Friday, January 30, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 61: Strolling Through the Park

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 learned that a local werewolf pack has taken to wearing faerie enchantments, and suspects that Melchior might have a hand in this as well  To find out for sure, he wishes to find the source of these enchantments.

It had been many years – decades, really – since Strephon had visited Wildmere Forest.  Despite the name, Wildmere was one of the more domesticated of the heavily-wooded patches of parkland, designated as “forests” by centuries of tradition, within the Redemption city limits.  During the 1800s an attempt had been made to tame these forests and prune them into properly-manicured parks, with pedestrian walkways, gardens, lawns, and even a few pieces of tasteful statuary.  Of these, Wildmere was the most successful.  Strephon remembered walking here with Phyllis in happier days, back when she was alive, and when he walked places.

He had not been there since the city had established a weekly Artisan’s Market held in Wildmere every Saturday afternoon.  It seemed peculiar to see the familiar park bustling with vendor’s tables under coloured awnings crowded on either side of the two main walkways making an “X” through the middle of the forest.  The light drizzle of the previous night was only just tapering off and the mid-morning sun finally piercing through the clouds, yet already a scattering of customers was drifting from table to table.

Here a thin gentleman in spectacles was selling blown glass barometers fashioned in the shape of swans; across from him a woman was adjusting her racks of tie-dyed scarves to keep them out of the drops still falling from the trees; beyond them was another woman selling jewelry made from bottle caps and a small, gnomish woman with masks of Herne the Hunter – or was is supposed to be Cenunnos? -- carved from grotesque pieces of wood.  Strephon chatted with each vendor, and expressed a polite interest in their wares.

“Yummy-yummy dog treats!”  a tall blonde lady with a terrier under one arm said, rattling a cup of homemade biscuits in Strephon’s direction. 

“I do not have a dog,” Strephon said apologetically.  “I have a cat, but I don’t think she’d care for dog biscuits.”

“They’re yummy!” the lady insisted.  Strephon decided he didn’t want to know how she was so certain of this.

The woman with the masks seemed to be watching Strephon with an intensity he found disquieting.  Or perhaps it was the masks.  They made him think of the Wild Hunt, something he had never in his lifetime seen, but of which the faeries spoke in hushed and fearful tones.  Strephon propelled his wheelchair past that vendor.  He could speak with her later.

The next vendor was a plump, friendly woman with a pixieish smile and startlingly blue hair who had a table of chainmaille jewelry.  “Feel free to try anything on,” she said.  “I have men’s jewelry as well as women’s..”

“Thank you.”  He gave a rack of earrings a quarter turn with his finger.  Despite the woman’s assurances, he saw nothing that really suited him, but he found himself wondering how some of the pieces might look on Cassandra.  Now what brought her to mind?

“I believe there used to be a woman here selling jewelry.  Belladonna Morrigan?”  He tried to sound casual.

The blue-haired woman pursed her lips in thought.  “I haven’t seen her this week.  She’s usually on the west side of the park by the hawthorn bushes.”

“I understand she’s out of town,” Strephon said; which was not a lie.  Morrigan had been dragged off to the Faerie Realms by the fae she had held captive; that was certainly ‘Out of Town.’  “I wondered if you might know anything about the work she did.”

The woman gave a slight shrug of her head.  “She worked mostly with silver.  It’s expensive, and I don’t think she sold a lot.  I do a little work in sterling, but mostly I use aluminum jump rings.  They don’t tarnish, and they’re non-allergenic.  Oh, and she decorated her pieces with distinctive runes.”  She frowned.  “Not Celtic runes that I know of.  I think she claimed they were elvish or Atlantean or something like that.”

“Or faerie?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Do you know who bought her jewelry?”

She shrugged again.  “I don’t think she had a lot of customers.  A lot of lookers; not a lot of takers.  As I said, she was expensive.  I’d guess that most of her customers were tourists from out of town with lots of money.”

That was pretty much what all the other vendors he had spoken to said.  But he thanked her, and bought a black and silver bracelet for Devon.  “That particular weave is called ‘Rhino Snorting Drano,” the vendor told him. 

"Devon will be delighted."

And on further thought, he also bought a pair of green Swarovski Crystal earrings for Cassandra.  A foolish thought, he told himself.  He didn’t even know if he would see her again.

