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A Cultural Exchange


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10:04AM, Asgeirrian Time.

Regis Celestia, Asgeirr City, Asgeirria

 

Morning sunshine beaming through half-open curtains highlighted the silt drifting through the air, glimmering into visual harmony with the gloomy, rich environment John Valentino's room set. The burgundy curtains contrasted the golden rays of sunlight almost as perfectly as the Emperor's pale, delicate hands contrasted the rich, red-velvety-brown of the sherry and espresso in the wine glass they clasped. The old vintage books and aged wood that rose to the ceiling out only served to bring the room's aesthetic together even more, though it was doubtful the aged tomes served any other purpose. Strewn about were books of Asgeirrian Imperial law, whose contents were almost as dry as the pages upon which they were printed. The Emperor found the tastefully archaic drawing room quite pleasing, however musty some might find it, and spent most of his waking hours hidden away from the prying eyes of the public. On this particular morning, however, he was feeling restless, was much on his mind. As he finished penning a letter, his mind was elsewhere. Riots in the west, bombings in the east, wine before eleven o' clock; he was very troubled. 

He neatly folded the letter into an envelope, stood, and made his way out into the hallway, sherry et espresso in one hand, letter in the other. As he stepped out into the hall, an overly-familiar servant bumped into him, nearly spilling the Emperor's drink as he whisked by, barely taking notice of the slight as he hurried off, a tray of dirty dishes in his hands. John scowled, heaving his wine glass at the hapless servant, along with some equally harsh words, though there was a hint of mirth in his voice as he howled hair-curling insults at the lad. The two White Harts that guarded his door looked on in silence, too stoic to titter at the antics they witnessed. 

John made haste towards his secretaries office, where, upon arrival, he thrust upon the secretary the letter he had written. The secretary glanced at the address, and slipped it into a folder marked "Priority", before looking back up at the Emperor.

"Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?"

John frowned. "Yes, actually." He paused for the briefest of moments. "Take down a dispatch to Lysia for me."

The secretary heaved a sigh, getting ready to type, as the Emperor dictated.


To: François Autun

From: John Valentino

Regards,

Having recently come out of isolation, it is difficult to set one's standing without a background upon which to paint a reputation. I request a diplomatic meeting here in the capitol, that we might offer the basis upon which a lasting friendship can be built. Our lovely islands have much to offer; delicacies, luxuries, festivals, feasts, and the peach and cherry blossom forests are to die for! Should you accept my personal invitation, we look forward to offering you our warmest hospitality.

Sincerely,

Emperor John Valentino

Keeper of Man


@Fleur de Lys

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The springtime sunsets in Asgeirria were phenomenally beautiful due to the unique weather patterns experienced by the island, and this evening was no exception; the clouds were fluffy and pinned by the sun, which shimmered enormously over the horizon, slowly slipping into the ruby-tinted ocean like a red hot iron simmering into a blacksmith's trough. The elevated runway was framed by azure skies, a stark contrast to the black tar runway.

The complex that housed Regis Celestia was built on the bones of a mountain, elevated far above the noise and bustle of the city, the tips of its tallest spires and flagpoles scraped the lowest-hanging clouds. Those unaccustomed to such a high elevation might have some difficulty breathing, but to the generally hardy and thick-skinned Asgeirrians, the thin, cold air was easily bearable. The height, however, did have the advantage of a view of the bright lights of the metropolis below, in all its neon glory. This, combined with the gilded buildings and uncharacteristically lavish Asgeirrian architecture on exhibit, made for an almost holy spectacle. There were pale cherry blossom trees lining the white marble walkways and stairs; the stones themselves gleamed the rosy reflection of the sunset, multiplying the already overwhelming aura of a forbidden treasure. 

The Emperor himself greeted them on the runway, escorted by four guards and a train of servants. He wore a simple blue suit with a black tie, and walked with an easy stride, uncompelled to hurry his pace for any sort of excitement.

