1.15. Folkloric Pedantry
Mercury leans forward in his seat, his head in his hands. The back of his skull aches where the bat had struck him. Elysia, Crimson, and Luna watch him cautiously, but he ignores his audience. He would prefer not to make eye contact with them.
He had made a lot of noise when Quentin hit him: his body landed on creaky floorboards, the resulting thud echoing through the house. The twins, sound sleepers, didn’t wake up, but Lark started bawling. For the first time--and hopefully the last--her father scared her. Mercury was conscious, but stunned, when Luna burst into Lark’s room, having been drawn in by the ruckus. She helped him downstairs and to the couch, and she insisted on not calling the police (“Mercury would just run away before they got here. It’s not like we can stop him,” a prediction Mercury confirms).
“Can I get you anything, Mercury?” Luna asks as she crouches down next to him.
Luna raises an eyebrow at the entitlement in his voice, but she complies with his request. While she makes a pot of coffee, everyone else stares at each other in silence.
“So,” Crimson breaks the silence, “who is this guy?”
“Mercury,” Elysia responds.
“‘Kay…” Crimson’s curiosity isn’t satisfied by the one word answer, but he can tell his girlfriend is upset and doesn’t want to talk.
“Thanks, I owe you one,” Mercury groans as Luna places a cup of coffee in front of him. Caffeine isn’t likely to help with the wicked headache he has, but at least it’ll wake him up a little.
“Mercury,” she speaks gently, though she wants so badly to scream at him, “what were you doing in my daughter’s room? Shouldn’t you be with Nova in Sunset Valley?”
“Nova,” Mercury sighs, “You look so much like her,” a lovelorn look crosses his face.
“Umm,” Elysia can see where this is headed, “so, back to the point…”
“Just like Nova...”
“Okay, you need to focus.”
He flashes a randy grin, “Nova was always so--”
“I think you need to stop talking,” Luna interrupts.
“You’re the one who insisted on talking to him,” Elysia says. She wouldn’t have been so kind to Mercury if she had found him in her son’s room.
“How did you get in?” Crimson pipes up. It seems like an obvious question--the stairs are visible from the dining room, where everyone was at the time of the break-in. He deflates when everyone looks at him like he’s an idiot.
“I climbed up to the balcony and phased through the wall to the nursery,” Mercury says blankly.
“You moved through a solid object?” Normally, Crimson wouldn’t consider it possible for someone to be able to walk through walls. Elysia’s telepathy, however, has caused him to reconsider many of his previous held skepticisms. This whole scenario is making him feel a lot stupider than he’s used to.
“I’ll explain later,” Luna says, “Mercury, please tell us why you’re here.”
“I can’t,” Mercury sighs. Quentin raises an eyebrow as he paces back and forth in the dining room. Lark is asleep in his arms, but any time he stops moving, she wakes him. He’s fine holding her, though. She’ll even sleep in their bed tonight, safely nestled between her parents.
“You can’t, or you won’t?” Elysia snaps.
“I can’t,” Mercury says, “you can’t help me.” There’s pleading tone at the end of that sentence. It would have been please help me if he could have phrased it that way.
Mercury has always been difficult to read. Most people consider him to be a dullard and--frankly--a douche, and even Elysia can’t always tell what’s going on through his head. She usually just gets the gist of it: base emotions, but no concrete thoughts or plans of action. She stares hard at Mercury, trying to grasp at least one though, but all she can feel is guilt, fear, and desperation.
“Fine,” Elysia sighs and puts her hand on Mercury’s arm. Touch always helps her concentrate better, and thoughts become clearer. She doesn’t like to do it, though, because it can be a little overwhelming. This is one such time. As Elysia places her hand on Mercury, she feels a jolt of electricity run through her. Her eyes roll up in her head and her vision turns white.
For a moment, she’s blind. Soon, though, shapes take form. Elysia looks around her. She’s on a dark street, suburban, covered in snow. She doesn’t recognize this place. But she sees a couple walking in front of her--a redhead, with a black-haired man’s arm wrapped around her.
“Hey,” Elysia calls after them, “where am I? Hold on, can you help me out here?”
They keep walking, seemingly deaf to her words, so she follows them. The world around them is empty: no people or cars on the streets and the wind is still. She’s never been immersed in a memory like this, but she figures that’s what this must be.
“Here we are,” the redhead points to a circle of trees, “c’mon.” She grabs the man’s hand and tugs, pulling him towards them. Elysia jogs after them.