Coming to the intersection of the sidewalks, he turned down the west path.

And there stood Cassandra.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 60: Three's a Crowd

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 has followed her roommate Cecily to the Cyba-Netsu, a local club frequented by vampires and other exotic people.  She has learned that Cecily has been seeing a vampire there, and Cassandra hopes to save her.  Miss Kurayami has warned Cassandra not to interfere with her friend’s love life, and so Cassandra decides on another course of action.

“Oh, my god.”

“What is it?”  Philippe looked around the club floor.

Cecily crouched down, trying to hide behind the screen on her table’s laptop.  “It’s my roommate, Cassandra,” she whispered.  What was she doing here?

She saw Cassandra come out of Kurayami’s office and look around the dance floor.  Cecily tried to sink lower in her seat, but it was too late; Cassandra’s gaze met hers and she strode purposefully towards their table.

“Hullo, Cecily!” Cassandra said cheerily.  “I was hoping I’d find you here!  This must be Philippe.”

Philippe rose and gave Cassandra a half-bow.  “Your servant.  And you must be Cecily’s friend, Cassandra,” he said in the suave, Continental tone that made Cecily melt inside when he directed it at her, but made her feel quite differently when spoken to her roommate.

“What are you doing here, Sandy?” Cecily said through gritted teeth.

“I decided you were right.  It’s not fair for me to judge your friend before I’ve even met him.  So, if it’s all right with you, I thought I might join you.”  Cassandra grabbed a chair from a nearby table and sat down between Cecily and Philippe.

It was not all right with Cecily, but Philippe said, “We’d be delighted and sat back down.

“Then we’ll make it a three-way.”  Cassandra giggled.  “I mean, a threesome.”

Cecily frowned.  That remark was so unlike Sandy.  “Have you been drinking?’

“I have not,” Cassandra insisted.  “Just one Nuzzy Fable.  Fipple.  One Fuzzy Navel.”  Cassandra giggled again.  Yes, Cecily was sure now; Cassandra was pretending to be drunk.  Now she was unbuttoning the collar of her blouse, that silly high-collared thing that she thought made her look professional but really made her look more virginal than usual.  “Whew!  It’s so warm in here!”

Good grief, how unsubtle could she get?  But Philippe seemed to be eating it up.  “Another Fuzzy Navel for this lady here,” he told a passing waiter.

Philippe couldn’t keep his eyes off Cassandra’s cleavage.  No, not her cleavage, that peculiar amulet she was wearing.  Where did she get it?  Cecily didn’t remember seeing it before.

Then Philippe turned his attention to Cecily again and in an instant all her jealousy evaporated.  Of course he loved her.  How could she think otherwise?  She relaxed a bit.  But then his gaze returned to Cassandra.

“So I understand you’re a vampire,” Sandy was saying.  “Tell me a bit more about it.  I expect most of what I know is wrong.”

“Well, to begin with, we dislike the term ‘Vampires.’  It has such a superstitious connotation.  We prefer to call ourselves The Kindred.”

“That is so fascinating!” 

Cecily scowled at that. Cassandra wouldn’t find it fascinating; she would find it pretentious.  She’d figured out Sandy’s game now; she was trying to break the two of them up. Well, it wouldn’t work.  But why didn’t Philippe see that?  And why he focusing on that amulet and why did he seem so tense?

“What an interesting charm you’re wearing,” Philippe said at last.

“Oh, this?”  Cassandra seemed to notice what he was staring at for the first time.  “A friend gave this to me.  For protection, she said.  But we’re all friends here, right?  I’m sure I don’t need it.”  She unfastened the amulet and set it down on the table.  Philippe seemed to relax.

They chatted some more and Cassandra slipped deeper and deeper into her Fuzzy Navel.  Cecily was still sure she was only pretending to be tipsy.

“Would you excuse me?” Cassandra said suddenly.  “I have to visit the Little Girl’s Room.  I always get turned around in this place; where is it?”  She stood up abruptly and teetered a little.

Philippe rose immediately and steadied her elbow.  “I was on my way there myself.  Let me show you.”

His offer was like cold water in Cecily’s face.  He was going to bite Cassandra.  She knew it.  How could he do that?  Cecily wanted him to bite her.  She was expecting it.  She was waiting for it.  And now he would be drinking from Sandy, his lips at Sandy’s throat.  It wasn’t right!

