Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 27: Interview With a Vampiress

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, and his acquaintance Cassandra True, a reporter for the Daily Oracle, are enjoying an evening at the Cyba-Netsu, a cyber-club owned by Aoi Kurayami. Cassandra has just discovered that some of the people at the club are vampires.  Meanwhile, Strephon recieves a message from Miss Kurayami.

Strephon sat frowning at Kurayami's avatar on his computer screen for a long time before he decided to accept her message.  He could not shake the feeling that the image of her with the enigmatic sphinx-like smile and the impenetrable dark glasses could see him and read his own thoughts.  Perhaps it could.  He gingerly clicked on the "Accept" button.

Kurayami:  Care for a drink Mr. MacKenzie? Your mortal friend is welcome too of course
 He hesitated, then carefully typed a polite reply.

A few moments later, he saw the crowd on the dance floor part like a mist and the Lady Kurayami striding smoothly to his table.  Instinctively, Strephon almost tried to rise at her arrival.  Unable to do that, he nodded his head in greeting.  "Good evening, Lady Kurayami.  You honor me."

"As do you, Mister Strephon."  She gestured and a passing waiter placed a drink in her hand, just as if he had been on his way to do that very thing.  Perhaps he had.  She sat down next to him.  "You don't seem to be enjoying your drink.  Would you prefer perhaps a rum and Coca-cola?"

"No... that seems to be Miss True's drink of choice."  How did she know that?  She must have been observing him at the party closer than he thought.  "Some tea would be fine, if you please."

Kurayami gestured again and Strephon saw another waiter flit off to the bar.  "We have a mutual association with Mister Aesermann, do we not?"

"We are acquainted," Strephon clarified.  "I have some small connections in the Faerie Court which Lord Melchior feels may be beneficial, but we have not yet formally agreed to a business arrangement.  And yourself?"

Kurayami nodded her head slightly.  Strephon wished he could see her eyes behind those sunglasses.  Were she a mortal, he might try to read her emotions, but as it was he felt no desire to match his will against a vampire, particularly one as powerful as she.  "Melchior possesses a technology which intrigues me," she said.  "I would like to use it; he would like me to distribute it.  A mutually beneficial arrangement, do you not think?"

Strephon tried to keep his face as cool and unimpassioned as hers.  "You say that as if inviting contradiction."

"I like to know what I'm buying.  Mister Aesermann's system is a beautiful black box.  You perform certain actions to the box, and it produces certain results; but as for what the box contains, that is a mystery.  Only Mister Aesermann knows how it works."

"Ah.  If you knew how it worked, you could duplicate it yourself and would not need Melchior."

Kurayami's smile became even more enigmatic.  "Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  But if I could duplicate the technology myself, it would give me some leverage should Mister Aesermann decide to alter our arrangement to my disadvantage."

Strephon shrugged.  "Alas, Lord Melchior has not confided in me.  And even if he did, I fear you and I would have to know each other much better for me to take that liberty."

"But of course.  There is another thing, however, that I would know.  As a rule, the fae do not deal with other races.  As a result, they are a closed book to me.  Another beautiful black box, if you will; but one whose function is not clear.  I am certain that Mister Aesermann has enemies in, as you say, the Unseen Realm.  If I enter into a partnership with him, these enemies could become my own,  I would like to know more about this man I'm dealing with.  Is that something you could honorably divulge?"

"Perhaps..." Strephon said cautiously.  "Unfortunately, I fear it will have to wait for another time."  He saw Cassandra returning to the table, her face pale.

Cassandra glanced uncertainly at Kurayami and leaned close to Strephon.  "Strephon!  We need to get out of here," she whispered.  "I think there are vampires here!"

"Vampires?"  Strephon said raising an eyebrow.  His eyes darted over to Kurayami.

Kurayami's smile spread from sphinx-like to Cheshire Cat.  "Indeed?  My establishment attracts creatures of the night and some of them relish the... unconventional."

Cassandra looked at her in confusion.  "Cassandra, I believe you will remember Miss Aoi Kurayami?  Miss Kurayami, this is my friend, Miss Cassandra True."

"Ah, the reporter.  It is a pleasure." 

Cassandra took her hand and mumbled a greeting, then turned back to Strephon.  "I just saw our waiter bite a girl!"

Kurayami's smile instantly folded into a scornful frown.  "I will have words with him.  My staff's personal life is their own affair, but I will not have them upsetting the customers."

Cassandra simply stared at her and sank into her seat.  At this point the green-haired waiter arrived with a steaming cup of tea and a rum and Coke.  Cassandra numbly took the drink from the waiter and downed it in a single gulp.

NEXT:  Right To Know ?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 26: Iced Cappuccinette

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 invited out to dinner by his friend Cassandra True, a reporter for the Daily Oracle. They have gone to the Club Cyba-Netsu, a trendy Internet cafe which Cassandra does not realize is owned by a powerful vampire.

The iced cappuccinette tasted as vile as Strephon thought it would, but he put on a brave face. He had other things to worry about. How many other people at this club were vampires? Would Miss Kurayami be watching him? What sort of arrangement did Melchior have with her?

And What was he going to do with Cassandra?

"I forgot to ask, where were you this afternoon?"

"Oh," Strephon said. "Just running a few errands. Visiting a friend at hospital. Bunbury. Poor old Bunbury." It was the first thing that came to the tip of his tongue and instantly he regretted it.

Cassandra did not seem to notice his crib. "Really? What's wrong with him?"

"Consumption. Terrible thing."

"Poor man." She made appropriately sympathetic sounds. "Curious, though, that you should visit the hospital. I had a dream last night about a hospital."

Strephon experienced a queasy sensation that had nothing to do with the iced cappuccinette. "Not an unpleasant dream, I hope."

Cassandra giggled. "No... not exactly... It was, well... you were in it."

"Ah. Say no more. I suppose I should be flattered." Had he invaded her dreams again last night? Or did she enter his? That they had shared the same dream somehow, Strephon did not doubt. She was trying very hard to avoid looking at his legs.

She was so flustered, in fact, that she tipped over her drink, spilling iced cappuccinette into her lap. She leaped to her feet. "Omigosh! I'm such a klutz!"

"No harm done. Are you all right?"

"Look at me! I'm a mess! Will you excuse me while I run to the ladies' room to clean up?"

Actually, Strephon did not want to leave her alone in this place at all, but he could hardly demand to accompany her into the ladies' room. He smiled weakly. "By all means. Go right ahead."

As he watched her leave the table, he heard a musical chime come from his computer terminal. He turned to it and saw a new window on the screen:
Message from Kurayami -- Accept?
* * * * *
Cassandra blotted the stain on her dress and examined it critically. Great. She'd have to deal with that when she got home. She sighed and dried off her hands.

She opened the door to the ladies' room and saw the green-haired waiter chatting with one of the customers, a goth girl in a black tube top with magenta hair, pierced eyebrows and a long silk scarf around her neck. Cassandra ducked back into the loo. She instinctively guessed that they were having a private moment and wouldn't want to be interrupted. Of course, that didn't stop her from peeking.

"Aren't you hungry, Ricky?" the girl asked putting her arms around the waiter's shoulders.

"Not now, Mori. The Boss doesn't like it during business hours."

"She'll never know. Just a little nip. I really want it... Please...?" The girl loosened her scarf and let it flutter to her feet.

The waiter hesitated; then with a sudden lunge grasped her torso and planted a kiss on the girls neck.

Cassandra gave an involuntary gasp. She guessed that they were going to make out, but the suddenness of his action surprised her. The waiter looked up sharply and saw her. Then he thrust the girl aside and brought a towel to his face. The girl flopped back against the wall, with a blissful expression on her face.

From the girl's neck, Cassandra could see twin trickles of blood.

NEXT:  Interview With a Vampiress

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 25: Tutorial

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

The full moon has risen, but others besides werewolves are out on the town. Strephon MacKenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae living among the humans of the city has made the acquaintence of a reporter named Cassandra True. Cassandra has landed an important scoop, thanks in part to Strephon's help, and to celebrate has invited Strephon out for dinner.

Less than twenty-four hours after resolving never to see Cassandra again, Strephon sat across the table from her, trying to assume a relaxed manner. She wanted to celebrate her good fortune and repay Strephon's kindness by taking him out. A generous impulse should not be scorned.

So Strephon found himself seated in a dim, neon-lit club in front of a sleek laptop computer as Cassandra tried to show him how to create an avatar. "It's really easy," she said. "This way when you talk to other people, you have an image next to the text to represent yourself."

"I generally use my face for that purpose."

The club was called "Cyba-Netsu" and it had a decided computer theme. Cassandra said it was a "cyber-cafe". Each table came equipped with computer terminals and the cover charge included a temporary guest account on the club's server.

