Maria de la Mercedes Rana y Villanueva

Mercedes is the longtime ward of the Villanueva mission on the Gulf coast, raised along with many other foundlings by Father Vega and the nuns and priests. Unlike many of them, her mother is actually known; Julia Rana was a longtime friend of Father Vega and resident of Villanueva herself, having grown up there a foundling herself.

Julia died in childbirth, and Mercedes believes her father to be one of the many drifters and adventurers who routinely pass by the Villanueva mission on their way up or down the coast. Though not a nun, she was raised among them and developed quite the rebellious and curious streak in turn. Villanueva has an extennsive library, having long traded books for provisions. She is thus very widely read, if somewhat naive.

For all intents and purposes, Mercedes appears to be a normal young woman, but the truth of her identity is tied up with that of Villanueva. It is, in fact, one of the last remaining refuges for a group of ancient beings that loom large in the mythology of the Mayans, as the alux, the Aztecs, as the chanekeh, and even the Incas, as the apu. To the Spanish, they are duende, named after a sprite or imp from Iberian mythology..

Whatever the name, the beings are of mutable for and considerable power, though they almost always assume the aspect of humans or animals and attempt to live in peace. Feared and respected as tricksters in many of the earlier civilizations, the Spanish have begun hunting them down to drain their powers. Mercedes is one such; even though her mother was a human, the products of all such unions are wholly spirits themselves, and it is in fact the only way their number can increase, though such a birth is almost invariable fatal to the mother.

Taken whilst sailing to a pilgimage to Mexico City, Mercedes was a prisoner aboard the Spanish ship that attempted to sail into Jolly Harbor. The sole survivor of that wreck, she offered the meager posessions on her person and the promise of a greater reward to entice a small pirate crew to return her to Villanueva.

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