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lost and found.

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Thunder sounds overhead and sheets of rain clatter on the roof of Mondstadt’s most popular tavern. Behind the counter, Diluc scowls — though not because of the weather. The affront in this case is the blue-haired Knight of Favonius who sits at the bar, a glass of wine held carelessly in one hand as he grins like a Cheshire cat at the unfortunate bartender.

“Now, now, Master Diluc, there’s no need to be so rude. I thought I’d be doing you a favour, what with the weather like this.” Kaeya waves a hand airily at the ceiling, as if to illustrate his point. “Or do you expect your informants to go out in a typhoon?”

“Get to the point, or get out,” Diluc growls in reply.

Kaeya sighs. “Very well. There have been... reports of a well-dressed gentleman with pale blue hair visiting various settlements around the place and asking if they’ve seen anything unusual in the sky.”

And?

And, I have reason to believe this so-called gentleman is the Third Harbinger.”

“So why is he asking civilians about the sky?”

Kaeya goes quiet. He has his own suspicions, but he doesn’t especially want to share them. Least of all with Diluc, who is known for overreacting to– well, just about everything. More to the point, it reveals things about Kaeya that he has no interest in revealing. “Perhaps you can find that out for yourself,” he says, downing the rest of his glass and moving to leave.

Diluc grabs his arm, and only Kaeya’s exceptional self-control keeps him from flinching at the abrupt contact. “What aren’t you telling me?” he asks roughly, in that tone of his that makes it sound like he’s five seconds from summoning his claymore and separating someone’s head from their shoulders.

“That’s everything concrete that I know–” Kaeya begins, but he’s cut off before he can continue.

What aren’t you telling me?

“Fine, okay, so I have a suspicion that the Harbinger is in Mondstadt to find a certain someone...”

The redhead raises an eyebrow, and Kaeya notes vaguely how aggressive Diluc can make such a simple action seem.

“The Lost Archon,” the knight says reluctantly. “Do you know that legend?”

“Never heard of it.”

“Well,” Kaeya says, twisting his wrist free of Diluc’s grasp and stepping out of reach, “I think Lisa has a book on it, she’ll probably be able to explain much more... eloquently than me.” And with that, he turns and exits the tavern, skilfully freezing the rain that falls around him into an umbrella that shields him from the downpour. The door shuts behind him with a click, and the only evidence that he was ever there is the flurry of snowflakes falling to the floor.

 

///

 

The storm breaks two days later, and the very next morning, Diluc finds himself in the library of the Knights of Favonius headquarters, asking Lisa about the ‘Lost Archon’ that Kaeya mentioned that night.

Lisa raises an eyebrow and leans across her desk languidly. “I’m curious, Master Diluc,” she says with a smile that seems to spark static in the air, “where did you say you heard about this... Lost Archon again?”

“Kaeya,” he answers stonily, unwilling to admit that he actually listens to anything his former brother says.

The electric energy dissipates, and Lisa’s mysterious expression is temporarily replaced by a small frown, before she returns to her usual insincere smile. “Ah, of course. The Cavalry Captain truly does discover the strangest of legends when left to his own devices, doesn’t he?” she asks, not waiting for a reply and already making her way downstairs to the restricted section. “We only have one book in Mondstadtian about the legend, but it should tell you everything you need to know. Strictly speaking, it’s restricted to loans from within the Knights — but I’m sure we can make an exception for such an upstanding citizen.” She hands him the book, and Diluc notices how slim the tome is as he follows her back upstairs. Aside from being thin, it’s also quite worn, with the binding fraying at the edges and the hard cover material peeling away from the cardboard underneath it. The lettering on the cover was probably once gilded but is now barely visible on top of the dark cover, particularly in the dimly-lit upper floor of the library.

As Lisa fills out the paperwork to register the book as checked out, Diluc wonders idly what other languages the books on this topic are in, and which one Kaeya would have read. He’s fluent in just about every language in Teyvat, save for some of the obscure Natlan dialects, so it wouldn’t surprise Diluc if he’s read every book on the topic just to prove that he can.

Finally, he leaves the library with the book under one arm, promising Lisa he’ll return it within the two week limit, and he hurries out of the Knights’ headquarters, not wishing to encounter anyone else, wanting only to get home and start unpicking this mystery.

 

///

 

Il Dottore strides through the gates of Mondstadt with all the self-assuredness of a man who thinks he could defeat everyone here in an instant. The Knights at the gate are welcoming, as they must be — but Kaeya watches from the top of the gates, invisible to the people below, his face set in a frown. If the Doctor is really here to find the lost archon– well, Kaeya’s managed to avoid the Fatui’s notice thus far, but how much longer will it continue? He’s rather fond of his job now, and he doesn’t particularly want anyone finding out about his past — of the three people who know, Diluc tried to chop his head off; Lisa is... well, Lisa is her usual self and therefore quite willing to keep his secret so long as he helps her translate some of her rarer books; and Venti clearly can’t mind all that much if Dvalin hasn’t eaten Kaeya yet. Although, a thought whispers in the back of his mind, he might if he knew the full story.

Shut up, he tells it.

The greetings at the gates have finished, and the group of people moves further into the city, likely heading to the hotel where the Fatui are staying. Kaeya climbs down the city wall and trails them from a distance, mingling and chatting with people as he goes to make it seem as though he is simply out on patrol as usual.

Truthfully, he is eavesdropping on the conversations of the Fatui underlings — which are proving to be much more informative than he would have expected. If they were Knights of Favonius, the conversation would more likely be about who would be shouldering the costs of the next drinking evening. Of course, they have things to say about their bosses, but it’s surprising how they don’t watch their words. Perhaps, Kaeya thinks, it’s because they think so little of Mondstadtians. Well, they’ll learn soon, either by his own hands or by the Darknight Hero’s. Hopefully the latter’s, because it’s less likely to be a diplomatic nightmare.

“You’ve got to wonder, why’d Her Majesty send us? The boss keeps going on about divine power and a sign in the stars... you don’t think he’s going mad, do you?”

“The Third Harbinger was a madman long before either of us signed up. No, my bet is it has to do with whatever the Sixth found when he came over here — remember the meteors? He came back grumbling about the Fool and then vanished off to Inazuma just like always, but my cousin’s in his division and said Scaramouche was muttering about the ‘false sky’ or something...”

“Be a debt collector, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Never mentioned anything about working under a bunch of clinically insane sociopaths–”

“–Oh, I dunno, I think the Eleventh isn’t so much a sociopath as just a regular old psychopath–”

“–He’s still unhinged.”

