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Obsession (ongoing, PG-13 overall)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Blackjack Gabbiani, Jun 29, 2006.

  1. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    Last chapter was a bit of a cliffhanger wasn't it? Hopefully this will answer some things. My wonderful friend Leianne helped considerably with this chapter so I want you all to give her a round of applause. On with the fic!

    The night had refreshed us, and we were awakened by the morning call of a Dodrio from a distant farm. Veronica yawned and stretched her arms out to brush against the wall. She seemed untroubled, and that she had slept through the night relaxed me as well.

    "Pleasant dreams?" I asked, standing from the bed and drawing the thin curtain open. No doubt my hair was a mess, but hers was its typical fluff. Perhaps I ought to invest in a nightcap myself, I mused.

    "I don't really remember. But it's better than bad dreams." She smoothed out her side of the bed despite servants to do so. "It's funny. Even that sudden moment when the memories of the day before hit you...it didn't bother me."

    "Perhaps you're becoming a true collector."

    She stood silent for a moment, putting a hand to her forehead. "...Maybe. Would you mind if I showered first?"

    "Not at all." She left without a word and I took a seat by the window, looking out at the landscape. The thin forest surrounding the mansion gave way to grassland and farms. The soft chatter of Pidgeys in the trees came through the thick glass with unusual clarity, and a Raticate stalked for prey in the snow, gathering frost on its fur and leaving a brushy track behind it.

    I felt as though I was simply viewing a painting. Something hung on a wall that would be replaced with a different scene in time. But truthfully, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

    "It's your turn." It had only been a few minutes, but when sharing quarters with someone it was simply polite to be quick. Even her hair had been blow-dried in the short time.

    "Ah, thank you."

    We met Asaph for breakfast, and conversation remained light and free of the tension from the night before. Though in theory it was pleasant, in practice it was unsettling, like an exercise in surrealism. I had in mind the image of a painting I had seen, an otherwise ordinary looking man with no nose. The picture had disturbed me, and I'd slept fitfully the night after. I hoped that breakfast wouldn't lead to a similar situation.

    As we finished, however, he took the last sip of his coffee and cleared his throat. "Veronica. I have come to a decision."

    She sat upright, having adopted a slight slump during the meal. "Yes?"

    "...By my calculations and estimation of your wealth, the price we discussed will nearly wipe you out, correct?"

    That was odd. It was nearly forbidden to discuss money in public, and I was far enough outside the situation to qualify.

    Veronica gulped, but remained steadfast. "I don't care."

    He made direct eye contact with her, and I shifted with discomfort. "With that understanding, the Eye of Dawn is yours."

    She gasped, a broadening smile forming. "Thank you so much! I won't disappoint you. I'll treat it with the reverence it deserves."

    "I do have one condition, however." At his word, she seemed to jump ever so slightly.


    "You will not take ownership of it right away. As you know, I've been invited to participate in an exhibit of the Fuchsia Museum, and I intend to display it there." Though there was nothing left in his cup, he raised it to his lips in a social gesture. "I will list it as on loan from you, but possessed by me, and will surrender full ownership to you after the exhibit closes."

    "Yes, of course." Ever the demonstrative speaker, she nodded rapidly, though within the outlines of manners. "I'll have time to set up a proper display for it by then."

    "Yes, that should give you plenty of time." It seemed sarcastic, though he would have no reason to be. Perhaps he was genuine and simply tired; I doubted that he had slept well.

    Her smile had wavered but never disappeared. "I'll have the full payment to you within the week."

    "I expect you will. You're very responsible." That was said without any suspicion.

    Maybe it was the light from the high window hitting her just right, but she seemed in that moment to glow.

    Asaph forbad me from taking the bus back to Seafoam, and made sure I was bundled up and sent back in Igasho's care. The chauffer rarely spoke, but I was company enough for myself. I'd developed the habit some time before of talking to myself quietly, enough to scarcely be noticed by those around me.

    "He'll be busy," I mused, thinking of my father. "So much paperwork and damage recovery. I'll get to be alone, so that's nice. I've got plenty to do." I had a report due for class, and intended to brush up on some of the languages I had studied. Thinking of that, I lapsed into ancient Kantan simply because I could. "<I wonder if anybody can understand me when I say these things...It isn't as though it's common to hear. And there isn't much literature to keep it alive, either.>"

    I could hear a chuckle from the front seat. Perhaps Igasho had heard me and somehow understood, or perhaps it was simply a coincidence.

    "<The servant must have great hearing.>" Of course, the word for servant was difficult to translate, as it referred to all the staff of a private residence, though in later stages was used to speak of all public employees, such as carriage taxis and merchants.

    He chuckled again, and whispered something that sounded like "<They does indeed.>" Ancient Kantan had no gender modifiers, and what would translate as "they" was treated as singular.

    "When did you learn it?" I'd reverted to my native tongue and conversational volume.

    "A while back. I studied literature before I became a driver. I took this job because it wasn't much work, and I could read between trips."

    It was unusual for servants to share their personal lives, but I had asked. "Formal study?"

    "A bit. I never went to university, but I read a lot. You read a lot too, don't you?"

    He'd never seen me with a book, but Asaph would likely have spoken of him. "Of course. The world is there to unlock."

    "That's a nice way of looking at things." That chuckle again. What an odd way of laughing.

    "I hope so. I'll be the shining star of the collector world."

    "It's nice to have goals."

    Neither of us said anything after that.

    Seafoam was windy, beating against the buildings and sending the sparse winter populace inside. Tourists stayed away that time of year, and with them their money. Although that didn't affect the factory, with consistent business no matter the weather.

    The heat from it, though tempered considerably through distance, kept the house from having to run heat until night. It was one of the few pleasant things about living there. But being the room directly over the ocean, mine was the coldest of all.

    I had to spend time there, though. Wearing heavier clothes helped me train for my professional life, a world of formalwear and meetings. And they were more comfortable than lighter clothes, even when it was hot out.

    And, of course, that elsewhere I would be pestered by an unpleasant element.

    I took up a book on gemstones, the discussion of the past few days putting my mind on them. The usual diamonds and emeralds dotted the pages, but more uncommon ones such as pyrope and kunzite. I idilly flipped to the section on opals.

    "Oh," I remarked to myself, "I didn't expect that..." Though there was no accompanying picture, it brought up the Eye of Dawn, devoting half a sentence to it alongside another, larger one that had belonged to a king. The article spoke of histories of certain deposits, as well as artificial ones. The science of artificial gems was an interesting one, but all I cared about was how to detect them. So many collectors, even well-established ones, were fooled by them, although I trusted Asaph in his acquisition. After all, he was the one who taught me to look for them.

    Veronica hadn't looked, though. If it had been a fake, she would have been swindled. "I hadn't either, but I wasn't looking..."

    She was naive, I thought. Unpolished, to use the language of the book. But I thought of the supposed diamond star, far away in space, and imagined her shining from the heavens someday. "She could be brighter than me."

    The thought of her surpassing me inspired a faint jealousy, alongside fainter pride. I wondered how Asaph felt about it, knowing that it was inevitable for us to outshine him.

    I'd have servants of my own someday, although it was discomforting. Having to deal with people around my collection on a daily basis as a disturbing thought. Even if they were entirely trustworthy, accidents would be more likely to happen, but that wasn't my primary reason.

    To say that I disliked people would be untrue. I liked Veronica. I liked Asaph. I liked Helen. I even liked the bustle of the deal, the rush those dealings gave. But I preferred to be with my collection. Even as sparse as it was in those days, I felt as though I was surrounded by dear friends.

    I rolled off the bed where I had come to read, remembering that Asaph had instructed us to sit and stand. I'd wondered about that, since it wasn't a social rule when we were by ourselves.

    My mother's ring was slightly twisted on my finger. The ruby wasn't of any reasonable quality, and I suppose a man of sense would replace the stone. But then it wouldn't be her ring.

    My other hand rested on the latest addition to my collection, a small netsuke of the prior century, in the shape of a more compact Pikachu. The style of the time had started the trend away from the older designs and towards cuter variants, although it had yet to achieve the Hi Skitty level of commercialism. The ears lay back and the tail wrapped around the body in order to provide a smoother surface, as the carver was still a beginner at the time. But he had gone on to become a master at his craft, even in the decline of the kimono style, and earlier works were sought. I had been lucky to nab it, but the seller didn't seem to know what they had.

    "There's so many idiots in this field," I told the carving. "You're fortunate to have been plucked from a life of obscurity. I'll give you the attention you deserve." Until I sold or traded it, of course, as the piece didn't interest me directly, but even something held temporaily ought to be given respect.

    Strange as it may seem, I swear I felt as though it was happy.

    I'd do that. I'd make a collection the pieces themselves could be proud of.

    I had returned to my schoolwork, finishing my maths in short time. I didn't mind it, and I knew it was commonplace for students to hate it. Initially it had been difficult for me to understand, but when a teacher failed to make something clear I knew how to research what I needed.

    History was less grasping. Kanto is a land of rich history and fascinating figures, but the textbooks were dry and lifeless. The essays I wrote on it were similar, dull and apathetic. I could do better, of course, but lower quality was already doing very well to them. It was pandering, but it was all they deserved. Initially I had done so to see what would happen. Maybe I was like that sculptor then, satisfying the masses and hoping my real talent would shine through while knowing that it would be wasted to show it fully.

    What I had thought earlier, about there being so many idiots, came to mind again, but I hadn't time to think as the doorbell rang.

    My father and Helen were in the factory and wouldn't hear it, so I had to leave my sanctuary to answer it. I nearly didn't, admittedly, with that frustration in my head.

    But I primed my best manner as I drew open the door at the base of the steps. "May I help you?"

    The man wore a shirt embroidered with the name and logo of a nearby television station. "Yes, I'm looking for Corbin."

    I had nearly forgotten about the events of the previous day. "Of course. He'll be in the factory. Please try there first in the future."

    He pulled back a bit. "Oh um...I just assumed due to the hour...I apologize. Are you his son?"

    "Yes. I'll show you there." There was an entrance through the house, but I wasn't about to take him there. "Pardon me for a moment."

    If I had to guess, I'd take him for confused when I closed the door. It was still snowing, and I had to dress for taking him through the back. The shoes I had just taken off would suffice for a short jaunt, though they wouldn't be appropriate for longer walks in those conditions.

    He had already started to walk around the back of the house, nearly out of sight around the corner, when I returned to attention. I had told him I would show him there! "Pardon me."

    "Oh? I'm sorry, you closed the door and I thought you had changed your mind."

    "Why would you think that?"

    He shrugged. "Aah, I don't know. Anyway, lead the way!"

    I did as I had offered, taking him to the gigantic wide doors designed for the delivery of large materials. They were wide open, as they usually were to aerate the factory, and I was able to lead him in without waiting.

    "Hey, thanks. Say, what's your name?"

    "Jirarudan," I answered as I looked off into the depths of the factory, which was considerably quieter than usual.

    "Oh, that's an unusual name. What do you think about the tragedy in the factory?"

    How unprofessional. "It's got nothing to do with me. You print hundreds of obituaries every week; do you have thoughts on all of them?"

    He backed off a bit from where he had knelt down to address me. "I...see. I guess that's all right. Is that the office in there?"

    I could see my father and Helen inside. "Yes. You'll be able to speak with either of them."

    "Hey, thanks there J--" I could tell that he had entirely forgotten my name. "kid."

    I didn't feel like wasting any more time on him, so I bowed slightly and headed back to the house. He hadn't done any wonders for my sense of disappointment in those around me.

    It was pessimistic of me, looking back. The foolishness of the age combined with my awakening of the world past myself...I suppose that always leads to negativity. But I had difficulty looking past those reactions.

    Perhaps I had come across as too grim. Saying that the tragedy had nothing to do with me seemed to shock the man, but it was true. Veronica and Asaph had confirmed that for me, and even my initial concern had regarded my lack of reaction to it.

    The art world was full of shocking things. Every day I was moved by things that didn't concern me. My world was filling with them like a plungepool under a giant waterfall, and I had all I needed in it.

    I returned to my small world, the wonders of it embracing me.

    "Hey, Jiri?" Some time later, it was Helen. "Can I come in?"

    I had nodded off, my face in a book. "Mm...all right." It was too late for a nap anyway, the sun already down.

    She closed the door behind her and stood against it. "Thank you for bringing that reporter to us. They've been coming to the house all day."

    "You're welcome." I sat up on the bed, but didn't stand as I should. "There's more to your visit than that."

    "Haha yeah...I wanted to talk to you about something he said. Jiri, I know you think that this tragedy doesn't affect you..."

    When she paused for words, I added my thoughts. "It doesn't though. The factory is covered against these things, and you have cameras throughout to prove that it was an accident, so you aren't in any danger of closing. Even a lawsuit would be inconsequential."

