A/N: I know this update was pretty late. I'm sorry about that, but last week was a busy one and I just couldn't get the chapter done on time. Hope it's worth the wait.


There was a week of mourning, as it was custom, before the funeral could take place; three more days passed before Wilkiea was crowned. Ten days in total – ten days that felt like ten years, and not just because they seemed to never end: Quercus did quite literally feel as though ten more years had been dropped on his shoulders. He could hear some murmurs about it when he was leaving or entering a room, murmurs of how aged he looked and what a hard blow Queen Luzula's death had been to him.

As much as he despised showing any weakness, this time he couldn't find it in himself to stand up straight and glare at them, show them that he was not some weak aging man. He felt too weary, and what was the point? It was so plain to everyone what a blow Queen Luzula's death had been to him; even if he did put up an act, he doubted anyone would fall for it. So he didn't bother to. He would rise again, as he always had – but now he had as much right as anyone else to mourn.

"Ambassador Alba."

Quercus stopped in his tracks and turned to see Prince Delphinium walking up to him, a concerned expression on his face. He was not an especially good-looking young man – he took mostly after his father, who was plain at the very best – but he had soft features and warm brown eyes that made him look even younger than his eighteen years, and incredibly innocent. Hadn't Quercus known he was far more similar to his mother than his sister was, he would have not guessed it

"Your Highness," he greeted him, turning to face him and giving him a bow. "Is something the matter?"

Prince Delphinium shook his head. "Not especially. But Wilkiea saw you leaving the crowning ceremony, and… well, she could not dismiss everyone yet, so she asked me to come after you. Which I would have done myself in any case," the young man said. "We've been wondering for a few days – are you alright?"

For a moment, just a moment, Quercus felt like scoffing. No, he wasn't – how could he be?

"I suppose I had better moments," he said instead. "But do not concern yourselves about me. I lost a family, I lost thousands soldiers, I'll come to terms with this loss as well. Your sister has a country to rule now – and you have a sister to help. Do not waste your time on an ambassador."

The young man's jaw clenched, and he glanced away. He looked as thought he was struggling to retain control, and Quercus could understand why: prince or not, he was eighteen and he had lost his mother. "I always said I couldn't wait to help my sister rule," he said bitterly. "But not like this. Not so soon."

Quercus supposed it had to seem absurd to him, losing his mother when she was not yet in her fifties – but then again, Quercus had lost a sister who was barely seven, another still in her twenties and parents who were no older than he was now… not to mention all the young men he had seen dying at war. He was used death coming from the young far more than the prince could ever be. "If life has taught me something, Your Highness, it's that fate is harder on those who least deserve it, and that it strikes when most unexpected. It's a harsh truth, but it is the truth. As the new queen's advisor, you cannot allow yourself to ever forget it."

A sigh. "Am I even ready to be an advisor?"

"Is your sister ready to be queen?" Quercus remarked. "We do not know. Time will tell, I suppose, but wondering now is of no use. Her High-" He trailed off, and sighed before speaking again. "Your mother is gone, and you have to take on her role. Your sister must be a ruler, and you must be her advisor."

Prince Delphinium looked back at him for a few moments before he slowly nodded. "I see," he said. "We'll do the most with what we have, I suppose."

There was a brief silence that Quercus broke after a few moments. "Do go back to your sister's crowning ceremony; it is her moment, after all. I do realize neither of you is in the mood for celebrations, but in this moment the whole country is looking at you and you have to look at your best. But you're a practical young man, so you certainly are aware of that. Make sure to stay close to your sister, and smile at her – so that any rumors of a conflict over the throne will be soundly put to rest."

The prince stared back at him. "You heard, didn't you?" he asked quietly.

"That your mother's brother refused to show at the capital for the funeral? Yes, I did. It caused quite a stir. That's why you need to reassure the people of Cohdopia that there will be no such conflicts – not again."

"Of course not!" the young man almost growled. "Her own brother, refusing to even pay his respects-"

"He was not her brother. They simply happened to have the same parents," Quercus cut him off, a sharp edge in his voice and not even thinking of the suspect he had had for a long time, that Durandii may have been Queen Luzula's true father. "He's undeserving of such a title. Prove yourself different. You made your sister a promise, did you not? You promised you'd help her rule. Fulfill it. Fulfill any promise you make to her, because the day you break one you may end up regretting it for the rest of your life."

