Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 31: Friendlee Conversation

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 charged with investigating Melchior, a fae noble posing as a computer game manufacturer. His investigations have involved him with Cassandra True, a reporter for the Daily Oracle, and to Strephon's discomfort, the two are becoming closer than he would like...

Strephon could not prove that Devon had been snitching his biscuits, but someone certainly had; his cupboard was empty. Fortunately, the Friendlee-Mart on Fitch Street was only a few blocks away and so he wouldn't need to call a cab. Which was just as well. Strephon did not want to be carried or ferried or helped. He wished to do something himself.

Most of all he wanted to get out of the house.

A half a block from his house the slate grey sky dissolved into a light drizzle. The rain on his face felt rather pleasant and he told himself he didn't need to go back for an umbrella. By the time he reached the shelter of the Friendlee-Mart he was cursing his own stubbornness and happy to escape the downpour.

He picked up a package of biscuits, a bottle of milk, some eggs and a couple other items and wheeled over to the checkout. Grandma Simms sat behind the cash register, reading a copy of The Daily Oracle. A row of stuffed toads sat on the counter in front of her; each one adorned with a colorful bandana and representing, if local legend was true, a gang leader who had annoyed her.

"Good day, Mister Strephon," the Jamaican greeted him. "And how be you today?"

"Just fine, Grandmama."

"And what of Miss True? How is she doing?"

"I couldn't say."

Grandma Simms raised a skeptical eyebrow and turned the page of her newspaper. "You had dinner with her just last night," she observed.

Strephon frowned. "Have you been spying on me?"

"I'm looking after you. Some folks are too stubborn to look after themselves. I hope you been treating that Miss True right like I told you to. It's about time you had another woman in your life."

"With you looking after me, what other woman do I need?"

Mrs. Simms snorted. "Don't talk foolishness. She's a nice girl; better than an old fool like you deserves, so take care of her."

Just then the door to the shop opened and Cassandra walked in. She shook the rain from her dripping umbrella and folded it up.

"Why look! We been just talking about you!"

"Hullo, Grandma Simms! Oh, hello, Strephon!" Cassandra waived cheerily.

"What are you doing here?" Strephon asked.

"Ooo, I just happened to be in the neighborhood. Well, actually I came to see you."

Strephon glanced at Grandma Simms, but she quickly retreated behind her newspaper and an extremely satisfied smile.

"I wanted to tell you," Cassandra continued. "I had my interview with Simon Knox this morning! He wants to hire me!"

"Oh." A chill struck Strephon. He still hadn't figured out how Knox fit in with Melchior's plans, but he knew the two were allied. Why would a man like Knox take a personal interest in a fledgling reporter like Cassandra? Strephon could think of only one reason: her connection with him.

"Have you accepted?"

Cassandra grinned. "All but. I said I'd think about it. But when I get back to the Oracle, I'm going to tell Cyril Potts where he can stick his Page Three bimbos. Isn't this wonderful, Strephon?"

Strephon squirmed uncomfortably. "Um... Cassandra..."

"Yes?" She regarded him with large, expectant eyes. Why did she have to make things so damned difficult?

"Don't do it."


"Don't take the job."

Cassandra blinked. "I don't understand! I thought you wanted me to escape Page Three!"

"I do! It's just that... well, I don't think Mr. Knox's intentions are honorable."

She laughed. "Sometimes I think you really are from another century. This isn't the Victorian Age, you know."

"I am reminded of that every day."

She placed her hands on the armrests of his chair and leaned over him. "Strephon, don't tell me you're jealous!"

"I am not jealous!" Strephon took a deep breath. "Cassandra, listen to me. I don't want you to work for Simon Knox."

"And why not?"

Strephon glowered at her. He couldn't exactly tell her that Knox was some kind of sorcerer in league with a sinister faerie and that she was putting herself in danger. "I... don't think The Morning Star is right for you."

"Are you saying The Oracle is all I'm good for?"

"I didn't say that!"

"Well, Mister Knox seems to think I'll do just fine!"

"Mister Knox is just hiring you to get at me!"

Strephon hadn't intended to say that, but it just blurted out. Cassandra gaped at him for a moment. "Strephon MacKenzie," she said in an icy tone. "That is the most egocentric thing I've ever heard!"


