Normal is an illusion
- Sep 3, 2013
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Chapter 43: Tavern Tales: How It Began
Chapter 43: Tavern Tales: How It Began
"♫ Somewhere in the mountains,
Way up high
With the dreams you had,
Under the summer sky ♫
♫ Someday I'll wish upon a star,
Is it there, do I see?
You'll have to travel pretty far,
But that's where you'll find me ♫"
Andrea interrupted the music. "What the hell is that?"
"In The Mountains!" Kimberly answered. "Have you seriously never heard it?"
She shook her head. "I don't listen to happy music like that very often."
"Ah. Perhaps you should, it really lifts the soul and improves your mood."
"What does that mean? Are you saying I'm always in a bad mood?"
"Nothing meant by it, friend, just some advice."
She sighed. "Maybe you're right." Bright, fog-obscured light in the distance caught her attention. "Hey, do you think that light up there is this tavern we're supposed to find?"
The Serenikitten they had been following for the previous half hour let out a meow and rushed ahead. The mist soon began to envelope them again the further it went, prompting them to fight through their exhaustion to keep up. When they finally caught up to the Pokémon, they were met with an unexpected sight: nestled on the cliff side was a rather large cottage, which was brightly lit with what appeared to be oil lamps dangling from the gables. Paper lanterns hung from the solitary tree next to the cottage, giving off a faint red glow to the surrounding area. Decorative topiaries and hedges lined the borders of the property.
There was a certain sort of magic in the air, and Kimberly could feel it. "Hold me, Andrea, I might faint..."
"Feeling light headed? Kneel down, put your head between--"
She pulled Andrea closer and pointed out the various features of the cottage in front of them. "No! Look at how magical it is!" she let out a content sigh. "This. This right here is the reason I left Visalia. This is the stuff I wanted to see when I left home. To think it took a sinking ship to get to this point..."
The magic was lost on Andrea. "Well, it's... it's, uh... welcoming, I'll give it that." she said, not sharing anywhere near the same level of enthusiasm.
"It is! Let's head inside!"
The Serenikitten sensed that its job was done and began to wander away. After putting considerable distance between itself and the two girls, it turned around and meowed, then bounded off into the darkness. In short order, the thick, obscuring mist began to roll back in and thicken.
"Good bye, friend!" Kimberly called out.
The inside of the tavern was just as magical as the exterior. Every wall, shelf and table was crammed full of objects and knick knacks that displayed and defined the culture of the land; scroll murals lined the walls, showing off numerous scenes from flowing rivers to snow capped mountains. The bookshelves were stocked with old leatherbound books that looked as if they were centuries old. The tables were covered in faintly scented candles, providing the only light throughout the entire house. The smell of spring rain incense wafted from a burner in the corner of the room and was thick in the air.
An elderly lady behind the register looked up and bowed her head before addressing the two. "Wanshang hao!" she said. The fact that she chose to speak in a language neither were familiar with immediately put the two girls on alert.
Kimberly bowed graciously before cautiously asking, "Umm... Do you, do you speak..."
"English?" the elderly lady asked. "I do."
"Ah! That's great!" she said with a nervous laugh. "I was slightly worried for a second... Do you have room available for two?"
"Luckily there is one more room available, if you do not mind a room in the basement. The rate for that one is a single golden coin. Double for two people." she said, passing a book and an old fashioned quill pen across the counter. "Please, leave your name in the registry if you wish to stay."
Andrea attempted to write her name into the book, but struggled with the quill pen. She had never used one before, nor even seen one; what she left on the page barely qualified as writing. She handed the book to Kimberly, and watched what appeared to be a master at work; Kimberly effortlessly drew each letter of her name and connected them together in a beautiful display of calligraphy. She added the day's date off to the side and handed the book back to the elderly lady.
"How did you..." Andrea wondered.
"Practice. I was... 'forced' into calligraphy classes when I was younger." she answered as she dropped two golden coins onto the table.
The elderly lady grabbed one of the coins and inspected it closely, attempted to bend it against the corner of the table, then put it back down. "Follow. I will show you to your room."