    She sighed and came closer. "I guess you're right. But it comes off as cold, and people can misinterpret it. Even if something doesn't affect you at all, if people are worried about it, you should show some concern. You're so polite! It should be easy for you." With a tilt of her head, she smiled. "What would Asaph say you should do?"

    "I asked him," I recalled. "He said I was just happy it wasn't my father."

    "Oh huh." She had been in the process of kneeling down but at that, tilted back slightly on her heel. "That makes sense. Yeah, I can see that. But do you see what I mean?"

    It wasn't the easiest thing to answer. I understood what she meant, but the approach to the subject was unusual. It didn't make sense, like so much of the world; it was a cloud passing around me. "I'm confused. But I'll try."

    "That's good!" She rocketed upwards, back to her feet. "You'll do it. I know you will." Another pause. "You know fathers. They worry. But you're such a smart boy, I don't think we have anything to worry about."

    'We' didn't go unnoticed, but I didn't really care. "Thank you."

    "What are you reading?"

    I closed the cover, marking my place with a finger. "A history of political art in the Cascadia region."

    "Oh yeah? I didn't know you were into that. I thought you liked more classical stuff."

    "I don't much care for it. But I like studying the evolution of techniques."

    Another smile. "Studying is good for you. You're lucky that way. In a way, it's good that you don't want to be a trainer. A lot of kids miss a lot of education that way, even when they take distance classes like you. They don't devote the time they should."

    I leaned back against the wall, putting the book aside and drawing my hand away from its place. "You were a trainer briefly, correct?"

    "Ah, for a few months. Tried to do the league and everything. I did get a few gym badges, but eh...it's not for everyone. Although I'm glad I did it. Vulpix and I got super close during it, and we had some fun."

    I could hear the waves out the window. "She's a beautiful Ninetales."

    "She is. Have you thought about having a partner pokémon? Even if you're not a trainer, they're wonderful company. It's a mutual relationship."

    I could feel my hairdo become ever so slightly out of place as it rubbed against the window frame. "Someone told me that I remind them of a Xatu."

    "Oh, that's clever," she chuckled. "I can sort of see it. Though I think of you more like a Pidgey. Destined for greatness!"

    Pidgey were so common, though. I know she meant it as a compliment, more or less, and I suppose I was of common birth, and Pidgeot was so elegant. "Thank you."

    "Would you want to have a Xatu? Or anything else?"

    Oh, the pokémon I could have listed. Lugia even then was at the top of my list. Likely a Milotic, for show and later trade. Anything sufficiently beautiful or legendary, of course. But nothing that would be usually seen, I thought. "Not really."

    "Well, if you change your mind, we could help you find someone."

    "No thank you." Such a strange offer. "I can make my own connections."

    "Haha! I wish I'd sounded as sophisticated as you when I was your age!" There was a certain charm evident in her voice. "You really are an impressive kid."

    That was my aim, of course. I wanted to be that shining star that both my mother and Asaph had said. And I knew I would be. It was fate, destiny, whatever one wanted to call it. "Thank you. I hope to be an impressive adult as well." It came out more serious than I wanted, so I smiled.

    "You will be. There's no doubt in my mind about it." I think her smile was more natural. I still hadn't mastered that. "I have to get back down there, but it was nice having this conversation with you. I feel like I understand you more now."

    I nodded back. "Thank you. I had a pleasant time as well."

    She laughed as she headed back down the stairs, and it sounded like something in a dream.
  2. Praxiteles

    Praxiteles Friendly POKéMON.

    Gosh, I'm so sorry about how flaky I always am about being active here... Has it really been a year since I never replied to your last VM? Anyway, I'll catch up now.

    It doesn't take time to understand what a treasure he really is. At least, this boy, in this story

    I certainly do remember being jealous about sharing feelings with others, as though you don't trust what they might do with them.

    This scene is very powerful.

    It was a good idea, considering how overwhelming the night eventually became. Asaph is one of the few people who can offer emotional support. I rather like how he bought Jiri's dependence by being the one adult who supports his response to fear and inadequacy, which is of course to build an idea of himself as an established adult, someone supported by high culture... except that Asaph, I feel, won't really be the one to help him into proper emotional support and companionship. His way of doing things is a little cold. Is it true that what he only really wants from Jiri is a skilled and genius protegee?

    What a framing. *Corbin voice* Jeez, kid!


    I love this powerful tactile/sensory moment (Asaph really might be the only adult who knows how to reach Jirarudan where he can touch him).

    A gift of money is a little bit cold for the occasion. I can imagine Corbin being absolutely stumped about what he would want as a gift (and also, not perhaps spending too much thought on event planning in the first place).

    The method Jiri has for understanding interpersonal conneciton, which is polite manners and ceremony, isn't totally barren and fruitless. You know, parties and hostings are also expressions of good feelings between people -- they're formal because you mean them. We can see that happening in the pure fact that taking him out, and to an event that Asaph prooobably had some influence in choosing, has no choice but to affect him.

    I think his friends might be beginning to start leaving him in the dust.

    I like what you said quiite a long time ago, about always taking art on its face value, for what you immediately see and feel from it. In architecture, it has the effect that Jiri doesn't put his focus on extraneous data of which style, which terminology, which provenance -- what we see is only what's actually happening -- the honest, experiential effect of being in that room.

    I'm glad they still haven't forgotten how to talk after all.... yet.


    Oh, will these kids get through all right?


    I always thought talk about notes was pretty bunkum, too.

    Oh, I knew it! I knew this was coming.

    Yeah, I expect he wouldn't be much interesting in the concept of era-based fashion.

    It's so charming that you have trainers in this world, to sneer at their fashion tastes.

    I hope they keep staying close for a while (Jiri's and her troubles are probably only beginning).

    That's adorable

    Nice, Asaph

    Listen well, Jiri... That's the laugh of the working class.

    I didn't even know what a netsuke was. What a fascinating object, considering how many different shapes it can take!

    I always enjoy coming to this story and its sensitivity around being a child, being isolated, being in the middle of a lot of people's feelings. Hope the next one comes soon!
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
  3. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    Aww, I'm so happy now! Thank you for such a thoughtful review!

    It's good to know that people reading understand the sort of thing I'm going for with him, and that they like my OCs.

    I'll go down a bit in order here on some notes.

    -What Asaph wants is complicated, and to be honest it isn't the same all the time. Remember how Jirarudan described him as a "man of eternal calm" initially? He's prone to rolling around with his intent and emotion.

    -The comparasion to a "mid-century Shikaakwa piece" is meant to invoke the American midwest, specifically the factory workers around Chicago (the name is the origin of "Chicago" as well). "Brittania" is obvious, of course. I love coming up with region names! In the next chapter, I explain the Mara region being in Kenya, but the other region is Egypt.

    -Money isn't an unusual gift in east Asia! There are red envelopes specifically for it, too. But there's a certain privacy as well.

    -As far as fashion, he likes what he likes. I mean look at the movie. What even IS that garment? And he has a shirt on underneath it, according to a production note.

    -I'm a bit confused about "It's so charming that you have trainers in this world". This is an animeverse fic, after all...or do you mean about how it's drawing attention to how strangely most trainers dress?

    -Regarding what the future holds for these kids--even Jirarudan admits that this is the story of his downfall. Though what will that mean for Veronica? ... ... ...well, for that we'll have to wait until I get around to writing more (which I AM but we all know how slowly I write).

    -The part about Hi Skitty I actually lifted from a book about collecting Japanese antiques, which talked about the history of netsuke and how they progressively tended more towards cuteness, and said they never "plumbed the depths of Hello Kitty". Although some are pretty darn cute. There's an exhibit about them at the art museum downtown right now and some are downright adorable. There's one of a mouse (it SAYS it's a rat but the proportions are far more mouse-like) holding a little seed and it's the cutest thing ever.

    I love learning about all these things he'd encounter. All the random items, especially those that would be more common for a kid in Japan, but for all over the world. This is a really fun fic to write.

    And the birthday chapter is my favorite. I did SO much research into the cuisine and the decoration and everything...I cooked a few dishes too. Good thing I can get the right ingredients around here too!

    Thank you so much for the review and the in-depth look at things!
  4. Praxiteles

    Praxiteles Friendly POKéMON.

    I bet so much of it will only be left to decode later (and considering that a lot of it happened when Jiri was a child, he might never be able to understand all of it).

    I certainly do know! I realized that it's more auspicious especially when embarking on new ventures -- which, at age ten, is very topical for Jiri.

    Like sorry about that. The games have a lot of fashion but it's very animey and gaudy. I like the idea of high designers creating sharp looks for these commercialized, grubby tallgrass mongers. That's just what an elite art class would do.

    I bet she survives it. Bam. Called it in front of the whole world. (jk)

    Imagine the classical art of Japan going through modernification! I'd have loved to see that mouse netsuke.

    Ah yeah I love jasmine tea. Hengduan is of course China, right?
  5. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    Yeah, specifically Sczehuan (I cannot spell). And the restaurant is named after Arcanine.

    I can snap a pic next time I'm there and show you the netsuke.
  6. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    A few months later, I had managed to find a suitable buyer for the Pikachu netsuke and a few other items, and that was the most I could say about that time. Veronica and Asaph had avoided speaking of the difficulties earlier, at least around me, and the factory had returned to what was normal for it. On the surface it seemed as though nothing had happened, and it was easy to forget that anything had.

    The springtime came as a welcome, and I'd nearly misplaced the events that had marred and marked the two previous years. Both of them seemed so long ago, though I felt guilty when thinking that of my mother.

    I wore the brooch that Asaph had given me more frequently, although it looked lopsided over the heart, as one was supposed to wear them. The pin didn't bother me, as I'd taken to wearing undershirts. Simply that made me feel so much more distinguished, like a historical gentleman, although a foreign one. Kantoian garments were nothing like what I tended towards, although I opted for a mix of east and west. I was considering purchasing a kimono, though I would have to learn how to tie it, and I lacked a family crest. Perhaps I could create one, as they all had to come from somewhere. But I wasn't an artist.

    I was already considering what to wear for Asaph's gallery event, though it was nearly a year off. There was so much to fill the time between, like the area between cobblestones in a road, but it was a set destination. I used that imagery a lot in my essays for school, and imagined the figures as puzzles in an adventure.

    That reminded me of the time Veronica had come to town. She'd never seen the factory and that was how I wanted it, but it struck me as curious that she'd never asked. That was likely why, as she was far more adept than I at picking up on those sorts of things. For all the studies in the world, that was still something I had to teach myself. I'd moved my research from still photographs to movies, watching the great actors demonstrate these thoughts. It was a shame that most noted through history were unavailable, film being such a new medium. They could never be shared with the living world, although in a way that made them all the more precious.

    I did prize a recording made of a singer trained by a woman believed to be the greatest soprano of all time, although it was a tragedy that the teacher herself lived just before the advent of recorded sound. An early inventor had claimed to have recorded her, although the cylinder was believed lost. If it ever surfaced, if it indeed remained in any condition, it would be perhaps the greatest treasure in all music. Although I never believed that it did, and have yet to be proven wrong.

    Ah, but it would have been incredible. To hear the voice of the great Gwynifer Gold! But I suspected it would only be a disappointment, the myth having grown greater in our minds than the reality. Perhaps not. The truth of the Bright Fletchling would never be known again.

    But to be a muse, as she was to Christianson! Someone who inspired great works, in his case literature, was someone to be treasured regardless. That was the sort of thing I wanted to possess, things that inspired that admiration and love. As many kinds of passions as there are out there, the greatest of them all inspire art. Only then can they be shared outside the self.

    I never hoped to be a muse myself. Someone shouldn't have that great passion wasted on a collector. It's what we bring together that's worthy of praise. Of course, that's not to say that we're not worthy ourselves of some sort of glory. We have to be, entrusted as we are with this divine purpose. But we should always take the background to our collections.

    It felt like the chill in the air, remaining from winter, was there almost intentionally, to give us a more dramatic feel to our lives. When I would step away from the inferno of the factory, the cold winds off of the ocean would strike me as though they meant to carry me away, and I imagined it happily. Who else had felt this same wind, spinning its way across the world? What works had it run its delicate fingers across on its way to me?

    Having made my usual rounds in the city, which I'd drawn out to once a month, I stopped to write some more of my schoolwork. It was nothing of any challenge, but still took time to complete, and I found myself being distracted by my own thoughts. I could be doing so much more, I mused, but I was chained to the pace and requirements of the Kanto schools. Surely there ought to be a way to leave it up to myself.

    Although thinking along those lines was pointless. A more advanced schooling would likely give me what Veronica had, and I'd be surrounded by the same typical children, only gussied up in better clothing. None of them would have the sense of wonder of the world that we had, the urge to seek out its treasures.

    But then, stars wouldn't shine so bright if it wasn't for the dimness around them.

