Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 67: Three's a Charm

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 finally admitted his supernatural heritage to his uncomfortably close acquaintance Cassandra True, (mainly because she’s guessed much of it already).  But Cassandra has more pressing concerns:  her roommate, Cecilie, has fallen under the spell of a vampire.  She has taken Cecilie to Mrs. Simms, a sorceress in the local Jamaican community and a friend of Strephon’s.  As Strephon questions her, his cousin Devon arrives.

“Please tell me this has something to do with your investigation,” Devon said, peering over Strephon’s shoulder to get a better look at Cecilie’s décolletage.

Strephon gave a snort and pretended to be taking Cecilie’s pulse.  “This young lady is under the thrall of a vampire and at Miss True’s request I am endeavoring to help.  I would appreciate your assistance.”  Cecile seemed not to notice him taking her wrist; her attention seemed completely riveted by Devon’s arrival.  How odd, Strephon thought.  Just a moment before it had been fixed on him.

“So the answer is no.”

Strephon felt himself losing patience.  “Lord Melchior has dealings with vampires.  The Lady Kurayami is a business associate of his.  And this young woman fell in with the vampires at Madame Kurayami’s club.  So the answer to your question is yes, this does have something to do with my investigation.”

Devon seemed about to retort with something sarcastic, but must have thought better of it.  “Very well.  How can I help?”

“Something seems odd about her aura.  What do you make of it?”

Devon gave a cautious glance over at Mrs. Simms, who glared at him with matriarchal disapproval, and then at Cassandra, who merely looked at him expectantly.  He stepped back and slowly walked around Cecilie, peering at her over his sunglasses.  Cecilie blushed and straightend, obviously enjoying the attention.  She pursed her lips in a coquettish smile.  She was flirting with him, Strephon thought.  And Devon was flirting back, the cad!  And after all the comments Devon had made about his own romantic entanglements. 
“May we… speak freely?” Devon said at last.

Strephon divined his meaning.  “Everyone here knows what we are.”

“Ah.  Good.  Well, the influence of the vampire is obvious.  Her aura shows signs of her being drained.  Psychic anemia, one might call it.  But there’s something else as well.  You haven’t been tupping her too, have you, Strephon?”

Strephon slammed his hands down against the armrests of his wheelchair.  “Good God, Devon!  I will thank you to remember that there are ladies present!  If you must descend to obscenity, kindly refrain from doing so in the language of Shakespeare!”

He couldn’t be sure, but he suspected that behind his sunglasses, his cousin was rolling his eyes.  C'est mieux comme ca?”


Bon d'accord, mais tu n'as pas répondu a ma question.”

Strephon gathered his temper, and replied in French.  Je n'ai définitivement pas été intime avec Mademoiselle Draper. Ni avec Mademoiselle True, Madame Simms, Camilla Parker-Bowles, ou autre femme que tes intérés lubriques puissent suggérer!”

He would have gone on, but an impatient scowl from Mrs. Simms checked him.  Cecilie was obviously confused by this sudden torrent of a foreign language, but Cassandra frowned.  Evidently she remembered more of her schoolgirl French and had followed the gist of the exchange.

Devon gave an infuriatingly Gallic shrug.  “Comme tu veux. Mais l'aura de cette jeune dame a des fortes traces de magie féerique. C'est surprenant que tu ne l'as pas remarqué.”

“Faerie magic?”  Strephon furrowed his brow and looked at Cecily again.  Devon was right, damn his eyes.  How could he have missed that.  “I supposed she couldn’t have picked it up indirectly, from shaking my hand, say, or touching my wheelchair…?”  He doubted this was the case, but he had to ask.

“Regarde pour toi-même. C'est en elle: l'essence de féerie est dans son sang.”   Cecilie started at that.  Had she understood Devon?  “C'est comme si elle avait eu une grandmère fée,”  Devon continued.  Ca ne serait pas la première fois.”

“That’s quite enough,” Strephon grumped.  “Your are tiresome enough in English.  In French you’re tiresome and pretentious.”

“Did he say… essence…?” Cecilie said.

Strephon and his cousin looked at her sharply, and she shrunk a bit in her chair.  “It’s just that… well…”

“Out with it, child,” Grandma Simms said.  “It’s about time someone said something sensible here.”

Devon pulled a chair up in front of Cecilie and sat down.  He placed his sunglasses in his coat pocket and took her hands in his.  “You must tell us,” he said, gazing into her eyes with a semblance of earnestness.  “We’re here to help you.”

