Chapter 1: Fair Winds
Like probing a missing tooth with his tongue, Kaeya could not help himself. After the day was done, the night had fallen, and all others were asleep, he would stay awake, fingers itching for the fabric covering his eye before taking it off. The wound was clean, of course - how could it be anything else with both Barbara and Jean having tended to him? Slowly, he draws his fingers over it, though he draws the line at exploring the empty space.
He’s not quite that morbid yet. Reaching for his brush, Kaeya fights back a scowl as he misses his target the first time. A second allows him to capture the elusive object, and he sets to brushing his hair out in slow, deliberate strokes.
Jean had not asked him to leave her home. The offer was implicit - he was free to stay as long as he wished, and Jean would not complain. Kaeya closes his eyes, hums to himself as he relishes in that. Unconditional love and acceptance. Kaeya nods as he makes his decision, wraps his eye back up, settles into his bed for the last night.
He would not overstay his welcome as he had with - Kaeya’s mind skitters from the name, and he closes his eyes, tosses the blanket over his head and forces sleep upon his body.
“Good morning, Jean,” Kaeya greets mildly as he brushes his hair, silk-smooth in the morning sunlight as it peers through the curtains. Jean smiles at him in the mirror, pads closer and takes the brush from unresisting fingers. Running her fingers through the soft strands, Jean gives him another smile as she brushes his hair.
Kaeya closes his eyes with a pleased sigh, tilts his head to her so she can further tend to him.
“What are your plans today?” She asks, and Kaeya hums, low in his throat.
“Down the road of Ordo Favonius headquarters, the home of the witch-crone is being sold. She’s asking for unusual trinkets of value to receive it from her.” Kaeya answers smoothly, as he always does when she asks. “I thought I would take my chances with the competition - it’s quite the handsome place, and it’s steeped in decades of old magic and alchemy.” Jean hums softly, ties his hair for him.
“Will you be careful?” she asks.
It is their little game. Kaeya will always promise his safety, yet rarely does he do so. And Jean would scold him without heat, aware that he was simply unable to judge his own limits accurately.
Damn that poison. Damn the Abyss Order.
“As careful as my Grand Master desires,” Kaeya replies dutifully, and Jean looks at him through the mirror. He appears sincere enough, but Jean knows him, and so she twists the brush around, lightly smacks the top of his head to his mildly wounded squeak.
“My most loyal knight,” she sighs, bends down to place a delicate kiss against the top of his head. “Do not put yourself at risk for a home.” Kaeya gives a happy little noise, and she smiles down at him. The sparkling iris is soft with pleasure, the unfathomable blue swimming with his loyalty to her.
“As my Grand Master orders,” Kaeya says, looking punch-drunk happy. “I’ll stop by the bank as well today,” He says, flows to his feet in a single, fluid motion. “Is there anything you need of me aside from remaining in one piece?” he asks, and she chuckles fondly.
“Come back home when you’re done. I expect to see you here for breakfast now and again.” Kaeya catches her hand at that announcement, takes the brush from it to press his lips against her palm.
“Always, my Grand Master,” he tells her, closes his eyes in feline pleasure as Jean chuckles, runs her thumb over his cheek.
“Good,” she says softly, kisses the top of his head once more, hand slipping free as she does.
The witch-crone is staring at him with an intensity beyond that of the others. It takes all of his will not to twitch towards the makeshift eyepatch he wore, fingers shifting on his arm. She dismisses the others, pierces him with her gimlet eyes.
“You. Come closer.” Kaeya’s Vision hisses, viciously displeased at this unworthy one’s audacity to give him orders. He smiles sweetly instead, obeys the command and stops short of her being able to touch him. The woman eyes him up and down, hands on her cane and tapping a rhythm with her foot as she does. “You lost an eye. That’s a powerful tool in your arsenal,” the old woman notes, and Kaeya doesn’t rise to the bait, watches in silence until she sighs and speaks again.
“You came for the house?”
“I came to try to complete the challenge,” Kaeya corrects. “As I understand it, the house is contingent upon that.” The crone eyes him up and down.
Kaeya snorts at that. “What would a woman like yourself desire money for? You clearly have your own ways of making it, or the house would have been sold by now.” The crone’s smile is twisted in a farcical amusement.
“Clever… very clever.” After a long moment of consideration, she hums. “Yes, you’ll do, Khaenri'ah boy.” Kaeya doesn’t - quite - stiffen from shock, but he knows the old woman can tell. “Your eyes are so unique - do you think I wouldn’t recognize where they are from?” Her chuckle is old and weathered, and Kaeya only just stifles his panic at the words.
“You will gather me the core of a Cryo Regisvine, the sprouts of a Ley Line Tree, and an Oceanid’s heart. Hurry, now,” The old crone says with a smile. Kaeya blinks in stunned disbelief at being dismissed, but he turns on his heel and walks away as quickly as he dares, contemplates his options.
His Vision hisses irritably, but Kaeya pats it with a fingertip, soothing his Vision’s wounded, furious pride with a light reminder of their goal.
It would take time to track down all of these beasts, let alone challenge them and win, so Kaeya takes deep breaths, slowly pushes the air out between his teeth and contemplates himself without holding back. He is not as weak as he was before the clarity of the Abyss Order’s poison had infected him, but neither was he strong enough to do this on his own.
“Sabbatical?” Jean asks him, shortly after Varka had given him reluctant permission to go. “Will you write?”
Jean knows better than to ask him if he is sure. Kaeya smiles lightly at her, touches her shoulder.
“If you desire it, my Grand Master,” he says fondly. For Jean, of course, he would write her. Would any other express such concern over his well-being as she had? “Weekly, if I can. Monthly if I cannot.” Jean’s shoulders loosen in relief, and she holds his hand within her own.
“Thank you. You know I worry.” Jean’s softness makes him melt just a little bit, her warmth like the soft break of spring against his soul.
“I know. I’ll write, I promise, my Grand Master.” He smiles at her, and she wrinkles her nose like an annoyed puppy. “I’ll return to you in hopefully better condition than I left.” Jean smacks his arm lightly.
“You better!” She scolds, and he laughs again, soft as dandelions.
To My Grand Master,
Dandelion Tights (this one is half-torn and smudged by a clearly embarrassed reader)
My Eternal Frustration,
I’m Running Out Of Things To Call You,
You're Very Lucky You're On The Other Side of Mond, Kaeya,
And on they go. Letters exchanged and sent, loved and treasured. Sometimes, Jean looks at them, the pile of neatly penned missives, and wonders to herself;
Why had Diluc thrown such loyalty away?
Chapter 2: Journey
The time and space in between the letters that mean most.
Rain pours from above his safe haven, and Kaeya simply observes, turns over his latest gift from Jean in a hand. The stitching is thin and neat, perfectly aligned to provide the maximum protection without the ridiculous bulk of material. The leather was well-worked, oiled and clearly high-quality. Likewise, the golden embroidery enhanced the simple, but elegant design that Jean had clearly designed with him in mind. Fingers trace the stretchy cord of the eyepatch, and he looks down at the letter again that he will have to hide in Dawn Winery with the others.
(Their security was appalling, really. And locking his bedroom door? If he hadn’t stopped by, it would have been caked in dust.)
Sliding the bandage off, Kaeya tests the fit of the eyepatch, tugs it this way and that without a mirror to guide him.
With no eye to see from, he cannot tell how it looks, so cautiously, he calls upon his Vision. Frost creeps over his fingers, forms a rough sheet of ice that is a bit too rough for his purposes.
Kaeya holds it over the fire, allows the licking flames to smooth the surface, before he freezes it again, sliding his palm over the ice until it maintains a glassy sheen close enough to a reflection for him to see.
The bandages had made him look younger, rounded his face some and drawn significant attention to his features, even with hair in the way to hide the worst of it. Slowly, he traces his fingers over the mirror, stares at himself.
Did you ever think one from the Godless Land could be anything other than a spy?
The mirror shatters against the ground, and frost creeps through his hiding space, extinguishes the flames that had kept him company instantaneously. Kaeya bites his lip. Those dreams. Those stupid dreams. Kaeya’s hand pulls away from his chest, tries to steady his breathing back to something resembling calm.
A weapon - he was only but a weapon of war, honed for the one who held his loyalty. His Vision had brought back those awful, heart-rending memories in the furthest reaches of his mind, and the old crone’s words had made his dreams worse.
Loyalty to Mondstadt, or the loyalty to the land where nothing grew? He had been their hope, their salvation for the eventual war.
But he had also been a child. Raised with the idea that being beaten was the way of life, the taste of whips and chains and slavery for a ruling class who cared none for those below because there was no Archon to keep them in line.
It had been luck that Kaeya had not run across the Fatui that fateful day, lost and terrified and far, far too hungry to notice the danger he was in.
Master Crepus hadn’t known any of that when he’d picked Kaeya up from the ground, a wolf’s teeth embedded in his arms and having broken a bruised rib. Master Crepus had seen Kaeya, filthy from head to toe, young and terrified out of his mind and unused to something even as natural as rain and took him in.
Kaeya had never thanked him for that, had he?
