Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dark Redemption chpater 69: Guardian Angel

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; with the help of Strephon, the semi-mortal half-fae, his disreputable cousin Devon, and the Jamaican wise woman Mrs. Simms, has managed to free her roommate, Cecilie, from the thrall of Cecilie’s vampire boyfriend, Philippe. Returning to her apartment, Cassandra finds Philippe outside waiting for her. Unexpected help arrives in the form of Saul, a co-worker of Cassandra’s.

Philippe curled his lip, exposing the full length of his fangs. “This is no business of yours,” he hissed.

Saul seemed unperturbed by Philippe’s display. “I’m making it my business,” he said coolly. “The lady wishes to be left alone. I think you ought to leave.:”

Cassandra’s heart thudded. What did Saul think he was doing? She slipped her keychain back into her purse – she didn’t think that jabbing Philippe with her housekey would faze the vampire much, and she didn’t really want to get within grappling distance of him – and felt for her can of pepper spray.

The two men locked gazes, it seemed like forever. Cassandra expected Philippe to lunge, but instead he was the first to back down. He gave a feral hiss and dashed away to the nearest patch of shadow. Cassandra watched him, and did not untense until he was completely out of sight.

“Saul, what did you think you were doing?”

He gave a bemused smile. “I happened to be in the neighborhood and noticed you seemed to be having problems.”

“Thank you, but that was extremely dangerous.”

“It seemed like the gentlemanly thing to do. I guess your friend, Strephon, is rubbing off on me.”

“Don’t joke about it.” Cassandra wrinkled her nose. “You just ‘happened’ to be in the neighborhood?”

“Well…” Saul admitted, “I actually did want to talk to you about something. Could we go inside?”

Cassandra felt her heart sank. She’d had so many intense talks these last few days, she wasn’t sure she could take another. Granted, she had initiated some of them herself, but still… “Please don’t tell me you love me. The last guy who told me that was that vampire.”

“What?” Saul gave a short, surprised laugh. “That’s not what I was going to say.”

A rather peculiar non-denial, Cassandra thought. But she told him to come with her and she let him into the apartment building.

They did not go up to her flat. “It’s a mess,” she explained. “Things have been crazy these past few days and I haven’t had time to do much cleaning.” The building had a lobby area just inside the entrance, which seemed like a good place to talk: semi-private, but not too intimate.

“That really was dangerous, what you just did,” Cassandra said, settling down into one of the lobby's uncomfortable vinyl chairs. “He really is a vampire.”

“I know.”

“You know? I thought you didn't believe in spooky stuff.”

“I never said I didn't believe in it; I said that it was a bad idea to write about it. Billy doesn't like it. Nor, I suspect, does the Celestial Mister Knox.”

“Why not? If there really are vampires and ghosts and werewolves running around in this city, don't people have a right to know about it?”

Saul leaned back and sighed. He seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “You know, don't you, that Aoi Kurayami takes out a quarter-page ad every issue for Club Cyba-Netsu and a half-page for our weekend edition.”

Cassandra didn't; but she immediately caught his point. “The first rule of journalism,” she groaned. “Never piss off the advertisers.”

“Precisely. And Kurayami's not the only one. Lukas Bianca is a werewolf and runs one of the biggest wolf packs in the city.”

“Head of the Redemption Decency League? That Lukas Bianca?”

“One and the same. And the CEO of the city's biggest public relations firms leads one of the other wolf packs. And the senior partner in one of our oldest legal firms is a werewolf too. And then there's your friend, Strephon...”

Cassandra blushed. “I know about Strephon.”

“Did he tell you, I wonder? Or did you have to work it out on your own?”

The conversation was beginning to take an uncomfortable turn. “You seem to know a lot about it,” Cassandra said.

“Ah. And there we get to what I wanted to talk about.” Saul glanced around him. The lobby was empty. He raised his hand with a sharp motion and seemed to mutter something under his breath. Suddenly, a folded copy of the Morning Star rose into the air and darted into his hand.

