Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 70: There Is Yet Hope

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 charged by the Faerie Queen with investigating fae activity in the city. He has discovered seemingly unrelated occurrences of faerie magic touching other spheres of the city's supernatural community and suspects they may be connected.


“You sure you don't want me to wait for you?” Tobias offered his arm to help Strephon into his wheelchair.

“That will not be necessary. I mustn't keep you from your other fares.”

“It's not a nice neighborhood.”

Strephon glanced around at the shabby buildings and littered sidewalks around him. He could hardly disagree. A couple of unshaven wretches in cast-off clothing slouched in front of the storefront mission he intended to visit, staring at him with stony faces. “I shall be careful,” he said.

“Gran won't forgive me if anything happens to you.”

“If anything happens to me, your Grandmother will doubtless say it was my own fault. So I will take pains to see that nothing happens. I will call you in half an hour to let you know if I need to be picked up.”

“You have a cell phone?”

“Of course,” Strephon lied. He really should get one of those things, he thought. He'd never really needed one before. He paid Tobias the fare and wheeled himself to the door of the mission. Tobias followed him to the door to open it for him. The big Jamaican glared at the two tramps, daring them to start something, but they withdrew a step and pretended to be interested in something else. The reek of cigarettes on their clothing assaulted Strephon's nose as he passed.

Passing through the door over the bump of the threshold, Strephon turned again to Tobias and said “Thank you,” in a firm tone that meant “That Will Be All.” Tobias grunted and said, “Half an hour.” Then he went back to his cab and left.

The interior of the mission was relatively clean, despite the obvious age of the linoleum on the floors and the chipping paint on the walls. A few more men were sitting around in battered furniture with threadbare upholstery; a couple watching a football match on an elderly television set, a couple playing ping pong while a third watched; yet another pouring over a slim volume of C.S. Lewis. On one wall, someone had painted a large cross and the words “THERE IS YET HOPE”, and the tables were decorated with ash trays, empty paper coffee cups and with religious tracts. One which caught Strephon's eye had an amateurish illustration of Christ as the Good Shepherd accompanied by a large, wolfish-looking dog and bore the title “Gospel of the Edenic Wolf.”

An earnest young woman in thick glasses and a doggy-smelling pullover came and greeted Strephon. “How can we help you?”

Strephon produced a calling card from his jacket pocket. “My name is Strephon MacKenzie; I am a friend of the Reverend Palmer of St. Onesimus. I realize this is probably an inconvenient time and I apologize for not calling in advance, but I would like to speak with Reverend Shepherd, if he can spare a moment or two.” He gave her a winsome smile.

The woman puzzled over the card and sniffed. “I'll see if Abel can see you,” she said, and disappeared into a back room.

A moment later, a broad-shouldered man with a ruddy unkempt beard and a clerical dog-collar came out from the back. Upon seeing Strephon, he cocked his head back slightly and his nostrils flared a bit; Strephon recognized it as the body language of a wolf encountering an unfamiliar smell. “Mister MacKenzie, I believe I've heard of you. It is a pleasure to meet you.” He shook Strephon's hand with a firm but not aggressive grip.

“It is good of you to see me. I imagine this must be a busy time for you, day before Sunday and all...”

“Not at all, not at all. Could I get you something? Some coffee? Or would you prefer tea?”

“Tea would be splendid.”

Reverend Shepherd sent the woman to bring a couple cups of tea. Then in a lower voice he added, “Did you wish to speak in private?”

“If it would not be inconvenient.”

They performed the usual dance with the Reverend offering to push Strephon's chair and Strephon thanking him but insisting quite firmly that he could manage by himself if the Reverend would be kind enough to lead the way. Shepherd led him into a small office, and once the woman brought in the tea, he closed the door.

“I was speaking the other day to Lydia Palmer, the vicars wife, and she was telling me a bit about your mission,” Strephon began. “It sounds like a worthy cause and was considering making a donation.” He took a sip of tea and watched to see how the Reverend would react.

Shepherd smiled and nodded his head. “Splendid. We're always pleased to accept charitable offerings. But that's not why you're really here, is it?”

“Well... if it comes to that, I was curious about a few things and hoped perhaps you could help me.” Strephon took a deep breath. “A week or so ago, a lady of my acquaintance and I were attacked by werewolves upon leaving a restaurant.” There. That got things out into the open. No need to maintain the fiction that these were only wild dogs. Strephon watched the reverend closely to gauge his reaction. “We were unharmed, but in defending ourselves, I was obliged to kill one.”

