“This place is creepy, Jean!” Amber whispered as she clung to the elder girl’s jacket.
Amber’s fire red jeep idled merrily behind them, just in case of an emergency escape. More often than not wild animals inhabited these rundown locations, and no one wanted to be caught with their pants down by a mountain lion. As this was just the initial stakeout, Jean had yet to peruse the local records to find out too much information about the place. All they knew was what the City Council had told them; that over the years several children, and possibly vagrants, had disappeared on the grounds of the manor, the most recent being the mayor’s son. Police had combed the manor grounds and the woods around it several times over, the inside deemed condemned and unsafe for anyone to enter.
It was understandable why people thought the place was haunted. The gates were worn and rusted, one gate lying on the ground. The lawn within was overgrown, the gravel pathway leading to the door overgrown with weeds until the small stones were barely visible. It was a textbook haunted mansion, large and imposing, with broken glass and rotten wood. Even in broad daylight, it was terrifying.
The porch of the manor seemed sturdy enough, Jean testing the wood with the heel of her boot before climbing up. For the most part, it seemed intact. She sighed when Amber clung to her back, trembling.
“Relax, I’m sure there’s nothing to the stories that surround this place. Well, the non-factual at least.” Jean answered easily, gingerly stepping over a tree root that had managed to snake its way into the cracked wood. “This manor has so much history to it. It’s a shame the City Council said it would cost too much to restore. Just think of all the things we could learn!” Her eyes practically glittered before she caught herself, clearing her throat delicately. “Remember the mission, you two.” She glanced over her shoulder at Amber, before her gaze darted to their other companion.
“Yes, of course,” Kaeya sighed, bringing up the rear. He tucked his hands into his jacket, shrugging his shoulders at Jean. “Find any and all evidence of paranormal activity and report it to the authorities. Not that they’d be able to do much about it,” Kaeya pointed out, “you can’t shoot a ghost with a gun.”
“It doesn’t matter, there are rules to follow, Kaeya, and-”
Amber shrieked loudly, jumping away from Jean, her hand pointing sharply at the door of the manor.
“ Ghost! ” She wailed. Both Jean and Kaeya snapped to attention as the door opened slowly, a man stepping out from within. He was dressed formally in a pressed black suit with a white waistcoat. His eyes were crimson, his hair the same bright tone and neatly tied back into a low ponytail. He crossed his arms over his chest, lifting his chin as he gazed down at them.
“You’re trespassing.” He said curtly.
“Oh~?” Kaeya mused, “this night certainly got far more interesting.” He noted, raising a hand towards his eyepatch.
“Kaeya, no ,” Jean hissed, before looking back at the man. “Forgive us, we didn’t catch your name. We’re here on behalf of Mondstadt City Council, my name is Jean-”
“City Council or not, you’re trespassing on my property.” The stranger scowled. “Leave before I call the authorities.”
“Your property? This house has been empty for decades, the original owners died ages ago.” Kaeya narrowed his gaze. “You’re just as suspicious. Can’t say I would want to squat in some rundown manor, even if it’s as big as this one.”
The man met his accusation without falter, shaking his head.
“You’re wrong.” The red-haired man sighed. “I inherited the land from my father. I check up on it on occasion to make sure that people don’t try to sneak in.” He looked at the lot of them. “If you want proof, I’m more than willing to contact the police. I’m sure they’ll be able to provide you with proof enough.” He added sharply.
“I see,” Jean spoke up curtly. She smiled at the man. “Forgive us, we’ll be on our way.”
“B-but Jean,” Amber stuttered, staring up at the man. “He-”
“We have what we came for, we should leave,” Jean said firmly, bowing her head to the red-haired man. “I’m sorry that we trespassed, Mister…?”
“It doesn’t matter. Just go.” He replied. Jean nodded her head in understanding.
“Understood. Thank you for your patience.” She turned, shooting both Kaeya and Amber a look.
The trio made their way back for the gates, the red-haired stranger watching them until they passed through the twisted metal. When Kaeya glanced back over his shoulder, the man was gone.
“Are we really going to ignore that?!” Amber hissed as she tore down the forest trail, Jean and Kaeya clinging to the Jeep for dear life. “There’s no way that was normal!” She cried.