"Thank you for coming on such short notice, my good friend." In his voice there was a hint of genuine delight, though he kept his composure quite well. "I apologize for my informal manner: there are no customs in Asgeirria for greeting a foreign President."

As he spoke, he fluidly stepped in, placing his hand on the side of the President's shoulder, and kissed both of his cheeks in a manner startlingly natural.

"You must educate me on the customs of your people over dinner, Seigneur." He said to Autun, before turning to Richard. "And who is your dashing compatriot?"

@Fleur de Lys

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The Emperor smiled and shook Richard's hand firmly, "I am humbled to meet a man of such authority! Perhaps you can share your knowledge with me over dinner."

The Emperor made a slight motion of his hand, prompting the train of servants to move to the gleaming aeroplane to assist in the unloading of baggage and directing the assistant to the suites prepared for the esteemed guests. The gesture was barely visible, blended into his movement to join Autun, chuckling politely at the President's bon mot.

"Of course. The first thing we should agree upon are the names. You may refer to me as John or Monsieur Valentino, whichever you prefer." His words were honeyed, with a barely tangible discomfort using fancy titles in reference to anyone, including himself. Years of being treated with the reverence of a sculpture on a pedestal had left a sour taste in his mouth for the fancy monickers attached to people of import, and the dry insincerity that came with them.

"And how should I refer to you, sir?"

As he talked, he subtly guided the President along a wide, well-decorated path towards Regis Celestia proper. The serpentine path made its way through lush gardens lined with lilacs and peach trees. There were a few winding paths leading to picnic pagodas, small unmarked buildings, and ponds, but the main attraction seemed to be a path leading to a cliff overlooking the city and the palace itself. 

@Fleur de Lys

Edited by Asgeirria (see edit history)
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The guards that had accompanied them this far dispersed along various paths, allowing the trio much more privacy. They could be heard intermittently, their cloaks rustling the leaves along the much narrower paths that branched throughout the garden. The gardens were a place of safety, where even the bugs that entered the sophisticated sensor grid were monitored.

"As any good thing, it rots from within over time." His words were almost coldly dismissive of their gravity. "The corruption and decay tends to sprout quickly if the offenders are not weeded out." As they walked, the trees on either side of the path parted to reveal the sheer rock shelf that had been converted to an overlook. The palace's conservative crimson lighting was muted by the brilliant myriad of lights flooding up from the Downtown, with the neon lights being highlighted by the smoothly flowing traffic of the city's superb road design. There were hardly any corners or sharp edges in the city; all smooth lines and curves, complemented by the gently curving black seaside, dotted here and there with luminescent party boats and cruise ships. The scene painted was vivacious, youthful, giving the cliff the feeling of being an adult looking down at children playing.

"It is a different sort of freedom we have here on this peaceful island," He said, sitting on a large bench overlooking the view, "It's freedom for the people. Freedom from worrying about what their leaders are doing. Freedom from the cares and worries of lesser nations."

A two guard approached, one with a very large tray, the second holding the first's weapon slung over his shoulder. The tray had two small pots, presumably coffee and tea, a small dish with black cubes, a cream, sugar, and honey dish, as well as three small cups, an assortment of cookies, crackers, biscuits, and spreads.

"May I offer you some refreshment, gentlemen?" John said, "Dinner might be a while."

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The coffee was poured rich, rushing in a deep brown stream. The soft, warm aroma of hazel wafted from the small cup, an Asgeirrian delicacy. There were many delicacies here, especially with the normalization of most drugs. Of course, some were still frowned upon, such as tobacco, opioids, and to a lesser extent, alcohol. Psychoactives were commonplace, even in the military. There had even been developed a certain cocktail for pilots and infantrymen alike, using methamphetamines and ritalin to improve reflexes and concentration. Long before that, certain warrior sects had used naturally-occurring psychoactive drugs to achieve a berserk state, though this practice had largely died out by the 21st century.