    It's said to be the lot of young adults to hate the world, isn't it? But I never really did, though it frustrated me. So many things barraged my mind, so many questions raised. Why did people seem to be content with grey lives? Why did they remain unaware of what was all around them? Why were there so few shining stars?

    I knew even then that I was more skilled than many of my peers. I was able to excel in all subjects with ease, while others struggled to achieve even half my marks. But in a way I envied how they seemed to adapt to their situations. Had I gone to school normally, I wouldn't have Asaph or his lessons, and I'd have remained barriered and quiet. My garrulous tendencies would never have arisen, and my mind would still be overcome by everything.

    My mother had once told the tale of how, in my earlier days, I had been struck severely by a cloudy day. It drove me to tears, and I told her that I had wore out the sky by staring at it too long. I had been so grief-stricken, she said, that I was inconsolable until sunrise. I never remembered doing so, but I trusted her account. The beauty of the sky and the sudden loss of it nearly drove me mad, even then.

    I suppose that was a mark on my future.

    I had been writing as I thought, and was somewhat amazed to look over my work and see that it hadn't been dominated by my mental subject change. The sums were tidy and tied, and even my handwriting had been crisp. All I had to do was fax in the finished product and that would be it for the week.

    That left many empty hours, though. The galleries were being worn thin under my eye, thinking back to that tale. The shops were beginning to fill with kitsch and pandering, anticipating the flood from the mainland in the next several months, and I wanted none of it. Maybe if I hadn't had the outlets I'd pondered, I'd have died of boredom. I wondered if that was possible.

    Even with the vast differences between my life and those of others, I was bored. It was time for something lively.

    Though I was tempted to suddenly hop a bus to Viridian, it would have been far late when I arrived, and I'd no desire to relive the events of my prior jaunt. Something closer by would have to do.

    I gathered up my books and supplies to sling them on my back, the strapped satchel I used a far cry from the bulky backpacks worn by others my age. There had to be something to do around town. I decided to stop by the shopping mall to look through the local travel pamphlets.

    By chance I had set up on a table outside the mall, so there was no need to cross the road. I always wanted to cross in the middle when there was no traffic, yet Asaph had said that it wasn't mannered to do so.

    I did always hate the place. The dingy colours gave the impression of being filthy no matter how much it was cleaned, the shops were, as I said, pandering and kitschy, and the restaurant was anything but authentic. But near the merry-go-round was a rack of papers on local sights, and just going through them could inspire me with the world greater than myself.

    That day, though, the reading was all the same thing as always. The same tourist traps, the same shops, the same time shares, the same drabness that summed up the entire town.

    I don't think I was capable of properly displaying my disappointment in an obvious enough manner. Dramatics weren't exactly the height of manners, but neither was anything I set eye on.

    But complaining wasn't anything worthwhile, and it seemed that I was doing an awful lot of it. I'd find SOMETHING to enjoy there.

    And it didn't take nearly as long as I thought. I had anticipated combing the place for hours, but I saw it right as I turned around. The jewellery store where Veronica had taken the prized rock was before me, unremarkable and unobtrusive. But there had been an idea I'd considered for a while, and this was the perfect time.

    It was open to the concourse, overlooking that central merry-go-round, and thus filled with the cheery music that constantly played to invite people to ride. I suppose it brought to mind older days of nickelodeons and parasols, but in the modern day it was merely quaint.

    Back in that era I would have found it fascinating. The time when foreign influence was flooding Kanto for the first time in centuries would have been amazing to witness firsthand. The majority of accounts that I could locate were political, and that wasn't what I wanted to read about at all. The people who just a decade before had never travelled past the next town, now open to the scope of the world...ah, what a wonder that must have been! Although of course any like myself would have found it immensely frustrating as well, as knowledge of vastness only makes the smallness of our own lives all the more apparent. Hearing about distant places while being shackled in place only salts the wound.

    "Are you all right?"

    For a moment I'd forgotten where I was. The shop clerk had drawn beside me and looked down with something I figured was concern. "Ah, yes, thank you. I'm interested in getting a conch piercing. Would you be able to do that?"

    He tilted his head back and thought for a second. "I don't think we have any in stock. I can check."

    It took me a moment. "Oh, not an earring of a conch shell. I'd like to have my ear pierced here." I put my finger up to where I meant, at the cartilage just above the lobe.

    "Uh...hold on..." He wandered behind the counter and shuffled through some papers. "I don't think you can...Not without permission from your parents."

    There was never going to be a way to get that out of my father, and there wasn't anybody in the mall I could convince to pass off as a parent. But I did have a backup plan. "Are you certain?" I asked as I retrieved my wallet. "I can't help but notice that you're a trainer," this was with a gesture to a pokéball on the back table, "and poké-chow is only getting more expensive."

    "Kid, if you think you can bribe me..." But it stopped there as I laid some money on the counter. I'll not share the sum, of course! But as it turned out, it was enough to convince him to relax the rules.

    I'm not certain why I got that particular piercing, but it was unusual enough to stand out while looking relatively typical at first glance. It hurt considerably more than I had thought it would, and I had to keep it rinsed with a pungent solution, but it looked very stylish and I felt refocused. Plus I'd been able to use a new business skill that could come in handy later down the line.

    I had to stop myself from tugging at the small ring all the way back to the edge of the cliff, and I got to my room without having to answer any uncomfortable questions. Certainly he or Helen would see it within a few days, but I hoped to be able to wear it long enough that Asaph could see it.

    For now, though, I had my own secret. Something known only to me, as if it was a treasure map. Something as silly as an earring was small enough, but having something unique was impressive enough to break the dull day.
  7. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    Chapter 30! My goodness golly it seems like an eternity and he's only ten.

    I'd of late been pondering that I needed to be more adept at my research of modern art. Not the style; that tended to be an incomprehensible mess of pretension and posturing. But simply the art currently being produced. What future classics was I missing out on?

    Veronica and Asaph and I had touched on the subject of past glory, of the works that were now ruined or lost, and how glorious they must have looked in their prime. I had, of course, mused on this shortly before I had done that impulsive thing.

    My father had reacted far stranger than I thought he would, simply laughing and complimenting me, saying it suited me. But then, Veronica would say the same, so it must be true. Asaph had looked at it for nearly twice as long, then said only that I ought to start now looking for a new ring for when I would be able to change it. That was some time ago, though, and I now had a few to choose from. At that time, I believe I was wearing a small gold hoop, a simple, typical thing. While before I had found having small earlobes to be a flaw in appearance, it suited the piercing, allowing the ring to loop around in a pleasing way.

    Asaph seemed to have settled, returning to the calm I associated with him. The exhibit that would display the Eye of Dawn was still months away, but he was deeply involved in how it would be shown, and incorporated a 3-D image of the setting to lay it out. I was fascinated with the projection, manipulatable on the computer screen, and he had given permission for me to wiggle the view around, so long as I didn't touch anything else.

    But even that was some sort of art. Though it was rough, with garish outlines and colours that had no reality, it was a structured work of creativity and science that delighted me. The factory had a few computers that ran programmes like that, but they were all forbidden to me, so being able to manipulate the image was amazing.

    Technology was amazing, and I had to be at the cutting edge of it to follow the latest advancements in art. No, I had to be at the edge and the hilt and everything in between. All of history, not simply of technology but of politics and society and trends...It was a hefty responsibility, but I knew it would be worth it for the sake of my collection. This was of course all far beyond my schoolwork, and required independent study.

    Asaph's library was perfect for that, with works reaching back to the dawn of writing. Reproductions, sadly, though many of those were rather old themselves. I was reminded of the ancient library in Mn Nefer, burnt by invaders millennia ago, perhaps the greatest tragedy in history.

    I wanted things to be different. Even if I had witnessed it in its glory, likely it wouldn't have contented me. I would have wanted more, from further lands, from the known and unknown world.

    But I was where I was, when I was, in an evening overlooking the Seafoam coastline. Asaph's library seemed as far to me as the ancient one did. But either way, I had things to do.

    The first few books had been simple, and I'd worked through them in about an hour each. They'd been taken from the drawing room, under Helen's eye, and I wondered what my father could possibly derive from them. The next was more challenging, involving considerably more maths and figures, and I had to pay special attention to the diagrams. I would make copies of them, having to rely on my minimal skills to reproduce the parts involved. Aeronautics was an exciting field itself, and I've wondered if I wouldn't have become a pilot had I never been awakened onto the art world. But then, nobody could truly say. In truth I could never conclude those imaginings because nothing else felt right. I was made to be a collector.

    It was a bit overwhelming to be met with all of these charts explaining all of these principles. With nobody to guide me through them, I had to trust my own abilities and knowledge. But with the models I made from factory cutoffs, I was confident that I was on the right path.

    Every day I studied everything I could get my hands on. I was always reading, listening, watching. My studies of facial expressions had expanded to body language, though that proved much more difficult. It was odd that I could learn, in depth, the histories of detailed artistic movements and yet I would have been unable to understand the artists fully if I had spoken with them directly.

    It was frustrating, having that wall still, despite my best efforts. That level of understanding seemed to come naturally to everyone else. But it wasn't without advantages. Looking at things from an outsider's perspective gave it a sense of neutrality. I came at things unswayed by the trends I mimicked; they were an act in the ever ongoing play that was high society. In that play, I did what I liked, collected what I pleased. Certain things were acquired specifically to be sold or traded, and I felt no connection to them.

    My latest acquisition had been a cluster of both. A scroll detailing a damiyo's tea ceremony, filled in with delicate illustrations, was for me, while the rest of the lot would be traded. Mr Higuchi was my best bet, and I had arranged a meeting with him for that purpose.

    One of the illustrations showed the damiyo's sister, a detail I hadn't known until I had it in my hands. Fortunate, as I may have been tempted to pay more for it. She was stunningly beautiful, tall and strong. Reputedly she had been excellent with a sword, though her brother discouraged this, and she was relegated to mere practice. Her bravery and elegance became her legacy, as well as the overall tragedy of her life. I would have loved to have met her, to discover that long-ago exotic age though someone relegated to the sidelines.

    I would have to have it properly set, in a long frame about three fourths of a metre long, with tinted glass to guard against colour degradation. Such a frame would take some time to construct but I had already cleared a space on my wall for it. For the time being, I kept it in a safe, daintily rolled up, to preserve it from the sea air.

    I'd taken to writing to faraway places to request information, and as a result, many pamphlets lay in a drawer in my desk, under the east-facing window. They gave me views into lands beyond Kanto, and though were geared towards usual folk, the sort who couldn't appreciate what they were given, the sights remained the same. One detailed a vibrant river cruise that wound through the lush Cascadia region, far across the ocean. The Parfum Palace was represented, the paper written in the native language. Far to the south, the Alspring region boasted art dating back ten thousand years, while to the west, the Mara region's works could date over a million years.

    To think that as a species, humans dated back that long, yet only about eight thousand years were recorded. How many great works have been lost, forever forgotten? How many artists changed the way we viewed the world and will go forever uncredited? How many leaders, trendsetters, inventors, designers, created the modern world yet will never be known?

    The idea filled my heart, letting it sink heavily in sadness. I put a hand to my face to ensure that I was making the correct facial expression as I looked out the window. Ships were passing, and a light spring rain had started, rising a mist from the water.

    I would wonder about those who passed by. Did any of them appreciate art? Did they stop to look around them? How many shining stars toiled away out there, light covered by the everyday? I was fortunate not to be among them.

    These thoughts were recorded in a journal. I'd selected a fine one, from the sacred Vaticanae region, adorned with a rustic photograph of the ornate ceiling of the primary temple. The beautiful frescos and paintings, filling the lunettes and every inch around the top, were then undergoing restoration, and to see the work only partially finished was fascinating. Every time I saw it, I felt inspired, the full faith portrayed in it sending excited shivers through me.

    I have never been a religious man, but the idea of that consuming faith has fascinated me. So many various gods and legendary pokémon were worshipped the world over, and the fervour and glory that came with it was truly fantastic. It was the same all-consuming feeling that ran through me when I was surrounded by art, and I wondered if my example would inspire others likewise.

    Although not all of it reached me. I had visited a traditional garden outside Viridian, and while considered one of the finest of its type, I felt no connection to it. While the trees were marvellously sculpted by great gardeners, the paths winding and philosophical, and the water providing a mirror meant to give the feel of another world, I was unimpressed. Despite the skill in structure, they were simply trees and bushes and rocks and water to me, and I could see their ilk anywhere. Even the much-touted waterfall pond, full of Magikarp and Goldeen in their fullest specially bred glory, far removed from the common examples of their species found everywhere, only came across as common fish to me.

    Truth be told, it was a bit frustrating. But that didn't linger, and was gone by the time I left. I had managed to find a book in the gift shop on ukiyo-e prints, and that consumed my time on the bus ride back.