After all, Master Crepus had gotten his fool self killed, and Diluc had banished him before ever speaking with him on the subject.
Kaeya closes his eyes, tries to relax. It’s a failing endeavor - Kaeya knows he’s on the verge of panic again. To steady himself, he takes Jean’s letter and tucks it into his jacket, above his breast.
Her words of reassurance were the reason he was here. To become stronger, to return to his Grand Master as more useful than a hindrance for the city she loved. Slowly, he draws his fingers over his hidden letter once more, stands up, and heads deeper into the cave to sleep at last.
That… was perhaps not my brightest of ideas, Kaeya thinks to himself.
Of course, the Cryo Regisvine would have been immune to Cryo and his Vision. It was - for now - dead as one could get, but good grief had that been a fight he’d almost not won.
No wonder the locals had been giving him such odd looks. He tucks away the Hoarfrost Core in his handkerchief and settles it at the bottom of his travelling bag along with the glittering stone that he had been able to pilfer.
Jewelry, perhaps? It looked lovely enough, but a skilled carver and some gold to frame it, and Kaeya would have quite the lovely little accent piece. Earring, perhaps? Either way, Kaeya shakes his head to clear it of idle thoughts before heading onwards. The citizens of the city had been skeptical of his claim as a Knight of Favonius, but given that he’d witnessed one of the younger, braver lads running back, the tales of his deed would be common knowledge by sundown.
And he’d owe Jean his first letter. Kaeya finds himself humming idly along to an old tune Jean had introduced him to before he’d left on his journey.
To his surprise, there’s quite a few people waiting for him.
“Sir Kaeya!” The cry is unanimous, and he steps back, startled and surprised. “You beat the monster!” Little ones crowd around his legs, and he gives the adults watching a baffled look.
“Well… yes, I did promise, and a Knight of Favonius never goes back on his word,” Kaeya tells them. “If you don’t mind however, It’s been quite a long day, and I promised a friend I would write her a letter.” The children stare up at him adoringly, and escort him dutifully to the local tavern/inn, where he can find a welcome party awaiting him.
He resists, at first. But at the pleading and looks, Kaeya sighs and agrees to indulge them.
I hope this letter finds you well and in fair health. By now, I’m sure the news has spread all over Mond, so I’ll spare you the wildly overdone embellishments.
And yes, I’m aware fighting a Cryo Regisvine was not my brightest idea. Admittedly, the fact that it was quite bad didn’t hit me until much later, but either way - I’m fine. The lovely tavern owner’s daughter was more than willing to tend to my injuries (of which I promise are few) in exchange for some of the sundries that were tucked into that creature’s hoard.
I believe she plans on crafting herself a set of earrings, which I must admit, sounds quite fun. Perhaps I should come back with an earring or two myself, simply to see Varka expire in shocked horror.
Honestly, that man’s sense of proper manners is a little skewed, don’t you agree?
Regardless, I have a little something I made for you, tucked into the letter. I do hope you like it. It’s a little clumsily done, but the smith assured me that any young lady who wore these would do so with pride.
All my love,
Really, Jean thinks as she touches the letter with a soft finger running over the velvety edge, the fact that he refused to sign with Ragnvindr was really quite telling. Slowly, she upends the envelope, and a small, silky pouch drops into her hands. It’s a cautious action - Kaeya tended to ply even those he loved with little pranks, but there was nothing in which she had to feel worried over.
The tiny, gem-set cross earrings were truly lovely, Jean thinks, and her fingers easily take the ones she’s wearing off, the young woman hopping off her seat to view herself in the mirror to better place them.
They’re beautiful, hanging from her lobes like delicate charms in the wind. He’d kept her sense of decorum in mind when making these, she notices. The gems are tiny little things, probably not even worth a dozen Mora apiece, and the gold crosses that make the bulk of the earrings are neither too large nor too embellished.
Jean tucks the letter away into an empty letterbox, pulls out a sheet of paper, and begins to write.
The earrings are resplendent. I will wear them everyday for you. Did you like aiding the blacksmith there? Was it complicated? I’d ask our blacksmith, but heavens, he’s always such a grump I’d fear for him blistering my ears over such trivial things as jewelry.
Also, you’re very lucky you’re on the far side of Mond, because hearing the tale of what you got up to is enough to make any sane knight expire. If you hadn’t come out of it with broken ribs I would have been mad enough to break them myself! Honestly, you need a better minder.
I do miss you, though. It’s not the same without your joy and your delight here - this is the quietest Ordo’s been in weeks, and even Grand Master Varka is starting to become unsettled by it. I’m convinced he might actually allow Klee to experiment, everyone misses you so much.
And if you come with earrings, you simply must go all in - and gain a few inches while you’re at it, would you? Our tallest Knight has just retired, and I’m tired of being on cookie-fetching duty for Klee.
Kaeya smiles slightly at the letter, tucks it away with a smile and thanks the messenger with a handful of Mora. “Thank you. This letter was very welcome news,” he tells the worried boy, who lights up and accepts the change, rushes off. Chuckling at the youth, Kaeya hums cheerfully to himself, before packing the last of his things and adjusting the strap of his bag.
“Thank you so much for your hospitality,” Kaeya says with a smile, “but I truly must be going. You wouldn’t, perchance, happen to know where one might find an Oceanid, would you?”
The tavern owner hums, taps a finger to his lips. “Actually… I might have a general location for you, but not much past that. There was some ridiculous girl passing through here some time ago looking for cooking ingredients. She went and tried her luck with the monster you slew, but she came back covered in frost. I guess that Cryo Vision of yours is a better insulator, haha!”
Kaeya chuckles along with the owner, allows him to pull Kaeya along with his words.
“Anyways, I heard that she fared worse against an Oceanid while trying to get her hands on some lotus pods, so maybe that’ll help you?” Kaeya smiles sincerely, bows.
“Thank you - that at least gives me an idea. Lotus pods only grow in Liyue - the land is good to them there, so it shouldn’t take too long if I ask around.” He waves a goodbye, and the man waves back, leaves him to go on his search alone. It’s oddly peaceful - Kaeya had spotted some Hilichurls here and there, but it seemed that they’d backed off from Mond after their botched attempt to kill him.
His thumb rubs over the cool glass of his Vision, and he gives a soft little sigh of pleasure. It was nice, he thought - to ease his worries and burdens through something as light as a walk.
Humming merrily, Kaeya moves on.
To My Grand Master,
I promise I have a good reason for joining a circus, I swear. The Liyue/Mondstadt border is currently closed, and the next leg of my journey required I get into Liyue to face off against an Oceanid. I even made a lovely friend. Her name is Beidou - apparently she’s looking for something herself, but she’s usually a shipping merchant.
She terrifies me though - I’ve seen her pick up a Minochurl and throw them fifty meters. I’d hate to be on her bad side.
I should reach my objective in a few more days, but in the meantime, I’ve learned more uses for stage makeup than I ever thought of in my life, and I think I’ve become more flexible.
Or I’ve broken my back. One of those two is correct.
I thought you might like the trinket I’ve enclosed. It’s apparently quite popular here in Liyue, and I won it off the prize rack. Hopefully it’s arrived safely and in one piece with the inks I got.
Your Devoted Knight,
Jean rolls her eyes at the paper. Joining a circus… how silly of him, but it was a very Kaeya-esque action. She idly wonders what he would use his newfound skills for before setting the letter aside and reaching for the neatly-wrapped package.
Stops at a knock on the door.
Holding back a sigh, Jean raises her voice just a touch. “The door’s open,” she says, and Lisa pokes her head in.
“Oh! So I came just in time!” Lisa looks delighted, and closes the door behind herself. “I heard that Kaeya sent you a gift, and I hope you don’t mind my being nosy.” Jean’s cheeks heat a little, but she shakes her head.
“No, it’s fine Lisa,” Jean smiles. “I would have called you over to admire it regardless, I’m sure,” Jean says with open amusement, and Lisa leans on the desk as Jean delicately pries open the well-wrapped package. A golden-colored box with tiny, intricate clasps is settled in the wrapping paper, and Jean has to admire the workmanship, presses her fingers to the top and hears a sharp click.
The lid pops off and Jean and Lisa both lean in.
“Oooh!” Lisa squeals, and Jean wishes she could join in. An elegant little dip pen of glass and gemstones, the center glowing a faint golden gleam in the night. Her fingers touch against the item, and she cautiously lifts it.
The inks are a set of four. Having kept practicality in mind, two of them are simple - if rich - black and blue. But the other two are a lovely shade of leaf green and sparkling gold, respectively.
The thoughtfulness of Kaeya’s gift makes her eyes mist with tears.
“Just friends, huh?” Lisa says, and there’s an odd note she can’t place.
“The very best,” she agrees fondly, touching the glass pen in silent admiration. “If he didn’t already have a family, I’m sure Mother would be nagging at me to adopt him.” After a moment, she pulls back and pulls one of her favorite letter pages out with a flourish. It’s a frilly, silly, vain thing, and Lisa pulls out of her oddness to smile at it. “Now shoo, if you would. I have an exasperatingly silly knight to chastise.” With a grin, Lisa hops to it, waving goodbye.
This letter is in sparkling, verdant greens, the script flowing smooth over the paper.