Strephon expected her to protest, and for a moment she seemed to tense.  “Essence is what Philippe called it; the stuff he gave me.”

“I knew it!” Cassnadra muttered under her breath.

“It’s not a drug,” Cecilie insisted.  “Ms Kurayami doesn’t permit them at her club.  Philippe explained it to me.  It’s an enhancer.”

Strephon glanced over at Cassandra, who pursed her lips as if holding back an injudicious comment.  Devon gave Cecilie’s hand a squeeze.  “Tell us more about this… Essence.  It’s important that we know.”

Cecilie hesitated.  “Philippe said I wasn’t to tell anyone about it.  But…”  Her gaze was transfixed by Devon’s and Strephon could sense her resistance melting.  “It’s like this nectar, the color of lavender and it comes in these tiny little vials; and it tastes like thrills and fireworks and every flower you can think of..  It makes everything more… more…”  she trailed off in a vague state of blissful abstraction.

“More magical?” Devon suggested.

Cecilie’s eyes brightened.  “That’s it!  More magical!  You understand!”

Strephon fidgeted in his wheelchair, but Cecilie, ignoring him, continued.  “Each night after we left the club, we’d go to his place and he’d give me some of the Essence and then we’d f---“  Cecilie caught Strephon’s eye and checked herself.  “We’d make love.  And after that… he’d bite me,” she finished in a quieter tone.

“I see.”

Strephon leaned closer to Devon and in a low voice said, “Well, this explains a lot:.  She was flirting with me earlier and I don’t think she even realized she was doing it.  You are right; she’s clearly been exposed to faerie magic and is reacting to its presence.  She’s come to associate it with… well, with…”


Devon put it more bluntly than Strephon liked, but decided to waive the point.  “As you said.”

“Quite interesting, don’t you think?” Devon added casting a speculative glance back at Cecilie.

“Don’t tell me you intend to take advantage of that girl!”

“Of course not.  I intend to take advantage of the situation.  Listen, we both agree that the girl’s present paramour is unhealthy for her.  What’s wrong with showing her, as the poet says, that there are lots of good fish in the sea?”

“Are you French?” Cecilie interrupted.  “You’re really sexy when you talk French.”

Devon favored her with a seductive smile and squeezed her hand.  “I can be anything you want me to be, ma chère.”

For someone who was always going on about Strephon’s social life, Devon seemed to be enjoying himself much more than was seemly.  “If I might speak with you privately,” Strephon said crossly.  “And Miss True?”

The cramped break room offered little scope for privacy, but Devon cast a simple glamour on Cecilie, rendering her blissfully oblivious to their conversation.

“So what is this ‘Essence’ stuff anyway?”  Cassandra asked.

“A distillation of faerie magic, unless I miss my guess; which the vampires are using as a drug.” Strephon replied.

Devon disagreed.  “Except that vampires are allergic to faerie magic.  They are unlife, and the raw magic of faerie is anathema to them.  Like sunlight.  That’s why vampires don’t drink the blood of fae.”

“Is that so?  I didn’t know that.”

“Really, what do they teach in your English schools, Strephon?”

“Only trivial things like Virgil and Magna Carta.  May we get back to the point?”

“Cecilie didn’t say that Philippe took the Essence himself,” Cassandra reminded them, “just that he gave it to her.  Maybe it’s safe for vampires when it’s been ingested by a human and metabolized in her blood.  Does that make sense?”

“That could be,” Devon mused.  “I don’t know that anybody’s ever made the experiment.”

“We have Miss Draper’s testimony that someone has..”

“So is Melchior supplying Kurayami with this Essence?”

“Kurayami says she doesn’t allow drugs in her club,” Cassandra said, “and Cecilie says the same.”

“I’m not sure if Melchior is involved with this at all,” Strephon admitted.

“There seems to be quite a bit of faerie magic going about these days.  Melchior is selling faerie computer games to mortals, and someone is selling faerie drugs to vampires.  There must be some connection.”

“That’s not all,” Strephon reminded him.  “One of the werewolf packs have been wearing collars inscribed with faerie runes.  I suppose, though, that could be a coincidence.”

