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