I try not to look at the Grand Archon walking like a runway model in his swimsuit as I sense him approach our table.
Germanius Richard Andre Nestor David Leclerc III used to be the reigning absolute monarch of the First Lutecean Empire before its decline, and he somehow became our Grand Archon. Aside from his unusually long name like the other Lutecean monarchs of old, he speaks with an almost falsetto tone that makes him sound like a dog trying to speak Simlish. Despite having the highest position in the Association, he can be extremely annoying, florid, and inappropriate. The eccentric attitude, shrill giggles, and flamboyant outbursts about beauty are well-known by all Archons and members of the Association.
And as the old fart approaches the table while twirling his long gray hair, I nervously smile as I pretend not to acknowledge his presence, even if I am capable of sensing anything within a few meters, especially if it’s something ridiculous.
“AH~! Monsieur Remigio!” the Grand Archon speaks while rolling the R’s in the Don’s first name. “We have missed you so much. Hearing only your servant’s monotonous tone has been absolutely boring.” And being a former monarch, he still has the habit of using “we” instead of “I” as a pronoun. The Imperial Lutecean accent that he was rumored to have put into trend is still being used by Luteceans nowadays. Then a human waiter approaches our table and serves us the plasma fruit drinks that I ordered.
“It is great to see you again in person, mon roi. I apologize if you have found my servant boring. I shall instruct him to sound livelier next time.” the Don bows and addresses the Grand Archon in Lutecean to flatter him.
Leclerc giggles loudly. “How silly of you, monsieur! I am flattered that you have addressed me like a monarch, but my empire is but a memory in history. It is just great to see you here again after 54 years!” He says as I still try not to look at him directly while drinking the glass of plasma fruit juice.
Then he turns his attention to me.
“And Monsieur de Guzman!”
I almost spit out my drink as he said my last name.
“The 1931 custom Diaboli suit tailored to fit your perfect physique with matching black Romani brand pants to highlight your strong legs really makes quite the impression! Your lovely Asahinian hairstyle complements your handsome features, and the way you smile is quite charming! You are quite a feast for the eyes tonight. C’est magnifique!” the Grand Archon speaks with a shower of compliments that I always find awkward, even if I have heard it every time I come here. Countess Malefica told me before that he does this to anyone who fits with his standards of fashion. I am flattered, but being complimented in this manner makes me feel uneasy.
“I appreciate the compliment.” I wipe my mouth a bit after gulping. “Y-you are well-dressed yourself, Grand Archon.” I bow a bit and smile but stutter as I look at the wet gray swimsuit that seems to be one size too small.
“Oui! Indeed we are! It is wonderful that you have noticed my Imperial ceremonial outfit from the old days because only individuals who have a taste in the arts can see it. Quite a sight to behold!” Leclerc poses himself as if he were waiting for someone to paint his portrait, pretending to hold a scepter in one hand.
“A wondrous sight, non? The golden cloth! The majestic Imperial crown adorned with jewels! The tiger skin cape imported from the deep jungles of the Continent! All of these wonderful pieces create the majestic ensemble that I am showcasing!” After emphasizing the last word, he giggles loudly again.
Antonio leans in to whisper into my ear.
“Is he really the Grand Archon, Doctor?”
“Believe it or not, he is.” I whisper back as the Don compliments the Grand Archon and starts a conversation about royal fashion during Leclerc’s reign as emperor.
“I did not expect him to be so…”
“Flamboyant? You’ll have to get used to it. He has one redeeming quality, though.”
“You’ll find out in time.”
The Don then laughs after finishing his conversation with the Grand Archon, and he suddenly introduces Antonio without my consent.
“Speaking of style, Doctor de Guzman here brought his fledgling, Antonio. It is his first time to attend a Gathering.” the Don gestures to bring Leclerc’s attention to my student.
And then the Grand Archon fixates himself on Antonio with a look that can make anyone uneasy. He never acknowledges a new person unless they are properly introduced, but the Don beat me to introducing my pupil.
“Good evening, Grand Archon.” Antonio politely greets.
“AH~!” the flamboyant windbag exclaims in that annoying tone again. “The stylish Panini brand glasses, attractive Asahinian hairstyle, and luxurious cotton scarf give you a very fetching look, my scrumptious macaron!” he continues and goes on to point out every single detail of what Tonio is wearing, like what he did with me earlier.
After complimenting my pupil’s attire, he turns his attention to me.