The two followed the elderly lady towards the stairwell. Muffled talking could be heard coming from upstairs, while a chilly draft could be felt coming from downstairs. As they went down the steps, they began to question the quality of the room they would be staying in; thick, dusty cobwebs hung in the corners of the rustic cobblestone walls, and the smell of potatoes and rice was thick in the air. She led them down a hallway towards a dark room.
They were relieved when the elderly lady began to light the candles and oil lamps throughout the room. The room was small, but very lavishly decorated from top to bottom. A table in the corner of the room was covered in melted candles, surrounding a statue of a meditating bear. Next to it was a bookshelf stocked with books and ancient-looking scrolls, mostly written in a language neither Andrea or Kimberly could understand. Another table had several photos on it, mostly of the surrounding mountains. The smell of the bundled lilies that hung from the ceiling created a soothing atmosphere, and incense burners throughout the room offered a change for those who wanted it. Among it all was a solitary bed, covered with a silk sheet.
"Oh my..." Kimberly started, stepping into the room. She was taken by surprise by how nice it was. "Where I come from, a room like this costs much more than a single coin..."
"I could tell that you were not from around here. I am not familiar with your accent... Where are you from?" the elderly lady said as she continued to set the lamps ablaze.
"I am from Kanto," She pointed towards Andrea. "And she is from Storm Island."
"Ah, interesting! We do not get many visitors from beyond the seas. How are you enjoying your time here?"
"I have not been enjoying it," Andrea boldly stated.
"I am not surprised, considering the land you come from..." she said. "Are you visiting the monastery, by any chance? Most people who come this way are."
"Yes," Kimberly answered. "And then we are moving on towards Yulong-la."
"Ah! Good! Perhaps you will see that this land is not all bad, then."
"Why is that?"
"The culture is very different north of the monastery... In southern cities, such as Letchworth, Tradewind and Patali, a strong nationalist movement has taken root and spread like duliu. They want to return to how things were a thousand years ago, a much darker time..."
"I'm just happy that I'm going to be back home soon," Andrea said.
"I don't blame you... it's such a shame what is happening... But perhaps your view of this country can be redeemed. North of the monastery is the homeland of my ancestors, land that once belonged to the nation of Shinikara. We are a friendly and welcoming people, be it friend or foreigner, for the better or the worse. We have resisted their calls for independence so far, and you will find the folk around there a lot more friendly and accepting of strangers." She paused to visibly inspect the room, to make sure that everything was in order. "I hope you will enjoy the room."
"We will! Thank you!" Kimberly joyously said.
The elderly lady bowed graciously. "If you need anything, you will find me upstairs. Enjoy your evening."
Andrea sat down on the bed and looked around the small room. "Jeeze. I feel like royalty! This room is small, but it's certainly something..."
"I know, right? The last time I stayed in a room like this, I remember the bill being sixty golden coins for just one night!"
"...crying out loud..."
Kimberly wandered over to the incense burner and began to look through the different varieties available. "Would you mind if I used this?"
"Go for it. Let's live a little." she said as she pushed her sandals under the bed and flopped over from exhaustion.
"Is there anything specific you'd like? Let's see... river cattails... bamboo thicket... spring rain... summer seaside... orange blossoms..."
"It doesn't matter to me."
Kimberly opened the box of incense sticks and placed them into the burner, then grabbed one of the candles and used it to ignite the burner. The room quickly filled with thin, translucent wisps of smoke and the faint smell of citrus began to choke the atmosphere. She wandered over to the bed and placed her backpack onto the floor, then dug through it to find a journal and a pencil.
"I should have gotten a journal, as well..." Andrea said, watching her friend take a seat at the table. "As much as I'm not enjoying this 'vacation', I guess it is a once in a life time opportunity..."
Kimberly placed her pencil against the page and began to draw broad strokes up and down the page. "Tell you what. The next time we're in town, I'll head to the shops and buy you one."
"That's really not necessary, but I appreciate the offer."
"Consider it done," she said. She took a look at her drawing so far and noticed a few key errors that she needed to fix before continuing. "Can you have a poke through my bag and look for an eraser? The one on this pencil is rubbish!"
