Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 5: Temptation

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 investigating faerie activity in the city, has come to see Melchior, a fae lord posing as a businessman who runs a computer firm and has his own agenda.

Here was the difficult point; how could he insinuate himself into Melchior's confidence without committing himself? Although half a mortal, Strephon was Fae enough that he could be bound by oaths. But oaths bound both ways, and Melchior would be playing it cagey too.

Strephon smiled ruefully. "I suppose it serves me right for not getting out more. I've spent too long living in the past and now I see the future already on top of me. But---" he paused, as if the thought had just occurred to him. "Why are you telling me all this? As you observed, I hold the Queen's favor. I could be a spy."

Melchior spread his hands with a look of mock innocence. "Have I spoken any treason against Her Majesty? You may tell her whatever you will. In fact, an associate who has Her Majesty's ear, her confidence so to speak, would be extremely useful to me. You are a man of both worlds, Strephon; surely you see the value of this."

Strephon saw very clearly; he saw ambition and a lust for power. His first impulse was to laugh and tell Melchior to go to the devil, but he also saw danger. He had to know more. He bit his lower lip and knit his brow. "You make an impressive salesman," he said at length, "but as you said, I am also a man of the Mortal World. How much of this is pitch and how much have you actually achieved? I would be interesting in seeing this 'Virtual Reality' of yours."

Again Melchior flashed his predatory grin. "I hoped you'd ask that." He pressed a panel on his desk and Lilith re-entered carrying a thin briefcase. She set the case on the desk and produced a console, several cases containing computer discs, and a device that looked like some sort of technological diadem. "Let us demonstrate," Melchior said, inviting Strephon closer.

Strephon advanced, examining the apparatus. "This is our next generation of computer games, utilizing technology that combines the most advanced interactive algorithms and graphics with the magic of the Fae," Melchior continued. "I think you will be most impressed." Strephon examined some of the titles on the discs: "Nameless Circle"; "Bowling for Lightbulbs"; "The Featherbunnies and the Magic Sp00n".

Lilith took a fourth disc and placed it in the console. Then she plugged the diadem likewise into the console and leaned over Strephon with it. Once again he he caught a heady whiff of Fae essence as well as what he was sure was a calculated eyeful of her cleavage. He tensed. "This won't hurt a bit," Lilith purred as she placed the apparatus on Strephon's head. She adjusted the headset, making sure it fit snugly against his temples. Then she reached over to the console and pressed a button.

Instantly, the room seemed to dissolve around him, and Strephon found himself sitting not in his wheelchair but in a large redwood tub filled with steamy warm water. His clothes had vanished too, and he realized that he was wearing nothing but a pair of brightly colored swimming trunks. He gave the water a tentative splash. It felt real, but he knew it was an illusion; a Faerie glamour. It must be. But he had sensed no one casting the spell! Was Melchior telling the truth? Had he devised machines that could record and cast Fae Magic?

As he pondered this, Lilith materialized standing over him, also in a brightly colored and rather immodest bathing suit. Strephon noted absently that her silvery tattoo ran down her arm and her leg as well. "This is one of our best-selling titles," she explained. "It's called Virtual Hot Tub. The object is to design and build spas and pools and to use your own personal avatar to interact either with simulated people or with other players. As you see, in the new version, players will be able to actually experience the environment." She pressed a large red button by the side of the tub with her foot and the water began to churn and fizz. The jets of warm water felt pleasant against Strephon's limbs and the bubbles tickled. Under other circumstances, he could rather enjoy this.

Lilith sat on the edge of the tub and swung her legs into the water. "You can alter your avatar however you like." She demonstrated by tapping her finger against an unseen console. Her swimsuit dissolved, leaving her naked for an instant, then reformed in a different color and style. "Or do you like this one better?" Again her suit shimmered and evaporated to be replaced by one even more revealing.

"You couldn't do anything about mine, could you?" Strephon asked. Even though his body was obscured by the foam on the water's surface, he still felt uncomfortably exposed.

"Certainly." She did the odd tapping against her imaginary keypad again and Strephon felt a moment of nakedness as the trunks disappeared and were replaced by a tight-fitting pair of black Speedos. He squirmed  This was not more comfortable.

He was even less comfortable when Lilith slid into the tub next to him. "The game comes with several existing characters and the option of adding on new ones, but personally I prefer playing..." she sidled up closer, " on one."

"Ah, yes. I can see how that would be more, ah, interesting."

"This game is very popular."


"And extremely relaxing." She ran her hand along the inside of his leg.

"Ah. I hadn't noticed."

"You seem so tense. I think you need a nice rubdown." She proceeded to rub his thigh. Her other arm slipped around Strephon's torso and she began nibbling on his ear. Strephon felt his face turning red, and not from the heat, as her hand moved dangerously up his leg.

