Mercury was all too pleased for Vandrad to flirt back with her. It wasn’t that he never did. Vandrad wasn’t as boisterous as she was, but he had his own way of flirting with her that she easily recognized and appreciated. However, he didn’t do it in public too often – though moreso now than he used to. Despite everything that was going on in the world, despite the loss of his childhood home and the attacks they’d suffered, and the bullshit they’d lived through, both of them were still riding somewhat of a high from being reunited and liberating their peoples. One of the results was that they weren’t always as private with their gestures of affection, though they still weren’t overly drawn to public displays of affection either.
She exchanged a brief teasing conversation with Ophelia and Serilda, Vandrad rolling his eyes and telling her it was a pipe dream. Mercury only grinned at him. “So were you, when we first met. I wore you down, eventually.” As if to remind him exactly how much she had broken down his barriers, the Xocili conjured up a few speakers with some music, pulling him out into an open space and informing him that he was going to dance with her. The former prince let out a resigned sound but rather than stop her he sank into form with her and started leading, claiming that as long as it wasn’t the more chaotic and sexual type of dancing he was fine with it. “I don’t know. I bet I could talk you into a little bumping and grinding,” she replied, her voice low and suggestive.
They danced for several minutes, with many other couples joining in with them. Even Vriko agreed to dance with Mercury’s father, who appeared to have offered her a polite invitation. Vandrad caught a look on his mother’s face that made him suspicious, inquiring as to why the woman looked so pleased with herself even as he moved his fiance around on the makeshift dance floor. Themmy replied with a cool remark about how on the level her and Mercury were, as though the Xocili had read her mind to some degree. Mercury merely raised a curious brow, just as in the dark as Vandrad was, and intrigued by whatever surprise it was that her future mother-in-law had planned.
It wouldn’t take long for them to have the answer. The music continued to play, but the sound changed. Or rather, it started getting louder, originating from a different direction where a group of live performers were approaching. They were clearly highly skilled, since they had picked up the song that Mercury had randomly thrown on, playing it to perfection, and led by a saxophonist so short that he made Vandrad look tall. It was all she was able to observe from a cursory glance before her attention returned to Vandrad as his head whipped around onto his mother, demanding answers.
As the duchess explained the situation, Mercury’s eyes got wider and more charged with excitement and curiosity. She looked back at Vandrad. “Wait wait, you have a friend? That’s not me?” Never once had he ever mentioned anyone by the name of Faren before, nor did she recall any kind of bar date or meeting. He’d kept it a secret, and she could only imagine the reason for that was because he didn’t want her to meet this mysterious man for a myriad of reasons that Mercury could probably guess with exceeding accuracy. A large, eager smile grew on her face that Vandrad would be all too familiar with, one that promised his immediate future was about to be more eventful than he preferred it to be, and she quickly slipped right out of their dance.
Moving with some haste, though not running, Mercury hurried down a little ways to meet the approaching band part of the way. Her emerald gaze settled right on the stout man that was leading the pack, unable to contain her glee. She had thought she had met everyone from Vandrad’s past. She was wrong. Oh, so wrong – and Mercury had never been more delighted to be so. This was tantamount to meeting his family unannounced all over again. Mercury knew nothing about this Faren person, and for once in her life she was refraining from doing any research right then and there so she could soak in the surprise for as long as possible, but it didn’t take more than a single look, a single shared glance with the newcomer, to know that Vandrad was going to loathe how much she and Faren were going to get along. She said not a word, only stood and waited with visible anticipation as the group approached.
Back on the dance floor, Zemenar had been pleased that Vriko was willing to accept his invitation, the dark haired woman knocking back her drink, much like Serilda, and throwing caution to the wind. He chuckled at her remark about her own dancing shape as she claimed to have never danced before. “Well, truthfully I’m not too far ahead of you in that regard. At least, not with these Earthland style dances. I’m sure you’ll pick it up in no time.”
And that she did. Granted it wasn’t a particularly complex pattern, but even then it didn’t even take Vriko a full minute of study and guidance before she had more or less gotten the gist of the movements, and soon the two were fully joined with the other couples. His attention was pulled briefly by the commotion of a live band approaching, one that seemed to have shocked Vandrad and elated Mercury. His gaze watched his daughter as she rushed off to greet the newcomers, shaking his head lightly with a smirk.
But then Vriko spoke his name, prompting him to face her once more. She seemed a bit shy or uncertain, her eyes flicking away briefly before she started speaking of his people, the Xocili. Admitting that she didn’t really know much about their history, only hearing a little from Gren, she asked if he would tell her about the Xocili, wanting to know more. Vriko was noticeably nervous through her inquiry, and for someone who had been alive as long as Zemenar had, it was pretty easy for him to understand why. He knew very little of Vriko herself, though the broader information was there. Enough for him to know that she had experienced plenty of struggles of her own in the not too distant past. Surely striking up a conversation like this was a big step for her, particularly when she knew the topic she brought up wasn’t entirely pleasant.