Andrea did as she was asked and began to dig through Kimberly's backpack. As she was doing so, she came across the corrugated metal pocketbook that Kimberly used to hold her badges and her ID card. After a few minutes of searching, she finally found the eraser and tossed it across the room, then grabbed the pocketbook. She opened it up and looked at the two badges inside, which piqued her curiosity. "You're some sort of rich heiress, aren't you? Why would someone like you ever get into competitive Pokémon training?"
She turned around and met with Andrea's eyes. There was a certain sense of gravity in her words that Andrea had never heard before; "Do you have any idea how boring it is to be the child of wealthy parents? All the time... it was balls, galas, social gatherings, events, ballets, operas, theatrical performances, dinners... I could go on and on." Her attention shifted back to her drawing. "I was never interested in that kind of stuff when I was younger... I am now, I suppose... I didn't like the people my parents dealt with, either. They were usually self-centered scum. As I grew older and older, it only grew worse and worse. I needed a way away from it."
"How did you get out of it?"
"I guess it's my turn to tell a story, then! I remember it well, it started in May, nearly two years ago..."
- - - - -
It was a warm and breezy May afternoon. The sun hung high in the sky, shining brightly off of the sleek marble walls and bright orange tiled rooves of the luxurious homes that made up the port town of Visalia. There were many impressive estates, mansions and houses scattered along the pristine and winding coastline of Visalia, and one such mansion was Fairbrooke Manor, home to the renowned chef and businessman Richard Fairbrooke, his philanthropic wife, Annabelle, and their only child, Kimberly.
While it wasn't the largest or most iconic mansion in Visalia, Fairbrooke Manor was viewed by many as the epitome of excess. High walls topped with spiked fences surrounded the entire property. The mansion itself was three stories tall, boasted thirty five rooms and was staffed by a twelve member team of servants, butlers and attendants. Outside of the mansion was a sprawling and luxurious garden, filled with exotic plants from far away lands, classical and Renaissance-era art sculptures and water features.
Inside of the garden's only gazebo was Kimberly, seated in front of an unfinished painting with a paintbrush in her hand. The subject of her painting was the most prominent feature of Fairbrooke Manor's garden, the 245 year old, 134 foot tall willow tree, known around town as 'Big Willie'. She had spent the majority of the day working on the painting, spending hours trying to capture every meticulous detail. With a few final strokes, she finished her artwork.
She took a step back to focus on the tree, then compared it to her painting. There were many notable differences, each of which she was unhappy with. She placed her hand to her forehead in frustration and muttered to herself, "Why? Why can I not do this?" She knew it was bad practice for a budding artist, but she couldn't help to critically analyze every minute problem that she saw: the branches were too thick. The drooping leaves were too short. The trunk was crooked and leaning. The lighting of the leaves was inconsistent. Minor problems, but they all added up to ruin hours of work.
She picked up her brush and began to touch up the lighting. "Perhaps this could be saved..." she thought to herself, but her hopes remained low.
As she fiddled with the leaves of her tree, a young woman was approaching from behind. She was very out of place in the surrounding environment; Her ragged black hair, highlighted with tones of cyan and magenta, was pulled into a pair of pigtails, allowing full view of her dozen ear piercings. Her jacket was mostly made of leather and featured studs and spikes, while her tartan skirt carried the colors of her ancestors, green and white. Bulky, knee high boots covered her feet. None of it matched the regal atmosphere of the garden around her.
As the young woman tromped through the garden towards the gazebo, a well dressed butler was by her side, feverishly attempting to explain to her that Kimberly was busy. Every attempt was ignored and she continued her pace until she reached the gazebo.
"I am so terribly sorry, Ms. Fairbrooke. I told her that you were busy but she refused to listen and barged through!" the butler said. His words were shaky and his voice was squeaky, as if he were afraid that his career had just been ended.
Kimberly put down her paintbrush and turned around to address the two. "Charles, it's okay! I don't mind a visitor every now and then!" she said, reassuring her nervous servant. She turned to the young woman, opened her arms and pulled her in for a hug. "Nicole! It's been too long!"
The young woman pried herself out of Kimberly's grip and took a step back. "Too long? Whatcha talkin' 'bout? I was there for your birthday party!"
"That was four months ago, friend. You should visit more often!"
"You know how it is... Meet a new guy, all of a sudden your world revolves around him..."