The reverend's face clouded. “I heard about that.”

“I thought you might. The slain wolf was wearing a silver collar enchanted with fae magic.”

“And what makes you think I have anything to do with them?”

“I believe, if I may put the matter delicately, that you have certain connections within the lupine community. Am I correct?”

“You touch upon a sensitive matter,” Shepherd said in a low, deep growl. “My church does not have the Seal of the Confession, but we have our own ethical codes of confidentiality.” He set down his teacup and began to pace behind his desk with a kind of controlled agitation that made Strephon think of a caged beast. It also reminded him that the door to the office was closed and that he was caged in the room with him. This was precisely the situation, he realized, that Tobias had tried to warn him against. Strephon wished there were a way to surreptitiously retrieve his crutches from the back of his chair without making it obvious he was drawing a weapon.

Shepherd turned again to face him. “I suppose you know my story.”

“Only a bit of gossip,” Strephon admitted. He now regretted that he had mentioned Lydia's name. He hoped he hadn't gotten her into trouble as well.


“Well then.” Shepherd returned to his seat and folded his hands. “I suppose that is where we ought to start.”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dark Redemption chpater 69: Guardian Angel


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; with the help of Strephon, the semi-mortal half-fae, his disreputable cousin Devon, and the Jamaican wise woman Mrs. Simms, has managed to free her roommate, Cecilie, from the thrall of Cecilie’s vampire boyfriend, Philippe. Returning to her apartment, Cassandra finds Philippe outside waiting for her. Unexpected help arrives in the form of Saul, a co-worker of Cassandra’s.

Philippe curled his lip, exposing the full length of his fangs. “This is no business of yours,” he hissed.

Saul seemed unperturbed by Philippe’s display. “I’m making it my business,” he said coolly. “The lady wishes to be left alone. I think you ought to leave.:”

Cassandra’s heart thudded. What did Saul think he was doing? She slipped her keychain back into her purse – she didn’t think that jabbing Philippe with her housekey would faze the vampire much, and she didn’t really want to get within grappling distance of him – and felt for her can of pepper spray.

The two men locked gazes, it seemed like forever. Cassandra expected Philippe to lunge, but instead he was the first to back down. He gave a feral hiss and dashed away to the nearest patch of shadow. Cassandra watched him, and did not untense until he was completely out of sight.

“Saul, what did you think you were doing?”

He gave a bemused smile. “I happened to be in the neighborhood and noticed you seemed to be having problems.”

“Thank you, but that was extremely dangerous.”

“It seemed like the gentlemanly thing to do. I guess your friend, Strephon, is rubbing off on me.”

“Don’t joke about it.” Cassandra wrinkled her nose. “You just ‘happened’ to be in the neighborhood?”

“Well…” Saul admitted, “I actually did want to talk to you about something. Could we go inside?”

Cassandra felt her heart sank. She’d had so many intense talks these last few days, she wasn’t sure she could take another. Granted, she had initiated some of them herself, but still… “Please don’t tell me you love me. The last guy who told me that was that vampire.”

“What?” Saul gave a short, surprised laugh. “That’s not what I was going to say.”

A rather peculiar non-denial, Cassandra thought. But she told him to come with her and she let him into the apartment building.

They did not go up to her flat. “It’s a mess,” she explained. “Things have been crazy these past few days and I haven’t had time to do much cleaning.” The building had a lobby area just inside the entrance, which seemed like a good place to talk: semi-private, but not too intimate.

“That really was dangerous, what you just did,” Cassandra said, settling down into one of the lobby's uncomfortable vinyl chairs. “He really is a vampire.”

“I know.”

“You know? I thought you didn't believe in spooky stuff.”

“I never said I didn't believe in it; I said that it was a bad idea to write about it. Billy doesn't like it. Nor, I suspect, does the Celestial Mister Knox.”

“Why not? If there really are vampires and ghosts and werewolves running around in this city, don't people have a right to know about it?”

Saul leaned back and sighed. He seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “You know, don't you, that Aoi Kurayami takes out a quarter-page ad every issue for Club Cyba-Netsu and a half-page for our weekend edition.”

Cassandra didn't; but she immediately caught his point. “The first rule of journalism,” she groaned. “Never piss off the advertisers.”