Devon turned grave.  “They don’t teach you enough in English schools.  Twice may be a coincidence, but three times is always a charm.” 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 66: Second Thoughts

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 finally admitted his supernatural heritage to his uncomfortably close acquaintance Cassandra True, (mainly because she’s guessed much of it already).  But Cassandra has more pressing concerns:  her roommate, Cecilie, has fallen under the spell of a vampire.  She has taken Cecilie to Mrs. Simms, a sorceress in the local Jamaican community and a friend of Strephon’s.

“It’s about time you showed up,: Grandma Simms sniffed as Cassandra wheeled Strephon into the Friendlee-Mart.

“I came as soon as I heard, and I regret not having come sooner,” Strephon said contritely.

Mrs. Simms gave a grunt to acknowledge that Strephon had apologized, but that she was by no means going to let him off the hook so easily.  “Come along,” she said.  “Cassandra’s friend is in the back.”  She turned and called out to a girl in a blue apron stocking a display of tinned meats.  “Theodora?  Mind the cash register ‘till I get back.”

“Yes, Grams,” the girl replied.

The employee break room of the Friendlee-Mart was a cozy affair, barely large enough to accommodate tow vending machines, a microwave and a smallish table.  Cecilie sat at the table, where she was occupying herself by drawing facial hair on pictures of the Prime Minister in the previous day’s copy of the Daily Oracle.  She got to her feet when Mrs. Simms led Cassandra and Strephon in.

“I’ve changed my –“ she started to say; then stopped.  “You brought Strephon.”

Cassandra grimaced.  “His name is… wait, you got it right.  You never call Strephon by his right name.”

 “Of course I did.  What else could he be?  He looks like a Strephon.”

Strephon had only met Cecilie very briefly and she’d seemed to him rather flighty.  Still, he told himself not to make snap judgements.  Cecilie gave him an odd, speculative look that make Strephon feel uncomfortable, so he changed the subject..  “You were about to say…?”

“Oh, yeah.”  Cecilie turned to Cassandra.  “I’ve been thinking, Sandy, about last night.  I kinda over-reacted.  Maybe if I just talked to Philippe, he could explain things…”

“I’m sure he could,” Cassandra replied dryly.

Mrs. Simms grumbled.  “She been doin’ this all morning.  Back and forth.  ‘Oh, I was so mean to Philippe!  How can he forgive me?’   ‘He been usin’ me!  I got to stay away!’  Make up your mind, child!”

“I think I understand,” Strephon said quietly.  “Last night you made a decision and now you’re not sure if it was the right one.  You are afraid of doing something irrevocable.  Am I correct?”

Cecilie brightened.  “That’s exactly it!”

“But that is precisely why you ought to wait a bit and think things over, Miss Cecilie.  If you don’t mind the familiarity.  I don’t believe Cassandra ever told me your given name.”

“It’s Draper.  But you can call me Cecilie.  I don’t mind.”  She had that same vexing, speculative look in her eye that Strephon had been trying to discourage in Cassandra.  He noted that Cassandra had observed the look too and did not care for it either.  Strephon firmly steered the conversation back to the subject.

“The point is, Miss Draper, that if you do eventually decide to return to your lover, he will still be there.  I daresay he will wait for you.  If he doesn’t, he’s clearly unworthy of your affections and you’re better off without him, vampire or no.  But once you return to him, if that’s what you do, there will be no turning back.  He made a mistake with you last night; he will not make it again.  He will not let you go. You will be his thing, until he finally decides to discard you.  So I implore you, Miss Draper, to consider long and hard before you… Miss Draper…?

She was staring at him intently but did not seem to be listening.  “You never told me he was sexy, Sandy.”

Cassandra emitted an incoherent squeak.  Then she said, “Oh, I get it.  This is payback for my flirting with Philippe last night!”

“What?  No!  What are you saying?”

“Can we keep to business?” Mrs. Simms snapped.  “I got me a store to run!”

Strephon frowned.  There was definitely something peculiar about Miss Draper;  something he didn’t remember noticing on their first meeting. Something peculiar, and yet maddeningly familiar; something about her that he felt he ought to recognize.

“I never thought I’d say this,” he muttered to himself, “But I wish Devon were here.”

A sarcastic voice behind him spoke:  “You rang?”

Strephon looked over his shoulder and saw a shadow by the vending machine take form and solidify into a black-coat and sunglasses around and Devon’s cynical smile.

“Ah,” Strephon said; “Speak of the Devil.”

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 65: Moving On

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 finally admitted his supernatural heritage to Cassandra, (mainly because she’s guessed much of it already).