The trees surround a clearing with a large pond. Glistening ice covers the pond. It’s dark there, unnaturally so. When the couple stops walking, Elysia can finally get a good look at them. The girl is cute, young. The man is Mercury, obviously. Just a little younger, with an embarrassing haircut in place of his usual I-just-woke-up-like-this-I-swear hairstyle. She listens closely to their conversation, but she can only catch bits and pieces of it--their words seem to float away. She learns that the girl is Amy. Amy calls Mercury “Mark.”
She watches as the couple step on to the frozen pond. Amy is a competent ice skater, but Mercury flounders. Elysia hesitates before she steps on the ice, but she ultimately decides to follow them. The farther away they get, the darker the world around her gets. It seems she has to be close to this memory to witness it. She knows the ice is going to break before she steps on it, but Elysia is still surprised when she plummets into the water. It seems stupid of those two to go ice skating on a pond. Even Elysia, who was raised in a desert, can tell it isn’t cold enough. The ice is too thin to hold them. The water is cold enough to shock her, though, and the pond is impossibly deep. And then the memory takes a surreal shift: the waters fade away, replaced by nothing.
Elysia once saw an old movie--a film that was far too long and way too pretentious--about space travel. One scene stuck out at her though: an astronaut cruelly cut from his tether slowly floats in space. The infinite consumes him. This is oddly reminiscent of that scene. Mercury and Elysia float in a void. She looks around for Amy, but she’s nowhere to be found.
A light appears in front of them, the bright figure of a naked woman, practically blinding against the black background. She stares at Mercury with cold, unblinking eyes. While they float in the air, suspended by some sort of resistance, she stands solidly on the nothingness. She begins to speak, but Elysia has a hard time hearing her. Words fade in and out.
She catches snippets of conversation. A mumble, then a query: “What is your name?”
"Mark Rhee," Mercury responds.
"Mercury," she repeats. What a cute misunderstanding.
She can tell Mercury is confused. He is trying to leave, but can’t figure out how. Elysia looks around--blackness in every direction.
“If you leave, you die,” the fae tells him.
“I think that’s what I’m supposed to do.” Mercury’s body flickers--he’s solid, then intangible, then solid again. Elysia can tell it is a new sensation for him. This must be how he got his powers, she realizes. She’d always wondered how that had happened.
"What about your mother?" The fae’s lips curl up slightly as she speaks.
"My mother?” Mercury asks. Elysia can suddenly picture Mercury’s mother: frail, drawn, shuffling around a dusty house in a bathrobe.
"She will be all alone without you. She is cold right now. Shivering, wondering where her dutiful son is. She is lonely, Mercury. What if she died alone?”
"I need to be here for her. I can't leave."
"No, you cannot leave," the fae agrees, "and I can help you."
“How can you help me?”
“I can give you your life back, Mercury. I only ask for one thing in return.”
Elysia feels the air grow heavier. This woman exudes peril. She wants to yell out to him, warn him not to do it. But there’s no point--he wouldn’t be able to hear her. Even if he did, she doesn’t think the past can change.
“What is it?” he asks.
“Your obedience. That is all.”
“All you have to do is follow me,” she laughs, “Your obedience. that is all.”
“And I’ll get to see my mother?” Elysia would have never guessed that Mercury was once a mama’s boy.
“Yes, Mercury. You will be able to take care of your mother.”
“What about Amy?”
“Who is Amy?”
“Who is Amy,” he repeats. In an instance, Elysia feels that Amy’s existence diminish. She can hardly remember Amy--or was it Annie?--herself. Elysia misses some of the conversation as she tries to remember what the girl even looked like.
“All I require is your obedience, Mercury. In return, I offer life and power,” the fae’s voice grows louder, drawing Elysia’s attention back to the conversation.
“You will be of this world and the next, Mercury. That is your power.”
Mercury pauses. The fae looks at him, her face still. She doesn’t blink a single time even though moments pass. “Fine,” he finally says, “you have my obedience.”
“You are bound to your word, Mercury.”
“Of course,” he says.
“You must always repay your debts.”
“It is a deal, then,” She grasps his arm and draws Mercury in, kissing him deeply. Elysia glances away, embarrassed. She’s seen couples kiss, obviously, but this feels different--sinister, both intimate and unsettling. When she looks back up, Mercury is gone. The fae stares straight at her, her face still blank. Elysia’s heart races--this isn’t right. If Mercury is gone, why is she still here? The memory should have ended, or at least shifted into another train of thought.
