As much as Mercury would have loved to sit around and pick on Vandrad with Patty all day, there were still questions that needed to be answered sooner rather than later. Mercury asked for information about Hasan and the Engineer that might otherwise seemed unimportant, and it seemed Patricia had picked up quite a bit. Hasan carried an accent from Ca-Elum, though it wasn’t strong; she suspected that he was a second generation native to the country that merely inherited the dialect from his parents. Vandrad affirmed the statement, letting them know that Hasan -- or Caecilius, whatever the fuck he was called -- had said as much to him at the du Wolff party. Patricia told them that Hasan wore a simple but expensive silver ring on the pointer finger of his right hand, and it served as a tell for when the man was in thought. He also shared a skill with Mercury in being able to deflect questions about himself -- so he was the spy, then. That made sense, and given that he had managed to infiltrate even Themmy’s home he was damn good at his job. He wasn’t a man easily angered, but that seemed to worry Patricia more for the day that he did reach his breaking point.
Mercury smirked at the thought, clearly much more interested in seeing that line pushed than Patricia did. It was always fun to break other spies. They put up much more of a challenge for her than civilians did. Carrying on, the doctor advised that the Engineer was arrogant to the point of obliviousness, always talking down to everyone around him and dismissing them without much consideration. Good. That was a flaw that Mercury could easily utilize. He was mean and demanding, and given the hours that he kept Patricia working Mercury got the feeling he wasn’t an exceptionally patient man. That, too, was something she could utilize in her favor, though she would have to test the theory a bit first to confirm it before really running with it. According to Patty, he definitely enjoyed torturing humans with his experiments, which was just something she could feel even if it was impossible to see his face. He was also very strict about his time management, starting his day at exactly seven in the morning and ending it at precisely four in the afternoon, but where he went at the end of the day was unknown to her. The Engineer did not trust her fully, and for good reason.
There were a lot of thoughts in Mercury’s head, the woman calculating out all the number of scenarios and statistics to figure out ways to utilize this information. She was almost certain that if she tried, she could find a way to fit herself in as a double agent. They would find it difficult to believe that she would betray Vandrad at first, but if she told them the truth about who she really was and why she was on Earthland, she had a feeling that the Engineer at least would change his mind. The problem was that going that route would mean telling things that not even Vandrad knew yet, things she didn’t want him to know… things she had been questioning these days more than she ever used to. Things that would be dangerous to reveal. While Mercury would at least acknowledge it as a possible tactic, she would only bring it up as a last resort should they truly be in desperate need of information.
Patty went on to answer the last part of Mercury’s question, regarding how much information had been gathered on her and Vandrad. Apparently, the Dread Masters had been keeping an eye on Vandrad since before Mercury came into his life, having been silent observers to most of their interactions. They had not believed the partnership would last. Frankly, nobody had. Mercury and Vandrad were like oil and water in a lot of ways, but as Patricia stated the Masters had underestimated them. They hadn’t been able to observe anything of either of them while within guild halls, which Patty could only assume was because of how tightly defended such areas were with magic. But outside of that most of the rest of their time together had been free reign, including their first trip together in the glaciers and their events in the desert.
The Xocili gave a wicked grin, despite herself. “They certainly got a couple of good shows, then.” She should have been concerned about the fact that someone had been watching during that first illicit tryst, but it really just entertained her. It was important to know, though; that meant that the Dread Masters were at least aware that Mercury could manipulate and create metal. That was annoying, but something she could work with. The only time Mercury had ever utilized her full magic at once was in the oceans on their way to Ca-Elum, and she was certain that if the Master had managed to spy on that event then they would have at least pinpointed what kind of magic she truly had. But as Patricia explained, the Dread Masters underestimated Mercury’s proficiency with technology, and were having a difficult time identifying her magic, which meant that the Xocili still had a number of tricks up her sleeves that they wouldn’t be able to predict.