Suddenly, he grabbed her hand and pulled it out of the water. He turned to face her, almost nose to nose; kissing distance. For a wild moment, he considered it. Lilith stared into his eyes, enchantment dancing in her own. Almost noiselessly, she whispered, "You want me."

He held her hand tightly, drinking in her sensual presence. Then he released it and said, "We are keeping Lord Melchior waiting. Perhaps another time I can devote my full attention to you." He gave her what he hoped was a cool smile. She returned it with a lustful grin pretending to be coy.

The world dissolved around Strephon again and he found himself back in his chair, back in his clothing, back in Melchior's office. Lilith sat on the desk -- incredible; he thought she must have been right on his lap. She removed his headset. Then she reached up to a spot behind her ear and Strephon saw that she actually had a jack plugged into her head. Interesting. He looked up and saw that Melchior was watching them from behind his desk.

"Are you impressed?" Melchior asked.

Strephon took a deep breath to regain his composure. "Quite," he said. "I must admit you have me intrigued."
"Perhaps you would be interested in attending a party I'm holding Monday night. Some of my associates and many of the more important people in the city will be there. It never hurts to make connections."

Lilith had finished putting away the apparatus now. She crossed her legs and favored him with another seductive smile.

"Yes..." Strephon said. "That would be interesting."

But inwardly he was thinking "What have I gotten myself into now?"

NEXT:  Table for Two

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dark Redemption part 4: Of Fae and Ferrous Metal

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's investigation into fae activity in the city has led him to the office of Melchior Aesermann, a Lord of the Faerie posing as a mortal who owns computer firm.

            "You are in an interesting position," Lord Melchior continued.  "Having, if you'll pardon the expression, a foot in both worlds, the Mortal World and the Unseen Realm, you can appreciate what we are doing here."

            Now things were getting interesting.  This was the point where Melchior was going to feel out his loyalties and try to recruit him for whatever his scheme was without saying anything that would compromise him if Strephon decided to decline.  Strephon leaned forward and rested his chin on his folded hands.  "Tell me more."

            "It is nothing less than a complete paradigm shift."

            "Ah... paradigms.  That's one of those words management consultants like to use to impress other management consultants."

            "Perhaps this might impress you."  Melchior picked up a ugly paperweight from his desk and tossed it to Strephon.

            Strephon caught it easily; then gaped at it.  "This is iron!"

            "Yes.  Cold iron.  The Faerie's Bane."

            Something had been nagging at the back of Strephon's mind and now he realized what it was.  As a half mortal, Strephon could endure the touch of iron, but how could a pure-blooded Lord of the Fae exist in a modern steel-frame building, let alone toss pieces of wrought iron around like cricket balls?

            "The paradigm has shifted," Melchior repeated.  "The relationship between Mortal World and the Unseen Realm has changed, for those with the wisdom to see it.  Millennia ago, mortals were weak and primitive, at the mercy of Nature.  We preyed upon them openly and mocked them as they sought to propitiate us with their worship or control us with their rudimentary magic.  But over the millennia they learned to worship stronger gods and they developed tools and technology to gain their own control of Nature and in doing so, lost their fear of us.  We were still masters of Nature and so we did not recognize the danger until it was too late.  Then they learned to master Iron and so gained power even over us. 

            "Perhaps at that point we should have left the Mortal Plane altogether, but everything Mortal is subject to change and the Fae are patient.  And always the Mortal dreams drew us back; dreams as sweet as the lotus blossom full of desire and terror and beauty; dreams we used to shape our own reality.  But by now, the mortals had turned away from us; with their technology they had little need for us.  Or so they thought.

            "As much as we needed their dreams, so did they need to dream.  As long as their imagination was enraptured with wheels and engines, we kept our distance, enchanting a Shakespeare here or a Byron there, but for the most part leaving Mortals alone.

            "But now things have changed." 

            Melchior tapped a few keys on the laptop computer on his desk and turned it around.  The screen displayed an image of the very office they were in.  Then, before Strephon's eyes, it morphed into a fairyland, with flowered glades and mushroom office furniture and the office morphed too, reflecting the image on the screen.  Then it changed again into a symphony of chrome and steel, then a heaven of translucent alabaster, then a hell of smoke and flame, all the while maintaining the general form and architecture of the room.

            "Virtual reality," Melchior said, as the office resumed its default setting.  "Dreams and technology have become one and provided an interface by which we can manipulate and control their technology.  A new age is dawning, Strephon; the Age of the Silicon Fae.  The gateway is beckoning.  Are you interested?"