    One may point out that the garden was a work of human hands, but it was meant to mirror true nature in every way. They had succeeded in their aim.

    Perhaps it was owing to my life near flowers and trees, but the natural world simply bored me. I could see it any day, and it was always there. Even if I was in the depths of a giant city, those things were still somewhere, and it descended into the mundane, the same as steel and glass. There was nothing special about it, and people who sought to recreate it were beyond my understanding.

    As I've evidented, I was prone to losing myself in thought. I suppose my overall summation is that there was much of the world I didn't understand, yet that seems to be oversimplifying things.

    I didn't talk like other children, or even adults. I didn't think like them. And for the most part, I didn't want to.

    Asaph wanted us to be exemplary, but to do that we would have to encapsulate the very image of society folk. We had to stand out by doing what those around us did. It was a heavy contradiction that puzzled me at times, but it seemed to work. We succeeded at surpassing those around us, and did so with ease.

    Shining stars, of course. That again collided with my horizon.

    With a huff, I fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. "If that wasn't there, I could see the stars," I said aloud as I stretched an arm out as I was reaching for what I couldn't see. "I want to see the sky."

    Of course I could see the night sky from out my window, but the frame and glass limited my access. I wanted to hold the stars in my very hand. I wanted to live surrounded by the sky. Someday I would have that airship, and I would be able to see nothing but beautiful things.

    I'd started to design it in my head, and my education in 3-D computer mapping and model making lent a practical edge to my fantasy. I was going to make my dream.

    I had my leg crossed over my bent knee and tapped the wall with my foot, forming a sort of rhythm that brought to mind a touch of some piece Asaph had played for me. I tried to recall what it was called, and sung along with what I could remember. Most around me in society had some sort of musical skill, and I thought singing would be easiest. Though I had been such a quiet child, by then I had become talkative even when alone, so it seemed a natural choice. Maybe it would prove to be a social lubricant, as the saying went.

    Again I thought of the daimayo's sister. Something felt empty when I thought of her. What would she think of the world of today? Of the time between? What would she miss, and what would she be glad to escape? I wanted things to be different, in a much different way than I usually did.

    Maybe she would have liked my singing. I could show her around Viridian and Goldenrod, teach her how the language had changed, take her shopping for modern clothes, even modern-made traditional clothes, introduce her to what the full world had to offer. I thought sometimes what her hand must have felt like.

    I wonder, looking back, if I could have been enamoured with her, or if it was simply a passionate fascination with a tragic figure from a bygone age. Even now I'm not certain.

    But that would come to be familiar. I would love deeply, overwhelmingly so, the utter beauty of the world. I would cherish dearly those rare blooms perhaps more than their creators, and cultivate them into something more than the sum of their parts. What others would dismiss as mere objects were what inflamed such passion in me. Even then I felt it, sometimes as intensely as I would later on, and it pushed me onward to new places, new planes of existence.

    Ah, I suppose that's awfully elaborate. But it felt that way, as though every piece, even those I obtained specifically to trade, opened a new door for me into untamed grounds. Even if I simply looked through the open door, it would reveal a new sight.

    I had a wondrous future set for me. I never could have foreseen such a catastrophic event...

    But I'll get to that, in time.

    The world would mine for the taking, the idea of the mythic world tree ripe with fruit just for me to gather. Well, me and Veronica, and Asaph of course. But even then I felt like I would surpass them.
  8. vsyoravno

    vsyoravno New Member

    (Weird I thought I already had an account here! Oh well here I am!)

    I thought this was a nice introspective chapter hinting at some important future events. Planning for the airship is in progress!

    I like Jiri's fascination with the daimyo's sister (yay Conquest reference which I seriously need to finish that game) and his daydream about what they'd do together. I always enjoy the scenes where Jiri interacts with others, especially people who don't know him, so it's interesting to see his fantasy of being with another person.

    I also really like the idea of him singing and I look forward to seeing what that leads to!

    As always, I can't wait for the next chapter. And beyond, what will happen at the Eye of Dawn exhibit...
  9. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    Huh, I thought you did too. Odd.

    Imma have to hurry with putting more of the airship together. Something like that will need years to build, and he's gotta have a way of at least starting to buy it.

    Something BIG will happen at the exhibit (or rather just afterwards) that will send the story on a different path. Or maybe I'm overselling it. Maybe it isn't as impactful as I'm thinking. Oh well.
  10. Camb0t

    Camb0t New Member

    Hey there! I finished reading your whole fic a few days ago and wanted to give you my compliments ;D It's really well written! I don't think I get to read stories within the high society quite often and certainly not stories set in the Pokemon universe outside of the trainer's point of view, but this is something other readers have said too isn't it? I guess the fact that you focused on an antagonist that barely had any screen time in the 2nd movie helps a lot. And yes I just registered here to give you a reply although I started reading this out of curiosity around 2007 and stopped for a while when I left the forum life.
    It's funny, I was reminded about your fic through a wave of nostalgia for the second movie that started growing thanks to the teams debate in Pokemon Go. I remembered liking it a lot even when I mostly read books, and now I see it still holds up. Now I guess I'll have to wait for new chapters like everybody else... Is there a way to subscribe to threads?

    But again, the way you write how Jirarudan talks or thinks sounds so much like him even when there is little in the canon to borrow from. You have added so much depth to his character that to me you have even surpassed the writing in the movie and I say this after watching it recently since that one... Didn't hold up. You also are good at writing all the descriptions, I can tell you did enough research about art and applied it to all the details when you were able to. One of my favorite chapters has to be the one where you describe how Jiri practices emotions through pictures, an autistic personality is the best way to go for him considering how far he went to catch Lugia and how little he cared about his surroundings. The OC's you added also make the story more interesting, they clearly help Jiri develop in different directions, Asaph for the collector life and maybe Veronica for emotions? I'm curious to see how Jiri's relationship with his father will develop after all the meddling Asaph has done.

    If there is something I would criticize and it's becoming more apparent in the latest chapters is how it feels like you are trying to place all the big changes in Jiri's life that make him the person he is in the movie at the age of 10. I would point out specifically to the chapter where he gets his ear pierced, I don't know, it felt kinda out of character or sudden? I know he has an earring in the movie and there is no explanation for it but that decision seems like something that would happen at the age of 16. You could start skipping years to develop him in different ways, it would help you get closer to conflicts and at the same time cover more events through the schedule you follow but eh this is just my suggestion, I imagine as the writer you got other things planned out.

    Thanks for giving me an engaging read linked to Pokemon for me to spend my free time on. I wish I could subscribe to this thread to receive emails when it updates since I don't check forums often but I guess there isn't a way or is it? I guess I could just give this thread a visit once in a while.
  11. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    Mm, I see what you mean. I wanted him to do something impulsive and to show how he was starting to be willing to go to extreme lengths to get what he wants, and there was that. I'm trying to space things out a bit (the chapter I'm working on now takes place the better part of a year after the last one up here) and that will be increasing later. As for something that would happen later in life, he's also trying to be more adult than he really is.

    But yeah, I'm trying to space things out more. There's a few big things happening that I have to build around but after 10 is where it starts getting spaced further apart, and after 15 that will get further.

    I'm glad you like so much else!
  12. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    Holy cheese it's been far too long. Chapter 31 at long last! I'm very nervous about this chapter, and downright terrified of the next one. So I really hope that everyone likes it.

    Spring went into summer, and again into autumn, and again into winter. The great wave came and went to much fanfare, the festival presided over by a former victor that my father was more than excited to meet.

    The idea of a sporting star being the target of so much adoration was at first repellent to me, until Veronica pointed out the historical and even artistic precedent of such things, the ancient athletes lauded as heralds of the gods, and immortalized in song and sculpture. The feats of demigods fell into that idea, those of labours and legend.

    Perhaps some future generation of collectors would surround themselves with the celebrities of today. Though thinking of things in that way was frustrating, as art of modern athletes tended towards the ironic or political, with themes of idol worship or consumerism. I wondered if the ancient collectors were met with the same blocks.

    My thoughts of any single subject were brief, however. Overriding all else was the upcoming exhibit, with the prized Eye of Dawn front and center in the minds of us three. Veronica was bubbling over with excitement from her future acquisition garnering so much attention, while Asaph had been interviewed and photographed for the exhibit book. I had been present for the shoot with the gem itself, and had helped Asaph ensure that his tailored deep green suit was draped just right as he sat next to the Eye, posed like a king. I recall his eyes were green that day.

    Someday, I imagined, I would be in exhibit books. I would be the one to show off my collection, talk about its history, and indulge myself in the showcase. It would be nice to get recognition, although of course I would be secondary to the displayed treasure. That was the nature of collectors, after all.

    Veronica had not gone unnoticed, though her involvement was limited to her role as Asaph's pupil alongside me. We were not photographed nor interviewed, and I had asked that I not be named in case my father were to find out.

    I still felt the need to hide it. Asaph told me that if I spoke about my experiences, my father would be confused. "He doesn't understand," Asaph had said, and everything my father did had enforced that. He created remarkable designs for his airships, but he seemed to have no head for understanding the minds of those who purchased them. His helicopters perhaps, and even then he was pounding out another dozen or so for Lucrezia's organisation, but even his simplest of airships, as elaborate as they could be, were simply puzzle pieces to be assembled. The puzzles bore remarkable images, beautiful even, and that part meant nothing to him.

    It was frustrating, locked in that situation. I had far more freedom than others of my age who refrained from a trainer journey, traveling to Viridian a few times a week, exploring the ins and outs of Seafoam, reading deep the history of the world. But every time I would return to that room over the sea, and as much as the sea changed daily, it would always be simply what it was.

    One day, soon after the photo shoot, I asked Asaph if it was indeed possible for someone to create something indistinguishable from true art if they did so without feeling. He pondered the question for a moment, raising a finger to his cheek and staring out the window in a stylized depiction of thought. "I wonder...perhaps it depends on the observer. If we don't know the story behind a piece, it is often enough to have the piece stand alone. We can regard something like that as true art, yes?"

    For some reason, I remembered the strange sculpture from the Mandarin museum. It was sloppy and barely resembled what Asaph had claimed it represented, but people held it in high regard from its age alone. It could have been the culmination of an artist's lifetime, or perhaps it was a simple coincidence in the hands of a playing child. If people knew for sure, would it change anything? If I knew hard work had gone into it, would I fancy it at all? Or would I be even further stymied by it, viewing it as an utter waste? If I knew it was a random result, would that only confirm my view of it, or would I feel enlightened at a respectable piece coming from sheer chance? "Do you think...that my father's airships are art?"

    He smiled, mirroring the expression of amusement. "Oh, is that what this is about?"

    I flopped down in a high-backed chair, just a bit too quickly for manners. "He's so shallow. He has no mind for better things. But his ships are so highly regarded. I don't understand."

    "Well..." Asaph took a seat across from me. "I certainly wouldn't have come to him if I didn't see the appeal. Though I was disappointed in him, personally." He shrugged. "I had expected someone more in tune with his creations. It's the process that concerns him rather than the end result. At least, that's how I see him."

    "I have the impression that he doesn't care," I added. "The structure is what concerns him, the construction, without the aesthetic appeal. Like a..." The words fumbled around in my mouth, "I suppose like a tract house. But by sheer happenstance, they end up beautiful. How could that happen?"

    "I think..." he mused, "beauty is what the viewer takes away from it. You and Veronica saw the same gem, and it bewitched her. You found it beautiful, of course, but it didn't consume you."

    To me, that was a tangent, not related to what I was asking. It was clear that his thoughts were dominated by the Eye, and perhaps I wouldn't get a direct answer out of him. So still I wondered.

    As the exhibit approached, only a month or so away, I continued my own career with thoughts to the future, delving ever into the past. The prior conversation stuck with me as I studied scientific innovations. So much of it had been inspired by science fiction, with young fans becoming adults determined to make their fantasies reality. Was that art? And did that make the original works art, no matter how cheaply they were made and no matter how little thought was put into the practicality of their displays? Some had great care taken to display futuristic technology as something rooted in reality, but others were sheer fantasy and yet both were coming true. The force fields I had seen the Omastar displayed in had stemmed from such a fantastic approach, something included as a plot device in wire-laden battles between model spacecraft, and yet there they were.

    Some things inspired in such a way could never be considered art, of course. The very concept of the atomic bomb had stemmed from a science fiction novel, but the novel itself was a magnificent work. In that case at least, the relationship was only one-way. It didn't have any of the sticky questions of the other examples, so despite its savagery, I preferred it.

    The thought of a painting I had once admired came to mind. Though I had lost interest in it since, it was considered a masterpiece among landscapes. At first glance, and indeed at any glance, it was a beautiful meadow, alit with Volbeat and Illumise in early evening, with gnarled trees sprung up here and to. But it carried with it more than simply the view, having not fifty years before been the site of a horrific battle. It was said that there was not a speck of ground not tainted with blood, and yet when the painter viewed it, none of that anguish remained. I did appreciate his practical view of things, as when asked if the fireflies were meant to represent the souls of the dead, he had said simply that they were there when he painted it. He had painted it as it was to his eye, and the spectre of the battle was in the eye of the viewer.