"It works like this," Cassandra said. She typed a bit on her terminal and a window opened on Strephon's screen (directly underneath the pop-up ad for hair coloring) containing the image of a puppy and the cryptic letters:

CassE: How R U, Strephon?

"They do require journalists to spell these days, do they not?"

"It's Netspeak, Strephon! That's how everybody IM's."

"But as we're both facing each other at the same table, wouldn't it be more convenient simply to speak to each other?"

"Devon wasn't kidding. You aren't very up on the 21st Century are you."

Strephon scowled. "The staff do not seem to be very attentive."

"Here." Cassandra leaned over to his keyboard, bringing her body disconcertingly close to his. "Just click here where it says "Menu" and that pulls down the... well, it actually is a menu in this case. And double-click to make your order."

Strephon gingerly followed her instructions and at her suggestion ordered an iced cappuccinette.

Cassandra looked at him thoughtfully. "Is he really your cousin?"


"That Devon guy."

Strephon bristled. "Ah. Yes, his mother is one of my eccentric aunts. I have several." He paused. "Did he... say anything to you?

"Not much," Cassandra replied. "He's not at all like you."

"Thank you."

"Except when you're cranky."

"I do not get cranky." He tried to cover his annoyance by fiddling with the trackball on the computer keyboard. He looked up again and saw that she still regarded him with that odd speculative look he was trying to discourage.

"You're not jealous of him, are you?"


"That he can walk and you can't."

"Ah. Yes. Well, I suppose it would be natural. Really, I don't think of it all that much."

Fortunately, a waiter came to the table at that moment with their order; a thin man in a black turtleneck whose pale skin looked blue in the neon lights of the club and whose hair flouresced green. "Enjoy your evening," he said with a smile.

The smile gave Strephon a sudden chill. Undead. Then he remembered what Cassandra told him the night before; that Miss Aoi Kurayami owned a string of cyber-cafes.

She didn't know that Kurayami was a vampire.

NEXT:  Iced Cappuccinette

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 24: Goldilocks

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.

Worried about her friend Strephon, reporter Cassandra True has gone to his house to make sure he is all right. When she gets no reply at the door, she climbs in an upper window and finds herself in Strephon's room. Then, a stranger enters...

"Who are you?" Cassandra asked.

"My name is Devon," the man in black replied. "You might say I'm a cousin of Strephon's. No need to ask who you are, although you still haven't said what you're doing rummaging through my cousin's belongings."

"I was looking for Strephon!" Cassandra said hotly.

"Did you expect to find him in his underwear drawer?"

Cassandra blushed. "I've been trying to call him all afternoon and he hasn't answered. I was worried about him."

"As you've probably guessed by now, my cousin is out. I suggested that he buy an cellular phone, but that would be too 21st Century for him. He's not very big on any technology that post-dates the Crystal Palace Exhibition."

Cassandra frowned, but she couldn't puzzle out what he meant by that. "Hey, if you were here all along, why didn't you answer the door?"

"Why don't I make you some tea and you can wait for Strephon in the parlor? He'd never forgive me if I didn't show you hospitality."

Cassandra followed him downstairs to the parlor, her cheeks burning. She found it hard to believe that this neo-goth punk in the pseudo-Matrix shades could be at all related to Strephon, the dignified gentleman with the old-fashioned sideburns and Victorian manners.

Devon did seem to know his way around Strephon's house well enough to make a pot of tea, which argued for his bona fides. Cassandra stirred her cup and sipped it. "Strephon never mentioned you," she said at last. "Do you live here?"

"No, I'm just visiting. You could say I'm from out of town."

"Are you from America?" His accent didn't sound American, but being a foreigner might account for the aura of strangeness the man seemed to possess.

Devon chuckled. "Oh no, much farther than that. Farther than the Moon and nearer than a heartbeat."

"Is that some kind of a riddle?"

"You might say so. Perhaps Strephon will explain it to you someday."

Cassandra found Devon's smug attitude highly annoying, but since she had been technically trespassing, all she could do was drink her tea and wish Strephon would arrive.

Before her tea grew cold, her wish came true. The big oaken front door creaked open and Strephon pushed his chair into the foyer. "Devon!" he said with more than a touch of annoyance. "What are you doing here?"

"Keeping your lady friend company. You really need to set better wards around this place."

Strephon furrowed his brow. "Indeed, I do. You may go now, Devon. The front door, if you please."

This remark also puzzled Cassandra. Did he expect Devon to sprout wings and fly out the window? Devon only smirked and ambled to the door. "Nice talking to you, Miss True," he said, lowering his glasses.

Cassandra stifled a gasp. His eyes were a vivid purple and slit like a cat's! At least that's how they looked for the instant she saw them before he slipped out the door. Designer contact lenses. It had to be.

When Devon had gone, Strephon turned his attention to Cassandra. "What are you doing here?"

She was getting tired of this question. "I wanted to tell you the good news, but when you didn't answer the phone..."

"The phone? How did you get my number?"

"What? Oh, that. You forgot to give it to me. So I called the taxi company and got Tobias's number, and then he gave me his grandmother's number and she gave me yours. Oh, and she told me to give you a message. She said: Don't be a fool. Treat her right. " Cassandra wrinkled her nose curiously. "Who was she talking about?"

Strephon cleared his throat. "My cat, Mrs. Hudson. Grandmama Simms is a great cat lover. Anyway, you were saying?"

"When you didn't answer the phone, I got worried. So I came to make sure you were all right." She felt foolish. What must Strephon think of her?

Strephon said nothing for a long time. "Well, what was the good news?"

"Huh? Omigosh! I completely forgot! I got my byline! My editor liked the story I wrote! Both of them; the profile on Melchior Aesermann and the story about that poor programmer. And that's not all!" She leaned closer to him and said in a confidential tone. "Guess who else liked the story? Simon Knox! He called me up and wants to schedule an interview! Simon Knox wants to hire me! Isn't that incredible?"

Strephon ran his hand along his chin thoughtfully. "Yes, it certainly is."

NEXT:  Tutorial

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 23: Just Trying to Help

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, a reporter for the Daily Oracle, has become acquainted with Strephon MacKenzie. She thinks he is an eccentric, if charming, recluse. She little suspects that he is actually a semi-immortal half-fae.

After the sixteenth ring, Cassandra gave up. "Where are you, Strephon?" she muttered. She wanted to share the good news with him, but he wasn't answering the phone. Where could he be? He told her that he rarely left his house so he couldn't be running an errand, and this was the third time she'd called him so he couldn't be in the loo.

An unpleasant thought had been gnawing at her since about the fifth ring: what if there was something wrong? What if he had an accident or something and couldn't get to the phone? He could be lying in the cellar with a broken something or other with no one to help him.

Or maybe she just wrote down the wrong number.

She gathered her purse together and dashed out of the newsroom. She could think of one way to be sure.

The bus dropped Cassandra off about five blocks from Strephon's house. She felt very self-conscious walking through the run-down neighborhood of once-stately homes. She walked nervously up to the door of Strephon's house and rang the doorbell.

No answer.

Of course, if he were lying somewhere in a pool of his own blood, he wouldn't be able to answer.

She tried the door. Locked. Only one thing to do.

She looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was watching. Then she circled around to the side of the building to where an ancient ivy vine covered the wall. She slung her purse over her shoulder and began to climb. Thank goodness this was one of those old buildings with lots of gingerbread to grab hold of.

Cassandra pulled herself up to the second floor and found an open window. How like that man to leave a window unlocked in a neighborhood like this! She found herself in the room she had spent the night in the night of the wolf attack. "Strephon?" she called. "Are you all right?"

She heard no answer, so she began to look around. She found Strephon's room easily enough. The bed was neatly made and there were fresh flowers in the vase on the bedside table. Cassandra wondered who made the bed and did Strephon's housework. He made no mention of servants, but she could hardly see how he could do it himself.

She sat down on the bed and absently stroked the counterpane. It reminded her of the dream she had the night before. She rarely remembered her dreams, but the recent ones were so vivid and... strange. She wondered what it meant to have erotic dreams about a man she only just met. Her flatmate Cecilie would probably say it meant she needed to get laid; that's why Cassandra hadn't mentioned the dreams to her. Cecilie had given her enough grief about spending the night here as it was.

Cassandra let her attention wander to the photograph next to the vase on the bedside table. It was a faded old black and white photograph of a beautiful woman in a frilly Victorian dress. Could that be Strephon's great-grandmother or something?

Something else caught Cassandra's attention: a carved ivory box inlaid with silver, resting beside the photograph. Something about the box intrigued her and she reached across the bed to touch it.
"What are you doing here?"