“You're... a wizard?”

“The traditional term is 'warlock', but 'wizard' is more popular these days. Thank you J.K. Rowling.” He folded the newspaper and set it on the coffee table.

“And you didn't tell me.

“Well, I barely knew you at first. And we like to keep these things to ourselves. Witch-burnings may seem like ancient history to you and me, but there are some in our community who can remember them happening and know it could happen again.”

Cassandra bit her lip. What he said made sense. “Then why are you telling me now?”

“Because you've entered the Hidden World already. You've encountered creatures of magic on your own; and your experiences have put you in danger. “ Saul gave a self-deprecating smile. “I hope you don't think me too stalkerish if I tell you I've been trying to keep an eye on you..”

“No, no...” Cassandra said vaguely but with little conviction.

“I really have been worried about you, Cassandra. You're dealing with beings of great power. I don't think you fully ken what you've gotten into.”

“Good grief, am I the only normal person around here? It seems like everybody around me is a fairy or a vampire or a werewolf or a warlock or something. Where do you all come from? Or has Redemption always been like this?”

“The Hidden World has always been around, but most people are unaware it exists; or at best, only vaguely aware. But this city has perhaps more of it than others. You know something of the history of Redemption?”

“It was built on the site of an old shrine, wasn't it? The Shrine of the Holy Redemption.”

“The shrine was built on an old pagan site; a lot of old churches were; partially to exorcise the old magic and partially to appropriate it. And the pagan shrine was chosen because it was a magical nexus; a place where the line of magical force intersect and converge. These intersections are natural sources of magical power, and so creatures of magic will naturally gravitate towards them. Back in the really old times, the Faerie Court used to start its Wild Hunts from the spot where today they sell tourists 'Redemption Castle' paperweights.”

That was something else she'd have to ask Strephon about. “What do you think I should do?” Cassandra said quietly.

“I want to give you this.” Saul reached into his pocket and fished out a round, smooth object, something like a billiard ball, made of a translucent, purplish stone. It had a peculiar symbol Cassandra did not recognize carved into it. He placed the stone in her hands. “It's a talisman. It will guard you against baleful magics.”

She looked at the stone, and then to him. “You're kidding, right?”

“I am not kidding. This is serious, Cassandra. I mean it. You're dealing with vampires; you're dealing with ghosts and sorceries. You need to be safe.”

A week ago, Cassandra wouldn't have believed it. Even today, after all she'd seen, the thought of Saul being a sorcerer seemed ludicrous. And yet...

She closed the purple stone in her hand. “Thank you,” she said.

“And listen. If you ever need any help, whatsoever, you know how to get in touch with me.” He squeezed her hand and gave her a reassuring smile.

A week ago that squeeze and that smile would have made Cassandra melt inside. But too much had happened in the past few days; too much and too fast. She needed time to sort things out. She returned his smile with a nod and a week smile of her own; then retreated to the elevator.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 68: Unwanted Advances

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 finally discovered the secret of her mysterious acquaintance, the reclusive Strephon Mackenzie, a semi-immortal half-fae.  With the help of Strephon’s snarky cousin Devon, and the Jamaican wise woman Grandma Simms, they have staged an intervention to free Cassandra’s roommate Cecilie from the thrall of a vampire.

The cool of the morning, following the early showers, had turned hot and sticky by mid-day. Descending from the air-conditioned bus seemed like wading into a vat of warm spit.  Cassandra would have liked to remain with Strephon a bit longer, but he said he had another errand to run and reminded her that she needed to write and file her story about the craft fair in the park, and that she had promised to collect some of Cecilie’s things from their flat.  Cassandra wasn’t sure how she felt about Cecilie going off with Strephon’s cousin.  Strephon obviously disapproved of him, but seemed to regard him as the lesser evil compared to Philippe.