    Regardless of all that, the exhibit loomed. Asaph made several trips to Fuschia to oversee the sight of the display, though Veronica and I were left to wonder at it. The Eye of Dawn was not his only piece to be hosted, and it was the placement of an ancient sword that took up the majority of his time there. He compared it to a puzzle, which only made us want to see the process first hand. The computer simulation only gave an outline and didn't suffice.

    We were both spending the night at his mansion again soon before the event. As before, snow was falling, and faint calls came from the surrounding forest. The pond that had once housed Milotic had been converted into a fountain, and the sound was a gentle counterpoint to the stillness as we explored the backyard.

    Veronica was pondering a sculpture, a brilliant sunburst that transformed the dull stone into vibrant light. The snowfall gave an odd backdrop to the work, giving it depth and motion as well. I followed her line of sight to the lower ray of the sculpture, where it attached to the base. When she noticed I was watching her, she gestured over to the spot. "I was looking at this here. It's like the artist carved it and then remembered it had to be displayed. The way the lines go, it was like an afterthought."

    I examined the place where the bracing stand entered the stone. Sure enough, the lines and scoops that made up the body of the sun followed a line that didn't account for the position of the rods. "I wonder if Asaph noticed."

    "Of course he did. He wouldn't have bought it if he hadn't gone over everything there was to go over. But I was thinking that it's pretty regardless."

    The sight was jarring and uncomfortable, but in a way that put the piece in a different light. "I want to see it without that. To compare them."

    "Do you think the artist made other models?" she asked, still staring.

    "I don't know. But it would be fascinating to see a perfect version."

    Veronica laughed. "I like it. It makes it even better, knowing a beautiful piece like that can still be beautiful even with an inconsistency."

    For a moment I remembered her woes with adolescence, and wondered if her comment reflected that. But her comment had a ring of general truth. It was something innate in our society, that something was perfect for its imperfections, and that was a thought I had never felt true. Imperfection was all around us, and art was supposed to whisk us away from those dull things. It felt uncaring to prize a sloppy piece.

    A bowl in Higuchi-san's collection was all the more valuable from a chip that marked the side, where it had been dropped during a siege on an ancient samurai's land. It would have been valuable without that imperfection, but it showed use and function, and was seen as proof that the samurai had handled it himself. A necklace in Asaph's collection, a glimmering pearl string, was dotted with misshapen pearls, and this was evidence that the pearls were natural rather than farmed or artificial. Even everyday people recognised this in a fashion, as I had seen flowerpots through the city, chipped and even shattered, reconfigured into fairy steps and segmented planters.

    But my original thoughts remained. It could be said that I valued more foreign aesthetics, but even that wasn't quite accurate. Statues that were rediscovered incomplete and displayed and beloved that way, I wanted to see them whole. A thoughtful expression in a portrait, I wanted to see the subject laughing. It wasn't about imperfections, but rather a want to see things differently, a desire to shape what I took in.

    "Are you listening?" cut through my musings.

    "Mm? Oh, I apologise. I was lost in thought."

    "Well, here's a map." She held up a snowball. "Let's go over to the front driveway and have a snowball fight!"

    I was about to refuse until I remembered a picture of imperial court ladies, the model of sophistication and manner, engaged in such play. So I laughed. "I'll race you!"

    Wiping snow from my cap, I held the door open for her. "I don't think having Ralts teleport the snowballs behind me is fair play."

    She giggled. "If you had a pokémon, I'd let you use them."

    "In a case like that, I like to think you would have at least established the rules in advance."

    One of the maids greeted us with a bow, and I wondered if she had been waiting the whole time. "Master Asaph bids you join him in the dining room."

    "Oh, is it that late already? It seems like it only just got dark."

    She smiled. "Time flies. Let me take your coats."

    Veronica fluffed out her hair as she handed the maid her coat. "We had a lot of fun out there. Jirarudan has quite an arm! I'm not sure who won, though."

    "Probably whoever had the most fun."

    The reply left me a bit dry. It may have been true, but it felt like there was something hidden in it.

    There was always a welcoming comfort to that mansion. I dreamt of it, and when I confessed that to Veronica, she admitted the same. Despite the rising wall between her and Asaph, she too couldn't resist the allure of the place.

    And I couldn't understand why that rift existed. He had agreed to the sale, and if he had regrets, he was fully capable of calling it off. Would it be untoward to approach him with this? I pondered.

    It was worth a risk, or so I hoped. After dinner, I headed to Asaph's study. He was already reclining on a magnificent méridienne, a long pipe to his lips and some thick liqueur poured from an elegant bottle. Though he sat up when I entered the room, I doubt he noticed me, attention on the opal before him. The Eye glimmered even in the low light as though it truly watched us, and I noted that must have been how the legendary priestess's disciples had felt.

    The Eye looked strange there, as I glanced at it. The gallery had been a much better place but he had moved it for the photographs, and that seemed a bit dishonest. Regardless, it would be headed to the museum the next day, the last piece to join the exhibit.

    "Asaph." I said his name boldly, trying to be firm but respectful. "Have I interrupted?"

    He shifted, turning towards me while remaining seated. "Come here for a moment." When I did, he put a hand on my shoulder. "What are you thinking right now?"

    "Um..." I was rarely at a loss for words any more, but his question took me by surprise. "I wanted to speak with you about Veronica."

    "Ah, Veronica..." He chuckled, smiling. "Growing up so fast. I can't really stop it, can I?" Despite his expression and laugh, I knew this was still his melancholy. "Would you like a drink? Brandy may be more to your liking than wine."

    "Sure." It was an immature answer and I chastised myself for it.

    As he set his pipe aside with a bit of a cough, he chuckled again. "Ah, I haven't smoked in years. But I just got this pipe, and I suppose some of the old urges came with it. Sometimes I just can't resist, even when I know something is terrible for me. Do you ever feel that way?"

    "Of course." Didn't everyone? He was doubtless talking about something more specific. "Regardless, I wanted to talk to you."

    The glass he gave me had only a dash of brandy. "Go ahead," he said as he replaced the cap on the decanter.

    "I know this business with her has upset you." When I said that, he turned from the cabinet to face me full. "But you have the ability to change your mind. To decline her offer."

    "Ahh..." He shook his head. "I know. And that's the idea I wrestled with not only the night the offer was made, but for a long time after." The hand on my shoulder again. "Jirarudan, my boy, the both of you are growing up. Time, as they say, marches on. And eventually you'll both be magnificent collectors." He drew back a drink from his glass, finishing it. "I should have known when I took you both on that I would have to face that at some point."

    I'd taken a sip as he spoke and found the taste more agreeable than before, but still awfully strong. "But I don't like being a child," I sighed. "It's terribly boring, and I'm rarely taken seriously. I want to be an adult."

    His shoulders slumped. "You'll regret it later on. Savor those youthful days, Jirarudan. I don't want you to have any regrets. When you're my age..." Again, he laughed to himself. "I suppose I'm no better than the emperor of Sinnoh, trying to summon the deity of time so he could remain young and reign forever...Already I've outlived him, you know."

    Asaph wasn't particularly old, if I recalled correctly, but the short lives of people who sought immortality were a common irony. On the other end, I thought to the far ancient Ki-en-gi region, a primal settlement where the kings were said to have reigned for tens of thousands of years. I wondered if I should have brought it up, but it was impolite to bring up someone's age. Though he had posed the subject...I thought for a moment, longer than I realized.

    "Jirarudan? Are you listening?"

    I snapped to attention. "I apologise. I was distracted."

    He smiled. "Beauty does that." It wasn't until I followed his line of sight that I realised he was still watching the Eye. "My boy, I want you to learn from me."

    "I do. You're a wonderful teacher." Despite my saying that, he was beginning to lose me, and I wondered if I shouldn't have just avoided the initial subject altogether. "If I may, though, I still don't quite understand."

    As he fetched another drink, the light from the Eye shone across his face. "We can talk about it later. Right now, I'm feeling terribly worn out." He turned what remained from his pipe out into the ashtray to extinguish it, and finished his newly refilled glass in a gulp. I thought about doing likewise but instead just took another sip, which turned out to be all that was left in mine.

    "All right. Rest well."

    He tilted his head back and laughed softly. "You're growing up too, aren't you?"

    The guest room had been redesigned, with two smaller beds replacing the single large one. They lay side by side with a small table between them, decorated with an antique lamp. Veronica had claimed the bed closer to the window, and when she sat upon it, the luxury of the mattress and bedding was obvious. "Aah, what a day," she sighed. "I'm glad to have a few days off." Lying back, she kicked her slippers off and worked her necklace loose, sliding it over to the table. "Where did you go after dinner?"

    "I was talking with Asaph." Heavens, that was a soft bed. "He's terribly upset, but he's set in going through with your offer."

    She was silent for a moment and I was about to repeat myself. "...If he didn't want to part with it, he wouldn't have agreed to it. That's all there is to it."

    "That's essentially what he said. Though I think you'll have to bring this up to him yourself."

    "What's to bring up?" she asked as she rolled over to face me. "If he didn't want to part with it, he wouldn't have agreed to it." The same words came a beat faster. "Even if he regrets it, he's still doing it." But she paused again, and came to rest her head against the cover. "...That's not heartless of me, is it?"

    I laid back, squirming slightly to remove my socks. I hadn't noticed that they were still slightly damp from the snow. "We're all adults. We can make our own decisions."

    "Yeah...adults. ...I could fall asleep right here."

    "If you're not going to shower, I'll claim it. But at least change into your nightclothes." I smiled, hoping it was landing on 'amused'. "It wouldn't do to wrinkle up your nice clothes."

    She picked her head up just to stick her tongue out at me.

    "Adults, yes." I laughed, but I also felt a little superior to her at that moment.

    During the night, I awoke to find her staring out the window. Her back was to me, but it was almost as though I could see her expression. Her hand drew down the glass, leaving a trail through the slight condensation, and she sighed heavily.

    I wondered if I ought to say something to her, but decided against it. I rolled with my back to her and quickly fell back asleep.

    She wasn't in bed when morning came, and I wondered if she had stayed up all night. I listened to see if she was washing up, but there was just silence. After a few minutes more, during which time I pulled the comforter up over my head to savour the feel of the luxurious bed just a little while longer, I reasoned I should get up.

    Usually it would be considered impolite to not dress for the day, but at Asaph's house we were permitted to attend breakfast in robe and slippers. Mine were a matching set in soft purple, just a few shades off of lavender, and very comfortable without sacrificing appearance.

    I headed for the sitting room and found Veronica, reclining on the couch under the window with a book next to her. I recognized the book as one I had gone through, a guide to famous jewelry written nearly a century ago. Since then, various golden ages had taken place, especially the rise of Hollywood style, so it came off as nearly quaint to the modern eye.

    "Oh, good morning, Jiri." She smiled up at me and brushed a strand of golden hair over her white robe. "You were sleeping so soundly that I didn't want to wake you. Asaph agreed."

    "What time is it?" There was a clock in the guest room, but I hadn't checked it.

    "Uh...I think it's about half past ten. It's not like we have anything set to do today though, so it's ok."

    I took a seat in the armchair beside her. "Have I missed breakfast?"

    "Not really. I mean, Asaph and I already ate, but it was a cold dish so it's all right."

    That wasn't surprising. Recently, Asaph had taken an aesthetic interest in the Botha region, halfway across the world, and the meals from his kitchen had embraced that tradition.

    She pulled up to a sitting position and set the book on the table beside her. "Want to have another snowball fight?"

    What an odd thing to ask. "No. I don't think we should." I thought back to what Asaph had talked about the prior night. "I'm hoping to study some in the library today."

    "That sounds like a good idea. What about?"

    "Whatever strikes me."

    She laughed, a short chime. "You have so many things that do. You're lucky that way. You see beauty in the most unusual places, and I like that."

    "Well," I thought aloud, "the world is an unusual place." I didn't know what I meant by it. I think I just wanted to make her laugh again.

    And laugh again she did. "It sure is. What's something unusual on your mind right now?"

    Thinking of something was simple. The hard part was narrowing it down. "Ah...hm. There's a book in the far corner of the library that smells horrid. I believe someone spilled something on it at some point." It had come out purely at random.

    "I know the one you're talking about!" Her arm shot out as though she was pointing towards it through the wall, and I suppose it was in the rough direction of the shelf containing the book in question. "It's about making beer. I think it sat in the brewery for a century too long!"

