Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 43: ...Nor Iron Bars a Cage

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.

Plucky girl reporter Cassandra True has been imprisoned by Mrs. Morrigan, the sweet old lady she was supposed to be interviewing. Morrigan, it turns out, is a sorceress with an obsessive interest in Cassandra's friend Strephon. Morrigan has already enslaved a pair of faerie named Banshee and Wisp to her will and now intends to use Cassandra to lure Strephon into a trap



For a while, Cassandra sat still in the suspended cage, trying to keep it from rocking. The Wisp sat in a chair at the other end of the room and watched her. Finally, she dared to speak.

"So... you're magical?"

"I am a Fae," the Wisp answered simply. "Your kind know us as faeries."

"Oh." He didn't look like a fairy. "I thought that fairies were tiny creatures with butterfly wings who sit on cowslips and such."

"You're thinking of pixies. We get that all the time." He folded his arms and grunted. "Edmund Spenser has a lot to answer for!"

"I... I never knew things like that were real."

"Well, they're not. They're quaint Victorian fictions. Arthur Conan Doyle has a lot to answer for too."

Cassandra decided she'd better change the subject before he started tearing into William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Edward Bulwer Lytton as well. "So... you and that other girl are Mrs. Morrigan's slaves?"

"We are not slaves!" The Wisp composed himself. "The Witch compels us to serve her but we are not slaves! The fae are immortal and cannot be enslaved by lesser beings!" He rose from his seat and advanced towards the cage. "The Witch is a mortal. Every breath she takes brings her closer to death. When she is dust, then my sister and I shall be free!"

"Ah." Obviously she picked the wrong subject. Cassandra shifted her position which set the cage swinging again. "Um. would you mind letting me out so I could stretch my legs? It's kind of uncomfortable in here."

"Is the cold iron of the bars searing your mortal flesh?" Mist sneered.

"Um, not exactly..."

"Then you have nothing to complain about!" The Wisp returned to his seat sulkily.

A sudden understanding struck Cassandra. Wisp had once been imprisoned in this very cage. She dimly recalled that fairies had a problem with iron. She could envision the poor creature, trapped and terrified in the agonizing confines of the iron cage as the witch taunted him.

"I'm sorry," Cassandra said meekly. "It must have been horrible for you."

The Wisp only grunted in reply.

"I don't suppose you'd care to bring me a drink of water? Please?" She looked at him imploringly.

The Wisp eyed her suspiciously, but rose and ambled to the kitchen. A few moments later he returned with the glass.

"Um, could you come a little closer?" Cassandra pleaded. She had a crazy idea.

Wisp made a face and inched a little closer to the iron bars of the cage, holding out the glass of water. Cassandra held her breath. She would only get one chance to try this.

She lunged and made a grab -- not for the cup of water, but for the amulet around Wisp's neck. The Wisp gave a startled shout and tried to jerk backwards, but Cassandra had a firm grasp on the amulet.

"Let go! Let go! It hurts!" the Wisp shouted.

"Stop struggling! I'm trying to help you! Duck your head!"

Wisp did so, and Cassandra yanked the amulet off his neck. The Wisp fell to the floor gasping and panting. Cassandra tumbled backwards, sending the cage swinging wildly.

The Wisp gradually caught his breath. Then he grasped his chest and patted himself. He dissolved and reformed in a standing position. "You freed me," he said.

"Yeah."

"You didn't have to do that."

"It... it seemed like the right thing to do."

Wisp stared at her for a while. Then he turned around and left the room. He returned wearing an oven mitt. He used the mitt to take a large iron key from a nail on the wall and tossed the key to Cassandra. "I owe you nothing," he said. Then he dissipated again into a mist and fled from the cottage.

Cassandra knelt on the bottom of the cage staring at the key she clutched in her hands. Too late, she called out, "Thank you!"

NEXT:  The Banshee Sings

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 42: Reconnaisance Report

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.

Plucky girl reporter Cassandra True has been imprisoned by Mrs. Morrigan, the sweet old lady she was supposed to be interviewing. Morrigan, it turns out, is a sorceress with an obsessive interest in Cassandra's friend Strephon. Morrigan has already enslaved a pair of faerie named Banshee and Wisp to her will and now intends to use Cassandra to lure Strephon into a trap.

Cassandra shivered as she watched the hideous old crone polish the silver amulet. The woman was mad, of course, but what could Cassandra do?

She saw a shimmering in the air which solidified into the pale, light-haired young man she'd seen earlier. "What is it, Wisp?" Morrigan asked.

