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?”

Friday, January 30, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 61: Strolling Through the Park

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 learned that a local werewolf pack has taken to wearing faerie enchantments, and suspects that Melchior might have a hand in this as well  To find out for sure, he wishes to find the source of these enchantments.

It had been many years – decades, really – since Strephon had visited Wildmere Forest.  Despite the name, Wildmere was one of the more domesticated of the heavily-wooded patches of parkland, designated as “forests” by centuries of tradition, within the Redemption city limits.  During the 1800s an attempt had been made to tame these forests and prune them into properly-manicured parks, with pedestrian walkways, gardens, lawns, and even a few pieces of tasteful statuary.  Of these, Wildmere was the most successful.  Strephon remembered walking here with Phyllis in happier days, back when she was alive, and when he walked places.

He had not been there since the city had established a weekly Artisan’s Market held in Wildmere every Saturday afternoon.  It seemed peculiar to see the familiar park bustling with vendor’s tables under coloured awnings crowded on either side of the two main walkways making an “X” through the middle of the forest.  The light drizzle of the previous night was only just tapering off and the mid-morning sun finally piercing through the clouds, yet already a scattering of customers was drifting from table to table.

Here a thin gentleman in spectacles was selling blown glass barometers fashioned in the shape of swans; across from him a woman was adjusting her racks of tie-dyed scarves to keep them out of the drops still falling from the trees; beyond them was another woman selling jewelry made from bottle caps and a small, gnomish woman with masks of Herne the Hunter – or was is supposed to be Cenunnos? -- carved from grotesque pieces of wood.  Strephon chatted with each vendor, and expressed a polite interest in their wares.

“Yummy-yummy dog treats!”  a tall blonde lady with a terrier under one arm said, rattling a cup of homemade biscuits in Strephon’s direction. 

“I do not have a dog,” Strephon said apologetically.  “I have a cat, but I don’t think she’d care for dog biscuits.”

“They’re yummy!” the lady insisted.  Strephon decided he didn’t want to know how she was so certain of this.

The woman with the masks seemed to be watching Strephon with an intensity he found disquieting.  Or perhaps it was the masks.  They made him think of the Wild Hunt, something he had never in his lifetime seen, but of which the faeries spoke in hushed and fearful tones.  Strephon propelled his wheelchair past that vendor.  He could speak with her later.

The next vendor was a plump, friendly woman with a pixieish smile and startlingly blue hair who had a table of chainmaille jewelry.  “Feel free to try anything on,” she said.  “I have men’s jewelry as well as women’s..”

“Thank you.”  He gave a rack of earrings a quarter turn with his finger.  Despite the woman’s assurances, he saw nothing that really suited him, but he found himself wondering how some of the pieces might look on Cassandra.  Now what brought her to mind?

“I believe there used to be a woman here selling jewelry.  Belladonna Morrigan?”  He tried to sound casual.

The blue-haired woman pursed her lips in thought.  “I haven’t seen her this week.  She’s usually on the west side of the park by the hawthorn bushes.”

“I understand she’s out of town,” Strephon said; which was not a lie.  Morrigan had been dragged off to the Faerie Realms by the fae she had held captive; that was certainly ‘Out of Town.’  “I wondered if you might know anything about the work she did.”

The woman gave a slight shrug of her head.  “She worked mostly with silver.  It’s expensive, and I don’t think she sold a lot.  I do a little work in sterling, but mostly I use aluminum jump rings.  They don’t tarnish, and they’re non-allergenic.  Oh, and she decorated her pieces with distinctive runes.”  She frowned.  “Not Celtic runes that I know of.  I think she claimed they were elvish or Atlantean or something like that.”

“Or faerie?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Do you know who bought her jewelry?”

She shrugged again.  “I don’t think she had a lot of customers.  A lot of lookers; not a lot of takers.  As I said, she was expensive.  I’d guess that most of her customers were tourists from out of town with lots of money.”

