As the Elects decide on the best course of action to end the threat of the Meraculus Mercurius, the MM itself realizes that its extinction will come at the hands of an unsuspected foe.
from The Silvergrey Sea
‘No doubt about it,’ Abram thought. ‘The cells are empty.’
The Albedo was standing to Abram’s left. The Kokkinos was investigating the particulars of the escape.
In the hour or so the three conferred, they had caught each other up on what was happening. The biggest surprise to Abram was learning that Harry Tranker had gone to Œrth. He hadn’t realized the Silvergrey Sea touched that world again. Evidently, neither had the Elects.
They now knew of three beings who called themselves Elementals who were somehow involved in this mess. They had concluded the new players were working at cross-purposes with the Meraculus Mercurius. The latter seemed to be indulging in nothing more sinister than evoking the spirits of the Silvergrey and forcing them into bodies to extract information from them. What information there was to get from such beings Abram did not know. Neither did he know why this practice was forbidden. There were things to which only the Elects and the Mercurius were privy and it would not do to press them, even in such circumstances as these.
The Elects knew or guessed something of the purpose of these Elementals that they would not share, either. Abram was more annoyed by this than was politic, but did not voice it. Time spent in the boondocks of Noir with Harry had given him a taste for rebellion and forbidden knowledge. He schooled his patience and concentrated on the task at hand.
After about twenty minutes of waiting, the Kokkinos returned from his investigations. “Apologies for the delay, Brothers. I sought news of the Mercurius while I was away.”
White “Did you uncover any?”
“Not directly, no. Thirty-three Hermetists have deserted their stations in the last hour, though. Intelligence on several of them put their likely destination as the Evanescents. It’s safe to assume, she’s on her way there, or already arrived.”
“What about our escapees?”
“They just walked out.”
“Excellent question. We really don’t know much about what happened to them. Drago is an old mystery, Jayne a new one. They are ‘Elements’, whatever that may mean.” Abram couldn’t hear or see any indication that the Red Elect was self-censoring because of his, Abram’s, presence. He remained sure that they knew something, though. “They haven’t left the Mother Lodge.”
“What of the Dragons?”
Abram and the Kokkinos both turned to look at the White Elect. “What about them?” Abram.
The Kokkinos’s expression changed to one of horror.
The sound of wind, like a hurricane just outside, ended the conversation.
For years afterward, Abram wondered whether either of the Elects were merely playing for his benefit. He caught the slightest hint of satisfaction in the Albedo’s expression. What were they up to? Should he be trusting them?
Some questions never did get answered.
The storm passed into the Mother Lodge. The floor began to tremble.
Gesturing, the Kokkinos began running. The others followed.
They went down. The wind from the wings of the dragons buffeted them so severely that several times, they lost their footing. Sticking to the walls of the larger halls helped. Finally, they came to an enormous five sided room. It was plain (as plain as the blue stone of Azhure’en permitted, anyway) and had a huge pentagonal whole in the center of the ceiling. The floor had an even bigger one, this slope-sided, giving the room an uncomfortable feeling that one could slide down into oblivion. The brilliant blue-white light of the Line speared both darknesses as it plunged into that abyss.
Dragons where coming from all five entrances and spiraling down into the hole. The noise was painful.
The three stood against a wall while the flight continued. It went on for a long time. When it eventually ended, Abram’s ears roared at the relative silence. “Where can they have gone from there?” he asked.
Red “They shouldn’t have been able to go anywhere. If leaving Azhure’en were that simple, the White God would have escaped us long ago.”
“But they did. How? Who woke them?”
White “I think it’s obvious who. ‘How’ is an interesting question. ‘Where’ is a better one. ‘To what purpose’ is the question that burns the most.”
Red “It must wait a while, Brothers. Finding our ersatz Mercurius and her rogue cabal is of most immediate use, I think.”
“To the Evanescents, then,” said Abram.
The Mercurius sat, horrified, in the one-person craft as it plowed through the deeps of the Silvergrey Sea. She was still shaking. In the long history of the Order of Hermes, never had the Inner Head of the Order been forced to flee her duties. That she was guilty of one of the worst betrayals in the Order’s history was a side-issue.
Containment must be the plan. The evidence of their work must be destroyed and someone unsuspected must go dark and wait until the Pure Mercury could begin again. As for her…
She shuddered. There was no way out for her.
There had been no need for a summons. News of the disaster had spread by many channels; some had gotten word before she did.
Somehow, the Meraculus Mercurius had been attacked and badly damaged. Someone in the Order of Hermes must have infiltrated and subverted their work. The monsters in the cells at the Mother Lodge were proof of that. There was no evidence that the spirits on the Silvergrey Sea had any will of their own or were even aware until they were placed in bodies.
The Mercurius considered and dismissed the ‘history’ that indicated that something other than the Order had had a hand in the M.M.’s original suppression and near-destruction. The official history was quite clear and the persistent rumour of the time had no independent corroboration.
Still, it unsettled.
The craft surfaced.
Almost to her destination. She took control of the wheel.
As the liquid cleared from the glass, the sight before her drew a gasp.
A clear, crystal mountain had sprung up in the midst of the Evanescents. From its top spewed liquid which she divined must be the stuff of the Sea. The Mercurius didn’t need to get closer to know that the site of the M.M.’s most recent work was now inaccessible. A momentary hopelessness overwhelmed her.
Then she saw the others.
It couldn’t have been all of them, but a sizable crowd was gathering on an island to her right. She headed that way. Someone spotted her vessel as it pulled up to the rough edge of the land. A small crowd had gathered as she pulled up. Hands helped pull the sleek steel ship do a docking.
There was almost complete silence as the Mercurius debarked. Almost, because of the susurration from the fountain atop the crystal mountain. Faces of fear, resignation, and blank despair greeted her. Every eye was turned to her, looking for some reason to hope.
She wished she had some to give. The truth would have to do. “My Fellows, the worst has happened. We have been exposed. The Elects are no doubt on their way here, with enough force to secure us.”
No cries of denial or despair; no sounds of weeping. She told them nothing they had not already concluded.
“The Pure Mercury is not dead. It will never die. We must assure its continuance, for the future of our Order of Hermes will depend on its success.” This had been the firm belief of the M.M. since its beginning, based on a prophecy that she had never doubted. That prediction had never been shared with those not committed to its cause. “I need someone to flee and to keep the flame of the Meraculus Mercurius alive. Who will volunteer for this exile?”
Three hands went up. She chose one she knew had the strength to endure the hardships that eviction from the Order of Hermes would entail. “Go, my sister. Take my vessel. Tell no one where you go and good fortune be with you.”
After the exile had gone, the Mercurius turned to the group. “We will wait for the Order. None of you will put up resistance. Our sacrifice will buy time for Nija Hermit’s escape.”
“We cannot go with the Elects,” someone in the crowd said.
“Look,” he pointed behind the Mercurius. She turned.
Her ship had not submerged. It was two hundred yards out and perfectly stationary.
So was the Sea.
She turned back to the group. “What’s happened?”
“We cannot leave.”
“I know that, but why?”
She was on the point of asking again and suddenly the effort seemed too much work. She began to wonder why it seemed such an effort, and couldn’t think of a reason. Also, she didn’t really care. She stared off into space, not really seeing anything, trying to put her thoughts in order. Something was very wrong, but she couldn’t muster the will to care.
After a time, she turned to face the Sea.
She didn’t think about why.