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Just in case anyone's forgotten… ;) Thank you all so much for reviewing, it means so much to me. You guys really are fantastic.
It's really late, so there may be some massive mistakes in this chapter. But frankly, I am so tired that I can't care. It's tomorrow's problem…
This chapter also sets up a lot of plot and stuff, so read it with an open mind, and give me your opinions on Mercury. I love her, she's such a fun character to write…
Chapter XIII: Enigma
The woman was small, and fragile looking. Her silvery-blonde hair fell down her shoulders, just brushing the collar of her jacket. Under the blood red lights and dark shadows of Midnite's, the sharp angles of her face became more obvious, her high cheekbones shading her eyes. But her eyes themselves were curiously visible, like luminous stars.
"Mercury." It was a good name for her. Quicksilver, and always in motion. Even though she was sitting still, she still carried a sense of movement with her, like an aura.
"How could I forget?" John said, with a rueful smile. He liked Mercury. She was one of the few people in his life who'd turned up and walked away from him without getting killed. Then again, it kind of helped that she herself was a psychic, and a damn powerful one at that. That was how they'd met – he'd been in England, and he'd helped her get to grips with her power. That felt like such a long time ago now.
"You ought to come back to England more often. It's not as much fun now that you're in LA," she said, her clipped British accent surfacing more as she spoke. When you travelled as much as she did, being able to mask an accent was very useful.
"What are you up to nowadays?"
Mercury shrugged. "Earning my keep. Turns out there's more demand for translators in dead languages than I thought." After a beat, she continued, with a shrewd look. "Last thing I heard, you were on your way down," she said, her statement heavy with meaning and clearly asking him to elaborate.
John shrugged. "Pissing off Lucifer and lung cancer. Not a good combination."
"Have you finally given up?" Mercury asked, meaning the cigarettes.
"Yeah. Surprising what the thought of going to Hell does for your motivation," he replied sarcastically. "You?"
If it was true that all those who could See had a vice or two to balance out the scales, Mercury's was surprisingly arcane. Getting high on magic and the resulting power trip was more her thing. A better high than alcohol or cigarettes or any other cocktail of drugs, but it would lead to a shorter lifespan. Mercury looked deceptively youthful, but some of the shit she'd done to herself had definitely taken its toll on her, whether it was obvious or not.
"Trying," she admitted. There was a pause between them. Too much had passed between them for it to be truly awkward, but still, a little addiction between friends was still uncomfortable.
"Who's still about?" she asked, changing the subject. Meaning, who's the latest in a long row of coffins.
"Me. Midnite." Pause. He didn't have to say anything else.
"Shit…" Mercury whispered, almost under her breath. "I know what they say about hazardous professions and all, but come on, this is getting ridiculous."
"You're telling me."
"Dead," he said simply.
"What about Nico?" she asked, naming yet another exorcist in a very long line of the dead.
"Pissed off a half-breed in San Francisco. Last thing I heard, his soul was being served up as lunch," John said, almost emotionlessly, not because he didn't care, but because this was just another death. There were too many of them in his chosen profession. Partly because exorcism was like walking between the demons and their victims and lying down in front of them to try and stop them, i.e., useless.
"Who's still alive in London, then?"
Mercury started to tick people off on her fingers. "Map – the insane bastard's still hanging about the King's Cross tube station. Clarice is still running that mad club for the ghosts who can't be arsed to move on yet. Nigel, Chalice, Nathan…" Looking up, she shrugged, and almost too casually took another sip of her drink. "To tell you the truth, I'm not sure," she admitted. "I haven't been back to London for a while now. There was a possession that got a bit…messy, so the police have been sniffing around for a while."
"Is that why you're here?" he asked. "Hiding out?"
"Sort of," Mercury explained. "Been doing a bit of research here. I was trying to talk to Midnite about it. Thought he might know something about it."
"About what?" It was good to see Mercury again and everything, but she was useless at getting to the point.
"Any information he has on the Kua I'ipa."
"The Shadow Dog. That's a myth," he said flatly. Mercury had a talent for the esoteric, but chasing after age-old ghosts of legends was a new development.
Mercury shrugged. "That's what I thought. But – you know I said I was translating? Well, I dug something up. Something that shouldn't have left the Vatican libraries. How it came to be in my bloody possession, I don't know. But everyone's got something to say on it. Nostradamus especially, but every half-baked seer puts some reference to it in there, even if it's just a mention. It's getting bigger all the time."
"What do these records say?" John asked, suddenly very intrigued. Simply from experience, he probably knows Mercury the best, and he can tell that she's both interested and a little worried.
Mercury suddenly looked around. The intense magic and power and sheer multitude of the people in Midnite's was overwhelming, and it probably wasn't the best place to have a talk like this.
"Let's go…" she suggested quietly, picking up her small black bag that always travelled with it. John knew what was in it – a small crucifix, an antique collection of saints' medals, a Bible and what looked like a pepper spray, except for the fact that it was filled with holy water. Her survival kit, she called it. It might have been over-defensive, but with a power like hers, a power that lit her up like a blazing beacon – it made her a target. That was part of the reason she was always travelling, always moving, like her namesake.
