The thing is, Ekaterina is proud to serve her Archon.
Coming from one of the slums in Snezhnaya, to be accepted as a recruit into the Fatui was one of her crowning moment of achievement. She trained under the harsh environment of her homeland in order to make her nation proud, and after years of training, found herself climbing the rank enough to be included as part of the Eleventh Harbinger’s elite force. Her mission clear and her heart set, she proudly held her head high as she made her way from the neverending winter terrain of Snezhnaya to the warm, gold-encased land of Liyue.
A part of her had expected… something, since her arrival here. Maybe not quite in the realm of accounting and paper pushing, but it is her duty and so shall she perform it to the best of her ability. Harbinger Tartaglia was young (much younger than her, though Celestia punishes those who ever mention this) but his competency is second to none. She’d seen him in battle, felling his opponents like wet paper against his mighty hydro lance, and even outside of battle, that childish grin hid back a quick witted tongue and even sharper mind. It has been her honour to serve alongside him, especially when he seems to acknowledge her own capability by making her his assistant.
But lately, maybe a bit longer than that, she’s been entertaining the idea of being transferred to another Harbinger. Even Dottore seems to be a better idea than this.
“Harbinger,” keeping her emotion out of her voice was a trained skillset at this point, but she still struggles to hide the twitch on the corner of her eyes, “My apologies but I still have tons of work to go through so if you could please—“
“Wait, wait, you haven’t heard the best part!” She wondered, through the irk of being interrupted, if Harbinger Tartaglia’s face will soon be ripped to half with how wide his smile was becoming, “Then he said, ‘It is unfortunate I have long since lost the one I used to have. If I only still have my instrument, I’d play it for you’,” his voice turned deep, mimicking the other person in this anecdote, the identity that has become the source of Ekaterina’s constant suffering, “And he was saying it so sincerely too! So guess what I did next?”
Ekaterina contemplated not answering, but Harbinger Tartaglia was just… grinning and waiting.
It’s honestly rather creepy the longer time passed.
In the end, she gave a long suffering sigh that seems lost on him, “You bought him the Erhu—“
“I bought him the antique, cor lapis based Erhu,” the redhead clapped and laugh, as if he didn’t just admitted to spending absurd amount of money on a useless piece of instrument that she’d have to add to his personal account later. Harbingers makes great money, she knows that as the person handling his personal finance, but he’s spending it as if Morax himself granted him endless riches, “Can you believe it? He wanted to play music for me! In his place! This is the best—“ he suddenly paused, eyes darting to the ornate clock resting on top of the reception area, “Oh oops, it’s later than I thought. I promised Zhongli-xiansheng to come to his place as soon as I’m done,”
Before Ekaterina could stop him, Harbinger Tartaglia already swivelled on his heels, and stride outside with a wave, “Anyway, that’s why I need to leave early today. Thanks and bye Ekaterina! See you tomorrow!”
And he’s out of the door with the kind of speed as if Barbatos himself had pushed him with a mighty wind. Ekaterina could even see Nadia outside of the door, jumping from the sudden blur coming out from the building.
With the heavy laden sigh, she slammed her head on the desk, blearily eyeing the paperwork Harbinger Tartaglia was supposed to finish before the end of the day. Which is obviously not happening now.
Scratch transferring, maybe she should consider retirement now.
2,000 Mora - Glaze Lilies | Florist
8,050 Mora - Dinner | Wanmin Restaurant (+tips)
500 Mora - Exuvia Beard Candy | Candy Stall
27,000 Mora - Pressed Ley Line Leaves | Liyue Market
96,000 Mora - Decorative Scrolls | Wanwen Bookhouse
560,000 Mora - Erhu w/ Cor Lapis | Liyue Market
All of her problem started on one normal day as any, on the streets of Liyue and without her even knowing it.
Though business were usually conducted between the walls of the bank, there would be some occasions in which they’re required to come to their client, which in this case had been the Feiyun Commerce Guild. She had accompanied Harbinger Tartaglia at the time and by the time they were done, the skies had been painted with a fiery gradient, signalling the slow turn into night. They need to return to Northland Bank to store some paperwork, but with how late it already was, there was no rush. Harbinger Tartaglia had even suggested the ‘scenic route’ and go through the market area.