As she approached her flat, she noticed a person in sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt, it’s hood tightly tied obscuring most of his face, leaning against the building in the narrow strip of early afternoon shade.   Cassandra wondered how he – she assumed it was a he, anyway – could stand being dressed so warmly on such a steamy day.  He seemed to be loitering with a distinct purpose, and Cassandra had a disturbing feeling that he was watching her.  She shifted the keychain in her hand so that door key stuck out from between her first and second fingers, they way they’d told her in self-defense class; and resolutely proceeded towards the building, keeping him in view but avoiding eye contact.   As she neared, the man spoke to her.

“Cassandra?  Hello!” He gave her an ingratiating smile, partially obscured by the hoodie.

“Philippe,” Cassandra said.  “I didn’t expect to see you here.  I thought… your kind couldn’t go out in the daytime.”

“That’s a myth,” Philippe said.

Cassandra noted that he was also wearing heavy gloves and his nose was slathered with zinc oxide.  “Aren’t you a little bit warm in that outfit?”

“Well… it was raining earlier, and the weather is so chancy.”  He took a step towards her, but remained in the shadow.  “I was hoping to talk to Cecilie, but she doesn’t seem to be in.”

Cassandra remained where she was in the sunlight.  “She’s gone out of town.  I don’t think she wants to see you anymore.”  That was mostly true.

Philippe made a noise that might have been a hiss or maybe just a sharp intake of breath.  “Well.  That’s too bad.  I handled things badly last night and I did want to explain.  But you know, perhaps it is better this way.”  He inched a little bit closer, and his voice dropped down so that Cassandra almost took a step towards him herself to hear him better.  She caught herself in time.  That would be a bad idea.

“You see, I wasn’t sure how I could tell her,” Philippe continued.  “Attraction is such a mysterious thing, and hard to fathom, let alone explain.  And yet from the moment I saw you last night, I felt a strange fascination.  Perhaps you felt it too…”

Good grief, Cassandra realized, he’s trying to seduce me.  And listening to his voice, he was almost persuasive.  But then Cassandra focused on his hoodie and his ridiculous nose.  He looked for all the world like Claude Rains, the Hip-Hop Years.  “I think you are mistaken,” she said firmly.  “If you will excuse me…”

“Wait.”  Philippe reached out into the sunlight and seized her by the arm.  “I’ve been waiting out her so long, and as you said, it is warm out here.  Perhaps you might invite me in?”

His smile widened; not enough to show the points of his teeth, but Cassandra knew they were there.  She felt her flesh creep and she felt an overpowering urge to get away from him.

“I don’t think so.”  Cassandra pulled her arm away from him, causing him to stumble into the sun.
Philippe winced.  He didn’t burst into flames or disintegrate into dust they way Cassandra hoped he might; but he clearly did not like it.  Apparently the movies were wrong about these things.

“Please, Cassandra… I love you.”  He removed his sunglasses and gazed at her with soulful, if bloodshot and watering eyes.

The audacity of this declaration caught Cassandra by surprise, and she felt the force of his charisma bearing down on her like physical pressure.  But did he really think she would fall for his wounded puppy routine?    Her instincts told her to run away, but on impulse she decided to try something else.  “Are you going to offer me Essence, like you did Cecilie?”

Ah, that worried the little weasel.  He withdrew just a hair.  “She told you about that, did she?”

“She did.”

“Of course, that experience is not one I would share with just anybody; but you, Cassandra; you I think possess the depth of soul to truly appreciate it.” He advanced again, no longer letting the sunshine hold him back.

Cassandra retreated a step.  “And is Kurayami aware you’re dealing Essence?”

Philippe stopped again.  Now she saw fear in his eyes.  “The Lady Kurayami does not concern herself with my personal life.”

“I thought as much.”  Now it was time to get away from him; but Cassandra suddenly found that she could not move her feet.  She seemed rooted to the sidewalk; she had tarried too long.

“Nor will you be bothering her with it.”  Anger tinged his voice now and he bared his teeth as he advanced to attack.

“Pardon, mate,” said a voice from behind Cassandra.  “Aren’t you out past your bedtime?”

It was Saul.