Mercy heard her mentor, Mark Kendall, come into the gymnasium, but she didn't pause her daily workout merely because of an interruption. The uneven bars were a relief after sitting in an office all day and Mercy welcomed the aching of her body. The strength and effort required to move smoothly and quickly over and under the bars easily took her thoughts away from the mind-numbing mudanity of the previous eight hours.
Mark make his way into the stuffy gym. Mercy heard a slight squeak as he sat on a battered vaulting horse and decided that it would be rude to keep him waiting. Mark was no-doubt bursting with questions following her absence all day. Rather than dismounting, she easily swung on top of the higher bar and sat there, legs dangling. Confidence in her own abilities - rather than the thick padding on the floor below - kept her steady as she waved a sketchy greeting to her mentor.
Mark himself was used to his protégé’s mannerisms and didn't comment on her choice of resting place, but rather got straight to the point. "So, where were you?"
"Working" Mercy replied, as if this was the most natural thing in the world - which it wasn't, not for a mage of the Euthanatos tradition.
"Go on." Mark repressed a sigh. If I had known what I was letting myself in for fifteen years ago, Mark thought of his promise made to Mercy's mother, I still would have agreed to raise her, but I would have stocked up on aspirin.
It wasn't that Mercy was being difficult as she entered the full throes of adolescence, not in the traditional sense of teenaged difficulties, but it was obvious to Mark that a young girl raised by a half-dozen Euthanatos was going to be rather different from her peers - significantly different, in fact. Mercy had Awakened to her potential early in life - which was attributed to her magic-rich environment - and since those turbulent early months, she seemed determined to leave all childish manners and mannerisms behind her.
“I got a job,” Mercy added simply.
“You don’t need a job.” Mark replied immediately.
“I do if I want to keep an eye on Roger Strickson,” she shrugged.
Mark blinked in surprise. Strickson was the head of a medium-sized law firm, which had started accepting some rather unusual clients shortly after he had taken over, ten months ago. The chantry had decided that he needed closer watching, but a plan of action hadn’t been decided.
Mercy, growing bored of her perch, jumped down and made her way to a nearby exercise mat to stretch. Embarking on her preferred routine of yoga, she finally gave Mark a full explanation as she stretched like a cat.
“You think Strickson is representing scum for the Technocracy, but we have to get inside his business to learn more,” she stated. “Two weeks ago, Strickson’s assistant announced she was taking her vacation this month. Two days later, Access Staffing happened to call me, needing a competent young thing to take her place. Good thing I had just signed up with them.” She smiled.
Mark had to interrupt, “Mercy, you’re sixteen years old. How did you convince a temp agency that you’re of legal age?”
“Fifteen, actually.” Mercy corrected mildly. “As for my apparent age…” Mercy slowly righted herself from a handstand she had kept for the past minute and faced him, arms akimbo, her expression blunt. “People aren’t willing to believe I’m underage, so they don’t ask.”
Mark stifled a wince at that. It was true that Mercy appeared and acted far older than her years but despite that, she was still only fifteen, and Mark was worried about her trying to blend in with the workforce. Don’t undermine her, he reminded himself. Hear her out.
Not getting a reply from her mentor, Mercy continued, “Today, I started working in his office. Tomorrow, I’ll be getting a key to the building and good long look at his schedule – and I’ll be able to keep looking for the next three weeks. That’ll be useful, don’t you think?”
“That’s true.” Mark conceded. “But you should have told me that you were doing this.” He chided.
Mercy nodded, somewhat awkwardly as her body was curved into an arch. “I was going to, tonight.”
“I would have preferred advance warning.” Mark snapped, temper rising at Mercy’s attitude. Independence was a mark of their Tradition, but Mark believed that Mercy was taking it too far in this case.
She didn’t bother replying, as she moved from one complex position to another, the mere sight of which made Mark ache. “So, what are you going to do now?” he demanded.
“Memorize every scrap of information I see. Get the office key duplicated. Eavesdrop.” Mercy stated easily. “If that doesn’t work, I’ll improvise.”
That alarmed him. Mercy’s last bout of improvisation caused significant property damage in the city’s club district and required some very fast footwork on the part of the Virtual Adepts to prevent a connection being made between a Saturday night riot and Mercy’s activities. To compound the situation, Mark knew some things about Strickson that Mercy might not.
“Well, I really think you should have told us of this plan of yours,” Mark sighed. “There are some things you should know about Strickson before you go any further.”
“You mean his tendency to sleep with every female he can lay hands on?” Mercy commented.
Mark was determined not to be surprised by Mercy’s knowledge. “Yes,” he confirmed.
“I did read the files.” Mercy replied sharply, uncurling from her yoga and finally sitting normally on the floor. “Why do you think I made sure I’d get hired for the job? If three weeks doesn’t get what we need, I can get close to him another way.”
Mark’s resolve finally broke. “Mercy!” Like many times before, it was one part exclamation, one part exhortation. “You can’t be serious! You’re only fifteen…” he protested, knowing what a thin argument that was.
Mercy raised an eyebrow and half-smiled at Mark’s discomfiture. “High time I took care of it then.” She said simply, knowing it would irritate Mark further.
“For god’s sake.” Mark snapped. “I would much rather your first sexual experience wasn’t with a probable enemy of the chantry, and for such…” he struggled for a word. “Mundane reasons.” He finished.
“First?” Mercy was grinning mischievously, the child making a rare appearance from behind her adult mask. “What makes you think that?”
Mark stared at her. “You’re joking. Tell me you’re joking.” He entreated.
Mercy realized she was about to cross the line from teasing to cruel and gave Mark a break. “Yes, I’m joking.” Her smile faded, “but I will keep an eye on Strickson, whatever it takes,” she added in a harder tone.
Mark was defeated, and he knew it. He had learned long ago that Mercy had a stubborn streak that was rarely worth fighting. “Well, I just hope ‘it’ won’t be that,” he muttered.
“What did you hope for, Mark?” Mercy asked curiously. “You ground all the romance out of me years ago,” she remarked flippantly, not quite able to hide a slightly bitter note.
“It doesn’t matter,” he sighed, not wanting to discuss this any further. “Blame it on my old fashioned principles.” He smiled wryly, while resolving to ask Anna – who was much closer to Mercy in age and attitude – to pursue the subject with her later.
“Alright.” Mercy shrugged, putting it out of her mind. “I noticed you wincing when I was in the Wheel a minute ago. Don’t tell me you haven’t been exercising….”