Cecily was about to say something, when Cassandra scooped up the amulet from the table and placed it in her palm.  “Take care of this,” Cassandra said softly, her voice suddenly sober.  “Keep it safe.  Please.”  She closed Cecily’s hands over the charm; then she lurched towards the lavatories.

Philippe came close after her, but first also paused by Cecily and brought his lips close to her neck.  “I won’t be long.”  His breath was cool and sweet on her flesh.  “I haven’t forgotten you darling.”  Again, all her suspicion and mistrust ebbed from her, replaced by a sense of blissful anticipation.  How could she doubt him?

He gave Cecily’s hand a pat.  “And dispose of that, will you?” 

The chill returned.  Cecily watched Philippe escort Cassandra towards the back of the club.  Then she opened her hand and looked at the amulet.  Sandy told her to keep it safe.  Obviously, it was a charm to protect her from vampires.  And Philippe had told her to throw it away.  Cassandra was trying to play some sort of game here.  But she had also trusted Cecily.

She did not throw it away. Instead,  Cecily fastened the amulet around her own neck.

Immediately, a strange clarity seemed to come over her. She still loved Philippe, and desired his touch on her throat; but for the first time she realized that his regard for her was purely nutritional.  He was going to enthrall Cassandra; and then he was going to take both of the back to his flat and feed on them both.. And she wouldn’t even be sharing him with Cassandra, because he belonged to neither of them; they belonged to him.  And despite how wrong she felt this to be, Cecily knew she would welcome it, and he would make love to them, and he would offer Sandy some Essence…

No.  She couldn’t let Cassandra do this.  She rushed to the back of the club to the alcove in front of the lavatories.  Cassandra was backed up against the wall, with Philippe standing over her cooing tender blandishments and drawing closer to her carotid artery..  In Cassandra’s face Cecily saw the same mixture of dread and desire that had paralyzed her so often.

“Sandy?  I was thinking,” Cecily said, and the Vampire’s spell was broken.  “Neither one of us got much sleep last night.  Maybe it would be a good idea to call it a night.”

Cassandra blinked, as if confused.  Then slid away from Philippe to Cecily’s side.

“I could call you a cab,” Philippe offered.

“That’s okay.  We’ll manage.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”  Cecily put her arm around Cassandra and escorted her out of the club.

“Thanks,” Cassandra said.  “I thought I could hold out against him.  It was harder than I thought.  I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how it was.”

“It’s okay,” Cecily said.  “We’ll get you home.”  Already she was beginning to regret leaving Philippe.  She had so looked forward to later.  Still, there would be tomorrow night; and she did have a responsibility to Sandy.

“Funny,”  Cassandra said as they walked out into the evening drizzle.  “I thought I was coming to the club to rescue you.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Cecily said.

A taxi cab pulled up alongside the sidewalk by them, and a big black cabbie rolled down the window.

“Tobias!”  Cassandra said.

“Grams told me you might need a lift about now,” the cabbie said.

This made no sense to Cecily, but it seemed to make sense to Cassandra.  In any case, she was glad to get out of the rain.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 59: Into the Lioness' Den

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 has discovered that her roommate Cecily has become involved with a vampire at a local club called the Cyba-Netsu .  Her attempt to discuss the situation with Cecily has gone badly and ended up as a quarrel.  She decides that she will have to go to the club herself and speak with its owner, a powerful vampire named Kuraymi .

“There is somebody watching the club from across the street.”

Kurayami looked up from her invoices.  “You are sure, Seymour?”

The club’s bouncer nodded curtly.  “She’s been sitting at the bus stop for over an hour now.  Three busses have gone by and she’s still there.”

“Do you recognize her?”

“Yes.  She has been here before.  She is Miss Cecily’s friend.”

Kurayami brought her pencil to her lips thoughtfully.  “Yes, the reporter.  She is also a friend of Mister MacKenzie.”  Seymour stood over her waiting mutely as she considered the matter.  “”It is a cold, damp night.  Invite her in.  Politely.  Bring her here to my office.”

Seymour nodded again and turned to leave.

“And Seymour,” Kurayami added, “bring her in the side door; not through the club.”