It was in the middle of making their way through the bustle of sounds that one in particular stood out nearby, one of an angry man shouting, “Why would you even come here if you didn’t bring any Mora! Don’t waste my time!”
The sound caught both her and the Harbinger’s attention to one of the stalls, where the owner was flailing his arm angrily over his wares towards a well dressed man standing stoically in front of him. Even in the sea of people around, the man was quick to catch attention; from his clothing to the odd-coloured eyes that almost seems to glow, adorning a pale visage that is almost ethereal in its beauty. Ekaterina won’t even deny that she was momentarily captivated by the - if the shouting man was to be believed - mora-less man.
She turned, planning to walk away from the display and almost ran against Harbinger Tartaglia’s still form. Eyes wide and mouth slightly agape, he didn’t react to her calling for him, or that fact that he’s standing still in the middle of busy walkway.
When he finally moved, he moved towards the stall in question.
“Ah, excuse me,” Harbinger Tartaglia interrupted with a grin, before reaching to his pocket to take out his wallet. Instead of the stall owner, he turned instead to the well-dressed man, “What is it that you’re buying? I can pay for you,”
Ekaterina couldn’t help but gape. What is he doing?
After a brief pause full of confusion, the brunet pointed at one of the wares displayed on the stall; an antique looking bracelet that seems to be made with shimmering mineral with an inlaid jewel adorned in the middle, “I was admiring this starsilver bracelet, the craftsmanship involved to temper such a finicky material until its malleable enough to form into a jewellery was a testament to the maker’s expertise. It would be a shame not to buy it,”
That was a peculiar reason to buy something when you have no funds, but obviously the oddity didn’t even register to Harbinger Tartaglia when he asked the stall owner, “How much is it?”
The now somewhat confused seller gave the price. Ekaterina could feel her brows rising in incredulity.
Her brows were probably on their way to leaving her face entirely when without a hint of hesitation, Harbinger Tartaglia pulled out the amount asked and gave it to the now appeased seller.
“Name’s Childe,” the redhead introduced his alias, after handing the bracelet to the beautiful stranger, who inspected it with critical eyes and a pleased air, “You look like you’re an expert on jewels, Mr…?”
“Zhongli,” the man said, smiling slightly, “And it’s not necessarily jewels, I hold great appreciation for masterfully crafted art. I find myself drawn to their beauty,”
Harbinger Tartaglia’s smile grew and gained an oddly flirty edge, “I can understand that. I appreciate beauty myself, just not with art,” as if to make his blatant statement even clearer, blue eyes started roaming the Liyuen man’s entire form from top to bottom.
Ekaterina found herself exchanging looks with the stall owner, who paused from counting his mora just to give the two man a dry stare.
Somehow, the least unsubtle come on in the world was lost to Mr. Zhongli, who simply smiled, “Ah, yes, there are many kinds of splendour that can be beholden in other forms. You will find that Liyue holds plenty of magnificence from ages past, unique to our nation,”
“I’m very sure of it, but I wouldn’t know where to begin to look,” the Harbinger drawled, and oh look at that, he started leaning to the poor, unsuspecting man’s personal space. He had one hand on his nape, rubbing with his head tilted to an angle in a display that allows him to look at the other man coyly. It was, perhaps, his attempt to come out as charming, “I’m still quite new here, see, so I’ve been looking for someone knowledgeable to show me around,”
Mr. Zhongli doesn’t look like the kind of person who emotes well, with how diminutive the changes on his expression has been. Yet this time he visibly perked up at this, “Oh, then perhaps I could help guide you? I have several ideas on where to start, if you could tell me when you have the time—“
“I’m free right now,”
‘No you’re not!’ Ekaterina wanted to scream, her hand full of the paperworks they need to sort out to finalise the deal with Feiyun Commerce Guild.
But she was a tad late. The two started walking away, with Mr. Zhongli started reciting about the nation’s history and Harbinger Tartaglia was obviously not paying attention to anything else.
3,000 Mora - Qingxin flowers | Bubu Pharmacy
320,500 Mora - Starsilver Bracelet | Liyue Market
6,200 Mora - Dinner | Yanshang Tea house (+tips)
56,000 Mora - Antique Tea Set | Wanyou Boutique
40,000 Mora - Liyuen Baijiu | Third-Round Knockout
Harbinger Tartaglia returned to Northland Bank the next day with a wide grin, tussled clothes and wild, wind-blown hair.