Yet despite the nature of the question, a gentle smile tugged softly on his lips and he gave a soft hum of acknowledgement even as he continued to dance with her without breaking stride. “Well, I’m sure it’s safe to assume you know that we are extraterrestrials, not native to the planet of Earthland. We are a people who are both wholly organic and wholly synthetic – the only such race to ever exist in the known universe. We once lived on a beautiful planet known as Xocil. Ours was a peaceful and prosperous society filled with technological advancement and wonders far beyond what could be found most anywhere else. We had long since outgrown concepts of war and greed, living as a community focused culture with a trade and skill based economy.”
“Our planet was destroyed by another race that called themselves the Nazru. They despised technology and anything synthetic, viewing it as an affront to nature. To put it in Earthlander terms, I suppose you could think of them as… religious fanatics. They were an invasive and hostile force that sought to ‘purify’ the universe of everything that wasn’t organic, committing numerous acts of genocide in pursuit of their goal.” There was a tenderness to him as he told the story, somehow able to speak about the matter clearly without succumbing to distress, despite how painful the memories clearly were for him.
Zemenar continued. “When they discovered Xocil, however, it caused some strife among them. Our people were more technologically advanced than any they had ever encountered before, and we ourselves were synthetic as a people. It was heresy to the highest degree… but at the same time, we were wholly and purely organic. They had never fathomed a people like us ever existing, and it caused some discord among them. They waged war on us, and we were able to hold them off for close to ten years, but… it was a battle we were slowly losing. For all our advancements, we weren’t fighters. We had a military and such like any other civilization, but it had been so long since we’d truly needed such things that we simply weren’t prepared for an invasion of such ferocity.”
“Eventually we were forced to flee the planet, which was ultimately blown apart, and the survivors were hunted without let up. The Nazru were notorious for never leaving anyone alive, and our people in particular were the height of abomination in their eyes. However… a small, but powerful and influential sect of the Nazru decided to spare those of us that were left, and forced what remained of the Xocili into slavery. We were sorted into a caste system, used as tools and weapons to empower themselves. The sect was not popular with the rest of the Nazru, who wanted to kill us off completely, but they saw an opportunity with us and decided to… experiment with us, if you will. After all, they could always just finish the job and kill the rest of us off later if they decided we weren’t worth keeping around.”
“By that time, it was just myself and my son that was left of my family. My wife, Scylla, had been sent away on a ship with other women and children before the planet’s destruction, hoping to get them to safety before it was too late. She was pregnant with Mercury at the time. Khelben and I had already been enslaved for several months by the time I learned of Scylla’s death. I never found out if Mercury had survived or not, but I assumed the worst. I wouldn’t find out for several more years that they had taken what was left of our young, isolating them and training them to be obedient spies and assassins – of which Mercury was one.”
Zemenar didn’t plan on going into too many details of Mercury’s own past, knowing it wasn’t his place to share it. However, with the story of their liberation being integral to Mercury’s own journey, there were some parts about his daughter’s personal life that he wouldn’t be able to leave out. “She came to this planet to scout it for invasion, and formed attachments she’d never had before, particularly with Vandrad. She chose to rebel, and for that she was collected against her will during a period of time when Vandrad was missing, brought back to the flotilla where she was tortured… at my hands.”
His expression was sober and sorrowful, the guilt and shame evident on his face. Yet despite the pain that he was still struggling with from the memory, there was peace to him as he carried on, a willingness to acknowledge his traumatic memories without being controlled by them. “Once I realized who she was, I released her, and if it weren’t for many of the people here, the Xocili would have gone extinct that day. Vandrad, Serilda, Mythal… Gren and Themmy, Saffron… Grubar and Hosrius… even Ophelia, Cecilia and Bartrand… All of them somehow, against all odds, managed to track Mercury down across an entire universe and catch up to her before it was too late, storming the flotilla to save her, as well as getting the rest of us safely here to Earthland. The Nazru were wiped out almost single handedly by Vandrad and Serilda in a display of power unlike anything I had ever witnessed in over eight hundred years. If I’m being honest, I still don’t think I’ve fully come to grips with most of it.”
The Xocili chuckled softly. Despite the fact that being a slave had taken up such a tiny sliver of his life, the impact of that trauma had been so profound that he almost couldn’t remember what life had been like before the bondage of his people. However, his gratitude toward their saviors far outweighed everything else, and as such Zemenar was able to give Vriko a genuine, if bittersweet, smile. “I hope I haven’t put you off. It’s not exactly the happiest tale… but I do appreciate your interest. It’s very kind of you to give an old soldier like me a listening ear. Thank you for asking, Miss Ragnos.”