“Of course not, but before we go back, we need information.” Jean’s calm voice was betrayed by her white-knuckled grip on the door.
“Time for Jean’s late-night study hour,” Kaeya muttered, trying his best not to throw up as Amber flew onto the main road.
“Head for the library, we’ll need to see what we can find,” Jean muttered, finally relaxing as Amber slowed to a somewhat normal speed.
“We?” Kaeya echoed, “can I take a sick day?” He asked. Jean shot him a glare over his shoulder. “This is why I keep saying we need to unionize, Amber.” He muttered, sagging in the backseat.
“Kaeya, you’ll never believe what Jean dug up!” Amber’s loud voice startled him awake. Kaeya sat up, rubbing at his eye and glancing down at the census records he may or may not have been drooling over. He snuck a glance at the librarian to make sure no one had noticed before looking back at Amber.
“Did she find out some way to reorganize her notes?” Kaeya mused aloud. Amber sputtered, sending him an annoyed look. She idolized Jean, which made Kaeya's teasing borderline sacrilege. Kaeya smiled lazily at her. “Well, go on, correct me.” He offered, sitting up properly.
“She found something a lot more interesting!” Amber replied, slapping a book down in front of him. It looked old and worn, and probably not up to Amber’s manhandling. Thank God Lisa hadn’t come along on this trip or Amber would have faced the consequences. “She was looking up the history of the manor and she came across,” she opened the book quickly, “ this! ”
Kaeya glanced down at the open book, his gaze sharpening when he took in the contents. It was a portrait of two people, one sitting in a chair, while the other stood behind their right shoulder. The man sitting was older, with red hair, facial hair, and kind eyes. Behind him was undoubtedly the dour young man from last night, smiling happily. Kaeya’s gaze drifted to the caption under the portrait.
‘The last known portrait of Duke Crepus Ragnvindr and his only son Diluc Ragnvindr. Circa 1849.’
“So the man from last night-”
“Was a ghost!” Amber said excitedly. “I was right! But,” she paused, her brow furrowing. “He didn’t look like any ghost we’ve seen before. He looks exactly the same as his portrait. Perfectly human.”
“Ghosts only become gaunt, terrifying figures when they forget their humanity.” The pair glanced over to see Jean walking over to them. She flipped a few pages in the book, showing Kaeya a wall of text that he didn’t bother to read. “It says here that on a rainy night in late April, several servants from the manor ran into town, soaked head to toe, rambling about a monster murdering the Duke and several others in the manor. Apparently ‘the Young Master’, Diluc, had them run to get help from the town while he tried to help any survivors.” She turned the page, “but there was a small landslide caused by the rain, and the authorities weren’t able to clear the path until nearly a week later.” She paused, her expression sad, “by the time they arrived, there was no one left. Though,” she continued, “the bodies of the Duke and his son were never found among the remains.”
“So, maybe the reason why he has so much humanity left is because he’s trying to find the survivors still?” Amber suggested.
“If that were the case, then wouldn’t he have welcomed us this morning when we said we were from the City Council?” Kaeya pointed out, tapping the passage in the book. “Not to mention, this is essentially the reports of some hysterical servants and the local law at the time. The only real source is Diluc himself, if he even remembers his original life.” He paused, his finger resting under the word ‘monster’. “Not to mention, this ‘monster’ the servants speak of, is there any more information?” He asked, glancing at Jean. She shook her head.
“Nothing concrete. There’s apparently plenty of rumors and speculation. Some say werewolves, others vampires. Some people say that the Ragnvindr family were the descendants of vampires even.” Jean added. Kaeya snorted.
“Fascinating.” He mused, leaning back in his chair. “So, are we going back tonight?”
“We still need to submit our findings to the Mondstadt City Council. They’ll be expecting a report tonight.” Jean answered, closing the book and adding it to the small stack of papers she was holding. “Then they’ll open up a case to decide whether or not it warrants further investigating in the morning.”
“So we wait a few weeks for the city council to deliberate on whether or not we can go back there? It’s not like they could stop us if we really wanted to go back.” Kaeya scoffed. “The only reason we were contracted here in the first place was due to the mayor’s kid disappearing. How many other kids and vagrants have gone missing at that place over the years?” Kaeya asked suspiciously.
