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Thread: Obsession (ongoing, PG-13 overall)

  1. #176

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    The woman he mentions is from the chapter that's post #105 in this thread.

    It's funny. The chapter you describe as "horrible" for his regression is more of a character moment, or that's how I meant it. In the film, he demonstrates some traits that may indicate autism (though it's of course impossible to know for sure since he literally *can't* meet all the diagnostic criteria just based on how little he's shown), and part of autism is difficulty in recognizing facial expression. He's training himself to do so, and to be sociable by rote (another difficulty). Of course, for him it ends up being far shallower in practice, which of course leads to further viewing others as not having the necessary depth to appreciate these treasures...so basically doing these things by rote is just going to continue his problems but hey.

    As far as the classical eras and everything, XY really threw a wrench in that design considering that it places three THOUSAND years ago what to us is three HUNDRED years ago (and yet the date of the moon landing is unchanged, making it MORE confusing). But as for his outfit, I'm actually describing a famous painting. Can you think of which one? (and heh, for bonus points, guess what Veronica is wearing. Hint--it's a LOT more recent, from a tv show)

    His ultimate obsession...I'm not sure if it really *is* Lugia, or even anything specific. Though he certainly comes to value Lugia above almost (ALMOST) everything else...

    And heh, thanks for the spelling input. It's funny though, I do put everything through spell checkers before I post them. I guess in my "no that isn't misspelled that's the name of a Pokémon" skipping, some things squeeze through.
    The world's greatest collector as drawn by Yoru Ryu
    Fancy Jirarudan too? Then you'll enjoy my fic Obsession! (updated Dec 30th, 2014)
    Check out some of my other fics!
    Answering Machine (strong XY spoilers--winner of Most Heartbreaking Scene 2013!)

  2. #177
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    Oh god, did I just describe autistic people as 'horrible'.

    That said, autism can be horrible, and progressing through life undiagnosed and untreated can certainly be horrible.

    Let me look at your Conquest Problem thread. ...1700's France is 3000 years ago. Got damn. I feel like the only explanation that'll fit the different canons' random caprices is that, pokemon is so far ahead of our world's timeline and it has gone through so many stages of history, that the stages have actually repeated multiple times, and everybody's gained crazy technologies and lost them and regained them, and Casanova has existed not only 300 but 3000 and 30000 years ago. As to which painting: I'm definitely not widely versed in classical art, even all the famous ones, and, Windsor is clearly not a real painter (I definitely didn't have to Google that to find out), so I'm gonna try Veronica's outfit. (Not, try on, as it would not fit me.) Nope, no idea. I suck.

    I guess one doesn't have to have an obsession for one single thing, to be an obsessive type -- someone who fixates on a definite vocation and is always overly focussed on just the objects of that vocation. Lugia certainly becomes the thing he follows to the point of ruining himself/the world.
    Last edited by Praxiteles; 5th January 2014 at 3:49 PM.

  3. #178

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    Ah no, that's fine! It can be a pain to work with, and even as an adult he seems to neither know nor care how he comes off to others (though he's also a bit of a sarcastic ******* in canon as well). But since socialization and presentation are key parts of his work, he'll have to learn how to navigate those situations somehow, and going through empty phrases in the way someone would study lines from a play can help him link things together.

    His fancy outfit is quite well-known as being the "blue" part of The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough. Veronica's fringe dress and big hat has a far different inspiration--Mimi from the first season of Digimon. I sort of went all over with that.

    That part was set up in part with my friend Abby, a previous poster in this thread. Though we seem to have lost contact, so I hope she comes to look at the thread at some point!

    Lugia is definitely a severe obsession. Even with saying that legendaries have always been his passion, Jirarudan seems to have never pursued one before. The ship is set up for these specific captures, with the capture rings seemingly calibrated for *something* specific with the four birds. And even with his viewing the other three as secondary, perhaps something to trade away or sell, a previous pursuit would likely have left him with *something*, because the man doesn't give up until he's *forced* to. Lugia is special to him, above even other legendaries. Is there anything else above it, in canon? Ultimately, his Mew card, but even that seems to be based in something other than his obsession.

    I can imagine him trying to find the mural depicted on the card, tracking it to a group of scientists, only to find it was assumed destroyed! That must be frustrating as well, a dead end.
    The world's greatest collector as drawn by Yoru Ryu
    Fancy Jirarudan too? Then you'll enjoy my fic Obsession! (updated Dec 30th, 2014)
    Check out some of my other fics!
    Answering Machine (strong XY spoilers--winner of Most Heartbreaking Scene 2013!)

  4. #179

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    (well...it's not the LONGEST gap between chapters. And despite my earlier apprehension, it's also not the longest chapter. But it felt like it! This one took so much research to write, and half the questions I had I couldn't find answers for! But I hope you enjoy some of the regions I mention in here. I also worked some friends of mine into it~ Enjoy chapter 26!)




    Autumn had settled in, draping the coast in a veil of fog and chill. The sea below churned in grey fury, making the view from my window an experiment in monochrome. Though my adventure with Veronica had been only at the start of the month, the cold, threatened for some time, had settled in quickly, changing my environment rapidly.

    With the time of year came my birthday, something I had attempted to avoid discussing with anybody. Though the year before I'd given my age as advanced by one before the date arrived, this year I understood the importance of youth, of preserving it while I could.

    Yet ten was a milestone. This age was what flooded the streets and forests and plains with those starry-eyed children intent on entering the Pokémon League, perhaps to become the Champion, that grandest of all trainers of the land.

    As I've spoken of before, the draw of such things had always escaped me.

    Perhaps if I'd not met Asaph I'd have been preparing for such a journey anyway, regardless of my disinterest. I wondered what starter I'd have had. Veronica had compared me to a Natu, seeing the past and future with no mind for the present, but that species was rare to begin a journey with, especially outside the Johto region. Likely I'd be saddled with one of the trio more typical for Kanto, and simply have fallen in line like the others. I wondered how long it would have taken me to have abandoned the quest, as I knew that would be the inevitable outcome.

    I had just completed an essay on some forgettable subject when a knock came on my door--a patter tapping out some silly tune, indicating that it was my father. "Knock knock," he chimed as if I wouldn't have heard the physical result.

    "Come in."

    He left the door open a wedge and unfolded a paper in his hand. He'd asked me for a birthday wish list, and I'd hesitated on it, not knowing if doing so was mannered or not, but finally I'd relented, jotting down a few choice items. "I wanted to ask you some things about this list. Your birthday's tomorrow, of course, and I can't find some of these."

    That was strange. "They're relatively commonplace. You ought to, even here."

    "Well...it's more that I don't know what they are. Like this one; I've got no clue what a...'chatelaine' is." He stumbled over the word as though it was difficult.

    "It's a pocket chain." He'd recently spent a day enthusing over the purchase of an electronic encyclopaedia, yet apparently couldn't be bothered to use it himself.

    "Oh, so you want a pocket watch? That's a funny choice for a kid your age."

    I bristled at the reference to age. At ten, I was nearly an adult. Even aside from training or going on an aimless journey, there were a host of liberties opening to me and he still treated me though I were small. "A watch is something one may hang on a chatelaine. I wouldn't be adverse to receiving one. Of course, it would be impolite" I stressed the word "to turn down a gift, though gifts must" another stress "be given with thought and consideration."

    "Oh." The flatness of his tone left little from which to derive meaning.

    "Well, I guess that makes sense. Now, I don't know who some of these people are that you mention. Designers, I guess, right?"

    I hadn't asked for any art, since it would raise too many questions, but history had shown that he preferred to give clothing. I could at least guide him to the proper choices. "More or less, though some are shops. You'll be able to find them in Viridian."

    He chuckled. "You have a lot more elaborate tastes than I did."

    "I question your use of the past tense." Asaph would likely snap at me for such a comment, but the irritation in it would go over my father's head.

    Again he laughed, of course. "I guess you're right! Wow, you're getting quite a sense of humor too. When I'd visit when you were little, you'd never laugh at anything."

    That wasn't true. He just never heard me. "You were hardly there."