It’s not much to go on, although it does confirm that the Harbingers are more feared than liked by their subordinates. Perhaps with a few prods in the right direction, those two might be able to be convinced that working for a quote-unquote ‘clinically insane’ boss is more tolerable with an illicit bonus paycheck as payment for reporting on the Fatui’s activities in Mondstadt.

With that information gathered, Kaeya peels away from the crowds in the main square and heads back towards his actual patrol route, on the opposite side of the city to the Fatui’s residence. He catches movement on one of the rooftops out of the corner of his eye, but continues walking without concern. If there’s a Fatui following him, reacting will only draw their attention more, and if it’s not one of them, then the intentions of his pursuant are probably harmless.

 

///

 

Diluc only hears of Il Dottore’s arrival in Mondstadt several hours after the fact, when he arrives at the Angel’s Share to take over from Charles. He spent most of the day absorbed in the book he had borrowed — its narrow spine was quite deceiving, because as soon as he opened it he was assailed by the smallest writing he had ever seen. After acquiring a not-insignificant headache, he at last gave up and decided to spend his evening bartending, where he would be able to fully mull over the few chapters he had managed to get through.

The Knights’ usual table is crowded more than usual, with half a dozen knights crowded around it as they loudly proclaim their distaste for their impromptu visitors. Diluc listens idly as he serves drinks, not expecting them to say anything particularly informative — especially given the lack of a certain blue-haired captain with a penchant for gossip.

But speak of the devil and he shall appear, the moment Diluc notices his absence, Kaeya steps through the doorway. He looks– unusually worried, Diluc thinks. Brow creased, flipping a coin in his hand listlessly. As he approaches the bar, Diluc reaches for a glass instinctively, and by the time Kaeya reaches his usual stool a Death After Noon sits on the counter in front of it. Kaeya raises an eyebrow, and Diluc scowls. He doesn’t need the Captain thinking that he cares. He simply values the free information Kaeya offers when he’s less than sober.

“So, you did take up my recommendation to ask Lisa,” Kaeya starts, and Diluc’s scowl deepens. Evidently Kaeya took a look at the library’s register before leaving work for the day, and the idea that Diluc’s activities are so easily surveilled is unpleasant to say the least.

“You say that like I had any other choice to figure out what the Fatui are up to,” he answers grumpily.

Kaeya hums, sounding amused. “Well, you could always have asked them.”

“Me? The Fatui’s least favourite persona non grata? I doubt it.”

The dim chatter of the tavern patrons fills the silence between them for several minutes, while Kaeya drinks and Diluc fulfils orders from other customers. In the relative peace, Diluc thinks about the book — since Kaeya brought it up earlier, it’s remained on his mind, and in particular the first few lines.

The first, now lost, archon was the god of the cosmos, the archon of time and space. They reigned over the land of Khaenri’ah, though kingdoms as far east as Sal Vindagnyr also worshipped that god. And they walked amongst their people, with hair blue as the night sky and eyes like starlight, blessing them with gifts of visions, protecting them from the violence of the Archon War... But as the wars dragged on and more gods fell, some in Khaenri’ah began to wonder — what kind of power would you gain from defeating an archon?

Chapter Text

Kaeya stares at the cryo vision in his hands. He debates tossing it into the lake, but he knows it would raise questions if he showed up at work tomorrow without the accursed thing in its customary place on his hip. Surely, he thinks, surely it’s impossible that she would have figured out where the Lost Archon was because of this stupid glass ball. After all, archons are supposedly unable to receive or use visions. And, speaking of that widely held belief, wearing his vision provides an alibi, a reason for the Fatui to overlook him. Because it isn’t at all like Venti’s — the Lost Archon does not possess the power of Cryo, and so a false vision would be an ineffective disguise. For Kaeya to use this vision, he must be human — or as human as a person from Khaenri’ah can be.

“So you’re the elusive Cavalry Captain of Mondstadt that Her Majesty saw fit to bless,” a voice behind him sneers, and Kaeya turns to see Il Dottore standing behind him, a Fatui agent by his side. “I wonder if she knew who you were? I find it hard to believe that any archon would willingly gift an agent of Khaenri’ah , a descendant of god-killers , with a vision.”

Kaeya stands slowly. He had not expected the Harbinger to confront him so soon, had hoped the Fatui were unaware of his surname’s heritage — but evidently that was not to be the case. “Perhaps your archon saw what you apparently cannot — that I did not choose the circumstances of my birth, and that my loyalty no longer lies with that place,” he replies, his tone as even as he can keep it while his hands curl slowly into fists. “Or perhaps, she was simply unaware of the history of the Alberich family. For all their power, archons are not all-knowing.”

The agent starts forward, knife out, but Dottore reaches an arm out to push him back. He eyes Kaeya, his gaze calculating and cold, and flicks his wrist. Earth shoots up to ensnare the knight — but unfortunately for the Dottore, Kaeya is practiced in evading attacks from Geo constructs from years of getting on the wrong side of Albedo mid-experiment, and easily moves out of the way.

“Now, now, surely we can have a civil conversation,” Kaeya mocks, sidestepping another attack. “This is hardly befitting of a diplomat,” he adds. “Could you not simply ask me to stay still?”

But his snark slows his feet, and the stone springs up around his legs, imprisoning him tightly. The Harbinger steps forward and plunges his hand into Kaeya’s chest, seeking the gnosis of the Lost Archon — but it closes on nothingness.

“Did you really think I would have it?” the knight asks wryly, trying to ignore the burning sensation that is spreading through his chest as Dottore retracts his hand. His vision grows blurry, and his breath catches in his throat. The stone holding him in place crumbles, and Kaeya slumps to the ground, legs unwilling to obey his commands.

“Go after the other one,” the Harbinger says to the agent, who Kaeya sees nod and walk off, though he is nothing more than a blurry dark figure to him. Dottore seizes Kaeya by the chin and tilts his head up. “For a supposed prince, you’re rather pathetic,” he says. “It’s a shame, I was hoping to spend as little time in this hovel of a city as possible. I suppose I’ll simply have to solve this mystery properly.” He lets go and turns away, and Kaeya falls once more, this time hitting the ground — though he is barely conscious enough to feel it, and within seconds he has succumbed to unconsciousness.

 

///

 

When the knight comes to Jean’s office to inform her that Captain Kaeya was found bleeding out on the shore of Cider Lake, her first instinct is to hunt down the culprit and fling them off a cliff. For all her gentle nature, Jean is deeply protective of her friends, and such an egregious slight is unforgivable. But she knows that she should see Kaeya first, make sure that he’s okay — he’s been taken to the Cathedral, but Barbara is not the most assertive of people, and Kaeya is just as prone to leaving without properly recovering as Jean herself.