Jean sighed. “Kaeya, I told you, there are rules. You know this. Please, give it a day, I’ll try to convince them to meet sooner.” She replied, looking troubled herself. Amber glanced in between them nervously.
“Right.” Kaeya settled back in his chair, looking away. “A day.”
A day, Jean had said, so Kaeya made sure to return to the manor that night. Alone.
Stealing Amber’s Jeep had been easy enough, his two companions fast asleep in their hotel room. Kaeya had obviously been in his own room, meaning that it’d just been a quick pickpocket after they all ate dinner, before he’d made his way to the manor after the sun had set.
The manor was worse at night, but the flashlight on his phone was more than enough to illuminate his way back up the manor walkway, up the porch, and to the large, imposing door.
Before he could reach for the handle, it slammed open. Diluc stared at him with wide, panicked eyes from the other side. His mouth opened, before his brow furrowed in recognition as he attempted to slam the door shut. Kaeya’s arm darted out, catching the door before he could close it completely.
“What are you doing here?!” The man hissed, attempting to close the door. He glared at Kaeya, before wincing sharply, his grip loosening. Kaeya pushed the door open farther, his gaze darting down to take in the dark red stain spreading across the once pristine white waistcoat over the man’s stomach.
“You’re injured,” Kaeya said, startled at the sight of blood. Few ghosts could bleed so vividly. “You need help.” He added. The man laughed, glancing away.
“A doctor isn’t going to help me.” He grunted, shoving at the door. Kaeya planted his boot in the doorway.
“So you know that you’re dead,” Kaeya muttered, trying to step into the manor. “Then I need answers from you about the missing people over the years,” he stated sharply. The stranger hissed out a pained breath.
“You need to leave,” Diluc answered, reaching out to plant a hand on Kaeya’s chest. Kaeya blinked in shock. Fewer still were ghosts strong enough to make physical contact with living people. Diluc tried to push him back, his strength waning. “Please, it feeds off of the living. Kills them to take their lifeforce. It’ll kill you too -” his voice cracked.
“Feeds?” Kaeya echoed, blinking when he heard a creak from deeper in the manor.
“Mister?” A soft voice called out. Kaeya glanced over the man’s shoulder, blinking when he saw a small girl standing in the center of the rundown foyer. A wide hole in the ceiling allowed for moonlight to filter down into the interior of the once pristine manor, illuminating the tiny girl like a spotlight. Her hair was a soft, curled blonde, her eyes a shining blue. She looked at him, tears in her eyes, blood staining her white, Easter Sunday dress. “M-Mister!” She choked out. “T-that man, he hurt me. I-” she sniffed, rubbing at her eyes. “He hit me!” She sobbed before she began to wail entirely as she took a few steps closer to the pair. Diluc hissed, trying to close the door. Kaeya refused to let him. Diluc looked at him desperately.
“Don’t believe it, it’s-”
“A demon, clearly,” Kaeya noted dryly. Both the red-haired man and the little girl looked at him in shock, the little girl’s cries cutting off sharply. Kaeya lifted a brow at the two of them in return. “Listen you two, I know your excitement happened in the 19th century, but we’re all the way to the 21st century now. There’s the internet, social media, and plenty of common sense to spare.” He pointed at the 'little girl’. “In what world would a little girl be held hostage in the condemned manor of an old aristocrat? There are holes everywhere in this house, you could have snuck out ages ago. Not to mention you look perfectly fine, while this guy looks to be on his last legs. What little girl could do that kind of damage to an adult?” He pointed at Diluc still attempting to bar the door. Diluc looked at him, his mouth hanging open in shock.
“Y-You-” he managed as Kaeya pushed his way past him into the manor. “Wait!” He reached out, before grabbing at his injured stomach. “Damn it, I said wait!” He hissed, cringing.
“Relax, sunshine, you’re not in too great of a shape to stop me regardless.” Kaeya pointed out, flashing Diluc a smile. Diluc glared at him resentfully. Kaeya turned his attention to the little girl. She regarded the two of them with interest, crossing her arms over her chest, her expression amused.