    "Yes, that would explain it." I tried to copy her laugh but failed. She was still smiling though. "I would have thought the auctioneers would have tried to air it out. Although at least Asaph keeps it protected." The book, along with a few others dotting the shelves, was kept in a protective wrapping that permitted the viewer to see the spine. "It's better than that musty smell that so many old books have, of course."

    "Oh, I know! It's so gross and I don't know how book collectors manage it. And it can make you sick since it can harbor a fungus." She waved a hand as if smelling something foul.

    The conversation was amusing, but I had other things to do. I gave another smile and headed out, closing the door behind me.

    She had put the idea in my head, and the scent became impossible to ignore. I left the library soon after, though usually I was able to spend hours in there. Granted, I had been the one to mention it in the first place, but I wouldn't have without her presence. It was a strange feeling to be confronted with the sudden realisation of what had been around me the whole time. Instead, I returned to the sitting room and found Asaph there instead.

    He removed his reading glasses as he stood. "Jirarudan. Are you well?"

    "I am," I replied as I tried to think of the rules for asking the same in return, finally settling on "How has your day been?"

    "Oh, I can't complain. Come here."

    As he returned to his seat, I took the chair next to him, but he patted the couch cushion beside him, so I moved to it. "All right. I'm here now."

    He chuckled a bit. "I'm sorry to catch you in the middle of all this. I want you to know that you're still very dear to me, and that hasn't changed."

    That was unusual. "I haven't doubted that. The situation between you and Veronica doesn't impact me."

    "Our conversation last night showed me a young man very concerned about the people close to him." He slid an arm around my shoulders. "Even if, as you say, it doesn't affect you, you still want to make things right."

    I hadn't said that it didn't affect me. I had said it didn't impact me. In my mind, those were very different things, but he had enough on his mind. "What are you reading?"

    "Hm? Oh!" A book on the side table had prompted my question, as it hadn't been there before. "Veronica must have brought this in. Ah, it's a history of the Alspring region. I think she brought it from home then." He straightened it, lining the sides up with the edges of the table. "You both do such in-depth research into what you want. It's admirable."

    "It just makes sense." I wouldn't comment that I had never known her to do near as much study as I did. "Before we bring something into our lives, we should know it as fully as we're able."

    "We should," he said as he pulled me a little closer. "And sometimes even then we make mistakes...Nobody can prepare for everything."

    "Even the greatest collectors in history have encountered fakes," I affirmed. "We're only human. Though I can't imagine who would want to con a king, for instance."

    "Only the very bold and the very foolish," he laughed, something I could feel vibrating in his chest. "Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our zeal that we forget ourselves. But as collectors, we can scarcely help it."

    I curled up next to him on the couch, making sure that my feet still hung over the side, and rested my head on his shoulder. "I want to be able to have that much zeal someday. Like you and she have for that gem." Perhaps I shouldn't have wished for that.

    "You will. You're a very passionate boy, and the love for the future you've chosen shows that you have a greater appreciation for the world than most." His hand came to my hair and rested on the back of my head. "You're going to be a great man someday."

    "A shining star, you said." It took a moment before I remembered who else had said that. "You know, my mother would have liked you. She wanted wonderment out of the world too."

    "Do you take after her?"

    "I've been told."

    He chuckled. "Then I'm certain I would have liked her too."

    After we'd stayed like that for a while, and after I'd finally had some breakfast, the three of us each found ourselves in the library once more. Veronica was already hard at work when I arrived, and it seemed as though Asaph had just begun a search for something. A private library of nearly two thousand books was ours to share, but it seemed small after a while.

    "Alspring again, Veronica?" I asked. "We saw your book in the other room."

    She giggled. "Sort of. I'm reading about the history of opals. This book talks a lot about the Eye of Dawn. It's a seminal example; quite famous. I'd heard of it before acquiring it, of course, but I didn't know there was so much written about it."

    Asaph seemed to tighten at her words, and it was no wonder. She had stated that it was already hers, and even if it was in all but name, that name was his until after the exhibit.

    "What about you? What are you here for?"

    I hadn't planned on anything, just to wander around. Ought I say the first thing that came to mind, as I did a few hours before? "I'm not sure yet." Turning towards Asaph, I spoke a bit louder. "Perhaps Asaph has a suggestion."

    He set his own book down. It was an autobiography of a deposed king from a European region, a first edition. "Well, when did you last study your Kalosian?"

    I had a bit of difficulty with that language, and it was far easier to read than speak. "Longer ago than I ought. I suppose you can help me narrow it down."

    Asaph searched the shelves to and from for a moment. "Ah! It's upstairs. The bookshelf in my office has one you may enjoy. Bring it down here. La Goupix Prince."

    I had read that myself, years ago, in translation. The titular prince wasn't a Vulpix, but rather befriended one. I bowed to Asaph to take his leave and headed upstairs to retrieve it.

    His office was small, and he used it mostly to research future acquisitions. For literature to be among those tomes of phone numbers and other contact information was unusual, but it seemed that the book I sought wasn't alone in being out of place. He likely would head to his office with a book in hand and forget to retrieve it.

    The hunt and the acquisition were everything to us. Even my far less significant pursuits had meant so much, and even when they gave only things that I intended to trade away in the future that I felt no connection to. It was a giddy high, and I could certainly identify with that scattered mindset. Who knew what sort of fantastic items he had achieved while at that desk?

    I settled into the desk chair and tilted it back slightly, taking in the softness and the slightly worn feel of the armrests. It was positioned a bit higher than the more visually striking chairs on the other side, a psychological ploy to have the upper hand in any deals. Neither of the others looked as though they had ever been used, and it was no wonder. While his gallery was on the first floor, hardly anybody was permitted to enter. The second floor was entirely private, and he would never simply invite anybody up unless the situation demanded no less. While he had clearly prepared for that event, I doubted it had ever taken place.

    Staying there longer would have been wonderful, but they both expected me down there. I would have to ask to see his references sometime soon, though.

    When I returned to the library, Veronica had already moved on to another book, this one about jewelry. While the Eye wasn't considered jewelry, many other opals were covered, including a stunning diadem on the open page. "You would look lovely in that," I whispered as I sat across from her.

    Again my mind wandered to the subject of what Asaph planned. The library must have belonged to his parents, as there were two facing spinet-style desks and a couch. More than one person was meant to be here, weren't they? Or perhaps it was simply an aesthetic. Both desks had been salvaged from a distant university library, and bore the ghosts of hundreds of years of essays and study, some lightly imprinted into the wood as they had been written.

    "-get started?"

    Oh no, I had missed her reply. "Pardon? I apologise; I didn't quite hear you." Best to be honest, but not too honest.

    She blinked a few times before smiling. "That's all right. You really think I would look nice in this?" She tapped the page with her thumb. "I wouldn't think of anything to wear with it! It would have to be so plain so that it couldn't even begin to take the stage."

    "I'm sure you could do it."

    "I...thank you. Thank you." She fidgeted with the pencil in her other hand, tapping it against her notebook. "Um...I also asked if you're ready to get started. Your own book."

    "Of course." I set it carefully on the desk and opened it, waiting for my brain to catch up with the foreign words. It was faster each time, it seemed, and I noticed with some glee that there was no loss from the gap in time I had taken.

    The book was far more engaging than I had recalled, and by the time I had finished, Veronica and Asaph had both left the room. The book Asaph had been reading still waited on the end table next to the couch, and in my fancy I thought perhaps there was some relevance to the things that had arisen in my mind.

    Alas, I found nothing. It was a straightforward read, even rather dry from what I saw. Perhaps my fantasies had gotten ahead of me. Usually I was more practical than that.

    The day dawdled on. Veronica was again at work, this time on school assignments, and Asaph had returned to his study, so I took to the gallery. It felt so very right in there, truly a place I was meant to learn from.

    There were pieces with those same imperfections, which got me to thinking again of the conversation I had had with Veronica before. When a piece had been damaged, that was one thing. But if a piece turned out with a flaw and was still lauded for it, how did the artist view that? Surely there were so many who had nothing but frustration for being unable to capture their true vision. Even within our own culture, that had to exist, even if less than in the wider world.

    A setting of a fantasy, that was the gallery. I wished for that fantasy, fervently and truly and perfectly. I could lose myself in even a collection that wasn't mine. Museums held me as surely as the Earth spins, and I could fall into them entirely. A wonderful, blissful abyss, holding Paradise itself.

    Though, like Paradise, my time there was limited. This wasn't my place; I was a mere visitor to that fantastic world. By the time I pulled myself away, several hours had passed. I wasn't sure how I felt for that. A trip to those realms always felt simultaneously an eternity and an instant, and leaving them left me in a daze. It was glorious, and someday that feeling would be mine forever.

    As I wandered away from it, I found myself headed in the direction of the study. Asaph would be there, likely in no mood to speak, but in some indescribable way I wanted to be there.

    Surprisingly, I found him looking out the window, away from the Eye. "Asaph?" I wouldn't move from the doorway until he permitted me to enter.

    After a pause, he shook his head. "Jirarudan..." His voice was soft. "Do me a favor."

    "Of course. What is it?"

    He set aside another glass, likely filled with more of the brandy. "Don't waste your life. Promise me that."

    "I won't waste my life. I promise."

    "Promise me!" He spun around and was before me in an instant, kneeling in front of me. "Promise me."

    "I promise." What was this about?

    "Good boy..." His hands slid around my back as he gently pulled me into a hug. "You've always been such a good boy..."

    He was shaking. "Are you all right?" I asked as I begun to return the embrace.

    But he pulled out of my grasp, sliding away from my hands. "I am. Just a bit tired still. I'm sorry if I scared you." He wiped at his eyes. "Maybe I'm coming down with something. Though mostly I'm just tired. I'm sorry."

    That couldn't be it. "That's all right." I leaned forward and patted his shoulder. "You've been very busy lately. It's understandable that you would be exhausted, but the exhibit is next month. It's soon enough."

    He grinned and returned the gesture, and I felt a little better. "You're so wise. I'm supposed to be your mentor and yet..." Then he stood. "Come sit with me."

    I followed him to the couch and did as he asked, his arm around me coming as no surprise. What did surprise me, however, was how he didn't speak.
  13. vsyoravno

    vsyoravno New Member

    I liked this chapter, a lot of foreshadowing and tension between the characters. Also Asaph is starting to get creepy (or creepier anyway) so I get the feeling their days at the mansion won't be much longer. Don't trust him, Jiri! Obviously something major will happen between all of them at the exhibit so hopefully we won't be left in suspense much longer. No pressure though haha
  14. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    Next chapter legit scares me to write because something really big is going to happen.

    I'm glad you liked it!
  15. Blackjack Gabbiani

    Blackjack Gabbiani Clearly we're great!

    Ok, remember when I said something big happens this chapter and it was scaring me to write? Not so much to write as to post. So please remember that this is FICTION. I don't want to have to explain the difference. That said, this IS where the PG-13 rating kicks in. As a side note, all the people exclusive to this chapter are named after TCG artists!

    Everything was finally together, every detail arranged down to the finest. The exhibit was at last upon us.

    All the planning in the world seemed to be so distant, however, as I plotted what to pack. Asaph was to take us to the opening night, and we would stay over in a glamorous hotel, as the usual plan went. Though the luxury was part of our lives, it was anything but routine no matter how often we did it.

    But this was the first time I would serve as a representative of part of the exhibit. Asaph's involvement as one of the highlighted collectors put an extra responsibility on Veronica and me, possibly the biggest we had experienced so far.

    Not only did I have to look the part, I had to act it as well, and the normal degree of class likely wouldn't suffice. I would be expected to go beyond what was demanded of us on an everyday basis, and that was already something that was beyond reproach.

    We would have to be flawless. I suppose most people would have been terrified, but I relished the opportunity. It was, after all, something Veronica and I had spent so long refining at similar events that it was second nature to us.

    "Shining stars," I repeated from years ago. We would dazzle simply by attending.

    We had reservations for one of the most exclusive hotels in Fuchsia. It was a style I greatly enjoyed, with a base in traditional design but bearing modern details as well. The place was a bit of a resort, offering activities that brought tourists to the customs of old, and I knew Veronica and I would enjoy the incense ceremony lesson. The rickshaw ride through a nearby forest wasn't offered in the winter, though, and that was a bit of a disappointment. However, I knew Asaph had reserved a carriage ride for us from the museum to the hotel after the celebration, and I eagerly awaited the exotic flavour that would give.

    Of course, that was a term that varied considerably. Foreigners spoke of modern Kanto as exotic, while I would only apply the term to our much different past. While people here often suffered Lumiose Syndrome, disappointment that modern Kalos didn't live up to their romantic and glamourised expectations. It seemed to be a universal issue, a folly of expectation. I do certainly enjoy the fantasy of these regions, but the truth of everyday was always the same.

    I had to rise above the everyday. It was my duty in life as one who could appreciate true beauty, and I burned for it. I would have something that surpassed anyone else.