Prince Delphinium stared at him in surprise, clearly taken aback by the direction the conversation had taken, but Quercus was done with him and not up for explanations he didn't owe him. "Go back to your sister's ceremony," was all he said, suddenly feeling tired, and retired to his quarters without saying another word.


Quercus was in the process of packing up to return to the States when the letter came. It was from the private institution Chrysalis was into, and it was unexpected: not only they had always sent their monthly report to the embassy in the States in all the years he had been an ambassador, but it was also very early – at least two weeks earlier than the usual schedule. It did, however, only take a few moments for him to realize that it wasn't one of the usual monthly reports: it was a letter from the institution's director.

Now that was unusual: there had been no such communications until then. He opened the envelope, wondering if Chrysalis' habit of mocking authority figures had landed her in trouble this time, but as it turned out it wasn't the case.

The letter was filled with praise and apologies for bothering, but Quercus' eyes skimmed over all of that until he finally reached the point of the letter: Chrysalis had known he was in Cohdopia those days, and had expressed the wish to meet her tutor in person in hopes to know more about her birth family.

Her tutor. It felt odd thinking of himself as one, but he was Chrysalis' legal tutor; something he seemed to often forget, since the only news he had of her were the monthly reports from the institution. He even forgot the girl even existed in the time span between reports – he didn't even know what she looked like, he realized with some surprise. Now that he tried to think of her he could see with the mind's eye the child he had brought with him from Borginia, but by now she had to be… seventeen, perhaps?

Good Lord, how time flew. That child was now on her way to be a young woman – and she still knew nothing of the circumstances surrounding her father's death, Quercus realized, for he had never bothered to tell anyone in the institution and had had no contacts with her since the day he had left her there.

Quercus put the letter down next to his still half-done suitcase, a frown creasing his brow. Should he even tell her about it, about the way his father had died, about the devastation he had saved her from? He remembered, very vaguely, being somewhat envious of the fact her young age shielded her form the grief of having lost everything and everyone. Now she wanted to know, but Quercus wondered if she'd regret it later: sometimes, ignorance is bliss – but then again, he thought, knowledge is power.

"Sir?" Quercus was startled out of his thoughts by one a guards' voice. He put down the letter and looked up.

"My departure is delayed," he told him. "By a couple of days. Call my secretary at the embassy and tell him to delay all my appointments as well."

"Oh. Alright, sir. What reason do I have to give him?"

Quercus looked down at the letter again. "Tell him I owe someone a long-due visit, and a long-due tale."


The institution was quite the luxurious place; no wonder, since those who attended to it were usually spawns of the wealthiest families of Cohdopia. It even had a garden that reminded him of the Rose Garden back in the embassy, and it was there that he met Chrysalis for the first time in sixteen years. She was sitting at one of the benches, as though deep in thought, but stood when he saw him entering along with the director.

"I have to thank you, sir, for coming here on such a short notice," the man was saying, apparently not aware of the fact Quercus wasn't paying him the slightest attention. "We tried to tell her you're a very busy man and that you certainly had other things on your mind, especially given the circumstances, but-"

"As you can see, I had enough time," Quercus said, cutting off his incessant babbling. "But since it is not infinite, would you be as kind as leaving us alone?"

Once he babbled something and left, Quercus finally turned all his attention on Chrysalis. There was little of her father in her aside from the dark hair and eyes, and he wondered if she had taken after the Cohdopian mother they knew nothing of. She still had freckles, too, which made her look even younger than she actually was. If she felt any kind of uneasiness or nervousness, she showed none: she just looked at him, and waited.

He stepped forward. "Chrysalis," he greeted her.

"Ambassador Alba," she said, her voice quiet. She said nothing else: again, she waited for him to speak first.

Quercus' eyes lingered on her for a few moments, thinking back of the wailing child he had taken away from all she had ever known, sparing her Laurie's fate. "You've grown quite a lot since last time."

She looked back at him for a few moments, then her lips curled up into a barely repressed smile; he could see her shoulders tensing for a moment, as though she was holding back a laugh. "I should hope so, Ambassador Alba," she said. "It would be quite worrying if I hadn't."

Well, Quercus thought, there was the insolent streak he had been told about. He chuckled almost in spite of himself. "Fair enough," he said before looking around. "This is quite the lovely garden. Why don't we have a walk as we speak?"

