Krystoff leads me a little ways over to the house on the other side of Tor’s. The lawn is tidy and the front porch is clean, but it’s otherwise devoid of personality, which strikes me as a little weird since Krystoff seems like the particular type. Kinda expected marble fountains from him.
KRYSTOFF: Home sweet home, and all that.
He floats himself down to the front door and plants his feet primly. An ornate key is produced from his back pocket, and he looks over his shoulder at me as if to make sure I’m paying attention. One twist and the door opens up to a dark foyer.
Like, a dark dark foyer. It’s not a matter of the lights in the house being off. It’s like the sunlight outside doesn’t exist, like it’s being absorbed at the doorway’s helm without a trace… I take a step back, confused by the sight of such darkness. Is it some kind of trick of the eyes? I get a little closer to poke my head in, hoping I can shatter the strange illusion.
KRYSTOFF: Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Step right in. You won’t feel a thing.
And yet I find myself unable to respond. All I know is that the darkness seems to be sucking me in, preparing to consume me just like another ray of the sun. Maybe it’s my imagination, but my body tells me to run, so I start backing away.
My backwards progression is halted by a pair of hands taking both of my shoulders and navigating me across the helm. He gives me a hearty push, and…
KRYSTOFF: Off you go!
His cheery words echo in my ears like a words spoken from the other side of a tunnel, and I find myself falling. Just as I feared, I’m surrounded by that dimensionless darkness. Krystoff and the door are long gone.
I don’t hit a floor or feel air rushing past me as gravity pulls me into its undercurrent, but my stomach still lurches with disorientation. And with nothing to look at, I can’t even gauge distance or speed. I recognize this sensation as some kind of magic—it’s not too unlike the way crossing over from earth into Duen felt. And yet it’s so very different. It’s cold and uncertain.
I squeeze my eyes shut, waiting for impact. I’m scared to hit the ground, but I’m even more scared by the idea of being stuck in this eternal free fall any longer…
KRYSTOFF: …Jun. What are you doing?
I jolt and open my eyes, realizing all at once that I’m kneeling on a tiled floor. Unscathed. Krystoff is staring down his nose at me, eyebrows raised.
I try to stand up, my stance unsteady from the rush of adrenaline. And then nausea hits me all at once. Yeah, Lady did say something about how portals tend to make humans feel sick. My gut lurches, I misplace my feet, and this time I’m falling over for real.
KRYSTOFF: Easy, now!! Not so good with portals, eh?
JUN: I think I might puke. I’m not going to apologize if I puke on you. Fair warning.
He looks caught somewhere between amusement and fear, but he holds me upright regardless, surprisingly sturdy for how wispy he looks.
KRYSTOFF: I’ll manage. You are a funny one, though. That portal should only take a second and yet you managed to draw it out for so long. Passage goes faster if you don’t trap yourself in it, you know.
JUN: I mean, it would have helped if you’d told me what the hell it was first.
KRYSTOFF: Maybe. I thought you knew already.
It’s not quite an admission of guilt or an apology, but he at least has the good sense to look away like he’s slightly regretful.
JUN: I’ve been in this world for, like, a week. I still don’t even know where milk comes from in Duen, dude.
As soon as I’m steady enough to support my weight against the wall, he lets go of me like I’m made out of cacti. It’s hard to tell if the tail-end of an expression I catch is one of annoyance or… embarrassment? But I let it go for now and prioritize taking in my new surroundings.
Behind us is a hallway that ends in a wall of that same formless darkness. Before us is… well. It’s a foyer lavish beyond anything I’ve ever seen in person, and I lack the vocabulary to describe it to my own satisfaction.
It’s nice enough that I’m scared to walk through it at all, like touching fine china with dirty hands. The word “foyer” doesn’t even seem quite sufficient enough for what I’m looking at—I’m sure there’s a nicer, more artful way to describe it. My old art history professor manifests in my mind’s eye, shaking his head with disdain. I almost failed that class for a good reason.
I mean, aside from the fact that it was at 8 AM and I slept through most of the lectures.
Krystoff floats into the entryway without taking his shoes off, but I don’t fly and I’m not nasty, so I take a quick moment to slip my shoes off and step carefully onto the immaculate tiling.
KRYSTOFF: I certainly hope you have questions about Duen more pertinent than where we get milk from.
REGENALD: Oats or rice, by the way. Those are the young master’s favorites, at least.
JUN: Well, that’s all I needed to know. Guess I’ll head home now.
Krystoff’s eyes dart over to me in a moment of genuine disbelief.
JUN: Kidding. So what is all of this? Why did we need to go through a portal to get into your foyer?
KRYSTOFF: We’re not physically within the house that you saw just a few minutes ago. That building is just a facade for the portal, and the portal takes us to my actual quarters. It gives me the freedom to change housing locations at will. Call it a safety measure if you like.
JUN: What’s it a measure against?
KRYSTOFF: Hm. Other apparitions, mostly.
JUN: So… you keep saying “apparition,” but what do you mean by that, exactly? Like a ghost or spirit, or…?
He waves a hand in a measured half circle, and a small tea table and two chairs manifest out of inky tendrils of magic. He sits, so I invite myself to the other chair, feeling somewhat belittled standing in the middle of this giant insane mansion in my socks. At least sitting makes me feel less like a misplaced coat hanger.
KRYSTOFF: How to explain… Oh, Regenald, you do it. I hate repeating these things.
He sips from a cup I didn’t even realize had joined us at the table. A matching cup sits before me as well, but I leave it alone for the time being.
REGENALD: Very well.