“What an astute mortal you are.” The girl noted with a dark giggle. Her gaze fixed on Kaeya, her expression hungry. “Do you hear that, Master Diluc? Seems like mortals these days are far more knowledgeable. Unlike your father and yourself.” She paused, considering. “Oh, no, that’s right. Your father was certainly aware of my true nature before I killed him. And you did try just as hard as possible to kill me in life as much as you attempt to in death.” She giggled. “Your tenacity is the cutest thing about you. That spirit of yours is the long-aged wine I get to enjoy every time a homeless man or an idiotic teenager tries to explore your lovely home. A nice sip after I let you watch these foolish mortals throw themselves at Hell’s Gate and be consumed.” She gestured around her. “How does it feel, to have your once noble home turned into nothing more than my nest?” She cackled in delight. Diluc stepped forward on trembling legs, his eyes burning.
“You monster- ”
"Demon." Kaeya corrected, "if it was a monster, I'd be a little more out of my depth."
“Oh?” The little girl laughed, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Maybe you fancy yourself some sort of hunter? Very well, let’s find out who’s really the hunter and the hunted.” She cooed, darting forward.
“But of course,” Kaeya answered, flicking off his eyepatch. The eye underneath glowed in crystalline light, as bright as the sky at high noon, his vision arcing over the demon as it stumbled to a halt in front of him.
“That’s-” the demon shrieked as smoke began to rise off its skin. It splintered like old parchment as the demon twisted under his gaze. “Damned angel spawn…!” The visage of a little girl cracked and split, revealing a red and black mass far more true to form. It roared at Kaeya gutturally, diving towards him even as its body began to catch alight with blue flame. Kaeya swore, stumbling back as the demon lunged for him. He grunted when he was shoved out of the way.
Steel buried itself into the demon’s chest, earning another roar. Diluc drove his sword forward hard enough for the tip of the blade to lodge into the wooden floor underneath the demon, pinning it in place. Kaeya continued to fix his gaze on the demon as it writhed and shrieked. The blue flame rolled over its body, burning and twisting until the demon was nothing more than a stain on the floor.
Diluc collapsed onto the floor as small, blue embers caught the wound across his stomach, easily erasing the bloodstain. Rather than consume him as well, they sputtered out, leaving the ghost otherwise unharmed.
“Well, I can’t say I’m not surprised,” Kaeya muttered, pulling his eyepatch back over the eye. “That the gaze of the angel didn’t so much as tarnish you. You must be quite the ethical spirit.” He mused. Diluc looked up at him in confusion.
“Handsome? Incredibly charming?” Kaeya suggested. Diluc glowered at him.
“An angel?” He tried, glancing Kaeya over. “Though I have my doubts.”
“You have a right to doubt. This may be an angel’s eye, but I am certainly no angel.” Kaeya snickered at the thought. “Call it a boon that people in my family are allowed, for a price.”
“So what are you then?” Diluc asked suspiciously.
“An exorcist, of a kind,” Kaeya shrugged, “I mix a little bit of new age with traditional measures. It’s more exciting that way.” He waved a hand in the air. “My cousin, Dainsleif, he’s a purist and he’s completely insufferable. Every family reunion he’s just like ‘ you’re ruining our traditions ’ and ‘ I can’t believe you made out with three people at the benefit gala in Liyue this year ’. God, what a buzzkill.” He sighed, because talking about his cousin was honestly the most exhausting part of this evening. He glanced at the pile of ash on the floor. “I take it the demon’s the one responsible for all the missing people?” He sighed, shaking his head. “If only someone had raised the alarm sooner instead of just thinking everything was some ridiculous ghost story. A lot more lives could have been spared.” He trailed off, silence hovering in the air between them.
“Well...? Aren’t you going to exorcise me as well?” Diluc finally asked, glancing away. “Make it quick.” He said, closing his eyes.
“Exorcising something generally refers to driving out evil spirits,” Kaeya noted, crossing his arms over his chest. He sighed at Diluc. “I’d hardly call you evil. If anything, you’re one of the noblest spirits I’ve come across. You’ve spent how many decades guarding the gates of a demon portal to save lives? I’d say you’ve earned a peaceful retirement. Moving on, and whatnot.” He shrugged as Diluc looked at him in surprise. “What? Don’t believe me?”