Chrysalis nodded, and for a couple of minutes they just walked in silence. Quercus was somewhat amused to see she was not following him – she walked right by his side, and still showed none of the sign of discomfort many people, even important ones, showed in the presence of Cohdopia's most known war hero. Still, she didn't speak a word. Was she waiting for him to speak first?

So be it, he thought. He didn't have all the time of the world, after all. "I know you wanted me to tell you of the circumstances that led you here," he finally spoke, his voice quiet. "You might not like what you'll hear."

"I suspected as much. It doesn't matter. I want to know."

There was a sharp edge to her voice that didn't escape him. For a moment he scowled in annoyance – he wasn't used to be talked to like that anymore if not by one person who was now gone and would never again talk to him like that. The thought caused him to pause for a few moments, a painful twinge in his chest, and when he spoke again his voice was just as quiet as before.

"It started when Crown Prin- Queen Wilkiea and her brother fell ill, when they were very young," he said. They had reached the side of a small fountain, and as they stopped beside it Quercus noticed she was looking down at her reflection as she listened. "It was Incuritis: a rare illness, and a fatal one. Neither of the royal children had any chance without the cure – a cure only Borginia had. The Borginian cocoon is the source; but Borginia refused to let us have any, while fully knowing that meant sentencing both children to death."

"I heard of it. I know those events sparked a war," Chrysalis said, staring down at her reflection in the water.

"It did, and I was the one who led the troops – up to a certain point. Because that war was only a cover."

"A cover?" she asked, still not looking at him, staring into the water as though seeing something he could not. Quercus looked down at the fountain as well, and his own blurry reflection looked back at him.

"We would have won that war and could have taken the cocoons by force, but it would have taken too much time, and neither of the children could last that long. So we devised another plan; someone who had… recently passed away had contacts in Borginia. One of those contacts was your father. He smuggled some cocoons for us and hid them in his – your – house. It was right past the border. A small group was sent to take the cocoons; I was leading them." He paused, and waited for her to speak.

She did after a few minutes. "What went wrong?" she asked. Her voice sounded distant now. "Did he try to double-cross you? Was he a too dangerous witness to leave behind? Did you execute him?" she asked, and Quercus noticed that despite the calm exterior her hands were clenching into fists.

"No. None of us harmed him. He held his half of the bargain: we had no reason to."

"Then what happened? He died, didn't he?" she asked, this time looking up at him. Her mouth was a grim line. "You wouldn't have taken me if he hadn't!"

Quercus scowled the implications. "Of course I wouldn't have! Why on Earth should I do that?"

"Then tell me-"

"If you can stop interrupting with your idiotic speculations and just listen, I will!" Quercus snapped, causing her to shut her own mouth. She glared back at him, but did not speak again. Good.

With a noticeable effort to soften his voice, Quercus resumed speaking. "Everything went just as planned up to the point we made it to your house. You and your father lived there alone; you were only one year old at the very most. He told me your mother died in childbirth. None of us knew his name," he added when she seemed about to speak again. "He gave us an alias. He gave us the cocoons, and we were ready to leave when-" he paused. "To this very day, I still do not know exactly how we were found. Perhaps someone betrayed us, perhaps someone saw us and alerted the army. Either way, before we could leave there were Borginian soldiers all around the house. They killed the men I had left outside, and began shooting on the house. It was heavy cross-fire; one of the men I brought in with me and your father were hit."

He stopped speaking again, and there were a few moments of silence. She still showed no outward emotion, aside from the stiffness in her posture. "Is that how he died?" she asked.

Quercus hesitated for a moment, then he nodded. She didn't need to know her father had spent his last few moments knowing he was about to die and fearing for her life, nor she needed to know how he had begged for him to save her in the few instants he had left. "It was instantaneous. He never knew what happened."

Chrysalis bit her lower lip. "Is that the truth?"

"I told you, we didn't harm him nor-"

"Not about that. Was it really so quick?"

A sigh. "Can't you simply settle for what you're told?" he asked somewhat tiredly. With Queen Luzula not yet cold in her grave, he didn't have the energy or will to start another debate. He felt so tired, and so old.

"Would you?"

Her question caught him somewhat by surprise. He thought it over for a few moments. "No," he finally said slowly, thinking back of the day he had refused to believe Colonel Consolida, how he had done everything he could to find out the truth – and how that had saved his life and that of many others, and ended a war.