The voice behind her startled her and Cassandra fell backwards on the bed as she turned to face it.

A tall, slim man wearing a black trenchcoat and dark glasses stood in the doorway and frowned at her. "I said, what are you doing here?"

Next Chapter: Goldilocks

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 22: A Half-Hour With Miss Cooper

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 living among humans, is investigating faerie activity in the city. After being attacked by werewolves bearing fae enchantments, his search has led him to another expiate fae, Ferner Cooper, who has adopted the identity of a werewolf herself and formerly ran with the Reaver wolf pack.

“I said I like to help if I can,” Strephon repeated calmly

Ferner looked at him squarely trying to see if his offer was real of not when she realised what she was doing she scowled.

“I why should I trust you” Ferner finally asked

“You can’t” still said in the damn calm manner, she was so tempted to just throw him out of her flat but then what would her neighbours say. Sighing she ran a hand though her damp hair knowing that she wouldn't be able to rid of him that easily.

“Fine you have half an hour to explain why you want my help then you will phone a taxi and leave if I decide to help I get back to you clear?”

She almost smiled at the look on his face when he realised she knew he hadn't phone a taxi.

“Well then if I only have half an hour I best get started, mustn’t I?” Strephon said calmly.

"As for why I need your help," he continued, "It's a bit complicated. As I mentioned, a lady acquaintance of mine and I were attacked two nights ago by Reavers. An unpleasant occurrence, but these things happen, I'm told, in the Big City. Now, I hope I can be forgiven for taking an attack on myself personally, but there were one or two other curious things about this particular attack I found noteworthy.

"To begin with, the attack took place in Little Kingston. I'm sure you're aware that neighborhood lies under the protection of Grandma Simms, as I believe it was back in your time as well. She keeps her neighborhood protected with spells to ward off werewolves, vampires and other creatures of the night. Terribly unfair, I know, to lump wolves and vampires together, but as both prey on mortals, I'm afraid she makes little distinction between the two."

"The fae prey on mortals too," Ferner replied. "What does she think about you?"

"Oh, we have an understanding. We trade biscuit recipes and so she grants me special dispensation. But the curious thing is, how did the Reavers come to be in Grandma Simms' territory in the first place?"

"What about the other curious thing?"

"That is more complicated. The attack took place within a few hours of my visit with Melchior Aesermann. Are you familiar with the man?"

"Should I?" She frowned. "The name sounds vaguely familiar. Melchior?"

"Yes. Lord Melchior. He too is a fae slumming among the mortals like we are. As you well know, if a Lord of the Fae spends much time away from the Court, it can only mean he is plotting something behind the Queen's back."

"I don't like politics," Ferner growled. "That's why I left."

"I heartily agree with you. Would that I could avoid courtly entanglements myself. Unfortunately, a Royal Command is a Royal Command, and she is my favorite aunt. Anyway. The Queen requested that I look in on Lord Melchior and see what he was up to. It seems he is manufacturing computer games utilizing fae magics in order to corrupt the souls of mortals. Not that morals need much corrupting, but he wished to corrupt them in such a way as to benefit him. You know how things are."

Ferner wrinkled her nose at him. "The clock is ticking. Get to the point."

"Well. Lord Melchior is also building alliances here in Redemption. He does business with at least one of the more powerful vampires of the city and I have reason to believe he has connections with the Reavers as well The Reavers have been utilizing fae magic. So you see how the timing of my attack is suggestive."

"You think that Melchior ordered the attack?"

"As I said, the timing is suggestive. So I am looking for information. I would appreciate any help you could give me."

Ferner thought for a long time, watching him warily. "Listen," she finally said. "I don't know this Melchior guy. I've never met him before, I've never heard of him before. I don't think he ordered your attack, though. Blanka has been giving his pack magic charms; collars and bracelets with silver runes. They allow his pack to pass through magical protections."

"Must be handy for a wolf," Strephon commented.

"If they don't mind bonds of slavery," she snarled. "And the burning touch of silver. I heard that a few of the pack ventured into Little Kingston and were driven off by an old man in a wheelchair who killed one of them. Sheila, her name was."

"A friend of yours?"

"No." Ferner's expression seemed to say but she could have been... "There was talk of hunting down the man in the wheelchair and teaching him a lesson, but apparently Blanka forbade it."

"Hm..." Strephon said stroking his chin. "Then perhaps I owe Blanka my thanks. Well, that certainly argues that my attack was not orchestrated."

"You sound disappointed."

"Oh, I'm not. Any information I can get at this point is helpful. But there is still one important piece of information you can still give me."

"What's that?"

"What do you want?"


Strephon placed his fingertips together and leaned forward. "I said I would help you if I could. A gentleman keeps his word. You answered my questions, so I am prepared to keep my side of the bargain. What is it you are seeking in Redemption and how may I help you find it?"

“What am I seeking in Redemption” Ferner repeated almost like in a trance then shook her head. “Why do you even care in wanting to help me? And don’t say it’s because of your word; because gentleman or not, you’re still Fae; and no Fae I know has every keep their word” she tried so hard to keep the hope out of her voice hope that maybe this person could help her find Luna.

Strephon understood what she meant. One of the few things that could bind a fae was a promise, but because of that weakness the fae had practiced for centuries finding loopholes and tricks so that a faeries word almost always meant something different from what one thought it meant. “Well, as I said at the beginning of our talk, I am something of an exile myself, and Fae or not I always keep my word.” Strephon said quietly.

Ferner sighed and walked over to her fridge, carefully thinking everything over before she made a decision. She pulled out a bottle of red wine. Would you like some?” she offered showing the bottle of wine to Strephon “or would you rather have something else?”

“If you don’t mind a cup of tea sounds lovely right about now”

“If I had minded I wouldn’t have asked but tea it is”

Ferner went and put the kettle on, taking out some of the tea to make a fresh pot. Then she poured a cup for Strephon and a glass of wine for herself.

“Very well. I will tell you. But I swear: you use this against me and, favourite of the queen or not, you will pay.” Ferner growled, and a feral gleam came into her eyes. She stapled her fingers together and took a deep breath to prepare herself.

“About ten years ago Luna, my life Partner of ten years, disappeared. It was this very flat that we stayed in. I went to work one night and when I got home she was gone. She took no cloths, no money, nothing. I thought that she was maybe out; after all it was the day after the full moon; but I was wrong. She never came back. Didn't phone or anything.

"So I did the only thing I knew. I went to the different packs in the city. They knew me, and we had ran together on many occasions, but they hadn’t seen Luna. I tried the Fae in the city even going as far as the council” Ferner snarled this part in hate a disgust. “But they were more concerned about helping themselves than anyone else. And so I left Redemption travelling across the world trying to find if anyone had heard of her. As you can see, Strephon, I had no luck.

"I returned here to find that not only has many of my friends been killed but that the whole structure of the city has changed.” Taking a sip of her wine she studied his face trying to see for any reaction to her tale. “So you see if doesn’t matter what I want for I will never be able to get it”

Standing up gracefully, she added, “I will bid you a good day sir. As I said early the phone is over there” pointing to the phone Ferner made her way to the baloney wiping away a single silver tear that was rolling its way down her cheek.

Strephon watched sadly as Ferner turned her back on him. Poor creature. She truly was like him in many ways; she belonged to neither one world nor the other, and straddled them uncomfortable and alone.

He called for his cab. Then he picked up the biro by the phone and in a neat hand wrote down the address of a convenience store on Fitch Street and it's phone number. He thought for a moment and added, Tell her Strephon sent you. Perhaps Grandma Simms could not help her; the trail of her friend was so cold; but he could think of no other aid he could offer; nor even that she might accept.

"I apologize for the intrusion. Thank you very much for your time." Strephon made his excuses and wheeled himself to the door to wait by the curb.

NEXT:  Just Trying to Help

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 21: A Foot in the Door

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 living among humans, has been commissioned by the Faerie Queen to investigate fae activity in the city. He has learned of one such person, a fae named Ferner who has ties to the werewolf community.

The peculiar dream with the featherbunnies still lingered in Strephon's mind the next day when the cab he was riding in pulled up in front of Ferner Cooper's flat. "Here you are," the driver said.

Strephon paid the fare and hefted himself out of the back seat with his canes. "Ah, my chair, if you please?" The cabbie grunted and reluctantly ambled to the trunk and unpacked the wheelchair. Usually Tobias drove the cab which picked Strephon up; Tobias knew him and could anticipate his needs. Strephon realized how much he had come to depend on the cheerful Jamaican. Unfortunately, Tobias had his own life and other fares to carry. Strephon made a guilty note to himself to tip him a little more next time he saw him.