As more and more tourists began visiting the liberated culture of Asgeirria, the more this sort of information got out to the rest of the world. Some countries might have in place travel bans based on the frequency of drug use, the propensity for violent sports, and crowd participation of the same. However, Asgeirrians were generally hospitable and well-meaning people, with very few exceptions.

"Cream and sugar?" The guard said, slightly lifting the porcelain top of one of the small saucers, revealing sparkling sugar.

The Emperor daintily poured some red wine into a glass, followed by coffee, and what looked to be large, bluish sugar granules, mixing it with a simple bronze spoon, chuckling quietly at the Lysian humor.

"No, François. There are no referendums here in Asgeirria." He began on what sounded like it was going to be a long-winded rant, sipping his drink. "There are decisions by competent authorities based on facts and situations. The decision has two outcomes: resolving the issue, or routing it up to a more competent authority. Those in power have a much greater responsibility than private citizens, and those who violate the trust of the people and their superiors are executed, as it should be. For thousands of years, this tradition has kept the people free from worry whether or not their interests are in the hearts of the leaders."

As John sipped his beverage, his pupils dilated noticeably. He took a cookie from the tray and munched on it pensively, before turning to François expectantly, awaiting some comment.

 

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Noticing the apparent nausea of his guests, he quickly finished his sip and explained. "It is a traditional Asgeirrian drink. The smooth and rich with complex layers of earth, bittersweet chocolate and hints of dark fruit flavor contrast well with a very deep wine, such as this Cabernet Sauvignon with hints of rich black fruit and cranberry." He gestured to the small bottle.  "We take it with some crystallized Tupelo honey granulated with trace amounts of mescaline to open up our palates to fully enjoy this unique combination of flavors and aromas."

He lightly stirred his drink, taking a sip before answering the question, with a much more gentle manner than before.

"Our system is very unique. Before I die or succumb to dementia, the Legates confer among themselves about who the best possible candidate is. Typically Emperors don't step down or die until they are quite old, some well into their 90s, so there is plenty of time to groom the next possible candidates. Typically, they are given the proper education and upbringing to make educated, compassionate decisions for the people. Obviously I have some say on who I think is promising, but when it comes down to when the decision is to be made, I will either be dead or crazy."

John turned to admire the sights of the city below, gently sipping his mixture.

"I understand that outsiders might be put off by our harsh customs regarding corruption. I do not understand this, as in my studies I have seen that many nations imprison people! Imagine, not rehabilitating someone, but putting them into conditions of slavery for things as trivial as drinking substance before you are a certain age! Just the other day, I was reading about Serbia's treatment of people with the wrong color of skin. My people are a gentle folk, they do not understand such unthinking prejudice based on something outside the realm of reason. Equally, they are not used to the idea of those with more power than them not using that power responsibly, and for the good of those folk, we must treat such evil harshly, without remorse. From this comes a taboo against the mistreatment of those under you, which serves to breed a culture of even-handedness."

The Emperor looked back, his pupils already returning to their normal dilation.

"I apologize, my pride for my people has me rambling." He smiled, catching himself monologuing. "As far Legates, myself and the other Legates confer together and choose who will be selected as well. And for those below, the process goes down. Of course, I have the authority to appoint anyone to any position I see fit, but it is very rarely done. It is much better to have more perspectives on a person's worth than your own."

"How are things done in Lysia, François?" John said, sipping his drink.

@Fleur de Lys

Edited by Asgeirria (see edit history)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Asgeirrians were a hardy bunch, due to millennia of allopatric speciation, protein-rich diets, and several near-genocidal population bottlenecks. However, they were still a sensitive and perceptive people, largely in part to a state of unparalleled honesty. Faces, eyes, expressions, and body language didn't lie, and the Emperor could tell when someone was uncomfortable, nausea being readily identifiable. He looked down at his cup, and quickly put his drink back on the platter, taking a small, cylindrical glass of Crème de Menthe to suppress the odor of his breath which he presumed, from the wrinkled noses and deep whiffs of coffee, to be the problem. His face soured at the stark contrast of flavors, but he was not one to put out his guests.