She thanks them for delivering the message to her, and hurries out of the headquarters towards the church. Thankfully it’s only a short walk, and well out of the way of the busiest parts of the city, so there’s no risk of causing undue concern to the citizens by seeing the Acting Grand Master worried. When she reaches the Cathedral, she makes a point of going round to the side door, where the infirmary is located — and also to avoid Otto’s prying. He means well, but the poor thing really doesn’t understand when he should just stay quiet.

When Jean steps inside, she immediately sees Barbara bent over an unconscious Kaeya with a worried expression on her face. “Barbara-” she starts, and the girl looks up.

“Oh, J– Master Jean! I didn’t expect you this soon,” she exclaims. “I haven’t made much progress, but he seems to be slowly healing on his own.”

Curious, Jean steps forward, and sees that indeed, the gaping wound in his chest is oozing blood slowly, and shiny pink scar tissue shows where it has already closed over slightly.

“My worry is that he may have sustained damage to his internal organs, or lost too much blood,” the young Deaconess explains. “I could fix it on my own, but since you’re here– would you mind lending a hand?” She asks this with a pleading expression, as if there was any chance Jean would deny her sister such a simple request.

“Of course I’ll help,” Jean says, and the pair get to work.

 

///

 

Kaeya wakes to the sound of a lyre, and as he opens his eyes slowly he is assailed with bright, pristine light. Ah . He’s in the Cathedral. It’s not the first time he’s been badly injured and woken in the infirmary, but the lyre is a new touch. Lifting his head off the pillow is an effort to say the least, but he catches sight of a green-clad figure sitting on one of the empty beds — and mercifully, no Sister ready to tell him off.

Venti looks up from his music and sees that Kaeya has awoken, and in an instant he is standing over the knight with a frown on his face.

“Gaia,” he says, and Kaeya flinches at the use of that name. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?” Kaeya says, averting his eyes to avoid Venti’s disappointed gaze. He’s avoiding the question, but he thinks that really, Venti should be able to figure it out. Sure, he changed his appearance a little when he hid, but the hair and eyes have remained more or less the same over the aeons.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were alive this whole time! ” Venti whisper-yells.

“You can’t keep a secret to save your life,” Kaeya answers ruthlessly, and the wind god clutches at his chest in mock pain. The knight snickers weakly, before letting his head fall back onto the pillow. “And it was easier to pretend to be an ordinary human completely. Particularly these days, with the Fatui everywhere.” The only non-human he’s spoken to in centuries is Xiao, and only because he trusts the Yaksha to keep his mouth shut and not ask too many questions.

Before their conversation can continue, however, Barbara bursts in and exclaims, “Oh, Jean! He’s awake!”

Kaeya’s eyes widen at the mention of the Acting Grand Master. He won’t be getting out of here early, then, if she’s here. Which is a problem– he recalls the words of the Harbinger when he came up empty-handed with Kaeya. “Go after the other one” . Kaeya knows of only one other Khaenri’ahn in Mondstadt, one who is much more fragile than himself and decidedly less likely to possess the gnosis the Fatui are looking for. Panic grips his heart, and as Jean walks in, he struggles into a sitting position.

“Jean-” he coughs, his chest burning. “You need to- find Albedo. Protect him-” She rests a hand over his chest, and the burning dissipates. He takes a few deep breaths, then continues — slower, this time, so hopefully he can get more than a sentence out without asphyxiating. It’s rather odd, that he’s still this injured even after being asleep for several hours — but he doesn’t have the time to dwell on that right now. “The person who attacked me, they said they were going after him next.”

Jean nods. “I’ll send some knights out to look for him,” she says. “As long as you rest . Don’t stress yourself out, either, your heart is still recovering.” She gives him a look , and he shrinks into himself awkwardly. It feels like being scolded by Adelinde, except worse because at least the head maid of the Dawn Winery isn’t his childhood friend. Reluctantly, he nods in assent.

 

///

 

Albedo is in the midst of a game of tag with Klee when the Fatui agent finds them. Klee is just far enough in front of Albedo that he doesn’t have time to react, and can only watch as the agent seizes Klee, positioning his knife over her throat, and snarls, “Hand it over if you want me to let her go.”

“Hand what over?” Albedo asks, thoroughly confused. He doesn’t have the Festering Desire sword — and it’s no longer of much interest anyway, after he finished his experiment. So he can’t think of anything that the Fatui would want that he possesses.

“The gnosis,” the agent answers, and that only puzzles Albedo further (he knows, vaguely, that a gnosis is what gives the archons their great power, but why the agent would think he had one, Albedo has no idea) — but Klee takes matters into her own hands, dropping one of her Jumpy Dumpty bombs on the agent’s foot. He falls backwards in pain, and she scrambles away into Albedo’s arms.

“What the fuck ,” he seethes, and Albedo hits him with a single fatal blossom to his kneecap, making him fall over once more.

“Didn’t your parents ever teach you not to swear in front of children?” he tuts, then he hits the agent with a second fatal blossom for good measure, knocking the man out cold. Klee dances around the prone body victoriously, and with a mischievous twinkle in her eye that Albedo is certain she got from Kaeya, she sets about surrounding the man with partially-buried bombs of various shapes and sizes, so that when he wakes he will be trapped — unless he wishes to injure himself further. Ordinarily, Albedo would tell her off for such a thing, but the man was willing to harm a child for a case of mistaken identity, so he thinks that it’s a fair response.

By the time she’s finished, most of the field is covered in mines, artfully arranged in the shape of a four-leaf clover. Klee and Albedo pack up their picnic things and set off back to Mondstadt, Klee humming happily under her breath. They encounter a company of knights on the road as they pass through Windrise, who inform them that they were sent out by the Acting Grand Master to find Albedo and return him to the city.

When the knights mention that Sir Kaeya was attacked earlier in the day and said his attacker would be going after Albedo next — which was the reason for their search — Klee makes a distressed noise, and Albedo kneels down to reassure her.

“I’m sure he’s fine, Klee. But we can check on him once we’re back, okay?”

She nods tearily, sniffling slightly. He sighs and hefts her into his arms, pulling her close the way Alice had shown him when he first met Klee.

“It’ll be fine, Klee. Don’t worry.”