The hospital had been less than helpful. Yes, Ferner Cooper did work there. No, she usually worked the evening shift and besides today was her day off. No, they're sorry but they don't give out that kind of personal information. Well, if she is a relative of yours... Strephon had to exert a considerable amount of his faerie charm to persuade the receptionist to divulge Ferner's address.

A young woman answered the door. "What is it?" she asked. She wore a tattoo -- not a glamour, but actual ink on flesh -- of a wolf. She must disguise it with a glamour when she went to work; hospitals tended to frown upon that kind of body art, it might upset the patients. Her aura glowed like moonlight and her suspicious glare had a feral gleam to it. She really had gone native, Strephon mused; she seemed as much wolf as she was fae. Could she be the source of the Reavers' magic?

"Good day, Miss Cooper. I apologize for intruding. My name is Strephon and I heard there was one of my kin come to town. Since I see too few faces from the Unseen Court in this realm, I thought I would call and pay my respects."

"I have nothing to do with the Court," Ferner said harshly.

"Ah. Well, as you can see I am something of an exile myself. May I come in?"


"I... see. Well then, may I use your telephone? My cab has already left and I shall have to call for another."
Ferner narrowed her gaze. Strephon smiled pleasantly in return.

"What does a fae need a phone for?"

"I am half mortal, as you can no doubt see. This infirmity of mine," he indicated his chair, "is no disguise. Are you really going to leave a poor crippled man alone to his own devices?" A pretty blatant play for sympathy, and she knew it; but she snorted and allowed him to come into her flat.

"So why are you really here?" Ferner asked.

"Why to get to know you better, of course."

"I said really."

Strephon paused, considering for a moment, while maintaining his smile. "As I said, to get to know you. To ascertain where you fit in the scheme of things. You run with the wolves, do you not?"

Ferner frowned, and pointed to the telephone. "The phone is there."

Strephon went over to the phone and made a pretense of calling a cab, but he kept his hand on the switch, closing the connection. He hung up the receiver. "The cab should be here shortly." He looked around the flat. He saw little sign of fae magic here, and no sign of any silver collars or bracelets such as the Reavers wore. "A pleasant place you have. Quite cozy." He placed his finger together and tapped them.

"What do you have to do with the wolf packs?" Ferner asked.

"Oh, not very much. Except that a few of them attacked me and a lady friend of my accquaintance the other night." He tilted his head shrewdly. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"Are you accusing me of attacking you?"

Strephon sighed. "Frankly, I'd be surprised if you did. Generally I'm not that lucky. However, it did occur to me that, having connections in the lycanthropic community, you may have heard something about the incident."

"I don't have that many connections. I used to run with the Reavers, but that was a long time ago; back when Kel Reeves led the pack." Strephon sensed bitterness in her tone. She obviously held no love for Blanka, the Reavers' current leader.

"What brought you back?" Strephon said quietly.

"Why should you care?"

Something about her answer struck a chord in Strephon. She needed something. He doubted that he could turn his back on her once the full moon rose, but his instincts told him that she was allied with neither Blanka nor Melchior. He made his decision.

"I'd like to help you if I can."

NEXT:  A Half-Hour With Miss Cooper

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 20: T.L.C.

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 Faerie Queen to investigate fae activity in the city. This investigation has been complicated by Cassandra True, a curious reporter to whom Strephon finds himself increasingly drawn...

A door opened and a woman in a nurse's uniform entered the room. She pushed a cart up to Strephon's bed with a cheery smile. "Good day, Mister MacKenzie! And how are we today?"

Strephon sat up in bed. He was in a hospital room. Had he been admitted to a hospital? "What's going on?"

"It's time for you sponge bath," the nurse replied in a soothing voice. She looked familiar. She pulled off his nightshirt, dipped a large bath sponge in a basin of water and began methodically wiping his chest. The water felt warm and pleasant.

"Cassandra," Strephon said, suddenly recognizing her. "You never told me you were a nurse."

"Shhh... Now for the legs."

Before he could stop her, Cassandra pulled back the covers, revealing Strephon's mortal half: ancient and withered legs with bony arthritic joints; wasted away after a century and a half of mortality. Without a word she gently applied the sponge to his gnarled limbs. At the touch of the delightfully warm water the pain of his stiff joints faded and his wrinkled skin grew young and smooth. He could feel his muscles regain their strength. Cassandra leaned a little closer as her sponge slid further up the inside of his leg. Despite himself, Strephon gave a happy sigh and lolled his head over to one side.

That's when he saw the bunnies.

The walls of his room had gone and they were surrounded by a wooded glade. Rabbits were cautiously stepping out of the bushes. They wore cammo trousers and carried automatic weapons but they were unmistakably rabbits.

"The rabbits are watching," he said. For some reason that bothered him more than the their paramilitary dress or their iridescent feathery wings.

"I'll take care of that." Cassandra climbed on top of the bed, on top of him, and reached up to the bed curtains hanging from the ceiling. She pulled the curtain around the bed, completely enclosing them.

"Ah. I think this has gone quite far enough."

Cassandra knelt over him, straddling his now-healthy legs. Her uniform had somehow come undone, revealing the turquoise swimsuit she had worn on the beach the previous night.

"Only your legs are crippled," she said quietly, "not your heart."

She bent down and brought her lips close to his. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to, you know."

Then she kissed him.

Strephon knew he needed to do something. He couldn't think what. As he wondered, his arms encircled Cassandra's waist and drew her body close to his. That was all that mattered.

* * * * *

Cassandra woke up.  She blinked, then rubbed her eyes.

"My, what a peculiar dream..."

NEXT:  A Foot In The Door

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 19: Cocoa

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 living amongst the humans of Redemption, has been commissioned by his aunt, the Queen of Faerie, to investigate a fae noble named Melchior who has been meddling in mortal affairs.

Strephon did not expect to find Devon sitting in his parlor when he came home, but he was not particularly surprised. Devon wore the same black trenchcoat and dark glasses he had on his previous visit. He lounged on Strephon's sofa with his feet on a table Strephon bought during Queen Victoria's Silver Jubilee.

"You certainly took long enough," Devon groused.

"Had I known you were waiting I should have taken longer. Would you kindly remove your feet from that table. It's rather expensive."

Devon shifted his feet. "Don't you have a television in this house?"

"There's a new technology that's just as good. You might have heard of it. They're called books. Why are you here?"

"I came for a status report. Have you learned anything useful, or have you been too busy frolicking with your mortal bagatelle?"

Strephon furiously wheeled his chair from the parlor to the kitchen. "primus, she is not my anything; secundus, I am not in the habit of frolicking; and tertius... it is none of your damned business!"

Devon followed him into the kitchen. "I struck a nerve, did I?"

Strephon ignored Devon and set about making himself some hot cocoa. As he set the pan of milk upon his stove and stirred, Devon continued, "So what have you learned?"

"Lord Melchior has devised a way to mass-produce Faerie enchantments and means to market them as computer games. He means to ensnare large numbers of mortals in these games and harness their dreams to feed his own power."

"That's impossible."

"I've seen it myself. Illusions that trick not the eye, but are fed directly into the subject's mind. Visions more realistic than the waking world that Melchior can manipulate as easily as a dream."

"And he has shown you all this?"

"Lord Melchior wishes to recruit me. He does not trust me, but he would like to use me; so he is keeping me near for the present." Strephon took the pan off the heat and poured the steaming milk into a cup. "He has already forged alliances with Lady Kurayami, one of the more powerful vampires in the city, at least one of the werewolf packs, and Mister Simon Knox, publisher of The Morning Star. I haven't decided what he is; possibly a sorcerer, but a powerful one."

"We are aware of his alliances," Devon said grimly. "Are you going to offer me some of that?"

Strephon stonily mixed the cocoa into his cup. "You didn't say the magic word."

"My, but you're in a foul mood. Did the trollop dump you?"

To his credit, Strephon did not slam his cup on the table; it was bone china and breaking it would have spilled hot cocoa all over the place; but he did set the cup down with a decided firmness. "Have you learned anything about the attack last night?"

Devon shrugged. "Nothing definite. It looks like just a random wolf attack. I did hear of someone who might know more. She's one of our folk who likes to run with the wolves." He curled his lip slightly to show what he thought of fae who ran with wolves. "During the daytime she works in the children's ward of the hospital. She calls herself Ferner."

"Ah, slumming with the mortals, is she? Well, she might know something useful."

"For someone who has shut himself away from mortal and fae alike for nearly a century you certainly are becoming quite the ladies' man."

Strephon narrowed his eyes. "Don't you have a toadstool you need to be dancing around?"

Next:  T.L.C.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dark Redemption chpater 18: Taxicab Digressions

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.

