Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dark Redemption chapter 70: There Is Yet Hope

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 charged by the Faerie Queen with investigating fae activity in the city. He has discovered seemingly unrelated occurrences of faerie magic touching other spheres of the city's supernatural community and suspects they may be connected.

“You sure you don't want me to wait for you?” Tobias offered his arm to help Strephon into his wheelchair.

“That will not be necessary. I mustn't keep you from your other fares.”

“It's not a nice neighborhood.”

Strephon glanced around at the shabby buildings and littered sidewalks around him. He could hardly disagree. A couple of unshaven wretches in cast-off clothing slouched in front of the storefront mission he intended to visit, staring at him with stony faces. “I shall be careful,” he said.

“Gran won't forgive me if anything happens to you.”

“If anything happens to me, your Grandmother will doubtless say it was my own fault. So I will take pains to see that nothing happens. I will call you in half an hour to let you know if I need to be picked up.”

“You have a cell phone?”

“Of course,” Strephon lied. He really should get one of those things, he thought. He'd never really needed one before. He paid Tobias the fare and wheeled himself to the door of the mission. Tobias followed him to the door to open it for him. The big Jamaican glared at the two tramps, daring them to start something, but they withdrew a step and pretended to be interested in something else. The reek of cigarettes on their clothing assaulted Strephon's nose as he passed.

Passing through the door over the bump of the threshold, Strephon turned again to Tobias and said “Thank you,” in a firm tone that meant “That Will Be All.” Tobias grunted and said, “Half an hour.” Then he went back to his cab and left.

The interior of the mission was relatively clean, despite the obvious age of the linoleum on the floors and the chipping paint on the walls. A few more men were sitting around in battered furniture with threadbare upholstery; a couple watching a football match on an elderly television set, a couple playing ping pong while a third watched; yet another pouring over a slim volume of C.S. Lewis. On one wall, someone had painted a large cross and the words “THERE IS YET HOPE”, and the tables were decorated with ash trays, empty paper coffee cups and with religious tracts. One which caught Strephon's eye had an amateurish illustration of Christ as the Good Shepherd accompanied by a large, wolfish-looking dog and bore the title “Gospel of the Edenic Wolf.”

An earnest young woman in thick glasses and a doggy-smelling pullover came and greeted Strephon. “How can we help you?”

Strephon produced a calling card from his jacket pocket. “My name is Strephon MacKenzie; I am a friend of the Reverend Palmer of St. Onesimus. I realize this is probably an inconvenient time and I apologize for not calling in advance, but I would like to speak with Reverend Shepherd, if he can spare a moment or two.” He gave her a winsome smile.

The woman puzzled over the card and sniffed. “I'll see if Abel can see you,” she said, and disappeared into a back room.

A moment later, a broad-shouldered man with a ruddy unkempt beard and a clerical dog-collar came out from the back. Upon seeing Strephon, he cocked his head back slightly and his nostrils flared a bit; Strephon recognized it as the body language of a wolf encountering an unfamiliar smell. “Mister MacKenzie, I believe I've heard of you. It is a pleasure to meet you.” He shook Strephon's hand with a firm but not aggressive grip.

“It is good of you to see me. I imagine this must be a busy time for you, day before Sunday and all...”

“Not at all, not at all. Could I get you something? Some coffee? Or would you prefer tea?”

“Tea would be splendid.”

Reverend Shepherd sent the woman to bring a couple cups of tea. Then in a lower voice he added, “Did you wish to speak in private?”

“If it would not be inconvenient.”

They performed the usual dance with the Reverend offering to push Strephon's chair and Strephon thanking him but insisting quite firmly that he could manage by himself if the Reverend would be kind enough to lead the way. Shepherd led him into a small office, and once the woman brought in the tea, he closed the door.

“I was speaking the other day to Lydia Palmer, the vicars wife, and she was telling me a bit about your mission,” Strephon began. “It sounds like a worthy cause and was considering making a donation.” He took a sip of tea and watched to see how the Reverend would react.

Shepherd smiled and nodded his head. “Splendid. We're always pleased to accept charitable offerings. But that's not why you're really here, is it?”

“Well... if it comes to that, I was curious about a few things and hoped perhaps you could help me.” Strephon took a deep breath. “A week or so ago, a lady of my acquaintance and I were attacked by werewolves upon leaving a restaurant.” There. That got things out into the open. No need to maintain the fiction that these were only wild dogs. Strephon watched the reverend closely to gauge his reaction. “We were unharmed, but in defending ourselves, I was obliged to kill one.”

The reverend's face clouded. “I heard about that.”

“I thought you might. The slain wolf was wearing a silver collar enchanted with fae magic.”

“And what makes you think I have anything to do with them?”

“I believe, if I may put the matter delicately, that you have certain connections within the lupine community. Am I correct?”

“You touch upon a sensitive matter,” Shepherd said in a low, deep growl. “My church does not have the Seal of the Confession, but we have our own ethical codes of confidentiality.” He set down his teacup and began to pace behind his desk with a kind of controlled agitation that made Strephon think of a caged beast. It also reminded him that the door to the office was closed and that he was caged in the room with him. This was precisely the situation, he realized, that Tobias had tried to warn him against. Strephon wished there were a way to surreptitiously retrieve his crutches from the back of his chair without making it obvious he was drawing a weapon.

Shepherd turned again to face him. “I suppose you know my story.”

“Only a bit of gossip,” Strephon admitted. He now regretted that he had mentioned Lydia's name. He hoped he hadn't gotten her into trouble as well.

“Well then.” Shepherd returned to his seat and folded his hands. “I suppose that is where we ought to start.”