“Ah! Mama! Look! It’s the Sylva version of the Mia Doll!”

“Ana, you already have a Mia Doll at home.”

“But it’s a Cruor version! It’s different! I want the Sylva Mia too! I want it! I want it!”

“Goodness, Ana, you’re making a scene.”

“Mama! I want it! Pleaseeee!”

“Ana-“

“Waaaaah!”

“Fine, fine.”

Leila packed the beautiful porcelain collector doll in an equally exquisite velvet lined handcrafted wooden box with a glass cover.

“Thank you for your patronage! Enjoy your day!”

Leila let out a covert relieved sigh as she saw the mother and daughter pair out the shop.

Turning around she saw a shady figure slink his way from behind a display shelf.

“They’re gone. You can come out now.”

The figure startled slightly before straightening up and stepping out completely from the shadows.

Nonchalantly, Clarence adjusted his occulars and picked up Avis 1.0 which he had been fiddling with just before he caught sight of the tiny monster that had stepped into his shop.

Leila rolled her eyes. “You sell children’s toys and yet you avoid your child customers like the plague. Don’t you think there’s something strange about the whole thing?”

“Nothing strange about it. It’s called self-preservation.”

Leila rolled her eyes harder, “What are they going to do to you? Eat you?”

Clarence shuddered, “Worse. Those tiny hellions have it out for me.”

If Leila rolled her eyes any harder it would get stuck in the back of her head. “Then why do you even sell children’s toys?”

Inky brows furrowed in part perplexion and part irritation. “They aren’t supposed to be children’s toys but art. Collector’s items.”

Leila smirked, “They are crazy expensive to be just mere children’s toys. But children are attracted to them anyway and some parents don’t mind buying them for their children as toys.”

“Hence, why I need a brief intermission once in a while.”

Leila twitched her lips in disdain, “I think the better description would be that you have long intermissions all the time.”

“Perks of being the boss.”

“Hmmph.”

Clink. Whirrrr.

“Hah!” Clarence stood up in his excitement, face upturned and revealing a long expanse of pale throat. 

“It’s flying!”

Leila looked up and followed the smooth loops the cyan blue mechanical bird made as it soared in mid-air. Distinct flight feathers glinted a metallic gleam and kicked up the tiny dust particles visible in the bright morning sunlight. Long tail feathers left elegant arcs in the backdrop of the shop.

Meow.

Miss Maggy also stared fixatedly at the cyan mechanical bird that had an appearance similar to a swallow.

Clarence held up a piece of note paper and the mechanical bird immediately swooped down and snatched it with two tiny silver claws, narrowly but gracefully avoiding a curious batting paw from Miss Maggy who had hopped up onto the counter.

Leila raised a brow in surprise, “It almost seem alive.”

“That’s the finished version of Avis 1.0. What do you think?” Clarence asked with a smug twitch of naturally smiling lips.

“Not bad. I might even buy it if it’s life expectancy is long enough.”

“3 years long enough for you, Miss Nightfall? Guaranteed fast and safe delivery.”

Leila let out an appreciative whistle. “You actually created something that doesn’t fall under frivolity.”

“All of my creations are useful.” Clarence narrowed his eyes at his snarky employer. “Is it my fault if no one bothers to look deeper? Ai~ no one understands a genius.”

“Tsk. Look at just how smug you are right now. It’s unseemly for a so-called genius Alchemist and inventor.”

It was just another day of mutual mocking between boss and employee, or man-child and nanny as Leila liked to call it.

“Oops! What’s this?”

A loud and cheerful voice interrupted their mockfest and both looked in the direction of the door where they caught sight of a familiar fiery head.

But different from usual, there was a bright cyan blue ‘head accessory’ decorating the wild red curls.

“Puchi!” Leila slapped a hand to stifle the giggles. “Mr. Light, you truly live up to your genius name. How did you get a mechanical bird to imitate the nesting habits of a real bird?”

Dawn had finally untangled the cyan bird from her hair and was examining it with interest, not the least bit offended for having her hair compared to a nest.

“The Avis 1.0 doesn’t have nesting habits. It just found the reciever of the letter it was meant to deliver.” Clarence casted a sideway look of disdain at the giggle-snorting girl at his side.

“Oh?”

Dawn unfolded the note paper: I will not fall for your evil schemes so you can forget about the afternoon date. Besides, I have an appointment to attend >:P.

“Huh. Cute.” Dawn snorted, unimpressed. “It’s a good thing I came in person, isn’t it? Otherwise, I would have no choice but to let you get away with just a piece of sticky note.”

“Come on, sis. I do have an appointment today. With Major Fitzroy!” Clarence declared with confidence.

“Do you take your sis for an incompetent fool? I did my research you know.” Dawn pinched her irritating little bro in the arm.

“Ow! What’s that for?”

