Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 56: Judgment

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.

The life of Cassandra True, a reporter recently hired by the Morning Star, has lately been engulfed in the supernatural, ranging from werewolves to a ghost to a deranged witch and her faerie minions.  Perhaps the most mysterious is her new acquaintance, Strephon, whom she has just discovered has even deeper secrets than she imagined.  But now she has discovered that her roommate, Cecily, has become involved with vampires.

Cecily did not roll into the flat, giddy and exhausted, until the far side of 3:00 am.  She did not expect to see Cassandra sitting on the couch waiting for her.

“You shouldn’t have waited up,” Cecily said.

“I know.”  Cassandra’s reply was dangerously quiet.  Cecily realized that they were about to have that conversation which begins “Cecily, we have to talk.”  She had been dreading that conversation for days, and especially did not want to have it now; not when she was so tired and after the night had otherwise gone so well.

“I suppose you went to the Cyba-Netsu,” Cassandra continued.  “Did you have fun?”

“Yah.”  Cecily could guess by the careful way Cassandra phrased the question that it was a trap.  What the hell.  Get it over with.

Cassandra just gave her a hard, long look, like she was trying to nerve herself to say something.  Then she said it.  “I was wondering.  I know when you donate blood at the Red Cross, they give you donuts afterwards.  What do you get at the Cyba-Netsu?”

Cecily’s hand darted to the scarf around her neck.  The accusation veiled in the sarcastic remark felt like a slap in the face.  Sandy didn’t usually do sarcasm, at least not very well.  Cassandra’s face reddened, but she kept her relentless gaze on Cecily, daring her to deny it.

“It’s not what you think.”

“Then show me your neck.”

Damn!  Why did Sandy always have to make things difficult?  She didn’t want to have to deal with this!  She just wanted to crawl into bed.  Cecily felt herself growing angry.  She pulled off the scarf defiantly and let it flutter to the floor.  “There!  Are you happy?”

Cassandra bit her lip and stared at the puncture marks on Cecily’s neck.  Any moment now, it would come:  the disapproval; the anger; the judgment; the disappointment.  Well let it come.

“I’ve been worried about you.”  Cassandra’s voice was low, but it was still a reproach.  “I wish you had told me.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

The two glared at each other for a moment.  At least Cecily glared; she couldn’t tell exactly what Cassandra was thinking.

Finally Cassandra looked away.  “That’s too bad, because I have a problem.”  God, here it comes, she’s going to bring up the rent again, Cecily thought.  “You see, I just found out why Strephon’s been lying to me, and I’m not sure what to do about it.  I’d like to ask a friend I can trust for advice, but I’m not sure if I can trust her if she won’t trust me.”

Cecily wasn’t expecting that.  All the anger, all the defensiveness, all the self-righteous mind-your-own-business-ness she had been building up just oozed out of her.  She was tired.  She just couldn’t maintain it. 

She sat down on the couch next to her.  Cassandra’s eyes were moist with tears, but she was trying not to show it.  Cecily put her arm around her.

“Sandy, we have to talk.”

NEXT: Heart to Heart 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 55: Soap and Opera

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 been trying to learn more about the enigmatic wheelchair-bound recluse Strephon MacKenzie whom she's been seeing.  But  tonight that will have to wait.

Technically speaking, this was Cecily’s week to do laundry, but Cecily had come home early from work complaining of a wham-bugger of a headache and begged Cassandra to do it.  Of course, as soon as the sun went down, Cecily arose as bright and chipper as ever.  She breezed out of the flat with a cheery, “Thanks, much!  I owe you, Sandy!”

“I’ll say, you owe me!” Cassandra grumbled as she sorted the dirty laundry.  “Why do I always have to be the responsible one?”

She had intended to spend a quiet evening at home.  Then Billy reminded her of the puff piece he had assigned her on the Redemption Culture Claque and their Gilbert & Sullivan festival and dumped a load of promotional material from the group in her lap.  He did it at the last moment too, the bastard.  Now she had to sort out Cecily’s knickers on top of things.  Oh well, she could multi-task.