    "Ah, yeah. Sorry about that..." He tsked under his breath as he rubbed the back of his head. "Just didn't have a lot of time. I wish you could have come out here though, too...Gloria loved the ocean..."

    "...I have to send this in," I muttered as I turned back to my work.

    "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...she would have been so proud of you."

    There was a pause before he moved, and another before he finally left. Rather than do what I had said, I instead drew out the chain from my shirt and held mother's ring in my hands. That's when I made a wonderful discovery.




    The following morning, I left early, before the dawn, and headed townward. My usual routine of wandering the galleries played out nicely, and one of the owners wished me a fine birthday. I walked along the promenade, listening to the ocean trying to rise up and touch the Wingulls that cawed above it, teasing the waves into going ever higher. Even from the cafe where I dined, though it was around the corner from the view, still carried the sounds of the playful birds.

    The small bookshop across from the shopping mall had gotten in a new art book, so I treated myself, petting the shopkeeper's Meowth that lazed across the counter as I paid. It pushed into my hand, enjoying the feel of my new adornment. Though I'd been by myself all day, I felt as though I was in the finest of company.

    When I returned to the cliffside, nightfall was already touching at the corners of the sky. It wasn't especially late, but the year showing its age. I hoped to slip in quietly and head to my room, but my father was waiting in the living room, on the couch that faced away and sitting so he faced me.

    "Jiri, I'm glad you're here! I expected you'd get back around this time. Go get dressed up; we're going out to dinner."

    I froze. Anything my father picked would be some horrid place, a gaudy tourist trap with pseudo-food designed to appeal to base instinct for overly filling meals.

    "Come on, we're going to Viridian City so we have to drive there."

    That was a bit better, though I still didn't trust him. Viridian was vast and held everything from high culture to the lowest. "What are we doing?"

    He stood, and I could see that he still wore the suit he did business in. "I just said, we're going out to dinner."

    "Specifically, Corbin," Helen said from the kitchen. I could hear her fussing with something in a cup, likely tea. "Tell him specifically where we're going."

    "Oh yeah." It was as though it had never occurred to him to answer what I'd asked. "It's a place called Fengsugou. Heard of it? It's supposed to be pretty nice."

    I hadn't, and mused over his settling for 'pretty nice' for what he insisted was a major milestone. "Mm. I suppose it's better than nothing."

    "Hahaha! You're getting a nice sense of humour. I'm glad; you always seemed like nothing made you smile."

    Had I been making a joke? I went over my words to think of what he could be talking about and came up with nothing. Without a further word, I started up the stairs, but he stopped me.

    "Jiri...? What's that on your hand?"

    I glanced down. "Oh, this morning I tried it on and it fit my hand."

    He smiled, but his eyes were slightly furrowed. "My god. I never thought I'd see you wear Gloria's ring. It looks so good on you. Heh...she always wore that. It meant so much to her. And I'm really glad you like it."

    He knew I had it, and I'd wore it on a chain. What was the difference? It did make me feel more mature, that it fit, but those things shouldn't matter to him.

    My silence must have gone unnoticed, because he continued. "You wouldn't let that thing out of your grip, remember? I had to come in when you were asleep and put it on the table so you wouldn't lose it. You know, sometimes, I wonder how--" and suddenly he fell silent. When I looked back up at him, Helen had taken his arm and was whispering lowly in his ear.

    But at least it gave me the respite necessary to take my leave.




    "You look really nice, Jirarudan," Helen said as we exited onto the mainland from the short bridge out of town. She and I inhabited the back seat of the smaller car--there was simply no way that I would be seen in the truck. "How are you doing today?"

    I'd been staring out the window at the dim stars, tracking our movements by the distant lights. "Mm? I'm all right. It's really like any other day, though I did pamper myself earlier."

    "What did you do? I saw you got a new book. What's it about?"

    I faced her briefly to answer, intending to turn back quickly. "It's a history of Lorrainian art in the Kalos region."

    "Oh yeah?" She smiled. "Kalosian art is really pretty."

    "Lorrainian art is often overlooked. It's similar but not as gaudy, and Kalosian masters were often inspired by the more realistic traits."

    "Does it have pictures? I'd like to see what you mean."

    She was taking interest in my passion for art. I could indulge her, but I couldn't risk her finding out my secret. "Maybe sometime, when I'm done."

    "By the way," she continued as she leaned back, "congratulations on your grades. How do you do it? You never seem to study and you're getting way higher grades than me or your father did at that age."

    I did study, and far too much. But it was only natural that she assume as she did, as I kept to myself regardless of the circumstance. "I don't see how you could figure that."

    "I guess. I mean, we never see you. You could be doing anything up there. I tell your father you're probably writing the great Kantan novel. You know, you're one smart cookie. You're gonna do great things someday."

    "It's not like I'm a prodigy or anything." This line of discussion was making me uncomfortable."

    Either she didn't notice or she didn't care, because she laughed. "Haha, well, you'll find something."

    I was ten. Though I had looked forward to the number, I was far behind so many. Madame Remi had her first gallery showing at ten, and was noted at the time to have bemoaned her lost youth. Stafford, Rhi, even the more recent Alkire, all had their hold in the art world long before my age. It was disheartening sometimes to wander through a museum full of those bright youths, but I had my own and I would do what I would with it. "...I'd rather not talk about it."

    She paused, silent for a while before squeezing my hand. "What made you decide to put that ring on?"

    I answered as I wiggled my hand from her grasp. "I try it on every so often to see if it fits. Today it did."

    "Oh. That's nice. I never met Gloria, but I think she'd be really proud of you. She seemed like a great person."

    I think that was the first time I'd ever heard Helen talk about my mother, and it didn't seem right. She was so close with my father that I would hope the subject would come up more often. As Helen said, she'd never met her, but my father had no excuse.

    "Are you excited to be ten?" I'd said nothing in between and her conversation continued unabated.

    "I suppose. I'm glad to have my youth."

    From the front, my father laughed, a sharp, noiseful sound. "Corbin!" Helen snapped, tapping the back of his headrest. "Ah, sorry about that. He just thought you sounded a lot older there."

    "Helen, come on, it was funny. A little kid saying that he's glad to have his youth?"

    The car suddenly seemed so much smaller than ever before, and I wanted out but we were in motion. Had we been stopped or going slower than we were, I would have darted away in an instant, I know that much for certain. I could feel my face arrange itself in what the photographs depicted as an overwhelmed expression, and it was a small victory that it was at least what I was feeling.

    "Corbin, apologize."

    He sighed. "I'm sorry. It was just that it sounded like something an old man would say."

    "Corbin!"

    "I'm sorry!" He glanced at me through the rearview. "Jiri, it's just you don't sound like kids your age. It's not a bad thing, not at all. You sound really smart, like Helen said, way more than either of us."

    I didn't feel smart. A smart person would have better company.

    Helen sighed, almost identical in length and capacity as my father's previous sigh. "There's a lot he doesn't understand. In meetings he keeps those things under his hat until later when it's just us, but sometimes I swear..." Another sigh. "He's proud of you."

    "I am! And don't ever doubt that! You're a very special boy and I'm proud to have you as a son." His driving was wavering a little, but it was still within acceptable parameters. "I want you to know that your father loves you."

    Frankly I didn't care. I know he said it honestly, but his understanding of such things was limited. "Mm. Thank you."

    "Jiri, what do you say?" This was Helen, prodding me in the arm.

    It took me a moment to comprehend what she meant. "...loveyoutoo."

    He laughed again. "That's the spirit!"

    Under that starry sky, I wished I could be anywhere else.





    Our arrival at Fengsugou was mundane. It had begun to rain, so my father went to park elsewhere while Helen and I ducked inside. I recall that her umbrella was impractically small, so we were both grateful that we'd only had to cross a small space to the door. "Any further and I'd have to restyle my hair," I remarked, and she giggled slightly.

    "Isn't that my line? Your hair looks fine."

    Hers was worn down, something I never saw. At the factory, it was a matter of safety to make hair as short as possible, so it was usually up with pins. Even so, it still only went to the lobes of her ears, slightly shorter on one side, creating the image of a modern flapper sans headdress. "Yours too. Though it could use a little something."