Strephon noticed a confused-looking lad walking slowly by.  He seemed to be looking for something and from his gait, Strephon guessed that it was probably a lavatory.  That was the third bewildered market-goer he’d seen in the past few minutes and he realized with a guilty start that his spell of concealment had extended to the garish porta-loo behind which he and Cassandra were conversing.  “Perhaps we ought to move,” he suggested.

He permitted Cassandra to push his wheelchair down the sidewalk and out of the park.  “So when you took me to that party at Mr. Aeserman’s…” Cassandra said, “that was for your investigation?”


“I guess I messed it up.”

“Not at all.  You were quite helpful.”

If Cassandra thought he was just being gallant, she didn’t say so.  “Is Ms Kurayami involved with Aesermann too?”

“She does business with him, but she’s curious as to his true motives as well.  Why do you ask?”

“Well, she was also at Aesermann’s party, remember?  And, well…”  Cassandra paused, and then in a rush she spilled out Cecily’s story.

Strephon pursed his lips.  He was glad that from behind his wheelchair Cassandra could not read his expression.  When she finished, he said, “That was quite dangerous, but you seem to acquitted yourself well.  Where is your flatmate now>”

“We decided it might not be safe to go home.  Philippe knows where she lives, see?  And she wasn’t sure if he showed up there that she wouldn’t let him in.”

Strephon nodded.  In his career as a barrister, he’d known of women who had left abusive marriages, only to return to their abusers; convinced against all reason that he had changed or that he hadn’t really meant it.  And those were mere human brutes, lacking a vampire’s powers of charm and seduction.

“…So I took her to Grandma Simm.”

“A wise choice.”  Inwardly, though, Strephon squirmed.  Grandmama Simms would undoubtedly give him a thorough chastisement next time they met for not taking better care of Cassandra.  But damme, how was he to know?  She could have told him her roommate was involved with vampires.  She should have told him!  Why hadn’t she trusted him?  Then again, had he given her reason to?

“Well then,” he said at last.  “It looks like a trip to Grandmama Simms is in order.”

“I don’t want to put you out.”  Did Strephon detect a hopeful tone in her voice?

“Nonsenes.  You seem to be handling your vampire situation quite admirably.  I’m afraid I underestimate how resourceful young women are these days.  But Mrs. Simms will have words to say to me about the subject, and I should hate to deny her the chance to say I told you so.”

As they left the secluded corner of the park behind them, a bit of green in the nearby foliage shimmered and a spent cigarette dropped, seemingly from nowhere, onto the sidewalk.  Saul Taylor dropped his own concealment spell and ground out the butt with the toe of his shoe.  Damn.  Obviously this was significant development on the Cassandra/Strephon front.  And just when he thought he had gotten Cassandra to trust him.  If only he could have heard more of their conversation; but he had been afraid that if he’d gotten too close that damn half-fae would have spotted his spell.

Well, it couldn’t be helped now.  Still, Saul mused, this new development could be useful.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Born-Again Werewolves

The leader of an online writer's workshop I sometimes participate in likes to speak of "guns on the wall"  These are things a writer establishes early in the story which will become relevant much later.  The name come from Russian playwright Anton Chekhov's famous dictum that if you establish that there's a gun on the mantelpiece in Act One, the gun has to go off before the end of Act Two.

As I plod on with my Dark Redemption serial and have been trying to pull my plot threads together towards a resolution, I realize that some of the guns I've placed on the walls of my story aren't likely to go off any time soon and I am going to have to regretfully set them aside.  That's a drawback with writing things as I go along and posting my chapters warm from the keyboard; it doesn't give me much room to revise things if I change my mind later on.  

Due to a change in my work schedule, I haven't had much time to update Dark Redemption, so this week I thought I'd post a piece I wrote some time ago for another blogsite, describing one of these abandoned guns:  a character I mentioned several chapters back, who I don't think I'll be able to fit into the story.  But he's interesting, and I may find a home for him eventually.

Please allow me to introduce the Born Again Werewolves.

* * * * *

You meet him in a bus terminal -- a small man in a shabby coat with an unkempt beard and a strangely intense gleam in his eyes. He wears the clerical dog collar suggesting that he is clergyman; an impression confirmed by the religious tract he presses into your hand. It has a conventional illustration of Jesus as the Good Shepherd leading a flock of sheep and carrying a lamb over his shoulders; but this picture has Jesus accompanied by a large dog with a great lupine grin. "Tell me, brother," the man says; "have you heard the word of the Edenic Wolf?"