Cassandra lugged the basket of laundry downstairs and fed coins into the building’s ancient washing machine., a formidable beast that had been in the basement since at least the Thatcher administration.  Then she went back upstairs to tackle the Culture Claque.

The press kit included a brief history of the organization and of their Gilbert & Sullivan festival, (“Extravaganza!” In her mind she could hear Mrs. Trotter correct her.) There were several photographs of past productions and of celebrities who had appeared at the festival over the years.  The kit also included a DVD of last year’s production of something called “Iolanthe”.  Great, Cassandra thought; “My spell-checker’s going to love that one.”

She fed the DVD into her player and let the overture of the operetta flitter in the background as she skimmed over the rest of the kit.  Apparently Henry Lytton had debuted his controversial interpretation of Jack Point in Redemption during a touring production of “Yeoman of the Guard” in 1888.  Except that the write-up didn’t explain who Lytton was, who Jack Point was or what was so controversial about it.  More research to do.

She looked up at the TV again when the overture ended and the singing began.  A swarm of tiny lights were dancing about a darkened stage.  As the lights came up, she saw that they were wands – battery operated, probably – held by the female chorus.  Cassandra remembered that this one was supposed to be about fairies or something.  And it was supposed to be political satire.  Hundred-year-old political jokes and fairies; now that was bound to be knee-slapping. 

“We are dainty little fairies,
Ever singing, ever dancing;
We indulge in our vagaries
In a fashion most entrancing…”

She remembered Wisp, one of Morrigan’s captives, and his disdain for Victorian depiction of fairies.  This was probably exactly what he meant.

Suddenly, as if summoned by the memory, Morrigan herself strode onto the stage, in the role of the Queen of the Fairies.  Cassandra was startled by her appearance, until she remembered that Mrs. Morrigan played many of the “Katisha roles” in the group’s productions; the intimidating, middle-aged women who wind up marrying the patter-singer.  There were some tasteless jokes about the Queen’s girth and Morrigan played the part with oblivious gravity.  You’d hardly know the woman was completely deranged.

The second shock came with the entrance of Iolanthe, evidently some sort of fairy princess.  Something about the piercingly beautiful voice seemed familiar to Cassandra.   It had an unearthly quality, evident even on this poorly-recorded amateur DVD. Then she recognized the singer:  Banshee, the other fae Morrigan had enslaved.  Or was it?  Cassandra dimly recalled that Morrigan had first introduced the two captives as her niece and nephew.  She dug through the press kit again and found a program for the performance.  Sure enough, under the Dramatis Personae, she found IOLANTHE – Sheila Morrigan.

But something else caught Cassandra’s eye:  At the very top of the cast list was the name “STREPHON, An Arcadian Shepherd”  What?  And further down the list was “PHYLLIS, a Ward in Chancery”.

It’s a coincidence, Cassandra told herself.  Or perhaps his parents were Gilbert and Sullivan fans and named him after the character in the operetta.  She recalled that Strephon expressed a decided dislike for Gilbert and Sullivan; this was probably the reason.  But wait, his grandfather had been named Strephon too – (or was that his great-grandfather?  She still wasn’t clear on how many generations of MacKenzies were in Strephon’s family).  Where had Old Man MacKenzie gotten the name?

She was so distracted by this train of thought that she nearly missed the next part.  Onstage, the character of Strephon the Shepherd, a prancing prat in knee-breeches playing some sort of flute, was lamenting about the difficulties in being half a fairy.

“What’s the use of being half a fairy”  My body can creep through a keyhole, but what’s the good of that when my legs are kicking behind?  I can make myself invisible down to the waist, but that’s of no use when my legs remain exposed to view.  My brain is a fairy brain, but from the waist downward I’m a gibbering idiot.  My upper half is immortal, but my lower half grows older every day, and some day or other must die of old age.  What’s to become of my upper half when I’ve buried my lower half, I really don’t know…”

“I know just what you’ll do.  You’ll go about in a wheelchair and tell people you had polio.”