Melchior's party has finally ended; and a good thing too. Cassandra True, a reporter for the Daily Oracle, narrowly escaped death after becoming trapped in a virtual reality game. Only the fortuitous appearence of her date, Strephon, (who unknownst to her is a semi-immortal half-fae) saved her from a dire fate.

"Did you folks have a good time?" Tobias said cheerily as he stowed Strephon's chair in the trunk of his cab. Strephon mumbled something vague in return. His attempts at small talk thwarted, Tobias shrugged and proceeded to drive them to Cassandra's flat.

"You know," Cassandra said after a couple blocks, "This is twice in the past forty-eight hours you've saved my life."

"Three times, if you count the dream," Strephon replied absently.

"That's right!" A faraway look came into Cassandra's eyes. "I was at the paper and Potts was a wolf and he attacked me and you were there... and then we were walking on the beach and then we..." She turned red. "But that was a dream! How did you know about that?"

"Hm?" Strephon jolted out of his thoughts. "Didn't you tell me about it? Perhaps I was thinking of a dream I had."

"Oh." Cassandra paused. "You've been dreaming about me?"

This was not the direction Strephon wanted this conversation to go. He suddenly flashed an insincere smile and said, "Tonight, my dear, you are a dream." A calculated risk. A stammering denial would only intrigue her; she'd be more likely to dismiss shallow flattery.

"Right," she said sarcastically and gave a little giggle.

Strephon turned and looked out the window. He should never have taken her to the party. She could have died, all because he thought she would be useful. In that he was no better than Melchior or any of his lot -- or than the Queen for that matter. Not that he particularly cared for Cassandra. He couldn't. She was mortal and he a Fae, or half a fae at least. No, it wasn't fair to put her in any more danger. He would drop her off at her flat and let her return to her own life. He probably would never see her again.

Why did that thought seem to stick in his chest?

The cab pulled up in front of the block of flats where Cassandra lived. As she climbed out of the cab she paused. "Say, Strephon... would you like to come up to my place for a bit?"

Strephon gaped like a stunned codfish. "Uh..."

"Well, since you had me over the other night, it's only fair, right?"

He almost said yes. That would certainly bollocks up his plans. It took him a moment of stammering to engage his tongue and say, "I... would dearly love to, Cassandra, but don't you have a story to write?"

"Oh, that can wait."

Strephon gave her a reproving glance. "Cassandra... you do want to escape Page Three, don't you?"

Cassandra sighed. "You're right." Then she added hopefully, "Some other time then?"

No promises, Strephon told himself. "We'll see."

The cab drove away from her flat and Strephon settled back into the seat.

"You should have taken her up on it," Tobias said.

"Just take me home."

NEXT:  Cocoa  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 17: Questions in a Cubicle

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.

While attending a party thrown by Melchior Aesermann, reporter Cassandra True and one of Melchior's game designers were trapped inside a virtual reality game and attacked. Cassandra's date, Strephon MacKenzie, was able to rescue her. Now detective Isaak Masey, another of Melchior's guests, has taken charge of the incident.

Once he had summoned the paramedics, Detective Masey turned his attention to Strephon. "What exactly were you doing here?"

Strephon had pulled himself back into his wheelchair. "I noted that Miss True was missing and I became worried. I went looking for her and found her here."

"And how did you come to be on the floor?"

"It's rather difficult to administer first aid from a seated position."

Melchior came into the room. "What's going on?"

"Look after Miss True, would you? The paramedics are on their way." Masey resumed his questioning. "You weren't exactly candid with me yesterday."

Strephon waited until Cassandra was out of earshot. "Well, I had to be discreet, didn’t I? Miss True is not aware of the existence of werewolves. Besides, for all I know the ones who attacked me could be members of your pack."

"My pack?"

"You are a pack leader, are you not?"

Masey reddened. "Actually, Lucinda is the leader of the pack and she had nothing to do with your attack."

Strephon blinked. "That woman? The one you were with? My word." He had never heard of a female werewolf pack leader. Then again, ever since Margaret Thatcher, he supposed it was only a matter of time.

Masey's jaw also sagged. "My God, Lucinda. I forgot all about her! I didn't tell her where I was going!" He started to dash out the door, but met Melchior coming back.

"I think Ms True is feeling well enough to make a statement," Melchior said ushering her into the room. Masey stifled a curse, but pulled out his notebook again.

"Byron wanted to show me this game he designed," Cassandra said in a distant voice, as though she was remembering something vague and foggy. "We were fighting monsters and it was like we were actually in the game. Then one of the game monsters killed Byron and I couldn't get out."

Melchior removed the disc from the console. "Nowyr 2 Run, Nowyr 2 Hyd. Reckless fool. We decided not to develop any combat games for our virtual reality platform for just this reason; they become too intense. We have safety protocols to prevent this sort of things from happening. Ms True here could have been seriously hurt!"

"And Mister Sanders was," Masey added.

Just then the paramedics arrived. Strephon had to assure them repeatedly that he was not one of the injured people. They carefully placed Byron on a gurney and wheeled him out to the waiting amubulence.

As they left, Cassandra frowned as if trying to remember something.
* * * * *
From his office window, Melchior watched his guests leave the building. "That was a very imprudent thing you did," he said coolly. "It could have jeopardized our whole product launch. We do not need bad publicity."

Lilith slid up behind him. "Sanders was proving unstable. He was about to talk to that reporter."

"Keeping Sanders under control was your job. Fortunately, I believe I have minimized the damage. I was able to edit Ms True's memories to place the blame on our irresponsible young programmer. We should be able to cover the matter up." Without looking at Lilith, he narrowed his eyes. "You weren't feeling a bit jealous of Ms True, were you?"

"Jealous? I?" Lilith smiled "I thought you wanted me to cultivate Mister MacKenzie."

"I want Mister MacKenzie watched. I want him influenced. I want him finessed. He could be very dangerous to us, or he could be very useful, but he will require subtlety."

A petulant frown crossed Lilith's face. "You intend to use that girl as a lever against him, don't you!"

It was Melchior's turn to smile.

NEXT:  Taxicab Digressions.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 16: The Most Dangerous Game

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 met a nerdish game designer named Byron Sanders at a party thrown by Byron's employer Melchior Aesermann. Sanders begins to tell her terrifying secrets about Aesermann, but before he gets too far, they both find themselves trapped in a virtual reality game which is about to turn deadly.

Nazi Orcs! She was looking at Nazi Orcs! Seven foot tall, grey-skinned goblins with pointed ears, fangs and claws carrying battle axes and wearing SS uniforms.

"Shoot 'em! Shoot 'em!" Byron shouted and opened up his rifle at their attackers. The bullets tore huge bloody holes in the orcs. Cassandra fumbled with her own rifle and fired a spray of bullets into the floor and the kneecaps of the oncoming orcs. The orcs spasmed under the impact of the fire and then began to disintegrate as if burning up from the inside.

"Okay! Run! Run!" Byron grabbed Cassandra by the hand and pulled her along as he dashed out the door and down a long hallway.

"What's happening? My God, what were those things?"

"I told you, this is a shooter game. The object is to get through the castle without being killed."

"But this is just a game, right? We can't really get killed, can we?"

"Like I told you, this game isn't quite ready for commercial release."

The end of the corridor opened up into a huge chamber, at least thirty meters across. The floor dropped off and Cassandra could not see the bottom, but several stone platforms about two meters in diameter hovered in mid-air approximately level with the floor of the corridor. "Jump!" Byron said.

"Are you crazy?"

"Jump! We don't have much time!"

Shadows moved on the chamber's high ceilings and Cassandra saw giant spiders, a good hundred and fifty centimeters long, lowering themselves on dark cables.

"Jump now! I'll cover you!" Byron fired into the air, killing the spiders as they came within range.

Cassandra screamed and jumped for the first stone platform. The platform recoiled as she hit it and for a moment she thought it was going to tip her off..

"Keep going!" Byron yelled. She jumped for the next platform. As soon as she was safely across, he followed, one jump behind.

The spiders kept descending and Byron couldn't jump and shoot at the same time. With one jump separating Cassandra from the far end of the chamber, Cassandra heard him shout a warning and spider came down on top of her. She screamed again and fired at the spider. It thrashed and rolled off the platform and plunged into the abyss below.

Cassandra scrambled to safety and Byron quickly followed her. "Okay," she gasped. "How do we win the game?"

"We have to clear all twenty-seven levels."

"And this is?"

"The first."

"Oh, hell." Cassandra could feel herself growing hysterical. "Can't you pause it? Like you did the bunny game?"

"I'll try," Byron said. "Cover me." He frantically worked at his phantom keyboard, while Cassandra watched out for the next wave of attacks.