Kimberly turned back to her painting and studied it some more, looking over her mistakes as she thought of ways to fix them. "No, I don't know how that is, and you know that." She grabbed her paint brush and continued working on the lighting. "I've been working on this all day. What do you think of it?"
"Ehh, I ain't no art critic. You know that."
"Nothing? Not even a comment?"
"Look, all I see is a tree," she said in a dismissive tone before changing the topic. "So, hey! I wanted to ask you somethin'! My parents are bein' total jerkbags and are tellin' me I need a job, but I ain't ready to sit in an office for eight hours a day. So I was thinkin', why not go on the road as one of those Pokémon trainers? That's like a job, ain't it?"
"I suppose it is. Those competitive types that compete in tournaments can make quite a bit of money if they do well at it. And from what I've seen, you know what you're doing."
"Yeah, right? It's a win win!" she said with excitement. "How 'bout you? Your parents riding your ass about it, too?"
"Oh... maybe not as much as yours, but they do want me to decide what I want to do with my life soon. That's why I've been working so hard on my art for these past two years. I was hoping to make a career of it, but..." she trailed off, comparing her painting to her subject tree again. "They don't think it'll work, and I'm starting to believe them..."
"What do they want you to do?"
Kimberly placed her brush on the easel and took Nicole on a leisurely walk through the garden. "As my father's only child, he wants me to take over the family business that he built from the ground up. He wants me to be a chef, just like him."
Nicole burst into an uproarious laugh.
"I know! I can't cook to save my life! I've tried and I've tried, but I just don't get it!" she said. "How he expects me to reach his level before he retires... I'll never understand the way he thinks sometimes."
"What about your mom?"
"She wants me to step up my participation in her organization's charity efforts. Since I can't cook, it seems like the option to choose... but much of her charity work is in Andalla, Sakala and Durandas! Those are not nice places, and all I've known my entire life is comfort..."
"Charity? Screw that shit, I got an even better idea!"
"Language!" she chastised quickly, as if it were a regular occurrence.
Nicole dismissed her concerns and continued, "So I'm goin' on the road as a Pokémon trainer, and I need someone by my side. I want that someone to be you. My best friend in the whole world! C'mon, think about it! Just me 'n' you, on the road together, with nothin' to stop us, nothin' to get in our way!"
"Think of it as escapin' from your parents. They want you to do all that borin' shit you're not any good at! But you been around Kanto a lot with your dad right? You must know some of the cities like the back of your hand!"
"Is 'escape' really the right word?" she lamented, then sighed. "I suppose it would be nice to leave town again, it's been a few years..."
"There ya go! Hey! You can be a tour guide! I don't even know how to get to Fuchsia from here!"
Kimberly giggled. "You don't need me for that. It's just up the road, friend."
"I'll pay ya a share of my winnings from all those competitions I'll be dominatin'."
Kimberly giggled as she twirled about, pointing out the garden, the seaside view and the mansion she lived in. "You don't have to pay me, you know. I'm not exactly struggling."
"Always flauntin' that wealth... Well come on, will ya?"
She took a moment to think about it. "I suppose it would give me an opportunity to explore other possibilities... I wanted to visit Mulberry and speak to some people for some time, as well..."
"Mulberry? Yeah, I can make that happen."
"I understand if you're expecting an answer today, but I will need some time to think this over. And then I will need some time to prepare if I do decide that this is a good idea."
"You got it. I wasn't plannin' on leavin' until next week at the earliest."
- - - - -
Andrea interrupted the story. "This Nicole lady sounds like a total punk."
"She has a bit of a jagged personality, yes," Kimberly answered.
"So you left a life of comfort behind to travel the roads with this girl? That seems so... out of character for you."
"I felt like I had to! I could never see myself learning to become a master chef, let alone a novice chef. My mother's ideas did not appeal to me, either... I understand the importance of charity work, but to follow her to an active war zone? I couldn't!"
"Yeah, no kidding... So what happened next?"
"The first two months were boring, so I'll skip that..."