The company turns back to Mondstadt, while Albedo wonders about the circumstances behind Kaeya’s attack. If they truly were attacked by the same person, Kaeya must not have mentioned it being the Fatui — otherwise, Albedo doubts they would have so many knights to spare for a search party. Too many would be busy rounding up the so-called diplomats and removing them from the city.

Then again, with such severe consequences, perhaps Kaeya was hoping to use the incident as leverage to prevent them from further aggression. He will have to talk to Kaeya when they arrive back in Mond, Albedo decides.

Chapter Text

Kaeya grows restless with being trapped in bed after a few hours — but unfortunately, Barbara and Jean refuse to leave his side long enough for him to make an escape. Something about heart failure, Kaeya thinks. He wants to disagree, because it’s probably the chest equivalent of a lightly sprained ankle and it just needs to be walked off, but neither of them seem willing to accept any sort of concession. He’s tried already, and Jean just says, “The knights found you bleeding out with a gaping hole in your chest, Kaeya, you can’t walk it off .”

Fortunately, their henpecking is put to an abrupt end by the arrival of Klee and Albedo — thankfully in one piece and seemingly unharmed. Albedo murmurs something to Jean, and she nods and leaves the room with Barbara, while Klee wastes no time in flinging herself on top of Kaeya.

“Mister Kaeya!” she yells. He winces, half because of the volume and half because of the pressure on his still quite sore chest, but she continues on obliviously, “Are you okay? Big Brother Albedo and I beat up the nasty knife man for you!”

Albedo sighs and steps closer. “The Fatui agent, I presume he was sent after you first? He tried to use Klee as a hostage in exchange for something I do not possess, but she dealt with him admirably–” Kaeya suppresses another wince, in Albedo-speak Klee doing something admirably usually translates to with great force , “-and we ensured that he would not be pursuing us any longer.” He looks at Kaeya in a way that suggests he has quite a lot of not very nice questions to ask the other captain, possibly with quite a few words that are inappropriate for Klee’s ears.

“Hey, Klee, why don’t you go find Venti,” Kaeya says wearily, though his voice carries undertones of mischief. “I hear he has a new song he wants to sing for you.”

“Okay!” the child says enthusiastically, now that she knows Kaeya isn’t about to die at any moment, and she slides off the bed to run out the door.

Albedo takes a seat beside Kaeya’s sickbed. “So. What is a gnosis, and why are the Fatui seeking one that they would believe to be on either of our persons?”

Kaeya heaves a sigh, then pushes himself into a somewhat sitting position so that he can look Albedo in the eye. “A gnosis,” he says, “is, simply put, like the archons’ equivalent of a vision. A magical focus that resonates with Celestia and allows them to harness incomparable amounts of power.”

Albedo raises an eyebrow. “I knew that much,” he says with dry amusement. “But continue.”

“The Fatui are looking for the Lost Archon’s gnosis,” Kaeya says finally, after several moments of silence. “So naturally, they are seeking out the people with a connection to Khaenri’ah first.”

Albedo says nothing, only looks at Kaeya questioningly. He seems unbothered by the fact that Kaeya knew of his connection to the fallen nation.

Kaeya sighs. “Do you know the story of the Lost Archon?” he asks reluctantly.

“My master never mentioned it,” Albedo says.

Kaeya lets his head fall forward in frustration. “What kind of- never mind, it doesn’t matter. Anyway. The Lost Archon is an old legend, from before the cataclysm. It goes that the eldest of the eight archons was the god of the cosmos, who ruled over Khaenri’ah. And they were said to be the most powerful of the archons, but at one point during the Archon War, the Eclipse Dynasty plotted to kill them. When Celestia learned of the plot, they decided to condemn the entire nation to the Abyss in retaliation, and nobody ever saw the Astro Archon again.” He takes a breath, steadies himself, before continuing. “The legend says that the Lost Archon fled Khaenri’ah to Teyvat, hiding somewhere far from the reaches of those who had betrayed them. Most theories place them in Mondstadt, because of the proximity to Dragonspine and the connection between wind and time, which is presumably the reason for the Fatui beginning their search here.”

“And you know all this why, exactly?” He can’t tell if Albedo is pissed at him for not telling him any of this beforehand (which is totally unfair, Kaeya wasn’t expecting the Fatui to corner him quite so fast, or do as much damage as they did), or if he’s simply trying to get as much information as possible out of the Cavalry Captain while he has the opportunity.

Kaeya takes a moment to wonder what the fuck Rhinedottir was thinking when she failed to educate her apprentice in apparently any of the history of Khaenri’ah at all . He’s known at least seventy percent of this information since before he was abandoned by his ‘father’ in Mondstadt. And that’s excluding the parts that he lived . “I’ve read quite a few books on the subject,” he says noncommittally. “And — unlike you, apparently — I actually received some education before I came to Mondstadt.”

Albedo nods, apparently satisfied by that answer. He taps his fingers against the frame of the bed, producing a dull metallic hum. “It is true, I never received a formal education,” he says idly. “Only what my master saw fit to teach me — and her interest was primarily in alchemy, rather than history or politics.”

If he were more willing to risk Jean’s wrath, Kaeya would be halfway to Rhinedottir’s laboratory right now to smash the door down and tell her exactly what he thought of her child-raising skills. Fortunately for the accursed alchemist, he’s not keen on inflicting Jean’s mother instinct on himself. But the minute he gets out of here-

“Please, do not murder my teacher,” Albedo says calmly. Kaeya allows himself a second to be concerned by how easily the other read his expression, before he returns to plotting murder — this time, with a better poker face.

 

///

 

When Diluc hears that Kaeya was nearly killed by a Fatui agent, he shatters the glass in his hand with how tightly he’s holding it. His first instinct is to run to the Cathedral and demand to see his brother, but it sounds like the captain has had an abundance of visitors already — and besides, he thinks, why would he want to see the person who once tried to kill him for telling the truth when he’s already injured? So he heads home earlier than anticipated, riding all the way back to the Dawn Winery in the vain hope that if he’s far away enough from the city he might think less about these things.

It doesn’t help.

He spends half the evening pacing restlessly in his office, and the other half staring blankly at the paperwork on his desk, not processing a single word of it. Eventually, Adelinde gets fed up with the movement of the floor from his heavy-footed steps, and tells him to go to bed, but he simply lies there restless and unable to turn off his thoughts.

Once the sound of the servants has faded into nothing, Diluc rises quickly and dresses in the clothes he wears as the Darknight Hero, before climbing out the window with his claymore strapped to his back. It feels oddly like when he was much younger, when he and Kaeya would escape their rooms in the dead of night to sneak around the vineyards and practice sparring. Except this time, Diluc has no intention of going easy on the person he wishes to fight.