They weren't long in coming: Skeletons with nunchaku sprang from the darkness. Cassandra closed her eyes and fired until her rifle began clicking instead of belching lead. She opened her eyes. The skeletons were dead, but her rifle was out of ammunition.

"Look for a blue box; that's where you pick up extra ammo!"

She saw one, about ten meters away on top of an ornately carved stone pillar. She slung her rifle over her back and began climbing. As she placed her hand on top, she felt a pain as something bit her fingers. A skull with robotic spider legs had chomped onto her hand. Without thinking she shook the beastie off and it smashed on the floor below. "I've got the ammo!" she shouted.

"Good! Get down quick!" Cassandra scrambled down the column as he commanded. "I've punched in a cheater code," Byron explained. "They let you skip over the lower levels when you replay the game. This will take us to the very end."

He entered the code and the environment shifted again; now they stood before a large imposing gate flanked by burning braziers. "Oh, bugger."

"I wish you'd stop saying that."

"We still have to fight the big boss monster yet."

"Do we have enough ammunition?"

"No, we can't kill him without the thermonuclear device from Level Twenty-Five; he's too tough."

"There are nukes in this game? Don't answer that!" Cassandra's gave another shriek. "Behind you!"

A scaly lizard-man with a centaur-like body and carrying a crossbow advanced towards them and fired. Byron pushed Cassandra aside and the crossbow bolt struck him in the chest. Byron fired wildly at the lizard-taur and bolted through the gate with Cassandra close behind him.

Inside the gate an intense white beam like a spotlight struck Byron. He threw up his hand before his eyes and screamed. Before Cassandra's eyes, his bones began to glow through his skin and his body disintegrated. Within seconds Byron had been reduced to a pair of smoking boots.

Cassandra turned and faced the source of this new threat; a huge purple beast, three times the height of a man, with moist, glistening skin, four arms and tentacles hanging down from its face. It's eyes glowed ominously.

"Cassandra!" a voice cried out. She barely heard it. The rifle slipped from her fingers and she sank to her knees. She was toast.

A blaze of light like a rip appeared in the air next to her and to her amazement she saw Strephon stride through the rip. He held out his hand to her. "Come out! Quickly!"

Cassandra gaped at him, paralyzed with fright. The Boss Monster rose from its skull-decked throne and drew a gargantuan scimitar.

"Oh, bother!" Strephon muttered. He gestured and a blazing sword appeared in his own hands. Steel met steel in a crackle of lightning. Incredibly, Strephon met the beast's attack and responded with a flurry of blows that forced the Boss Monster to step back. The monster's eyes flared and beams of energy poured from them. Strephon blocked the beams with his sword. "Hurry! Go!" he shouted.

Cassandra shook her head and scrambled for the rent in reality. She passed through the tear and darkness engulfed her.
* * * * *
She woke up to the sensation of pressure on her chest. Three sharp thrusts on her breastbone. Then lips closed over hers, puffing three breaths of air into her lungs.

She opened her eyes and saw Strephon kneeling over her, his wheelchair tipped over. "Are you all right?" he asked.

She tried to get up. How did she get on the floor? "What happened to Byron?"

"Don't move. He's alive, but unconscious. Whatever you were experiencing in that game gave him quite a psychic shock.

Detective Masey came into the room. He must have followed Strephon. "Good God," he said, "what's happened?"

"Call an ambulance," Strephon said grimly. "This young man needs medical assistance."

The detective nodded and drew his cell phone from his pocket. "Mister MacKenzie, when we have a chance I think you and I need to have a serious discussion."

NEXT:  Questions in a Cubicle

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 15: Smooth Operetta

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.

Melchior Aesermann, a Fae Noble posing as the mortal owner of a computer game company, is holding a party for several of the more important members of the city's supernatural community. One of the guests is Strephon MacKenzie, a semi-immortal half-faerie who is investigating Melchior at the behest of his aunt, the Queen of the Fae.

"I had no idea you were the Strephon MacKenzie of MacKenzie House!" Mrs. L.G. Trotter thrilled. "I thought you were an older man. Such a lovely old building! I must speak with you sometime about putting it on our tour of Historic Homes of Redemption."

"I'm afraid it will want a fair amount of restoration before it's suitable for showing," Strephon said. "I suspect you are thinking of my great-grandfather, also named Strephon. He was the one who built the house. There's little remarkable about me."

"Mister MacKenzie is being modest." Lukas Bianka prowled up beside the banker's wife. "I'm sure he has all sorts of hidden talents." He flashed Strephon a smile with too many teeth.

"The same could be said, I'm sure, about yourself." Strephon suspected Bianka was a pack leader, possibly of the Reavers, the wolves who had attacked him. He knew little for certain, though. This party was like a carnival of masks, with each person pretending to be something they were not; himself included.

"Do you sing, Mister MacKenzie?" Mrs. Trotter asked abruptly.

"A bit. Not very well, I'm afraid."

"The Redemption's Culture Claque is gearing up for its annual Gilbert and Sullivan Extravaganza," she said. Strephon winced. He detested Gilbert and Sullivan. "A few of our tenors have dropped out and we're always on the lookout for new blood."

Another guest nearby laughed and said "New blood is always good." A vampire, Strephon noted. How typical.

"This year we're doing The Sorcerer," Mrs. Trotter continued.

Mr. Knox, the newspaper publisher joined the conversation. "How interesting. You know, I've always thought The Sorcerer was one of their darker works. It does not exactly have a traditional happy ending."

"True. In the end, as you know, John Wellington Wells sacrifices his life to the demon Ahrimanes in order to save the loving couple."

"I feel sorry for poor Ahrimanes," Knox said. "Instead of devouring a fresh young pair of lovers, he has to make do with a stringy old sorcerer."

Mrs. Trotter stared at him blankly for a moment, then decided he must be making a joke and laughed. Knox joined in with her, chortling merrily.

Stephon cast his gaze around the room, hoping to find an avenue of escape. He saw Melchior chatting with the bald, storkish gentleman. Where was Cassandra? He didn't see here in the room. He looked around some more.

Lilith entered the room wearing a different dinner gown and a rather satisfied expression on her face. A nasty premonition struck Strephon.

"Would you please excuse me," Strephon said, and nudged his wheelchair through the knot of operetta fans. He maneuvered his way around the guests and out into the hallway. He hoped he was mistaken, but he could not shake the dreadful suspicion that Cassandra was in some kind of danger. But how could he find her?

He knew of one way. He closed his eyes and let his being pass from the Mortal World into the Dreamworld, as he had done the night before. Their shared dream had left a psychic bond between the two, a link he hoped he could find. He cast about through the Dreamworld, mentally groping for the echo of her thoughts and feelings.

There! A bolt of terror as unmistakably her as a scent; it rocked Strephon back into the Mortal World and made Strephon's nerves sing in sympathy.

Strephon urged his chair to the lift. He had little time.

Next: The Most Dangerous Game

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 14: Exclusive Scoop

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

Reporter Cassandra True, has been invited accompany Strephon MacKenzie to a party being held by Melchior Aesermann, wealthy owner of a computer game company. She hopes that interviewing Aesermann will be the break she needs to get a promotion.

Cassandra could not believe her luck! Not only was she finally getting her interview with Melchior Aesermann, but she was rubbing elbows with some of the most powerful people in the city! Fortunately, she thought to bring a camera with her. She tried to be discreet about her shots -- no need to push her host's generosity. On the other hand, if she came back from this party with no pictures at all her editor really would flay her the way he promised that morning after he spiked her story about the wolf attack. If you're going to write about wolf attacks, I wanna see you sprouting fur! he said; At least gimme a statement from an old gypsy! What about the naked corpse? Where's the sizzle? Well, that was just fine by her. She wanted to make a name for herself with real serious journalism, not trashy spooks and UFO garbage.

"I'm sorry to cut this short, but I really must be seeing to my other guests," Aesermann said.

"Oh, no, no! That's fine! Thank you so very much for your time!" Cassandra gushed as he turned away to chat with another group of people. She sighed. Here she thought he'd be a jerk, but he turned out to be very polite and charming.

As she fumbled with her purse to return her pocket recorder, she noticed one of the guests staring at her; the skinny pizza-faced guy in glasses wearing the tuxedo a size too large. He shuffled his feet and looked over his shoulder apprehensively. The he mustered enough courage to approach her.

"Hello, You're a reporter?"

"Yes, my name is Cassandra True. I'm with The Daily Oracle" she said.

Once again the geek glanced furtively around the room. "I'm Byron Sanders. Senior Game Designer." Cassandra blinked. He didn't look old enough to be senior anything. On the other hand computer games was a young man's field. "I created the original Virtual Hot Tub," he added with undisguised pride. Yes, she could believe that.