"What a curious situation,” the fae’s speaks slowly, “he thinks about this moment often, but you are never present for it.”
“You shouldn’t be able to talk to me,” Elysia stumbles over the words.
“Do not tell me what I should and should not be able to do, girl,” she laughs, “you are not the Maker.”
“How is this even possible?”
“I am always in Mercury’s mind.”
“You sent Mercury here,” the realization barely hits Elysia, “why?”
“He swore an oath to me. He has to complete his task.”
“And what’s his task,” Elysia asks impatiently. She doesn’t like having to ask for answers. But when she tries to dip into the fae’s head, she’s assaulted with a screeching buzz.
“My youngest daughter needs a playmate. Lark is a suitable choice.”
This reasoning doesn’t make sense to Elysia, but she responds nonetheless: “Lark has her own sister and brother. And parents who love her. She belongs with them.”
“Their love cannot compare to mine.”
Elysia scoffs, “you can’t kidnap a kid and justify it with arrogance.”
“There you go again. Telling me what I can and cannot do,” the fae laughs, “you are absolutely adorable. I normally do not take women, but I may make an exception for you. You could be quite powerful,” the fae looks Elysia up and down.
“I’m not interested.”
“Think about it, Elysia. It would be a welcome change to have a woman by my side.”
Elysia feels the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. “I don’t recall introducing myself.”
“You need no introduction. Mercury spoke about your family quite often. Normally I find it insulting when one of my thralls takes a lover, but his most recent conquest caught my eye. You and your siblings are very interesting--not magical, but not banal, either,” the fae sighs, “Truly fascinating. I only wish I could have claimed you as a daughter, Elysia.”
“Claimed me? It doesn’t work that way.”
“Oh, but it does. Lark is mine. I claim her.”
“For fuck’s sake--you can’t claim a person!” Her frustration grows. She knows she should be afraid--context tells her this woman must be quite powerful--but she’s irritated more than anything else.
“Maybe you cannot, but I can. ”
“There are a lot of children out there. Go bother some other family.” Elysia wishes this would just end already.
The fae is enjoying herself, though, and as long as that enjoyment lasts, Elysia stays. “I do not want another child. I want Lark. Just hand the child over to Mercury and I will let you be. That is, unless you decide to reconsider my offer…”
“Mercury won’t help you. He’s our friend,” Elysia switches tactics with a lie. Mercury may have helped her family before, but she knows that doesn’t mean anything.
“He is my thrall, nothing more than a warm body I control. He does what I order him to.”
Elysia furrows her brow, thinking hard. She has read her fair share of fairytales. In any situation like this, the hero had to outwit his opponent. Elysia searches her mind for anything that might help. The solution is always cheap and obvious.
“Mercury obeys you--what exactly does that mean?”
“It means what I said.”
“He owes you?”
The fae is quiet for a moment. She smells a trap, but her curiosity requires her to respond: “Mercury is indebted to me--”
“And to my sister,” Elysia says triumphantly, “He made a verbal agreement with Luna, and he owes her a debt.” I owe you one, his exact words when Luna gave him a cup of coffee--a turn of phrase, really. But for the purpose of folkloric pedantry, it works.
“No. He owes her nothing,” the fae is taken aback, puzzled, She can’t remember the last time she was challenged like this. And she’s always warned her thralls about using being careful when they speak--magic grows in vague language. She should know.
“He agreed that he owes my sister.”
“That is meaningless--”
“He has to repay his debts,” Elysia says, “you said so yourself.”
Elysia wonders for a moment if this is a misstep. The fae stares at her, her jaw clenched, her back stiff. Even with the screech of her mind, Elysia can tell the fae is considering her options, some of which probably end violently.
Finally, the fae responds, her voice calm: “The powerless have no idea what to do with power. Any choice you make will end in regret, Elysia. Tell your sister the same. ” She puts her hand up and shoos Elysia. Elysia flies backwards, out of the void and back into her body.
She finds herself cradled in her boyfriend’s arms. “Elysia, are you okay?” His voice is fraught with worry.
“I’m fine,” she shoots up, looking around. Mercury is huddled on the couch, his eyes alert, “who is that woman?”
“What woman?” Mercury’s face is blank. Lark, he hears the fae’s voice ringing in his ears, bring Lark to me. Do what you must. It’s taking all of his willpower to ignore her.
“She said she sent you to get Lark.”
“Goddamnit, Mercury, just be normal for one fucking second!”
“I am being normal,” his voice his much too loud--he’s trying to drown out the fae’s commands.