"No, I wouldn't. Very well, then. No, it was not instantaneous. He lived for… I'd say he breathed for another half a minute after he was hit. He could still speak. And he asked me to save you with his last breath. I did," he finished. "Does that make you feel any better?"

She shook her head. "No. But that's beside the point."

Quercus closed his eyes, and with the mind's eye he saw, for a moment the folder he had found in Vulneraria's safe – Casus Belli. That revelation had marked him deeply, perhaps even more than his very first battle had, even more than the first and only time he had ordered bombings on civilians. But if he could go back, he wouldn't choose ignorance: it was an ugly truth, but it was the truth, and he had every right to know it. "No, it isn't. The point is knowing the truth. I understand."

Another silence followed, longer than the previous one. They both stared into the water, each lost in their own thoughts. "You never found out what his name was, did you?" she finally asked softly.

"No. No one knew, and it seems the Borginian authorities were at a loss as well. I tried to find out if you had any living relatives before I became your legal tutor, but without knowing his identity or that of your mother… it was all for naught. I could find no one."

"You could have left me into a Borginian orphanage."

"I wasn't about to drop into some orphanage the daughter of the man who made it possible for us to save our next-" Quercus trailed off and bit his tongue; yet another reminder that he still couldn't entirely accept the thought Luzula was gone, no longer the queen of Cohdopia – Wilkiea was queen now. "We owe him the life of our ruler," he finally said; if she had thought anything of that pause, she didn't mention it. "The least I could do was making sure this country could pay that sacrifice back the only possible way – by giving you the best education it has to offer."

She nodded. "I see," she said, sounding rather thoughtful. "I supposed I should thank you, ambassador. For saving my life, giving me a name and covering all of the expenses of my support and education."

Quercus shook his head. "No. There was a debt to be paid; I loathe being in debt. We're even, you and I."

"We're not."

He blinked. "Excuse me?"

Chrysalis looked up at him, straight in his eyes. "You're even with my father, whoever he was," she added. "But I still do owe you. He asked for you to save me, and you did – everything else you did for me was… how do you soldier define it?" she asked. She was looking in the water again, a faraway look in her eyes.

Quercus smiled upon being called once more what he still was deep within – a soldier. "Going above and beyond the call of duty, I suppose," he told her.

She nodded. "You're not the only one who loathes having debts," she stated calmly.

Quercus stared at her for a moment before nodding. "I see. In that case, you'll pay your debt once you graduate. You have less than a year left, right? I was told you're especially skilled with foreign languages."

She smile, a true and proud smile that had something ominous to it. "Yes on both accounts."

Quercus nodded. "Then I believe you could be of help in the embassy someday; there are never enough translators, apparently. Write me when your graduation is nearing," he added, turning away from the fountain and starting to walk back to the entrance. She didn't follow, but she did call out for him.

"That sounds more like I'll be getting another favor from you rather than paying you back, ambassador."

Quercus paused and turned to glance back to her above his shoulder. He stared at her for a few more moments before giving an odd smile. "We'll see about that, won't we?" was all he said before turning and walking away.

She didn't call out again, nor he looked back: for time being, they had nothing more to say.


Cohdopian Embassy, 2007

The return to his duties as the Cohdopian ambassador was rather hectic, for all delayed appointments had to be dealt with in quick succession. Any spare time he had was directed to the smuggling ring, and it was almost a relief: the mere fact something like that was now entirely in his hands was the most tangible sign he had left of all the power he had acquired.

He hadn't forgotten the promise he had made to Queen Luzula on her deathbed, but after all he had promised to end it by the time they could safely do without… and it wasn't the right time, he told himself, not yet. So he pushed that in the back of his mind and spent the next few months expending it – something his new contacts with the Amano Group helped a great deal with.

There were several other corporations scattered across the globe that were useful to him, of course, but the Amano Group was by far the most important addition. By the next year, Cohdopian goods were no longer the only thing to be smuggled across several countries – priceless pieces of art were what gave him most of the work now: far more difficult to smuggle, but that only made success infinitely more satisfying.

With all that in his hands it was easy for him to miss smaller things, such as occasional changes in the staff – with some people retiring and some others being hired. There were so many staff members in the embassy, and he only kept track on those he had to directly deal with; so he knew nothing of the interns, usually very young, who would work there for only a few months each.

At least until one of them was sent into his office one morning, proceeded by a phone call from the Press and Communication office: Deid Mann needed him to sign some documents he had forgotten about that morning. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, sir," he said, actually sounding rather abashed for the oversight.