“For thinking you can get a one-up on your big sis.”

Dawn carelessly dropped her oversize purse on the counter and dugged out a business card. It looked like expensive parchment inked with decorative orchids and two lines in calligraphy style: Mirror Flower Pavilion. Wang Zifeng.

“Oh? Mirror Flower Pavilion sounds familiar for some reason…..”

“The location of your appointment with Major Fitzroy.” Leila helpfully inserted.

“Ah! That’s right. Wait…..”

“Mhm. The proprietor of the teahouse is the Magus I want you to meet. His name’s Wang Zifeng. Isn’t this just fate?”

Clarence looked at two smiling women in front of him with an expression of disbelief.

Leila could practically hear her boss’s heart shatter into a million pieces, his plans to use the young Fera Major to avoid the meeting with Dawn’s Magus friend thwarted.

She had no doubt that her incorrigible boss also planned to treat the so-called appointment as a perfunctory exercise as well.

Who knew that fate had its own ideas though?

❂❂❂

Clarence looked around in mild curiosity as he was lead through a circular moon gate and down a covered zigzag walkway running along a wall. The walls have backlighted windows which were elaborately latticed with designs and hung with framed bamboo paintings.

On the left side the open courtyard floor of grey tiles was punctuated with rock structures, plants, and a half-pavilion with carved wood benches and upturned eaves.

A wooden plaque hung from the roof of the pavilion with ‘Mirror Flower Pavilion’ carved into it in sweeping and bold calligraphy style strokes that matched the business card Dawn had shoved into his hand earlier.

They finally stopped at a rectangular door of one of the 11 unique private rooms in the Sky Dynasty style mansion complex.

“This is the Bamboo Viewing Room. Please enjoy your stay. If there’s any need for assistance only pull on the bronze bell.”

With that being said, the graceful waitress left in silent measured steps, posture straight and feet silent, hinting at strict etiquette training.

Entering the room, Clarence immediately met viridian eyes.

The young Fera immediately stood up from the rosewood round table that was placed next to large open windows that provide a view of elegant bamboo trees. Stepping past the matching rosewood drum shaped stools he met Clarence half way.

“You’re here, Mr. Light. I hope there wasn’t any trouble finding this place?”

Together they sat on either side of the round table. Though as a Fera and therefore unconcerned with minor details or frivolous pursuits, Ariel did come from a prominent family with a long history. And while aristocracy does not exist in American Federal the old and prominent families do possess a similar self-possession and bearing that came from centuries long family history.

Likewise, Ariel was not an exception from the influence of growing up in such a family.

The tea set was made of fine celadon porcelain and placed in a rectangular tea tray made of white jade, jade green and ivory white contrasting aesthetically.

From a celadon jar placed on the jade tea tray Ariel pinched some silver white tea leaves and dropped it into a teapot. Next he uncapped another jar and filled the teapot with clear spring water. Finally he placed the teapot on a  silver rack and lit up a flame underneath, letting it brew the tea.

The whole process flowed like water, smooth and without any interruption.

Though it was simple and uncomplex, but done by Ariel there was an elegance and implicit charm.

It was not a bearing and self-possession regular people could emulate.

It went beyond a surface appearance and reached bone deep.

The young Fera sitting in front of him was dressed in a bright crimson double lapel suit jacket embroidered with peonies and dark trousers tucked into knee high laced boots. It was not an ensemble that suited the elegant and minimalist Sky Dynasty furnishings and teaset but he did not appear incongruous at all.

In fact, Clarence felt rather out of place himself in his jeans and khaki trench coat.

“I am surprised that Major Fitzroy has such refined taste.” Clarence couldn’t help commenting after having witnessed the elegant and skillful display. But soon he noticed how that might sound and amended himself, rather awkwardly, “Ah, I don’t mean anything by saying that of course, just, surprised.”

Clarence rubbed the bridge of his nose with a long index finger in a sheepish manner. Maybe the girls were right and he did need to socialize more?

Bright viridian greens flickered up to meet his own and the other smiled slightly. “No, you aren’t wrong. Tea art or tea in general isn’t something we Feras care much for. But I saw someone who is quite learned on the art form and was inspired to appreciate its subtle beauty and taste.” The other’s gaze lingered on Clarence before his gaze moved to the steaming tea pot. Lifting it he poured tea for Clarence and himself with a graceful flick of a slender but strong wrist.

Clarence took a sip and let out a sigh, “I haven’t had such excellent tea since I had last been in the Sky Dynasty.”

Viridian greens flickered, “Mr. Light has visited the Sky Dynasty?”

Clarence carelessly waved a hand, “It’s been several years since.”

“Hmm. What do you think of Eximius, Mr. Light?”

Surprised at the turn in the conversation, but Clarence still answered honestly, “I don’t have any bias against Eximius. I know New Alchemists and Eximius have their political scuffles but it’s not something I involve myself with.”