Now, if you can’t do a backflip when you return, then I’ll be sorely disappointed. Thank you for the gift - it’s truly lovely, and I can’t help but cherish it. I can see why it’s so popular in Liyue - the pen is so smooth and I’ve had quite a few compliments from the visiting Liyue delegates. It’s helped soothe some prickly relations here, so you have my sincere thanks - and a gift.
I’m sure that the circus has taught you to dress even more flamboyantly, but I know your old boots are probably getting close to wearing out, and I have it on good authority that a proper performer needs good boots.
Missing you every day,
The boots were a perfect fit. How could they not, with Jean having been the one to select them for him? Kaeya stretches out, presses a hand against the mirror. The weight of the earring is new, and Kaeya appreciates it, really.
He looks less and less like the boy who had died with poison coursing through his veins, less like a broken doll that had been left behind by Diluc. He feels healthier, can feel the weight that he’d put on from good meals, great company, and no specter of the expectations of being Diluc’s perfect replacement.
The pain of betrayal is extinguished.
But the embers of resentment were starting to burn.
In my defense, I did not blow up the bridge. That was the Treasure Hoarders. I was just trying to deal with that ridiculous Oceanid and some Treasure Hoarders took umbrage with that. Thankfully, Lady Beidou was a trusted friend of the Qixing, and she smoothed things over. You should see a letter of thanks from the Qixing.
I may have implied that you had something to do with my being there, so hopefully that elevates your status in the Liyue meetings. Additionally, I’ve completed my goal with this area. The Oceanid threat apparently comes back once every few months after it’s been slain, but this particular nuisance has been around for years and was apparently quite a bit stronger as a result.
I’m keeping safe - and I’ve been dealing with some unusual things happening along the border. There have been reports of several Abyss Mages, and I’m tracking those down at the moment. I’ve marked the locations of which I’ve come across one on the map - the trend is worrying, as it looks like it’s heading towards the old Cathedral of worship that has since been taken over by the Dragon.
Please be safe for me.
P.S. A passing lord took notice of my lack of last name and was kind enough to offer his own. As he has an heir of his own, I did not gain any lands or titles - it was his way of thanking me for saving his niece’s life.
He says he will come to Mond at some point, to discuss some trade agreement or other. I do hope you find him to be agreeable.
The letter had arrived mere days before Lord Alberich himself, and Jean is so glad that it had. She, and she alone, is able to greet him with open joy, bows politely at the waist.
“I’ve heard of your name, Lord Alberich,” Jean says with a wide smile. “I thank you for the care you provided one of mine. Kaeya was very grateful for your kindness.”
Lord Alberich brightens. “You must be the lovely Jean Gunnhildr he mentioned! He spoke quite highly of you - said you were the fairest Knight in the Ordo Favonius!” Lord Alberich is a jolly man, round of body and bright of soul. Jean can see why Kaeya liked this man so much - the letter had been dripping with fondness, and she can’t help but smile at the rotund man’s enthusiasm.
“Hardly the fairest - but Kaeya insists upon calling me that regardless,” she chuckles, and he laughs along with her. “What can I do for you, Lord Alberich?”
“My niece - your fair Knight Kaeya was so kind as to save her, but it certainly drove home how dangerous it is for me to take my niece with me on certain expeditions even with guards. If the Ordo would be so kind as to offer her a place? She’s always been a dab hand with swords, and while I don’t truly approve of it, the experience with that horrifying Oceanid - and those Treasure Hunters, my word - proved that my little girl desperately needs combat experience.”
Jean manages to unstick her tongue from the roof of her mouth.
Kaeya, you clever, exasperating bastard.
“I would be more than happy to take her under my wing,” Jean says smoothly. “Is she here, or is she already exploring the city?”
Varka was going to be furious that Kaeya skipped the official recruitment channels, but heaven forbid Jean look a gift horse in the mouth. A faint snort leaves her.
Good grief. Kaeya was certainly anything but boring, wasn’t he?
My Eternal Frustration,
You have one very besotted new addition to the Knights, and a shiny new reputation aside. Whoever you had to get the letter to me was very fast. I’ll need his name for future missives through Liyue. And really, an Oceanid? Do you have to give me so many heart attacks? What are you doing now, if I may ask? Because if you’re doing something potentially risky, I may have to throttle you to save myself the frustration of worrying over you, silly boy.
Thank you, by the way. Noelle is an absolute delight to have around, if a bit weak to standing up for herself.
Though please do things that are slightly less hair-raising, if you’d be so kind.
All my love,
Would Kaeya be recognizable to those he knew anymore? Flipping the coin over and over, Kaeya contemplates his lot in life.
The last item, it had long since been completed - Alchemy was a wonderful thing, and with the number of Abyss Mages he’d killed, it had truly only been a matter of time before he’d been able to craft a single, glistening Ley Line Sprout. He’d potted it, and it was taking happy root in the soil now.
But Kaeya had one more mission - a personal one.
“You carry a coin of passage,” the crane’s head tilts to a side, and Kaeya doesn’t allow himself to flinch. “And the blood of the Archonless.”
That… that hurts. Kaeya winces at the Adepti’s words, and does not exaggerate the pain they cause him.
“I’m of Mondstadt, now,” Kaeya says, and the crane crows laughter.
The laughter quiets when Kaeya does not join in, and the Adepti stalks closer, beak hovering dangerously close to an eye.
“I know you, Archonless boy. You carry a Vision of the Hateful One, and claim Mondstadt as your home? I am no fool - your lot have always been godless, loyaless fiends.”
Kaeya’s hands ball into fists.
“This one has loyalties of which are beyond a dying land,” Kaeya bites back, expression cold as the very stone the land was formed of. “Do not insult the one who holds my loyalty. Adepti or no, I will slay you where you stand if you insult her again.” The crane rears back to better inspect him, and Kaeya meets their eyes, unwilling to yield.
Kaeya finds a beakful of hair gently preened by the Adepti.
“Do you love her?”
“As a Knight does their Queen,” he answers without missing a beat.
“Then I suppose I can direct you. Ask and I will see to it that your way is eased. If you claim her to be your contract, then this Adepti can aid you.” The affirmation makes Kaeya breathe out, nerves and tension falling from his shoulders.
I’m almost home Jean. I promise.
All three items are now found. But I’m working on something new instead. I will come back to you soon, I swear it. But until my goal is met, I’m afraid that I won’t be home for a little while longer.
I’ve learned quite a few things on the road - though I fear I cannot compete with your delightful pizza, I’m getting quite good at making stews and roasted birds. However, I cannot understand for the life of me how one makes pancakes on the road. Things have been getting more intense on my end - mountain climbing is quite fun, but goodness is it taxing. I think I’ve gained a new respect for our little Outrider Amber - that girl must have the lung capacity of a bird to run about and climb as she does all day without tiring herself out. I have half a mind to buy her something nice.
Do you think one of the longbows here would suit her? If you have a chance, perhaps you can ask her? Don’t tell her why, of course - I feel she wouldn’t take it well from me.
I’m Running Out of Things to Call You,
Mountain climbing? Dare I ask why? Regardless, I’m glad to see your primary objective is complete. Things have been quiet on this end, and Outrider Amber was available for a discussion on archery. Her apparent preference is a compound, multi-string bow. She said something about multi-stringed bows being great for versatility, but much of it flew over my head.
I fear literally.
There are quite the colorful rumors following you, by the way. Apparently you’ve become something of a local terror to the Treasure Hoarders, and the Qixing mentioned it last night.
Varka’s getting closer to apoplexy with every mention of your name. Dinners have never been more entertaining than they have these recent weeks.
I really miss you, Kaeya. It’s not the same without you.
Please come home soon.
All my love,
“You’ve done well,” the Adepti notes, tugs at his hair. “The final leg of your journey - you know where you are to be heading?”
Kaeya releases a breath, makes himself relax. Leaning back, Kaeya surveys the breathtaking landscape.
It had been lovely, those three months he’d spent, learning from the underworld here. Surely, it had been painful and dangerous and he’d never been safe, but he’d become better, done better, and his will, his dream of being more than just a burden to his dearest friend now had teeth.
That very will of his Grand Master was calling him home now.
I really miss you.
Simple, heartfelt words from an uncomplicated, easily loved woman. He would complete his journey, seek one more thing, and then return home.
“Yes. I’m aware.” His eyes close, then open. “Thank you.” He offers the coin up to the Adepti, only to find it taken by a gentle hand. The crane he had become used to had become a man - one he was surprised to see, given the man’s fabled dislike of mortals.
“Keep it. As a relic.” The coin turns golden, and the Adepti flips it into the air, watches it tumble down. Kaeya, in turn, snatches it from the air.
“Of course. I hope it doesn’t offend you when I say I hope to never see you again.”
Xiao’s laughter sings through the mountains, rueful amusement within it.
"Forgive me if I say the same, then."
I'm quite literally just tossing headcanons until they stick, don't mind me.
Chapter 3: Wolf of the Northern Winds
There are bargains to be made, and a Dandelion Queen to return home to.
