Dragonspine was the only place in Teyvat that made her genuinely reconsider her fashion choices. Her mind conjures this thought as bitterly as she can, rubbing her exposed shoulders under the chill. Her stiff lips form a scowl. She liked her combat skirt.
To her immediate relief, the adventurer’s camp at the base of the mountain wasn’t quite as painfully cold as the mountain itself. Yet, the chilly temperatures were still far below that of Mondstadt’s usual sunny skies. Being in a below zero environment has never made her more thankful for the rays of the sun.
“Starsilver, starsilver, hmm… I’m not entirely sure where to find that, to be honest.” A cascade of soft chestnut hair falls along her shoulders as she tilts her head in thought. Lumine snaps out of her disgruntled cerebration in favor of paying attention to her voice. Her eyes watch as the Favonius Warbow at her side disperses into the frigid air at its disuse.
In spite of the temperature, she dons her customary Outrider uniform. The short jumper and exposed skin has Lumine reminding herself that yes, she is a Pyro user, and yes, she’s basically a walking, talking heater; if the comfort present in her posture in face of numbing weather patterns was any indication.
“I don’t come up here very much.” Her voice carries an apologetic tone. “I usually tend to the same route on patrols.”
“Ughhhhhh.” Paimon makes a strangled noise beside her. “Lumine and I don’t know where anything is located on this dumb snowy mountain! It’s too cold, and hilichurls like attacking for no other reason than they see something else living and breathing in this desolate place!”
Lumine hides the involuntary amused snort behind her hand. To her embarrassment, the girl isn’t wrong. Her back is still sore from all the times she’s been bluntly rammed into stone cliff sides by a Frostarm Lawachurl. “We could check Starglow Cavern again? I know the seelies we’ve guided are still hanging out around there. If we’re quick enough in between them, we could probably spot a few without losing limbs to frostbite.”
The girl’s expression hovers between contemplation and refusal. “Paimon… supposes so. But if it isn’t there, I’m putting my foot down and telling Orban it’s too cold to go looking anymore!”
Lumine hums. “Aren’t they usually formed by Ley lines?”
“Do you know where the Ley lines are?”
A decent point that she shrugs to. The initial request was to retrieve fifty pieces of starsilver ore to forge a polearm. Lumine thought it would be a nice gift for Xiangling and Guoba. As thanks, for saving their skin after she fell into a pool of water, only to be immediately barreled by a Cryogunner Legionnaire in Jueyun Karst. The reason why the chef was present in the area was still beyond her realm of understanding. “Fair.”
Amber looks at both of them in concern. “Did you not have anymore warming bottles?”
Lumine shakes her head. “We used the last one up before we saw you, actually.”
“And she almost died just trying to come back down here.”
Amber gives her a look that feels oddly protective; and a shiver makes Lumine look away and clear her throat, gently batting Paimon away with her hand as a distraction. “Don’t be so dramatic. My fingers were hardly blue but-”
“I dunno about you, but losing fingers makes it kinda hard to use a weapon.” Amber cuts her off with a stern look.
To make light of the glare she was being scrutinized with, Lumine wiggles her fingers at her playfully. To her delight, Amber’s frown perks up slightly when she shakes her head. “I’m coming with you guys if you decide to return back up.”
Paimon cheers, and Lumine double-takes with a hint of guilt. “Hey wait, you don’t need to. Weren’t you busy?”
She bobbed no. “I just had to deliver these extra vials to Sucrose, but she didn’t say she needed them right away.”
“Sucrose? The uh… What’s his name…” The fairy squints. “Oh right! Albedo! His assistant?”
Amber hums. “That’s her! She also mentioned needing specific samples from him up by his campsite for study, so I’ll be hitting two birds with one stone on this trip!”
“That’s… convenient.” Lumine trails. “But only if you’re sure, though.”
“Duh. I’m always sure about spending time with you. It’s been a while since we all did something together.” Amber nudges her shoulder playfully. “Consider me your personal heater for the day! Getting cold is hard when you’ve got me around.”
Lumine immediately notices Paimon’s quiet mischievous expression as the pixie whispers something under her breath. She barely caught the sly ‘If only you knew’ before it quickly turned into a yelp of defiance as Lumine yanked her navy cape, her voice a pitch higher. “Thanks Amber, we appreciate it!”
She looks at them curiously with an oblivious smile. “Yeah! Anytime!”
Traversing the rough terrains of a near glacial mountain, with only your own body heat and companions as warmth, goes about as well as one would expect.