The young Fera’s normally expressionless face seem to relax at that. “You are not a conventional Alchemist.”

“Yes, I am very much an outcast among New Alchemist circles, aside from my adoptive father of course.” Clarence said in a half joking manner.

“Mr. Nolan Fairchild, one of the 12 governors on the Alchemist Council I believe?”

Clarence wasn’t at all surprised with the other’s knowledge. “Yes, a very much erudite New Alchemist. But not at all uptight like other New Alchemists.”

“Mr. Light has such a unfavorable view of your fellow Alchemists?” Ariel raised a brow in surprise.

“I don’t much care for any kind of organized factions, be it New Alchemists or Eximius. They all suffer from a case of hypocrisy.” Thin lips quirked in a mocking half smile.

“Oh?” Ariel sat up straighter in interest.

“They might say they are champions of Norms’ rights but I’ve found that most New Alchemists look down on Norms, or possess a sense of superiority against them despite being Norms themselves. The Alchemist Council just hide it better than your average New Alchemist.”

Clarence paused thoughtfully before adding, “Of course, like all things there are exceptions. But I’ve only met one, in Mr. Fairchild.”

Viridian green peered at him under lowered lashes preventing Clarence from deciphering them.

“Has anyone told Mr. Light to be careful of such radical speech? They might take you for a supporter of the Athanatos Society.”

Thin lips curled unconciously in a sneer and Clarence slouched lazily. “Didn’t I say I dislike all kinds of organized power? That includes organized crime. And Athanatos Society is perhaps the most hypocritical and senseless of them all.”

“I would have thought their manifesto would fall in line with Mr. Light’s own anarchist leanings.”

Clarence rolled his eyes. “I would hardly call myself an anarchist. I know enough that a hierarchy is necessary. And the Athanatos Society knows too, despite their fanciful claims of ‘complete freedom’.”

Clarence gave the young Fera a sideway glance. He was slightly puzzled that the other made no mention of making a commission and was instead talking politics with him. But he was hardly complaining, it took more than just a pretty face, or money and power, for him to consider personal commissions.

He had been taught that a gift from an Alchemist was a serious and personal matter and depend on fate or chance.

He could just create a trinket for show and not expend any power but he could practically imagine his mother’s disapproving frown. That he used even a fraction of his abilities to create the things in his shop and put them up for sale was already something that left him feeling guilty twinges.

He may dislike New Alchemists but he had to admit that some of their beliefs, in particular the sharing of knowledge, had merits to them.

His attention focused back on the conversation when the other spoke.

“Unfortunately, not many are as insightful as Mr. Light. The Athanatos Society is admittedly attractive – freedom, wealth, knowledge, immortality.” Ariel tapped the edge of the tea table with a knuckle, “These ideals have never failed to attract us mere mortals, time and time again.”

Clarence furrowed his brows.

“It’s not made public knowledge but we have received news on the rash of attacks and kidnappings happening worldwide in the recent months. They bear the tracings of the Athanatos Society.”

Silence but for chirping of birds outside among the bamboo trees.

“Should you be telling me this, a mere civilian?” Clarence raised a questioning brow.

“Oh, but Mr. Light isn’t just a mere civilian. You make a prime candidate for recruitment, with your talents and beliefs.” Viridian eyes remained unblinking on his face.

Clarence poured another cup of tea for himself. “Well, I’m afraid I must disappoint Major Fitzroy and those fellows behind the scenes. I have no lofty aspirations to speak off and prefer my little shop.”

“I have no doubt Mr. Light feels that way but we are talking about the Athanatos Society, an organization made up of unhinged fanatics with the genius and talent that nearly threw the world into complete anarchy not even a century ago.”

Clarence met those astoundingly green eyes. For a moment he couldn’t help but squint, vaguely he felt as if he had seen the shade of green elsewhere.

“Well, I’m not one to be forced into anything I dislike.”

❂❂❂

After seeing Ariel off, Clarence re-entered the tea shop.

Almost instantly, a silent waitress showed up, as if having stepped out of the wood works with how sudden her appearance was.

Clarence frowned unnoticeably. 

What fantastic luck, he had just sent off a troublesome fellow and now must face an equally difficult figure. Just by observing the decorum of the waiters and waitresses in this establishment he knew the proprietor was no regular businessman.

After making several turns down verandas that never seem to end, he was soon taken to a private room located even deeper in the depths of the mansion complex.

He hadn’t even known that there actually existed such a large mansion complex in the middle of the city. And what was most astonishing was that none of the noise associated with such a large and busy metropolitan city could be heard inside the Mirror Flower Pavilion.

Before he could even react, the waitress had already bowed and left just as quickly and silently as she had shown up.

Rolling his eyes, Clarence still knocked politely on the thick wooden doors.

“Please come in.”

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