As for Vandrad, they at least knew that he had accessed the Ark. When the prince asked for confirmation on their theory that the Masters were trying to take the Ark from him, the doctor could only shake her head. This was an area that she knew next to nothing about. All she knew was that they were interested in the ability, and that once he had manifested the power it had pushed forward the Master’s timeline. Vandrad asked the likelihood of them being spied on as they spoke, which Patty advised wasn’t likely. With a quick verbal rundown of their surroundings, she was able to surmise their location within the Lusty Titans guildhall. Mercury raised a brow, impressed despite herself. Vandrad was equally as appreciative of the woman’s deductive skill. Patty admitted that the Masters had been watching Ruzatz and Agatha for sometime, believing that the guildmaster was an elite demon, one powerful enough that even they dared not act. They were right, of course, though Mercury had no intentions on confirming so at this time.
Mercury snorted at Vandrad’s reluctance to admit their friendship with the Lusty Titan leaders. “Don’t act so ornery. You and I both know that if Agatha walked down here right now and offered you some favors, you wouldn’t say no. Mostly because you can barely talk around the woman, but ain’t no one blaming you there. Honestly, I’m still shocked that you didn’t take the bait at your birthday party. You two were alone for like an hour. All my efforts in being your wingman, wasted.”
The doctor expressed her interest in meeting Ruzatz and Agatha at some point, mentioning that while they suspected Ruzatz was of demon origin that she was aware the man was very protective and supportive of humanity. She also viewed Agatha as one of the most prolific entertainers to have ever walked Earthland’s surface. She didn’t keep on that topic long, though, derailing her own train of thought and beginning things back down to discussing her own Arc of Time magic. Apparently the Dread Masters were unaware that Patricia possessed the ability, thinking her magicless. The only reason she had used it in the tarot trap was because the Masters had not been able to observe them there. If that were true, Mercury had to wonder why Patricia hadn’t taken the time then to explain everything to Vandrad… but for now she would keep that question to herself. The only reason Patricia was bringing it up was because she believed that the situation would get much more complicated should the Engineer discover the ability.
Thankfully, it seemed it was a magic that was limited in many ways. Vandrad asked for more details to rule out possible repercussions of the Dread Masters getting their hands on the magic, and Patty assured them that the only way it could really be used was to advance something that had a preset linear path, as opposed to seeking out knowledge for the future that was effected by too many variables to have a single sure outcome. It was good to know, but Vandrad advised it wouldn’t be too much of a worry as he wanted to offer her the chance to get out now that she was with them and in a safe space.
As they had both suspected, Patricia declined. She understood and appreciated their efforts, but she recognized that her position within the Dread Masters was a critical one. Mercury had made the kidnapping believable enough that she could work with it -- mostly because Mercury had legitimately kidnapped the woman. But she needed to return and continued getting as much information from the inside as she could. The prince nodded, stating that they had assumed she would take such a stance. Afterall, Patty had come too far to back out now. Mercury would have done the same thing.
The doctor asked if there were any other questions. “None from me.” Mercury gave Vandrad a look to make sure he had gotten everything he’d wanted. Then, she hopped off her seat on the cage. “Luckily for you, we already planned for your escape as well. Come on out.” The last sentence was spoken toward a closet door across the room, which opened revealing an exact clone of Mercury, one that sauntered in the room with Mercury’s same confident swagger and smirk. “This is a robotic clone of my own design, and I guarantee it is realistic enough for them to think that it’s really me. I’ve actually got a second one of Vandrad out right now serving as a distraction so they will believe that your kidnapping was orchestrated and played out by me alone. Since they don’t know as much about me, it should be much easier for you to sell your escape to them, since they would assume that I would not necessarily outmatch you as much as Vandrad would.”
The clone grinned at the woman. “And since I’m not a real person, you don’t have to pull your punches. So, let’s make it look good, shall we?”
“One last thing,” the real Mercury interjected. “While Vandrad is going to be focusing on Hasan, my part in all this is to deal with the Engineer. I’ve already put a number of variables into place that should start to get his attention. I’m not going to tell you what they are because I think it’s best that your surprise be genuine when things come up, but whatever ‘tracks’ he starts to find, don’t compromise your position by trying to cover them for me. You just focus on maintaining your credibility. We’ll handle the rest.”
Pulling out her duplicate of Mercury’s pistol, the clone gave it a skilled twirl on her fingers. “Alright, Patty Cake. You ready to play?”