The contrast between inside Midnite's and outside it was stunning. Outside, it was cold and still, almost frozen, whereas inside it was warm and constantly shifting. Everyone was close, too close, and always moving. Now, even though it was hardly that late and this was LA, for Christ's sake, it was surprisingly quiet and tranquil.
"The records say that whenever the Shadow Dog, the Kua I'ipa is sighted, death and destruction follow," Mercury said finally. "It's almost like a sign of the apocalypse."
"And you've seen it."
Mercury shook her head. "Only in dreams. But–" she paused, trying to find the right words. "John – something big is going down. Something huge."
"What?" Inwardly, though he didn't like to admit it, he was worrying about her. He hadn't seen her in like half a decade, but he still knew that something had to be wrong for her to make a prediction as huge as this.
Mercury met his gaze squarely, knowing full well what he was thinking. "It's toxic, John," she said softly but firmly. "Can't you sense it? Something's wrong with this city. Something sick. Anything big happened here recently?"
John almost laughed bitterly. "Just the son of the Devil trying to take over this plane. Not much. Oh, and the Devil coming up here to sort it all out. No, not much at all."
"Jesus…" Mercury's eyes, balancing between ice blue and silver grey, were wide open in surprise. The florescent orange street lighting made her pale, angular face seemed sick and garish, like a kid's cheap, tacky Halloween costume.
"You didn't know." He managed – barely – to keep the surprise out of that statement. A psychic as strong as Mercury should have been able to sense a disruption on that scale, and the rent between the planes like that would have registered on her psychic scale, no matter where she was.
"Not where I was." John looked up at the statement. Mercury was smiling. "Telepathy – great perk of being able to See," she said, knowing full well that Constantine couldn't – it took a lot of power, more than most had. Hearing an occasional thought was an occupational hazard of being able to See, but controlled, powerful telepathy was a gift reserved for only the most powerful of psychic. "I was in Eden."
"Eden." He had to repeat the word, just to make sure he'd heard right. "You're out of your mind."
"True, but it was necessary," she explained.
"How did you even get back in?" he asked, incredulous. "I thought there'd be orders to shoot you on sight."
"Yeah, that was fun," she said with a smile. The last time she and John had been to Eden, or at least the closest site to it, the half-breed angels claiming to be descendants of Cain who were waiting for God's orders were less than happy to see them, and even less happy to let them go with all of their limbs after what happened. "I could barely talk to them. Long memories, those guys. Can't get what they're so worried about."
"Yeah right. It doesn't have anything to do with the Testament of Nephilim which we stole?"
"I don't remember stealing it. I think that was all you. And anyway, we did a good deed – the bastard thing was far too dangerous."
"Justify it any way you want," he said to her with a sardonic edge on the words. "I seem to remember having this argument before." Mercury smiled, looking even younger than she already did. It was a surprise, seeing such an ordinary thing as a smile on her enigmatic features. "I guess nothing's changed."
"Really?" she asked, honest surprise in her voice. "Yeah, I suppose you're right." She tilted her head to one side, thinking about it. "Though I guess some things have changed. You're not the same Constantine who couldn't live without a cigarette for five minutes."
"Thanks." He said this just sarcastically enough so that she could take it as a typical, ironic joke, when actually what he was feeling was the knife-like pain in his lungs and the burning at the back of his throat which signified the craving in his body. His mind could hold out and remain virtuous, but his body was definitely screaming for some nicotine.
"Anything else changed?" she asked him, a grin slowly spreading across her face. "Found yourself a girl who can stand you for more than five minutes yet?"
"Very funny." Though the retort was typically Constantine, something about the air with which he said it wasn't. Curious, Mercury sent out thin tendrils, her psychic senses quietly and unobtrusively trying to probe Constantine's mind. It was delicate, and difficult, especially because she didn't want him to notice, but she just found it. Just a few memories, but enough to figure out what had happened.
"John." She turned his head towards her, so that they were looking directly at one another. "Go to her."
John pulled his head away from her hand, and changed direction, so that he couldn't see her. Considering that she was about ten inches shorter than him, it was surprisingly easy. Mercury however, would not be deterred.
"You're an idiot, and you always have been, so that's not going to change," she said, perfectly sincerely. "And rather than continue down this path of self-destruction and stupidity, you might want to try a different approach."
"Don't forget, John, I've known you a long time," she said, in the same tone, simple and immaculate. "What is it, sixteen years? So take some advice from a very old friend. Go, and sort all of this out."
John ached to bite back with one of the scathing, sarcastic retorts that he was so good at, but he couldn't, because he knew, even though he wasn't prepared to admit it to her, that she was right. She had an unnerving tendency to hit the nail on the head in a really annoying way.
"I'm in LA for another few days. You know how to find me," she said, before blending into the shadows, in the way that she did so well. It was a long running joke that she was crap at goodbyes.
John paused for a second, breathing in the frigid night air. Just for a second. And then, just like that, he knew exactly what he had to do. What he was going to do.
He turned around, and started walking in the other direction. Towards Angela's apartment.