"Of course my writing ability couldn't have anything to do with it!"

"Cassandra, If you'll just listen..."

"You self-centered, chauvinist jerk! You just don't like the idea of a woman having a successful career, that's it!"

"That is not it! I'm only thinking of what's best for you!"

"Oh yeah? Well don't do me any favors! I can handle my own career myself!" She grabbed the carton of eggs off the counter and broke it over Strephon's head. Then she stormed out of the shop and into the rain.

Grandma Simms looked over her newspaper critically. "That was not what I had in mind."

NEXT:  Psychology 101

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 30: Ghosts and Guilt

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 found his mission to investigate fae activity in the mortal world complicated by Cassandra True, a reporter for the Daily Oracle who is unaware of his supernatural ancestry. After entering her dreams once to protect her soul from a magical attack, he now finds that he quite literally cannot keep her out of his mind.

Strephon sat in his cold, damp room stirring his tea. The tea was weak and tepid and he could not bring himself to drink it. Still, he stirred it, concentrating on tracing methodical figure eights with his spoon; anything to keep his mind off the window.

Outside the window the sun was shining; a bright, tropical sun blazing over an azure sea. Warm waves lapped against the white sands of a perfect beach.

The tea. Concentrate on the tea.

The door to his room opened and a woman entered. What are you doing, dear?

Strephon looked up. Phyllis? But you're dead!

Not in your memory. That's all that matters.

Strephon nodded. Of course. I'm dreaming. She looked as young as she had when they'd first met, her lovely face wreathed in strawberry curls.

She sat down on the bed, next to his wheelchair. What are you doing inside? It's so lovely out. Strephon did not reply. You're hiding, aren't you.

I am not hiding.

Then why did you construct these walls around your mind? You wish to keep someone out, correct?

I thought it prudent.

My ever prudent Strephon. The sweet music of her laugh made his soul ache. You know, she is a nice girl.

Strephon followed her gaze out the window. He saw Cassandra, standing on the beach all alone, wearing a raincoat and staring across the sands at him.

I'm only a memory, Strephon. You're not going to hurt my feelings if you look at another woman, I promise. I never expected you to remain in mourning for the rest of your life. I want you to be happy.

I am happy.

You certainly don't look it. Why did you decide to remain here in the Mortal World instead of going back to the Unseen Realm?

Because I preferred reality to illusion.

Then why are you talking to a memory when reality is waiting out your window?

He gazed out the window. Cassandra was still out there, looking wistfully in his direction. His hands grasped the windowsill. He knew it wasn't really a window, but rather a psychic barrier constructed to prevent her mind from entering his dreams... and to prevent his from crossing over into hers. He realized that Phyllis had left him and he suddenly felt more alone than ever. His fingers pressed against the windowpane. He knew what he must do.

He woke up.

He was lying in his own bed. His shades were drawn. Outside the full moon shone over the city. He lay there for a long time listening to the distant din of the wolves.

NEXT:  Friendlee Conversation

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 29: Bangers and Fettuccini

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 found his mission to investigate fae activity in the mortal world complicated by Cassandra True, a reporter for the Daily Oracle who is unaware of his supernatural ancestry. Against his better judgement, he has accepted an invitation to come up to her flat

Cassandra's flat was a small, two-bedroom affair with a pleasantly cluttered untidiness about it. A brown-haired young woman wearing a t-shirt bearing a distressingly vulgar slogan greeted them as they entered. "Hullo, Cassie. You're home early. Oooo!" She came over to Strephon and cooed over him as if he were a budgie Cassandra had picked up at a pet store. "You must be Steven!"

"Strephon," he corrected her.

"Stephen. Right."

"This is my roommate, Cecilie," Cassandra explained. "She's a sales clerk at Darling's." Strephon had never shopped there himself, but he recognized the name as that of a popular department store chain.

"You're right," Cecilie said, "he is cute. So how'd your date go? I thought you'd still be at the Cyba-Natsu." Her face suddenly widened into a knowing grin. "Ooooh, so that's it! Well, congratulations! It's about time, Cassie!"

"What?" Strephon blinked.

Cecilie grabbed her handbag. "Don't let me get in your way. I was planning on being out all night anyway. Don't wait up for me. Have fun!" Before either Strephon or Cassandra could protest, she ducked out the door.

