Chapter Two - I Will Make a Wish for the Future (continued)
“They are indeed,” said Steven from behind him. Ren jumped and spun round to face the former Champion.
“Don't – don't do that!” he squeaked. A flicker of amusement passed across Steven's smooth face.
“Come with me, Champion,” he said, turning and walking away. They were in a hallway, Ren noticed as he followed Steven's shock of silver hair. An ostentatious one, at that. The floor was covered with plush red carpet that seemed to swallow Ren's feet as he walked, and the walls were painted in a similar shade, with gold trim glinting on all sides. Ornate golden chandeliers hung from the ceiling at intervals, glittering with droplets of diamond.
“Nice place,” Ren said quietly.
“Quite. Actually, this floor is the Stone family's personal residence in Rustboro. My father lives here most of the time, as he never likes to be too far from his work. It is a little extravagant for my tastes, but then, I have no real say in the matter as I spend so little time here.”
“So, will you tell me why I'm here yet?” Ren queried, hurrying to catch up to Steven. Steven glanced across at him briefly.
“I will,” he said. “But first, may I suggest that your . . .” He tailed off, seemingly uncertain.
“Cousin,” Ren supplied, seeing where Steven was looking.
“May I suggest, then, that we find some way for your cousin to entertain herself for an hour or two. I apologise for the seeming lack of trust, but what we have to discuss is for your ears only.”
“How exactly do you expect a twelve-year-old to entertain herself in a place like this?” Ren asked, gesturing around at the ornate furnishings.
“I have some idea,” Steven said, before leaning over slightly to address Natasha directly. “Do you like books?” he asked.
Natasha nodded solemnly, which surprised Ren slightly. His cousin had never shown much interest in literature of any kind, from what he could remember. “Yes,” she said. “I like reading.”
“Well,” said Steven, drawing to a halt before a dark wooden door, “would you like to see my library?” Without waiting for an answer, he pushed the door open and gestured her inside.
Ren peeked over Steven's shoulder into the room beyond, and his eyes grew wide. A huge, warmly-lit room stretched out from the door, lined with enormous, floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books of all shapes and sizes. “Wow,” he breathed. “How many books do you have?”
“Thousands,” Steven said – a touch smugly, Ren thought. “Katrina!” he said sharply, raising his voice a little.
There was a scuffling sound, and a girl poked her head out from behind a bookshelf several metres away. She had mousy brown hair and a small pair of square glasses resting on her nose. She looked to be a few years older than Ren. “Yes?” she said. “Oh, hello, Steven! Did you need me for something?”
“This is our Champion's cousin,” Steven explained, indicating Natasha, who had wandered towards the nearest bookshelf and was scanning it eagerly. “Could you look after her for a little while for us? Ren and I have some business to discuss.”
Katrina smiled. “Sure thing. I'll keep an eye on her – both, if I can spare them.”
“Thank you,” Steven said, smiling back. “We'll be back in an hour or two, I imagine.” With a final nod, he closed the door again. “My sister,” he said, upon seeing Ren's confused expression. “She's studying for her Masters in Anthropology, so she spends most of her time in the library.”
“I see.” Ren followed Steven as he set off again, heading down a different corridor. How big is this floor? Ren wondered. It had taken them a good couple of minutes to get from the lift to the library.
“Your cousin seems like a sensible child,” Steven remarked.
“Strangely, no,” Ren said. “She's usually quite hyper, and I just don't know what's up with her today. Ever since we arrived in Rustboro, she's been . . . pretty strange. Normally she'd have been bouncing off the walls all the way up here, but . . . no. I don't know.” He shook his head. Natasha had been acting strange. Perhaps she really had mellowed out over the five years he hadn't seen her? He was willing to put her initial display of hyperactivity down to excitement at seeing him again, but still . . . there was something strange.
“She'll be fine with Katrina,” Steven said. “She won't brook any nonsense, not while she's studying.” After another couple of turns, he stopped abruptly and opened another door, gesturing for Ren to precede him into the room.
The room was a lot more understated than the rest of the floor, Ren noticed immediately. The red and gold colour scheme remained, but the floor was hardwood and there were no chandeliers. Light came from quietly humming fixtures on the ceiling, and the only furnishings in the room were two low chairs, facing each other across a plain metal table.
“This room is where my father holds his most secret meetings,” Steven said. “The ones where it is absolutely imperative that their contents remain confidential, and the ones with clients who are too pragmatic to be insulted by the lack of an extravagant conference room. I don't know the sorts of people he meets with in here, but it's none of my business . . . yet.”
“It might be, if you have to take over the company from your father.”
“Who told you that?” Steven asked, his eyes narrowing.
Ren inhaled sharply. He had the sense he had said something he shouldn't have. “I . . . assumed it?” he said weakly. “I mean, you're the oldest, aren't you?”
Steven continued to examine him closely as he took his seat and indicated Ren should do the same. “That sounds unlikely. Did Roxanne say anything?”
“She . . . might have mentioned it,” Ren admitted as he sat down on the metal chair, which creaked slightly under his weight. “Hypothetically, that is.”
“Tch,” Steven tutted. “That girl . . . oh, well. It is of no great importance.” He paused, staring at Ren for a few moments, looking him up and down. Ren shifted uncomfortably in his seat, suddenly very aware that his unruly brown hair was sticking up all over the place, a pet hate of his mother's. He was only wearing ratty old jeans and a red t-shirt, too – he hadn't had time to get changed before he left for the train station. He felt very scruffy next to the immaculate Steven in his black pants and collared shirt with its purple zigzags. He sank slightly into his chair, as if it would prevent Steven from seeing him.
“What did . . . you want to talk to me about?” Ren asked.
Steven leant back in his chair suddenly, rubbing his eyes and sighing. “This is an awkward business, Ren,” he said, his voice suddenly carrying an awful lot of gravity. “A most awkward and tiring business. And, setting aside any matters of Champion and ex-Champion for the moment, I'd like you to listen to me as one man to another. Do you understand?”
Ren frowned. Suddenly, Roxanne wasn't the only one acting weird. “What . . . are you trying to say?”
Steven dipped his head slightly and closed his eyes. “I'm trying to say that . . . what I have to discuss with you today is something I'd never hoped to discuss with someone like you. Please don't take offense, but . . . you're still little more than a boy. I always expected to have to tell my successor about this – you can't be Champion forever, after all – but I didn't expect it to be someone as young as you.”
“Will you please tell me what you're on about?” Ren demanded. “You're just confusing me more and more! And just because I'm fourteen doesn't mean you can be condescending!”
Steven nodded. “You're right. I'm sorry. I'm insulting your intelligence if I try to hide anything from you. All I need is your solemn promise that you will take me seriously, because without that this conversation will bear no fruit. Agreed?”
Ren nodded firmly. “Agreed. Now talk, if you have something to say.”
Steven let out a long, slow breath before opening his eyes and looking directly into Ren's. “Let me begin with a question.”