Quercus – who some days could have sworn he spent most of his time just signing the most useless garbage ever written by man – tried to hold back a sigh. Most of the staff members seemed to think he was made of glass now: they thought he had never quite recovered from the blow Queen Luzula's death had been to him.

And for a good reason: Quercus himself had made sure they would keep thinking that. Even after he had started to feel more like himself again, a few weeks after the queen's death, he had decided to keep the act up. He had become more secluded, showed himself to be more thoughtful, spoke more slowly; he had let his beard grow to look older, had started to hunch slightly forward and had taken on limping. Not all at once, of course – it was only a slight limp for now, but he planned on making it look progressively worse in time.

It had been a sacrifice: there were moments when he wished nothing but being able to stand up straight and snap at everyone around it at the slightest mistake, and having to mostly give up on gardening outdoors had not been easy – but now that she was gone, he had reasoned, now that everything was in his hands and in his hands alone, he had to be even more careful than he had been until that moment. His position granted him protection from that country's law, but he had learned over the years that one was never too careful – and making sure nothing about him could possibly arise suspicion was most likely his best insurance.

Even though he was acting like one, though, being treated like a worn-out old man while he was barely sixty could be frustrating. "It is quite alright; signing a couple of documents shouldn't give my wrist any kind of permanent damage," Quercus said quietly. The sarcasm went well over Deid Mann's head – as usual.

"Very well, then. I'll send the new boy with the documents right away."

Quercus had no idea who the 'new boy' may be, nor he truly cared, so he simply muttered a 'fine' and hung the phone to turn his attention back to his desk, to the letter he had been reading: one of Issoria's. She had kept her promise, for no month went by without her writing him, and now that any communications he may get from the royal palace were nothing but work – for it wouldn't be Queen Luzula to write or speak on the other side of the line, not anymore – her letters were the only thing, aside from any update about the smuggling operations, that he could say he truly looked forward to.

Not because he especially cared for every detail – he did want to know how she was doing and of Daphne's good progress at university, but he could have done without news from her sons and the small army of grandchildren they were giving her – but because it was the only kind of personal communication he got. It was unnerving to think about it, and sometimes he did wonder if the smuggling ring would be all that he'd be left once she'd be gone. Because she was old, well over a decade older than himself, and she could be gone any moment, and he would likely be stuck there when it happened, not knowing it until her monthly letter failed to reach him, and then it would be too late to even say goodbye, he would once again be too late to-

A knock at the door snapped Quercus from his morbid thoughts. He quickly put the letter in the drawer and closed it before calling out for them to come in. The door opened, and a young man with sandy brown hair walked in. Well, Quercus thought, now he could see Deid Mann had been right in calling him 'the new boy', for he really was just a boy. Or at least he looked like one; perhaps the nervousness plain in his expression and posture had a hand in making him seem extremely young. Perhaps he was a new intern.

"I brought some documents you need to sign, sir," he said, his voice relatively firm, and Quercus raised an eyebrow at his thickly accented Cohdopian.

"Of course," he said in English, taking the pen and gesturing for the young man to come closer. "We can speak in English if you prefer; you're not Cohdopian, are you?"

The young man put the documents on his desk and bit his lower lip before replying. "I actually am, sir. From my mother's side, at least – she's from the Babahlese region. My father is American and I was raised here, but I studied in Cohdopia as well. In the Allebahstian region," he added, as though wanting to make up for the shortcomings of being partly American and partly from the underdeveloped Babahlese region.

Quercus gave a low hum, his eyes not leaving the documents he was signing. "That explains the accent. Your Cohdopian is excellent, though," he conceded. "Are you an intern?"

"Yessir."

Quercus looked up at him, one eyebrow raised. "Do not let my uniform fool you: this is not the army, young man, nor you're a soldier. You can simply say yes or no," he said, a hint of amusement showing in his voice.

The young man's fair skin flushed a little in embarrassment, but that was no surprise: older and more important men felt uncomfortable in his presence. "I'm sorry, sir. Yes, I'm an intern. I started last week."

"And you were sent straight to the lion's den," Quercus commented, and chuckled again at his nervousness. "I'm merely joking, of course. You have no reason to be nervous: this old lion has lost quite a few teeth, I'm afraid," he leant back on his seat and looked up at him. He said nothing for a few moments, just enough to see him squirming; let an aging man get some amusement, the thought. "I didn't ask for your name, did I?"