 

///

 

Il Dottore does not struggle as the masked and hooded man pins him to the wall with the edge of a claymore. He does flinch as a throwing knife grazes past the unmasked portion of his face, much to the Darknight Hero’s satisfaction, but he maintains his lofty demeanour, sneering at the vigilante who dares accost him.

“The Knights of Favonius will be here shortly,” the Harbinger says, in his usual self-assured tone.

Diluc resists the urge to snort, and instead throws another knife, which catches in the fabric of Dottore’s jacket before lodging itself firmly between two stones in the wall. “After you tried to kill two of their captains? I doubt it,” he says, putting on a thick Fontainen accent to disguise his identity. “I think they will be quite happy to see me carry out justice on their behalf.” He knows Huffman would be displeased, but he doesn’t particularly care what a knight of that caliber thinks. And the Harbinger doesn’t need to know.

“How noble of you,” Dottore mocks. “Avenging a pair of traitorous foreigners.”

Under his mask, Diluc scowls. “ Removing one traitorous foreigner,” he corrects, and swings his blade.

But before it can make contact, a pillar of stone shoots up from the ground to catch it, and the Doctor laughs maniacally. “So naive,” he tuts, and the topaz gemstone inlaid on his tie catches the light menacingly. The wall behind him shifts to spit out the knife that traps him there, and he steps forward, shifting the ground underneath Diluc’s feet so that the vigilante stumbles and steps backward.

But before he can strike, an unnatural darkness envelops the alley, and Diluc takes advantage of his opponent’s disorientation to fling one last knife at the man’s throat before vanishing into the night. Dottore blocks the final projectile with a lazy swipe of stone, then strolls out of the alley as if nothing ever happened. The only testaments to the altercation are the thin scratch on his cheek and the tear in the shoulder of his jacket.

 

///

 

Kaeya sits quietly on the infirmary bed, legs crossed under the blanket and a thin quilt wrapped around his shoulders. In his hands, stars sparkle against an impossibly dark backdrop, and he gazes intently into the web of galaxies he holds. After a painstaking few minutes, he drops his hands and lets the mirage disappear, sighing in relief. Albedo looks at him questioningly, not needing to vocalise his question, and Kaeya groans.

“Haven’t you asked enough questions, dear alchemist?” he asks.

Albedo simply tilts his head.

“Okay, okay.” Kaeya raises his hands in mock surrender. “Have you ever seen Mona scrying? That’s essentially what that was. Hydromancy, without the hydro.” He’s rather proud of that explanation, although it’s a gross oversimplification. His scrying requires no sigils or structure, he simply searches through the universe with instinct. And as far as he knows, being able to change things from such a distance is a gift unique to him. But it is late, and though sleep refuses to claim him, he has no desire to explain the details of the process to Albedo — who, despite his claims to the contrary, needs just as much sleep as any human adult.

“I see,” Albedo says, and he opens his mouth to say more, but Kaeya cuts him off.

“That’s enough of that for one day,” he says, yawning widely and sliding down so that he is lying down rather than sitting up. It is deeply uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as the hours of conversation he’s just had. “I’m tired, and whatever you say about needing sleep, your dark circles contradict it.”

Albedo sighs and shakes his head. “Goodnight, Kaeya,” he says, before standing and making his way out of the room. “But you still owe me a proper explanation tomorrow morning.”

Kaeya groans.

Chapter Text

The explanation does not come the next morning. Mostly because Albedo is called away to a meeting with Jean and a few Fatui about some incident last night, but also because Kaeya is finally allowed out of bed, and he’s making the most of his (relative) freedom to go find Venti. He may owe Albedo an explanation, at least in the alchemist’s opinion, but Kaeya thinks that Venti deserves one more. After all, his friend thought he was dead for centuries , and only found out he is very much alive and has been living under his nose for the last fifteen or so years yesterday — so Kaeya feels a little guilty to say the least.

The first place Kaeya looks is, naturally, the tree at Windrise. It’s always been one of Venti’s favourite places in Mondstadt, and he thinks it’s probably because it;s the antithesis of everything Decarabian stood for: it’s peaceful and natural, filled with creatures of all kinds but particularly birds, with only a gentle breeze stirring the leaves of the great tree — and it’s also the site where one of Venti’s dearest mortal friends ascended to Celestia. And predictably, as soon as Kaeya reaches the foot of the tree, the archon materialises before him in a swirl of Anemo energy. Venti hovers off the ground ever so slightly, just high enough to be level with Kaeya, and grins with satisfaction at this minute achievement.

“What brings you to my humble abode?” he sings, eyes twinkling with mischief, and Kaeya groans.

“I was going to explain everything, but if you’re going to sing at me, I’ll go,” he threatens, and Venti immediately drops to the ground, glow fading from around him and his face growing serious.

“I’ll be sensible, promise. Buuuuut- can I ask a few questions first?”

Kaeya sighs. To be fair, he did bring all of this upon himself by keeping his identity a secret for so long, but he’s gotten very tired of answering questions. It doesn’t help that Albedo, in true scientist fashion, felt the need to grill him thoroughly on how space-time actually works. “Sure,” he says wearily. “Go ahead.”

“Okay! Question one: did the Fatui get your gnosis too?”

Too ?”

Venti freezes, and the panicked look on his face is enough to make Kaeya snort in laughter. “Oh, I already knew what happened to yours, I just wanted to scare you,” he says, patting the other archon on the shoulder reassuringly. He’d seen the whole showdown with La Signora out of the window of his office, though he hadn’t had time to intervene, his teleportation skills unpracticed at the time. “And no, they didn’t get it.”

“But why was there a hole in your chest, then?” Venti asks, confusion evident on his face.

Kaeya shrugs. “They tried to get my gnosis, but they didn’t think about the possibility of it being elsewhere on my person — which I’m not going to complain about, I rather like being whole and healthy, but it is shortsighted of them.” He’s sure Il Dottore would be livid if he found out and set about trying to dissect him to find it — but he has no intention of allowing that man within arm’s reach of himself any time in the future. Last time, he was trying to keep his identity a secret, and it worked, but if the Harbinger comes after him a second time, it’ll likely be because he’s figured out Kaeya’s real identity, so hiding his powers would be useless in that situation.

“If it’s not in your chest, then where is it?” Venti seems to be fixated on this question, though Kaeya knows it’s probably well-meant and only because his friend is concerned. After all, losing a gnosis in any way, whether through it being stolen or by forgetting where you put it, is hardly a small matter.