Ghostly flames dance merrily over tar-dark water, the night lit by only a weak smattering of stars that were quickly becoming consumed by the incoming storm. Separate to the flames, three little Cicins dart around their mistress, the woman giggling and dancing amongst the water without a care in the world.
Kaeya watches her with heavy-lidded eyes, dagger in hand as he waits for an opportune moment to strike. She is too far from where he needs her to be, so he stays silent, fingers the dagger with a sharp eye.
She is but a Fatui monster. None will miss her but her masters.
Kaeya takes aim as she passes the doors and the blade flies true, striking her throat. Her hands grasp futilely at the obstruction, stunned shock painting her face as she collapses against the Domain steps, her blood leaking around her hands as her little Cicins chitter in worry and fright, buzzing around their dying mistress.
A splash draws their eyes to Kaeya. Furious, they buzz towards him. Kaeya does not move, calls his Vision into his hands lazily before flicking his fingers their way.
Needle-thin icicles spear their wings through, the small nuisances sent hurtling into the dark water, flickers of purple electricity showing where they fell like flares. Kaeya moves on - they’re secondary to his true goal - and the Domain gives an ominous creak as he approaches.
The blood has awoken the beast within, a terrible and powerful domain that hisses and speaks naught but dark secrets.
Perfect for a boy who had died by poison’s hand to seek out a favor and gift both.
The gates open for him, and there is nothing but eerie, bone-white steps that lead down into the empty abyss.
Kaeya ignores the oddity of it, steps inside and closes the door, ice crawling up in a barricade. The journey down is silent and slow, Kaeya brushing his hair out of the way when a chill wind ruffles it. Boreas, the Wolf of the North resided in Mondstadt, but his brother Fenrir lay chained in the depths of the mountains after a fierce battle with Rex Lapis.
A cold creature, aiming to swallow the sun. Kaeya found it singularly appropriate that it was here, in the furthest, darkest reaches, requiring murder and sacrifice and terrible, awful acts to reach, let alone gain an audience.
The floor flattens out, leaves Kaeya alone on a bone-white platform. Fog rolls over him, cold enough to make lesser men shiver, but the frost is a welcome touch to his skin, makes his Vision purr from where it curls around his body, the blue light of his Vision glittering gleefully.
What do you want from me, godless boy.
Kaeya looks up from the fog as it clears, reveals a shackled and bound beast, sword run through the snout and pinning the massive head to the floor. Chains of molten metal whisper of soft paws, and smoke curls over the beast’s stomach, holding it still.
“You can empower a Vision,” Kaeya says bluntly. “At a cost. You can also restore lost things for a cost.”
Violent laughter rumbles the ground, but Kaeya does not yield. He continues to watch, and wait, and observe.
And you think I will give them to you? Your Vision cannot harm one such as I, godless boy.
Kaeya does not move, does not yield when massive teeth are exposed, the wolf trapped in the vicious snarls struggling futilely. He watches until it is spent, and only then does he move.
“I’ve found you. And I’m not the only one who is looking. Boreas, too, has been hunting you. He has his pack seeking you out, and one day, he will find your domain, find you, helpless and bound.” Kaeya doesn’t let his voice waver. “You send Dire Wolves to terrify Mondstadt, to hunt those you consider disloyal to you. What treasure would Boreas offer me, for the location of your domain, I wonder?”
This time, the beast is not quiet - it snarls, blood leaking from the wounds, the sounds of soft feet growing faster.
You wouldn’t dare, godless boy. Crossing an Adepti such as myself would be suicide.
“Not much of an Adepti if Boreas can kill you. I don’t have to even lift a finger. You’ll be dead, and I will have what I want. I see no downside,” Kaeya grins viciously as a howl echoes in the empty space.
I may be powerless but I can still tear you apart you godless, feckless son of a -
The great beast chokes, as though pulled on a leash, and Kaeya holds up a single, gold coin. Idly, he begins to play it through his fingers, the golden coin spinning around his fingers.
“I thought so. You recognize this coin, don’t you?” Kaeya asks, and another furious howl makes the domain tremble. “So long as I carry this, you can do nothing to me.” He’d offered the coin to his mentor, willing and able to deal with the consequences of his choice should the chained beast attempt to strike him, but there was a terrible, wonderful power in being able to leave this beast entirely at his mercy.
May you burn with your Vision, you wretched -
The beast chokes again when the coin lands in Kaeya’s hand, and he closes his fingers around it.
“You really don’t learn,” Kaeya muses aloud. “I have two wishes, and if you do not grant them, I will leave to find Boreas.”
The room is heavy, filled with the great beast’s labored breathing and occasional growl. His tail lashes across the space.
What do you want, you wretched, godless boy.
“I want a new eye.” Kaeya removes his eyepatch, is gratified to see the beast flinch in surprise. “And I want your blessing on my Vision.” The beast snorts, fixes him with a large eye as it scans him from head to toe properly this time, rather than simply dismissing him.
What will you give me?
Kaeya has to think about that, lone blue eye staring back at the beast. There is only one thing he can give that is intangible and strong enough for this beast, this brother of Boreas and kinslayer of Adepti.
“My love for my brother, Diluc Ragnvindr, but not my loyalty to him.” Granted, his loyalty was dimmer and tarnished by the poison of his soul, the broken Vision that he held, but it was still there. Kaeya would hold his beloved family close, even if he could not love him. He takes a deep, steadying breath. “And my loyalty to Khaenri'ah, but not the lessons that place taught me.”
The massive beast is silent as it tests the offers.
You will hate him, yet obey his requests, and you will forsake your past but remember the misery it caused you. I could take it all, empower you further.
“My sacrifices will mean nothing if I can remember nothing of them,” Kaeya says flatly. “Take it or leave it.” The Domain ripples in laughter, horribly pleased mirth that made it clear that his adversary was far, far more amused than he was angry.
You’re a strange one, godless boy. Very well. I accept. Return to your land of plenty, and you will wake with your gifts. What is your name, godless boy?
Kaeya looks up at the terrible, shackled beast.
“Kaeya. My name is Kaeya.”
This time, the laughter sounds terribly, darkly satisfied.
I will remember you, Kaeya the godless one. Perhaps your name will grace Celestia with the Archons after all.
Kaeya does not flee - but he walks rather quickly away from the Domain nonetheless.
His letters remain undisturbed. Cautiously, Kaeya tucks them into his pack, steals free of the Dawn Winery as the first rays of sunlight begin to peek over the horizon, Kaeya disappearing from the lands as though he was a ghost.
His meeting with the Great Wolf Fenrir had been exhilarating and terrifying, but he still had one more place to go, another Great Wolf to face, and Kaeya hopes - against hope - that Boreas will not consume him.
Liyue was a land of contracts, and there had been no explicit agreement from Kaeya to not inform Boreas that Fenrir yet lived. Was it deceitful? Well… yes, but Kaeya was to become Jean's shadow in the dark for a reason.
In concession to the unspoken agreement, however, Kaeya would stay his tongue on where the massive wolf was sealed. Padding through the hills, Kaeya finds himself relishing in his return to Mond. Liyue had been fun, intriguing, and ultimately enlightening, but the freedom of Mond, the sloping hills and gentle breezes that play over his longer hair call him home more sweetly than any wine.
He wonders if anyone but Jean would recognize him now, as he climbs the mountain path towards where his information said Boreas resided. The Wolf had been ousted from his Domain decades ago, but Kaeya knew his name and his tales from the times Jean would gush over the legends, bemoan the tragedy of Dvalin.
His time away from his Dandelion Queen was almost at an end, and Kaeya had plans, now more extravagant than ever, to make his Grand Master the most beloved figure in Mond.
As he draws closer, Kaeya can feel the chill of wind and the hissing snap of various beasts as they stalk outside of his view, hungry and ready to tear his throat open if he stepped off the path.
The coliseum is a work of art, and Kaeya stands still to admire it, icy blue whispers of spirit fire dancing in the breeze.
You reek of Fenrir's blood, Archonless.
Kaeya stares up at the glowing eyes of the depiction of the North Winds of Winter without a flinch.
“I sought him," Kaeya agrees. "He granted my wishes at a price.” The chamber trembles in fury.
And you dare come to -
“Do you want to know where he resides? I can tell you that, let your kin hunt him through Liyue until you tear his throat out.”
The coliseum is resoundingly silent. Ice frosts over his bare arms, only to crack and fall off when his Vision curls around his skin in a possessive lover's embrace, fed by his unease and his hate.
What are you, Archonless boy? You come to me bearing the mark of my counterpart and offer me his throat for what? What can you hope to gain?
Kaeya doesn't answer at first. Boreas is not Fenrir - the White Wolf is a wholly different beast to the Wolf of End Times, and thus he requires a more delicate touch.
“A boy who is allowed to chose his loyalties at last. You are the White Wolf of the North, the Wind of Freedom and War. You, and you alone can give me what I need.”
The declaration is met with silence, the cold curling around him like a dog, curiously inspecting him.
You walk a dark path, Archonless boy.
“If I must walk it, then at least I can weaponize myself to achieve my goals. I have a loyalty greater than any vendetta, a land to keep safe, and a city that will be under my protection.” Kaeya stares at merciless blue. “I am godless, venomous, born and raised in deceit. I will willingly use all of that for a girl who embodies the sky, who looked at me and loved me even as she saw the monster for what it was.”