That was pretty much what all the other vendors he had spoken to said.  But he thanked her, and bought a black and silver bracelet for Devon.  “That particular weave is called ‘Rhino Snorting Drano,” the vendor told him. 

"Devon will be delighted."

And on further thought, he also bought a pair of green Swarovski Crystal earrings for Cassandra.  A foolish thought, he told himself.  He didn’t even know if he would see her again.

Coming to the intersection of the sidewalks, he turned down the west path.

And there stood Cassandra.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 60: Three's a Crowd

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 followed her roommate Cecily to the Cyba-Netsu, a local club frequented by vampires and other exotic people.  She has learned that Cecily has been seeing a vampire there, and Cassandra hopes to save her.  Miss Kurayami has warned Cassandra not to interfere with her friend’s love life, and so Cassandra decides on another course of action.

“Oh, my god.”

“What is it?”  Philippe looked around the club floor.

Cecily crouched down, trying to hide behind the screen on her table’s laptop.  “It’s my roommate, Cassandra,” she whispered.  What was she doing here?

She saw Cassandra come out of Kurayami’s office and look around the dance floor.  Cecily tried to sink lower in her seat, but it was too late; Cassandra’s gaze met hers and she strode purposefully towards their table.

“Hullo, Cecily!” Cassandra said cheerily.  “I was hoping I’d find you here!  This must be Philippe.”

Philippe rose and gave Cassandra a half-bow.  “Your servant.  And you must be Cecily’s friend, Cassandra,” he said in the suave, Continental tone that made Cecily melt inside when he directed it at her, but made her feel quite differently when spoken to her roommate.

“What are you doing here, Sandy?” Cecily said through gritted teeth.

“I decided you were right.  It’s not fair for me to judge your friend before I’ve even met him.  So, if it’s all right with you, I thought I might join you.”  Cassandra grabbed a chair from a nearby table and sat down between Cecily and Philippe.

It was not all right with Cecily, but Philippe said, “We’d be delighted and sat back down.

“Then we’ll make it a three-way.”  Cassandra giggled.  “I mean, a threesome.”

Cecily frowned.  That remark was so unlike Sandy.  “Have you been drinking?’

“I have not,” Cassandra insisted.  “Just one Nuzzy Fable.  Fipple.  One Fuzzy Navel.”  Cassandra giggled again.  Yes, Cecily was sure now; Cassandra was pretending to be drunk.  Now she was unbuttoning the collar of her blouse, that silly high-collared thing that she thought made her look professional but really made her look more virginal than usual.  “Whew!  It’s so warm in here!”

Good grief, how unsubtle could she get?  But Philippe seemed to be eating it up.  “Another Fuzzy Navel for this lady here,” he told a passing waiter.

Philippe couldn’t keep his eyes off Cassandra’s cleavage.  No, not her cleavage, that peculiar amulet she was wearing.  Where did she get it?  Cecily didn’t remember seeing it before.

Then Philippe turned his attention to Cecily again and in an instant all her jealousy evaporated.  Of course he loved her.  How could she think otherwise?  She relaxed a bit.  But then his gaze returned to Cassandra.

“So I understand you’re a vampire,” Sandy was saying.  “Tell me a bit more about it.  I expect most of what I know is wrong.”

“Well, to begin with, we dislike the term ‘Vampires.’  It has such a superstitious connotation.  We prefer to call ourselves The Kindred.”

“That is so fascinating!” 

Cecily scowled at that. Cassandra wouldn’t find it fascinating; she would find it pretentious.  She’d figured out Sandy’s game now; she was trying to break the two of them up. Well, it wouldn’t work.  But why didn’t Philippe see that?  And why he focusing on that amulet and why did he seem so tense?

“What an interesting charm you’re wearing,” Philippe said at last.