Some years ago, when my wife Lute and I were enrolled in the VH School of Magic, an online community for Harry Potter fans, we were invited by Jex, one of the site moderators, to join an online RPG he was running. The game was an urban Gothic fantasy, similar to the World-O-Darkness games from White Wolf, (Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf the Apocalypse, Mummy the Unraveling, etc.). He ran the game as a group of interconnected online journals that in effect created a shared world novel set in a British city called Redemption inhabited by urban werewolves and club-hopping vampires.

Jex encouraged us all to help develop the City of Redemption by inventing bits of background and things. Lute took the inspiration for her character, a corporate werewolf, from Wolf Lake, a TV series she enjoyed, and defined the three main werewolf packs in the city and their Alphas. I established the two big newspapers in town, a largely Jamaican neighborhood, and a snooty ladies arts organization. While kicking around some background ideas, I came up with the notion of Born Again Werewolves. Jex liked the idea and told me to run with it.

As it happened, I never did get around to introducing the Born Again Werewolves into the game, but I worked up a backstory for them that I rather liked.

* * * *

Pastor Abel Shepherd was new to Redemption, or he would never have taken out that youth group camping in Reaver Pack territory, and he certainly wouldn’t have done it on the night of a full moon. As it was, everyone told him he was lucky. He managed to get all his charges to safety when the wolves attacked and the doctors assured him that the bites he received while fighting them off would heal.

But while he was in the hospital, a stranger came to visit. He introduced himself as Del Reeves, the Alpha Wolf of the Reaver pack. "The one who bit you."

"I know you have no reason to thank me," Reeves said, "But the fact is you’re different now. You’re not one of them anymore; you’re one of us. it’ll be a hard adjustment to make, but you don’t have to go it alone. I’d like to invite you to join my pack."

It took a while for Shepherd to accept that he was now a werewolf. Despite Reeves’ warnings, he was determined to fight it on his own. Confiding in a close friend, Lukas, he arranged to have himself locked up in a secure room during the next full moon. Through prayer and meditation, he hoped to be able to control the transformation..

It didn’t’ work. As Reeves had warned him, the harder he tried to suppress the wolf within him, the more violently it raged to get out. He devoured the packages of ground beef he brought with him and still hungered for more. He threw himself against the door of his room until his paws were bloody. He howled, he raged, he cursed God. He tore apart the Bible he’d brought to be his companion and pissed on the pages. Still the hunger ate at his vitals. At last in exhaustion, he could rage no more. He curled into a ball on the floor and wept.

It was then, in the depths of his despair, that his glance fell on a verse from the shredded scriptures: "And God made the beast of the earth after his kind and cattle after their kind and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind. And God saw that it was good." And in a strange moment of clarity it occurred to him: There were wolves too in Eden.

He began gathering the pages of his Bible, clumsily with his paws, and assembling the implications of his new insights

Just as Adam was created without sin, he reasoned, so were the first wolves innocent and sinless. Therefore, a werewolf is not damned because he is a wolf; he is damned for the same reason that a man is damned: because he is a fallen wolf. And as a sinful human can with God’s grace strive to be a more godly man, so can a werewolf strive to live as a godly wolf. Besides Reeve’s choice of a hopeless struggle against the wolf within him and surrender, he saw a third option: To accept himself as a wolf and seek a righteous path

By the time the full moon was over, Shepherd had worked out the rough outline of a theology and a moral code combining natural law with lupine psychology. It needed some refinement -- his experiment with vegetarianism proved impractical. And his suggestion of replacing the bread of the Lord’s Supper with actual meat -- (cooked, granted, but still...) -- proved too novel for his congregation.

Word of his new eccentricities reached his superiors, who quietly removed him from his position. Also, Lukas proved to be a disappointment. Lukas had asked Shepherd to make him a werewolf too. He agreed, thinking it would be good to have a partner in his new ministry. But Lukas became more interested in pursuing power as a werewolf than trying to find a spiritual path of lycanthropy. He left Shepherd and joined the Reaver pack, quickly rising to become the pack’s Beta. Shepherd was saddened, but not too surprised when within few years, Del Reeves met with a tragic accident involving a missing larynx and Lukas took over the pack.