Cassandra turned to Strephon and gave him a helpless smile. "I'm sorry about Cecilie. She... she thinks I ought to get out more."

"Ah. Well. There's nothing wrong with a good healthy social life."

"Yeah." Cassandra sighed. Then her eyes grew large. "Dinner! I forgot all about dinner! Omigosh, Strephon, you must be starving!"

"No, the mistake is mine. I should have had Tobias take us to a restaurant."

"Oh, phoo!" Cassandra bit her lip and thought for a moment. "Hang on a moment. Let me see what I have in the fridge." She darted into the kitchen and began bustling about.

"That's really not necessary," Strephon protested.

"Oh no, I insist! How does fettuccini alfredo sound?"

"Er, that sounds quite nice, but..."

"I'm afraid all I have to go with it are bangers."

Strephon sighed. "Sausages will be splendid."

As Casandra busied herself in the kitchen, Strephon passed the time by looking around the flat. The furniture had the shabby look of something which had once been modern but had fallen out of fashion and then regurgitated again by the whims of style. The entertainment centre was new; probably top-of-the-line at Darling's; and flanked by a tower of CD's on one side and a video cabinet on the other. He noted a framed  Mucha print with some approval. Undoubtedly one of Cassandra's. The unframed poster of the shirtless movie actor in tight leather trousers no doubt belonged to her flatmate.

"I hope I'm not putting you out," Strephon said.

"Oh, not at all. I like cooking. I taught myself in college. It's a lot cheaper than fast food. Of course, a lot of my cooking is kind of experimental."

"Hence the bangers and fettuccini," Strephon murmured. He noted several bookshelves crammed with paperbacks. He noted one splayed over the arm of the sofa and picked it up. The title read, Handicapped Hearts and the cover showed a nurse bending to embrace an open-shirted Adonis seated in a wheelchair. "Oh my." With a sense of mingled curiosity and dread, he glanced at the open page.

She tenderly stroked his cheek and brought her lips close to his. "Only your legs are crippled, not your heart."

Strephon frowned. The passage seemed familiar. Then he remembered: Cassandra had said the same thing to him in his dream the night before.

He dropped the book like a viper.

"I hope you don't mind; the place is a terrible mess," Cassandra called from the kitchen.

"That's all right," Strephon replied. He saw another book on the coffee table; a library book entitled Dreams and the Unconscious. That one did not particularly surprise him. He now realized that he made a mistake when he invaded her dreams the night of the wolf attack. Then when he followed her into the virtual reality game at Melchior's party, the mental bond between the two of them had strengthened. Now, despite his best intentions, their dreams were as intertwined as their lives.

"This has to stop now," Strephon said. "She's in terrible danger and doesn't realize it."

"What was that?" Cassandra came out of the kitchen with a fistful of silverware and brushed a stack of mail and catalogues off the dining table.

"Oh, nothing."

She brought out the dinner and set it on the table. "I hope you like it."

"It's lovely," Strephon said, wheeling himself to the table. As a matter of fact, the fettuccini was delicious, and the sausages tasty, if unconventional. Had he a mortal coronary system he might worry about the cholesterol. Cassandra apologized again for the wine, a vaguely reddish liquid decanted from a cube.

"Now you're the one who's apologizing too much," Strephon said. Cassandra laughed, and once again Strephon silently cursed himself. He did not want to be charming! How the devil could one sever a relationship with a woman who persisted in taking delight in one?

"Strephon...? May I ask a personal question?"

"Hm? I don't see why not. I shan't promise to answer it, though."

"About your wife. You said you were married once."

"Ah. Yes. Phyllis. I lost her." Strephon averted his gaze from her and concentrated on bisecting a piece of sausage.

"How did she die?"

Strephon paused. "Heart failure," he said truthfully.

"How terrible! To happen so young! Did she have a condition?"

Actually, Phyllis had been seventy-eight at the time she died. It was still too soon. "Something like that." He vigorously attacked another sausage.

"And you've been living all alone ever since?"

"Yes. Yes, I have."

Cassandra hesitated, trying to choose her next words. "Don't you think, Strephon, that..."

"That it's time to move on? I hear that from my mother all the time. No, I am quite comfortable as I am right now."