“Oh, this?”  Cassandra seemed to notice what he was staring at for the first time.  “A friend gave this to me.  For protection, she said.  But we’re all friends here, right?  I’m sure I don’t need it.”  She unfastened the amulet and set it down on the table.  Philippe seemed to relax.

They chatted some more and Cassandra slipped deeper and deeper into her Fuzzy Navel.  Cecily was still sure she was only pretending to be tipsy.

“Would you excuse me?” Cassandra said suddenly.  “I have to visit the Little Girl’s Room.  I always get turned around in this place; where is it?”  She stood up abruptly and teetered a little.

Philippe rose immediately and steadied her elbow.  “I was on my way there myself.  Let me show you.”

His offer was like cold water in Cecily’s face.  He was going to bite Cassandra.  She knew it.  How could he do that?  Cecily wanted him to bite her.  She was expecting it.  She was waiting for it.  And now he would be drinking from Sandy, his lips at Sandy’s throat.  It wasn’t right!

Cecily was about to say something, when Cassandra scooped up the amulet from the table and placed it in her palm.  “Take care of this,” Cassandra said softly, her voice suddenly sober.  “Keep it safe.  Please.”  She closed Cecily’s hands over the charm; then she lurched towards the lavatories.

Philippe came close after her, but first also paused by Cecily and brought his lips close to her neck.  “I won’t be long.”  His breath was cool and sweet on her flesh.  “I haven’t forgotten you darling.”  Again, all her suspicion and mistrust ebbed from her, replaced by a sense of blissful anticipation.  How could she doubt him?

He gave Cecily’s hand a pat.  “And dispose of that, will you?” 

The chill returned.  Cecily watched Philippe escort Cassandra towards the back of the club.  Then she opened her hand and looked at the amulet.  Sandy told her to keep it safe.  Obviously, it was a charm to protect her from vampires.  And Philippe had told her to throw it away.  Cassandra was trying to play some sort of game here.  But she had also trusted Cecily.

She did not throw it away. Instead,  Cecily fastened the amulet around her own neck.

Immediately, a strange clarity seemed to come over her. She still loved Philippe, and desired his touch on her throat; but for the first time she realized that his regard for her was purely nutritional.  He was going to enthrall Cassandra; and then he was going to take both of the back to his flat and feed on them both.. And she wouldn’t even be sharing him with Cassandra, because he belonged to neither of them; they belonged to him.  And despite how wrong she felt this to be, Cecily knew she would welcome it, and he would make love to them, and he would offer Sandy some Essence…

No.  She couldn’t let Cassandra do this.  She rushed to the back of the club to the alcove in front of the lavatories.  Cassandra was backed up against the wall, with Philippe standing over her cooing tender blandishments and drawing closer to her carotid artery..  In Cassandra’s face Cecily saw the same mixture of dread and desire that had paralyzed her so often.

“Sandy?  I was thinking,” Cecily said, and the Vampire’s spell was broken.  “Neither one of us got much sleep last night.  Maybe it would be a good idea to call it a night.”

Cassandra blinked, as if confused.  Then slid away from Philippe to Cecily’s side.

“I could call you a cab,” Philippe offered.

“That’s okay.  We’ll manage.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”  Cecily put her arm around Cassandra and escorted her out of the club.

“Thanks,” Cassandra said.  “I thought I could hold out against him.  It was harder than I thought.  I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how it was.”

“It’s okay,” Cecily said.  “We’ll get you home.”  Already she was beginning to regret leaving Philippe.  She had so looked forward to later.  Still, there would be tomorrow night; and she did have a responsibility to Sandy.

“Funny,”  Cassandra said as they walked out into the evening drizzle.  “I thought I was coming to the club to rescue you.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Cecily said.

A taxi cab pulled up alongside the sidewalk by them, and a big black cabbie rolled down the window.

“Tobias!”  Cassandra said.

“Grams told me you might need a lift about now,” the cabbie said.

This made no sense to Cecily, but it seemed to make sense to Cassandra.  In any case, she was glad to get out of the rain.