“I...I don’t know…” Diluc hesitated, glancing away. His gaze drifted to the old manor, taking in the caving ceilings and rotting wood. “People still died because of my incompetence.” he glanced at the floor. “Maybe if I’d been able to stop my Father, then…” he trailed off.
“‘The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children,’" Kaeya quoted. “But, at least in the eyes of this angel,” he tapped his eyepatch, “such crimes did not carry over. Or perhaps two centuries of trying to save people from their doom was penance enough in the eyes of Heaven.” He watched as Diluc moodily stared about, before sighing. “So, you’re really not ready to move on? You’re going to sit here and watch this house collapse to dust?”
“I...don’t know,” Diluc murmured, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. “I always thought I was going to remain here, trying to keep that thing from hurting more people.”
“Well, that’s a depressing thought, isn’t it? Glad we could avoid that option. If you don’t know for sure, you can latch onto me a while.” Kaeya offered. Diluc looked at him in shock.
“What? What do you mean? Like, possess...?” He looked scandalized at the thought. Kaeya chuckled.
“Hardly. I don’t think you could possess me even if you wanted. The eye and all.” He gestured at the eyepatch. “Ah, but you’re certainly welcome to try. I can’t say that I never wanted to have a cute little redhead try to get inside me.” He smirked.
“You’re incorrigible,” Diluc muttered, glancing away with a blush. Kaeya grinned in amusement.
“Oh, you should hear what the Vatican has to say about me. In fact, if you tag along you’ll probably hear it real soon from Jean.” Kaeya laughed, a nervous tinge to his voice. Oh yeah, Jean wasn’t going to be happy when she found out that he went off on his own again. Or maybe she had planned it all along. Regardless, he was fairly certain she wouldn’t be expecting their new companion on the trip back home. Diluc regarded him warily, his brow furrowed.
“Is it really okay? I won’t end up hurting you somehow if I...attach to you?” He asked.
“I highly doubt it. It’s like calling a taxi. I’m the driver, you’re the passenger.” Kaeya lifted a brow at the concern on Diluc’s face. “Oh, relax. Don’t you want to see the world and how it’s changed? It’s a lot more interesting than this rundown place.”
“Hey!” Diluc snapped, before catching himself. “I...thank you for the offer. You saved me, and managed to do something I couldn’t.” Diluc murmured, stepping out of the doorway into the porch. He glanced back at the manor once more, before turning towards Kaeya. “I’ll find a way to repay you for tonight.” He promised. Kaeya grinned, hopping off the front steps to walk towards his car.
“Hardly, if you hadn’t lodged that sword into that demon’s chest I might have ended up as demon chow. Not that you would have had to worry for much longer. Jean would have torn the whole manor down to catch whatever managed to make me bite the dust.” Kaeya laughed. “You can be my ghost bodyguard if you’d like. Slapping around the undead spirits that I manage to get tangled up with.” He blinked when he felt a firm grip on his arm. Diluc looked at him seriously, before falling to one knee in front of him. Kaeya found himself blushing as Diluc gazed up at him. “Moving a little fast there, aren’t you?”
“This is normal when swearing an oath,” Diluc pointed out. Kaeya sagged a little.
“Oh right, an oath, of course,” Kaeya sighed, trying to not look too disappointed as Diluc placed a hand over his own chest.
“I, Diluc Ragnvindr, swear to protect you-” he paused, looking at Kaeya expectantly,
“-Kaeya Alberich, from this day forth to the best of my...current capabilities.” He paused, rising to his feet. “A simple, yet binding oath,” he murmured. Kaeya sighed.
“Yeah, an oath. Just an oath apparently.”
“Were you expecting more?” Diluc asked curiously. Kaeya sent him a dry look.
“No, I suppose I shouldn’t expect more from a man born in the 19th century. It’s okay, it’s alright,” he told himself more than Diluc. “We’ll work on it. For now, let’s just try to get back to the hotel and survive Jean’s scolding.” He suggested, walking back for the Jeep, Diluc trailing after him like a shadow.