    "Oh yeah? Like what?"

    "I think...a flapper headband. Or a cloche."

    "Oh yeah?" I wasn't sure if she had already forgotten that she'd just said that. "I'll have to look into those."

    She was humouring me, which was disappointing. She didn't know what those things were, so why would she act otherwise? I'd have told her if she had asked, and I almost did anyway.

    From where I stood, I could see a glimpse of the interior. It was down a curved stairway, but with a limited view I could make out the host station nestled in the space, backed by a large aquarium against the stair wall, in which a few domestic-sized Goldeen and Seaking swam about lazily. The decor indicated that it was a specifically Hengduanian restaurant, and I was a bit disappointed in myself that, though I could identify the architecture, I knew nothing of the cuisine.

    Helen took a deep breath. "Mm, smells good, doesn't it? It's been a while. I'm in the mood for something spicy. If it's ok with you, anyway. It's banquet style so everyone has a bit of everything."

    That was interesting. I dreamed of attending imperial and royal events, and banquet style was often found in those, especially in the east. Perhaps this could be practice for the future.

    The door opened but I didn't pay much attention. It would be my father, I assumed, and he wasn't worth much notice, especially during my fancy.

    "Jirarudan."

    That wasn't the voice I was expecting. I turned. "Asaph?"

    He smiled, eyes and mouth crinkling at the sides, and chuckled. "I wasn't about to miss your birthday."

    "I didn't know you'd be coming." I remember thinking that my voice was duller than it should have been.

    "Your father didn't tell you?" He glanced at Helen, who shrugged.

    "I wouldn't put it past him," she muttered. "He can be a real scatterbrain sometimes."

    Asaph laughed. "Not like Jirarudan. He's perhaps the sharpest person I've ever met."

    I was? I suppose he would think so, not having seen the study of expressions and tones that I devoted hours, days to. Without that information, he would think it came naturally.

    "That's great to hear." Helen craned her head to peek out the paned window. "Since he does remote school, we don't get a lot of feedback about him. I mean, it's obvious that he's smart, but other than that, you know?"

    He nodded, just as the door opened again. "Ah, Corbin. We were just singing the praises of your son."

    My father reached a hand to my hair, no doubt to tousle it in that clichéd manner, and I ducked away. Not only did I disapprove of the action in general, I had my hair styled just so. He was being highly disrespectful, and it belied his praise. "He's a very special boy. We were talking about that in the car."

    It was hideously dull to hear that man talk. "Pardon. I'll go check the table," I told Helen and excused myself down the stairs. It was rude to depart without the acknowledgement of the other two, and I suspected that Asaph would speak to me about it later, but it was necessary.

    It was a regret that I couldn't properly appreciate my surroundings at that point. The staircase brought to mind the elegant entrances that royalty would make, and the faint splashing and vocalisations of the aquarium fish could substitute for applause. Yet, coming off of those horribly shallow remarks--what did "special" even mean?--they felt as though they were mocking me.

    Fortunately, such pessimism was short-lived, and the decor caught up with me. Though Hengduan was a very modern region, embracing radical new designs in its architecture, the restaurant was in a far more classical style. It was symmetrical, with even the chairs surrounding the tables all pointing the same directions on either side of the room. Deep red dominated the scene, highlit in gold and surrounding a small mock sky well, an inlaid light substituting for the sun and interior plants instead of the usual sumptuous garden. The effect, while not true to form, was a reasonable substitute. The walls were decorated simply, with traditional fans and inconspicuous lanterns, to an understated effect.

    Overall, it was magnificent, and I briefly forgot my discomfort.

    "Excuse me, can I help you?" A hostess was at my side, looking almost amused. I assumed it was for my age.

    "Yes, I would like to know if the table for Jirarudan is ready for seating."

    She pursed her lips. "I don't think we have any tables under that name."

    My stomach fell. Could he have forgotten to make a reservation? I wouldn't put it past him. We could obtain a table as walk-ins, but it was the principle of the thing.

    And then my father came down the stairs. "Ah, I think the table's under the name Corbin?" It was enunciated as a question, and a strange one at that. Why would he put it under his own name when it was my birthday?

    "Table for four? Right this way."

    He HAD reserved in his name. Had he no social decorum at all? I was aghast. It was my day, not his, and yet he had shifted the focus.

    Asaph and Helen trailed down the stairs, and we were led to a round table next to the garden area. To continue the symmetry, we sat in a x pattern, complimenting our surroundings.

    "How about this, huh?" my father asked, and I was dimly aware that it was directed at me. "Turning ten, having a big fancy dinner...I tell ya, it seems like just yesterday that you were this little baby."

    Helen was smiling. "Corbin, honey, I think Jiri may be a bit overwhelmed."

    I wasn't, though his presence was quickly changing that. I was simply enamored with my surroundings. Perhaps someday I would dine with royalty in settings near to this. No, I rethought, I most certainly would.

    Asaph placed his napkin on his lap and looked at me to do the same. In the rush, I'd forgotten, and wondered if my distraction made it excusable. "Jirarudan is an excellent student," he stated, as though clearing the fog. "As I was saying, he absorbs information incredibly. I've never met anyone who seeks out knowledge as much as he does."

    "Hey! Good job!" The plainness of my father's words stood out starkly against our surroundings. "Yeah, he's always got a book in his hand or something. And he's really into international stuff. That's why I thought he'd like this place. He cuts out pictures and stuff of different locations and paintings and puts them on his wall."

    My stomach tightened, Asaph's prior warning coming to the front of my head he wouldn't understand this is our secret...

    But Asaph just smiled in a small way. "Seeing the world without leaving home. It really is magnificent, to have that sort of mind."

    It wasn't just that. It was my escape from the dullness of Seafoam, my injection of colour into it. I felt rather wobbly to think of it, and wanted to hide under the table. Just a few years ago, I would have.Thinking of that, however, of how far I'd truly come in such a short time, straightened my back and focused my mind. "Seeing the world," I echoed. "Someday I will; I know I will."

    It had been a comment to myself, so I was a bit surprised by Helen's words. "What do you want to see?"

    I paused. It couldn't tip my hand. "Well...I'd love to see Hengduan. It's supposed to be beautiful. And Kalos, of course..."

    "Aah, the Parfum Palace," Helen sighed, in a tone I'd learned was called wistful. "I used to read all about it. Maybe we can go there together."

    There was a lot more to Kalos than one building, though I wanted to see the magnificent castle as well. "Maybe," I humored her, thinking of our conversation earlier.

    "I took a vacation in Hoenn once," my father said, as though the conversation concerned him. "Really hot there, but the beaches are incredible. And you gotta take a trip on a yacht. It's amazing."

    "I'm sure it is," Asaph chuckled. We'd gone to the Lilycove museum together, the distance taking us only a weekend. It was another of our secrets. "I tend to vary between being a rambling man and a homebody. I suppose that's why I ordered such a ship from you, Corbin."

    "Oh yeah? I'm glad to hear it."

    Before we could delve further into the subject, a server placed two small trays of sliced fruits and candied nuts on either side the lazy susan, and another set cups of jasmine tea before us. All were things I'd had before, but here amidst the finery, they seemed a world apart.

    Though my mind had wandered, thinking on the great museums of the world, I quickly snapped to attention at the scent of the tea. It was as if a bouquet had been set before me, inviting me to drink the entirety of its being, and I took a sip, remembering halfway to draw in air around it.

    Though it was hot, it was far from the scalding messes found in that cliffside house, and I was able to enjoy it without burning my tongue.

    It was at that time that I realised that I knew very little of Hengduanian customs. Was I to drink before the servers were finished? Was I to say something beforehand, a prayer or an address? I dropped my hands to my lap, fidgeting with my ring again.

    But Asaph had said nothing to correct me. Perhaps I was doing everything right. Yes, I had to be. Though I continued turning the ring around my finger for a moment longer.

