We make our escape to the outer courtyard, and just our luck, the halls cave in on themselves behind us. What has become of Angkit is yet to be seen, though Krystoff seems unconcerned and I don’t doubt that she’ll fend for herself just fine.
Any relief I might feel over the death of Kaguyos is overridden by the fact that adrenaline leaving my body means there’s more room for a cognizance of the Nothingness. It isn’t quite pain, because the capability for that was stripped along with my flesh, but it certainly feels wrong and discomforting. I bite back the rising panic that has been teetering at the edge of my mind ever since this was inflicted on me.
Krystoff jostles me in a way that makes me wince out loud, drawing his and Regenald’s unwanted attention onto me.
REGENALD: We should attend to Jun while we have a moment. These injuries are grave and could become a life-threatening problem, if not now then later.
KRYSTOFF: I agree… just, I’m basically tapped out myself…
He sets me on a hard, uncomfortable decorative bench as carefully as he can and gives me a once-over. Regenald peers down at me sympathetically.
REGENALD: Sever your connection to me, then, young master. The energy you put into giving me life could be enough to fully heal them right now.
JUN: Now hold on, don’t I get a say in this? I’m still alive, aren’t I? C-can’t we just… go home and… patch me up…
I lose confidence in the sentiment as I say it. I’m missing half of my flesh. I’m one giant, gaping, eldritch wound. I cauterized the immediate risk of death by trading my eye, but an eye is not enough to supplement half of a body. My sacrifice may have bought me time, but now what?
Am I really gonna die after everything we accomplished? After every bullet we dodged?
JUN: Regenald, could you be brought back later, once Krystoff replenishes his strength?
KRYSTOFF: No such luck. His spirit will depart from the material plane. To summon it back would require immense magical capabilities that I lack.
JUN: Oh. Huh.
That raises some interesting… theological questions for me.
JUN: Okay, Regenald sacrificing himself is out of the question. So let’s just get out of here, and we’ll figure something out later…
REGENALD: But Jun—
JUN: It’s out of the question! I’m not gonna let you die for me. Neither of you.
Krystoff “tsk”s and looks to the side like he was formulating another plan that involved exactly that.
The air in the courtyard is brisk and still, naive to the carnage that we’ve left behind in the decimated main hall. Out here, you could almost imagine that this castle was once home to something grand and beautiful, rather than the spoiled, now-deceased son of a power-hungry, now-deceased overlord. You could almost listen to the rustle of branches and the stirring of fallen leaves and believe we were here to relax, not to ponder ways we can keep me alive.
Lying face up on the bench, I see a few errant snowflakes making their way lazily to the ground.
It is rather cold, isn’t it? I hadn’t noticed, so preoccupied by the hot panic of my fatal injuries.
In my periphery, a column of black smoke rises from the ground.
Krystoff follows my gaze over his shoulder and spots the manifesting creature. Indeed, it partially congeals into something akin to Krystoff’s human mother, but it oscillates and sparks like an uncertain thunderstorm. She is a truly nightmarish visage.
ANGKIT: My blood. My Krystoff.
She speaks in a normal voice now. Krystoff stirs uncertainly at the sound of his name.
KRYSTOFF: …Angkit. What is it?
ANGKIT: I was a sacred diviner, and then I was a bride. Now I’m an apparition above anything else. I never had the chance to be your mother, and I could never be that to you now. But at the very least, as an existence that helped bring you into this world, allow me the indulgence of a parting gift to you.
Though Krystoff doesn’t seem to know what this means, he rests Regenald against the bench, rises, and approaches her. Her tangled, tempestuous hands reach out and cup his face, maybe like a mother would have done, in another lifetime.
ANGKIT: I will heal you and your barrier, that you may recover from this event in peace. You are a worthy apparition, Krystoff. There is a kindness in your heart that I did not expect from any child of Kaguyos.
Krystoff loosens slightly under her hold as she replenishes his energy. She smiles, then looks over to me. Her jarring appearance intermingled with the face of a normal human makes me flinch a little, but she either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. I mean, she just killed assumably one of the strongest magical beings in Duen, why would she care what I think of her?
ANGKIT: And there is a love you carry for your greeted one that I also did not expect. I will heal them as well.
She rests a hand on mine. Slowly, my body is rebuilt, and though it’s far from a comfortable sensation, I feel the nothingness mercifully chipping away.
ANGKIT: Thank you for allowing me entry into the physical realm, human. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to warn you. I’m sorry that I would have taken your life, had it not been for the bond you share with my son.
KRYSTOFF: What’ll happen to you after this?
ANGKIT: I must heal the lands that Kaguyos has ravaged, and of course, take over the sector duties that he, Rotys’lav, and the representatives slain in battle left behind. It’s an endeavor that may take centuries. But it’s one I will endure to protect Duen and Earth alike.
At length, she removes her hand from mine. I sit up experimentally. The half of my body that was stripped of flesh still feels unusual, but I can move and flex everything normally, and the sensation of nothingness is gone. I can breathe properly again, no longer flanked by the imminent threat of death.
Half of my vision is still gone, though. She seems to notice me covering my face.
ANGKIT: Regrettably, the curse you laid upon yourself is not mine to reverse. But you may have saved yourself with it, so wear it proudly.
JUN: Thank you, m-ma’am.
I don’t really know what to call her. Is it alright for a mere mortal like me to address a woman-turned-abomination by first name? But I don’t get the chance to ask, sadly.
ANGKIT: I must go now. There’s much to be done. I may not see you again for many years, my Krystoff.
She kisses Krystoff on the head, but the act of kindness manages to make Krystoff look lonely.
ANGKIT: Have you any final words for me before I depart?
KRYSTOFF: …No. Thank you for freeing us of Kaguyos, mother. I don’t know what would have happened without you.
ANGKIT: Whether you knew it or not, I couldn’t have done it without you and this human. Be well and thrive, you two.
And with a wave, she dissipates like the early morning mist burning off in the sun.