"Strephon is approaching, Mistress," the Wisp replied. "He has just left his taxicab and is entering the forest."

"Good! Good!" Morrigan chuckled.

"He is not alone," Wisp added. Morrigan looked up at him sharply. He paused uncertainly, then continued. "There is another fae with him. And a mortal."

"Who are they?"

The Wisp dissipated and re-coalesced into the image of Devon, Strephon's cousin. Cassandra gasped with recognition. "Ah, so you know him," Morrigan said. "What of the other?" The Wisp again dissolved and assumed the form of Tobias.

Morrigan hobbled over to the cage and peered at Cassandra through the bars. "Who are those people. Tell me!"

Something about the old woman's gaze seized Cassandra like the grip of a vise. She cried out involuntarily. "Devon! The first one's name is Devon! He's Strephon's cousin. And the other is Tobias Simms. He's a taxi driver."

The witch released Cassandra from that dreadful stare and she collapsed to the bottom of the cage. Morrigan turned back to the Wisp. "Simms... must be related to that Jamaican witch. No matter. I'll deal with her in good time. The mortal is inconsequential."

"But Mistress, the Moor bears iron."

"I said no matter! I will take Banshee with me to deal with Strephon's little friends." The witch narrowed her gaze. "You remain here and see that the girl does not escape."

NEXT:  ...Nor Iron Bars a Cage

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 41: Witch at Work

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.

Plucky girl reporter Cassandra True has gone to the home of Belladonna Morrigan, a member of a community arts group, for an interview. But the sweet old lady who sings in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas has a nasty side and Cassandra finds herself captured by Morrigan's sorcerous servants...

Morrigan sang to herself as she worked, carefully removing the silver casting from its mold: "Things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream..." The charm had come out perfectly: A hawthorn leaf, impaled by a thorn, cast in silver. It was exactly like the amulet around her own neck, except that hers was cast in gold and set within an iron ring, of course.

She noticed the girl beginning to stir. That was good. Having her awake when Strephon arrived would provide him with that much more incentive. "Hello, ducks," Morrigan clucked as she threaded the charm upon a fine silver chain. "I hope you had a pleasant nap."

Cassandra moaned and tried to move. She was lying on something hard and cold which rocked as she shifted position. She saw bars before her. She was in a cage!

Morrigan smiled as the girl threw herself against the bars and the cage, suspended from a hook on the ceiling, swung back and forth. "Don't thrash about so, ducks. You'll make yourself giddy, you will."

"What do you want? Why have you done this to me?"

The old crone hobbled over to the cage and prodded the bars with her finger. "You have been touched by the Fae."

"I-I don't know what you're talking about."

"Don't you?" Morrigan rocked back and forth on her heels and let her attention wander to the ceiling. "A great many years ago, when I was young and charming... I was once, you know; as fair and as charming as you are now... I too loved a fae; a handome faerie named Strephon."

"Strephon?"

Morrigan's gaze darted sharply back to Cassandra. "But he spurned me. He rejected my love. He crushed me. Do you know what that means?"

"If you mean have I ever been dumped before, yes, I suppose I have."

Morrigan grew angry. "No! I am talking of no mortal rejection. He was one of the Fae, and I loved him! But he spurned my love! Ever since, I have sought a way to win him back. And now I shall!"

Cassandra inched back to the far end of the cage.

"I have learned much about the Fae," the crone confided. "I have even managed to capture a few. You have seen my servants, Wisp and Banshee." She held the amulet she had made before her. "My sweet Strephon will come to rescue you. And when he does, I shall make him mine, just as those others are."

"There must be some mistake," Cassandra said timorously. "Your Strephon can't be the same person as my Strephon..."

"He's not yours!" Morrigan snapped. "He will never be yours!" She clutched the amulet tightly in her fist. Then she slowly regained her composure. "True, many long years have passed and I have grown old and grey while he still remains as youthful as ever. He is a Fae, did you not hear me? But tonight... tonight he shall become mine!"

The crone turned back to her table and resumed working on the amulet. As she did so, Cassandra heard her hum a delirious little tune.

"If that is so sing derry-down-derry
It's evident, very,
Our tastes are one;
Away we'll go and merrily marry
Nor tardily tarry
'Til day is done
!"

NEXT:  Reconnaissance Report

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 40: Bad Tidings

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 his aunt, the Queen of the Faerie, to investigate fae activity in the city. In the process, he has become involved with a mortal reporter named Cassandra True. Strephon and Cassandra quarreled when she accepted a job working for the sinister Simon Knox, publisher of the Morning Star, and now he is worried about her.