    Leaving Seafoam that day was a wonderful feeling. Liberation swelled in me. I was my own person, out in the world, and even the melancholy of knowing I would have to return didn't interfere.

    As I packed my suitcases into the boot of Asaph's car, the snow fell lightly around us. Veronica waited patiently in the back seat, which was unusual. She lived in the outskirts of Viridian, distinctly north of our destination. Igasho would have had to have gone in a loop to retrieve both of us. I felt honoured.

    And driving past the town limits, that was the best part.

    "I'm so excited," Veronica whispered, smiling at me.

    I smiled back. "We should be proud."

    "Oh, I am!" She had bolted upright as she exclaimed this, held in place only by the seat belt. "I can't wait! I've been waiting so long for this that it feels like I'm going to burst! I couldn't pay attention in school all week for it!"

    On some level, I had forgotten she attended a school. If I had thought about it, I would have known, but my impulse was to think that she learned remotely as I did. And, of course, from our mentor. "Asaph is a wonderful teacher, isn't he?" Damn, I had said it aloud, without the connecting thoughts to mark the path.

    She nodded swiftly. "Of course! I would rather have him in my school. He would be far more interesting than anyone I have."

    I leaned back and soaked in the softness of the antique seats. The car was a classic, and despite the retrofitting still felt so. It brought to mind a bygone time, steeped in sophistication.

    Such an odd thought. Had I been in that age, I would have spent my whole life with knowledge of the wider world. A few generations prior as well. But there would be those around who remembered when the world opened to them, when the self-imposed isolation was pried wide like a treasure chest. They would have known those days of turmoil and resistance, an age of both enlightenment and upheaval, and I pondered what someone like Asaph would have thought. He wouldn't, using my age as a baseline, have experienced it firsthand, but he would have known far more of the shifting mindset than me. What a fascinating time it must have been! I wondered what would be thought of my era that far into the future, and even then, part of me hoped I would be thought of in that distant day.

    I would have spoken my thoughts to Veronica, but she had since nodded off. Perhaps her burst of energy had expended more from her than she had let on.

    Arrival at Asaph's mansion, though a typical thing, was refreshing and eager just the same. I barely noticed the cold or ice, and nearly tripped coming out of the car. "Well, that won't do," I murmured.

    Behind me, Veronica laughed.

    "Good morning."

    She stretched a bit. "Thanks. Mm, it'll be nice to take a vacation. Poor Asaph though! He'll be running himself ragged until the party starts!"

    Igasho chuckled. "He's done it before. Everything turns out."

    "I think," I told Veronica, "that you and I should visit the hotel spa while he's involved elsewhere."

    "Ooh, that does sound delightful. I've heard it's very traditional!"

    Taking short marching steps so as not to slip, we slowly made our way inside. Her coat, a long brown style made of neatly trimmed Piloswine fur, was coated in powered snow, giving it a right natural look. Compared to my own felt coat, it was far more stylish. I didn't want to be plain. I wanted to be as exotic as my collection would. And I couldn't wait, with the comparison in my mind, to get that thing hung up and away from me.

    Fleeting thoughts like that, little aspirations and doubts and dreams, often flapped their way through my mind. It's funny to think of in hindsight, how many things that meant so much to me at a time would quickly fly on, and how many things that I thought of as meaningless would come to roost.

    Though I suppose that's part of life, isn't it? We can never tell where a thought will lead, or what turns out to be a part of something bigger.

    At the time, I couldn't have known where any of my flights of fancy would go, or how very soon they would impact me.

    It took a few hours for Asaph to greet us, so Veronica and I split up. When I heard his voice, he was speaking to her in the sitting room. They were laughing about something, and I started laughing too, even though I was still across the hall in the gallery. The manners of that action escaped me, but I was alone, so I didn't stifle it.

    After a moment, however, I joined them. Asaph hung back in the doorway while Veronica was on the couch under the windows, looking like a stylized holiday postcard with the snow behind her. "I heard something funny," I greeted. "Might I hear it?"

    "Ah, Jirarudan." Asaph was smiling, but it thinned when he turned towards me. "You look well. Excited for tonight?"

    "Of course!" I hoped my expression beamed with joy. "Are we going to go soon?"


    Veronica got up off the couch then. "I'm ready when everyone else is."

    "Then let's go!" He gestured to the mid-sized craft on the landing pad near the driveway. "I was about to go find you anyway. I'll alert the staff to transfer your bags!"

    Asaph was in rare form, as hyperactive as a child, and I wondered what he must have been like at that age.

    It was only after we had boarded the ship and taken off that I realised that I had never heard what they were laughing about.

    Again we docked outside the city limits, where a rental car awaited, a special one, far more vintage than most. It reminded me a bit of Asaph's own car, but without the modern touches. It was even bereft of seat belts, something Veronica brought to attention as she noted that her dress wouldn't be wrinkled later on.

    Asaph smiled to himself as he drew out his driving gloves, a classic touch. "I'm dropping you two off at the hotel. You'll be shown the room, and I'll join you later. Are you ready?"

    "Ready!" Veronica cheered, tossing her arms in the air in a celebratory motion.

    "Ready!" I tried to match her tone but remained more physically subdued.

    The ride was an easy one, despite the weather and age of the car. Fuschia was a relatively small city compared to others in our travels, but was a sight to behold nonetheless, with frequent pink flowers peeking out from the snow drifts like glimpses of tiny fairies. Beside me, Veronica tugged at her coat as though she was already in the snow.

    The hotel was nestled in a small forest on the other side of town, one where the trees gave the illusion of bowing. Be it from the weight of the snow or a simple trick of the eye, it was impressive nonetheless.

    Within, the lobby was deceptively simple, looking superficially like so many others, but with a well-manicured history to it that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere. I marveled at a scroll tucked to the corner, the earliest known image of the hotel that dated back centuries. The scroll itself was a reproduction, but I knew the owners possessed the original, and knowing I was so close to something like that was wonderful itself.

    A porter led us to our room, and while we set up, Veronica idled with the view. The forest was all around us, and the snow lent a mystical sense to it. I thought of fairy tales, local and foreign, and how so many people had enjoyed the same view through the ages.

    "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Look!" A small colony of Nidoran ruffled through the snowbank, occasionally nibbling at something in the underbrush. "They're probably aware of us, so that's nice."

    Asaph looked out over them. "They're still wild, but they recognize that we aren't a threat." As if to support this, one of them, a male, looked directly at him. "Ah, you see?"

    Veronica waved at it. "Hello, little boy! They're all so cute!"

    "Did you bring Ralts with you?" I asked.

    "Always! Her pokéball is in my purse." She twirled around. "I can bring you out if you want."

    Asaph cleared his throat. "I've got to get going. Last minute touches, you know. I'll see you this evening."

    "All right. I look forward to it."

    He smiled somewhat. "I've booked you both a full afternoon, so you'd best get ready. You're due in the spa in an hour."

    "Ooh!" Veronica set her purse aside, having not gotten Ralts after all. "Jiri, this will be fun. I've heard they do wonderful things with bamboo charcoal, and they have a proprietary tea as well."

    "I look forward to it."

    There was something I couldn't quite put my finger on about the clothes she pulled out of her suitcase. I had the image of a Hollywood star for some reason. "Is that your dress for tonight?"

    "Yeah!" Now she unfurled it, holding it up to herself. A very unusual garment, the dress was of metallic fabric, but not nearly as overwhelmingly shiny as others of the same material. It was drawn slightly to one side, the lines meeting at a bow styled like a fukura suzume knot of the same pink and gold as the rest. "Do you like it? I got it just for the part!"

    "It's very modern." I wasn't quite sure what to think of it.

    "Aww, you don't like it, do you?" Before I could answer, she laughed. "It's ok. My mom designed this and wants me to wear it around, and I know a lot of people will like it. I love it!" She twirled around, hugging the dress to her chest. "It's going to look wonderful in the midst of everything tonight!"

    "Truth be told, I'm a bit envious. Men's formal wear is so dull in comparison." My own suit was an uncomfortable affair, with a snapped bow tie and silver cufflinks that so many others would have. I was to stand out with my personality and engagements, but I wanted to wear something more 'me', whatever that would be.

    "Maybe my mom can do something about that," she laughed. "But right now we have an appointment!"

    The afternoon had been geared towards relaxation and yet it seemed to fly past as swiftly as a Pidgeot. Veronica's rush to head to the spa was more of a symptom than a cause, but I had felt rushed ever since.

    It would all be worth it, though. We both knew that.

    The low evening light danced off her dress as we waited for the car. Asaph had hired a driver this time, to return the car to the lot so we could take the carriage back. I shifted my weight from foot to foot while I looked out the lobby window, trying to do so subtly though I knew I shouldn't. It made me look impatient, Asaph had said.

    He glanced down at his watch, an antique hand-wound one whose face bore the image of a sea chart. "When we get there, we'll be a few minutes into the event. Check your coats and put the tickets somewhere safe. Veronica, for you that will be your handbag, and Jirarudan, your jacket. I'm counting on the both of you to be on your best." Not simply 'best behavior', but overall 'best'.

    "Yes sir!" I jolted with a salute that I hoped came off as playful.

    Asaph chuckled. "Yes, yes...I suppose I've got a lot to plan even now."

    "Well," Veronica added in his tone, "I suppose that there's a lot to think of."

    That merited a full laugh, but a brief one. "Far more than most people know. Even other collectors don't have this degree of involvement."

    Knowing Asaph, he insisted on it. No wonder that most didn't, considering the degree of stress he was under. But it was worth it to him to be that exacting if the end product was perfect.

    The car drove up and the doorman made way for us, the automatic nature of it exuding professionalism, and I wanted to have something like that be my everyday.

    As we settled in the car, Asaph whispered "Let's go!" with a sharp smile.

    The museum's face bore giant banners trumpeting the new exhibit, though it wouldn't open to the public for another week or so. They could bear witness to whatever was visible in the lobby, but the rest would remain beyond their reach for the time being.

    The lobby had a few people spread about, conversing in small groups, with most attendees in the exhibition space already. Veronica and I set our things with the coat check and already Asaph had engaged with one of those groups. After a moment, he gestured to us, and we followed him over.

    "I've been mentoring these two for the past few years," he said with a smile. "Don't be surprised if you see them hosted at an event like this soon enough."

    One of his companions, a middle aged woman with a long pearl necklace dripping down to her waist, looked at me, then at Veronica. "Always good to see children taking an interest in art."

    A jacketed man to her side nodded. "I feel like we'll be in good hands if you're teaching them, Asaph."

    "Oh well, it's on them, really. They're excellent students. Introduce yourselves!"

    For a second I wondered if I should bow or shake their hands, but after a glimpse at their western-style outfits, I decided on a handshake. "Jirarudan. Pleased to meet you."

    "And I'm Veronica. A pleasure." She bowed first, then offered her hand, a mirror of her multicultual outfit.

    "Oh how precious," the woman cooed. "I'm Atsuko, and this is my husband Etsuya."

    "They're not only collectors," Asaph told us, "they're also artists, both represented here today!"

    Etsuya chuckled. "That we are. I was hoping it would be one of our collaborations, but alas. At least keep in mind that it was the decision of the collectors and not us." I got the idea that he was a bit embarassed, though I would have though it would be far more of an honour to be represented like that.

    Veronica asked which pieces were theres, and Atsuko was more than happy to show her. After a short conversation more, Etsuya left to speak with other new arrivals, and I was with Asaph again. He didn't look at me, surveying the room, but it was clear that his question was for me. "Are you well?"

    "Ah, I am. Are you?"

    "I will be." His voice had returned to its normal pace, but the event still called for his attention to be pulled every which way.

    Before I could reply, though, he set off to greet more new arrivals.

    As the afternoon rolled into evening, the action had moved to the galleries. While the rest of the museum hadn't been closed off, nobody left the main area, so captivated they were with the others around. And that was what they were doing, after all. They were there to be seen and to see others, and to judge their collections. Physically, they would see the art, but they wouldn't truly witness it, not as it deserved. That could be done later; now was for flaunting.

    I'd had pleasant conversations with others, and learned quite a bit about the local landscape, by the time I ran into Veronica again. She was chatting with another person, a foreigner this time, and waved me over to him. "This is the young man I mentioned."

    He smiled and held his hand out. "Hello there, Jirarudan." He had paused briefly before saying my name, likely trying to remember it. "Veronica has said much about you."

    I greeted him in return. "Oh dear," I sighed, hoping my slight smile was sufficient. "A pleasure to meet you. What brings you here?"

    "An excellent question! You see, this!" Here he spread his arm out towards the painting on the wall, "is my creation!" It was of a sleeping Snorlax, but with a freeform style that put emphasis on the idea of slumber rather than likeness.

    I nodded. "Very nice. I seem to have missed your name, however."