By this time Shepherd had come to realize that God had a different plan for him; he had a new mission, ministering to the Lone Wolves and the Omegas, the outcasts of the city’s werewolf community. Over time, he has built a small, loosely-knit pack of his own. The other wolves in the city regard him has a flake; but they tolerate him because his soup kitchen wolf pack does not seem to be a threat to anyone’s power. No doubt many of his pack are just strays looking for a meal, but some of them seem to be sincere adherents to his new lupine religion.

He denies being an Alpha Wolf. "Christ is our Alpha," he says; "and our Omega; for surely he has made himself the least of the pack in order to save us all."

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 64: Strephon's Story, Continued

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 commissioned by the Queen of the Faerie to investigate fae activity in the city. In the course of his investigations, he has become involved with a reporter named Cassandra True, from whom he has been attempting to hide his unnatural background.  She, however, has guessed his secret and Strephon has decided to finally tell her his story.

“I know that you continued on as a barrister and a successful one too; and eventually you became a judge,” Cassandra said.

“I was more successful at the bar than Gilbert ever was; that was one small revenge,” Strephon mused.  “Some friends thought I should stand for the House of Commons.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I never really had an interest in politics.  And… I suppose you’ll laugh, but Gilbert’s character in the opera that he named after me went into Parliament and I had no desire to emulate him.  Phyllis and I were very happy together for a long time.”

“And then?”

“Well, she was mortal.  She grew old, as mortals do.  I did not; at least my upper extremities didn’t.  But I assumed the illusion of age, partially for the benefit of the outside world, but mostly so that we could grow old together.  Of course, the fact that my legs actually did become old and arthritic added verisimilitude to the charade.”

“That’s another thing which puzzled me.  Is it true that like the character in the opera you’re a fairy from your waist up…”

“I am."

“But your legs are mortal?”


“But genetics doesn’t work that way.  I mean, a child of mixed-race parents isn’t black on one side and white on the other; he’s … well … all mixed together.  Why should you be half-and-half?”

Strephon shrugged.  “I am afraid I have never really studied the biological sciences.  I couldn’t say.  I suspect it has something to do with the nature of faerie magic, but I’m afraid that’s not a terribly satisfying answer.” 

“Ah.  But then… what about…”  she turned red.  “Never mind.  It’s none of my business.”

“What about in-between?  People often wonder about that.  Let me just say that there is no clean line of demarcation between my mortal and immortal parts and the border regions, if I may call them that, partake of the natures of both.”

Cassandra pursed her lips, as if chewing that over in her mind before deciding she was better off not thinking about it.  “So… what happened after your wife died?”

“That was a difficult time for me.  We had been expecting it to come eventually; we knew it must; but still, it happened so quickly.  She suffered a heart attack while working in her garden.  I had warned her frequently not to over-exert herself, but it gave her such joy to putter around tending the azaleas.”  

Strephon stopped.  His tongue seemed to have turned to lead.  The words did not want to come out.  “If I could have gotten to her more quickly… I could have done something… cast an enchantment… given her more time.  But I was in the house when it happened.  I felt her cry of distress.  My mortal legs couldn’t carry me quickly enough.  By the time I got to her side, it was too late.  Too late.”

He shook his head.  Damn foolish to be crying over something that happened nearly a century ago.  He wiped the tear from his eye.  “I beg your pardon,” he said.

Cassandra let him compose himself.  “I’m very sorry,” she said quietly.  She raised her hand and tentatively reached out towards his.  For a moment he thought she was going to pat his hand, and it occurred to him that this might not be an unpleasant thing; but she evidently thought better and withdrew it.  “What then?”

Strephon sighed.  “I retreated to the Faerie Realm for a time.  Mother thought it would be best.  And it was pleasant enough for a while.  But I did not really belong there.  So I came home.  I fabricated a plausible death abroad and assumed the identity of a long-lost son raised in Canada, who walked with a limp due to a childhood bout with polio.  Which came in handy when the War broke out, I must admit.  But I found I didn’t really belong in the mortal world either.  I had never really appreciated how much Phyllis had been my link to the world around me.  My friends were all old or dead;  I kept to myself because it was simply easier that way.  Fewer inconvenient explanations.  What few friends I have are mostly contacts in the City’s supernatural community, like Grandmama Simms, or one or two others.

“And that is how I have lived for over seventy years now:  staying mostly at home, only rarely venturing out into the world around me, and occasionally fabricating a new identity when it seems prudent to do so.”