Ice chills his soul, reaches beyond his Vision and seeks his truth. The White Wolf understands loyalty, and would not stand for such to be tarnished.
What is your name, Archonless boy. If you lie, your name will reveal to me your truth.
The winds howl above him, whisper and beg for his secrets, curl around his heart as though it was that fateful day, nearly one year ago.
“Kaeya, born nameless and clanless, slave and spy. Kaeya Ragnvindr, ward of Crespus Ragnvindr. Kaeya Alberich, Knight of Favonius.” He looks up. “I am here for my Dandelion Queen, Jean Gunnhildr.”
The ice thickens around him, the cold seeping into his bones as though to hold him there forever.
Kaeya Alberich. You have told me no lies.
Jean stretches out on her toes, scans the bridge with worry. Kaeya had said he was returning home today, and the moment dawn had broken over the horizon, she had been at the gates, impatiently scanning the bridge for any sign of her most loyal and beloved knight.
Already, the sun was slipping below the horizon. Kaeya wasn’t one to misjudge something like that, especially when he knew she would be waiting for him.
A hand tugs at her ponytail.
Jean whirls around on one foot, hand on her sword when the familiar starry eye catches her attention. The breath leaves her in a rush, and she smacks his arm.
“You mischief!” she exclaims, to his light laughter. Wrapping him in a hug, Jean can feel the changes in her dearest friend, the powerful muscle under the surface of his flashy clothes, a grin on his face that’s two parts mischief, one part smug, and one part genuinely delighted. “I’ve missed you, you fiend,” she says fondly, and Kaeya’s eye glitters in the waning sunlight.
“I missed you too Jean.” He bends down to wrap her in his arms, hums low in his throat. “I have so much to tell you.” He smiles, and Jean cannot help but see how sharp it's become.
I live for Rex Lapis's adventures and FUCK YEAH he totally has the skills to face Fenrir. Also, you can take my 'Boreas is one of the Four Winds' from my COLD, DEAD HANDS.
Chapter 4: Empty Streets
Coming home is meant to be joyous. For Kaeya, it unveils painful truths.
Jean had been laughing against his shoulder for sixteen minutes. He chuckles a little himself, more entertained by her joy than the - admittedly - amusing sight of Varka performing a spectacular sneezing fit as he choked on his wine.
Kaeya had even dressed up for the occasion, put all of the finishing touches together.
Being part of the circus had taught him the importance of appearances, and so he’d made sure to look his best, spent a good hour fine-tuning the kohl around his eyes and adding the lightest touches of rouge to his lips.
Combined with his outfit and his added maturity, it really was to be expected.
Though really, Varka nearly choking on his wine and dignity was a bit much. Kaeya raises an eyebrow at Jean when her giggles slow at last, and he dips down to kiss the top of her head.
“Are you quite done?” He asks her fondly, and Jean snorts back up at him.
“Not quite,” she admits, and he laughs, pulls her into his arms for a hug. “Oh, I’ve missed you,” she says, teary-eyed. “It’s been so quiet since you’ve been gone, and so boring! I caught myself half-sleeping at the meetings without you there to pass notes to me,” she confesses, and Kaeya’s Vision melts just slightly, allows him to soften for her as he does.
“Oh, my Grand Master, I’ve missed you too,” he says, touches his nose to her temple. They stay that way for a long moment, swaying together in an unfelt breeze. Kaeya nuzzles her contently, before he puts her down, hands settling on her hips. “I do have a question, though.”
Jean gives him a suspicious look.
“How long have you been crushing on Lisa?”
Kaeya would admit later, he did deserve that smack to his head.
“Your deeds have been praised along the breadth of Mondstadt,” the witch-crone greets him, and Kaeya stops respectfully short.
“They’re praiseworthy, but any knight who shares my skills is capable of the same,” he says, shaking his head. The witch-crone stares at him in silence, and he fights the urge to fidget.
“Is that modesty or a lack of pride in yourself, I wonder?” The witch-crone asks, and Kaeya doesn’t dare fidget. “Regardless - my tokens?” Kaeya offers the potted Ley Line Sprout, the glittering silver branches waving in the sunlight. The Hoarfrost Corea and the Oceanid’s Heart are also given, and Kaeya watches as the witch-crone observes them. “Very well preserved… quite refined.” She looks up at him, and Kaeya raises a brow back. “You did well.” The key is fished out from a pocket, and handed to him, Kaeya accepting the offered gift. “Perhaps we will see one another again.” The witch-crone winks, and Kaeya curiously watches her leave.
How… odd. Kaeya hefts the key in his hand, spins it around on a ring finger as he takes steps towards the imposing iron gates of the stately home. Did she not want her own things? Kaeya slips past the gates, hesitates to put the key in the lock as a chill entirely separate to the Vision he carried sinks into his skin, as though judging the worthiness of the new owner.
The chill fades away with the passing of the sun, and Kaeya swallows. Opening the door nets him another surprise.
That… was an awful amount of stuff, and Kaeya suddenly sympathizes with the witch-crone’s desire to not take anything.
Books are stacked in haphazard piles, their cracked spines showing old runes and curled, gilt-edge sparks of color. There are cauldrons laying empty, having once been filled with potions of all sorts and sizes, large items covered with sheets and thick stacks of scrolls on every surface.
“Barbatos’s Lyre, that’s a lot of shit,” Kaeya breathes. How did it all even fit in a building of this size? Kaeya slips out, a little overwhelmed. This… this was his now. Hell, Lisa was going to have kittens.
Forget Lisa, Jean was going to have kittens.
Kaeya starts to laugh, and laugh and laugh until his sides hurt.
Jean shakes her head at him. That, and Kaeya’s own tightly leashed control is all that keeps Varka from leaving her office in a burial shroud. The door closes with a quiet click, and Jean turns to face her loyal knight.
Frost is curling from his breath like a dragon with its’ flames, single blue eye glowing as bright as his Vision, thick veins of frost twining a lover’s embrace around his ribs and crawling up his throat.
“Don’t kill him,” Jean says hastily, and the frost ceases it’s subtle advancement towards the door. “I know. I’m just as angry as you are. I am. But you promised me that you wouldn’t do anything reckless, and killing Varka is as reckless as it gets.”
Kaeya’s fists clench tighter, and ice creaks around his fingers. “If I was going to kill him, there’d be no recklessness about it. I’d rather draw it out until he can’t scream any longer,” Kaeya hisses, trembling fury and betrayal sinking through his bones. Jean has to occupy his space, reaching for his face before he even begins to calm down in the slightest.
Even with gloved hands, the air around him is cold enough to possibly induce frostbite. Kaeya’s eye glitters, and she swallows slightly around her nerves.
“Can I see what’s under that pretty eyepatch of yours?” she asks him, and the wind is blown out of his sails in a heartbeat. He looks at her, shocked out of his rage into a shy vulnerability that Jean doubted she could elicit a second time now that she’d surprised him once with it.
“He put you at risk,” Kaeya says quietly, seething fury under his skin trying to recollect itself. “His actions left you with sub-par protection against a dragon, against the Ursa.” Jean hums softly, holds his face in her hands.
“I know,” she sighs at him, strokes her thumb over his cheeks. “I know, my wild boy. But I’m tired of thinking of him. I want to focus on you, on how you’ve grown and become yourself once more. Calm down, and then you can plot your revenge.”
Kaeya gives an annoyed noise, temper sparking cold stars of frost over his skin, but he looks away grumpily, reminds her of a cat whose tail has been trodden on frequently. Even so, he makes himself calm down, looks at her in an endless gleam of starlit tourmaline.
Kaeya’s fingers shake slightly as he draws his fingers over the eyepatch, swallows in clear nervousness. Jean stretches to her toes, brushes her lips over it in a delicate little kiss, promising without words that she would love him no matter what he revealed to her.
Kaeya untenses like a storm subsiding, and he gives her a slight, shy grin as he toys with the elastic of his eyepatch, unveils it to her like the finest of gemstones.
Jean gasps softly, fingers tracing the flesh below the object that had replaced his eye. It’s so dark a red to be almost black, the sunlight catching the orb and making it toss off sparkles of brilliant red light over her fingers. Hints of velvety purple and rich blue streak through like stars, encased in an endless blood-hued sea.
“Oh that’s gorgeous,” she breathes, pulls back to admire how it changes his features.
It’s so startling, gorgeous hue that stands out and pulls his features into startling focus. “Tell me how you got this?” She asks, and Kaeya gives her another somewhat shy smile, pulls her close in a hug as he slowly, quietly whispers his story to her, fills in the gaps his letter had not spoken of.
Oh Kaeya. Her stupid, brave, suicidally reckless and loyal knight. She cups his face in her hands, kisses his brow.
“We’ll talk later about your choice of appropriate risk,” she scolds, and he grins sheepishly back at her. “But I’m so glad you’re home,” Jean promises him, pulls back. “Now, come and let me have a better look at it in the sun, okay?”
Kaeya smiles, slow-blooming and undeniably pleased.