"Really?" Cassandra said fishing the recorder back out of her purse. "That's very interesting." This could be useful background material for her Aesermann profile.

"I suppose Mister Aesermann told you about our new virtual reality platform?"

"A little bit. It sounds exciting."

"Oh it is!" Again the apprehensive pause. Had the guy never spoken to a girl before? Cassandra remembered Virtual Hot Tub. Maybe not. "We have a working prototype. Would you be interested in seeing it?"

Now it was Cassandra's turn to look over her shoulder. She suspected that Byron was seriously overstepping his authority. If Aeserman wanted to show this gizmo to the press he would have suggested it himself. Snooping around like this was a sure way to get herself booted out of the party. On the other hand, she already had her interview; what could she lose? "Sure!"

The two slipped out of the party without raising comment. Cassandra considered telling Strephon where she was going, except that he seemed to be trapped in a conversation with the banker's wife. Poor Strephon! Cassandra made a mental note to rescue him once she come back.

Byron led her to a nest of cubicles two floors down from where the party was. He cleared off a desk in the messiest cubicle and placed a console the size of a laptop computer on it.

"Where are the helmets?" Cassandra asked. She'd played virtual reality games in arcades before; they generally required cumbersome equipment.

"This is all we need." Bryon placed a headset on her head. "This is just the prototype mind you. Eventually we'll be able to directly jack into the player's brain."


Bryon donned a second headset and booted up the game. Before Cassandra could protest, she saw the cubicle around her dissolve to be replaced by a woodland scene in bright crayon colors. Byron's clothing had also been replaced -- her own too, Cassandra realized -- by a colorful t-shirt and shorts. A group of cute fluffy bunnies with pastel-coloered fur and shimmering white wings waddled out of the forest. The bunnies joined hands in a ring around the two and began to dance and sing.

"We are featherbunnies!
We like to dance and play!
And if you rub our fluffy tails
We'll grant a wish today!"

"Hang on, hang on," Byron said. He conjured a phantom console in front of him and fiddled with it. In the middle of the second verse, the bunnies froze and large luminous letters appeared in mid-air reading "PAUSE".

"Sorry about that," Byron said. "I wanted to make sure we weren't overheard and this was the only way."

"What's going on?" Cassandra asked.

"Listen. I've got to tell someone! The world's got to know before it's too late!"

"The world's got to know what?"

"It's Aesermann! He isn't human!"

"Oooo-kay." This was starting to weird Cassandra out. "Then what is he?"

Byron became frantic. "I don't know! I think he might be an alien! Him and his people!"

"Hang on. Let's start from the beginning." Cassandra felt she could take this a lot more seriously if not for the ring of bunny rabbits with frozen attitudes of cuteness smiling at her. On the other hand, it gave the whole thing a surreal quality. She had to believe it. Either that or someone was crazy. She dearly hoped it wasn't her.

Byron took a couple breaths and calmed down. "It started about a year ago when Aesermann bought out the company and renamed it Aeser Technologies. We were already a successful game company, but he made us bigger. Then he started bringing in his own people. He said they were programmers, but none of them know a line of code; I'd stake my life on it! But every one of them is a whiz! They seem to do it instinctively! Like they just wish the computer to do what it wants!

"They're the ones who developed this new platform. Now I know programming. And I know a fair amount about hardware. But I have no idea how this works. It seems to interface directly with the player's brain to create an illusion world.

"But that's not all," he continued.  "There's something about him and all his people.  It's like they have some kind of mental powers or something.  It sounds crazy, but they do!  They know what you're feeling and they can affect your emotions and she enters your dreams so you don't know what's real anymore!"

"She?"  Cassandra asked.

Byron turned bright red.  "Lilith, Aesermann's assistant.  She... well she..."

"I get the idea."  Cassandra remembered meeting the assistant and mentally filing her as "Maneater."  The poor boy was no match for her.  With a guilty start she wondered how Strephon was faring.

Suddenly, the bunnies and the forest disappeared.  A wall of static surrounded them.  "Uh, what just happened?  Did the power go out?"

"No, if it did we'd just leave the game.  Someone must have removed the game disc.  Bollocks!"  Byron conjured up the console again, but before he could to anything, the world changed again.

Now the two stood in a small stone chamber with a vaulted cieling.  Heavy wooden doors faced them from each wall.  Cassandra realized that she now held a semi-automatic rifle.

"Bugger!"  Byron said.  "Felching heck!"

"What is it?"  Cassandra looked wildly around, fear beginning to gnaw at her.

Byron slung his own rifle over his shoulder and tapped frantically at the phantom keyboard.  "It's a virtual reality version of one of our shooter games, Nowyr 2 Run, Nowyr 2 Hyd.  It's not ready for commercial release."

Somehow that innocuous-sounding euphemism chilled her.  "How do you turn off the game?"

Byron looked up at her, a cold sweat on his face.  "It's not letting me."

The door to Cassandra's right opened and the orcs came pouring out.

Next: Smooth Operetta

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 13: All Alone In a Crowded Room

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 half-fae recluse, has been invited to a party being held by Melchior Aesermann, a Fae noble posing as a mortal. When Melchior agrees to be interviewed by Strephon's date, reporter Cassandra True, he leaves leaves his personal assistant Lilith behind with Strephon to entertain him.

"I see you have acquired a toy of your own," Lilith said as Cassandra went off with Melchior.

"Miss True?" Strephon sipped his champagne and tried to keep his tone nonchalant. "A pleasant lass, if a bit impulsive. I met her in here in your lobby the other day, as you may recall. I wouldn't call her 'my toy', though."

Lilith gave a musical chuckle. "Don't be so modest, Strephon. I can see the signs. That girl has been touched by the Fae." She sat on the armrest of his wheelchair. "So, have you been naughty?"

Strephon's polite smile tightened slightly. Of course she expected him to deny it and become flustered. No, he'd play the game. "A gentleman never tells." He calmly took another sip of his glass. Not too much; he needed to keep his wits about him. Why didn't he think to order something non-alcoholic?

"Do you like impulsive girls?" Lilith dipped her fingertip into his champagne and gave it a lick. "I can be very impulsive." She slid over a little closer to him.

"Indeed." Strephon felt himself growing warm again. "Do I have to remind you that we are in a public place?"

"Not anymore."

Strephon suddenly realized that the party conversation had muted. He looked around and saw a grey veil of mist surrounding Lilith and himself. The rest of the guests seemed oblivious to them.

"It's a zone of privacy, clouding our presence from others." Lilith swung her legs across so that she now straddled his lap. "They won't notice a thing."

"Ah. Splendid. Then we may speak openly."

Lilith nibbled on his earlobe. "I like openness."

"Did Lord Melchior attempt to have me killed last night?"

Lilith ceased her nibbling and drew away. "What are you talking about?"

"A group of werewolves attacked Miss True and myself the other night, only scant hours after I had left this building."

Lilith sniffed. "Wolfen. What they have nothing to do with us."

"Melchior is making alliances within the were-community, is he not? I believe some of the guests tonight are in fact pack leaders."

Lilith squirmed a little. Strephon found that more than a bit distracting, but took some satisfaction from seeing her uncomfortable for a change. "That's just business. The wolfen are a law unto themselves. What makes you think the ones who attacked you had any connection with Melchior?"

"One of them wore a collar inscribed with fae runes. Now, unless someone is putting enchanted fae fetish gear on the open market, that suggests a deeper alliance. But you would know more about that than I."

Lilith bit her lip. "Melchior gave no such order. I would know if he did. If anyone is supplying fae artifacts to the wolfen, it is not this company."

Strephon frowned at her. For a moment she almost sounded sincere; then her voice slid back into its sensuous purr and she wriggled up his lap again. "Lord Melchior is very interested in you. And he's not the only one. I'm so glad you didn't get hurt..." She placed her arms around his neck and drew her lips towards his.

Strephon felt trapped. There was nothing he could do but move his own arm around Lilith...

...And dump his champagne down her back.

Lilith screamed and the grey mist vanished. Everyone in the room turned to stare at Lilith scrambling off Strephon's lap.

"How very clumsy of me," Strephon said; "I've spilled my drink all over you. Terribly sorry."

Lilith glared hatred at him. Now that was sincere.

NEXT: Exclusive Scoop

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 12: Networking

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 half-fae recluse, has been invited to a party being held by Melchior Aesermann, a Fae noble posing as a mortal, and has brought along reporter Cassandra True as his date. Several of the most powerful figures in Redemption's supernatural community have also been invited to this party, as well as a few other surprises.

"It's that detective," Cassandra whispered. "What's he doing here?"

"Undoubtedly he is wondering the same about us," Strephon replied under his breath. To his relief, however, the detective's companion headed straight for the buffet table and he followed her lead.

