When we exit the portal, we’re greeted by a massive, sprawling garden peppered with autumn colors. It’s a little overgrown but was clearly landscaped and maintained at some point.
JUN: What is this place?
KRYSTOFF: It’s outside of my sector, on the outskirts of my father’s territory, but this is the garden where I first found Regenald. It’s also where I first took on a physical form.
KRYSTOFF: When I found it, it was severely neglected and had probably been abandoned for years, so I took it upon myself to care for it. I haven’t visited it as much this year, but…
He kneels down and takes a leaf between his fingers, assessing. Seemingly satisfied. He smiles down at it with some measure of pride.
KRYSTOFF: Well, nature carries on, with or without you.
JUN: It’s gorgeous here. No wonder you have this place on speed dial.
KRYSTOFF: I’m quite fond of it. I’ve always come here when I needed to feel at peace. It’s to your liking?
JUN: Yeah! I feel like this is just what I needed, actually.
He looks pleased with this answer. We stand there for a bit, just letting the wind rustle the trees and tousle our hair. The fresh air and crisp weather feel so nice after being stuck in a windowless mansion for so long.
JUN: Regenald, what were you doing in a place like this, anyway? Do you remember your life before Krystoff gave you magic?
KRYSTOFF: He rests for now. It takes more out of me to keep him awake when we are outside of our sector, so he’s conserving energy.
KRYSTOFF: But to answer your question in his stead, he was abandoned here when he started to tear and fall apart. That’s what he remembers, anyway.
KRYSTOFF: …I brought him to life because we were both lonely.
JUN: Aw… I’m glad you found him, then.
Krystoff walks with me, on the ground, which is a rare occurrence. He’s so close to my side, in sync with my step, I get the errant thought of holding his hand. What would he do if I did? I suppose he might get angry with me, and that would spoil the mood, but it feels so serene in this garden, I can’t imagine him doing anything to shatter that fragile tranquility.
And then as if reading my mind, he reaches for my hand and grips it loosely in his.
KRYSTOFF: This way. The path branches a few ways, but this way is my favorite.
He guides me but doesn’t let go once we’re both headed in the same direction again. So I tighten my hold a little. Though he pointedly doesn’t look over at me, he makes no move to pull away.
Casual touch has never been something either of us seemed terribly comfortable with outside of antagonistic pokes and prods. Yet… I don’t know… This feels right.
KRYSTOFF: These flowers over here are och’viho—dahlias, in your language, I believe. They have a pretty broad growing season, so they look good in a garden for a long time. Very low maintenance. Come in a lot of vibrant colors. The red ones are my preference.
JUN: They’re really cute.
KRYSTOFF: You call a lot of strange things cute.
JUN: I’m not good at describing things. If I like it, it’s cute.
KRYSTOFF: Fair enough. Those over there are cavsida. Chrysanthemums. They’re easy, too. They come in a variety of sizes, but the ones in this garden are fairly large. You can use their flowers in tea and their leaves in soups or as garnishes. Did you know that?
JUN: I might have seen mum tea at the store once or twice before, yeah.
KRYSTOFF: We can make it. I have it pretty often. It’s pleasant.
KRYSTOFF: In many of your earth cultures, chrysanthemums symbolize death or mourning. Strange for such a cheery looking flower, hm?
JUN: Strange for a flower people eat and drink!
KRYSTOFF: Yes, haha. I always gave them special care in the garden because of that, though. I guess it’s my memorial to the human mother I never knew. I don’t know if she would have liked or cared about them, but they’re more for me than they are for her.
I glance up at him, and all things considered he looks pretty neutral on the subject, but I know by now not to take Krystoff at face value.
JUN: You mentioned before that she died. What happened? If you don’t mind me asking.
KRYSTOFF: It doesn’t bother me at all, so don’t worry about it. Her name was Angkit and when she was on earth, she was a respected diviner. I didn’t know her. She died when I was born.
KRYSTOFF: It was inevitable, of course. What human could withstand the untempered energy drain of a newly formed apparition?
JUN: That’s brutal.
KRYSTOFF: It’s the fault of my father for taking a human as a bride to begin with. I have no doubt he knew my birth would kill her.
KRYSTOFF: …Pardon me. This is hardly an appropriate conversation to have on your birthday.
JUN: No, it’s fine. It’s kinda nice to hear about this kind of stuff unprompted in a casual setting like this. I mean, it’s not nice to hear about your mother dying, but it’s nice to just… learn more about you. Sorry, worded that poorly.
KRYSTOFF: Hah. You’d be hard-pressed to ever truly offend me, Jun.
I refrain from regaling every single benign thing I’ve ever said that clearly offended him. But to his credit, maybe that was all in jest.
JUN: Okay, so if you don’t mind me being intrusive, then, what about your brother? How come his birth didn’t kill her first?
KRYSTOFF: That’s because—
ROTYS’LAV: That’s because me and sweet little Krystoff here are only half brothers!! I’m aaaaallllll apparition, baby.
ROTYS’LAV: Hey, bitch. Miss me?