The second I step out on the other side, it’s clear that something is very wrong. Not only does the air feel heavy and metallic, but the foyer is a mess. Manners be damned, I step onto the tiles without hesitation this time, shoes and all.
There are cracks in the flooring that weren’t there before, and some kind of… black liquid, splattered in inscrutable, savage shapes that drag themselves up the stairs. As I follow them up, minding my steps so that they’re as soundless as possible, I swipe a curious finger through the fluid.
Viscous. And not nearly as cold as I expected it to be.
My ascension seems to stretch out in front of me, taking up more space in time than it’s meant to. Yet eventually I reach the top and follow my trail around the corner to the left hallway.
As I suspected, I find Krystoff at the other end of the black trail. When I say his name, he angles his head slightly in my direction—a weak acknowledgment but an acknowledgment all the same.
Why is my stomach doing flips?
I approach, kneeling in front of him.
JUN: Jesus, man, what happened? Are you okay??
I’m trying to maintain my composure, but this is definitely Krystoff’s blood, and there’s a lot of it, and he looks like a sallow imitation of the lively, impudent creature I’d spoken to only a few days ago. Sure, this is only like my third time ever seeing him, but it doesn’t take a genius to piece together that this is all wrong.
KRYSTOFF: …Quite fine.
His gaze is unfocused, and the words come out like they burden him. But more than anything, the lack of quip puts me on edge. Regenald is nowhere to be found and can’t act as a supplementary mouthpiece. My hands hover over him, seeking something, anything that can be done, but I don’t even know where to start.
He looks like an inkwell that sprang a violent leak. Or just straight up shattered. I bite my lip and wait for guidance, but he says nothing, preoccupied with breathing.
JUN: Was this… Someone attacked you, didn’t they?
His silence somehow answers my question. His eyebrows tense. He musters the energy to look a little angry, but then he releases it just as quickly, like it’s tiresome to hold onto.
KRYSTOFF: You don’t need to be here. I’m fine, and he’s gone now. Doubt he’ll come back. I’ll heal on my own eventually.
KRYSTOFF: Please. I don’t want to be seen like this.
He turns his face away, presumably because that’s all he has the energy for in terms of putting distance between us. Resignation pulls him small and slight, and he looks like a cat that’s crawled under a bush to die alone.
I tilt my mask to the side of my head to get it out of the way, and without much pretense, I work Krystoff’s scarf off of his neck. I think any anger or resistance he’d have to offer are overridden by confusion. He stares wordlessly as I lick an unstained corner of the fabric and set to work wiping off his face.
JUN: Gross, I know, sorry. But I figure it’s better than nothing.
It’s not ideal, or even all that helpful. I have reservations about it myself. But I don’t know where anything in this house is, and in this state he definitely won’t tell me. So I have to work with what I have.
Maybe because he can see the determination on my exposed face, or maybe because he’s painted half of the foyer in his own blood, Krystoff just sits compliantly and lets me work.