“Mr. Zhongli finally picked up what you’re putting down?” Ekaterina grumbled - she had to stay later than usual to sort those papers out, all by herself - but couldn’t help with her curiosity as she eyed his hair. The Harbinger looked too giddy this morning, and his appearance screams of a great night.
“Nope!” he sunnily exclaimed, “But he invited me to the ‘best spot to see sunrise’ on Mt. Tianheng and we ran across a Ruin Guard on the way back. I have never, ever in my life seen a man handle a polearm the way he did,” he said it with such breathless awe, you’d think with his current appearance, he’s talking about a more scandalous type of polearm, “I’m meeting him again for lunch, can you set up a reservation in Liuli Pavilion? Thanks!”
The receptionist’s eyes widen, “Wh— Harbinger! Liuli Pavilion can’t be reserved in just a day, there’s a waiting line for months!”
The redhead walked away to his office, waving an arm at her, “Just give them some extra payment from my account, Zhongli-xiansheng,” Oh archons, he’s started using Liyuen and his accent is atrocious, “said he’s craving Tianshu Meat and no one does it better than them,”
And thus, this new, demented routine was born.
3,000 Mora - Silk Flowers | Florist
6,450 Mora - Lunch | Wanmin Restaurant(+tips)
220,560 Mora - Dinner | Liuli Pavilion(+tips) (+bribe)
830,000 Mora - 2x Custom Made toys (Mr. Cyborg Model) | Toy Seller
500 Mora - Engraving: To Teucer | Toy Seller
500 Mora - Engraving: Милый мой, Zhongli | Toy Seller
150,000 Mora - Crescent Pike | Hanfeng’s Ironmonger
“I think it’s kind of sweet,” Nadia told her, shrugging in the face of Ekaterina’s suffering, “It kind of reminds you how young he is, you know? Even with our loyalty to the Tsaritsa, he’s enjoying life too,”
The two of them were leaning over the overhead bridge leading to the Bank’s entrance, staring down to the road below. In particular, they watched as a familiar head of red made its way down Feiyun Slope to the front of Xinyue Kiosk, where a figure stood still in wait. Indeed, it was quite odd to see the man she had seen once demolish a battalion of soldiers bouncing with a skip on his steps, like a child with their first puppy love.
Ekaterina sighed and adjusted her mask, her eyes carefully watching as Harbinger Tartaglia hands over a bunch of violetgrass to Mr. Zhongli before the two figures disappear behind Xinyue Kiosk’s entrance door, “Easy for you to say, you’re not the one who has to hassle him to go back to work whenever he goes over time on his lunch break,” Or wiring massive amount of money for the multitudes of tabs he now has all over Liyue, or deal with the incessant gushing about a certain funeral parlour consultant, “It’s not as if Mr. Zhongli is even aware its a date,”
Nadia turned so quickly she smacked herself with her blonde mane, “You’re kidding me,”
“It’s true. It’s one of the things Harbinger always gripes about,”
How anyone could miss the signs of crush Harbinger Tartaglia harbours is astounding to her, but in the few occasions she had the opportunity to talk to the consultant, she had long since come to the conclusion that just because the man has worldly knowledge of seemingly everything, doesn’t mean he can’t be as dumb as a geo structure, “Apparently he still thinks he’s being a ‘tour guide’ and just showing Harbinger around,”
“He does realise it’s been months, right? Liyue’s big but I’m pretty sure they’ve visited some places more than once at this point,”
Ekaterina shrugged, “I told you, it’s painful to even look at,”
2,500 Mora - Violetgrass | Bubu Pharmacy
4,320 Mora - Lunch | Xinyue Kiosk(+tips)
5,888 Mora - Dinner | Wanmin Restaurant(+tips)
128,000 Mora - Chopsticks | Wanmin Restaurant
230,000 Mora - Cor Lapis Hair Ornament | Wanyou Boutique
97,300 Mora - Ornate Goblet | Liyue Market
20,000 Mora - Dandelion Wine | Third-Round Knockout
“Do you think I need to be more straightforward with Zhongli-xiansheng?”