    "I think we should toast the birthday boy." It came not from my father, as I would have predicted, but from Helen. She held her cup up at about face height, looking every bit my previous image of her as a flapper toasting a wild life.

    Everyone followed suit, and in the moment before I did I marveled at the differing images the other two presented in their action. My father was a mid-century Shikaakwa piece, the working man raising a glass in an unfamiliar environment, while Asaph was a courted gentleman in a Brittanian intimate, gilded scene. I hoped to present a distinguished figure myself, though my thoughts were of my surroundings and I knew I couldn't possibly fit the model of Hengduan style.

    "To Jirarudan--may your days be short and your years be long!" It was a toast meant to invoke the idea of a leisurely life, but it had always confused me. I had protested it in the past but for the time I pushed that aside.

    "To Jirarudan!" We all brought our cups forward in imitation of the ceremonial clinking of glasses, and drank at the same time. It was a strange feeling, that shared action.

    We began on the food before us, the candied nuts being my favourite. Similar confections were sold in Seafoam, but their quality was far below, made for the masses. These were light, with the slight glaze neither overtaking the core nor being dominated by it.

    The normalcy of the fruits was odd. Though they were clearly simple supermarket offerings, their presentation changed their taste. I laughed to myself, something that struck my father's attention, as I mused over my own simple beginnings. It was nothing, I told him.





    The opening course, and then the appetizers, were without incident, and soon a bowl wafting lightly-scented steam was placed on the round in the middle of the table, and then another, and another. The dishes were larger than the cuisine's standard, indicating a meal of fewer courses than the class would normally hold. I felt as though I was a guest of a monarch, the finery of the region around me.

    "Oh wow..." my father gasped. "Hey, this is neat, don't you think?"

    I pretended not to notice that he was probably directing it at me, and hoped Asaph wouldn't think it rude. We hadn't covered these sorts of situations in our lessons, of what to do when addressed by someone utterly ignorant of social mores or manners.

    Glancing across the table and him and Helen, I saw that they both nodded to the servers, so I did the same. They nodded back, and I felt somehow accomplished.

    I admit that I didn't know most of the dishes, but the enticing smell was wild, appealing to some newly uncovered part of my mind. There was a distinct spice to most of them, though I remembered that banquet dishes were milder than those of the everyday. How funny, to think that milder was special!

    "Jirarudan." It was Asaph. "If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?"

    I hadn't expected to be put on the spot like that. Knowing our arrangement and our secrets, there were many things I couldn't say. It was a test, but I wasn't certain how to pass it. Likely to name something without those hidden elements. "Well..." I pondered, twisting the ring around my finger again. I thought of the freedom I had with him, and how we could go anywhere in his ship, one that was steady enough to display priceless works in security, and the answer became clear. "I would like an airship."

    It made perfect sense, and I didn't know why I hadn't thought of it before.

    My father sat back, grinning. "Well! I had no idea!" Was that sarcasm or did he genuinely not know? I hadn't known, but people seemed to be able to guess qualities of others. I would have to speak to Asaph about it.

    "Ooh, what kind?" Helen asked, leaning forward with her head on her hand. Her elbow was on the table but I said nothing.

    I was a bit dizzy. "Oh...who knows? It's a flight of fancy. I'm not certain." Though, in that moment, I was. The elegance of Asaph's ship had always captivated me, and for a moment I felt as I did when I was soaring over the land and sea.

    "He looks so happy," I heard her whisper to someone, perhaps even herself, but it was faint. I'd closed my eyes to focus on my dream, images of the surface below as clear as life.





    The rest of the meal proceeded without incident, aside from the continued magnificence of the food. Although by now I would simply repeat myself to describe them all!

    Hengduan banquets had no sweet dessert, and I was grateful that it would prevent the classless cake that my father had presented me with the year before. Though we capped the meal with a sweet, it was in the form of a milky, tea-like drink that tasted of almonds.

    "So," my father pronounced, "if you'd like, we can do presents now."

    That was something else I wasn't sure of, if presents should be given in public. It seemed horribly rude, but again, Asaph nodded me on. "All right," I muttered, looking around as I did just in case.

    Helen smiled, which I caught only briefly. "I'll start." She retrieved her purse from under her chair, drawing something out from it and handing it to me. Again I looked at Asaph and again he nodded for me to proceed, so I did, drawing my finger under the tape holding the wrapping paper closed so as not to rip anything.

    Within was the image of a distant castle, the famous Neuswaronessstein, dream of a mad king. I'd dreamt of it once, a few months before, and the idea of an unfinished palace, lost without its dreamer, was incredibly tragic and appealing. Turning the book over to the front cover revealed that it was on palaces around the world.

    "I hope you like it," she grinned. "You seem to love all those faraway things. I saw this and it just fit."

    Though her words were off in the distance as I stared at the back cover again, finally setting it down when I realised that we were to continue.

    Asaph had prepared a fancier gift, a small hinged fabric box with the name of a jeweler in town in small foreign letters across the top. "I've looked forward to this. It took a considerable effort to keep it a secret."

    Carefully I tilted open the lid, the contents shining in the dim overhead light before I could see it entirely. I could hear Helen oohing in anticipation as I drew it back, revealing a gold brooch with a highly stylized hiragana "Ji" engraved lightly into it. When I drew it out of the box, I could hear my father laugh sharply, causing me to nearly drop it. "Fancy! That'll be something you keep your whole life."

    "Ji", I said to myself, running my fingers over the engraved surface. It was ever so slightly coarser than the polished area around it, and it was an interesting sensation. "Ji..."

    Asaph chuckled. "I'm glad you see that. I worried it may have been too calligraphic to discern properly."

    I recall being entranced by it, still feeling that emery-like area and repeating "Ji" as though it was a holy mantra. Even then I didn't understand why.

    "Jiri, can you show us?" I'm not sure who said it, but it broke me out of the trance. I tilted the box to show it to them and the two gasped simultaneously.

    "Asaph..." My father dropped his voice and I believe he thought that I couldn't hear him. "Are you sure? That looks really expensive."

    Asaph waved his hand ever so slightly. "Don't think of it." It was slightly softer, but it was still very audible.

    I put the cover back over the brooch, brushing the surface again as I did, and took another sip of the almond tea.

    "Oh, that's right!" my father exclaimed, though I knew that it was an artificial energy. "My present!" He extended the second word in the manner of a teen idol, and Helen lightly slapped his shoulder I assume for it. Grinning, he presented me with a red envelope, the telltale sign of a gift of money.

    Again I felt uncomfortable, and again I looked around to see who was watching, but I opened it anyway. It was a novel sort, the kind held closed with a wind of string, and I peeked inside without withdrawing the funds. It wasn't money itself, but a bank note made out for an embarrassingly high sum.

    I felt a bit woozy, although the money was minor compared to what I had already made. It felt as though he was attempting to buy my happiness, and it bothered me to no end. "I'm not certain I can accept this," I told him.

    "Oh come on, it's a drop in the bucket compared to what Asaph must have gotten that pin for." I followed his eyeline to the box that held it.

    Asaph turned towards me, reaching his hand to mine. "No matter what it is, it's fine. Accept it graciously."

    I lowered my head. "Very well. Thank you, father." Although it did nothing to sway my opinion, I could set it aside.

    "Father now, huh? Heh, you're making me feel old. So, you can do whatever you want with that, of course. You've been so responsible with what I gave you before, buying your own clothes and books and all that." He shook his head. "I couldn't handle all that when I was your age. I don't know how you do it."

    Though I was a bit lost in thought. The meal, the generous gifts, the opulent surroundings, the mélange of smells still drifting around the table, even the distant rain, grown stronger since our arrival; all together it drew round in my brain, too many things to sort through all at once. It was odd how I could handle such things in other situations.

    "Jiri, have you had a good birthday?" I refocused to see Helen smiling at me.

    "I have. Thank you all. It's been an honour. I feel like nobility."

    "Oh shucks." Obviously my father, with his plain language. "We were hoping you'd feel like royalty."

    "Royalty has too many obligations. I've not got the head or want for matters of the world."