  • * * * *

Cassandra had not intended to confront Kurayami this quickly.  She had planned to just watch and see when Cecily went in and came out again and maybe get a good look at Phillipe.  She’d also hoped that in her overcoat and sunglasses, she’d be nicely inconspicuous.  In retrospect, she realized that was a mistake.  When the club bouncer came out to her and offered her and umbrella and invited her in, there seemed little point in refusing..

“How pleasant to see you again,” Kurayami said as the bouncer escorted Cassandra into her office.  “Do have a seat.”

Cassandra gingerly sat down in the chair the looming bouncer placed for her and accepted the fuzzy navel from the tray he offered,  “Thank you,” she said.  She felt the same unease as she’d felt when visiting Mrs. Morrigan; the sensation that she was entering a spider’s web.  Still, she couldn’t back down now.

“You may remove your coat if you like.  Please, make yourself comfortable.”

Actually, Cassandra would have felt more comfortable with the coat on, but acceded to Kurayami’s request.  She thought she caught the hint of a smirk on Kurayami’s face as she unbuttoned her overcoat and revealed the high-collared blouse she was wearing.  It had seemed an obvious precaution at home when she was getting ready to go out; now it seemed childishly futile.  The smirk disappeared when Cassandra unbuttoned the coat further, revealing the medallion Grandma Simms had given her.

“Should I be carrying a crucifix?” she had asked Grandma Simms.

“You say your prayers before going to bed every night?  You go to church every Sunday?”

“Um… well…”

“A cross be no good luck charm.  You can’t impress a vampire by pretending.  This might help, though.”  Grandma Simms had pressed the medallion into her hands. “ I
It has spells on it to repel the undead.  Might not stop a powerful vampire like Kurayami, but it’ll give her something to think about.”

Kurayami seemed to be thinking now.  She gave an annoyed frown and Cassandra thought she heard a sharp intake of breath like a hiss.  Kurayami’s glance darted to her sharply.  After a longish pause that made Cassandra’s throat feel dry, Kurayami said, “So.  That’s how it is.”

Cassandra nodded and hazarded a sip of the fuzzy navel.

“And my I ask you what brings you to my club this evening?  You know you are welcome to come inside whenever we are open.”

Cassandra took a deep breath.  “I’m sure you remember my friend Cecily.  She comes here often.  She’s been seeing a lot lately of this guy she met here named Philippe.  I don’t think we need to pretend he’s not a vampire.”

There.  She’d said it. Cassandra felt her cheeks burn under Kurayami’s relentless gaze; did that lady ever blink?  But at least it was all out in the open.

Kurayami did not respond immediately, as if carefully choosing her words.  “Then I think we may speak frankly.”

Again, Cassandra nodded.  The sip of alcohol had bolstered her confidence a little, but she didn’t want to drink too much.

“You disapprove of your friends paramour and so you wish to break them up, am I correct?” Kurayami continued.

“I’m concerned about Cecily and her safety.”

“Surely, she is the best judge of that, isn’t she?”

“I don’t think she’s entering this relationship entirely of her own free will.”

Kurayami chuckled, as if Cassandra had said something funny.  The laugh made Cassandra feel chill, but she pressed on.

“:I have reason to believe that she and Philippe have been doing drugs.”

The chuckle ceased.  “That is preposterous.  I permit no drugs in  my establishment.”  The warm hospitality had left Kurayami’s voice, replaced by an edge of steel.

“Maybe they’re not doing it here…”

“Where is your proof?”

Cassandra looked away.  That was the thing.  “It’s mostly a hunch.  But I’m pretty sure.”

Kurayami relaxed and the serene smile returned.  “Don’t you think you are being a bit presumptuous?  Your friend’s romantic affairs are her own business, not yours.  You are judging Philippe based on superstition and Hollywood myths.  You haven’t even met him.  Don’t you think your friend knows his character better than you?”

Cassandra tried not to squirm.  What Kuriyama said was true; Cassandra had been asking herself the same questions.  It was hard not to feel intimidated in her presence, and the sensation of entrapment became more and more palpable. Cassandra felt a strong urge to simply acquiesce and go home.  “Perhaps…” she said.

Then she met Kurayami’s basilisk gaze and held it.  She knew now what to do.  “Perhaps you are right.  It’s wrong for me to jump to conclusions like that without getting to know him.”

Cassandra stood up and gulped down the rest of her fuzzy navel.  “Thank you very much, Miss Kurayami; you’ve been very helpful.”  She grabbed her overcoat and headed for the door.