"They say there's nothing wrong with a good healthy social life."

Strephon set down his silverware, perhaps a little too forcefully. "Cassandra, you are a sweet, lovely girl, and I know what you're doing. You see this poor, wounded man in a wheelchair and you want to take care of him. It's terribly nice of you, but I don't need a nursemaid. I already have a mother, not to mention numerous cousins and aunts. You're too nice a girl to squander your affection on an old man such as myself."

"You're not old!"

"I'm older than you may think. And I'm a tyrant, and terribly set in my ways. Do you know, I used to beat my wife?"

Cassandra stifled a giggle so that it came out a snort. "I don't believe it!"

"Then I tell outrageous falsehoods to gain sympathy. Can you live with that?"

She placed her hand on his. "Strephon, tell me truthfully. Don't you ever get lonely...?"

YES! he wanted to shout. Or rather, no! But the word would not come out. Somehow, when she touched him his fae gift of deception fled and he was left with the burning, uncomfortable truth.

He wanted her. He needed her. He desired her presence as a dipsomaniac desired drink. The realization of this struck him like a blow and it terrified him.

He pulled his hand away from hers. "I am quite happy," he said thickly.

NEXT:  Ghosts and Guilt

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 28: Right to Know?

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 accquaintance 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 and has been introduced to Miss Kurayami.

Either because the drink steadied her, or because she possessed a resilient spirit or perhaps just because she was easily distracted, Cassandra recovered quickly from her earlier fright. She fumbled an apology, and under the encouragement of Miss Kurayami's gracious reply, Cassandra steered the conversation into an impromptu interview.

After a while, Miss Kurayami rose and excused herself. "We shall perhaps speak again, Mister MacKenzie?" she added.

"I shouldn't be at all surprised," Strephon said politely.

Strephon and Cassandra stayed long enough to finish the refill of their drinks which the green-haired waiter had provided unbidden; then they left the cyber-cafe and headed back for Cassandra's flat.

"What did you think of Miss Kurayami?" Strephon asked as the cab pulled away from the club.

"She seemed very nice," Cassandra replied cautiously. "Very polite."

"But...?" Strephon prompted.

Cassandra hesitated. "She's a very intense person. When I was talking to her I felt like I was walking on the edge of a knife. Like she was a cat and I was some kind of small rodent; you know what I mean?"

He nodded. "She does seem to enjoy projecting a dangerous persona, doesn't she."

Cassandra shivered. "She gave me the creeps." She paused, and then added, "I really did see that waiter bite a girl."

"I do not doubt you. Do you think he's a vampire?"

In the driver's seat, Tobias glanced up in the rear view mirror, but said nothing.

"I don't know. Maybe he was just a guy with a kinky fetish, like Miss Kurayami said. There are a lot of people like that at that club. I've been there before with my roommate, Cecilie. But there was something about the whole thing that freaked me out; the way the girl seemed totally under his control. And she was bleeding, Strephon! Her neck was bleeding! And I'm sure I saw blood on his lips!"

Strephon kept silent. It might be safer for Cassandra to believe that the Cyba-netsu was nothing more than a night spot for young people with outré tastes. That evening had given her a glimpse of the hidden world beneath Redemption City's surface. Strephon realized that he did not want her involved in that dark world. Did he have a duty to warn her what she might be getting into? Or was his duty to protect her from this knowledge? The gloomy thought occurred to him that he might have no say in this matter.

The cab arrived at Cassandra's flat. As she climbed out of the cab, she stumbled a bit and placed her hand against the car to steady herself.

"You all right, Missy?" Tobias asked. "I think the Lady have a bit to drink. Maybe, Mister Strephon, you should see her to the door."

Strephon shot the cabbie a suspicious glare.

"I only had a couple drinks!" Cassandra protested. "I'm all right! I'll be fine!"

That settled matters. "You know, Cassandra, you did invite me to see your flat," Strephon said.

"Oh! That's right I did." Cassandra gave a sheepish laugh.

Tobias grinned broadly as he helped Strephon with his chair. Then, to Strephon's annoyance, he started up the cab and pulled away from the curb. "Let me know when to pick you up," Tobias called as he drove off.

NEXT:  Bangers and Fettuccini