    He stared at me for a moment, as did Helen, who at least was smiling. Asaph carried on with his tea as though nothing was unusual. "That...that just came out of you, didn't it? You spend a lot of time thinking about that kind of stuff, don't you?"

    "I read a lot about them." More specifically about their treasures, and those of their regions and nations. The art of every area of the world...I sighed just thinking about it.

    "Getting tired? I don't blame you; you've had a long day." He laughed softly, under his breath.

    I was tired, come to think of it, although he had misinterpreted my sigh. It wasn't important. "A bit. It must be near midnight by now."

    He checked his watch, a surprisingly expensive-looking piece for a man who lived so pathetically despite his fortune. "It's close to ten. We should hit the road, since I think they close at ten. I had a great time."

    "Me too," Helen added. "Corbin, we'll have to come here sometime, just the two of us."

    "Oh?" Asaph quirked an eyebrow, his voice turning up at the end. "Jirarudan never speaks of these things, so I'm terribly behind on you, Corbin. Considering that your son is my business, I feel that I must."

    Helen laughed, something high and bubbly. "We've been seeing each other for a while now. Almost as long as we've known you!"

    But the discussion of relationships seemed inappropriate. Petty gossip had no room in these situations, and it was strange to see Asaph entering into it. Why was he so interested? "So, we spoke of leaving?"

    My father turned to me, eyebrows furrowed. "I...guess we did. Everyone ready? I pre-paid so we can just go."

    As we all stood from the table, I tucked the book under my arm and the envelope into my inner jacket pocket, taking the jewelry box into my hand. "I had a wonderful time. Thank you all for coming." Saying so, I bowed midway.

    "Ooh, our little society boy," Helen said as she bowed back, at a smaller angle, and Asaph followed suit. Though my father had already wandered off, seemingly unaware of my gesture.

    When I looked back from where he had vanished to, Asaph was offering his arm. "Shall I accompany you up the stairs, young sir?"

    Helen laughed, and she looked what the pictures had called amused. "Two gentlemen."

    For some reason I wanted to ignore that. I took his arm and he led me up the grand staircase. The sound of the rain outside, pounding against the door and window, was soothing in a way, and I thought back to something I had read about how there was something in our psychology to find rain relaxing, though I couldn't remember why. "I believe Corbin went to fetch the car."

    "He should have said something."

    "Yes, he should have. Although he's polite in manners of business, the ideas of everyday manners escape him."

    Helen had followed us, and nodded, I assume in agreement. "He's got some work to do. But I've talked to him. I'm going to go wait out there for him, and I'll tell you when he's pulled up." The windows were red, of course, in keeping with the theme, and it was nearly impossible to see out of them.

    "Very well. I will see you both later, Helen. Give my best to Corbin."

    "I will." She held the door open for a moment, pulling her umbrella open outside before joining it, leaving me with Asaph.

    "I must be heading back myself. I'd love to have you over some time, perhaps for a few days."

    That sounded like paradise! "And I'd love to join you. Do you have a preference in date?"

    "Not especially. Though autumn in the hills is a sight to behold, and I want to share it with you." He smiled, and I didn't need my pictures to identify it as kindly.

    "I'll call you and we'll arrange this. Will Veronica be joining us?" Her appearance in Seafoam had been a surreal experience, but I still valued her company.

    "Perhaps, if she wishes. I haven't seen her since that trip you both took to Viridian, though I've spoken to her. It's about time I reach out."

    That was relieving for some reason. "I look forward to hearing her answer."

    The door poked open slightly and Helen told us that the car was ready, so I said my goodbyes and headed out, shielded under her umbrella.





    The drive back to Seafoam saw drowsiness catch me, lulling me to sleep with the gentle, repetitive motion of the car over the road, and the feel of the brooch under my ringed finger. I fell into dreams to the sound of the rain.
    The world's greatest collector as drawn by Yoru Ryu
    Fancy Jirarudan too? Then you'll enjoy my fic Obsession! (updated Dec 30th, 2014)
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    Answering Machine (strong XY spoilers--winner of Most Heartbreaking Scene 2013!)

  5. #180

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    There was a phenomenal magic in the air, the mid-November snow falling gently from the heavens as I came down the long driveway to Asaph's mansion. It was enough to make me forget, at least for a moment, that I'd had to take the bus and walk from the highway, but it had been a pleasant enough journey, allowing me to reflect on the event.

    On my approach, I saw Tierney pull out of the other side of the looped driveway, her car the latest style. Veronica was in the doorway, and she waved enthusiastically, dropping her suitcase and seeming not to notice the floor staffer that pulled it inside.

    The brief cloud of snow that the tyres pulled up brought my thoughts to my future airship. Though I had pondered on the idea long before my birthday, that declaration had cemented it in my head. It was cold in the atmosphere, colder than this, but I would be safe and warm in my ship, overlooking the snow and fog in my world of fantasy.

    "You're looking well, young master Jirarudan." Asaph's address, but it came from Veronica. Somehow I had continued to the door during my vision. "Please, come in."

    The doorman chuckled. I suppose he had said the same to her a few moments before. It was strange to me how I was to tip a doorman or valet at a hotel but not at a home, despite both being salaried. There was so much in society that made little sense, and it helped to follow Asaph's word and view it as playing a part, going through scenarios as though they were secret codes meant to unlock our social connections.

    "Jiiiii~riiiii~" Veronica had started prodding me gently in the arm. "Don't you have something to say?"

    It took me a second. "Oh! Greetings, Veronica. How does the day find you?" I think I had heard a similar welcome from Asaph once.

    "Getting a little hazy with the weather there? Maybe Articuno froze your brain?" She was grinning widely, her bright white teeth seeming akin to the snowfall. "You're being a bit of a space case today and we've only just got here. Your dad drop you off at the road, is that why you walked up?"

    "He couldn't come. I took the bus."

    Her grin vanished. "You hate the bus. And that would mean you'd have to walk from the highway."

    "Yes." Of course that's what it meant. Why would she bother to state that?

    "Well, what happened? Is he ok?"

    "My father?" That was what she was asking, I assumed. "He's fine. Somebody died in the factory and he has to meet with the authorities."

    By then her face had taken on the guise of what the pictures had labeled 'horrified'. "Oh my god! That's awful! What happened?"

    "Somebody died. That's all I know. Likely an explosion from an out of control furnace, or a falling beam." I hadn't heard any explosions, so the first was unlikely though still possible, though I tended to think the second, as they were working on another C class for an unimportant customer.

    She rested a hand on my arm. "That's...so awful. I'm so sorry."

    Her reaction seemed odd, and I came razor-close to asking her why, but figured it would be inappropriate. Better to save that for Asaph later. Although on that subject, "Where's Asaph?"

    She made a faint choking sound. "I don't know. Here, they said. Somewhere in the house."

    Was she disturbed by the change of subject? There was so much guesswork in the delicate uncoding of society. "His employees don't know?" I peeked over my shoulder towards the doorman, who had taken my suitcase and set it with Veronica's. He looked towards me soon after I had him, and shrugged.

    "That's strange. Usually he'd be greeting us."

    "Last I saw he was in the guest room upstairs. He's probably getting things all set for you. You know what a perfectionist he can be. I can take you two up there." The doorman picked the bags up again and waited for our word.

    "All right! Let's go up there together!"

    The doorman nodded and headed towards the stairs.




    "Wow, it's like a ski chalet up here, with the snow coming down outside," Veronica remarked. The wooden interior certainly gave off that vibe, the heavy beams and minimal decoration evoking that faraway image. The last point was on her mind as well. "I wonder why he keeps it so plain."

    "I keep it that way," Asaph said, emerging from the guest room as the heavy double doors closed slowly behind him, "so that my collection stands out even more."

    "We were just wondering where you were! It's good to see you!"

    He bowed slightly, in a western manner with his arm bent before him. "Greetings. Welcome to my humble home. I trust it's to your liking."

    We both returned the gesture, Veronica's bow shallower than mine. "It's been far too long since I've been here," I said.

    "Me either," she added. I'd forgotten that she'd stayed there after Mr. Higuchi's party, that fateful night half a year ago. "Asaph, are we going to see your gallery today? It's really beautiful."