Strephon sat in his study, rereading the Morning Star. He read the newspaper every morning as part of his inflexible daily ritual but rarely returned to it. Tonight, he decided to make an exception. He poured meticulously over every paragraph; he scanned headlines looking for patterns. If Simon Knox truly was up to something sinister, it would probably involve his paper in some way. And Cassandra. He drove the thought from his head. No. It was conceivable that the newspaper might contain some clue as to Knox and Melchior had planned.

At least, so Strephon reasoned. After his third pass through the paper he could find no clues whatsoever, unless it was the absence of any coverage of supernatural occurrances.

Mrs. Hudson, his cat jumped onto the table and gave an aggrieved "Miao!"

Strephon scratched behind her ears soothingly. "All right, Devon, you can show yourself," he said loudly.

A gaunt, pale figure with dull, leaden eyes materialized before him.

"Ah. You aren't Devon," Strephon said.

"I bear a message from Morrigan," the apparition intoned.

"Morrigan? Belladonna Morrigan?" Strephon felt a twinge of dread. He hadn't heard that name in ages.

"If you have any regard for Cassandra True's well-being..."

"Cassandra? What about her?"

The apparition paused. Apparently he wasn't good at answering questions. "...You will come to Fellwood in half an hour. Come alone, or your lover will die."

"Now see here, Cassandra is not my... Wait! Don't go!"

It was too late. Having delivered his message, the apparition darted out of the room.

Strephon crumpled the newspaper in his hand. "Curse you, Morrigan! What are you doing?" He wheeled himself over to the telephone. Before he could pick it up, Devon appeared before him.
"Who was that I saw leaving this place? He looked like a minor fae. Is he a minion of Melchior's"?

"Go away, Devon. I haven't the time for it." He dialed the telephone.

"Something's the matter. Who was that?"

Strephon wheeled sharply to face him. "That was a messenger from a witch named Morrigan. She's an old acquaintance of mine who bears a certain grudge against me. Apparently she has captured Miss True and demands I come see her. Damnation, why doesn't she answer?"

"Calling Miss True? Maybe then this witch does have her." Strephon did not answer, but slammed down the reciever. Devon continued. "This could be a good thing, you know. You wanted her out of your life, didn't you?"

"I wanted her out of danger!"

"Well, it seems she's quite capable of getting into trouble even without your help, doesn't she."

Strephon glared at him. "Are you going to get out of my way, or are you just going to continue to make sardonic observations?"

"I'm going to help you, that's what I'm going to do."

"I do not need your help."

Devon laughed. "You certainly do! Besides, what would the Queen say if I let you get killed? Or your mother for that matter?"

"Bother my Mother, bother the Queen, bother Morrigan and all meddlesome females!" Just then the doorbell rang. Devon answered it and saw Tobias Simms standing at the door. "Gran told me Mister Strephon would be needing a ride about now. Is everything all right?"

"Ah," Devon said turning to Strephon. "A message from yet another of your female admirers."

Next Chapter:  Witch at Work

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 39: Hospitality

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, plucky girl reporter, has just started working for the Redemption Morning Star. Her first assignment is to cover the local arts society's Gilbert & Sullivan festival and so she is going to interview one of the society's members, Mrs. Belladonna Morrigan, who lives deep in a forested preserve inside the city.

Cassandra knew from the map that Fellwood only occupied a few city blocks, but somehow the forest seemed to stretch for miles and miles. Finally, she caught a glimpse of a lit window. She hurried along the path and came to a small cottage nestled between the trees. She rang the bell-pull by the door and Mrs. Morrigan answered it. "Welcome, child," the old woman cooed. "I've been expecting you. Come right in."

The inside of the cottage was a museum of antiques and oddities: an antediluvian grandfather clock, a hand sickle hanging on the wall, a stuffed baby crocodile on the shelf, a bust of a human head divided into phrenological zones, and other stranger items. "Do have a seat," Mrs. Morrigan said, "While I bring you some tea." Cassandra picked her way across the cluttered parlor to the musty horsehair couch.

"Thank you again for allowing me to visit," she said. "I hope I'm not inconveniencing you." Only a few dim lights and the flames of an old fireplace illuminated the room. After leaving the gloomy forest, the fireplace should have seemed warm and cheery; but somehow it's flickering light played weird and disturbing shadows among the clutter and curios packed on the parlor's shelves.