“She said you told her about us,” Elysia’s voice gets angrier, “what did you tell her about us?”
“She makes me tell her things…”
“‘She makes me tell her things,’” Elysia mocks him, “what have you done, you dumb bastard?”
“I have to do what she tells me…”
“Elysia, what’s going on?” Luna intervenes, “what did you see?”
“I’m not quite sure what I saw,” Elysia admits. The encounter left her shaking, and she feels the room spinning around her as Crimson helps her up to the couch. She perches next to Mercury. “Mr. I’m-too-sexy-for-my-shirt over here is working for some...fairy, or something. She’s the one who sent him here.”
“A fairy,” Crimson, the voice of reason, snorts, “that’s ridiculous.”
“You’re an alien, I’m a telepath, and that guy can walk through walls, but you draw the line at fairies?” Elysia snaps.
“You were saying, Elly?” Luna cuts off Crimson before he can respond.
“It’s complicated--and I think I have to hurry,” Elysia glances at Mercury, who’s fidgeting, “Mercury is indebted to this woman, who wants to take Lark for whatever nutjob reason she has. And she really, really wants Lark.”
Mercury nods, but remains mute. He should leave--the longer he stays, the angrier the fae becomes--but he needs to get Lark. He might have to hurt someone to do it. He wouldn’t mind hurting Elysia or Quentin or even the odd magenta-haired man. But he can’t do anything to Luna. Not until he repays his debt.
“I can’t explain it, but I know she won’t stop until she has Lark.”
“Why does she even want Lark?”
“She seems to be interested in our family for some reason,” Elysia glares at Mercury, “but I couldn’t read her. I don’t know what she wants to do with her.”
“Why Lark, though? If she wants a child from our family, why not Lowell? Or the twins?”
“She doesn’t want sons,” Mercury says, “just daughters. Young daughters.”
“So why is Mercury helping her?”
“I have to,” Mercury twitches, “I owe her. And even if I wasn’t here, she would just send someone else to get Lark.” He winces as the voice in his head becomes angry. Silence, Mercury. Do what you must. Bring me Lark.
“So how do we stop her?”
“You can’t,” Mercury looks despondent, “I can’t promise Lark will grow up normal, but I promise I’ll protect her. It’s the most I can possibly do for you. I need to take her--”
“Shut up,” Elysia snaps, “we’re not giving Lark to you, idiot. Mercury owes you, Luna. He said so when you gave him to coffee.”
Outside, the wind starts to pick up. It’s been gently snowing all night, but the snowfall becomes heavier and the air grows colder.
“What?” Luna is confused, “he owes me for a cup of coffee? That’s no--”
“Nope, stop right there,” Elysia puts her hand up, “it’s a debt.”
“I must repay my debts,” Mercury’s words are rote, robotic.
Considering everything Luna has seen in her life, she's completely willing to accept this situation. However, as she is unfamiliar with the rules of magic, she has a few questions.
“Mercury, how big is this debt you owe me?”
Mercury blinks, “it can’t be measured.” Mercury is unsure of the rules himself. He normally functions on the “a life for a life” exchange rate. He’s unsure what a cup of coffee is worth.
“What can I ask in return?” Luna is baffled.
“I can’t say,” Mercury shrugs. He has a suggestion, but the fae won’t allow it.
“Can we order him to leave?”
“What would stop her from ordering him to come back?” Crimson asks.
“Nothing,” Mercury mutters. The voice is screaming, Get the child, Mercury, and bring her to me!
“Can we order him to disobey her order?”
Mercury shakes his head, “yes, order me to disobey my Queen’s order.” The tone of his voice doesn’t match with the contents of his language.
“Well I guess that one’s out,” Elysia rolls her eyes.
Luna sighs, “if she’s just going to undo whatever we decide on, what’s the point?”
“Could the problem be we’re focusing on actions?” Crimson suggests.
Mercury perks up, but Elysia is unimpressed: "what does that even mean?"
“Actions can be undone--every action as an equal and opposite reaction and all that. We need to ask for something else.”
“You’re right,” Luna says slowly, “we need to ask for something she can’t take back.”
“Death is pretty final,” Elysia says. Mercury is unfazed by the suggestion, though Crimson is shocked by his girlfriend’s coldness.
“That’s a little severe, don’t you think?” Crimson asks.
“Hey, I’m just trying to solve the problem, permanently.”
“Murder isn’t the solution.”
“Well it seems to have solve our problems before,” Elysia retorts. When she sees the hurt on Crimson’s face, she knows she’s gone too far.