Cassandra didn’t mean to say it aloud.  She didn’t know why the thought came to her at all.  It was preposterous.  And yet…

She knew that fairies were real.  Wisp and Banshee were fairies, or at least some kind of supernatural creatures.  Why not Strephon?  It explained so much:  his quaint, old-fashioned manners, his evasive past, his cryptic allusions to his many eccentric aunts, his weird, otherworldly cousin Devon.  Then there were those strange dreams she’d been having lately…

The timer she had set went off.  That meant the laundry was done.  The chore of running down to the basement, unloading the dryer and lugging the laundry basket back upstairs temporarily distracted her from the matter of Strephon ; but as she folded the warm shirts and linens, it came back to haunt her.  It all seemed so ridiculous; so fanciful; but what if it were true?  And if it were, what should she do?

She absently picked up one of Cecily’s scarves from the basket to fold, then noticed a stain that had set in the wash.  It looked like a spot of blood – no, two small blood spots just maybe an inch or two apart.

Thoughts of Strephon and his mystery left her mind.  Cassandra suddenly felt very cold.

NEXT:  Judgment

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Dark Redemption chapter 54: Wolf in the Fold

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 tasked by the Faerie Queen with the mission of investigating a renegade faerie lord named Melchior who has established himself in the city.  He has come to visit Lydia Palmer, the wife of the local vicar, who is active in the witching community.

“Pastor Shepherd?”  Strephon tried to place the name. “I don’t believe I know him.”

“He used to be pastor of St. Matthias, the Methodist church over on Eighth Street,” the vicar’s wife replied.  “He was involved in a wolf attack several years ago.”

“Ah yes.”  Now Strephon remembered reading about it..  The man had the misfortune to lead his church’s youth group on a camping trip on a weekend when the moon was full, and was attacked by wolves.  At great personal risk, he held off the pack with an aluminum tent pole so that his charges could get to the safety of the church’s van. The youths escaped unharmed, but Pastor Shepherd was badly mauled.  “What happened to him, anyway?”

“He was laid up in hospital for a couple weeks.  Arthur visited him once.  He said he had changed; that he was graver, more introspective than before.  Of course, considering how close he came to death, that is hardly surprising.”

“And he had become a werewolf?”

Lydia did not answer directly.  “The trouble did not begin until after he was released and went back to his congregation.  He spent a couple weeks in seclusion, and then suddenly came out all bursting with enthusiasm, as energetic as ever.  But Arthur said there was something not quite natural about his new lease on life; something not canny.  His theology began to show hints of disturbing heresies – even for a Methodist.  That is what Arthur said, mind you.”

“Of course.”

“I think it was when he tried to replace the bread of the Holy Eucharist with actual meat – cooked meat, of course, but still – that his parishioners complained to their bishop.  The church had him quietly removed from the congregation.”

“And where did they place this renegade Methodist?”

“Oh, he’s still in town.  He started his own mission on Foxglove Avenue; sort of a combination soup kitchen and flophouse with worship services twice a week.  I’ve heard it said that he particularly ministers to the lone wolves, itinerants without a pack of their own.  I did NOT hear that from Arthur.”

“I imagine not.”  Strephon thoughtfully munched on a biscuit.  “I have been out of touch far too long.  I should be more aware of what is going on in my own city.  You’re right.  I might do well to look up this Reverend Shepherd.”

“I’ll get the address of his mission for you,” Lydia said gathering up the tea dishes.  As she did so, her husband came out of his study.

“Ah, leaving so soon, Strephon?  Pity we couldn’t chat a bit more.  Say, would you like me to offer a prayer this Sunday for your Mother?”

“My Mother?”  The question came as a shock.

“For her birthday.”

He had forgotten that taradiddle.  “Oh no.  That won’t be necessary,” he said a bit too quickly.  Holy symbols, he knew, were anathema to the Fair Folk; he wasn’t sure if a clergyman’s blessing was something his Mother would appreciate.  The troubled and puzzled look the Vicar gave him made Strephon feel guilty, so he added, “But my cousin Devon has been going through a particularly stressful time lately.  I’m sure he would appreciate your concern.”

NEXT:  Soap and Opera