“Miss True!”  

Kurayami obviously did not consider the interview over yet; but Cassandra had no desire to prolong it.  She beat the bouncer to the door, but paused before she left.  “And thanks again for the drink.”

She strode briskly out of the office and towards the club floor.

Next:  Getting to Know You

Friday, January 2, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 58: Weighing Options

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 has discovered that her roommate Cecily has become involved with a vampire.  Her attempt to discuss the situation with Cecily has gone badly and ended up as a quarrel.  Now Cassandra ponders what to do next.

Cassandra intended to speak with Cecily again in the morning, but woke to the sound of Cecily breezing out the door.  “I’m off to work, Sandy!” her voice was unnecessarily loud.  “That’s what responsible people do!  Ta!”  Cecily slammed the door on her way out.

Rubbing her temples, Cassandra sat up and squinted at her alarm clock.  Damn!  How could Cecily be so bright and chipper at this time of the morning?  She must have gotten even less sleep than Cassandra did.  She dragged herself out of bed and made another cup of coffee.

The more she thought about the peculiar way Cecily reacted to her mention of addiction the night before, the less she liked it.  Cecily tended to talk casually about drugs in conversation, but in practice she stuck mostly to alcohol.  For her to react so defensively suggested to Cassandra that Cecily had something to hide.  “Methinks she doth protest too much,” Cassandra muttered grimly to herself.

The obvious thing to do would be to search her room.  Cassandra felt a twinge of guilt over snooping on her roommate, but she told herself this was for Cecily’s own good.

Entering the room, Cassandra was shocked to find it as neat as a pin.  Cecily had obviously anticipated her and cleaned it, no doubt to destroy anything incriminating.  Had Cecily slept at all last night?  Doggedly, Cassandra dug through Cecily’s dresser and looked under her mattress looking for anything to confirm or disprove her suspicions, but found nothing.  Even the wastebaskets were empty.  Cecilie never took out the garbage.  Cassandra briefly considered digging through the dumpster in back of their building, but a look at the clock warned her that she didn’t have the time.

“Are you all right?” Saul asked when she came into the newspaper office.  “You look beat.”

“I’m okay.”  Cassandra dumped the armload of material about the Redemption Culture Claque on her desk and headed straight for the coffee machine.  “Didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“That Strephon friend of yours isn’t causing you problems, is he?”

A bit of guilt nibbled at the back of her conscience.  Saul had helped her try to research Strephon, and so she really ought to tell him what she’d found out about Strephon.  What she suspected, she corrected herself; she didn’t really know anything.  And even if she was right about Strephon being part fairy, surely it wasn’t her place to go spreading his secret around.  Well, she had told Cecilie, but that was different.  But did she really owe Strephon any confidence, seeing as he’d been lying to her all this time?  Cassandra shook her head.  Strephon’s Victorian manners were beginning to rub off on her.  No, she needed to talk things over with Strephon first before she told anybody else anything.  Not that Saul would believe her.


“Hm?  Oh, no.  Nothing like that.  It’s my roommate, Cecilie.  I’ve been worried about her.”  Could Saul help her with Cecilie?  No, he probably didn’t believe in vampires.  And as for the drugs, he’d probably just tell her to go to the police.  She’d already decided that the police would be no help in this situation.

Cassandra turned in her Culture Claque story and tried to concentrate on her next assignment, but her mind kept drifting to the problem of Cecilie.  What about Strephon?  Could he help her?  He probably did believe in vampires.  At least he’d take her seriously.  But Strephon didn’t seem like someone who would know squat about illicit drugs, unless it were something like opium or laudanum.

Who else could she turn to?  Maybe Grandma Simms.  Mrs. Simms had helped Cassandra when she and Strephon had been attacked by wolves, and Cassandra had the impression that she knew a lot about magic. Cassandra made a note to visit the Friendlee-Mart on Fitch Street after work.

What else?  Cassandra looked at her notebook, at the scrawl of names, thoughts and queries that she had jotted down as she grappled with her problem.  There was one name she hadn’t written, that she had been avoiding.


If anyone knew anything about vampires at the Club Cyba-Netsu, it would be Ms. Kurayami.  And if Cassandra wanted to settle things one way or the other, she would have to go back to the Cyba-Netsu and talk to Kurayami herself.