“Precisely. And Kurayami's not the only one. Lukas Bianca is a werewolf and runs one of the biggest wolf packs in the city.”

“Head of the Redemption Decency League? That Lukas Bianca?”

“One and the same. And the CEO of the city's biggest public relations firms leads one of the other wolf packs. And the senior partner in one of our oldest legal firms is a werewolf too. And then there's your friend, Strephon...”

Cassandra blushed. “I know about Strephon.”

“Did he tell you, I wonder? Or did you have to work it out on your own?”

The conversation was beginning to take an uncomfortable turn. “You seem to know a lot about it,” Cassandra said.

“Ah. And there we get to what I wanted to talk about.” Saul glanced around him. The lobby was empty. He raised his hand with a sharp motion and seemed to mutter something under his breath. Suddenly, a folded copy of the Morning Star rose into the air and darted into his hand.

“You're... a wizard?”

“The traditional term is 'warlock', but 'wizard' is more popular these days. Thank you J.K. Rowling.” He folded the newspaper and set it on the coffee table.

“And you didn't tell me.

“Well, I barely knew you at first. And we like to keep these things to ourselves. Witch-burnings may seem like ancient history to you and me, but there are some in our community who can remember them happening and know it could happen again.”

Cassandra bit her lip. What he said made sense. “Then why are you telling me now?”

“Because you've entered the Hidden World already. You've encountered creatures of magic on your own; and your experiences have put you in danger. “ Saul gave a self-deprecating smile. “I hope you don't think me too stalkerish if I tell you I've been trying to keep an eye on you..”

“No, no...” Cassandra said vaguely but with little conviction.

“I really have been worried about you, Cassandra. You're dealing with beings of great power. I don't think you fully ken what you've gotten into.”

“Good grief, am I the only normal person around here? It seems like everybody around me is a fairy or a vampire or a werewolf or a warlock or something. Where do you all come from? Or has Redemption always been like this?”

“The Hidden World has always been around, but most people are unaware it exists; or at best, only vaguely aware. But this city has perhaps more of it than others. You know something of the history of Redemption?”

“It was built on the site of an old shrine, wasn't it? The Shrine of the Holy Redemption.”

“The shrine was built on an old pagan site; a lot of old churches were; partially to exorcise the old magic and partially to appropriate it. And the pagan shrine was chosen because it was a magical nexus; a place where the line of magical force intersect and converge. These intersections are natural sources of magical power, and so creatures of magic will naturally gravitate towards them. Back in the really old times, the Faerie Court used to start its Wild Hunts from the spot where today they sell tourists 'Redemption Castle' paperweights.”

That was something else she'd have to ask Strephon about. “What do you think I should do?” Cassandra said quietly.

“I want to give you this.” Saul reached into his pocket and fished out a round, smooth object, something like a billiard ball, made of a translucent, purplish stone. It had a peculiar symbol Cassandra did not recognize carved into it. He placed the stone in her hands. “It's a talisman. It will guard you against baleful magics.”

She looked at the stone, and then to him. “You're kidding, right?”

“I am not kidding. This is serious, Cassandra. I mean it. You're dealing with vampires; you're dealing with ghosts and sorceries. You need to be safe.”

A week ago, Cassandra wouldn't have believed it. Even today, after all she'd seen, the thought of Saul being a sorcerer seemed ludicrous. And yet...

She closed the purple stone in her hand. “Thank you,” she said.

“And listen. If you ever need any help, whatsoever, you know how to get in touch with me.” He squeezed her hand and gave her a reassuring smile.

A week ago that squeeze and that smile would have made Cassandra melt inside. But too much had happened in the past few days; too much and too fast. She needed time to sort things out. She returned his smile with a nod and a week smile of her own; then retreated to the elevator.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 68: Unwanted Advances

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 finally discovered the secret of her mysterious acquaintance, the reclusive Strephon Mackenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae.  With the help of Strephon’s snarky cousin Devon, and the Jamaican wise woman Grandma Simms, they have staged an intervention to free Cassandra’s roommate Cecilie from the thrall of a vampire.

The cool of the morning, following the early showers, had turned hot and sticky by mid-day. Descending from the air-conditioned bus seemed like wading into a vat of warm spit.  Cassandra would have liked to remain with Strephon a bit longer, but he said he had another errand to run and reminded her that she needed to write and file her story about the craft fair in the park, and that she had promised to collect some of Cecilie’s things from their flat.  Cassandra wasn’t sure how she felt about Cecilie going off with Strephon’s cousin.  Strephon obviously disapproved of him, but seemed to regard him as the lesser evil compared to Philippe.