He’s in an irrepressible good mood, flipping his coin into the air and dancing it along his fingers as he walks through the city streets, greets those he recognizes with a cheery wave or hello. It takes the citizens of Mond a few minutes to catch up, and once they do, Kaeya’s greeted with a much more welcome air than the initial suspicion.
Jean doesn’t know how bad it is here, Kaeya realizes, mood dropping the further he leaves the safe haven of Ordo’s meticulously maintained streets. She’d spoken at length about the attacks, the dangers, but she couldn’t have known what was going on in the streets beyond.
She would never stand for this.
There is in no way she would miss the groups of huddled children, clothes threadbare and eyes hollow with terror as they eye everyone with suspicion. The streets are darker and filthier, and the further away from the central streets he goes, the more suspicious and terrified the air became.
Kaeya’s hand clutches the coin as fury spears through his heart.
Khaenri'ah. This sense of terror, of helplessness, it was the same. The clearly malicious machinations of men who thought themselves untouchable, tossing children who were not useful enough, who were not clever enough, who weren’t deadly enough to the streets to toughen them up.
Kaeya has to stand still, force his Vision to stop throwing frost around his fingers lest he frighten the vulnerable children.
Turning on a heel, Kaeya makes his hasty way to Good Hunter.
“What do you have that would be good for someone unused to rich fare?” He asks Sarah, and the girl blinks.
“I… My apologies Sir Alberich, I’m not following.” Her frown is confusion, but thankfully, not disbelieving.
“There are at least sixteen children who look like they haven’t had a good meal in weeks. What food can I feed them that won’t make them throw it up later?” Sarah’s eyes go wide, before a soft smile curls her lips in clear, fond sympathy.
“We have some Sweet Madames that I can carve up and we can make some sandwiches if you’d like,” she offers. “I’ll even knock off some of the price if you can help me carve them.” Kaeya feels the band of tightness loosen around his chest, and he heaves a sigh of relief.
“What about drinks? Lemonade might be a bit strong for them,” he admits, and Sarah smiles wider, if that was possible.
“I can get a barrel of fresh water if you’d like - set it out for the little ones to take as they please.” Kaeya gives her a fervently grateful look, and she laughs, offers him space to enter the large kitchen.
“We’ve been trying to help where we can,” Sarah confesses quietly. “Food goes ‘bad’, or bowls of shepherd’s pie are left on open sills, that sort of thing. And while the owner turns a blind eye as best she can, she can’t afford to feed them and still keep us all employed. This truly is a blessing, thank you.”
Kaeya nods tightly, fingers trembling as he is offered a knife to carve the roast bird.
This… this could not be allowed to stand.
“He’s making us look like fools!” Noelle flattens herself against the wall, only just misses being seen by the Grand Master and his highest aide. The choice to eavesdrop or not, Noelle dithers on, before a familiar name catches her ears.
Sir Kaeya. The man who had saved her life, saved her uncle, protected a helpless town from a raging Oceanid. After hearing his name, what question was it for her to do anything but listen in?
“Perhaps this is a good thing?” Is the hesitant suggestion. “Sir Kaeya is still the standing Calvary Captain - we can always say he was saving his funds to provide for the children after consulting us.” Noelle creeps closer at that.
“And what will we say to those who do not believe that lie?” Grand Master Varka’s hand slams on a desk, and Noelle jumps, startled. After a moment, Varka continues. “We’ve kept the truth of the orphans from the Knights by shuffling patrols, because honestly, orphans are just a part of life - if we focused on them to the exclusion of all else, then we would be weaker than we already are!”
Shuffling patrols? Orphans? What was going on here?
“Yes… that’s true, but eventually one or two of our Knights would have found out and eventually they will go to your second in command. Keeping her complacent and under your thumb is fine, but eventually, you will have to hand the reins over to her.”
“She’s too soft. She would take any problem and make it everyone’s concern. Being kind is well and good, but she would throw resources to a problem that will solve itself in due time - either the children will find themselves elsewhere, or they will die. Mond is too short-staffed to concern ourselves with children that were simply lucky to be born.”
Sir Kaeya. Or Lady Jean. One of them needed to know.
It’s rare that Kaeya is the one soothing his Grand Master from irrational fury. Since he’d come back from his botched poisoning, it was usually Jean who calmed him down, her own temper cooler and less prone to ire. But this...
For Mondstat, as always.
There was no greater betrayal, no greater rage that his Dandelion Queen would feel over her city than to know her people were being left to suffer under the supposed benign intentions of the current Grand Master.
For all of his many flaws, Kaeya whole-heartedly agreed with Diluc on this one - the upper echelon was far, far too concerned with their image.
“Look at me, my Dandelion Queen,” Kaeya murmurs, and Jean’s gray eyes focus on his, brighter than any knife, glittering along its edges. His Dandelion Queen is startled by the term of address, and he smiles wryly at her, strokes her hair back without hesitation, holds her close to him in a hug. “Breathe out. If I’m not allowed to kill Varka, then you aren’t either. I’ve been told that’s reckless.”
The words startle a laugh from her, and she presses against him, basks in his soothing cold.
“The more I learn, the more I wish Diluc had set the building on fire two years ago,” she complains, and Kaeya snorts agreement.
“Too many casualties,” Kaeya agrees wryly, “but the sentiment is appreciated.” Jean gives a bitter laugh, and he cradles her closer. “We can always humiliate him instead,” Kaeya offers innocently enough.
Jean shoots him a look.
“Dare I ask?” Jean says archly, pulling away to his mild annoyance. Kaeya grins at her, wide and gleefully vindictive.
“How do you feel about throwing a charity and fundraising ball in my new home?”
Jean’s laughter is only just on the right side of vindictive.
“So many books...” Lisa is gazing up at them all adoringly, and Kaeya lightly nudges her side.
“We need to clear this building out today, Lisa. You can adore and cuddle your precious books after they’re safely in headquarters,” he teases her with a smile. Lisa huffs and tosses him a glare, but his smile doesn’t abate, unperturbed by her clear annoyance. “We can’t leave the little ones waiting for a home after so many weeks out on the streets.”
That blows all of Lisa’s building annoyance out of the window. Of course he would bring that up. She knew what he meant, which was the worst part. So many children left to starve on the streets. If Jean and Noelle hadn’t been there to back Kaeya up, she wouldn’t have been able to believe him.
A hand lands on her shoulder. “Don’t beat yourself up,” Kaeya advises lowly, his tone full of the repressed annoyance she felt. “Varka will get his comeuppance sooner or later for calling our citizens lesser. Just focus on getting this place cleaned out, and take a look around - I know that somehow, this room is much bigger on the inside than it should be. There must be some magic at work.”
That was a more understandable reason for pulling her here than to simply look at all of the lovely books. Kaeya was already moving, deftly picking through the piles of things to help the Knights already sorting the mess out with quiet efficiency. Everyone here was going against orders - Kaeya had made it clear that if they did this, if they followed him, Grand Master Varka would be furious.
But Kaeya would not yield. He was taking this seriously - as though it was an insult to the Ordo’s members.
Lisa observes him, his grace, his quiet, whispered praise of their bravery. She can see how they steel their resolve, how their eyes light with pride.
Lisa had known his return would change things.
But watching him as he calmly directs the Knights, helps them pack, and rebuilds his rapport, Lisa wonders - how would the Ordo handle the shakeup that was coming?
Chapter 5: The Ball
There is a massive difference between acceptance and revelry. Here, at a party, Jean crosses that line.
“I hate dresses,” Jean mutters under her breath. “Stupid, heavy, cumbersome - might as well go to a fight in lingerie it’s at least more comfortable -”
Kaeya’s lips twitch as he calmly adjusts the collar of his dress shirt. “We’re trying to butter them up, not kill them,” Kaeya chides affectionately, twirls his Dandelion Queen around to hug her and kiss the top of her head. Jean squeaks and flails away from him, tries to right her hair and scowls up at him as she fails. Kaeya chuckles fondly.
“Let me,” he says softly, and Jean scowls at him, but allows his fingers to card through her hair and slowly pin her hair up once more in a cascade of ringlets and glittering hairpins. The loose locks frame her face in a heart-shaped embrace, a few pins bravely struggling to hold her voluminous hair in. “There. Much better,” he says, turns her to face the mirror.
Dressed as they are, they’re quite the pair, Kaeya likes to think. He’d chosen his outfit to match hers, Jean’s silky opal and cream dress resplendent as it hugs her figure and gives her an unearthly grace. Dandelions are embroidered up the side where her dress parted, giving a subtle flash of her legs with every movement. The heels were a bit higher than her usual, pretty gold metal shining in the dim light.
He’d loaned her the fur shawl that he wore to offer a more sophisticated note than the dress itself could give her, and she’d reluctantly agreed to the opera gloves and slightly more extravagant than her usual earrings.
The necklace had taken both him and Lisa’s work to convince her to wear, however. It was an opulent, gaudy thing, and Kaeya makes a note that he will have to make sure she doesn’t throw it out of the nearest window the moment the night is over.
Compared to her, he was wearing a less expensive - if no less flashy - ensemble. White was not his color of choice, so he’d coaxed Jean's servants into letting him wear a softer honey cream color palette instead, allowing it to highlight his hair and eye as stunning accent peices.