    He smiled, and pushed his glasses up a little farther. For some reason he was wearing the pince-nez he'd worn that day, and at a few other occasions. "Of course. Get unpacked and we can go there immediately."

    "Yay!" She wiggled, I assume in excitement, and hummed as she headed to the guest room.

    I remained, unsure of something. "Jirarudan, are you all right?" Asaph rested a hand on my shoulder, the same way Veronica had earlier.

    "...Veronica had a strange reaction to something earlier, and I don't understand. She acted as though I was the strange one, and I'm concerned about it."

    "Is that so? What was it?"

    I pursed my lips in thought. "I had to take the bus today, and walk from the highway. My father couldn't bring me, because there was a death in the factory." At that he gasped slightly, but let me continue. "I feel like it shouldn't affect me, because it doesn't. I didn't know the man, and his life had nothing to do with mine."

    He thought for a moment. "Are you happy that it wasn't your father?"

    "I'm not sure. It's a world apart. If he died, it would impact me directly. I...don't think I would care otherwise."

    A frown. "I think you would. I know you would. You're a smart boy."

    What did that have to do with anything? But I'd already asked him so much. Maybe later. "All right..."

    "Now!" he exclaimed, patting me on the shoulder with a lightness that belied his emphasis, "go get unpacked. Put your things in the dresser, since you're staying a few days, and then I'll take you both to the gallery."






    The much vaunted gallery was along the front hallway, across from the room where his glorious Madame Remi was displayed, and before the library on the end. Opening the doors was akin to entering a museum, which Asaph knew well, setting a scene with his slowness. We savoured the experience, and were greeted with a glow before us, captured in a beam of natural light. This was the gem he had sought before, the fabled Eye of Dawn, and he led us first to it. "Isn't it wonderful? I saw it in a book and I had to have it."

    Veronica let out a long breath, ducking her head up and down to view it at different angles. Being an opal, this meant a shifting vision through the spectrum. I followed suit.

    It was a remarkable gem, flawless, and regarded highly. I, too, had seen pictures of it before Asaph had ever mentioned it, although it was indistinguishable from other opals save for the smoothness of its round cut. Even the scepter it had once rested in had left no mark.

    Perhaps it really was blessed. As the story went, it had been been possessed by an ancient priestess whose region was attacked by brigands, who stole the scepter, yet the Eye of Dawn remained. She claimed that her god had hidden it away until the invaders had left, although a more likely explanation was that they had come from a region where shell resin was used to similar visual effect and they had thought the gem to be only coated.

    Even if it was as mundane as that, it didn't really matter. What did was the end result, displayed on a velvet pillow on a dark wood pillar. Its dark surroundings offset it wonderfully, giving it a glow beyond its own properties.

    Veronica hadn't altered her view the entire time, staring at the otherworldly gem as though it had put a spell on her. "What are you thinking of, Miss Veronica?" Asaph asked with an uplift to his voice.

    "...Buying this. I want to buy it."

    His head tilted back slightly, his eyes widening slightly. They were green again that day, and despite the shock of the moment, I realised that I had no idea what colour they really were. "Miss Veronica..." he began, but trailed off.

    "I mean it. Name your price and I'll pay it." Normally we would negotiate, but we were dealing with our own mentor.

    "Veronica..." This sounded farther away than his prior address. "...I..." Words seemed to catch in his throat. This gem had meant so much to him, to be suddenly propositioned on it was entirely out of the blue. "I'll think about it. I'll have an answer for you by the end of your stay."

    She sighed, finally diverting her gaze. "Thank you. I promise that you won't regret it."

    He signed as well, nearly twice the length of hers as though he had much more to say behind it, though words didn't manifest. Instead, he simply wandered towards the door.

    "Asaph?" Her voice was soft. "If you don't want to part with it, I understand."

    "I said I'll think about it. Now, come along." After a short pause, he left the room entirely.




    We took a moment to follow, unsure of what to do, and when we did, Asaph wasn't to be found. Perhaps he was in the library.

    It was an ancient-seeming room, one no older than the rest of the mansion but kept intentionally old-fashioned by way of dim lights against dark wood, both in past-century styles. The shelves, lining the wall, were hand-carved, ever-so-slight imperfections showing their true nature, and held their strength against the weight of so many volumes.

    A few books had their own spaces, contained in glass cases on velvet risers on pillars of the same dark wood. Some were open to pages, some simply modestly displayed their covers. I'd only heard of one, a ridiculous novel of poor literative quality but nonetheless renowned for being among the first to take to a printing press. Of course, there had been several of those--Asaph and I had seen one together--all with their faults and flaws, but all with the same goal of bringing reading to the masses. Though it did nothing to improve the quality of the written word. People could gripe and moan about the modern era, but schlock and pabulum have always been the predominant quality of entertainment.

    Which was what made true art all that more important. In every age, they were that which had risen above low expectations to grasp what was important. It didn't matter if they weren't popular, or if people didn't understand them; the only thing that mattered was having something truly worthwhile to say, statements that would ring out beyond their era.

    "You're spacing out. Are you ok?" Veronica was standing before another displayed book, this one shown flat on its back with a map centrepiece unfurled around it, showing one of the first attempts to explore the Kata Tjuta region. Of course, they were all colonists, but even the natives had never attempted such a massive feat. It can be amazing what fresh eyes will see. I suppose I must have been thinking of that instead of answering her because she repeated herself, about twice as loud.

    "Veronica, please. We're in a library." I smirked to show her it was a joke.

    "Well, are you?"

    I looked back at the book in front of me. "I suppose. Are you?"

    She sighed, moving to sit on a long chaise lounge whose dark green subtly offset the dark brown of the wall next to it. I think, had we been in more relaxed surroundings, she would have flopped onto it. "I don't know. I think he's really mad at me. But he never said no. He always told us to be direct if we're not willing to part with something, and he didn't do that. I shouldn't have said anything though. I know how much that gem means to him."

    "Well, as you said, if he didn't want to, he would have said something. I think we ought to take him at his word that he'll consider it."

    "...all right." She looked skywards with another sigh. "It's really neat, isn't it? The ceiling." I followed her gaze to the carved panels, all perfectly square and interlocked. "The scrollwork is amazing."

    "It is. Though it's a bit plain, just along the edges like that."

    She giggled. "You're always one for the more rococo styles, aren't you? All ornate and fancy."

    "Not always!" For some reason that made me defensive and to this day I've no idea why. "Neoclassical, art deco, primitives...I love so many styles!"

    That pulled her to her feet. "I didn't know you were so protective. I'm sorry."

    Something in her demeanor seemed dour and downcast, so I reached a hand to her shoulder. "It's all right. I think I reacted out of kind."

    "You rarely come across so passionate. I mean, I know you ARE, but to hear it in your voice was...unexpected."

    I pulled my hand back just a bit to pat her shoulder a few times instead. "Is it that rare?"

    That prompted another laugh from her. "You really can't tell, can you? That's so weird. You're weird."

    I took a step back and bowed shortly. "At our social standings, the term is 'eccentric'."

    "Ah yes, I forgot. That's so eccentric. You're eccentric." By this time she was grinning, the strain over her dilemma seemingly forgotten.

    With that defused, I considered our surroundings. Perhaps there was something here that could aid in our quests for the legendaries. I started to examine the bookshelves, and was pleased that they were grouped by subject.

    "Thoughts are getting away with you, aren't they? What are you looking for?"

    It had been a reasonable conclusion, I thought. Surely the same had occurred to her to do. "Information on our legendaries of choice. We may be able to find something here."

    "Ooh, that sounds like fun."






    We spent a few hours like that, finding nothing but sharing notes on what we thought may be relevant to the other. Though it was nothing that we didn't know, it was amazing to find such information laid before us.

    Finally we left the library, and Veronica challenged me to a game of chess in the den. But once we opened the elegant doors, there was Asaph, leaning back on the couch with a glass of something in his hand. The room had been lit only through the windows, and by that hour it was growing dim.