"No, sir, but it's nothing you should concern yourself about. I just-"

"What I do or do not concern myself about is not for you to concern yourself about, if you'll forgive me the rather lousy word play," he retorted, a sharp edge in his voice.

The young man recoiled. "Manny Coachen, sir," he said quickly.

"Manny Coachen. I'll keep it in mind," Quercus said with a polite nod. "My own name is Quercus Alba. Pleased to make you acquaintance."

Coachen blinked. "But, sir, I'm perfectly aware of who…" he paused when he saw Quercus' amused smirk. "Oh. I see," he gave a small, chuckle – but it was something else that caught Quercus' attention, something that made his amusement turn into sudden interest: a flash of anger in the young man's eyes, so brief that it was almost unnoticeable – but it was there, unmistakable: the anger of someone who does not appreciate being played for fool. Quercus stared at him thoughtfully for a few more moments, and this time Coachen's green eyes stared back, his jaw set in determination – he was refusing to look away. Interesting.

"My apologies for making fun of you. I'm afraid there aren't that many means for an old man who's far from his home to humour himself," he said with yet another sigh, then, "you look quite young. How old are you?"

Coachen seemed to relax just a little. "I'm nineteen, sir."

"Nineteen," Quercus repeated slowly. "Why, you're quite young, aren't you? I was about your age when I signed up for the army, a very long time ago." He looked back down at his desk and recollected the documents he had just signed. His gaze fell onto the draft of a statement he had been working onto for a while – something terribly dull regarding yet another commercial agreement. "Would you mind waiting for a moment? I'm almost done with this, so no point in calling you back in a minute," he added. That was merely an excuse to observe him for a few more minutes, but Coachen couldn't know that, and immediately nodded.

"Of course, sir."

A few more minutes ticked by. Quercus wrote the conclusion to the speech, occasionally shooting a glance up at Coachen; he hadn't offered him a seat, and the young man stood stiffly, his eyes wandering across the room to rest on a vase resting on a small table a few steps from him.

"Passionflowers."

Coachen recoiled when Quercus suddenly spoke. "I'm… sorry?"

"It's the name of the flowers you're looking at. Passionflowers. And believe it or not, they make me think of my very first battlefield," he added, putting the sheet on top of the documents he had signed. "Here you go. The statement is ready for you to… type out, I suppose. Is that what you do?" he asked. He doubted an intern like him would be trusted with anything especially important.

Manny Coachen nodded. "That's one of my duties," he said, reaching to take the papers. "Thank you, sir."

Quercus leant back on his seat again. "It must be quite boring, typing out what I wrote by hand. I'm afraid my handwriting isn't especially easy to decipher," he said, and for a moment Coachen looked all the world like he was trying to hold back a sigh.

"It's not a bother at all, sir," he said – but honestly, Quercus thought, what else could he tell the ambassador?

He held back a smirk. "Really? I'm actually rather sure I heard someone complaining on how bothersome typing it all out is. It's rather terrible of me, making my own staff's life harder because of my inability to understand modern technology," he said with a mournful sigh, reaching up to stroke his beard, but he did not spare the young man a slight stab. "Although I must say this would have been easier to take care of had you mentioned it. I wouldn't be where I am now hadn't I had the guts to speak up to my superiors when the situation called for it, boy. When I was your age…" he paused, and this time it was not a calculated one. "… Good Lord. Did I actually start off a sentence with 'when I was your age'?"

Coachen's lips twitched for a moment in what was almost a smile. "It seems like you did, sir."

Oh, good – by acting like an old man he was now starting to be everything like one. Quercus held back a groan and spoke again. "Oh, well. In any case, it's a problem we can solve easily by sparing some work to both of us. I want you in this office tomorrow morning at nine."

Coachen stared at him for a few moments as though he had just grown horns. "… sir?"

"You heard me, young man. And bring a… how do you call those computers you can bring along with you?"

"How do we…? Oh. Er… a laptop, sir. It's called a laptop."

Quercus dismissively waved a hand. "Yes, one of those. Do not be late," he said, his tone clearly saying the conversation was over. Coachen had to realize it, too, for he just mumbled a 'yes, sir' and quickly left.

Quercus smirked at the closing door in mild amusement before reaching for his bonsai trimming shears, not yet knowing that he was about to set in motion something he would someday be unable to control, that he would soon draw a young man into a game that would someday be their undoing.