- - - - -
The door to the Pewter City Pokécenter whooshed open, and Kimberly and Nicole walked in. Following them was a stubby, round creature with a green body. Adorning its rounded body was a bright yellow flower with a white center at the top and large flopping ears beside it. Every now and then, the creature would shed a petal from the flower on top of its head and leave a trail behind it, quickly replacing it with a new petal. The creature had numerous cuts and bruises along its body, but it kept a cartoonish grin on its face through all of its pain.
"Very well done today, Nicole," Kimberly said.
Nicole wouldn't hear it. "I could'a done better... I lost one of my fighters this time and poor Skippy got all tore up. That didn't happen in Celadon or Cerulean." She wandered up to the reception area and dropped her Pokéball collection onto the front desk, then knelt down and picked up her Skiploom. "C'mon, up ya go."
"Full service, ma'am?" the nurse asked, scooping the Pokéballs up.
"Yeah, make 'em smile," She patted her Skiploom on the back and continued, "You follow the nice nurse, ya hear? I'll be back for ya in a bit. Me and Kimmy are going out for a bite."
The two took a walk down the street towards the Pewter Street Family Restaurant and entered. While being seated, taking their orders and receiving their food, Kimberly tried to start numerous conversations, none of which interested Nicole. Nicole wanted only one thing, to continue the relentless study of the strategy book her nose was buried in.
She felt ignored, and it certainly wasn't the first time since they had started travelling together. She decided to try a topic that her friend might be interested in. "You are the only person I know who can take a stunning victory like that and turn it into a criticism."
Without looking up from her book, Nicole answered, "I'm not gonna get better if I settle for mediocrity. This is my life now, and I need to be the best. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there doin' the same thing I'm doin'. If I'm not better than them, I've already lost."
"Look at what you've accomplished so far! You've been a Pokémon trainer for four months, and you've only started taking it seriously these past two months. What have you done in that time?" She reached across the table and opened Nicole's vest, displaying the three badges and a blue ribbon that were pinned to the inside. "You've defeated three of these gym leaders and placed first in the Mulberry Competitor's Conference. I don't know much about being a Pokémon trainer, but isn't that impressive?"
"It is, but there are people who've done better in shorter time periods."
"There's no getting through to you, is there?"
Nicole chuckled. "I understand what you're saying and I 'preciate it. But please, don't try to dampen my competitive spirit. This is when I work best, when I'm all fired up."
There was a long period of silence as Nicole continued to skim through her strategy book and Kimberly finished her salad. She wanted to break the silence and ask a question that had been on her mind for the previous few weeks, and figured now would be a good time to ask.
"They say that great people teach others... They share their knowledge, their expertise. That is the hallmark of a true master."
"Wha?" Nicole asked, looking up from her book. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I've been watching you train these past two months, and every day I grow more and more interested in trying it for myself."
Nicole closed her book and put it down. "Oh! Yeah? You, a trainer?"
"It would give me something to do while you're busy."
She shook her head. "I dunno, you're gettin' pretty good at that music stuff. Do ya really need Pokémon distractin' ya from that?"
"I can work on both, can't I?"
"But you can't be the best at both. Remember that."
"Has it not occurred to you that perhaps I am not looking to be the world's greatest in either? I don't give a flip if I end up being terrible at both, I just want to try. That's why I'm here, to find new things to do."
"Alright, alright! Chill! If you wanna try it out, I'll do what I can to help." she said. "Tell ya what, let's take a few days off and swing on over to Pallet Town, getcha a nice and easy starter to work with."
- - - - -
The story was interrupted once again by a curious Andrea. "Hold on! You didn't even have a Pokémon of your own for those two months?"
Kimberly shook her head. "I did not."
"So what were you doing while your friend was dragging you around?"
"Mostly just enjoying myself! It had been ages since I'd gotten out of the house. I planned on using it as an opportunity to look for inspiration for my paintings, but painting while on the road simply isn't feasible."
"Yeah, I wouldn't want to carry all of that with me. So, you turned to music instead?"
"I did. I was thinking that a career in music would be a way out of inheriting my father's business, or ending up at a refugee camp with my mother... Perhaps you might get to hear it sometime, but I lost my guitar when the S.S. Beckinshire sank..." She looked at the mechanical clock hanging on the wall above her. "Oh, It's getting a little late, isn't it..."
"That's fine! Keep going, this is actually pretty interesting!"