Krystoff hands me Regenald and straightens, and all at once I can see him putting on the face he uses when he’s creating mischief his heart isn’t fully in.
KRYSTOFF: Hold onto Regenald for me. In case I lose track of you.
I nod and hoist Regenald over my shoulder as politely as I can. I’m not exactly sure if there’s any right or wrong way to hold an umbrella with a mind of its own, but I trust Regenald to say something if I mess up.
REGENALD: I will help keep you safe, Jun.
JUN: Aw, thanks, Regenald. I appreciate it.
JUN: …I’ve been meaning to ask for a while now, but what made you drop the “honorable” thing? Am I just not honorable anymore or something?
Regenald’s single eye darts away almost the same exact way Krystoff’s do when he’s embarrassed. They pick up habits from each other… Cute.
REGENALD: I stopped feeling the need to be so formal with you at some point. Your presence is comfortable and welcome to us. …And you had asked me to only call you Jun when we first met, so I figured I ought to abide by that.
JUN: So you did hear me ask that and chose to ignore it anyway. I thought so.
REGENALD: Do not be cross with me. Formality is a near compulsion for me. It did not feel right to address you familiarly until you were truly familiar.
JUN: Aww, are you saying we’re friends now?
REGENALD: Yes, perhaps. If friendship is something that creatures like myself and Krystoff are really capable of, anyway.
JUN: What makes me so special, huh?
REGENALD: You are stubborn and full of pluck, Jun. They are your most attractive qualities, by apparition standards.
JUN: Aw… thanks? Hahaha. I don’t know how to compliment an umbrella, but I enjoy your company too.
Regenald is so much more forthcoming than Krystoff. No wonder Krystoff needs his umbrella to bully honesty out of him.
Speaking of which, I tune back in to Krystoff currently chatting up an apparition who appears to be a tall orc woman. He’s gesturing and emoting freely, a coy grin playing on his features, but I know him well enough to sense a performance by now. The woman is swiveling a flute of probably-alcohol, and if I had to guess, it isn’t her first one because she keeps trying to touch his face.
JUN: Should we save him?
REGENALD: No. He is old enough to know how to disentangle himself from unwanted conversations on his own. Or if not, at least it is amusing.
As if to multiply our enjoyment, a moon elf-looking creature flanks Krystoff and grabs him directly on the bicep while spilling their drink. Amusing, indeed.
???: Excuse me. Are you Krystoff’s greeted one?
I turn around and come face to face with a fascinating being with long hair and the face of a jack-o-lantern. A candle even seems to illuminate the inside of his head. Though I’m initially taken by his interesting appearance, closer inspection reveals that he seems sort of… haggard. The hand he gestures towards me is pale with craggy skin and broken, uneven nails. His hair looks dry, and even his pumpkin face seems to be wilting a little.
Perhaps that’s all par for the course for whatever kind of creature he is, though. I’m hardly one to judge.
JUN: I am. My name is Jun. And you are?
???: Ander. Rotys’lav’s greeted one. Well, one of them. He maintains many, but he asked me to be present tonight.
He says this with some shallow imitation of pride, but the energy is absent from his tone. I accept and shake his crackled hand with some hesitation.
JUN: I see.
Although Krystoff and I are ostensibly conspiring with Rotys’lav tonight, I don’t trust him or anyone affiliated with him, so I’m loathe to say too much to this man.
ANDER: Sorry, I don’t mean to draw you away from your apparition. I just thought it might be proper for the greeted ones to, well, greet each other, haha.
JUN: Oh, my apparition will be fine on his own. He hardly needs me to babysit him. Well, maybe he does, but it’s funnier to watch him flounder on his own.
Ander looks scandalized by that. He glances quickly over at Krystoff—who’s still being surrounded and manhandled by other apparitions—before leveling another distraught expression at me.
ANDER: Don’t let him hear you talk like that…
JUN: Talk like what? Krystoff and I are friends. He’d know I’m just joking.
Though as the words leave my mouth, I worry now that perhaps Krystoff’s consideration for me might be seen by others as taboo? I don’t really have a point of reference for how other apparitions conduct their business, but there’s a chance Krystoff is the weird one here.
Ander just tilts his head away from me.
ANDER: I see. Your apparition is not as similar to his half brother as I expected, then. You’re lucky.
With that, his whole countenance shifts from meek to resentful. I think he was hoping to commiserate with me or something, but now his use for me has vanished. He folds his arms and turns away, looking for the next thing to busy himself with.
ANDER: I’ll be on my way, then. Enjoy the conference, Jun.
JUN: Uhh, likewise.
He walks off.
Weird. That was a weird interaction.
REGENALD: Does not surprise me that Rotys’lav’s greeted one is as unpleasant as Rotys’lav is, even if in an utterly different way.
JUN: Yeah, what the hell was that all about?
REGENALD: A cry for solidarity from a creature too far gone to cry for help instead.
I open my mouth to say something about that, but a pair of familiar hands land on my shoulders with a flurry of long, dark hair and the smell of cloves. I stay calm despite the initial jolt of surprise.
KRYSTOFF: Sorry, Jun, I didn’t realize you were calling me over! What’s that? You need a quick breath of fresh air? Oh, pitiful little human that you are, then let us attend to that right away!
JUN: What are y—
He slides a hand up over my mouth.
KRYSTOFF: Shh. Save me.