    "I'm still considering your offer, young lady Veronica," he said in an uneven voice. "Though I need to clear my head first."

    "Where did you go to?" I asked.

    He sat up straighter. "The kitchen. I was thirsty." After a beat, he rose, grunting slightly as he did. "I'm not nearly as young as I used to be. Time marches on...Pardon me." With a sigh, he headed for the door, and we both made room for him.

    "He seems really upset," Veronica remarked. "And is he drunk?"

    I'd smelt his breath as he passed, laden with alcohol. "It seems that way. He never drinks to excess." I thought I should continue. "But if he'd been adamant on keeping the gem, he would have said so, so I doubt that's the reason."

    "I guess. But he still seems upset."

    "Perhaps he received unsettling news. We only got here around noon; who knows what happened this morning."

    This time she did flop onto the couch, where he'd been sitting. "I guess. Maybe he heard about what happened in your father's factory."

    I doubted that was the case. He'd seemed surprised when I brought it up, and even if he had prior knowledge, he'd have no reason to react so poorly. It would certainly make the news, but not until the evening, after any necessary people had been informed. "I feel a bit odd."

    "Eh?" She looked back at me. "About the factory?"

    That took a stretch of the imagination. "No, it's...I feel like I ought to have expressed my interest first. And yet it didn't occur to me. I would like to possess the Eye of Dawn as well."

    There was that light laugh again, every bit the society lady. "Who knows? Maybe someday you will."

    "Maybe I'll have to obtain it from you." I was certain to make my laugh match hers.

    But it didn't seem to work, and she changed the subject as abruptly as she often claimed I did. "Jiri...I'm so stressed out. School is getting harder every day."

    "I'm sorry to hear that." I sat beside her. "What subjects are you in?"

    "The usual. You're so lucky that you don't go. And I wish I could take you to the dance, but it has to be someone else from the school, and you're too young too. I don't like anyone there. They're all so shallow."

    "Compared to us shining stars, anybody would be."

    "You still remember that, huh? That was a nice trip. I want to go to Goldenrod again sometime."

    "Oh?" I leaned back a bit. "You didn't seem to enjoy yourself at all. You were very melancholy in the air, and you had that to-do in the hotel. I wouldn't have thought you had any fun at all."

    "Aaah," she sighed, "but the art was divine, and the party was otherworldly. It was, yeah, it was like going to another planet where everyone was so classy and beautiful."

    "And your dance won't be nearly as glamorous."

    "Not at all! Ugh, teenage boys are so gross. Teenage girls for that matter, but in a different way. You're lucky you've got all this knowledge going into it. I don't think you'll get gross. I know you won't."

    "Well, thank you for that. Though I'm not looking forward to puberty. I've started it already, a little bit, but I've got to prepare for the skin issues that will arise." I realised after I said it that it was impolite to say such disgusting things.

    She noticed it too, and tisked slightly. "Jiri my boy," she had lowered her voice to say that, imitating Asaph's tone, "you need to think before you speak." In her normal voice, she continued. "If I may share too much, it can take a lot to mask those things. I think I told you about that before, how my mom hired these makeup people to make me 'presentable'."

    "Yes sir," I replied to the first part, and she looked at me strangely.

    Before she could say anything, one of the servants opened the door. "Pardon me, but Master Asaph invites you to dinner."

    "Oh!" Veronica exclaimed. "I didn't even notice it was that late. Jirarudan, will you accompany me?"

    I rose from the couch and offered her my arm. "M'lady."

    She linked hers in mine with a giggle. "M'lord."




    The dining hall was the same as always, with low lights and full place settings though it was only the three of us. I'd half been expecting some manner of aprčs-ski menu given our prior comparison, though that idea had only existed in the minds of Veronica and myself. Asaph was seated at the head, by the far window, so we arranged ourselves at his sides. His expression was impossible to read, even with all my studies--nothing in my cards had resembled that.

    Veronica seemed equally puzzled, her brow low and eyes indirect. "Asaph, are you well?" she asked.

    His attention first went to the attending servant. "Another glass, please." The man nodded and headed to a low wine cabinet that lined the wall. "...I'm fine. I'm still considering your offer, however."

    "It is just that, an offer," she reminded him as she set the cloth napkin on her lap. "You're free to decline, of course."

    "I'm still considering your offer," he repeated, a slight bit louder. His glass was refilled and he nodded a thanks. "This is the sort of thing you have to learn to deal with."

    Oh? Had this been a test? Was his reaction exaggerated to teach us how to deal with difficult collectors? He was overall a calm man, and overall a generous man, so this was uncharacteristic to say the least.

    "I understand. You seem to be under stress from it, though."

    He shook his head. "Don't make assumptions, Veronica. Consider the facts and examine your target with detachment."

    "I am. And the fact is--"

    "Veronica. I'll give my answer soon enough. Be patient." His voice had returned to normal, and his expression to neutral. "...Would the both of you care for some wine? Just a taste, of course, but you're under my supervision."

    She smiled, and I did as well. "I will," I said, wondering what it would be like. "Are we to bear anything in mind for it?"

    Veronica had requested some as well. "You mean things like terrior and legs and stuff? I know legs means how it stays on the glass when swirled, but I can't remember if that's good or bad."

    Asaph chuckled. "Concord, fetch them a taste." The man nodded and retrieved two glasses from the cabinet, as well as the same bottle from before.

    The smell was strange, though Asaph would buy only the best. I swirled it around as I'd seen at parties before taking a sip, and I immediately regretted it. It was sour and bitter and went straight to the tip of my nose. But it was what people of class drank, so I sipped again, pushing the resistance away.

    Veronica seemed to be doing the same thing, pondering each taste as though it was a fine gem, though her thoughts on it were impossible to tell. "It's a bit dry."

    "Yes, it's supposed to be. What else?"

    "Uh...I'm going to guess it's got wepear berries in it. And maybe a bit of bluk too."

    I wasn't picking up on any of that. The fermentation seemed to overpower everything else, and I wondered if I should say that. After another sip, though, I found myself muttering "I'd rather just have water."

    Hearing that, he laughed. "You'll be expected to drink wine at many occasions. You should get used to it. Tell me, how does it taste?"

    In my head, the answer was simply "bad", but I couldn't very well say that aloud. "I can't really taste much of it. The alcohol is so strong that everything else is lost."

    A nod. "That makes sense, if you're not used to it."

    "I feel like it isn't a good match to dinner. I don't know what it is, but going by the smell it seems like they'd counteract," Veronica mused, in her own world.

    "I suppose time will tell," he told her. "Speaking of..."

    Concord nodded, something I only noticed out of the corner of my eye, and headed into the kitchen.

    Veronica was watching Asaph, I presume to pick up on any reaction he may have towards her, and didn't take her eyes off him until after our plates were set before us. It was Kantan fare, the clam and leek soup over rice so popular in Celadon. Briefly I thought back to the time we'd had Farfetch'd salad, and wondered what Veronica would have thought of that.

    After we'd begun on it, Asaph instructed us to try another sip. A moment passed once we had before the tastes melded. "That's di--that's not very good," Veronica remarked, lips slightly tight. "They don't go at all."

    I looked down at the bowl, trying to sum up the words to describe the disjointedness of the tastes. "It...seems like somebody attempted to dress a clam up with fruit juice and sat it in the sun."

    Veronica giggled, but Asaph wasn't amused at all. "Jirarudan, you're being very rude. You know better than to make such insulting comments. Now, sit outside."

    That was confusing, and I stared down while I pondered what it could mean.

    "Sit outside." It was a bit louder.

    "Sit outside? I don't understand."

    "Concord will take your chair. You'll sit in the hallway until you can restate your thoughts elegantly."

    I'd heard about such actions, in stories both fiction and fact, though they were all set in older times. Modern variants were only found in schools, I'd thought, and involved water buckets, but even those seemed sensationalised. It was as though I'd suddenly been taken elsewere, much farther than the hallway.

    My distance from them was more than a few metres. How far had I gone? Was this part of Asaph's strange behavior or had I truly been so offensive? It was a bit over the top, I knew. Was that enough? The sour taste in my mouth was from far more than the wine.

