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

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