"I apologize, friend. Don't be reticent if something bothers you," he spoke reassuringly, "you will find ours is a culture of the audacious."

"But, we speak of your government. With such numbers and complexity, how are things handled in a timely manner? Has there ever been a system of more authority? At what level are issues handled? I have such questions!"

Valentino was intrigued by the concepts of such an unusual system, though he was put off by the pusillanimous behavior of the Lysians. He thoughts, perhaps, the Presidente suffered from some disease that caused him to react in such a way to something as trivial as coffee and wine. If all Lysians had such a weak stomach for dainty drinks, he mused, how would they react to the carnage of war? He also noted Autun's insistence that he had no power, and wondered if such self-depreciation was a façade for great power. Or perhaps Richard was the true power, as he had a presence that could only be described as reserved, yet powerful and masculine. Maybe there was a relationship? He had many questions, which he felt would be answered by the end of the visit. For now, he was content at nibbling, due to the niceties that seemed to be common courtesy for his guests.

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  • 4 weeks later...

"Five months only?" The emperor questioned, leaning forward in interest. "And is it renewed as the crisis continues?"

Emperor Valentino was keen on learning all about Lysian culture and government, he made it a point to know firsthand who and what he was dealing with, especially when it cames to nations with prodigious arms manufacturing businesses. Some in Asgeirria, certainly in ValenCorp, saw the Lysian aerospace industry as a rival in terms of quality, though it was widely accepted by Asgeirrian industrialists that the lack of domestic labor would limit them from competing on the international marketplace.

"And how ready are your military and emergency forces for a crisis?"

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Our position is quite the opposite of yours. Our philosophy is that as long as we have control of the population and industrial centers, we cannot be defeated." The Emperor responded frankly, "Our navy is designed to destroy or sufficiently weaken the enemy's high seas capability to prevent a landing. From there, we have hardened coastal defenses surrounding the island; preparations for an invasion that never came. There are layers of anti-aircraft defenses ranging from anti-aircraft guns to silo-based missiles. If you have visited an Asgeirrian city, you will see the sturdy construction of the tallest buildings. We buy the top few floors and fill it with air defenses. Once all of our planes are shot down, the enemy must wade through an entire island full of defenses from 2000 years of war. 2000 years of wasted lives and resources, imagine!"

He paused, chewing on a chewy chocolate chip cookie.

"But, I am curious. With your air force constantly sucking fuel and costing you money, how do you stay out of debt? Where do you get such fuel? And what is your plan once your forces retreat into the mountains, abandoning the population centers? Surely you do not rely on the intervention of foreign powers?"

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"Civilian casualties are a fact of war, one of the terrible consistencies. Should a war reach our shores, it means that our aerial forces have been destroyed." The emperor said matter-of-factly. "When an enemy has shot down our last fighter, they will find no peace in our skies. The objective is to make the enemy feel like it's better to negotiate peace than to fight for every city block with little to no air support."

He paused to finish his cookie, and take a sip of milk, before a segwey into answering the President's next question.

"We are a fully self-sufficient nation, in the military aspect, though many of our aircraft are reaching the age where they need to be supplemented by new aircraft." The Emperor stated simply, "Though they excel in dogfighting, there are certain capabilities that are too expensive to implement to justify putting in older aircraft."

John Valentino could be shrewd, almost calculated, but at his core he was an honest person, something some considered a failing. However, his reputation had not yet left Asgeirria, though he was one of the few people who had travelled outside the nation in the decades before the borders opened.

"We had hoped to find a suitable aircraft outside our own borders to alleviate our already overworked production lines, but without finding a 3rd party whose interests might conflict with ours, we have few options."

 

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