Her shoulder grazes against Amber’s as she passes by another cluster of snow covered trees. The niveous landscape was blindingly white, making it easy to pick out anything of a different color. To her mortification, trying to spot anything other than the occasional dull colored rock did nothing to distract her from the hand repeatedly brushing against hers with every step. As much as she tended to keep to herself on quests such as these, sticking close beside Amber would probably do her body’s temperature better.
In stark contrast to the traveler using her contact sparingly, Paimon was blatantly shameless and practically draped herself across the younger girl like a blanket. Amber didn’t seem to mind. She was more than happy to conjure up a flame in the palm of her hand when requested. Lumine ignores the way her eyes would particularly crinkle in delight whenever she’d be the one to ask. The cold wouldn’t be able to stop her quivering heart if she didn’t.
It was a relief to finally get around without relying on the Scarlet Quartz and random heat occurrences throughout the trail. She’s never truly noticed the amount of torches that were blown out by the wind as they wandered along the path. Amber had a keen eye for those.
“Are your gloves fireproof?” She asks once they take a break next to the entrance of an alchemist encampment. Two bookcases and a set of desks stood erect amongst the scatterings of papers and scientific drawings stacked in piles. Beakers of stranger liquids bubbled in their containers with muted hisses. She figures it was Albedo’s camp from the rumors she hears circulating his scientific achievements in Mond. Her suspicions are confirmed when the archer carefully settles in besides her, looking almost at home among the stockpile of alchemist findings.
“Yeah! Usually it’s just safer to have them on when on duty. But they’re actually meant to keep my hands warm too. Though, I don’t think I really need it considering…” She gestures towards her hip, vision twinkling. “It’s more of a fashion statement than anything, really.”
“Can Paimon wear them?”
Lumine glances at the smaller girls hands, then back at Amber’s. “Those gloves will do nothing but dwarf your tiny fingers.”
“All the better to keep Paimon warm.”
Amber slips one off without further prodding and hands it to Paimon leisurely. “Knock yourself out.” She says. “Don’t lose them though.”
“Have you any shame, you tiny gremlin.” Lumine sighs and pokes her cheek, but Paimon is already slipping the garment on. It’s so loose on her hands that she slips the other in with an excited gasp, the fingers of the glove askew as they flopped lifelessly around empty space. Lumine feels her lips quirk in a smile at her companions pleased expression.
Paimon reminds her of Aether, in an odd, roundabout sort of way. She’s annoying in an endearing sense. Like a little sister watching out for you— while simultaneously snitching to your parents for incredibly trivial reasons.
There’s a comical disjunction over the fact that she’d gladly die for her companion in a heartbeat, but when it came to her sarcastic remarks, she’d throw her to the nearest garbage bin without hesitation. The correspondence to a stereotypical sibling relationship is uncanny; and she can’t help but wonder how Aether would take to Paimon, should they meet.
She feels a nudge against her shoulder, and looks over to find honey brown eyes peering at her. Amber studies her for a second, eyes trailing for something along the soft curves of her face. Her breath hitches in her throat involuntarily at the look. She can’t quite pinpoint it, and instead cocks her head in an unspoken query.
Then the archer lips quirk. The upturn is soft and sweet-tempered. It sends her heart spiraling into a frenzy of thoughts. “It’s nothing.” The Outrider speaks after a beat to her initial quiet question. “Your eyes just light up, and you do this little half-smile when you’re really happy.”
“Oh.” She rubs her neck. “Do I now?”
“Yeah.” Something dances in her fire-bright eyes. “You do.”
In that moment, Lumine finds that same draw to Amber she’s been having as of late without fail. The girl is akin to a bright spark. The last matchstick that could light a million torches with a single flick.
She’s clumsy and dense, but sweet and kind and valiant. She’s ambitious, served with a side of sturdy fierce courage in everything she does. Her caring heart held out for any and all who needed it. It has Lumine finding herself turning into a pathetic pile of goo over several occasions.
Suffice to say, this being one of those times, she turns to hide her face out of instinct, pulling her knees closer as she coughs out some unintelligible answer in the crook of her arm.
Her only response is a gentle jostle as Amber leans into her side with a content look. Her attention now diverted to the tangent Paimon was going on about proper cooking etiquette; and how Albedo had absolutely nothing to make Goulash with.
The warmth of her hand curling around Lumine’s doesn’t go unnoticed.
She’s introduced to the Kriedeprinz once he finally reappears. Surprised to find two knights taking refuge in his alchemist camp during a cold spell in Dragonspine, he greets them with a healthy air of caution, only slightly lightening up when he spots Amber’s familiar bright presence.
