Dark Redemption is a shared-world novel based on an online role-playing game by James Crowther.

Strephon MacKenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae, has become involved with a mortal reporter, Cassandra True; a relationship which has suffered some strain because of his attempts to hide his non-human heritige from her and to shield her from supernatural menaces. When he drops by to visit her, he finds her in the company of a strange man, Saul Taylor, who is a co-worker of hers and also a sorcerer. Taylor offers to drive Strephon home.

Cassandra's friend Taylor was courteous; infuriatingly so. He made a great show of pushing Strephon's chair out to his car, despite Strephon's protest that he was perfectly capable of pushing himself. When they arrived at the car, Taylor actually picked Strephon up to help him into the back seat, to Strephon's supreme annoyance. Strephon kept his temper, however, and held his tongue until Taylor got behind the wheel.

"So, have you told her what you are?" Strephon asked.

Taylor glanced up at Strephon through the rear view mirror. "Have you told her what you are?"

Under other circumstances, Strephon might have acknowledged the touché. Instead, he pressed on. "What precisely is your game, Taylor?"

Taylor chuckled. "Are you asking my intentions towards Miss True?"

"If you like."

Taylor seemed amused. "What business it is of yours?"

"Miss True happens to be a friend of mine," Strephon answered, doing his best to keep his tone cool and level.

"Yes, and a fine job you've been doing of protecting her so far."

"What do you mean?"

"By my count, in the fortnight you've known her, you've put her life in danger no fewer than three times." Taylor ticked them off on his fingers. "There was the werewolf attack outside the restaurant the night you met. Then there was the murder attempt at that party of Aesermann's you took her to. And, of course, we mustn't forget Morrigan kidnapping her specifically to get at you."

"Those were not my fault. And I saved her in those instances."

"As I understand it, in the last case she actually saved herself. The fact remains that she wouldn't have been in danger to begin with if not for you."

Strephon was silent. The blackguard had a point. That very fact had been bothering him. After a while he said, "What is your interest in Cassandra?"

Taylor shrugged. "She's an attractive girl. Perhaps I just enjoy her company."

"You're a sorcerer, and your employer Simon Knox is also a sorcerer. Am I to believe that your interest in... in my friend is just a coincidence?"

"You can believe what you like. Maybe Knox asked me to keep an eye on her as a favor to his pal, Melchior Aesermann. Maybe my editor asked me to show a rookie reporter the ropes." Taylor paused a moment and glanced in the mirror at Strephon again. "Maybe I thought she'd be fun snogging."

He's trying to provoke me, Strephon thought to himself. He clenched his kneecaps tightly. "If you lay one finger on Miss True..."

"You'll what? Horsewhip me? Thrash me within an inch of my life? Write a scathing letter to the Times?"

Strephon fumed in silence.

"You may not have noticed, Strephon old fellow, but your Miss True is not exactly happy with you. She's quite fed up with the lies and evasions and the patronising attitude. You had your chance with her, and frankly, you blew it."

The car turned the corner onto Fitch Street. "I believe that's your house up ahead. Would you like help with your wheelchair?"

"No, thank you. I'll manage."

Strephon watched as Taylor drove away, cursing his own impotence. Now the villain would go back to Cassandra's flat and who knew what he would do.
* * * * *

He needn’t have worried.  Cassandra was so annoyed with both men when Taylor returned she told him she had a headache and that she’d talk to him later.

NEXT:   Tea at the Vicarage