Ekaterina eyed the bouquet of imported Windwheel Asters in Harbinger Tartaglia’s hand, and the case containing dragon-and-phoenix chopsticks he had been fidgeting with, an item that barely left his person since he was first gifted it - if paying for it still counts as being gifted, “What, like using words?”
“I feel like we’re not making much progress,” the young Habringer continued on as if she hadn’t spoken, “When I was at his home yesterday, after he finished playing the Erhu, he then made tea and we just ended up chatting. I thought that, being in a private space means we could go a bit further,”
Oh, no, no, no, no, she is so not discussing about her superior’s sex life, not here, not this early in the morning when the caffeine has yet to kick in, and definitely not in the middle of her workplace with Manager Andrei an a couple of clients standing just right there—
“I mean, I don’t mind just chatting, but I wanted to hold hands too, you know?” he sighed sadly with a little pout, blissfully unaware of the massive whiplash he just gave his subordinate.
“You could… consider just, telling him?”
Her advice, she thinks, was basic level of knowledge into what makes relationship works. Yet, Harbinger Tartaglia was looking at her as if she had gifted him with some hidden, ancient enlightenment.
On her way to her lodging that night, she saw them in front of the food vendor outside of Chihu Rocks in between queueing costumers. Both the Harbinger and the consultant had their heads bowed together, talking quietly and smiling between themselves. Between them, their hands were linked together.
Alright, so maybe Nadia does have a point, it is pretty sweet to look at.
10,000 Mora - Windwheel Aster | Mondstadt Florist(+courier)
80,000 Mora - Reinforced Wooden Bookshelf | Liyue Market
21,000 Mora - Books | Wanwen Bookstore
1250 Mora - Snacks | Food Vendor
2000 Mora - Snacks | Food Vendor
4200 Mora - Chocolate | Candy Stall
340,000 Mora - 2x Earrings | Mingxing Jewellery
For all of the fooling around he’s doing lately, the only reason Ekaterina has yet to properly remind him of his responsibilities is because Habringer Tartaglia was still performing his duties. His actual duties.
“Make the report, I’ve collected the Sigil of Permission as planned,”
His entrance from the side door, reserved only for staff and the occasional Fatui members was hidden in the shadows, much unlike his usual bold entrance from the front door. Ekaterina dutifully fulfilled the order, but not before she took note of the splotches of blood on the corner of his shirt. Though brief, it seems like her glance was enough to alert Harbinger Tartaglia of his current appearance, “Oh, oops,”
He clicked his tongue, sounded more annoyed than what a bit of stain on his clothes should cause, “And I ran out of clothes here too,” he murmured, thumbing over the blood stain. He gaze up to the clock and gave a mournful whine, “Waa, I can’t show up looking like this in front of Zhongli-xiansheng. I’ll have to cancel on him,”
To any outsider, or even those outside of the Eleventh Harbinger’s direct command, it would only seem like he was being fussy over a stain of admittedly dubious nature. But Ekaterina had also seen the dullness in his eyes and his dangerous posture, the by-product of having spill blood without the requisite exhilarating battle that he prefer. For all of his lust for war, she knows he does not derive joy from the taking of life itself.
But they all have their roles to play. For the will of Tsaritsa must come first.
Still, she mused, as the Harbinger quietly slinked back into his office, back stiff, this also means that Harbinger Tartaglia cares enough to hide this side of him still from the man he’s publicly courting. It would seem that what she has before dismissed as simply a whim for romance lies deeper than she thought.
12,500 Mora - Summer Love Bouquet | Florist
50 Mora - Greeting Card, Message: Beloved Zhongli, Apologies for my absence, I have an urgent matter to attend to. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.Yours, Childe | Florist
It was an hour to the end of her shift when the entrance door was pulled open, and instead of the usual Fatui uniform or Snezhnayan outfit that usually entered, the person who walked in were dressed in clothes distinctively Liyuen. The second thing that Ekaterina registered was the wafting smell of delicious cooked food, carried by none other than the Wansheng Funeral Parlour consultant.