“You have very good taste, Monsieur de Guzman.” the old fart tells me as I am caught off-guard by what he meant.
“What exactly do you mean, Grand Archon?” I ask as I try to decipher the Grand Archon’s vague message.
“It takes someone with a high fashion sense such as yours to pass on your style of dress to your student! What a noble deed for a mentor like you!”
“But he dresses hims–”
“No need to be modest about it, monsieur! It is obvious that you care that much about your student.” the Grand Archon says as I give up the idea of protesting further. Isn’t the Gathering proper supposed to be starting soon? I hope this old fart decides to get dressed to start the meeting. I want to discuss matters with the other Archons immediately. Then the Don speaks to him.
“Seigneur, forgive me for interrupting your shower of compliments on Doctor de Guzman, but it is almost midnight.” the Don politely informs the Grand Archon while addressing him with the Lutecean word for “lord.”
“Ah, oui!” Leclerc exclaims as if he didn’t know that the Gathering was tonight. “How silly of me to get too caught up in the revelry! We shall start in ten minutes. Just enough time to put away my royal garments to get dressed into something more appropriate!” the Grand Archon performs a curtsy before prancing like a buffoon towards the changing room located next to the air-conditioned plasma fruit garden.
“I still can’t believe that’s the Grand Archon.” Antonio whispers into my ear and looks at the Grand Archon again.
“He’s like that when he’s in party mode.” I pause for a bit and whisper back. “But he’s a totally different person in meetings.”
“He is, no?” the Don chimes in. “It’s too bad only us Archons get to see his real side!” he laughs after saying.
Antonio only gives me a perplexed look as a vampire then announces on the mic that all Archons should be present in the meeting room in ten minutes. I tell Antonio to enjoy himself with the bottomless plasma fruit juice fountains, rare blood samples, and “willing” human volunteers for drinking while waiting for the meeting to finish.
I make my way to the meeting room with the Don, and as we enter, we find out that we are the first ones to arrive. The other Archons will probably be fashionably late, like the Grand Archon. The Don makes his way to the seat nearest to the Archon, a place of great importance, for he holds the rank of Association Deputy. I go over to my seat at the farthest end of the Table, with my last name misspelled on it in gold letters. “House de Guzmoan” it says. I cannot have the typo fixed because it will take a long, expensive, and tedious process; perhaps longer than the two centuries of my life.
“Still at the far end of the Table, I see.” the Don calls out from the other end as I take my seat and see a few Archons enter.
“My House is a humble one, Don. And we only involve ourselves in art smuggling and petty crimes.” I tell him. “Perhaps I can move to that orange throne after a century.” I point to the throne as I imagine myself sitting on it someday.
“Perhaps, my friend! Perhaps!” the Don laughs as the other Archons start coming in. Archons from the big Houses like Salazar, Malefica, and Puskas arrive and sit near the Grand Archon’s seat. The minor Houses, where I’m classified, sit farther, and I acknowledge the presence of my fellow minor Archons, like the cowardly Rembrandt, the gym buff El-Hashem, and the bespectacled Countess Cunningham of West Newcrest. I frown a bit as I see that rat Valmonte enter and take his seat at the middle part of the table. He just gives me a cocky grin with his uneven fangs as I glare back at him.
I engage the Archons of the minor Houses in conversation while waiting for the Grand Archon to show up, ranging from small talk to the pressing issues of their Houses. The coward Rembrandt tells me that the werewolves have been encroaching on and vandalizing his territory after accidentally insulting the Wolfssegner or the fancy werewolf term for “pack leader” of our neighborhood. Rembrandt is probably as dumb as Preston, and it makes me wonder how he even became an Archon in the first place. If it were me, I would have offered a few humans who haven’t paid us their debts as a tribute of fresh meat to the Wolfssegner instead of running away like a coward.
Archon El-Hashem tells me about the human mafia that has been competing with his laundry business in our neighborhood and boasts his plan to impale the gangsters’ heads on pikes. Just like meatball kebabs, he says. Countess Cunningham is a relatively new Archon, claiming the title of Archon after her master Count Philips perished in an ambush by guildspawn. She laments that she wasn’t able to do anything for the Guild was armed to the teeth at that time, and they were dreadfully outnumbered. And that is why I’ve come to appeal to the Association for help.
Then the door to the side of the meeting hall opens.
The Grand Archon has arrived, and the Gathering has officially begun.