NEXT:  Temptation 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 3: Meeting Melchior

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 has been commissioned by his aunt, the Queen of the Fae, to look into faerie activity in the city. His investigation leads him to Aesermann Technologies, a computer firm owned by a Fae Noble named Melchior.

The lift door slid open revealing a tall, lithe woman with short platinum blonde hair. She wore a tightly-tailored business suit with a short slit skirt which gave Strephon a spectacular view of her long, lissome legs. What arrested Strephon's attention, though, was the tattoo. A silvery iridescent tattoo adorned her cheek: an intricate labrynth of lines meandering from her eye down to her jawline and from there down the side of her neck. Her eyes were a vivid amber. "All she needs is a sandwich board reading 'I am a Fae'," Strephon thought.

"Hello, I am Lilith, Mister Aesermann's administrative assistant," she said. "Would you come this way?" She slipped behind his chair and pushed him into the lift. As she did so, Strephon caught a heady whiff of her scent; not mere perfume or even mortal pheromones, but the magic of raw fae essence.

"I can quite manage myself," Strephon protested. Unless the person was someone he knew and trusted, like Tobias, he generally preferred to wheel the chair himself. Lilith did not give him the opportunity.

"Mister Aesermann told me to see to you personally."

The door slid closed and the lift began to rise.

"You know," Lilith purred, "I've never met a person who was a faerie from the waist up, but whose..." she paused suggestively, "...legs were mortal."

"I hear that from people often." Strephon tried to keep his tone light and not show the discomfort he was feeling. He could recognize what she was doing easily enough; it was a common faerie glamour to radiate an aura of desirability. A simple trick. That didn't stop his mortal half from reacting to it. He tried to casually adjust the blanket over his legs.

"But your mortal half is a century and a half old. I suppose those parts are all worn out by now." Not a terribly subtle challenge.

"Well, better to wear out than to rust out, they say." Strephon could make suggestive banter just as well as she could. Good Lord, was she fondling the handles of his wheelchair? My, she was a naughty one. Strephon diverted his gaze to the numbers over the door.

Before she could respond with another come-on, the lift halted and the doors opened. Lilith wheeled Strephon into a luxurious office. He was greeted by a tall man with blond hair pulled back in a ponytail and a short goatee. He wore tinted pince-nez glasses and a lime green jacket over a black T-shirt. He looked more like someone's idea of a Hollywood agent than a Noble of the Fae, but Strephon could sense the power underneath the flashy facade. "Hello, Mister Mackenzie," the man said, "or may I call you Strephon?"

Strephon shook his hand with a cool smile. "Strephon is fine. You do me honor by receiving me, Lord Melchior."

Melchior's own smile widened just enough to show a bit of teeth. "That will be all, Lilith. You may go." Lilith pursed her lips into something almost like a pout, but slunk out of the office without a word. Melchior waited until she was gone before he continued. "To what do I owe this visit?"

Strephon shrugged. "I was told of your presence in this city. I felt I should pay my respects and apologize for not coming sooner."

"Who told you of me?" Melchior asked casually. "Don't tell me our beloved Queen sent you to spy on me."

Strephon smiled. "I have do intention of telling you any such thing."

Melchior gave a sharp, barking laugh. "Very good. But it is well known that you bear the Queen's special favor."

Strephon bowed his head. "Her Majesty has a special affection for my mother, and so thinks kindly of me."

"It is also well-known that you are a recluse, preferring to stay buried in your mortal house and shun the pleasures of the Court and the company of our kind. So I ask again: to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

"I must admit to a fair amount of curiosity," Strephon said with a shrug. "I dwell among mortals because I am half a one myself. But what would cause a Lord of the Fae to humble himself so to take the form of a lowly multi-millionaire? Why would you willingly shut yourself up in this steel cage when the whole of the Unseen Realm beckons?"

Behind his tinted pince-pez, Melchior's eyes narrowed. "For all your eccentricities, I do not believe you are a fool. You know full well that our kind does not play with mortals merely for our own amusement. How did the verse go?

"We can ride on lover' sighs,
Warm ourselves in lovers' eyes,
Bathe ourselves in lovers' tears,
Clothe ourselves in lovers' fears,
Arm ourselves with lovers' darts,
Hide ourselves in lovers' hearts.
When you know us, you'll discover
That we almost live on lover."

Strephon's face darkened. "I'm familiar with that writer."

"Yes, typical mortal sentiment, but with a certain amount of truth. For all our superiority, we depend upon mortals. We feed upon their imagination and the stuff of their dreams. That is what gives the fabric of the Unseen Realm it's reality. And we inspire their dreams as well. You could call it a symbiotic relationship."

"I've heard that argument before, although rarely from a fae. I confess, though, that I fail to see why that would bring you to this city."