Cassandra realized with a start that there were two other people in the room; a young man and a woman wearing school uniforms stood near the far wall so silent and still that Cassandra barely noticed them. They might as well have been waxworks. Their eyes had a dull and leaden cast to their stare. They each wore a silver medallion of a leaf impaled by a thorn.

Mrs. Morrigan returned with a tea service. "I see you've met my niece and nephew. They're staying with me. This is... Winston, and... Sheila." The two raised their heads at the mention of their names. They weren't waxworks then after all.

Cassandra accepted a cup from Morrigan. "Thank you." She brought the cup to her lips, its aroma filling her nostrils."

She took a sip.

Something was wrong. The tea had a peculiar taste. She looked up at Mrs. Morrigan, who smiled a tight, expectant smile and fixed her gaze upon her. Without knowing why, a dreadful certainty seized Cassandra. The tea is drugged.

Cassandra tried to unobtrusively spit the tea in her mouth back into the cup while pretending to drink more. She hoped the old woman was fooled. "My, what an interesting flavor. I don't think I've tasted anything like it before," she said.

"A herbal blend of my own," Morrigan said. "I have a garden behind my cottage."

Cassandra set down the tea cup. The old crone leaned forward, with hungry anticipation gleaming in her eyes. Or was it the firelight? The silent pair also seemed a pace closer. Cassandra felt as if a trap were closing around her. But which was more dangerous, the weird old lady in the cottage, or the dark and deadly woods?

Cassandra made up her mind. She stood up. "Oh dear, I just realized! I have an important appointment. I really must be going."

"But you just arrived," the crone hissed.

"Yes. I'm awfully sorry. I'll come again some other time." Cassandra bolted for the door.

"Wisp!" Morrigan shouted, and the lad she had referred to as "Winston" dissolved like a mist and rematerialized in the doorway blocking Cassandra's escape.

Cassandra halted with a gasp and looked wildly around for another means of escape.

Morrigan turned to the girl. "Banshee!" The young woman's uniform transformed into a diaphanous gown and her eyes glowed with a fey green light as she advanced towards Cassandra. "Sing to her," Morrigan said. "A quiet song."

Cassandra scrambled over the coffee table and tried to open the window. Behind her, the Banshee opened her lips and emitted a weird, high pitched keening.

Cassandra flung her hands over her ears.  The room seemed to spin and she felt a spasm of nausea.  She crumpled to the floor and the room turned to darkness.

Next:  Bad Tidings

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 38: Into the Woods

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, plucky girl reporter, has just started working for the Redemption Morning Star. Her first assignment is to cover the local arts society's Gilbert & Sullivan festival and so she is going to interview one of the society's members, Mrs. Belladonna Morrigan.

The bus dropped Cassandra on the edge of Fellwood Forest, one of several wooded areas within Redemption's city limits. In any other municipality, it would be named a park, but tradition called these sections forests; not because of their size, but because of their sheer density. They had been set aside as preserves centuries ago and somehow had resisted all attempts by industrialist and real estate developer alike to cut them down. Cassandra never knew that anybody actually lived inside Fellwood, but this was the address Mrs. Morrigan gave her.

Cassandra found the mailbox easily enough and the path next to it leading into the heart of the forest. The sun was already dipping below the level of the trees and Cassandra began to fret. When she agreed to visit Mrs. Morrigan that evening, she didn't realize it would mean walking through the woods at night. She should call and reschedule the interview. No, she couldn't; she didn't know Mrs. Morrigan's phone number. She didn't know if the old woman even had a phone number. Besides, she was here and there wouldn't be another bus along for another twenty minutes.

An owl hooted nearby and Cassandra nearly jumped out of her raincoat. She thought of the wolf attack the week before. If wolves roamed the city streets, who knew what could be prowling in the deep dark woods.

She wished Strephon were here.

No, of course not. She was just nervous that's all. As soon as she reached Mrs. Morrigan's house everything would be copacetic. If only the woods weren't so dense, she could probably see the lights of the house by now. She tried to concentrate on reaching the house and not on the eerie feeling that she was being watched.

She looked over her shoulder. For an instant, she thought she saw a pale, wraith-like figure, by the trunk of a gnarled old oak. She shivered and continued on. Ever since encountering that ghost at the Cyba-Netsu Club she was seeing apparitions everywhere.
* * * * *
The Wisp glided unseen through the branches of the trees. He came up to the house at the center of the forest and slipped in through the window. Morrigan was there, chopping mandragora root in the kitchen.

