Saturday, August 24, 2013

Dark Redemption chapter 9: What Dreams May Come

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 living among mortals, has brought reporter Cassandra True to his home after an attack by werewolves of the Reaver pack. Grandma Simms, a Jamaican wise woman of Strephon's acquaintence, has warned him that the attack may leave a shadow upon her spirit and bids him to look after her.

Strephon saw Grandma Simms to the steps, thanked her again and bid her good night. Then he returned to Cassandra's room.

"I really do need to write this story," she complained. "My editor will kill me if I don't!"

"Well, I could fetch some stationary and a pen..."

"Don't you have a computer or something I could use?"

Strephon furrowed his brow and managed to look even more Victorian than usual. "I believe I have a typewriter someplace. The ribbon may even still be good. Unfortunately it's downstairs and I shan't be able to bring it to you. Perhaps in the morning..."

"Oh, never mind. Give me a pen and paper, then."

"Certainly." Before he left, though, he brought a tray with a cup of tea to her bed, which she accepted. By the time Strephon returned with the paper and pen, the tea which Grandma Simms had brewed did it's work. Cassandra was fast asleep.

Strephon took his lift down to the ground floor; locked the doors and put out the lights. On his way back to his own bedroom, he paused to look in on Cassandra. She slept fitfully, turning and moaning and the light from the hallway glittered on the sweat of her brow. Had she developed an infection from her claw wound? Or was this the Shadow Grandma Simms spoke of?

He wheeled himself up to her side. He felt a bit uncomfortable entering a woman's bedroom, but he reminded himself that he had a responsibility to see to her well-being. She looked feverish and Strephon could sense the darkness of her dreams. He hesitated. The Fae regarded the dreams of mortals as palaces for their own amusement. Although Strephon also possessed the power to enter dreams, he could not help but regard such dallying as a liberty. Yet he remembered Grandma Simms' words: You watch over her, Mister Strephon! Keep her safe!

He took the girl's hand in his own. He closed his eyes and reached out into the Dreamworld, the twilight world that lay between the Mortal Lands and the Unseen Realm. He felt his mortal body seem to dissolve and his spirit rise.

When he opened his eyes he was in a dream. He floated, his toes barely touching the floor of a long corridor; no need for wheelchairs or clumsy crutches in a realm where imagination and reality were interchangable.

He saw Cassandra enter the corridor. To his shock, Strephon saw that she was naked, holding a couple file folders strategically in front of her torso. Strephon shook his head. Of course. Finding oneself naked was a common enough dream; he shouldn't be surprised. Cassandra hurried past him without paying him notice, which was fine with him.

She franticly tried door after door, fumbling with the doorknobs while trying to juggle armloads of papers which seemed to multiply. None of them would admit her entry. and she was becoming more and more frustrated. Strephon bit his lip. Should he interfere?

Then one of the doors opened for her and she almost fell over on her face. Strephon followed her into a conference room; no doubt the one at her own paper. Seated around the table were about a half dozen men in suits and ties; men with wolf heads. Strephon took in his breath sharply.

Ms True! Where's that story? one of the wolves, probably her editor, barked.

I have it right here! Cassandra dropped her bundle of papers on the table and began sifting through them.

Haven't you forgotten something else?

Cassandra looked down at her nakedness and began to stammer with embarrassment. Strephon felt his own cheeks burn for her.

The the editorial wolf threw an object onto the table in front of her. A leather collar, inlaid with silver.

Strephon gasped. The wolves had changed now; they had become dark shadows with glowing blue eyes. Cassandra only stared at the collar as if hypnotized. She picked it up and slowly drew it to her own neck.

Strephon could wait no longer. He grasped Cassandra by the arm. She started as she saw him for the first time. He drew her close to him. You don't have to do this, he said. Cassandra gaped at him and the collar dropped from her fingers. You don't have to do anything you don't want to.

The wolves snarled and lunged at them. Strephon had expected this. In an instant, he had a sword, willed into existance, in his hand. He pulled Cassandra behind him and held the beasts at bay.

Unfortunately, the wolves were creations of Cassandra's fear and would keep coming as long as she was frightened. It was time to take drastic action. Turning his back on the wolves, he threw himself on Cassandra, cradling her in his arms. He tasted her fear, sharp and acrid, and tried to smother in with his own soothing calm. As he did so, he took control of her dream and changed it.

Now they were seated at a bar near a sandy beach. The warm tropical sun shone down upon them and a fragrant sea breeze came in from the ocean. The pleasant ruckus of a steel drum band tinkled in the background. Cassandra now wore a bathing suit and held an rum and coke. She looked at her new surroundings, only slightly bewildered, then said Strephon, where's your chair?

This is a dream, he explained, It isn't real. Everything here is out of your mind; it can't hurt you. Well, everything except the parts he had made up himself. Her swimsuit looked familiar. Strephon suddenly realized that he had put her in one of the swimsuits Lilith had worn in the virtual reality game. Then he realized that he himself was wearing the same black Speedos. Now why had he done that?

Cassandra rubbed her arm. My arm, it hurts. Strephon saw that the wound on her arm was red and angry. The scratches seemed to writhe as he looked at them like a live thing. Clearly the source of the trouble,

Impulsively he took her arm and kissed it. At the touch of his lips, a portion of the scratches faded and disappeared. He kissed her again, and again until her arm was clean and smooth and the shadow gone. He raised his head and looked into eyes as surprised as his own. He knew that she had banished the evil herself, that his kisses only gave her a metaphor with which to shape the dream. But where had the kiss come from? From his impulse, or from her desire? Strephon abandoned that line of thought; one could not analyze a dream from within, one could only improvise.

Already, he had lost control. They were no longer at the bar; they were walking along the beach. Cassandra's subconscious was steering the dream again. He sensed that the crisis had passed and he could probably leave her safely now, but how to extract himself from the dream? Wet sand squished between his toes and the waves washed over his feet. How long had it been?

Cassandra ran her fingers through her hair and laughed. She began to run throught the surf and Strephon ran after her. In her dream he could taste her emotion as if he were swimming in it; her fear of the wolves, her relief at losing the scar, her joy and pleasure, her...

He'd done his deed, exorcised the darkness. He needed to get out of this. But it was too late; the dream had passed out of his hands and he was too firmly enmeshed in its reality to regain control. He was trapped in the dream, and something else.

It had been three quarter centuries since Strephon had known the company of a woman. Since his beloved Phylis died, he had put away such desires with his memories. Until today. Until Lilith set about to stimulate those passions. Strephon thought he had them under control, but all through dinner with Cassandra they had simmered just under the surface, Now they burst out anew and the rational part of his mind struggled to put it back.

Before it could, he caught up with Cassandra. He grabbed her around the waist, and giggling and laughing they tumbled into the surf. Warm, salty water surged over them and receded. Cassandra lay on the sand, her bathing suit partially undone, gazing up at Strephon, who knelt over her. For a breathless eternity they drank each other's presence. Part of his mind said Phylis, the other part said This is a dream; you don't have to do anything you don't want to....

He lowered himself upon her and kissed her.

NEXT:  Breakfast on the Grill

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