“Pardon me,” he accosted her, unusually bright amber eyes trailing his surrounding, searching for one person in particular, “Is Childe available at the moment? I’m aware he’s quite preoccupied at the moment and do not wish to take too much of his time, but if it’s not too much trouble, I would like to give him this,”
He gestured by lifting the packed food he carried, from which the delicious aroma had come from.
Ekaterina was just about to excuse herself to call for the Harbinger when the man himself stepped outside of his office, lazily rubbing at his nape with a loud yawn. At the sight of their late visitor, however, he froze on the spot, gaping maw and all, “Zhongli-xiansheng?” the words tumbled out unintelligibly, and whatever haze of sleepiness was chased away when the Harbinger evidently was reminded as to why he had skipped their daily meeting. He gripped on the corner of his shirt, (un)effectively hiding the bloodstain as he quickly stride over to them.
(She could be mistaken, but Ekaterina could’ve sworn Zhongli had actually caught sight of the bloodstain before Harbinger Tartaglia could hide it, if the subtle tilt of his head was of any indication. Yet, he didn’t mention it at all. Maybe he’s unaware that it’s blood?)
Mr. Zhongli met him halfway, one hand reaching up to cup the side of the young redhead’s face. The flush that crept up Harbinger’s face was almost the same colour as his hair, “You look fatigued,” the brunet commented, “I hope I’m not overstepping my boundaries by coming here, but I was afraid you may have forgotten sustenance with how preoccupied you seem to be. Apologies for coming so late, I need time to cook this to the desired perfection,”
Harbinger Tartaglia’s eyes grew wide, as he took the offered food pack with reverent hands. Inside was what seems to be some sort of soup, with thick cuts of meat and cuts of fresh vegetables, “You made this?” he swallowed, lips wobbling, reigning back numerous emotions, “For me?”
In almost a year of knowing Harbinger Tartaglia’s object of affection, Ekaterina had seen limited range of emotion on the man’s face. But as a blush slowly crept on Mr. Zhongli’s cut cheekbone, she can’t help but think, holy crap why is he so adorable, “I suspected that you are working hard, so bamboo shoot soup will be the perfect meal. Bamboo shoots has high nutritional value, and I have added the best cut of ham and pork belly for energy boost, straining off any unhealthy fat so it may—Oh,”
It was right at this moment that Ekaterina was sure they have both forgotten where they are and that there are still people (her) around because Harbinger Tartaglia leaned his head over Mr. Zhongli’s shoulder, exhaling audibly, “Aah, Zhongli-xiansheng, just looking at you already gave me all the energy boost I need,”
“You must be mistaken, looking at people does not have any healing properties whatsoever,”
“Not people, just you,”
Through the soft murmurs shared between the two, Ekaterina took this opportunity to slink out of the door. She met Nadia on her way out (and Vlad, though she’s not sure why he’s still here when his shift is long over) who peeked conspiratorially through the door, sighing wistfully, “Aww, they’re so adorable. I wish I have a boyfriend who’ll bring me food to work too,”
Next to her, Vlad suddenly shift on his foot, hands fidgeting on the bag of meat skewers he’s been holding the whole time. One of said skewers were held in Nadia’s hand, half eaten.
Ekaterina tempered down the will to roll her eyes until they fall off her skull, and walked away without a word.
3500 Mora - Glaze Lilies | Florist
5,000 Mora - Groceries | Liyue Habour
7,000 Mora - Seafood | Fishmonger
125,000 Mora - Kitchen Reparation | Wanmin Restaurant
“I just wanted to cook for him my own special dish as a thank you,” Harbinger Tartaglia continued to wail in front of her reception desk, further cementing Ekaterina’s belief that whoever gave him the alias ‘Childe’ was spot on, “How was I supposed to know he hates seafood?!”
“You could ask him beforehand?”
The absolute child of a man continues to sob loudly.