The Wisp knelt on the linoleum behind her. She is on her way, he said.

"Good," Morrigan grunted. "See to it she reaches me safely. We wouldn't want anything to happen to her... yet."

I obey, the Wisp said, and darted from the cottage

NEXT:  Hospitality

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 37: With Regards to the Culture Claque

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.

Plucky girl reporter Cassandra True has landed a job at the Morning Star, Redemption's largest newspaper, and has been assigned to do a story on a local community arts group. Having encountered werewolves, ghosts and vampires, can she stand up to the horror of... Gilbert & Sullivan?

Back in the 1930s, the Alhambra Theater had been the premier movie house in the City of Redemption; a glittering movie palace to rival the most glamourous theaters of London or New York. Time and economics had worked their ruinous magic on the building and for decades the theater had been neglected and forgotten. Then, about a decade ago, the Redemption Culture Claque seized upon the theater as a piece of local history. They mounted a campaign to have it declared a National Monument and organized a fund-raising drive to restore it to its former glory. Now, instead of being a showplace for first-run movies, the Alhambra was a venue for art films, visiting theatrical troupes and, of course, the Annual Gilbert & Sullivan Extravaganza. Looking at the magnificent architecture, the imposing marble columns and vaulted ceiling, the lavish murals and intricate mosaics of the restored theater, Cassandra had to admit that the ladies of the Culture Claque truly had benefited the community in this instance. It reminded her of Strephon, for some reason; old-fashioned, but... nice.

She shook her head. What was she thinking of him for?

A janitor entering the lobby with a vacuum cleaner noticed her. "May I help you?" he asked.

"Oh. Yes. I'm looking for Mrs. L.G. Trotter. I was told I could find her here."

The janitor pointed to the large doors at the end of the lobby. "She should by the stage or thereabouts."

Cassandra thanked the janitor and headed into the theater. She saw Mrs. Trotter standing on the stage, directing a couple of workmen who were moving a piano. Another woman; perhaps a bit older than Mrs. Trotter, but with fewer chins; sat in orchestra pit, looking over a score.

"Hello, Mrs. Trotter?" Cassandra called out. "My name is Cassandra True; I'm a reporter for The Daily -- uh, The Morning Star. We met the other night at a party of Melchior Aesermann's."

Mrs. Trotter brightened and extended her hand. "Why of course! You were the young lady with that charming Mister MacKenzie! How pleasant to meet you again."

"Yes, I'm doing a story for the Star about the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival."

"Extravaganza," Mrs. Trotter corrected, "it's an Extravaganza! We're going to have a lecture by Sir Humphrey Smudge from Cambridge on the Victorian Theatre, a concert of some of Sir Arthur's serious music, a performance by our own local group of The Sorcerer and, of course, the ever popular Sing-It-Yourself Pinafore!"

"My! That does sound exciting," Cassandra said, wondering what a 'Sing-It-Yourself Pinafore' was.

"You don't know if Mister MacKenzie might have changed his mind about auditioning, do you? We could use someone to play John Wellington Wells, and I think he'd be splendid!"

Cassandra fidgeted. She really didn't want to talk about Strephon. "I really don't think he's interested. He can't dance, you know."

"Oh he wouldn't have to dance. And I'm sure just by talking to him that he has a simply splendid singing voice."

"I'm afraid I couldn't say. Please, tell me more about the Extravaganza."

Mrs. Trotter was more than happy to oblige, and Cassandra had difficulty keeping up with her stream of chatter. She also noticed that the other woman kept staring at her. At one point, Mrs. Trotter said, "...but if you want to know about the history of our event, you should talk to Mrs. Morrigan here. She's been with the Claque for years!"

The other woman climbed the steps up to the stage on wobbly legs, never taking her eyes off Cassandra for an instant. "Good day, Miss True," she said.

"This is Belladonna Morrigan. She'll be playing Lady Sangazure in our production of The Sorcerer. She specializes in our 'Katisha' roles, don't you know. Belladonna, Dear, tell Miss True a little bit about how this group was founded."

"I can do better than that," the old woman said. "I have a number of souvenirs from some of our early productions. Perhaps you would be interested in seeing them?"

"Yes, certainly," Cassandra said.

"Good. Then I insist that you come and visit me. I'd be delighted to have you."

"Well," Cassandra hesitated. "If it's not too much trouble."

The old woman smiled, adding even more wrinkles to her leathery face. "No trouble at all."

NEXT:  Into the Woods