As she approached her flat, she noticed a person in sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt, it’s hood tightly tied obscuring most of his face, leaning against the building in the narrow strip of early afternoon shade.   Cassandra wondered how he – she assumed it was a he, anyway – could stand being dressed so warmly on such a steamy day.  He seemed to be loitering with a distinct purpose, and Cassandra had a disturbing feeling that he was watching her.  She shifted the keychain in her hand so that door key stuck out from between her first and second fingers, they way they’d told her in self-defense class; and resolutely proceeded towards the building, keeping him in view but avoiding eye contact.   As she neared, the man spoke to her.

“Cassandra?  Hello!” He gave her an ingratiating smile, partially obscured by the hoodie.

“Philippe,” Cassandra said.  “I didn’t expect to see you here.  I thought… your kind couldn’t go out in the daytime.”

“That’s a myth,” Philippe said.

Cassandra noted that he was also wearing heavy gloves and his nose was slathered with zinc oxide.  “Aren’t you a little bit warm in that outfit?”

“Well… it was raining earlier, and the weather is so chancy.”  He took a step towards her, but remained in the shadow.  “I was hoping to talk to Cecilie, but she doesn’t seem to be in.”

Cassandra remained where she was in the sunlight.  “She’s gone out of town.  I don’t think she wants to see you anymore.”  That was mostly true.

Philippe made a noise that might have been a hiss or maybe just a sharp intake of breath.  “Well.  That’s too bad.  I handled things badly last night and I did want to explain.  But you know, perhaps it is better this way.”  He inched a little bit closer, and his voice dropped down so that Cassandra almost took a step towards him herself to hear him better.  She caught herself in time.  That would be a bad idea.

“You see, I wasn’t sure how I could tell her,” Philippe continued.  “Attraction is such a mysterious thing, and hard to fathom, let alone explain.  And yet from the moment I saw you last night, I felt a strange fascination.  Perhaps you felt it too…”

Good grief, Cassandra realized, he’s trying to seduce me.  And listening to his voice, he was almost persuasive.  But then Cassandra focused on his hoodie and his ridiculous nose.  He looked for all the world like Claude Rains, the Hip-Hop Years.  “I think you are mistaken,” she said firmly.  “If you will excuse me…”

“Wait.”  Philippe reached out into the sunlight and seized her by the arm.  “I’ve been waiting out her so long, and as you said, it is warm out here.  Perhaps you might invite me in?”

His smile widened; not enough to show the points of his teeth, but Cassandra knew they were there.  She felt her flesh creep and she felt an overpowering urge to get away from him.

“I don’t think so.”  Cassandra pulled her arm away from him, causing him to stumble into the sun.
Philippe winced.  He didn’t burst into flames or disintegrate into dust they way Cassandra hoped he might; but he clearly did not like it.  Apparently the movies were wrong about these things.

“Please, Cassandra… I love you.”  He removed his sunglasses and gazed at her with soulful, if bloodshot and watering eyes.

The audacity of this declaration caught Cassandra by surprise, and she felt the force of his charisma bearing down on her like physical pressure.  But did he really think she would fall for his wounded puppy routine?    Her instincts told her to run away, but on impulse she decided to try something else.  “Are you going to offer me Essence, like you did Cecilie?”

Ah, that worried the little weasel.  He withdrew just a hair.  “She told you about that, did she?”

“She did.”

“Of course, that experience is not one I would share with just anybody; but you, Cassandra; you I think possess the depth of soul to truly appreciate it.” He advanced again, no longer letting the sunshine hold him back.

Cassandra retreated a step.  “And is Kurayami aware you’re dealing Essence?”

Philippe stopped again.  Now she saw fear in his eyes.  “The Lady Kurayami does not concern herself with my personal life.”

“I thought as much.”  Now it was time to get away from him; but Cassandra suddenly found that she could not move her feet.  She seemed rooted to the sidewalk; she had tarried too long.

“Nor will you be bothering her with it.”  Anger tinged his voice now and he bared his teeth as he advanced to attack.

“Pardon, mate,” said a voice from behind Cassandra.  “Aren’t you out past your bedtime?”


It was Saul. 

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?”

“Marginally.”

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…”

“Sex,”

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?”

“Yes.”

“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."