21,000 Mora - Inazuma Native Flowers | Inazuma Florist(+courier)
8,300 Mora - Groceries | Liyue Harbour
89,000 Mora - Jade Necklace | Wanyou Boutique
73,000 Mora - Silk Curtains | Liyue Market
169,000 Mora - Lunch Reservation | Liuli Pavilion
“An interesting bunch, aren’t they,” Harbinger Tartaglia murmured, as they watched the Traveller and his oddball of a floating companion exits Northland Bank. He avoided Ekaterina’s gaze, as if he was trying to hide the very palpable turmoil running in his head, “I’m going to need them for the next step of our plan,”
“Sir, if I may,” she knew it’s none of her business, she knew that their mission must come first. And yet, there was a part of her that felt… pity for him. For the decisions he’s making, “The Hero of Mondstadt may prove to be the turning point for our plan, if the reports from La Signora proved to be true. I can understand you wanting to keep an eye on him. However,” she paused, trying to pick her words, “Knowledgeable as he is, perhaps there was no need to involve the consultant?”
Especially when its very clear you’re very, very much against it, she though and didn’t voice out loud.
The Harbinger stayed silent. He seems like he already has the answer, but was hesitant to tell her. In the end, with a strained smile, he spoke, “No, there’s very much a need to involve him too. I think… If I’m right, then there’s very much the need to involve him too,”
He turned, stalking away back towards his office when he suddenly paused. With an exaggerated sigh, his shoulders visibly sagged, and he tilted his head up, “The will of the Tsaritsa must come first. She is our Archon, after all,”
[REDACTED - ALL EXPENSES TO BE FORWARDED TO FATUI’S COFFER]
3200 Mora - Glaze Lilies (Wild) | Liyue Adventurers Guild
100 Mora - Greeting Card, Message: I’m sorry | Florist
It is a testament to Liyue’s persistence that there was little change in the people itself following Osial’s awakening and defeat. The Tianquan of Qixing had come forth after the destruction of the Jade Chamber to announce the turning chapter in Liyue’s history, that Rex Lapis’ passing would not be the end but a new beginning. The Golden House was closed, there were new deals to be made and trades to be restructured now that Northland Bank is under scrutiny from the Qixing, and through all of this, Harbinger Tartaglia was missing.
At least, it may have seem so at first. She heard from Manager Andrei, the day following Osial’s defeat that he had been here, along with La Signora, Mr. Zhongli and the Hero of Mondstadt and his companion. The manager hadn’t dared interrupt them but he had listened in enough to know the truth: Rex Lapis wasn’t quite dead, in fact, he had been wandering around the streets masquerading himself as an all knowing consultant of Wansheng Funeral Parlour.
The moment she was told of this, Ekaterina’s mind immediately wondered if Harbinger knows, or at least suspected.
She received her answer soon enough, when at the end of her shift, as she was leaving, she spotted a familiar figure on the streets of Feiyun Slope, standing solitarily in wait. Mr. Zhongli - Rex Lapis, Morax, the Geo Archon himself - bowed politely when he saw her, then waited some more.
Somehow, perhaps out of the same pity she had felt for Harbinger Tartaglia before this entire event unfolded, Ekaterina found herself waiting alongside him, even though she already guessed who he was waiting for and could’ve told him that there is no need to wait for a person that wasn’t around. She invited him to the small tea shop just below Northland Bank, and they sat in silence in the midst of evening bustle on the streets below them.
She ended up being the first person who spoke between them, breaking the wary but oddly comfortable silence, “I’d give him a moment, if I were you,” she told him gently, “I haven’t been in many relationships myself, but I could tell you that I would be angry too if the person I love lied to me about something so important,”
Belatedly, Ekaterine felt silly for thinking she could compare her failed relationships in the past with what is currently going on between these two. No one she dated before was ever sent to steal something essential from you, she didn’t have to hide the fact that she is a living, breathing god and thank the Tsaritsa she never have to end up in a position where she had to manipulate or be manipulated by someone she hold affections for.
She was about to retract her statement and wave it off as unwarranted advice when Mr. Zhongli nodded solemnly, “You have a point. I have been cruel to him, I have no right to demand an apology just because I wish for it,”
“Mr. Zhongli, may I ask you something?” this is probably bold of her to do, and whether or not he has his gnosis, this man before her still hold immense power, “I don’t know everything that happened myself, but I suspected that, well, you must’ve known Harbinger Tartaglia’s intentions for quite a while. Perhaps keeping him close had been in your best interest, and yet…,”
Why do you seem to genuinely care for him? Why did you come that day with home cooked meal for him? Why did you hold his hands and entertain his whims if it was only for the sake of manipulating him later?
Were you truly that cruel?