He felt a gentle touch.  This time Cassandra did rest her hand on his.  He hadn’t wanted any sympathy, but somehow, receiving it did make him feel better.  He clasped her hand in his.  It occurred to him that he hadn’t poured out his heart like this in a long, long time:  not to Mother, certainly not to Devon.

“Then… what brought to to Aeser Technologies?”

The question abruptly brought him back to the present.  “Ah, that.  Well.  I received a commission from the Queen of the Faeries.”

“The fairies have a queen?”

“Indeed, they do,” Strephon said solemnly.  “Mister Melchior Aesermann is actually a Faerie Lord, posing as mortal, much as I am.  But for more sinister purposes, I believe.  The Queen requested that I investigate Lord Melchior and divine his intentions.”

He expected to see skeptical bemusement on her face, but Cassandra seemed to take the revelation that a prominent tech entrepreneur was really a magical sprite in stride.  She nodded her head.  “That actually makes sense.  It fits with what Byron Sanders told me.  He was the programmer who worked for Aesermann.”

Strephon remembered.

“And what have you learned about him?” Cassandra asked.

Strephon grimaced.  “Very little, I’m afraid.  Devon keeps complaining about it.  He says I keep getting distracted by my ‘social life.’”

“Oh.”  Cassandra blushed again.  “Sorry about that.”

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 63: Strephon's Story

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 commissioned by the Queen of the Faerie to investigate fae activity in the city. In the course of his investigations, he has become involved with a reporter named Cassandra True, from whom he has been attempting to hide his unnatural background.  She, however, has guessed his secret and has confronted him with it.

One would think  Strephon thought, that in a heavily-wooded park it would be easy to find a secluded spot where one might have a quiet conversation.; but these spots, unfortunately, were not readily accessible to one in a wheelchair; particularly since either side of the walkway was packed with vendors selling beaded purses, glass barometers , hand-crafted dulcimers and particularly ugly carvings of Cernunnos.  The most convenient spot he could find was around behind a bluish fiberglass portable loo of loathsome design that the City had placed near the footpath for the convenience of the market-goers.

Even this was a little more public than Strephon liked, but he recalled the glamour of privacy Lilith had cast at Melchior’s party the week before.  It seemed an easy enough effect to duplicate, and so it was.  With a little concentration, the sounds of the park and the market became muted.

The sudden silence startled Cassandra, and she looked around her as if to see where all the noises went.

“I thought you might enjoy some ‘Fairy Magic’,” Strephon said.  “Would you like to see my wings, too?”

“You… really have wings?”

“I can if I wish.

Cassandra wrinkled her nose but did not accept the offer.  “So… how did Gilbert and Sullivan come to write an opera about you?”

“They did not.”  Strephon said that a bit more hotly than he intended.  He paused to compose himself.  “I was born in a wood near Lower Piltching.  My father was a highly respectable clergyman who was a bit more susceptible in his youth than he liked to admit; and my mother, as Mister Gilbert put it, was ‘an influential fairy.’  I understand that this sort of thing was not all that uncommon at one time, but it’s a rather rare occurrence these days; I don’t think it’s happened since the time of the Venerable Bede.  Father, despite his injudicious fling -- or perhaps to make up for it – had rather strict views of propriety and insisted that I be raised as a Good Christian in a mortal home.  And so I was, although Mother maintained contact with me as best as she was able, visiting occasionally and sending me presents from the Faerie Realm on the appropriate holidays.

“I grew to manhood, and fell in love with a girl named Phyllis; not a shepherdess, by the by, but the daughter of a highly respectable manufacturer of buttons.  At the time, I was studying to enter the clergy myself, but had few prospects for a secure future.  In addition, I hadn’t yet told Phyllis about the peculiarities on my Mother’s side of the family, and my half-fae physiology was beginning to prove troublesome.

“One day, Mother visited me in my rooms at the Seminary, and the Rector happened to come in on us.  My mother is immortal, remember; and the Rector would not accept my explanations of why I seemed to be entertaining a beautiful young woman in my room.  I was summarily expelled.

“I went to a public house to drown my sorrows and found myself unburdening myself to another fellow.  He was quite sympathetic, and I daresay I told him more than I should have.  He suggested I try entering the Bar.  He said that my personality and natural talents would serve me well in the Law and that no one cared particularly if a Barrister entertained young ladies in their chambers.”  Strephon paused thoughtfully.  “It proved good advice.  I suppose I do owe him for that.”