“I regret what I did every day,” Crimson’s voice is cold, “and I’ll carry it for the rest of my life.”
“She saved me from death once…” Mercury trails off.
“I’m thinking of our future. What if we ever had a daughter?”
“Just because you’re afraid doesn’t mean you get to play judge, jury, and executioner!”
“Oh, are you suggesting due process?" Elysia scoffs, "Because I’m not sure all this magic shit would fly in a trial.”
Luna ignores their bickering and walks to the window, which faces the beach. The sea churns as the storm grows stronger.
She looks out this window often while writing--it helps her concentrate. Most people think writing comes naturally to professional writers. They sit down and type nonstop, producing perfectly polished work. No--Luna knows it’s nothing like that. It’s a crucible, agonizing, painful. Every action requires deliberation, every plot thread needs a solution. Writing has made Luna into one hell of a problem solver. So, if Mercury was a character in one of her books, how would she tackle this?
She takes a deep breath before she announces her payment: “Mercury, I call in my debt: I want your obedience.”
Outside, the howl of the wind reaches a fever pitch, turning into an unholy scream. Luna’s body fill with energy. It’s the most awake, most intelligent, most powerful she has ever felt. She holds another person’s fate in her hands, and she hates it.
“Did it work?” Crimson asks.
In response, the windows shake, and angry waves crash against the rocks on the beach. No animal dares make a sound as the tempest roars.
Elysia is bewildered, “I think it did.”
Mercury says nothing, instead looking at Luna expectantly.
There are so many things Luna could ask Mercury for at this moment, endless possibilities, most self-serving. But her mother must have raised her right, because none of those self-serving possibilities cross Luna’s mind. “Mercury,” she has to shout to be heard over the storm, “I order you to be free.”
The lights flicker, then die out. A bolt of lightning strikes the tree outside, and in the flash Luna swears she sees the figure of a woman standing behind Mercury. She blinks, and the woman is gone. As quickly as it went out, the power turns back on. The storm dies down.
Mercury laughs. And laughs. And laughs. Deliriously, gratefully, loudly, he laughs. He can’t stop. All this time he had been indentured, and the solution was so simple. In the court of magic law, the Bee sisters are victorious. Mercury is a free soul, all for the price of a cup of coffee.
What a paradox: he was ordered to be free. But Mercury isn’t complaining. It’s been seventy years since he’s been able to make all of his own choices, and the independence practically paralyzes him. What is he going to do with his life? Can he still go to university? He had a scholarship in his previous life, but he doubts that is still applicable. He could return to Nova--Luna practically begs him to go back to Sunset Valley and make peace with her--but the shame is unbearable. He could find a job. He’s never had a real job. Without his powers, thievery is intimidating.
So he starts his new life by visiting his old one. His mother’s grave is next to his father’s, in a foggy cemetery at the outskirts of Moonlight Falls. It’s a lonely place. The grounds are clean, but devoid of any tokens from the living. Mercury places a vase with a flower vase on his mother’s grave, and sits. He’s never visited a grave before. What is he supposed to do?
Crickets chirp and the wind gently blows, and the fog rolls. Finally, Mercury speaks: “I’m sorry I never came home.”
Crickets continue to chirp, and the wind continues to blow, and the fog continues to roll. Mercury wonders if he can ever be Mark again.
When Mercury first appeared in the previous legacy, I hadn’t fleshed out his story--I just knew I wanted a long-lived guy with special powers (and for the uninitiated, he can turn intangible, which sounds kinda boring but allows him to be a pretty formidable thief and fighter). By the time he had returned at the end of gen 1, I had already imagined most of his backstory (though the fae was initially a lot less sinister). I tried to hint that he is obligated to always repay debts because that is part of how the fae’s powers work. Crux was able to order Mercury to get help because Crux had saved his life, making Mercury indebted. Otherwise he probably would have just booked it and left Crux high and dry. That was initially going to be a minor “rule” in this story, but I thought it would be interesting to make it a bigger plot point: if he’s indebted to someone and he has to repay his debts due to a vague magical agreement, what are the limitations of the requests people can make of him? Can he be forced to kill himself? Can he be compelled to transfer his debt to someone else? Can he indefinitely be indebted to two people?
So if the ending seems underwhelming, it’s because I challenged myself to resolve this arc with zero violence and no deaths. I reread some of my work and I was like, “hot damn, I really love explosions and killing beloved characters and stabbing people and shit like that. I wonder if I can be civilized this time?” Turns out I fuckin’ can.