They’d begged him to wear a corseted waistcoat over the unbuttoned dress shirt, the back of the uncomfortable garment laced with golden strings. As though showcasing his (it must be said; nonexistent) wealth, golden-hued leather vambraces covered his forearms, though the cord tying them in place was a jewel-tone, glittering blue with respect to his Vision.
His hair had been pulled into a delicately high ponytail, smaller braids woven into it to add to his exotic appeal, and his earring had been changed out for a sparkly little set of paired earrings that were shaped like glittering teardrops of gold and cream. They rung like bells whenever he moved, and if they wouldn't give him away in combat, Kaeya would most certainly like to keep them.
“You’ve got it easy,” she grumbles.
In response, Kaeya flicks his nail-painted fingers against his eyepatch. One of Jean’s over-zealous maids had attached a delicate jeweled chain leading to the choker around his throat, where his Vision held a place of pride, nestled at the base of his throat. The girl had spent an awfully long time smoothing out his shirt until he’d lightly suggested she find herself elsewhere.
Not to mention the makeup both of them had been subjected to.
Jean at least had the grace to look a little guilty.
“At least I’m the sort of man who can pull it off,” Kaeya teases lightly. “Could you imagine Diluc doing as I am?” The now familiar hate curls around him, but wars with the fondness of the memory.
“Must I really wear - ouch!” Kaeya watches as his brother rubs his arm, scowling at the innocently smiling Master Crepus as he waves a sharp pin around.
“You’ve gotten taller since the last time I made you a suit, son,” he admonishes, and red hair tumbles to cover his face as he hides his pout behind his hair. “Now hold still - you can stay and watch while I make Kaeya his first suit, if you behave.”
Kaeya is no longer grinning, and Diluc’s eyes have lit up with clear, delighted mischief.
“You don’t have a suit yet?” He asks, the look of pure brotherly glee as bright as the lamps.
“Ahahaha… Just never had the time I guess and I really should get back to my lessons-” Kaeya bolts out of the room, pretends not to hear Diluc’s ringing laughter or Master Crepus’s own, more tolerant chuckle.
He pulls himself out of it, his Vision giving a grumpy hiss at the memory of that man causing him any joy after what he had done. Jean is looking up at him in concern, and he gives her a gentle smile.
“Don’t mind me, love,” he says fondly. “It’s a good memory, no matter how tarnished.” Jean looks unconvinced, but stretches up to kiss his cheek. He dips down to let her, smiles ruefully.
“You aren’t lying to me, are you?” she asks sternly, and he smiles again for her, winks.
“Promise I’m not. I’ll tell you about it on the way, if you’d like.”
At his words, Jean lights up like the sun.
Does it matter that Jean is about to laugh in Grand Master Varka’s face? Oh heavens no, not at all. The man had taken one look at Kaeya, and in Amber’s words, he had ‘gone through more shades of red than a firework’.
Lisa did hope that someone had taken photos, because the look on Varka’s face when Kaeya had come in, escorting Jean through his new home had simply been divine.
Though Lisa was woman enough to admit the sight of them would certainly be part of the gossip circles in Liyue, Snezhnaya, and Mond for weeks, if not months. Jean had of course made a splash in her clothing, silky dress over sunkissed skin, but Kaeya…
My goodness. If Lisa hadn’t found herself very firmly taken in by Jean, she could almost admit to wanting to climb Sir Kaeya like a tree. All that white contrasting against his honey-hued skin ought to have been outlawed, if the reactions from those around her were any sign. There was to be light, mingling conversation before dinner, so that Kaeya and Jean could sweet-talk the purses into opening their wallets for an evening.
And for that, Jean had required an escort. It made sense for it to be Jean and Kaeya - they were using his home, after all, to make an orphanage for the children and tween-year children to live in, safe from the predators of Mond’s darker side.
It did not make Lisa any less jealous.
Snagging a glass of sparkling cider, Lisa wanders closer to the pair.
Kaeya gives her a light smile and dip of his head, before returning to the conversation at hand about… Liyue performers? What an odd topic. His hand is possessively settled around Jean’s waist, not quite restraining her, but not allowing her to wander as she pleased, though Jean seemed not to mind, chatting lightly away to another woman about what it meant to be a knight.
Ugh. Boring. She catches Jean’s eye, and Jean smiles widely, wiggles her wine glass subtly in hello. The pursestrings that Jean was talking to seemed to take her action as encouragement, and started talking louder.
Lisa winces on her behalf and moves on. She was not the best here - if only Sumeru representatives had been around, she’d at least be able to talk shop about the books she’d gotten to browse after Kaeya had generously donated them.
While, by rights, Grand Master Varka was the one in charge of Ordo Favonius, Kaeya had engaged in a brief, but fierce war with the organizers to make it clear that this event was being hosted by Kaeya himself and Jean, as they were the ones in charge of starting the orphanage rather than the Grand Master himself.
It had been a low blow, to cut across Varka’s support network so harshly, but Kaeya could not find it within himself to care. Kaeya stands at the head of the table and can feel the vindictive satisfaction as a fuming Varka was escorted to a side table with his aide and several of the ‘old guard’ of the Ordo. Jean enters the hall, and the room hushes as she gracefully makes her way to the head of the table.
With a flourish, Kaeya pulls the chair out for her, allows her to seat herself gracefully before pushing the chair in. Lisa is given a place of honor at her left, and Kaeya takes the seat on the right, but does not sit.
“Please!” Kaeya smiles widely, offers a sweeping gesture of his hand out. “Have a seat. The food will be out shortly.” The guests murmur as they sit, and Kaeya settles down, observes the various dignitaries with a slightly amused smile.
Lady Ningguang and Lady Beidou were both within easy hearing range, having been in town due to a dispute along the Mondstadt/Liyue border that had required some delicate footwork between the two to handle, and across from them sat the Fatui contingent.
Il Dotorre. The supposed savior who had been offered a gracious place by Varka after his service rescuing the city from a vicious drake. The first few courses were served and eaten in silence, the hall falling in an appreciative hush of the divine cooking. Noelle had been in charge of cooking with Barbara, and he could tell the way the food blended with Liyue and Mondstadt’s tastes that the girls had quite a bit of fun experimenting.
“It’s good to see you well, Lady Beidou,” Kaeya says with a smile. “Your shipping transport - you did get the repair materials, yes?” Beidou blinks, surprised at being addressed, before a smile curls her lips.
“I did, thank you,” she confirms. “I must say, I hadn’t expected that you were such a high-ranking Knight of Favonius - the way you spoke about your work, I simply thought you were just another Knight taking a sabbatical!” She gives a light laugh, and Kaeya smiles with all his sweetness.
“Well, just because I’m the Calvary Captain doesn’t mean that I don’t need to learn more about myself now and again,” Kaeya deflects the hidden question. “And that besides - the safety of the Liyue-Mondstadt border is of great importance to the Knights.”
Some of the tension eases.
Thank Barbatos for the silver tongue he’d honed.
“It seems a shame,” the woman who is speaking spears a thinly sliced cut of pork, marinated in ginger and oyster sauce, “that a Vision so like the Tsaritsa’s is simply a political envoy of Mondstadt instead of part of the diplomatic process.”
Conversation around them stills, and the air seems slightly chill. Jean doesn’t stop eating, instead delicately plucks her napkin from her lap and dabs daintily at her lips, gives off an air of unconcerned nonchalance. The woman’s Vision is equally on display as her most loyal knight’s, a pretty little tiara of Anemo green.
“Then clearly it’s just as much a shame as the fact that an envoy like yourself instead shares the winds of Barbatos than that of your beloved Archon,” Kaeya says sweetly. “Though I must confess, Anemo or Cryo, both of us serve our respective countries with full-hearted devotion.” A glitter of frost-blue winks from Kaeya’s Vision. The air seems even chillier.
Wisely, the representative backs down, and everyone breathes slightly easier.
“I confess to some curiosity,” Jean’s eyes flick up to Il Dotorre, and her shoulders tense slightly. “Most Knights often seem to enjoy telling the tales of how they got their Vision - but there hasn’t been so much as a mention from you, Sir Kaeya.” The title is full of disdain, and Jean has to fight back her instinctive urge to slap him, as she always does when he alludes to her loyal knight in some derogatory manner.
Kaeya doesn’t even seem to notice the slight. “Mm. It’s not for dinnertime conversation,” Kaeya says dismissively, flicks his fingers to a side. “The events surrounding my Vision are… difficult, to speak of. Perhaps after dessert, if you’re so inclined?” The slight quirk of his lips upwards, a gentle but smug dismissal, and an expectation to agree. He clearly knew that the man wouldn’t, would so easily step into a lightly arrayed verbal trap.
Il Dotorre was no match. “It can hardly be so off-putting so as to put me off a meal,” the man says, and he would have continued, if not for Kaeya’s sharp look. His Vision winks lightly in the candlelight.
Even dressed in all of his finery, the soft honey and cream visage of her Knight is an intimidating one. Her loyal knight sets his cutlery down, the sound loud in the hushed silence. The winds around Kaeya are unmoving, though Jean had no doubt that had he still been holding his knife and fork, frost would have started to make an appearance upon the metal.