It was extremely late by the time Mercury returned to Silver Wolf, the Xocili taking it upon herself to make sure that the clone put on the perfect show of chasing down her captive and getting wounded enough in the battle to paint Patricia as the lucky victor that managed to outsmart Mercury and regain her freedom. The clone had fled to nurse her supposed wounds and seemingly crawl back to her guild the long way while Mercury herself lingered at Lusty Titans with Vandrad to discuss their thoughts on everything they had learned. When they were done, Mercury used her translocator ray to give Vandrad a swift and unseen return to Fairy Tail while she did the same to return to her room in Silver Wolf.
By this point in the night, most of the guild was in bed already. Her clone would have long since made it into the protective storm of Silver Wolf were none of ill intent would be able to track upon the guild’s members or watch them in any fashion, which is where Mercury felt it safe enough to dismiss the creation. With a gentle yawn and a quick stretch, she decided to go down into the labs to read the report logs for that day and see what the Scholars had left for her to review.
She was already dreaming of a nice hot bath to soak away the excitement of the day when something caught her eye in the hallways of the living quarters where she was making her way downstairs. One of the spirit wolves was standing before her, giving her a solid look that bespoke a seriousness even she could not miss. “What is it..?” she asked the wolf. The creature stared at her for a moment longer before turning away and walking down the hallway, only to stop and turn back toward her with an expectant look. With a frown, she followed the spirit to see what it wanted to show her.
It stopped outside the door that belonged to Khelben’s room. She could tell from her radars that he wasn’t inside, which seemed odd. Then again, she really hadn’t been paying too much attention to the man outside of his progress as a Scholar and the reports he sent in. They did some occasional projects together along with other members of the branch, but ever since Divide Island they really had not spent too much one on one time together. Truthfully, she didn’t really know a whole lot about him or his habits. “Is something the matter?” she whispered to the wolf, thinking that the spirit was trying to tell her that something had happened to the man. Maybe he was out on a mission and something had gone wrong? Did he need help?
It wasn’t until she realized the spirit was giving off a low growl that it dawned on her. The wolf was upset, but not out of concern for Khelben. Mercury frowned. Something was wrong. The animal was acting like it viewed Khelben as a threat, like it was trying to give Mercury a warning. But that made no sense. If Khelben was a threat to the guild or any of its members, he should have never found his way to Silver Wolf in the first place. The wolves and the storm would have driven him in circles. Something was very wrong.
She watched as the ethereal wolf walked through the door and into Khelben’s room to indicate that Mercury needed to check within. Verifying with her scanners that anyone nearby was fast asleep in their rooms, she quickly picked the lock on Khelben’s door and slipped inside, shutting the entrance behind her. A quick glance brought a renewed frown to her face. Khelben had been with the guild for a number of months now. In fact, he had seemed to settle in quite nicely. So why was his room so… bare? There wasn’t a single personal item out on display. Hell, the room looked practically vacant. The only reason she knew he was still using the room was because she found a small collection of clothes hanging in the wardrobe, as well as a standard computer system that was set on the desk.
Very carefully, she moved to the computer and turned it on. Pulling a small data drive from her pocket, she plugged the device in and used it to quickly bypass the security code and get into the system only to find that there was next to nothing on the computer. It was like he had never really used it. That, or he was extremely efficient at wiping its memory after each use. But there was also something odd about the computer itself. On second glance, it seemed… different. Unfortunately, she would not get the time to pinpoint what was giving her that impression. As she went to remove her data disk to inspect the physical unit itself, a small needle slipped out of a port and jabbed her in the finger tip.
“Ouch, fuck!” the Xocili whispered under her breath, the event more surprising than painful. Had the computer shocked her? No, if it was electricity it would have energized her a bit. Instead, she had only a second or two to process the fact that something had happened before her world began to spin violently. Fighting down panic and anger, she tried to make for the door but before she could even finish her first step she collapsed on the ground and within moments was fully unconscious. When she woke again, she found herself still in the room, but things were different. The light was on, and she was on the bed instead of the floor. As her mind and eyes scrambled to regain clarity, Khelben came into view looming over her with an even expression, arms crossed over his chest.
“It’s about time.”