“The fellow was Gilbert, I suppose?”

“It was.  I found out some time later when I came across a comic poem written by him in the magazine Fun titled ‘The Fairy Curate’.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, because the character in the poem bore little resemblance to me.  It ends with the curate becoming a Mormon or a Methodist or some other such thing; I forget which.

“Then a few years later, I got wind that Gilbert was doing an operetta about faeries.  I think Devon found out about it and let me know.  It was based on ‘The Fairy Curate’, but included my name, and Phyllis’s name and some other things as well. I like to think of myself as an even-tempered man, but Gilbert’s little fantasy was bordering on defamation.  So I threatened to sue.”

Strephon sighed.  “Phyllis thought I was being silly about the whole thing.  Perhaps I was.  But we were married by that time and I was finally getting established as a barrister.  But it wasn’t just my own reputation I was concerned about, nor even that of my wife.  He used my Mother’s name in the operetta too, do you see?  She was mentioned frequently.  It was named after her.  Faeries are magic, and in magic, names are power.  I did not wish my Mother’s name to become a common thing.  It’s… it’s hard to explain.  I suppose to a mortal I doesn’t make much sense.”

“No, no,”  Cassandra said.  “It was important to you.”

“I met with Gilbert.  And with Sullivan, and D’Oyly-Carte, their business partner.  Gilbert was an obstinate man, but I could be as stubborn as he.  In the end, Mrs. D’Oyly-Carte, their partner’s wife – a quite prudent and sagacious woman – arranged a compromise.  The name of the character and of the operetta was changed.”

“Then… your mother’s name isn’t Iolanthe?”

“It is not.”

“What is it, then?  If you don’t mind my asking.”

Strephon frowned a bit.

“Well,” Cassandra continued, “in case you should ever want to bring me ‘round to meet her.  It would be embarrassing not to know what to call her.”  She blushed.  “It could happen.”

“Oh.”  Strephon realized she had just said something extremely significant, but it caught him so off-guard that he had to stop and think a moment for the full ramifications of it to unfold.  She was right.  It could happen.  He could visualize it happening.  He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.  He found it a little frightening.  “I see.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 62: Out In the Open

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 commissioned by the Queen of the Faerie to investigate fae activity in the city. In the course of his investigations, he has become involved with a reporter named Cassandra True, from whom he has been attempting to hide his unnatural background.  She, however, has guessed more than he realizes.  While pursuing a line of inquiry at a local artisan’s market, he once again runs into Cassandra.

“Cassandra.” Strephon had not intended to say her name out loud, but there it was.  He could hardly pretend he hadn’t seen her and he certainly couldn’t try to hide; his wheelchair was damned conspicuous sometimes.

Cassandra hesitated, then advanced towards him with the demeanor of one who has decided to do something.  “Hello, Strephon.”

“I did not expect to see you here.”

“My editor asked me to write a piece about the market and take some pictures.”  She drew her hand out of the pocket of her overcoat to display a compact camera.  “What about you?  Doing some shopping, I see?”

Strephon reddened and his grip tightened on the two small gift bags with the items of jewelry he had purchased.  “I… I fancied upon something I thought my aunt might like,” he lied.

Cassandra gave him a most curious look, as if she believed not a word of what he’d said but was trying to decide whether to challenge him..  Instead she said, “It’s lucky I ran into you.  There’s something I wanted to ask you.”  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, as if steeling herself.

“Why did you sue Gilbert and Sullivan?”

Strephon felt a chill which had nothing to do with the previous night’s drizzle.  “I… I assure you I did no such thing.  My great-grandfather, I believe…”

“Not your grandfather.  You.”

Strephon forced a chuckle.  “Gilbert and Sullivan died over a century ago.  As decrepit as I might seem, I assure you that I am not that old.”

She gave him a thin, hard smile, as if daring hum to contradict her, and she quoted:

“It seems you are a fairy;
 from Andersen’s li-brary.”

 “Oh bother!”  The curse escaped his lips.

“I knew it!!”

He rubbed his temples.  “How did you guess.”

Cassandra shrugged.  “Little things you did; little things you said.  But mostly it was watching the operetta.”

“I might have known,” Strephon grumbled.

“So, you really are a fairy?”

“Half a faerie,” he corrected her.  A mother passing by gave the two of them a peculiar look and hustled her child away from them.  “Perhaps we could continue this conversation more privately?”