Krystoff looks like he’s on the verge of hysterics, or at least as close to it as I’ve ever seen him. The enormous crowd of interwoven apparitions means it’s easy to get lost in the sea of faces, but it also means there are very few refuges away from prying eyes or ears. We tether ourselves to a far wall, still a long shot from being secluded, but at least it gives us something solid and unmoving to lean against.
KRYSTOFF: I forgot how much I absolutely fucking detest being around other apparitions. The awful energy in this room is making me feel nauseated, yet I simultaneously cannot read anyone because they’re all shielding too well.
JUN: I only have a small idea of what any of that means or must be like, but I’m so sorry. What did the apparitions talking to you want?
KRYSTOFF: They were just being busybodies. Asking how my territory is, what the culture is like, how well my barrier maintenance goes. They’re vultures, all of them. They’re hoping I drop dead so they can move in.
REGENALD: Not all apparitions are as opportunistic as Rotys’lav, young master.
KRYSTOFF: I know. I just can’t tell what anyone’s angle is because they’re all so two-faced. Now I know what talking to myself must be like. Shocked you haven’t choked me out in my sleep yet, Jun.
JUN: Come on, you know I’m too nice to do that.
He smiles like I said something heartwarming. Guess he recognizes that I’m trying to lighten the mood.
JUN: Speaking of two-faced. One of Rotys’lav’s greeted ones spoke to me. Ander, I think was his name? He was weird. He seemed on edge.
KRYSTOFF: Don’t know him. Rotys’lav cycles through contracts like toilet paper. But if the poor fool is here for the reason I think he is…
Regenald makes some kind of sympathetic murmur from my shoulder.
KRYSTOFF: Anyway, you’re better off not talking to anyone here. I don’t trust a single one of them, and who knows how many of them will turn mutinous once Rotys’lav sets his plan in motion…
As if the universe seeks to spite specifically Krystoff today, an apparition weasels his way into our space.
???: Aren’t you Kaguyos’ youngest? Well, aren’t you delightful?
Another strange man. He’s a massive presence with broad shoulders and a long, black cape that only serves to make him appear larger. A vast and void-like shape. His head is adorned with tall ears and a massive system of antlers.
KRYSTOFF: And you are?
???: You can call me Shope. I’m the sector apparition of the Meyod region.
KRYSTOFF: Ah. An honor to meet you. Krystoff de, veviid ibev.
SHOPE: Ahaha, xi viidhohst.
Meyod is a huge region Krystoff has mentioned before and that I’ve come across in my studies. It’s influential and known for many different exports, but it’s also rather turbulent due to Kaguyos’ region frequently orchestrating strikes against it. That Meyod still stands despite this is a testimony to its endurance. If this guy is any reflection of his region, then he’s kind of a big deal.
SHOPE: You are daintier than I expected, considering Kaguyos’ stature.
KRYSTOFF: I prefer a form that makes me approachable.
SHOPE: And your human is even smaller. Your mate?
KRYSTOFF: What? N-no.
SHOPE: Ah. That’s good. Have you had the champagne? It’s quite nice.
Ahhhhh. I see. I see what’s going on here.
Krystoff starts inching behind me.
KRYSTOFF: I don’t drink, but thank you.
A bold-faced lie if I ever heard one, but Shope seems undeterred. I suppose the guy with enough charisma to become the apparition of a region like Meyod isn’t one to back down on a flirting endeavor so easily.
Whether his interest in Krystoff is genuine or political is hard to say, but I have no doubt that Krystoff’s pedigree is a huge factor one way or the other, considering it’s the first thing this guy asked about. I decide to spare Krystoff a little.
JUN: How is northern Meyod holding up this time of year? I understand the older train systems tend to struggle when snow starts to stick.
Shope raises a brow and looks at me like I appeared literally just now and he has never seen a human before. Krystoff casts me a side glance, withholding any real reaction but I’m sure he’s surprised, too. I haven’t really talked to him about what I’ve been studying these past few months.
SHOPE: It’s a great point of contention right now for the less magic-inclined species who rely on the trains for commerce. It’s causing a lot of shortages.
JUN: I wondered, when I was reading articles about it, why you don’t just incentivize your flight-capable citizens to move a branch up north? Having an air-based alternative to the train system would be a life saver in the winter months.
SHOPE: Most observant. There was actually a movement to implement something like that several years back, but the fleets are underfunded and poorly staffed. Obviously as a mere apparition, I don’t have much control over such things, but right now it’s a frustrating standstill as the officials bicker about where the funding should come from.
He speaks pretty humbly of his role, which surprises me.
JUN: But I’m sure that’s beneficial for you as an apparition. The conflict, I mean.
SHOPE: Hm? Perhaps in the short term, but I prefer the approach of encouraging growth when it comes to my territory. With growth and more creatures comes natural negative energy. No need to stoke the fires of misery. Life is a natural cycle of joy and suffering. As long as there is life, there is energy aplenty for me.
JUN: That’s an interesting approach.
SHOPE: Plenty of apparitions take that approach. But considering your loudest point of reference is probably Rotys’lav, and your most infamous point of reference is Kaguyos, it’s no wonder you think apparitions are a barbaric bunch. …Oh, but your master seems to run a pleasant enough territory.
He turns an inquisitive gaze back to Krystoff, and I can almost hear a rebuttal from the way Krystoff purses his lips. “That’s because I do the bare minimum,” he seems to say wordlessly. Instead, he says:
KRYSTOFF: I’m not Jun’s master. We’re in a mutually beneficial contract. They are also my trusted companion, and a very powerful human at that.
That seems to surprise Shope, but not in a necessarily bad way. I’m not sure what Krystoff means by “powerful,” but I accept it as a nice compliment. Obviously now is not the time to announce to the castle full of energy vampires that I don’t think I’m particularly strong in any regard.
More than anything, I try not to beam too much at him calling me his “trusted companion.” Feels nice.
SHOPE: Quite so? Pardon my misunderstanding. I meant no disrespect.
We spend another hour or so making relatively pleasant conversation with Shope about regional grievances and peculiarities. It’s interesting to hear the insight of an apparition who seems to be genuinely invested in the wellbeing of his territory. Krystoff certainly isn’t the merciless leech that Rotys’lav is, but he navigates his duties with a certain kind of arm’s length indifference. It makes me aware of just how different apparitions really can be from each other.
Though Shope was definitely hoping to form some sort of partnership with Krystoff, political or otherwise…