Kaeya winks, though it’s not particularly effective with his sole eye. “It’s a secret.” Abruptly, he tilts his head as a breeze blows past them, frowning at something imperceptible to Venti. “We’re being watched,” he says nonchalantly, eyes scanning the edges of the valley for signs of their mystery visitor. “Shall we move this conversation elsewhere?” Stars sparkle around them and hide the pair from view, and when they dissipate, the space under the tree is empty.

 

///

 

Dainsleif watches in frustration as the duo disappear from view, moving quickly and quietly to the spot where they stood moments ago. He’s certain that Gaia knew exactly who they were being observed by, and he can’t help feel like he’s part of a game of cat and mouse — except despite being the pursuer, he feels an awful lot like the mouse in this chase, at the mercy of another’s whims. The god has every right to want to avoid Dainsleif, after the incident, but he had hoped they might be able to have a civil conversation first.

He sighs. It will be a long walk back to his lodgings if they have not gone to the site he suspects.

 

///

 

There are precisely two people in Mondstadt that Mona Megistus is afraid of, and both are currently standing on her doorstep. But perhaps it is inaccurate to say she is afraid of them , rather she is afraid of the effect they have on her. But hey , she thinks, at least they’re less perceptive than Keqing . That’s a very small comfort, given that the Yuheng of the Qixing is one of the most astute people Mona’s ever had the privilege of knowing.

“Miss... Megistus?” Outrider Amber asks, squinting at the paper she is holding. “We’ve been led to understand that you’re-”

“The greatest astrologer in all of Teyvat? Indeed,” Mona proclaims. She makes a great show of consulting her hydromancy charts, if only to give herself time to acquire the necessary courage to maintain her attitude. “And you have need of my assistance.”

The other visitor to her doorstep is Fischl, the Prinzessin der Verurteilung — whose real name, Mona knows, is a far more mundane Amy , but who is she to ruin someone else’s theatrics? — who nods her head in agreement.

“Indeed, mein Astral Emissary, for the forces of darkness weave their cruel and inescapable plots ‘round the spires of this fair citadel.”

Her raven familiar, Oz, appears in a burst of purple-black feathers. “What Mein Fraulein means to say,” he says, “Is that we would be most grateful if you could provide us with assistance in foiling the plots of the Fatui agents in Mondstadt.”

“I know,” Mona says haughtily, because the alternative is stuttering and blushing like an idiot with a crush. Honestly, you’d think that after all that time in Liyue, she’d be more immune to the effect of looking at a few pretty girls. “Come in and I’ll do a formal reading of the situation.”

She guides the pair into the messy living area of her house, where papers are strewn about and bowls of water are perched on almost every flat surface. “Make yourselves comfortable,” she says, sweeping a pile of books off one of the dilapidated sofas and plunking them on the floor. “And excuse the mess, I was too busy to clean up.” It’s easier to pretend she’s the esteemed and respected astrologer she pretends to be, rather than admit that she lost track of time trying to solve the mystery of Aether and forgot all about the fact she’d be having visitors. Without waiting for the other girls to make themselves comfortable, Mona ducks into the kitchen to grab the miniature croissants she bought earlier in the day, when she first foresaw that she would have visitors. After taking several deep breaths and checking her reflection in a mirror made of water to ensure she’s not visibly flustered, Mona steps back out into the living area, plate in one hand and watery sigils floating around the other.

“So,” she says, placing the plate down and seating herself opposite Amber and Fischl. “The Fatui’s intentions are what you are trying to ascertain, I presume?”

Amber nods. “Yes, and also the locations they’ve been frequenting if you could, so we know where to investigate.”

Mona takes a deep breath and summons her hydro astrolabe, blocking out the distractions of the world around her as she focuses on the knowledge her visitors seek. The images that appear are blurry and indistinct, as if viewed through thick fog — or as if someone is deliberately obscuring her vision. She grits her teeth in concentration, and the image becomes clearer: Stormterror’s Lair, its windswept landscape speckled with Fatui, many of whom are agents in varying colours. Mona was, until this moment, unaware the organisation encompassed any agents beyond the pyro variety, and her surprise causes the image to slip away. After cycling through half a dozen more locations, she dismisses the astrolabe and turns to face the two girls.

“Here’s a map, with all the locations I observed marked on it,” she says, sliding a sheet of paper covered in markings to them. “I also took the liberty of noting which divisions of Fatui were sent to each of these locations,” she adds. “In particular, Stormterror’s Lair appears to be almost crawling with agents, some of whom may have been cryo or hydro agents.”

Amber smiles at her, while Fischl keeps her aloof expression, and both are enough to nearly give Mona heart palpitations. “Thanks for the help!” Amber says cheerfully. “The Knights will make sure you’re compensated for your services, and we might be calling in again soon — although I’m sure you already know that.” She winks as she goes to leave, and Mona can’t help but blush, feeling awkward all of a sudden.

Fischl, meanwhile, tosses her hair over one shoulder. “Mein retinue and mein self shall repay thine generosity tenfold,” she pronounces grandly, and then she leans over to press a soft kiss to Mona’s cheek before flouncing out the door, her purple raven following her.

Fuck , she’s a mess. Mona slumps down onto the sofa, staring blankly at the ceiling in an awestruck daze.

 

///

 

“The next person to call me Gaia gets fed to Dvalin,” Kaeya threatens, glaring at the green-clad bard and the tall blond beside him. Venti opens his mouth to protest, and Kaeya raises a finger. He shuts his mouth. Meanwhile, Dainsleif stands there impassively, gazing intently at him. Kaeya resists the urge to flick icicles at him, because that would be childish (and also, he doesn’t want to know how much the curse has affected Dain).

“As far as literally anyone is concerned, my name is Kaeya and always has been. I didn’t vanish for hundreds of years just for a couple of stupid old men to ruin my cover by using my old name, okay?”

Dvalin lands gently atop the crumbling tower, his shadow looming over the trio. Any objections? the dragon rumbles, and all of a sudden both Venti and Dainsleif are nodding — Venti hastily, Dainsleif reluctantly and as though he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. But then again, isn’t that how he does everything ?

Before they can resume conversation or Kaeya can throw Dain off the spire of Old Mondstadt’s great tower, Venti points downwards in consternation. “Look! There are a bunch of Fatui down there,” he calls, and the others all turn their heads to stare in the direction he is pointing. Sure enough, there is the distinctive silhouette of a company of Fatui skirmishers making their way up the maze-like route to the central tower. “What do you think they’re doing here?”