“Don’t be so arrogant, sir,” Kaeya chides, and someone drops their fork. “When I say it is not dinnertime conversation, I include anyone who may be able to hear our words - while you may be more than capable of stomaching the events, you can hardly speak for every person who is dining with us. My guests - all of my guests - are my main concern. As a diplomat for the Fatui, I would have thought you would know such etiquette. If not, then I’ll have to request that you vacate the premises and that a different envoy is dispatched. Diplomatic relations with Snezhnaya are always of utmost importance, and an antagonistic relationship will do nobody at this table any good.”
The man looked like he’d just been slapped by a fish, and the Liyue contingent was all hiding smiles behind their hands - or in the case of Beidou, smirking openly - at his rudeness being rebuffed so politely. The air warms once more, and conversation resumes, though there is still a hush at the startling realization of how coolly the envoy had been slapped down.
How dare that… that lowly wretch spurn him? Il Dotorre paces the length of the hallway outside of the banquet hall, seethes. He’d come prepared for another soft-hearted Knight of Favonius, some fool too short-sighted to concede to the glory of the Fatui, and he got… Argh!
This could not be allowed to stand… unchallenged .
What a menace, this man was. Kaeya twirls his drink ‘round the stem as he idly listens. Jean had gone off with Lisa to recuperate after that stressful dinner, and Kaeya, as the host and primary donor, was left to seduce those with the money to donate for the cause.
Already, the budget - if all things held true - would be a good starting point to feed, clothe, and bathe all children for a year. Lessons were of course run by the church and the Knights, and Kaeya had answered honestly that no child was obligated to the Knights beyond becoming a law-abiding citizen.
Mournfully, Kaeya teased that he did hope that if they became Knights, they avoided the truly terrifying jobs as he didn’t want to go grey before his time.
The laughter had been joyously sweet before Il Dotorre had cornered him.
Or tried to.
Kaeya had deftly slipped around the man, forcing him to meet Kaeya in the middle of the floor. He was a snake, and Kaeya had deliberately made light of his Vision’s manifestation, erasing some details and outright omitting others, though those omissions were clearly what he was most after, given his insistence on pressing the subject.
“While I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to get to know one another as colleagues, I do have other guests to attend to as well - I would hate to be seen as lacking in my manners,” Kaeya says the words as charmingly as he can, even as his Vision grumpily hisses and spits at having to play nice and sugar and sweet for the vile snake.
His fingers touch the Vision in silent chastisement, a reminder to behave. Kaeya glances round the room as is his habit. When his initial scan shows no sign of sunshine blonde, Kaeya takes another, longer look around.
Jean is gone, and Lisa, too, is starting to look worried. Kaeya can feel how his Vision trembles, worry and fury mixing together to emanate a light glow of blue even under his fingers.
“... and really, how masculine can you be if you choose to paint yourself as frivolously as a woman?” Il Dotorre was still speaking. By the winds of Barbatos’s wings, would this man shut up?
“So speaks the man who wears a mask to every function as though hiding a hilichurl’s bare end,” Kaeya says pleasantly.
Il Dotorre’s mouth hangs open.
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to meet with Lord Alberich - Noelle asked me to pass on a hello for her while she handles the catering.” Noelle had said no thing, but the jolly man would understand Kaeya’s need to use him as a diversion. With a light pat to the man’s shoulder, Kaeya frees himself at last, weaves through the crowd and curses his height. He was easily the tallest person here save Lady Beidou.
Oh. Now that was a thought. Kaeya passes them by, and at the Liyue delegation’s curious looks, he subtly rolls his eye, waves his wine glass in the man’s general direction. Beidou and Lady Ningguang both stifle smiles, and are kind enough to intercept him as he tries to push his way through.
Thank goodness. Free at last.
The halls are silent when he escapes to them, and Kaeya frowns.
No. Not silent. This oppressive feeling… Kaeya quickens his steps. Jean would never use this technique of her own free will.
Hold on Jean. If you’re in danger, I’ll stop them. By any means necessary.
A tap on Jean’s shoulder obligates her to turn away from her enthusiastic discussion with the jolly Lord Alberich about potions and their medicinal qualities. After sparing the Lord a gentle smile, she obediently takes a look.
“Ah - Elder Lange!” She curtsies, and the man bows back. “How may I help you?” The man gives her a smile that feels a little greasy, but she has to ignore it and smile politely regardless.
“Might we speak alone? There’s some business that came up with the Ordo.” Jean blinks, frowns a little.
“Lisa is a fully qualified member,” she protests, and Elder Lange doesn’t quite scowl.
“This is sensitive information, Sir Jean. The Librarian does not have the clearance to speak in regards to this.” Jean bristles, but Lisa shakes her head.
“He’s right, you know. I’m just a librarian. I’m not involved in any of the training or combat aspects, so it’s probably better for everyone if I keep my input away from it.” Lisa pats Jean’s arm, and the girl reluctantly sighs, steps away.
Later, Jean would scold herself for her lapse, allowing herself to be steered away from the safety net that was Lisa. The way his hand tightened around her arm makes her flinch, and before she can protest, she’s shoved into the hall rather than towards Varka.
“Your clan denied my betrothal offer to your sister.” Jean’s opinion of the meeting immediately spiraled downhill.
“My sister is a nun of the Holy Church, Elder Lange - she will never be marrying as tradition has stated,” Jean says irritably. “I made that explicitly clear in the refusal.” The man’s hand tightens further. Jean tries to pull her Vision awake, to rally the winds in her defense-
Nothing. Not even a whisper in the halls. A wink of light catches her eye, and she can see the man's ringed hand shine in the moonlight.
“That was a mistake,” the Elder says, eyes narrowed. “You have done this city a disservice by remaining a knight. By now, your mother was already pregnant with you and had two other children besides.”
Jean sees red. Her hand snaps out, the ringing slap of her fingers against his bony face making the Elder’s head hit the wall.
“ Don’t talk about my mother, ” Jean hisses, backs away from him as she rubs her arm.
“We’ll talk about you and your wretched family however we damn well please.” The sound of another voice makes her freeze, and Jean glances in the reflections of the decorative mirrors, can see that more men have melted out of the shadows. “You think you’re better than us? You Gunnhildrs always act so hoity-toity, flout your supposed devotion to the city, but we see how you look at that foreign mutt you call a Calvary Captain, how you look at your Librarian. He’s not even back for two weeks and he’s dragging women to carry his half-blooded spawn for him.”
Again, Jean tries to summon her Vision, feels a feeble flicker against her fingertips as it attempts to respond.
“If you’d at least married the Ragnvindr boy, you would have at least been doing your duty. But no, you just had to go for the adopted slag. You look at him like you love him, you foolish girl. Sullying a pure bloodline.” They close in, and Jean steps back, into the wider space that had ceased to be a safe place. “Don’t worry. We’ll make sure your value is equal to his, worthless whore.”
“Oh will you?” Kaeya’s voice is sudden in the empty space of the threat, making all of them jump. Ice cracks across the ground, traps feet and hands in their hungry maws, winds around bodies in a snake’s caress. Kaeya materializes behind her, his arm wrapping firmly around her waist and tugging her closer in silent, possessive protectiveness. “Did you honestly think I wouldn’t notice you were harassing my Grand Master?”
One of the boys laughs, and if Jean wasn’t so relieved, she would have told him to shut up, to allow her to keep them from a surely humiliating beating.
“Grand Master? Do you lick her boots and body with that tongue, mutt?” They’re idiots. The whole lot of them, Jean thinks in numb disbelief. Cold is rolling off of Kaeya in waves, spilling diamond-dust fog in a fine, opaque cloud over the floor. Their taunts peter out. They're starting to realize how precariously their lives are balanced on his mercy.
“Tell me one thing. If Jean had not been here tonight, would you have gone after Sister Barbara? Would you have hurt her the same way you filthy creatures planned on assaulting my Grand Master?”
Jean’s breath catches.
For herself, she would have offered them leniency. It had not crossed the path of more than just mere words, hurtful and cruel that they were.
But to do this to any other… to attempt this against her sister…
There were lines no one could cross. Even one as forgiving as herself could not stomach them. Though they had not hurt her yet, their very actions had threatened her sister.
"Don't…" Jean swallows her nerves. "Don't make a mess, please. It takes time to clean blood off the floor, and your home doesn't need that kind of trouble."
Kaeya's laughter is a viciously soft thing. When he speaks again, that terrible, beautiful rage is gone from his voice, replaced with his cold satisfaction.
"As it pleases you, my Grand Master."
The posters go up, Jean's hand pressing them against the wall to make sure they stick. Kaeya is beside her, humming as he idly makes sure his poster doesn't slip down the stone.
Six young men and Elder Lange.
The posters stay up for the courteous three weeks, and are taken down only a mere handful of days before the master of Dawn Winery returns.
This concludes part two! The next one is going to involve Diluc, Diluc's emotional aptitude of a sunsettia, and all the fun stuff.
I have fanart I'm dying. Please go stare at the pretty.