The two quickly fall into a discussion, giving Lumine ample time to both babysit Paimon and her grabby, curious mitts, and to study the environment around her. Paimon’s hands were still encased in one of the archer’s gloves, so keeping her from nabbing the poor Chalk Prince’s belongings was an easier feat.
“Treasure.” She says comically, and Lumine knows she’s joking. The mischievous, cat-like grin on her face is the very picture of a troublemaker in play.
“No.” Lumine responds.
She pouts, and the outlander ruffles her hair fondly.
Amber's chuckle is the only warning she receives before she is by her side, amusement present on her face. She tucks the samples into her side bag and bids Albedo farewell.
Their steps quickly fall in sync as they continue their initial mission to find starsilver ores amongst the mountain’s arduous terrain.
The next few hours are spent scouring the mountainside with keen eyes. Painstakingly whacking the found ore with a dull blade till it chipped off in collectable size chunks.
Halfway through, Amber offers a solution, having found a used claymore by an abandoned encampment close by. She determinedly lifts the claymore above her head with enough force to shatter the starsilver with a single swipe.
“Woah!” Paimon is loud with praise. “Amber, how did you manage to do that?!”
The girl looks incredibly winded, but more smug and accomplished than anything. “Knocking arrows…. isn’t as easy as you think… you know.” She breathes. “But I’m… definitely not doing that again. Sorry.”
“Still! You must be really toned under that hoodie, huh?” Paimon whistles. “Who knew archery could make you ripped?”
The sentence was so offhandedly and innocently spoken, Lumine nearly snorted out the water she had in her mouth. She has to excuse herself mid-conversation to scream incomprehensibly into a blanket of snow.
By the time they’ve collected enough ore, the sun is just hovering below the horizon. The tips of it’s bright splendor are reduced to dull rays of streaming light. The sky is a muted shade of purple, delicately blending into an orange glow.
On any other occasion, she would’ve stood still to gawk at the beauty Teyvat often surprised her with. She seldom spent time on Dragonspine. The cold being far too chilly to stay longer than a day or two at a time. And by the time she had noticed, the sun’s gleam had long since waned off, leaving only glittering ice under lit starlight.
On any other occasion, she would gaze at the stars in lieu of that. But on this occasion, Lumine feels as if her arms are about ready to fall off.
“I’ll never complain about Wagner taking too long again.” She presses her cheek into Amber’s collar. The goggles presently loosened around her neck still softly dug into her skin in brief hindrance. An arm gingerly wraps around her shoulders in response, dragging a warm blanket across her body. Her exhaustion ignores the implications of that move, and it goes over her head just as quickly.
The girl is a stoking flame. Heat poured off her like newly kindled fire. Hotter than Dvalin’s incandescent blaze. She was surrounded by it, and Lumine isn’t sure if getting burned was as bad as it seemed.
“Have you before?”
“No.” Her voice comes out softer than intended. “It’s mostly just Paimon.”
The smaller girl was settled under a blanket beside them, dozing quietly. The makeshift tent, provided by some travelers unused belongings left behind in the chill void of the mountain, sheltered them from the blisteringly biting cold the night often brought. Far too dark to make haste down the valley of hidden monsters, the duo and their flying companion collectively agreed to camp out the night and set home at the break of dawn.
They sit together quietly. Huddled by the fire in silence— something Lumine finds uncharacteristically solemn in the face of her usually voluble Outrider. She peeks at her expression, her face lit up by licking flames. Contemplation adorns her features as she sits, marred in distinct reflection.
The idea of silence often bothered Lumine, and it dated back to her childhood. Aether was never one to speak out of impulsive zeal. While one couldn’t say he was placid and stoic— he certainly didn’t hide his interests and was susceptible to outbursts of excitement— he wasn’t one for much complicated wordplay.
Paimon was his distinct opposite. And in the years she’s been without her sibling, Lumine had learned to adjust to her naturally chatty nature, taking it in stride in leaps and bounds. She knew she would have gone crazy if it weren’t for her constant cheery presence. She hopes Paimon knows how deeply she appreciates her company.
But in the quiet moments such as these, she feels longing for some sort of noise. The aching reminder of her brother’s absence and his tendencies weighed heavily on her shoulders when faced with silence. She missed him more than she cared to admit.
Oftentimes, whenever she was around, Amber filled that need for noise just as easily as Paimon has. Her tales of ventures in the rolling hills of Mondstadt were enthralling, if not informative to the foreigner new to these lands. She’d been the first to truly put effort into finding her brother— and as much as Lumine loved accompanying people to save their homeland, she wished someone would give just as much attention to her own situation as the Knight had. Appreciation wells up in her chest just enough that her eyes briefly tear up.