“Looking for Kaeya, most likely,” Dainsleif says, voice low. “Or evidence to point them in the direction of a new target.” He stares intently at the encroaching horde, as if he can obliterate them simply by looking. If only it were that easy.

“I’m like, seventy-nine percent sure they’re just looking for anything that might give them a hint as to where the gnosis is,” Kaeya rebuts. “They already searched me for it and didn’t find anything, and Dottore isn’t the type to admit he’s made an error in his judgement. This is him trying to save face, I bet.”

Dvalin rumbles, the noise neither an agreement nor a disagreement, and takes off from the tower, the downdraft from his wings threatening to blow the trio off their small platform. I shall investigate elsewhere, he says, before arching upwards and vanishing into the thick clouds.

“Well, I should really be getting back to Mondstadt,” Kaeya says reluctantly. “Before Jean comes looking for me and gives me a lecture about not pushing myself too hard.”

Chapter Text

Il Dottore steps onto the top of the tower that stands in the centre of the ruined city, surveying his surroundings intently. A flick of the wrist, and stone turns to dust and is blown away by the neverending gale. He crouches and brushes away a few more layers, his Geo delusion making quick work of the millennia-old stonework, then slips his fingers into the surface as if it were no more solid than water. When he pulls back, a glittering green gem rests in his hand, and the Harbinger smiles in dark satisfaction as his long fingers close around the object. His subordinates look at one another in nervous confusion, unsure as to the good Doctor’s intentions — and knowing that smile usually means someone is going to die.

“Perhaps,” he muses, “Tartaglia isn’t quite as stupid as we all assumed.” He hums softly in contemplation, then stands and turns, walking away as the floor reassembles itself to appear exactly as it did before. His subordinates follow with trepidation, wondering what he is alluding to — but wise enough to know it would be more dangerous to ask their employer for answers than to remain in the dark. One comes with the certainty of punishment, the other with only a possibility of death. And they have worked for Il Dottore long enough to know what his punishments entail.

 

///

 

Oz the purple raven glides silently through the forests of Stormbearer Point, unnoticed by the cicin mages that patrol below. Through his eyes, Fischl surveys the area, taking note of the paths the mages take and the lingering shadow of a sole agent as he stalks through the forest. Most of them do not speak except for their usual titters and laughs, and so the raven continues onwards, flapping his wings only very occasionally to maintain a consistent altitude. But soon enough, they stumble upon a small clearing where tents have been erected and a handful of mages and a second agent sit in a ring around a fire, murmuring. Oz perches on a branch above them, where the sound wafts up to his ears, while on the cliffs above Fischl and Amber prepare their bows for battle.

“How much longer do we have to stick around this place for?” a cryo cicin mage complains,  squatting on a log and staring into the fire with a scowl on her face. “It’s not like we’re going to find anything.”

One of the electro cicin mages pipes up, “Actually, there was once a village here, but it was abandoned after the fall of Decarabian.”

The agent grunts. “Just do your job,” he says harshly. “Less chatter, more searching for clues.”

“We’re literally never going to find a single clue,” another mage says. “Everything is long-buried, and why would some random archon who’s not even the ruler of this place come all the way out here?”

Oz alights from his branch, circling back up to where the girls stand. “Mein Fraulein, Outrider Amber,” he says, “It appears they are searching for evidence of an archon — one that predates Barbatos.”

Amber frowns. “That’s really weird,” she says. “Because Mondstadt is the one nation that only ever had one god at any one time. Liyue had a bunch of gods during the Archon War, and so did all the others, even Snezhnaya, but Mondstadt only had Decarabian and then Barbatos.”

“They seek the dark truths of a long-forgotten malice,” Fischl murmurs angrily. “To decimate their foes with ancient, incomprehensible magic.”

“What mein Fraulein means , is that she believes they are looking for a forgotten god that possesses the power to achieve their goals,” Oz translates.

A swirling pane of water materialises in the air and Mona drops out of it, landing lightly on the now-damp grass. “You surmise correctly,” she says in her usual know-it-all tone. “They are trying to find the Lost Archon, a legendary eighth archon who disappeared around the same time as Durin attacked Mondstadt. Some legends label them as the Archon of Time, others the Archon of the Cosmos, but they all agree that this eighth archon was the most powerful and the oldest of the original archons.” With a wave of her hand, the portal disintegrates into a fine mist that drops to the ground in a sheet.

“Why are you here?” Amber asks impatiently, before immediately clamping her mouth shut lest she say something she’ll regret later.

“Don’t you enjoy my company?” Mona faux-pouts, then shrugs. “I don’t like it when people try to outwit me, and these Fatui are trying really hard. So I need to teach them a lesson.” The blurriness of her scrying efforts yesterday are still bothering her, almost as much as that Harbinger during the meteorite crisis, and she’s determined to make sure that the Fatui have a proper level of fear and respect towards the name Mona Megistus. Ordinarily, she might employ less straightforward methods to gain that fear and respect, such as tormenting them with hydro illusions to drive them insane, but if the opportunity presents itself to beat up Fatui goons alongside pretty girls, she doesn’t see why she shouldn’t take it.

“Well, let’s get going then!” Amber declares. “Time to teach those Fatui why they shouldn’t mess with Mondstadtians!”

Fischl tosses her hair in apparent agreement, before jumping into the forest beneath them with Oz perched on her shoulder. Amber follows quickly after with her bow slung over one shoulder, and after a few seconds Mona portals herself to the campsite they were observing through Oz’s eyes before. She hears the others land in the forest behind her, and turns her attention to the three mages and one agent sitting around the fire. They don’t notice her, cloaked in illusory magic as she is, until her Phantom strikes the fire, extinguishing it and spraying all four with water. The illusion drops from around Mona, and she grins wickedly. Watery shapes encircle the campsite, forming mimics of monsters that chase after its unfortunate inhabitants, all while the director of this spectacle seats herself, smirking, in the fork of a low tree to watch. Electric sparks dance in the water as cicins are unleashed, and icicles spray towards the hydro monsters — but are intercepted by sheets of rain that are brought into existence as casually as if they had fallen from the sky. While the mages attempt to strike down their assailant, the agent struggles to keep his footing, his pyro-infused attacks extinguished constantly by his watery enemies.

Mona laughs nastily. “That’s what you get for thinking you can waltz in here and do as you please,” she spits, and with a wave of her hand water comes crashing down to overwhelm her targets. “Nobody encroaches on our home and gets away with it.” Without looking, she reaches tendrils of water out into the forest and snatches up any mages still moving, dragging them carelessly through the bushes to dump them unceremoniously in a heap on top of the four she’s already dealt with.

