Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 39: Hospitality

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.

Cassandra True, plucky girl reporter, has just started working for the Redemption Morning Star. Her first assignment is to cover the local arts society's Gilbert & Sullivan festival and so she is going to interview one of the society's members, Mrs. Belladonna Morrigan, who lives deep in a forested preserve inside the city.

Cassandra knew from the map that Fellwood only occupied a few city blocks, but somehow the forest seemed to stretch for miles and miles. Finally, she caught a glimpse of a lit window. She hurried along the path and came to a small cottage nestled between the trees. She rang the bell-pull by the door and Mrs. Morrigan answered it. "Welcome, child," the old woman cooed. "I've been expecting you. Come right in."

The inside of the cottage was a museum of antiques and oddities: an antediluvian grandfather clock, a hand sickle hanging on the wall, a stuffed baby crocodile on the shelf, a bust of a human head divided into phrenological zones, and other stranger items. "Do have a seat," Mrs. Morrigan said, "While I bring you some tea." Cassandra picked her way across the cluttered parlor to the musty horsehair couch.

"Thank you again for allowing me to visit," she said. "I hope I'm not inconveniencing you." Only a few dim lights and the flames of an old fireplace illuminated the room. After leaving the gloomy forest, the fireplace should have seemed warm and cheery; but somehow it's flickering light played weird and disturbing shadows among the clutter and curios packed on the parlor's shelves.

Cassandra realized with a start that there were two other people in the room; a young man and a woman wearing school uniforms stood near the far wall so silent and still that Cassandra barely noticed them. They might as well have been waxworks. Their eyes had a dull and leaden cast to their stare. They each wore a silver medallion of a leaf impaled by a thorn.

Mrs. Morrigan returned with a tea service. "I see you've met my niece and nephew. They're staying with me. This is... Winston, and... Sheila." The two raised their heads at the mention of their names. They weren't waxworks then after all.

Cassandra accepted a cup from Morrigan. "Thank you." She brought the cup to her lips, its aroma filling her nostrils."

She took a sip.

Something was wrong. The tea had a peculiar taste. She looked up at Mrs. Morrigan, who smiled a tight, expectant smile and fixed her gaze upon her. Without knowing why, a dreadful certainty seized Cassandra. The tea is drugged.

Cassandra tried to unobtrusively spit the tea in her mouth back into the cup while pretending to drink more. She hoped the old woman was fooled. "My, what an interesting flavor. I don't think I've tasted anything like it before," she said.

"A herbal blend of my own," Morrigan said. "I have a garden behind my cottage."

Cassandra set down the tea cup. The old crone leaned forward, with hungry anticipation gleaming in her eyes. Or was it the firelight? The silent pair also seemed a pace closer. Cassandra felt as if a trap were closing around her. But which was more dangerous, the weird old lady in the cottage, or the dark and deadly woods?

Cassandra made up her mind. She stood up. "Oh dear, I just realized! I have an important appointment. I really must be going."

"But you just arrived," the crone hissed.

"Yes. I'm awfully sorry. I'll come again some other time." Cassandra bolted for the door.

"Wisp!" Morrigan shouted, and the lad she had referred to as "Winston" dissolved like a mist and rematerialized in the doorway blocking Cassandra's escape.

Cassandra halted with a gasp and looked wildly around for another means of escape.

Morrigan turned to the girl. "Banshee!" The young woman's uniform transformed into a diaphanous gown and her eyes glowed with a fey green light as she advanced towards Cassandra. "Sing to her," Morrigan said. "A quiet song."

Cassandra scrambled over the coffee table and tried to open the window. Behind her, the Banshee opened her lips and emitted a weird, high pitched keening.

Cassandra flung her hands over her ears.  The room seemed to spin and she felt a spasm of nausea.  She crumpled to the floor and the room turned to darkness.

Next:  Bad Tidings

No comments: