Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 49: Comparing Notes

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 survived encounters with werewolves, vampires, ghosts and an insane witch, but the mystery that puzzles her most is Strephon MacKenzie, the reclusive invalid who unbeknownst to her is actually a semi-immortal half-fae. Cassandra has decided to do a little snooping and has enlisted her new co-worker Saul Taylor to help

Cassandra juggled her grocery bags as she attempted to fish her keys out of her purse. It took her longer than she had planned to stop at the store and get home after work. At least she made it before Saul showed up; he had promised to come over that evening.

Just as she put her key to the lock, the door of her flat swung open. "Hullo, Sandy!" Cecilie said in a bright, chipper voice.

"What are you doing up?" Cassandra grumbled. "I thought you called in sick this morning."
Cecilie shrugged. "Must have been a 12-hour bug. I feel fine now!" She was dressed for partying, with tight, embroidered jeans, her favorite black top and a bright red bandanna around her neck. She wore deep purple eye shadow and had apparently spent her sick day doing her nails with sparkley polish. "I'm just on my way out. Want to join me?"

Cassandra glared at her. "I have work to do."

"All work and no play..." Cecilie sang.

"...Means Cassandra pays your share of the rent again."

"Oh, that reminds me. I borrowed a couple quid from your dresser. Hope you don't mind. I'm famished." She breezed past Cassandra and flounced down the hall. "Oh," she added, "there was a phone call for you. I wrote it down. Ta!"

Cassandra lugged her bags into the flat and dumped them on the table. Sure enough, she saw the message: Cecilie had scrawled it on the refrigerator door.

"stFn cuMMing @ 7"

"That's really helpful!" Cassandra sulked. She dug a roll of paper towels out from under the sink and began scrubbing the refrigerator. She managed to remove about half of the cryptic scrawl when the security buzzer sounded.

"Hi. I hope you don't mind Indian food," Saul said as Cassandra let him into her flat.

Cassandra took the bags of takeout from his arms. "No, that's fine. I love curry." She cleared off the table and helped unparcel the cardboard cartons of Bangalore Burgers and Curry Chips.

"So," Cassandra said after a hastily scarfed meal, "What have you got for me?"

Saul solemnly opened his briefcase and pulled out a folder of papers. "I hope you appreciate this. I spent most the afternoon digging through the morgue for this. Okay, here's what we have. I traced the MacKenzie family back to 1852. The first Strephon MacKenzie was an orphan who was raised at St. Gwydion's Orphanage here in Redemption. He studied for the clergy for a few years, but switched to the law about the same time he married a local farmer's daughter named Phyllis Woodrow."


"Is that important?"

"Hm... maybe. Go on," Cassandra said.

"He became quite a successful barrister, quickly becoming a partner in his firm. Here's a picture of him." He handed Cassandra a photocopy of a newspaper clipping. The young man with side-whiskers in the photograph looked remarkably like the Strephon she knew.

"It says here that he sued Gilbert and Sullivan? Whatever for?"

"It doesn't say. The matter was settled out of court. Anyway, in time he became a QC, then a judge. That was when he built his mansion, MacKenzie house. It's still standing, it's one of the oldest buildings in the Little Kingston district."

"I know, I've been there. So what happened to him?"

"He retired from the bench at about the start of the First World War, but served in the government during the War in the Home Office. His wife did a lot of work locally for the Red Cross too. Then after the War he and his wife did a lot of travelling abroad, but after Phyllis died in 1931, Strephon became a virtual recluse."

"How did Phylis die?"

"Um... Heart attack. Why do you ask?"

Cassandra took a sip of diet cola. "Curious, that's all."

"All right, be mysterious then," Saul said with a half-serious scowl. "Strephon died four years later in 1935. His grandson, also named Strephon, arrived from Canada to take over the house."

"Wait a minute, his grandson? Old Man MacKenzie had a son then?"

Saul checked over his papers again. "Apparently. I couldn't find references to a child being born, but apparently he was raised abroad by relatives."

Cassandra frowned. "That doesn't make sense. I thought Strephon was an orphan."
Saul shrugged. "The only references I could find in the Star were vague about his background. He was partially crippled in his legs and pretty much stayed at home."

"Crippled? By polio?"

"How did you know?"

"Lucky guess."

"Anyway, apart from some charity work during the Blitz, the grandson stayed out of the public eye. In fact, the next reference I find is 1972 when a developer attempted to buy his house and much of the surrounding neighborhood to build a shopping mall. The deal fell through for unspecified reasons."

"Was that the current Strephon, or the grandson?"

Saul checked his clippings again. "I'm not sure. There were several MacKenzie's in the obituaries, but the only one that seemed related to this family was the old judge, the first Strephon."

Cassandra bit her lip in thought. "How can a family live for several generations in the same house without any record of births, deaths or marriages? I've checked the city records. I could find none. I even got a friend at Our Lady of Perpetual Mercy to check his hospital records. He has none! You're telling me that a man stricken with polio who's lived most of his life in a wheelchair has never seen a doctor?"

Saul gathered his papers together again and shut them in his briefcase. "I have a better question," he said. "Why are you so interested in this Strephon MacKenzie anyway?"

Cassandara's cheeks turned pink. "Um... interested? Well, it's just that... well, he's mysterious. He's always talking about himself and his family; he loves talking about all his aunts; but he never seems to actually say anything. And there are these little inconsistencies, like his late wife and his mystery illness. He's hiding something from me, I know it!"

Saul put his hand on hers and repeated. "Are you interested in him?"

For a moment, Cassandra almost said yes! Then sanity took over. "Of course not."

"Good!" Saul gave her hand a squeeze.

Just then a knock came at the door. "Who could that be? If Cecilie forgot her keys again..." Cassandra excused herself and went to open the door. She looked down and her jaw sagged.

Now Cecilie's message made sense: "stFn cuMMing @ 7" meant "Strephon coming at seven".

"Good evening," Strephon said uncertainly, noticing Saul in the room behind her. "Erm, am I interrupting something?"

NEXT:  I'm Sorry To Interrupt, He Lied

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 48: Dangerous Dreams

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 is beginning to discover some of the dark secrets of Redemption. She and her roommate Cecilie have encountered a ghost at the fashionable Club Cyba-Netsu, and have met the club's owner, a powerful vampire named Lady Kurayami. While Cassandra has escaped a terrifying ordeal in that clutches of a demeneted sorceress, Cecilie faces dangers of her own.

Cecilie turned over in bed and instantly regretted it. The harsh afternoon sun filtered through her amber windowshade in her room onto her face. She winced and covered her eyes. "Answer the damn phone, Sandy!" she shouted.

Cassandra didn't answer. That's right; she was still at work. Damn.

The phone kept ringing. Why didn't whoever it was just give up? Her bones ached; her head throbbed; she felt like death. She wanted to go back to sleep, but the damn damn phone wouldn't damn let her. Finally she pulled a blanket over her head and stumbled out of bed for the kitchen.

She was having such a pleasant dream too. Before the phone woke her, she was dreaming about the night before. She had gone back to the Club Cyba-Netsu. she had asked Cassandra to join her, but Sandy said she had an important interview with some old bag from the Redemption Culture Thingummy. Cecilie suspected that she was too scared to go. The encounter with the ghost the other night really squicked her. It sort of squicked Cecilie too, but she enjoyed a bit of excitement in life.

It was funny how the club had changed. Cecilie had been there several times, both alone and with friends, but since meeting the ghost everything seemed different; like there were all these dark and mysterious currents running just underneath the surface that she had never been aware of before. No, it wasn't the ghost, it was Kurayami. Meeting Miss Kurayami had opened her eyes and now Cecilie saw a whole new world; a world of the night.

Cecilie saw Miss Kurayami when she entered the Cyba-Netsu. She was drinking with a small knot of people, male and female, in a dark corner of the club. Some wore dark glasses; some seemed to be wearing blood-red contact lenses. All were devastatingly beautiful and possessed the same aura of mystery and cool. Kurayami motioned Cecilie over to their table.

She almost turned around and left right then and there. Something about Kurayami was so intimidating. She told herself she was being silly. After all, she wanted excitement, right?

Cecilie could not recall exactly how long she spent with Kurayami and her friends. Somehow, being accepted in this elite circle was intoxicating. Well, to be honest, the Sloe Screw Against the Wall she ordered probably had something to do with that too. She tried calling her hostess "Kurayami-san" the way the others did, except she got a bit befuddled and it came out "Kurayama-mama-sama". That triggered an unfortunate spasm of giggles, but Kurayami did not seem the least offended. She merely gave that serene smile, like a worldly Buddha.

"Were you hoping to meet any ghosts tonight?" Kurayami teased.

Cecile flushed. "I don't know. I guess I was looking for something dangerous."

The others chuckled and exchanged significant glances behind their dark glasses. One of them, a dark-haired male with a neatly-groomed soul patch, smiled and said, "Maybe you've found it." There was a challenge in his voice and that drew Cecilie's attention like a magnet.

"Oh really?" Cecile tried to keep her tone light. "Somehow I doubt Kurayami-san would permit anything really bad to happen to me."

"Of course not," Kurayami purred. "Nothing bad ever happens to any of my customers in my club. Unless of course they want it to."

For a moment Cecilie sobered. Something about that casual remark carried a distinct undertone of menace. Cecile became suddenly aware that she was alone in a group of strangers. But she became aware of something else, too. She did want it to happen to her, even though she was not sure what it was. Kurayami was not talking about sex or date rape or anything mundane like that; it was something else; and whatever it was, Cecilie wanted to experience it.

The guy with the soul patch--Phillipe, his name was--took her hand. "Come with me," he said. And she did. He led her to a dim, private corner in the back of the club and drew her body close to his. She felt his breath, cool against her neck; then his kiss. By the time it occurred to her she ought to be afraid, his teeth were already sinking into her welcoming flesh. By then it was too late.

She remembered little of the rest. They made love, of course; wild, savage, desperate love; but that came afterwards. What she remembered most was melting in his arms as he drew her soul into his.

The phone was still ringing. Cecilie groped her way to the telephone and picked up the receiver. "Unk? Hooizzit? ... Cassandra? She's not here. ... Huh?" She pulled the blanket from her face and brightened slightly. "Oh... Stephen. You're the wheelchair guy. ... Yeah, I'm sure you can come over. Lemme write a note for her."

Cecilie fumbled about the kitchen for a piece of paper and a pen. The best she could do was a grease pencil, so she scrawled a message with it on the refrigerator door. "Seven o'clock? Okay. I'll let her know."

She hung up the phone and stumbled back to bed. Sun would be setting soon; then it would be dark.

Then she could see Phillipe again.

NEXT:  Comparing Notes

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 47: Business Luncheon

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 been commissioned by the Queen of the Faerie to investigate fae activity in the city. To that end, he has cultivated the acquaintance of Melchior, a powerful faerie lord who has taken over a computer company.

"I recommend the Veal Frommage a la Asteroth," Melchior Aesermann said. "Not up to the standards of the Faerie Court, of course, but quite passable for mortal viands."

Strephon had never been to the Chez R'lyeth before. It was a trendy restaurant occupying the top floor of the Trinity Building in downtown Redemption. It served only the hautest of cuisine and offered a spectacular view of the downtown skyline and of the castle in the Old Town.

"I've become quite accustomed to mortal food," Strephon said after the waiter left with their order. "The problem with faerie food is that after a century you're hungry again." Melchior chuckled politely and Strephon then added, "May I ask why you invited me here?"

"Right to business, eh?"

"I gathered this was a business lunch."

Aesermann put his hands together and rested his elbows on the table. "Have you considered my offer?"

Actually, Strephon had nearly forgotten about it; the last few days had been so crammed with events and distractions. "Well," he said, "it is intriguing, but I'm a little bit vague on a few important points. Not to seem gauche, but what exactly are you offering me? What do I gain by joining with you?"

If he expected Melchior to be offended, he was disappointed. "You gain my patronage," he said. "That is no small matter."

"In the Faerie Court I'm sure it is not, but I make my home here in the Mortal Realm. I'm afraid I have little use for Fae politics."

"But my dear Strephon, I have influence in this world too and am gaining more. I understand you had some difficulty with a witch named Morrigan last night. I could have helped you with her. I would have been happy to take care of the matter."

Strephon colored. He should have known Melchior would hear about that sooner or later. "It was a personal matter," he said. "I preferred to deal with her myself. Perhaps I should say more importantly, what do you expect from me in return for your patronage? I know nothing of computers. I rarely even use the telephone. I have no experience in marketing or management. I can offer nothing to your company."

Melchior laughed. "I can hire technicians and programmers. But you have a unique position in this community which could prove useful to me. You are familiar, of course, with the Council?"

He did not have to specify. The Council was an group of werewolves, vampires and the occasional god or two, which informally governed the magical beings of the city. "I have had dealings with the Council, but not for many years."

"Lady Kurayami is on the Council and she has nominated me for membership." Melchior permitted himself a self-satisfied smirk.

"Congratulations," Strephon said.

"I have yet to be approved. As you no doubt know, there currently are no Fae sitting on the Council. Some of the members are outright hostile to us."

"Well, the Fae have traditionally held themselves above such petty mortal concerns as parliamentary procedure. I take it you do not."

Melchior's smile became more wolfish. "The Fae are going to become a presence in this city. It is only right that they be represented. And who better to represent them?"

Strephon nodded thoughtfully. "A reasonable ambition. And how does my unique position fit in with your goals?"

"I want you to accompany me to the next Council meeting. Speak a few words on my behalf."

"I have not had contact with the Council in decades! I hardly know who is on it anymore!"

"You met some of them at my party last week. And the Council knows you. You are respected as a long-time resident of the city and regarded as an honorable man. You carry more weight than perhaps you suspect."

Strephon pondered. Shallow flattery, of course, but how should he respond? The notion of nominating this cad for even a library card repelled him. On the other hand, Melchior was going to proceed with his plans with or without the Council's blessings; perhaps it would indeed be better to have him out in the open within the Council's sight rather than plotting in the darkness. And how better to gain Melchior's confidence enough to uncover those plots than to aid his social-climbing.

"Since you put it that way..." Strephon said, "...I accept."

Next:  Dangerous Dreams 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 46: Fume, Fume, Fume

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 survived her first assignment for the Redemption Morning Star, having been imprisoned by the sweet old lady she was supposed to be interviewing. Now she faces an even more harrowing ordeal...

Cassandra had been working for the Morning Star less than thirty-six hours and already she had come to dread her editor's Kindly Voice.

"This is not the Daily Oracle, Miss True," Mr. Johnson said like a soothing parent explaining that This Will Hurt Me More Than It Hurts You. "We have a certain obligation to our readers. We can't have these unsubstantiated wild fantasies, no matter how imaginative."

"Unsubstantiated? I have quotes from witnesses!"

"Then there is the matter of your allegations against Mrs. Morrigan."

"The witch kidnapped me!"

A pained expression crossed the editor's face. "That word. It has certain negative connotations. You must understand, the Wiccan Anti-Defamation League is very powerful in this city. It is the policy of this paper not to disparage anyone's religion."

"Religion has nothing to do with it! She locked me up in a bloody iron cage!"

Mr. Johnson shut his eyes with a saintly patience and when he opened them said, "I can see that you are too close to this story. Your emotional investment is too great. I suggest that you turn your notes over to one of our more experienced reporters and let him write it."

That was the end of the matter. Cassandra spent the rest of the morning proofreading wire copy and sizing photographs -- something any halfway competent intern could do -- and fuming.

Mostly, she fumed at Strephon. She had saved his life the night before; or at least saved him from whatever that Morrigan woman had planned for him, and how did he react? Clever girl!  Like she was a cocker spaniel who had brought him his newspaper. Well, it hadn't seemed quite so condescending at the time, but then the police showed up.

As soon as the police arrived, Strephon took charge. He explained how a messenger had told him that Mrs. Morrigan was holding a friend of his and demanded he come to negotiate her release, which was true as far as it went, but he described Morrigan's servants as purely human agents. He explained that Morrigan had once been in love with his grandfather and had developed an irrational obsession with him. It all sounded so reasonable, except...

What about the Banshee? What about the Wisp? What about Morrigan's certainty that Strephon was the same man she had loved years ago?

She told the police her story, but they seemed skeptical. "The tea she offered you, you thought it was drugged?" Strephon offered. "Perhaps some of the things you thought you saw..." "But I did see it!"

Finally, Cassandra grudgingly accepted Strephon's version of the night's events and that was the version she wrote in her story; and even that was too unbelievable, apparently.

"Hi, Cassie. How's it going?" Cassandra shook herself out of her self-pity and saw Saul Taylor leaning on her desk. He flashed her a charming smile.

She was not in the mood. "How does it look like it's going?"

Saul shifted his weight uncomfortably. "Um, listen. I hope you're not mad. Billy gave me your story to re-write."

Cassandra growled.

"It's a good story. Well-written. It's just, well... it is a bit fantastic."

"Hah!" Cassandra grumbled. "I didn't write the half of what happened."

"Well then. Would you like to tell me about it... over lunch, maybe?"

Cassandra softened. She was feeling peckish and Saul did have a nice smile. "Hmmm... I suppose I could be persuaded."
* * * * *
"He talks to me like I'm a child," Cassandra said through a mouthful of Thai beef. "I've noticed that everyone else he yells at, but with me he uses this smarmy, soothing, patronizing voice like he's explaining to me why I can't have a lolly until after dinner."

"Well, I'm afraid you're a victim of your own success there," Saul replied. "Billy likes to hire his own reporters. He doesn't like it when the Celestial Mister Knox graces us with new employees by Imperial Decree. Until you can prove otherwise, Billy's going to assume you're incompetent and only got your jobs through nepotism. It isn't fair, but there you are."

Cassandra grumbled and stabbed at a water chestnut with her fork.

"You have to also remember, this is a very conservative paper. Billy believes that reporters should report the news, not make the news."

"It's not like I asked to be kidnapped!"

"I know, I know," Saul said soothingly. "Listen. Let me try to talk to Billy. Maybe I can persuade him to cut you a little slack." He reached across the table and put his hand on hers. "And then maybe we could talk it over at dinner?"

Cassandra thought it over for a moment. "You know, there is one other thing you could do for me..."

NEXT:  Business Luncheon 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 45: Things Base and Vial

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.

Aoi Kurayami, a powerful vampiress, has entered into a partnership with Faerie Lord Melchior Aesermann. She also runs the Club Cyba-Netsu, a popular cyber-cafe frequented by many denizens of the night. Some of them are even human...

Kurayami turned the slim vial of liquid over and over in her fingers, allowing the light to play in the lavender colored solution inside. "I will have you know that I do not do business with your kind," she said.

The person seated across from her desk leaned back with an insinuating smile. He clearly suffered under the delusion he was in control of this situation. Seymour, the club bouncer who had brought this visitor to Kurayami's attention, glared down at him, radiating silent intimidation, with no apparent effect. "Is that so, Mistress Kurayami?" the visitor purred with insulting politeness. "I was given to understand you had no problems dealing with the Fae." He gave a glance over at the other table where Claude sat mutely in front of a computer terminal.

"Him?" Kurayami said. "He is a gift from Lord Melchior. He is pretty to look at and adequate in bed. He also has other uses." Claude was one of Melchior's people, what he called the 'Silicon Fae': faerie with a special affinity for technology. Claude tilted his head slightly, revealing the cable running from his computer to an input jack in his skull, just behind his perfectly-formed ear. Yes, Kurayami found Claude to be very useful. He made her system run 65% faster.

"But you misunderstand me," Kurayami continued. "It is not your species I object to, but your occupation." She tossed the vial back at her visitor. "I was referring to drug dealers."

"Please. I have no desire to cut into your profits. Indeed, I am more than happy to offer a percentage for your patronage."

"I run a legal establishment. I permit no drugs" She smiled, just enough to show her teeth. "Besides, they leave an unpleasant taste in the blood." It was time this fool realized his position.

"But surely, Mistress Kurayami, a powerful vampire lord like you is not afraid of mortal law."

Now the fool was becoming tiresome. The blatant play on her vanity suggested a lack of respect for her intelligence as well as for her power. "It pleases the police that they not look too closely at my affairs and it pleases me that I never give them a reason to wish to. The first rule of control is to never give others a reason to challenge your control. Surely you know that."

Kurayami rose from her desk and walked around it to her visitor. Seymour stepped back to give her room, recognizing the quiet menace in her mood. The visitor seemed not to realize his danger; or perhaps he didn't care. He was clearly either very confident, or an idiot. It was time to end this game.

She leaned over the visitor, cradling his jaw tenderly in her fingers and bringing her lips close to the side of his neck. "I know what you are thinking," she whispered. "You are thinking that I will not dare bite you. You are thinking that your blood protects you; that the raw magic of your faerie nature would destroy me as surely as sunlight would; and that even if I were powerful enough to survive drinking of you, that the magic in your blood would bind me to you and make me yours. For that reason you think you have nothing to fear..." She felt the muscles in his throat tense in anticipation as her teeth hovered so tantalizingly close.

"You are mistaken!"

Her fingers abruptly closed upon his trachea and she wrenched his head to meet her gaze. Her nails dug into the flesh of his neck and her eyes transfixed his like a pin holding a butterfly. "You will tell me," she hissed, "what manner of drug do you sell?"

"It - it's not a drug!" the person stammered. "It's Essence of the Fae, distilled from faerie blood!"


"No! Not poison! It enraptures mortals, true, but their blood transforms the essence and makes it safe for your kindred!"

Kurayami knotted her brow and kindled twins sparks of malice in her eyes. In a moment or two, the fae would realize that he could simply turn into a moonbeam or a cloud of thistledown or something equally poetic and escape her grasp, but for now she held him fast by her will. Beings of fancy rather than substance, the Fae were immune to most physical attack, but not to domination by the will. Kurayami possessed will in abundant quantity.

For a moment their gazes held. Then, she released her grasp and the visitor fell to the floor with an ungraceful thud. "Do something to him, Seymour," she said. "I care not what."

Seymour bent over to pick up the visitor, but the fae dissolved into a rainbow of mist and disappeared, leaving only the small purple vial.

He reached for the vial, but before he could take it, Kurayami crushed it beneath the toe of her shoe. The vial's lavender contents seeped into her carpeted floor.

"Claude, darling. Be a dear and clean that up. This way, Seymour." Kurayami strode out of her office, followed by her faithful shadow.

She felt a need for more pleasant company.

Next:  Fume Fume Fume