She didn’t really know what to say.
“I know if it, yes,” Mr. Zhongli admitted, “I have heard of what happened in Mondstadt, and, while Childe was not forthcoming with his actual position in the Fatui, I have long since suspected his true identity. But this only helped me make my decision,”
“How do you mean?”
A smile bloomed on the (ex)Archon’s face, serene as the night’s wind, “I have long search for a reason to retire as an Archon, and I found it in him,”
The delicate tea cup clatters loudly as it slipped from Ekaterina’s hand to the table, thankfully unharmed.
“Or, more precisely, he was a catalyst for it,” he continued on with a chuckle, smoothly reaching over to fix her cup from her frozen hand, “As the Yuheng of Qixing once put it, the time has come for humanity to make its mark in the land of the Geo Archon. I too had long held this sentiment, but it wasn’t as simple as that. I could not leave abruptly without knowing if this nation can fend for itself, and I cannot simply become a human without any purpose. I have lived for such a long time, with so much memory that weighed my every step, so I wish to make new ones, better and happier ones,”
Redness started creeping up on Mr. Zhongli’s cheeks, “Spending time with Childe had given me so much of that. He showed me the core of humanity in their persistence and determination, the many facets of an individual, each unique to their own rights. Through his own way, he had showed me the comfort of companionship, the warmth of family,” he smiled beatifically, gaze far and away from this terrace tea shop, “And he had opened my eyes to the wonders of love itself, of which I have long since closed myself to after so many loss,”
(Ekaterina found herself thinking back to her homeland, a winter wasteland, where the people no longer held love for their archon and the archon no longer held any love for her people. She thought, for the first time in so many years, of the home she left behind, with too many mouths to feed and not enough food to go around, where mora was always the reason fight broke out in the middle of the night. She declared it hell where the Fatui was her escape, while still sending home as much mora as she could because she remembered still.
She gaze upon this retired archon, who has placed his people in an ordeal to prove themselves capable to be free of him, out of love and pride, both for his nation and for selfish reasons.
Perhaps as a mortal, she won’t understand how Archons such as the Tsaritsa and Rex Lapis in their way of thinking. But in that moment, as a fellow human, she thinks she understands Zhongli a little bit more)
"Mr. Zhongli, have you ever considered telling him all of this in person?"
3,500 Mora - Tea | Heyu Tea House (Paid to Ekaterina)
5,000 Mora - Snacks | Ekaterina’s consultation fee
“You know, I should punish you for leaking sensitive information,” the voice behind the giant bouquet of flowers said, the cheery tone not matching the threatening words, “And yet here I am, your benevolent boss, giving you a thank you gift,”
With great effort, she lifted the bouquet and tried to steer it around the receptionist table to better display it, “Your address is not a sensitive information, Harbinger, everyone in Liyue knows where you are staying at,”
She turned and has to blink a couple of times because, wow, so this is what the morning after with an actual archon would look like. Harbinger Tartaglia expense no effort in even hiding the many bite marks littering his jaw and throat, the forming eyebags, and the even more unruly hair. He grinned when he caught her looking and ran a hand from his jaw before extending his arm to rub his shoulder, hissing a little, “Zhongli’s nails were sharp like you wouldn’t believe, same as his teeth. You know that even in human form his teeth is sharper than normal? I thought he was going to tear my nipple off,”
“Harbinger, this is a formal work place, please stop—“
“And when I entered him the first time, he clawed at my back so hard, I started bleeding. I thought to myself, 'this better not wake anything in me', but it did, it absolutely did. Did you know that since Exuvia’s a dragon, instead of a dick, down there he can have a—“
3,400 Mora - Costum Bouquet | Florist
25,000 Mora - Fontaine Flowers | Fontaine Florist (+courier)
8,900 Mora - Lunch | Wanmin Restaurant
60,000 Mora - 2x Ring | Mingxing Jewellery
21,000 Mora - Snacks | Ekaterina’s Trauma payment
“Oh and— Ouch! Wait, I promise this isn’t dirty!— Zhongli told me that the chopsticks he gave me a while ago was actually a dowry given for marriage. So does that mean we've been married this whole time?"
"Please just talk to him instead of me, Harbinger, I'm begging you. I just want to work,"