KRYSTOFF: One, how to leave this world and keep the memories of your time here without the barrier ripping them away from you. Alternatively—two, how to stay here forever without the healing of the barrier ejecting you, if you so choose to stay.
KRYSTOFF: Who better to possess that knowledge than I? After all, I help maintain the very spell that makes these things the way they are.
JUN: So… what’s the catch? That sounds too good to be true.
KRYSTOFF: You’re learning! This knowledge is potent, and frankly, sort of taboo to share. If I were to share it with you, I’d need to really trust you. I’d say a year is plenty of time for us to get to know each other, yes?
KRYSTOFF: Our acquaintanceship would serve a secondary function, of course. Granting you the ability to supersede the barrier could take a great deal of magic out of me, powerful though I may be, so if you agreed to appear regularly and make yourself useful to me, I’d be able to siphon power from your negative energy.
KRYSTOFF: By the time you’re ready to decide if you’d like to stay here in Duen or if you’d like to leave with your memories, I should have enough power built up to grant your wish.
KRYSTOFF: Oh yes, and because I’m efficient, yet another benefit of this arrangement is that entering a bond with me would help protect us both from other apparitions who may come to investigate the mess you and Lady made! Your regular attendance would augment my power output, and my presence would most likely protect you from unsavory apparitions who may come crawling around.
JUN: “Most likely” protect?
KRYSTOFF: I mean, no guarantees. Apparitions can be a violent bunch. But we also have a fondness for legality. An apparition who knows you’re bonded to me most likely won’t harm you. After all, that could be seen as a declaration of war!
JUN: I’m not sure about the sound of this “bond” thing. It makes it sound kinda like I’m just a piece of neutral territory.
REGENALD: It is… not too dissimilar.
KRYSTOFF: The alternative is you go back to prancing about the streets unprotected and hope Lady is powerful enough to withstand an opportunistic neighboring apparition taking a cheap shot. And you accept that anything you accomplish in your year here is a beautiful, temporary dream.
JUN: Why would an apparition from another zone attack me, exactly?
KRYSTOFF: An easy way to speed the healing of the barrier, for those who are less lax than I about ensuring there is no crossover between the worlds. Plus, you’re an easy target since you aren’t from Duen. An apparition without honor could easily bleed you dry of energy. You lack rights or jurisdiction in these lands.
JUN: Oh. Okay. That’s kinda disturbing.
KRYSTOFF: You signed up for that when you made a contract with Lady and crossed over.
JUN: Yeah, I guess I kind of did.
REGENALD: I certainly would not do it. But I do not presume to understand honorable Jun’s motives.
JUN: Just Jun is fine.
Regenald gives me a half-lidded blink that suggests he’s going to ignore that request.
JUN: Okay. Ooookaaaayyyy. That was a lot of info. I’m just gonna fire off a few questions. Pardon me if they’re ineloquent.
JUN: How do you eat the negative energy to begin with? And what would you eating my negative energy entail? Is it like a vampire thing? Would you be biting me? Or is it like a succubus thing??
Krystoff looks like he wants to call the whole thing off and be the apparition to kill me himself. He’s so caught between embarrassment, anger, and absolute stunned shock that he can’t even move his mouth to form a snarky quip.
I was half-joking, but he’s so palpably mortified that I almost feel secondhand embarrassed myself. But I’m mostly just smug that I’ve elicited such a profound reaction out of him.
REGENALD: Ah… um… To answer in my young master’s stead, it is no such thing. Negative energy is passively collected through close proximity. Forming a bond would simply alert other apparitions to your connection with him. A protective certificate, of sorts.
REGENALD: …And I would advise you refrain from disturbing the young master so. Negative energy is beneficial to apparitions, yes, but it does nothing if it comes from the apparition itself.
JUN: Hahahaha, sorry. I didn’t mean any offense. I was mostly genuinely curious.
JUN: Well, I hope you’ll understand if this is a lot for me to think about, and I’d kind of like to consult Lady about it all since it kinda involves her too, even if just by a little bit. Can I get back to you with my answer in a day or two?
KRYSTOFF: Do as you please. I may change my mind about the whole thing by the time you’ve decided, though.
JUN: Oh, come on.
REGENALD: The offer will be in place for as long as you need to deliberate, honorable Jun. As I said before, this agreement would be advantageous to us as well as you.
REGENALD: In fact, you need not enter a formal agreement with us at all. Just calling upon us regularly at your own leisure could reap all the same benefits of the required acquaintanceship and energy collection, sans the bond to protect you from neighboring apparitions, of course.
Krystoff casts an irritated look at his umbrella, perhaps annoyed that Regenald has laid out this noncommittal option to me. By Krystoff’s own admission, apparitions like legality, so I’m sure his preference lies in a properly cosigned contract.
Or maybe he’s serious about rethinking the deal because I joked about him biting me. God, what a prude.
JUN: Fine by me. Either way, I guess you’ll hear from me again in a few days. Thanks—for the tea, and for the info. I’m sorry for giving you such a hard time, Krystoff. I really do appreciate you and Regenald taking the time to explain all of this to me.
JUN: It’s kind of scary, being here in Duen. I know I’m the one who made the choice to come here, but it was a choice made out of…
JUN: Maybe not quite desperation, but I just knew something drastic needed to happen fast, and I had nowhere else to go. I don’t regret it yet, but… There’s a lot I didn’t think through. And there’s a lot I still don’t know.
A small, self-effacing chuckle escapes me.
JUN: Sorry, I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this. I’m gonna see myself out now, if that’s alright.
REGENALD: Thank you for gracing us with your presence, honorable Jun. We eagerly await your future correspondence.
JUN: Cool. Catch you guys later.
I quietly slip my shoes back on and head back down the hallway, only hesitating for a moment this time before stepping into the wall of blackness. I breathe in through my nose, and by the time the air has finished leaving my lungs, I’m back on the front porch of the seemingly normal house with the door closed neatly behind me.
The passage went much better this time. I guess it’s easier for me to relax in this one regard when I have so many other things on my mind now.