    I could hear them talking inside, reduced to pure voice without distinct words. Was it about me? About the wine or dinner? About our fantasy through Seafoam--no, he wouldn't know about that. I wondered what he would have thought of it, and remembered his anger at our excursion to Viridian.

    Asaph had changed. Or maybe I hadn't noticed these things to begin with. He wasn't the calm man I'd first met, taking on strange nervous traits. Though he was getting older, and seemed far more concerned about it than before. He had taken to slightly dyeing his hair, returning more yellow to it, and had added brown contacts to his rotation (unless that was his natural color). His wardrobe hadn't changed, though from pictures I'd seen, he dressed much the same throughout his life.

    Instead of thinking further about Asaph, I took the path set by the wardrobe. I liked the clothes I saw around, though I had yet to find my ideal look. Once I did, though, I wanted to wear nothing but. Something for all weather, that would look classy in all circumstances.

    My mind again took a branched road, to the weather. Last winter, Asaph had mentioned a heated pool for his Milotic, which he hadn't brought up since. The grand double doors to the back garden were down the hall from me, and I considered heading over there. But I'd been told to sit, so I did. Milotic could wait.

    I'd sat there until I lost track of time, when Concord retrieved me. I returned to my seat as Veronica and Asaph chatted away, and I wondered if they noticed me. But Veronica smiled at me as I drew up my chair.

    "Have you thought of a better way to phrase it?" Asaph asked with an arched eyebrow.

    I hadn't been thinking of anything like that. Had I been meant to? "I...suppose it tasted of low tide," I mused, thinking of the clamdiggers in Seafoam. "The clams are fresh, but the wine made them seem old. It acted against the miso as well, giving them a sweet and sour taste where it should be salty. It throws the taster off."

    He leaned back. "Very good. You have to reign in your words. You're a gentleman now."

    That made me feel better, somewhat warm. "I'm glad to hear that. May I ask what I missed?"

    "I was telling him about the summer line that mother is working on," Veronica filled in. "The world classics line that we modeled was a hit, so she's looking to more varied regions now."

    "She never released mine, did she? I haven't seen it in the catalogs or stores."

    "No she didn't." A slight giggle. "It was deemed impractical for trainers, due to the fabric. It isn't meant for travel."

    "Mm, too bad. It was a classic look. Though I wouldn't expect a trainer to appreciate that."

    She sat back in her chair, tilting her heat back to gaze at the ceiling. "Someone called it 'poncy'. I was surprised."

    "That isn't a word you hear often," Asaph added. "Jiri, was it you?" He was smiling slightly, with only one corner raised.

    I waved my hand in front of my face as if dispelling the thought. "It does sound like something I'd say, but I rather liked that design. What other regions is she looking to?"

    "Uh...the Mara region was one she brought up." It was in far off Kenya, known for its enormous pokemon populations. "She's planning a safari look with local style. I don't remember the others. She was thinking Mn Nefer as well, but she stopped because she was only relying on the ancient past for it."

    Another faraway region, modern, but once the home of powerful pharaohs. "Yes, we have to have both. The past is the past, but the present can draw from it."

    Asaph finished the draught he was taking before replying. "That's very wise. The both of you are very intelligent."

    Veronica smiled, broader this time. "Thank you. We're shining stars, after all."

    It took me a moment to remember why that term made my stomach sink.

    "Of course. Although, I must excuse myself." He patted his mouth with the cloth napkin before gesturing for Concord. "Please tell the kitchen that it was excellent. Pardon me." Standing, he bowed to us deeply and left the room.

    I watched Veronica, who was looking towards the door where he had exited, expression back to plain. "Don't worry about it." I hoped I was being reassuring.

    "It's what I said." She seemed to droop as she spoke. "It's always what I say. I make things worse all the time."

    That had never seemed to be the case. "No you don't. I've always found you to be very polite."

    After a pause, she set her spoon over her bowl, the signal that she was finished as well. "Really?"

    "Really." Since we were all finished, I set mine as well. "Have you known me to be anything but forthcoming?"

    That merited a smile. "I guess that's true. You're sly, you have a devious side, but you're honest."

    Sly and devious? Those were unusual. "How do you mean?"

    "Well, you had no trouble with the offer Lucrezia's son came to us with, or for my adventures. And you're always looking for opportunities for your collection. You've got a keen eye that's always open."

    I sat straighter. "Thank you very much. I admire the way you look at the world, your uniqueness and quirks. You seem like an artist that way." Talking in that way...whatever it was seemed comforting to me. Putting it into words made me think about it in ways that I couldn't when I simply thought about it.

    "You're so sweet." She waved a hand in front of her face. "I wish I was as creative as you though. You seem like you're seeing everything for the first time, and it gives you a great fresh perspective."

    That was a positive way of looking at things. Better than my frustrations with the world. "That sounds good."

    "Still..." she sighed, "I wish that I knew why he left so quickly. Have you ever wished you were psychic?"

    "Sometimes, I suppose." The change of subject was a bit baffling. "I assume you specifically mean that you wish to be telepathic rather than, say, telekinetic."

    That giggle seemed to indicate that she was perking up. "I guess I do! Yes, that's what I mean. He's so hard to understand today." Even though the conversation had returned to Asaph, she smiled and continued to.

    A servant came to gather the dinnerware, so I relayed Asaph's message and posed the offer to Veronica to return to the library.




    Despite us being culturally mature, for the purposes of society and manner, Veronica and I were still considered children. It was a matter of frustration that we would have to become adults twice, but for the night it meant that we shared the single bed in the guest room. Asaph entertained frequently, but usually those making the short journey from Viridian, and so he was equipped to suit that.

    For all her modern style, Veronica's nightdress was of an old fashion, and foreign, all ruffles along the sleeve and collar, draped to the ankle. Most exotic was that she wore a nightcap, her long blonde hair tucked mostly underneath it. Mine was more typical of our location, a pajama set in dark blue, with a breast pocket for show. It was plainer than I liked, but the material was far more comfortable than her cotton garment looked.

    She adjusted the elastic along her cap as she sat, then took a moment to turn off the bedside lamp. "Want to know a secret?" she asked conspiratorially.

    "Ooh, palace intrigue?" I leaned in, across my side of the bed. "Go on."

    "I don't need my night light now."

    That was impressive, after the to-do in Goldenrod. "Wonderful! What changed?"

    She laid back against the pre-fluffed pillows. "I dimmed a light a little each night for a while until I was more used to it. Though it still bothers me a little."

    "Every little bit," I murmured, sliding under the soft covers. The blanket was every bit as fluffy and thick as an Altaria's wings, and the faint howl of the wind through the woods just outside the window gave an air of gothic drama. Briefly my mind wandered back to the events of the morning, of the sirens and fuss in the factory, and wondered what the employee's family was doing against the cold right then. I'm still not sure why.

    "I hope Asaph is all right," she sighed, her arms folded over the top of the pulled blanket. "Where do you think he went after dinner?"

    "I couldn't guess."

    "Aah, but I can't stop thinking about that jewel! It's so entrancing, like a magic ball."

    The light on my end of the bed was still on, but I turned towards her instead, lying on my side and propping my head up on my arm. "You're a true collector, to be so impassioned. I hope to find that sort of passion in my career. It's admirable."

    I would, as you know, come to that consumed life in due time.

    "Yeah...you will, I think. You're the type that won't have any trouble with it." Smiling a bit and closing her eyes, she added "are you ready to go to bed?"

    It had been a long day, feeling like two of them if not more. "Of course." I turned off the light, letting only the dim perimeter lights and the moon off the snow in. "Good night, Veronica."

    "Good night, Jirarudan. I hope tomorrow is easier on both of us."

    I hoped so too.
    The world's greatest collector as drawn by Yoru Ryu
    Fancy Jirarudan too? Then you'll enjoy my fic Obsession! (updated Dec 30th, 2014)
    Check out some of my other fics!
    Answering Machine (strong XY spoilers--winner of Most Heartbreaking Scene 2013!)

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