The girl makes a curious noise, tilting her head in question at Lumine’s behest. “Yes?”
She’s sure the girl has heard gratitude countless times. Her line of profession depended on caring for others both emotionally and physically. Protecting the people was the Knights of Favonius’ strongest known rule. Building a positive rapport with the citizens was a must. Almost every page commemorates a way to serve the people they swore to protect. Yet, the look she gave Lumine indicated it was anything but common.
“Anyone would have done it.” Her response was as modest as it was humble. As if anyone on the streets would have dropped whatever they were doing to hack at rocks in subzero weather for hours. The blanket atop their shoulders shuffles as she fidgets. The archer was just that kind, it seemed. “Besides, what are friends for?”
“Sticky Honey Roast discounts.” She blurts. Paimon’s habits seem to have merged with her rather sarcastic side. She decides to take it in stride when the smile on Amber’s lips light up her eyes like smoldering stars.
“I’m glad the friendship we share can provide you and Paimon with discounted food.” Amusement seeps into her tone.
“I’ll have you know, I only accepted my Honorary Knight title for that exact reason.”
“Yes. But also bragging rights.”
A small amused snort sends Lumine's heart running a marathon.
As the Outrider turns to tend to the dulling flames, Lumine thinks in the minutes she’s been around her, her heart has probably gone into shock several times.
Fire swirls around her hand in a churning gyre, setting another twig alight. “You know.” She starts after a while, voice tender. “Becoming the best Outrider I could possibly be was my only goal for the longest time.”
Lumine studies her. She gets the sense that she isn’t quite done speaking, and instead remains silent. The hand resting on her shoulder is still without her glove, and so she reaches for it, fingers interlocking with the easiness of fitting puzzle pieces. She waits, letting her know she is here for whatever comes.
She is met with a look of appreciation, before she turns away. “I joined for Grandpa, and stayed for Jean.” The fire crackles, her voice is distant. “She always overworked herself, you know? Even before she became Acting Grandmaster. I remember me and Kaeya would bring her coffee every morning during training, hoping she wasn’t passed out on her desk.
“There were a lot of instances where Jean had trouble keeping up with the assignments and requests passed to her— especially when she was promoted to Master of Knights. Kaeya and I would spend our free time assisting her as best we could; and Lisa helped not long after she joined the ranks. Because of that, it left me with a lot of time to think.”
Lumine felt the gentle pressure on her hand grip ever so slightly.
“Following in my Grandpa’s footsteps was my only goal ever since he left. The Outrider faction slowly dwindled until I was the only one remaining. And after my newfound free time, I began to wonder where he went, and just what exactly was my path?
“Even now, I never did find out where he disappeared to. Word from Qingce Village said someone matching his description was spotted there. But— don’t get me wrong, I love being an Outrider—“ She laughs, but it's a far cry from her usual vivacity. “But I wish I could’ve had the chance to check it out, you know? Maybe I would’ve found him.”
News of Amber’s missing grandfather wasn’t anything new to Lumine. On quieter nights such as these, Amber admitted to having faint ties in Liyue before she was set on her departure weeks ago. It was no secret that her loyalties and responsibilities tied her down to Mondstadt. It made saying goodbye harder than it needed to be when she finally left. Perhaps it was why she had tried so hard to find Aether with her. She knew the pain and helplessness of losing a loved one.
And back then, she had been just as somber and false-positive as she was now.
“But I have to thank you, traveler.” Her tone takes up a much lighter note. “I know we haven’t traveled very much together— just up to the Stone Gate before I needed to head back—” The sound of her voice turns atypically shy and tentative. Tender strength wells up inside Lumine’s heart when Amber delicately runs a thumb along the scars on her hand. “But even without leaving the borders, you’re the one that showed me the world outside Mondstadt.” Her breath hitches. “I’ve longed to see the world as my grandpa did. So when you came by, a stranger from another land who so easily slipped into my heart, I couldn’t be happier.”
The gentle gratitude in her eyes when she turns to gaze at Lumine, framed by a dust of red on her cheeks, couldn’t be fully described in words. Her mouth went dry, and every fiber of her being burned with affection for the girl in her embrace. Her brain is unable to catch up to her body as it runs on auto-pilot; and she presses the chastest of kisses on the Outrider’s callused knuckles, lips lingering against her skin.
“What are friends for?” She says. She would have regretted it, if it wasn’t for the Knight’s expression— staring at her like she lit the sun and hung the stars.
