You know when you wake up late, and you can just tell you’ve slept in way too late and now you have to go on with your day having basically set yourself up for failure? I look over at the clock and confirm my suspicion that today is one of those days. Not a big deal, considering I’m essentially a professional freeloader right now, but even if Lady doesn’t mind what I do with my time, I came to Duen hoping to improve myself, not… to wake up at noon. Best make this a one time thing.
With Lady at work, the house is empty and almost deafeningly quiet. Normally, I treasure my alone time, but the thought of eating breakfast alone at noon having not yet laid eyes on another living being strikes me as kind of lonely, so I grab an orange and head outside.
Unfortunately, the front porch doesn’t offer much reprieve. The cul-de-sac is particularly still, most of the residents assumably also at work or school. It’s times like these I really lament the death of my mental image of Duen as some kind of crazy fantasy land. Sure, that would have been harder to get used to, but…….
JUN: Oh! Cassius! Hey!!
Cassius exits his garage across the way and catches my attention easily with that big, bright head of his.
CASSIUS: Oh! …Hey!
He waves back, looking a little surprised by my eager greeting. I decide to be bold and wave him over, since I have a feeling if I’m not forthcoming with Cassius, he and I will never talk at all. To my delight, he acquiesces and walks over with a bike I’m guessing is his.
JUN: What are you up to today?
CASSIUS: Me? Nothing special! Just, well, going to college…
CASSIUS: Oh gee, no congrats are in order… Like I said before, it’s just a local college. I transferred some units over from my previous one and now I gotta finish my general education. It’s mostly boring stuff. A-and actually I’m running kinda late cus I slept in…
He rubs the back of his head sheepishly, a gesture ten times funnier and cuter on him than on anyone else.
JUN: Haha, you too, huh?
CASSIUS: Yeah, I had trouble falling asleep because I thought I saw… someone outside my window… It really scared me. But, I’m probably just being paranoid.
JUN: Maybe it was the wind?
CASSIUS: Probably, yeah…
He sighs and a small, sour jingle plays quietly from his keys.
CASSIUS: Sorry, I really gotta go now. My professor is gonna yell at me if I walk in while he’s lecturing…
JUN: Don’t let me keep you!
He hops on his bike, immediately gets his cord caught in the spokes, pulls it out with too much force which seems to hurt him, and rides away with a defeated posture. Poor thing.
Hey, where’d my orange go??
I look at the ground and all around me, but my breakfast-lunch is nowhere to be found. I could have sworn I brought it with m—
KRYSTOFF: Up here, human.
The purple guy brings me three shakes away from the doors of death by appearing out of seemingly thin air. In his hand is none other than my orange.
JUN: What the hell?? You scared me!!!! And I didn’t know you could float?? Also give me back my orange!!
KRYSTOFF: Someone’s pushy first thing in the afternoon! I’ll give it back to you if you remember what my name is.
Dammit. I met so many people in the last few days and names have never been my strong suit. While I’m thinking he starts peeling the orange and drops the peel on my head. This guy’s sure got a lot of nerve, acting like he can just tease me like this when I don’t even know him.
Cassius is the keyboard, I remember that much… And then there was, um, Tor… and C-Cal… Calisto? Oh, man, what was it… K-…
JUN: Krystoff!! Right?
KRYSTOFF: Ding, ding, ding!
He takes a bite of the orange and then drops it without warning, leaving me and my bad reflexes to fumble. By some miracle, I catch it, but he’s already tarnished it so I might as well have let it fall. I’m this close to removing my mask just so I can glare at him.
JUN: Why the hell did you take a bite? I don’t want your germs. I don’t even know what kind of duenkhy you are. You could be poisonous or something.
KRYSTOFF: Or maybe my saliva grants eternal life and you’re missing out.
JUN: I’ll definitely pass on that.
To make my point, I drop the fruit on the ground. Of course, I’ll throw it away properly later.
Krystoff floats down a little more on my eye level, his legs crossed regally, that ratty paper umbrella still perched on his shoulder, unopened and seemingly without purpose.
KRYSTOFF: Thought at all about my offer?
JUN: Your offer for what? All I remember is you being weird and telling me I have a year in Duen.
KRYSTOFF: I said I’d answer your questions about this place, didn’t I?
JUN: I don’t even know if I want your answers. I feel like you’ll want something in return. You’re gonna trap me in some kind of sea witch blood contract and steal my voice.
KRYSTOFF: I have no godforsaken idea what you’re talking about.
JUN: Never mind. It’s a human thing.
KRYSTOFF: I figured as much. Humans love to not make any sense.
JUN: That’s rich coming from you.
KRYSTOFF: Don’t act like you know me, little thing.
JUN: Well, same to you! Man, you’re annoying.
KRYSTOFF: Am I? You weren’t nearly this rude to the piano boy.
He puts his hand to his chest like he’s wounded, but it’s so transparently insincere. I roll my entire head with my eyes.
JUN: That’s because the piano boy is cute and nice and talks like a normal person. If this is your way of making friends with me, it’s doing the polar opposite. I’ll ask this one more time. What do you want out of me?
Infuriatingly, he just smiles as if I’m saying exactly everything he wanted me to say.
KRYSTOFF: You’re so silly. What do I want from you? Why, what an odd question. I barely know you. What could I possibly want from you?
JUN: I’m going back inside.
KRYSTOFF: Now, hold on!!
JUN: Whaaaat? You’re worse than a door-to-door salesman. Out with it already.
KRYSTOFF: I was just… thinking… that it’d be best if we got to know each other.
I open my mouth to retort, but there’s a note of genuine anxiety in his words, so I shut up and give him a chance to finish his thought. He avoids looking directly at me, contrary to how he was gawking at me as if I were a street performance before.
KRYSTOFF: Well, you’re new to this world—and I know it better than anyone here, including Lady. I think it’d be mutually beneficial if we were acquainted. There are dangers in Duen that are unlike any you may have encountered in the human world.
KRYSTOFF: Frankly, I think it’s reckless of Lady to have brought you here like it was nothing. She has become arrogant in her old age.
JUN: Don’t let her hear you say that.
KRYSTOFF: Oh, please, I value my life enough to know that.
?: Good grief, I tire of this. Pardon my intrusion.
Huh? Where did that voice come from?