Melchior sat back in his leather chair and placed his fingertips together, mocking Strephon's own pose. "Let's just say we Fae have never seriously examined this relationship before and I have come to the mortal plane to do just that." Again, he showed his teeth in a predatory smile.

NEXT:  Of Fae and Ferrous Metal

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 2: Connections

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 Fae, immortal creatures of magic and subtlety, have returned to Redemption and are once more meddling in the affairs of men. Strephon MacKenzie, a half-fae living among humans, has been commissioned by the Faerie Queen to investigate.

A taxicab pulled up outside of Strephon's house and the driver, a tall, bearded Jamaican in dreadlocks, came out and bounded up the anachronistic wheelchair ramp. The driver rang the bell.

"Ah, Tobias," Strephon said when he answered the bell. "I did not expect you so soon. I only just called."

The cabbie grinned. "Gran tol' me you might need a lift, so I made sure I was in the neighborhood." He pushed Strephon's wheelchair to the street and helped him into the cab.

"And how is your dear grandmama?" Strephon asked.

"Oh, just fine. She talks about you often. She says, 'Tobias, you pay heed to Mister Strephon now! He's frien's with the Good People.' "

Strephon smiled. Grandma Simms was a sweet old lady who told fortunes in the back room of her little convenience shop in the Little Kingston district of Redemption and was undisputed matriarch of the city's Jamaican community.

Strephon waited patiently as Tobias folded up his wheelchair and stowed it in the trunk of the cab. "Gran also said to tell you, there's trouble on the street. The Big Dogs been running out of their kennels; marking their territory. Looks like it could be a war coming."

This was not good news. Strephon had heard the local werewolf population had been growing lately. He supposed it was only a matter of time before the rival packs began fighting each other. Did Melchior have anything to do with the werewolf situation? Yet another mystery.

"Where to?" Tobias asked.

"Corrigan Street, if you please. Aeser Technologies." If Strephon was going to find answers, that was the place to start.

Aeser Technologies was just as Strephon had imagined it; an ugly box of glass and steel. Post-modern architecture had a lot to answer for in his opinion. He wheeled himself past an abstract sculpture in the style of the Blast Furnace Accident School, only slightly redeemed by the fountain incorporated into the piece. The cool magic of running water could do a lot to ameliorate modern monstrosities, but even it could do only so much. At least the building had a handicapped-accessible entrance, so Strephon had to concede modern design was good for something.

It being a Saturday afternoon, Strephon did not seriously expect to meet anybody. He mainly wanted to survey the territory and look active so that Devon would cease nagging him. He was surprised, then, to see a receptionist on duty at a large desk in the lobby, arguing with a young woman with short brunette hair.
"I'm sorry, but Mister Aesermann cannot see you without an appointment."

"I made an appointment! If you could just tell him I'm here. Cassandra True from the Redemption Daily Oracle."

"He is in a meeting."

Strephon cleared his throat. "Pardon me, but could you tell me when Mister Aesermann will be finished with his meeting?" He gave the receptionist his most charming smile. Being half a fae, he could be extremely charming.

The receptionist blinked at him. Unsure what to do, she relied on rote. "Do you have an appointment?"

"I'm afraid not, but I think Mister Aesermann will be interested in speaking to me." Strephon pulled a calling card from his pocket and handed it to the receptionist. "We have mutual friends at Court." This was true. He did not say which Court.

The receptionist stared at the card as if hypnotized; then pressed a button on her intercom. "Mister Aesermann? There's a Mister Strephon Mackenzie here to see you. Yes, Strephon. Very good." She looked up at Strephon. "Mister Aesermann will be with you in a few minutes. You can have a sea... uh, you can wait over there."

Strephon nodded and wheeled himself over to the waiting area and selected a magazine. The brunette stormed after him and sat down nearby. "How the hell do you rate?" she groused.

Strephon shrugged apologetically. "I guess it pays to have connections. What do you want to see Mister Aesermann about?"

"I'm a reporter for the Daily Oracle. We're doing a profile on Aesermann for our Lifestyle section. I had to re-arrange my whole weekend to get this interview, but now he's blowing me off!"

"I'm sorry," Strephon said. The girl was not unattractive, when she wasn't scowling. "I'm sure it was merely a scheduling mistake."

"Mister Aesermann will see you now," the receptionist announced. "The elevator is to your right. His office is on the fifth floor."

Strephon apologized again to the reporter and went to the elevator. He felt bad about cutting in front of her in the queue, so to speak. He considered bringing her along so she could have first crack at Melchior. No, what he wanted to discuss was not for mortal ears.

Halfway to the elevator, he paused and turned his head back to the girl. "I hope you get your interview."

NEXT:  Meeting Melchior