“You’re smiling like that again.” Is all she whispers. And at that moment, Lumine swears that things seem timeless. Against all odds, she’ll do her best to keep the serene, soft expression on her Outrider’s face. Be it slowly sharing the world with her, or simply chatting about the most menial of things.
In response, she presses another kiss, this time on her wrist as a promise.
Not soon after, they fall asleep under the twinkling clear skies of Dragonspine. Curled against each other to stave off the winds that would’ve otherwise chilled her bones frozen solid. Amber, in a poetic way, she thought, was the heat she fought the cold for.
Their trek down the mountain was just as jubilous as the climb was. Paimon now adorned half of Amber’s outfit, to her sheer shamelessness, and Lumine had to stifle the laughter when the sleeves of her hoodie hung on the fairy like a blanket.
“Paimon will never take being warm for granted again.”
“Just wait till we reach Sumeru. I have a feeling you’ll be saying otherwise.”
The adventurer’s camp is just within view. The Frost Bearing Tree already meters behind them, blending into the field of gleaming white snow like a ghost on the horizon.
“Good point. We might need to bring Barbara or Ganyu if they aren’t too busy.”
“So you can cuddle up next to them?” Lumine shakes her head. “Have you any shame?”
“For survival? No! Don’t think Paimon didn’t see you sharing a blanket with Amber last night!”
All the blood in Lumine’s body immediately travels to her face and she squeaks in indignation. Amber has her head turned away, awkwardly coughing into her hand. The only indication she heard was the heat dusting the tips of her ears.
Lumine just about chases Paimon down the rest of the way, finally regaining enough movement in her limbs with the sudden rush of adrenaline coursing through her body like a powerful Ruin Hunter.
The affair is quick once she drops the bag of minerals off to Orban. On a whim, she takes a detour to Mondstadt much to Amber’s surprise. But to Lumine’s yearning heart, she seems almost relieved.
“I thought you were heading to Inazuma now?” She asks, her eyes betraying her hopeful tone in lieu of indifference.
But the outlander only smiles mysteriously, and slips her hand into hers. “I am. But before I go, I need a word with Jean.”
The journey to Qingce village was as tranquil as the first time Lumine experienced it. Something about Liyue held a tight fondness in her heart, and her thoughts drifted to her sibling’s wellbeing as it tended to do. Her brother had a tendency to fall asleep under the trees whilst she sang her mother’s childhood lullaby during warm afternoons just like this one. He’d have loved the open space and fields of rolling hills— it wasn’t too far from their own homeland in a sense.
The love she had grown to hold for a land not her home had startled her at first. Yet as days passed, and weeks turned to months, she had grown a tender heart for what she’s seen of Teyvat.
Her love only grew when the people she met seemed to slowly fill the lonely void in her chest at her brother's absence. No one could ever take his place— that was without question. But the friendly faces she’s met along the way have tried their damndest to, and for that, she’s forever grateful.
Like many, her heart had its secrets. And for one, she’ll gladly spill it all for. The girl with the fiery personality and heart of solid gold. And while the search for her brother was still at its genesis, she had her own interests taking shape with every step.
With a flurry of movement, a girl in red is finally striding beside her, tucking a loose arrow into her quiver with a pleased, content expression.
“All good?” Lumine asks.
“Yep!” Amber chirps. “Sniped from afar! Gotta be mindful of my arrows now that I don’t always have a chance to run back to Mond for refills.”
Her hand soon snakes its way into her own out of habit, and Lumine squeezes. “We should be in Qingce Village in an hour or so. We could ask around then and follow the lead if we catch wind of one.”
Amber makes a noise of acknowledgement, hand still firmly gripped as she swung it to-and-fro in tandem with their steps. With Jeans permission, Amber was relieved of her duties for the next few foreseeable months, in favor of pursuing her grandfather’s trail. Given the news, the girl was suddenly reformed with renewed vigor. No words were spoken, and Lumine held no qualms as Amber brushed her lips gently on the back of her palm in an act of silent affection.
She loved her like she loved the grass, the sky, the stars, and everything else in between. Like a breath of fresh air during Spring, and a splash of cool water during Summer. Finding the words was harder than she expected it to be. And for now, that was fine. She understood that whatever bond they shared was requited, even without a label.
She knew her grandfather was on the forefront of her Outrider’s mind— just as she knew Aether was in hers.
Perhaps when things finally settled, and their loved ones were found and safe, would Lumine finally allow herself to indulge the fondness every inch of her being held solely for her; to let her know that she loved her in all the ascertainable ways. To finally find the words she’s been wanting to say since the day she emerged from Whispering Woods in a foreign country.
But for now, their steady, firm companionship was all she needed. They had missing family members to find, after all.