    "Oh, I'm sorry. Craig; nice to meet you." But instead of speaking to either of us, he seemed set in showing off his masterpiece. "I never thought that I would be able to get into a museum like this. I've been in galleries before, but this is my first museum! And in Kanto no less! I love the culture here, and it's so beautiful!"

    Veronica giggled. "We like it. Jirarudan, I was telling him that you're another student of Asaph's, and some of your areas of expertise."

    "Is that so?"

    He gazed around the room before nodding rapidly. "Are either you artists as well, or just collectors? Ugh, I mean...not to belittle collecting. Are you ONLY...no, that's not right either. Is collecting your sole field?"

    I'd understood from the beginning, and so did she. It was unusual seeing someone fumble with politeness like that, but I'd had to study to no end for it. Had I come off like this when I first started? I hoped not. "I've drawn before, but I prefer to see the world through the eyes of others when it comes to art. I see the world through my own eyes all the time, after all."

    "Wow," Veronica said plainly, "that's a nice way of putting it. I've done a bit of sculpting and photography in school, but nothing serious. It's fun working in the darkroom though, but if I was to pursue it, it would just be a hobby."

    For a moment I imagined what it must be like in that scenario, with her high manner versus the foul chemicals needed for developing. I wondered if it bothered her.

    "That's good! Any appreciation at all is good," Craig enthused, "especially when it comes to fresh eyes. The art world, museums and galleries and stuff, used to have such a bad reputation for being all hoity-toity, so it does my heart good to see younger people passing all of that by. I mean, it's competitive, but where I'm from in the Chikkawa region, it used to be that you'd barely get noticed if you fell outside certain social classes, no matter how good your art was."

    "A common issue around the world," noted Veronica. "Peasants rarely stood a chance at recognition not long ago, though those that were were lauded the same as anybody. It was..." she struggled with a word there but settled on "odd".

    Craig laughed. "So, what do you think?" He turned back towards his painting and again gestured broadly at it. "I tried to make it nice and vibrant."

    I took another look at the work, taking in more detail this time. The bushes nearby bent and folded, giving the impression of nearby pokémon though they were barely seen, only in dashes of colour. The sky bent over the sleeping giant, emphasizing its round form in a way a more realistic depiction wouldn't have, and the colours of purple and blue brought out a feeling of dusk while not compromising view.

    "It feels like it's inviting us to nap alongside it," Veronica laughed. "It's nice! Relaxing."

    I had something a bit more verbose planned but when she spoke, I simply agreed. "I like how it brings to mind the tiredness of night through colour alone. And how it's the only figure in the painting but it clearly isn't alone either."

    He pumped his fist at his side. "Yes! I'm so glad more people notice that! They think it's the only figure there, but there's a Pidove up in that tree, there's a Patrat in the bushes...did you notice the Munna over there too?" He gestured at a corner with a faint feel of pink. I had to remember what a Munna looked like, as I'd only seen them in pictures.

    "I see it! It's in the flowers so it blends in, and it gives the feeling of the flowers swaying in the wind since we can't see it clearly." Veronica had leaned in to see it closer.

    Craig smiled broadly. "I've got to mingle with more people, but let me give you two some advice. From one art world citizen to another..." He leaned towards us, so we followed suit. "...don't be afraid. Do what your heart tells you. It'll lead you to great things."

    Asaph's words, shining stars, chimed in my head. They were always there, but it was different to hear some external force ringing that clarion call.

    An hour or so more passed before I became aware of time passing at all. Everything was so magical that even the crowd and its din didn't bother me.

    But with the awareness of time came the realisation that the event would end, and a sudden panic grabbed me. While it would be several more hours indeed, that it would end at all was something terrifying. I wanted to remain there, to live in that environment with this new beauty around me, something I'd never seen before around every turn. And the compliments certainly didn't hurt. It seemed everyone wanted to meet me, and while I'm certain this was due to my age, they expressed that my conversations and insight on the works was impressive.

    That didn't help feeling sick, however. I withdrew to a corner by the coat check and busied myself with pamphlets that I didn't really see, just so I wasn't simply staring at the wall or into space. Such behavior couldn't be indulged tonight, not this of all nights, not after everything that had gone into this.

    It was foolish of me to still act like that. It was preventing me from enjoying the event that had been so fantastic in all ways, and I had to get over it if I was going to be taken seriously at all. I couldn't have all that good will be for nothing, all those open doors slam shut. I braced my hand against the cold marble wall and put the pamphlet back where it had come from, and turned back to face everything.

    What a fool I could be, I mused. Still acting like a child. I wasn't that immature kid who never spoke, who stared at the sky all day. I was to be a collector, a paragon of society, a guardian of history itself. The world's finest things were to be mine and I couldn't be so easily weakened. To be reduced to a trembling mess by the simple reminder that an event would end! It was idiotic, and I shuddered to think that my mother witnessed it. I twisted the ring on my hand in the hopes it would turn her back to me.

    "Oh, Jirarudan!" someone called. I didn't know much about her, only that I had briefly spoken with her earlier in the night. "What are you doing over here?"

    "Ah, I was getting a bit warm." The coat check was next to the doors, so a quick gesture to the snow outside served as an excuse. "Too cold to go fully outside, you see."

    She chuckled. "It does get terribly warm during these events. This time of year it's bearable, but in the summer, it's nearly a test of endurance."

    "The things we do for our collections!"

    "Exactly!" Her smile told me that she had fallen for my lie, and I felt better. Maybe I would be able to finish the night anyway.

    I returned to the crowds with a flutter in my stomach. I could enjoy this paradise, as brief as it would be.

    As I entered one of the side rooms, a glint led to a familiar sight. Just as the plans had shown, there was the Eye of Dawn, the entrancing opal that had so bewitched Asaph and Veronica both. It was set off to the side for maximum attention, under the light in the center but not directly so, so the light wouldn't cause a glare. This way, the opal could be seen in full detail, and even the velvet pillow beneath it was chosen to best show off that quality. Asaph stood beside it, smiling as he spoke with a group about his treasure. He nodded at me but didn't call me over, simply acknowledging that I was there.

    I took the opportunity to view the gem as it was meant to be, after so many months of preparation to make it perfect. It rested beside other pillars holding jewelry from centuries past. One I recall had a storied history to the present day, having recently been given as an engagement present between movie stars and acquired by the collector after the couple had divorced. Some laughed as they read the description, and I confess it was amusing to me as well.

    As I was about to leave the room, Veronica entered, a few people following her. "Oh, Jiri! I was going to show these people my new addition. Want to come too?"

    I almost said yes, and then I almost said no. A sudden indecisiveness had come over me and I only blinked in what must have expressed confusion.

    "Come on; let's go!" She reached for my wrist and I let her guide me along, the others trailing behind.

    Asaph's voice vanished from the din of the room. He had turned towards us as we approached, and took a step back as her companions fanned out.

    "Now then, at this present time, Mr. Asaph is the owner of the Eye. I'm set to officially acquire it after the exhibit closes. Asaph, what drew you to the Eye?"

    He gasped a bit at Veronica's question. "I would imagine the same as you; the great beauty of the piece. To think that the ancient Alspring civilization carved it so perfectly, something we would struggle to do in the modern day... I imagine the beauty of it set upon the scepter..." He looked away, towards an elegant carving but seemingly past it. "I would have loved to have seen it in its full glory, but...well, we can't always have what we want."

    Veronica picked up on his trailed sentence "The scepter was destroyed in a war. The priestess herself tied a smaller opal to it and cast it from a cliff into a fire wall to convince the enemy that the Eye was destroyed. The fire was too great for them to continue their approach, so they gave up their plan of extinguishing it, which allowed her to make her escape with the real Eye."

    One of her companions nodded. "Wise of her. It would have cracked in that heat and been unrecognizable."

    "Still," another sighed, "it would have been lovely to see the full piece."

    Asaph interjected "The Eye is estimated to have been carved over three thousand years ago. Considering the scepter was wood, the one destroyed in the fire was likely one of many. The Eye has always been the important part, the sacred one..."

    Veronica nodded. "The Eye is the constant, no matter what it was carried on or who possessed it."

    This seemed to be getting personal. I backed out as subtly as I could. Still, as I walked I mused on the history there. Who knew what treasures were lost to time from such an ancient civilisation, ten thousand years of the oldest continuous history in all humanity? There was much to be told there, but time marched on. It remained a vibrant culture, several of them in fact, forever reshaping what it found important.

    Even the Eye, once considered sacred, was presently regarded as a marvel of human hands, but no longer a symbol of the divine. What of our present era was once divine? What could be elevated to divine status in the future? And how much truly was a mark of the Gods? Could they bestow divine status onto anything they pleased? Could they revoke it? It was fun to think of what could entail that, leaving me in a sort of dreamlike state.

    I was lost in thought when a nearby conversation drew me out of it. I supposed I should be using my opportunities when they were available, so I joined in.

    I saw Veronica again near the end of the party, still chatting with her gathering. "Oh!" She came up to me with a skip in her step. "Can you tell Asaph that I'll be heading back later? I've been invited out."

    "All right." The last I had seen, they were still together near the Eye, but I'd long since left that area.

    She smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow! Have a great night!" As she turned on her heel, she blew a kiss in my direction, and I wasn't sure what to make of that.

    Finding Asaph wasn't nearly as easy. Even though the guests were thinning out, plenty still milled about, and made it just difficult enough to find any specific person. It took what was likely about five minutes to locate him in the foyer, nursing a glass of wine. I wanted to impress him, so I approached him with something I had learned earlier. "That wine is special. It's from here in Kanto, the only vinyard in the region."

    He stared off, and I wasn't sure he'd heard me.


    "Mm..." He sighed and took a sip. "It's about time to go. Where's Veronica?"

    "Ah yes, she said to tell you that she's been invited out and she'll see us tomorrow. Or rather, she said she'd see me tomorrow, so I assume she means you as well."

    Another sip. "...I'm not surprised. She's growing up so fast. Soon she'll be gone..."

    Well of course she would. We were being trained for that very purpose, weren't we? To be art collectors, to travel the world, so of course we were going to go away.

    "But you're still here. Jirarudan, come here." Instead of waiting for me to move, he took a step closer and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. "I'll call for our ride then."

    We waited in mostly silence for the carriage, Asaph only stepping away from me to retrieve our coats and discard his empty cup. Otherwise he stood beside me with his hand on my shoulder. The exhibit had exhausted both of us and I loved the quiet that came in the afterglow, akin to those blissful moments after a wonderful dream.

    It was easy to see the carriage approach even from inside, as it was pulled by Rapidash, their flames brilliant against the nighttime snow and the white of their coats giving them a nearly otherworldly glow. Without a word, Asaph took my hand and led me out the door, not looking back.

    While the flames from the Rapidash helped to offset the frigid cold, I still nudged closer to Asaph once we had taken our seats, and he again slid his arm around me. "Jirarudan..." he muttered, "don't go anywhere."

    An odd thing to say in a moving vehicle. I shook my head against him. "I won't."

    I could hear that he was whispering something, but whatever it was got lost in the wind. His other hand came under my chin to tilt my head up, and soon his lips were on mine.

    I gasped against them, but this is what adults did, wasn't it? And I was an adult, wasn't I? So I let my eyes close and returned the kiss.

    "I'm so glad..." he murmured. "So glad..."

    "Me too." Even with my stupidity earlier in the evening, hiding from everything as I had, Asaph still saw me as an adult. I was overjoyed! And what Craig had said came back to me, to do what my heart said, and not to be afraid. I bit back my nervousness and initiated another kiss.

    I could feel him smile against me.

    The coachman's back was to us, leaving this our secret, and once we had reached the hotel, our room wasn't far away.

    I'll not share the details, of course! A gentleman doesn't.

    He excused himself after, and I settled back under the covers, worn out from a day and night of new experiences.

    As I drifted off, I could hear him in the washroom, and I had to be mistaken because it sounded as though he was crying.
  16. vsyoravno

    vsyoravno New Member

    Well first - holy crap Asaph. I had already been getting weird vibes from him for a while so I’m not exactly shocked but I feel betrayed for Jiri’s sake.

    There was a lot of tension leading up to this exhibit and as a turning point in Jiri’s life. After following his efforts in this chapter to be at his best and react the right way through the overwhelmingness, to make the most of his opportunities, to know his path in this exclusive society. Some of that I can personally relate to; being the target of older people who had a very different level of understanding from me, while I was only concerned with carefully going through the motions of trying to fit in. I’ll be in suspense if Jiri will realize and/or confront how disturbed Asaph is, and if anyone else will find out.

    Otherwise, as always, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the hotel, the descriptions of the artwork and historical details. It always makes me immersed in the story and appreciate Jiri’s view of the world.

    I liked Craig - the contrast of his voice amidst the elegant formalness was an amusing highlight of the chapter and I totally want to see him return in some other random scene. Definitely looking forward to where this story will go from here.

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