Strephon watched the little drama at the meat tray intently. Since the "Big Dogs" had taken an interest in his life, it only behooved him to take an interest in theirs. He wondered why Melchior was gauche enough to invite leaders of more than one pack to the same party. Then again, perhaps it was a deliberate political move to ensure that no single pack was snubbed. Or perhaps a reminder to whichever leader he was negotiating with that they were not the only pack in town. The detective faced down the President of the Decency League. Intriguing. The somewhat befuddled young man who had interrogated Strephon that morning was nowhere to be seen; the detective now possessed an intensity, a drive and a bite. The detective's companion observed the altercation with a combination of apprehension and satisfaction.

"Pardon me," one of the waiters interrupted him with a tray of champagne glasses. "Would you care for a drink?"

Strephon nodded and took one of the glasses. Cassandra reached for one, but then paused. "Um... could you bring me a rum and coke?"

"Certainly." The waiter glided away to bring the drink. Strephon directed a narrow glance at Cassandra, who returned it with a secret and slightly embarrassed smile.

Melchior was engaged in a conversation with the Aoi Kurayami while Lilith hovered at a discreet distance. They seemed to be discussing Aesermann's new game system and placing them in Miss Kurayami's cyber-cafes and possible strategies for international distribution. It all seemed quite conventional if one didn't know the gentleman was a Lord of the Fae and the woman a powerful vampire.

Strephon glanced over to the bald thin man with the thin, beakish nose. He was now speaking to a man in a grey suit with a peculiar aura. "Who is that?" Strephon asked.

Cassandra, sipping her rum and coke, looked over that way and shuddered. "I don't know. He gives me the creeps, though. He looks like a mortician." Strephon nodded; the man did have an aura of death about him. Now he recognized the man; it was Mr. Grey, a ghost of his acquaintance.

"Ah, Strephon; I'm glad you could make it." Melchior came over to him and offered his hand. "I hope you're enjoying yourself."

"Yes, I am," Strephon replied politely. "I don't think you've met Miss True." He gestured to Cassandra.

Melchior took her hand and gave her a charming smile which froze as Lilith whispered behind him, "She's a reporter. From the Oracle."

"It's so good to finally meet you," Cassandra said sweetly. "I was hoping I might ask for a few moments of your time."

Melchior curled his lip, but only for a moment. Then the mask returned. "Why certainly, my dear. Come with me. Lilith, will you keep Mister MacKenzie entertained while I'm gone?"

Lilith gave a predatory smile. "Why certainly."

Strephon cursed again. This was the last thing he wanted.

NEXT:  All Alone In a Crowded Room

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 11: What a Swell Party This Is

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 invited to a party being held by Melchior Aesermann, a fae noble posing as a human and owner of a technology firm. Strephon has asked reporter Cassandra True to be his date for the evening.

"You're sure I look all right?" Cassandra asked for the third time since she got into the cab. "You didn't say that this was going to be formal or anything."

Strephon sighed. He had dressed in formal dinner clothing because that was What One Wore to Dinner. He was too unfamiliar with 21st Century fashions to wear anything else. The dress she was wearing looked adequate, as far as he could tell, and she had applied the artifices that mortal women use to approximate faerie glamours well enough. "You look very beautiful," he lied. She was by no means plain, but compared to the women of the Unseen Realms, no mortal woman could rank higher than "nice". Having lived among mortals and indeed having loved one, Strephon knew that there were things more important than a staggeringly beautiful appearance; but he rightly judged that this was not a good time to explain this.

"I just don't want to look like a fool in front of Melchior Aeserman and his rich friends. This could be a big story for me!"

Strephon mumbled something vague in reply. He was still in a testy mood. Devon had appeared whilst he was dressing for dinner and requested a report on what he had learned. Strephon told him to soak his head. He also was having second thoughts about attending this party. Perhaps there was no connection between the werewolf attack last night and his visit with Melchior, but the appearance of a wolfen detective afterwards was too coincidental for Strephon's liking.

He regretted bringing Cassandra into this. Already she had nearly been killed and now he was bringing her into the intrigues of the Fae. She had no idea what kind of danger she faced. And for what? To serve as a shield from another fae's romantic overtures? Several times that day he considered calling her and cancelling their date, but he couldn't quite work up the nerve. He couldn't think of an adequate lie to protect her. And he did promise to give her the chance to interview Aesermann. Now he would have to try to learn more of Melchiors plans without revealing his own intentions and protect Cassandra all at the same time.

Tobais pulled up in front of Aesermann Technologies. "Here you are. Have fun, you two!" He unfolded the wheelchair and held it as Strephon hoisted himself out of the cab on his canes and slid into it. Strephon paid his fare and bade Tobias good night.

The night security guard glanced at the guest list as they entered the lobby and directed them to the lift. Strephon pressed the Up button. Before Cassandra could open her mouth, he said "You look fine. I'm sure you will be the most beautiful reporter there."

The affair, Strephon saw, was not a dinner so much as a cocktail party with a large buffet table. This was probably just as well, for there were many guests and a banquet would have been much less informal. Many of the guests were already here, and Strephon noted with some vexation how many of them seemed other than human.

"Look, that's Aoi Kurayami!" Cassandra said in hushed tones. She gestured towards a small, dark-haired woman wearing a leather coat and dark glasses with a distinct aura of the undead. She had the arm of a pretty young man in a white jacket. A gigolo, no doubt; and probably also a midnight snack. "She runs a big computer firm and owns a chain of cyber-cafes in town." No wonder Melchior invited her. Was she already an ally, or was Melchior trying to cultivate her?

"I think that's Malcolm Raven over by the buffet table. He's one of the most eligible bachelors in town. The woman with him is Anna Chelsea; she's a big marketing consultant." Strephon looked where Cassandra pointed. Perhaps bringing Cassandra wasn't such a mistake after all. She knew these people, by reputation at least. She did not know, however, that the handsome man piling slices of rare roast beef onto his plate and the woman accompanying him were werewolves. So was the man walking up to them.
"Planning on hogging the whole table?" the newcomer said with a deceptively light tone.

Raven flashed a toothy smile. "You're always free to scavenge my leavings, Blanka. It is your style after all."

"Omigosh," Cassandra whispered. "That's Lukas Bianka, head of the Redemption Decency League."

"Really," Strephon said. He wondered if Mister Bianka had ever played Virtual Hot Tub.

A large woman of a certain age and many chins towing a thin gentleman who would barely make a mouthful for either of the werewolves interposed herself between the two males. "Mister Bianka, it is soooo good to finally meet you. I'm Mrs. Trotter, of the Redemption Culture Claque. You might know my husband, Lemuel."

"L.G. Trotter," Cassandra explained, "he's president of the Fiduciary Trust Bank.

"Your organization has done such splendid work. We need more voices like yours speaking out against corruption and immorality in this city," Mrs. Trotter gushed.

"You are too kind," Bianka said with a brief bow.

Strephon turned his attention away from the buffet table. "Who is that?" he asked, indicating a thin, bald man with a prominent, beak-like nose.

"I don't know," Cassandra said.

Strephon narrowed his eyes. That man bore an aura of power and wisdom. He was neither wolf nor vampire; nor was he a fae. A human sorcerer? No, his aura was deeper than that. Strephon decided he would have to get to know that one.

He decided the same about another guest who seemed to have come stag to the party; a thin man in an ill-fitting tuxedo with glasses and a sadly blemished face. He was definitely a mortal. Magic of the fae tinged his aura, but Strephon guessed that he was merely one of Melchior's mortal employees.

Cassandra gasped. "Holy shit! Do you see him?" Strephon turned to this latest guest and almost gasped himself. "That's Simon Knox, publisher of the Morning Star!"

"Indeed," Strephon said. Knox was a broad-shouldered man with dark hair and a fine, pointed beard. A gorgeous blonde hung on his shoulder. Strephon frowned; he could not read the man's aura. He sensed that it was a powerful one, but he could divine nothing of its nature. Perhaps this one was a mortal sorcerer. That would be peculiar, since the Star regularly dismissed accounts of the supernatural. Then again, perhaps it was not peculiar at all.

The doors opened again and another pair of guests entered. One was another werewolf: a knockout blonde with long hair tied back in a braid and possessing a savage animal charisma. Strephon barely noticed her, focusing instead on her companion.

It was that damn detective!

What did this mean? Was the detective a minion of Melchior's? Did that mean that Melchior had sent the wolves to kill him?

Before Strephon had time to ponder these questions, Melchior himself entered the room, accompanied by his lovely and lethal administrative assistant. "Welcome, good friends," he said. "How good of you all to come!"

NEXT: Networking