Amber and Fischl come running shortly after, staring in awestruck horror at the chaos Mona has wrought. She grins like a Cheshire cat, perched in her tree, wisps of water dancing through her fingers. “I told you,” she says idly, “I don’t like when people think they’re smarter than me. And so I punish them.”

“But- don’t you think that’s a bit much?” Amber asks in a rush, standing stiff and evidently upset by Mona’s callousness. “They’re people too-”

“Nope,” Mona answers facetiously, checking her nails. “They’re the ones that chose to work for the Fatui of all organisations — you know the Adventurer’s Guild originated in Snezhnaya as well? — and anyway, they’re not dead , just knocked out.” She’s sorely tempted to hit them with an extra Phantom, just to make sure it hurts extra badly when they regain consciousness, but Amber would probably yell at her even more. And, well, as much as the other girl’s uptightness is kind of a turn-off for Mona, she does need the paycheck from the Knights. Fortunately, Fischl seems less perturbed by the carnage than Amber — maybe Mona can coerce a proper kiss out of her. Though that’s a problem for once they’re all well away from the scene of the crime, she thinks.

 

///

 

Jean lets her head drop onto her desk, wincing slightly as the hard wood presses against her forehead. She lets out a sigh, not daring to look up lest she be met with the stacks of paperwork that she has been unable to get through over the last few days. Between meetings with merchants, the Fatui causing trouble at every turn, and her knights being unwilling to let the attempt on their revered Cavalry Captain’s life go, she’s been dealing with more issues than ever before — excluding maybe the Stormterror incident, but at least she had Diluc’s cooperation then. It’s exhausting, and while she’s not as overworked as that incident the other month where the Honorary Knight had to deliver her to Barbara for healing, she’s definitely getting close to that point.

The door swings open noisily, and she lifts her head wearily — only to be greeted by Lisa’s deeply threatening smile. “Goodness, Jean,” the librarian says, and there’s the barest hint of electricity in the air with her next words, “haven’t Kaeya and I told you not to overwork yourself enough?” She slides a tray of tea and biscuits onto the table, pushing Jean’s paperwork to one side and forcing the Acting Grand Master to fully rise from her slumped position. “If you’re having trouble with the paperwork, you can always delegate it — I’m sure Albedo would be happy to help, if he’s not going to return that book I lent him.”

Jean smiles. Lisa’s incomprehensible attitude that is somehow both exuberant and terrifying at the same time never fails to lift her mood, and the librarian has a sixth sense for knowing when her friend needs a shoulder to lean on. She reaches for one of the biscuits, noticing that Lisa filled the plate with shortbread and chocolate-mint cookies and mentally sighing, knowing that she’s going to be forced to ignore her work until the plate is cleared — because if she doesn’t Lisa will quite happily pull the card of ‘oh, but Jean, I went to the trouble of getting your favourites , you wouldn’t make me eat these all by myself... would you?’. The librarian is quite the devious person when she wants to be.

“Oh, and I told Albedo to do his job and investigate the attack on Kaeya,” Lisa says casually, as if she hasn’t successfully coerced the most difficult person in the entire Ordo to take on a task that was never officially assigned to him. “You really should delegate more tasks, you know. I’m sure Sister Victoria is just itching to drag that Fatui man in the Cathedral out of the city by his earlobes.”

“Thank you,” Jean replies weakly, a little overwhelmed by the pace at which Lisa has delivered this wealth of information. “I’ll make a note of that.” She scrawls ‘Victoria - Fatui’ on a loose sheet of paper, which she’s sure will get lost in the stack of paperwork, but maybe Lisa will go easier on her if she sees her making an effort.

Maybe being the operative word here. Lisa rarely goes easy on anyone, and she’s even more difficult when it’s relevant to someone’s wellbeing. For all her appearing like a lazy cat, Lisa is very much a mothering type.

Chapter Text

The Angel’s Share is busier than usual today, crowded with adventurers and knights all seeking to unwind after a long week — and to forget the tensions that have been present in the city ever since the Incident , as the townspeople have taken to calling what happened to the Cavalry Captain. They say it as if mentioning any part of what actually happened will bring some kind of curse down upon them — and, well, given the foul mood Diluc’s been in ever since he failed to take out Dottore, they’re not completely wrong. Any mention of the Fatui within the walls of the tavern is liable to bring the speaker substandard drinks and a scowl from the resident bartender. Most regulars know by now that if the redhead is working, they’re best to keep their thoughts to themselves — because he doesn’t discriminate between positive and negative views on the Snezhnayan diplomats, he takes all mention of them within these hallowed walls with great offence.

He’s given Charles yet another night off, claiming he finds mixing drinks relaxing — but really, he just wants to keep an eye out for Kaeya. Ever since the Incident , the captain hasn’t visited the tavern once, which is no doubt on the orders of one or both of the Gunnhildr sisters. Diluc isn’t especially worried — he’s sure Kaeya will be back as soon as he’s allowed — but it does prevent him from checking up on him in his usual aggressive fashion. Instead, he’s had to make do with eavesdropping on the Knights to assess the situation, and– well, the more he hears, the more acute his loathing of them. By and large, Diluc despises the Knights of Favonius as an organisation, not as individuals, but those that drink their evenings away are the dregs of the bunch, the sorts that hang onto their positions only because it’s better to have an ineffective guard than no guard at all, and he makes no secret of his lack of respect towards them.

Caught up in his musings, Diluc only vaguely registers the sound of the door opening, and it isn’t until a hand waves in front of his face that he snaps out of it, blinking a few times before his eyes focus fully.

“‘Luc? Can you hear me?” The question is so softly-spoken, his childhood nickname used so gently, that Diluc almost expects to see a twelve-year-old Kaeya standing before him. What he gets, however, is adult Kaeya, who is staring at him with what he thinks is concern etched onto his face. Until he realises that Diluc is no longer spacing out, at which point his mask snaps back into place before anything can be said. “Falling asleep on the job, Master Diluc?” His teasing tone is light, but his eyes cannot lie with the same agility as the rest of Kaeya’s face, and Diluc catches a glimpse of something that looks an awful lot like sadness. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have given Charles a night off.” He’s deflecting, Diluc is sure of it, trying to rile the other up so that they can fall back into a sense of normalcy. It’s seemingly easy for Kaeya to come up with witty comebacks, to hide his vulnerabilities behind layers and layers of sarcasm and insincerity — but Diluc grew up with him. He knows that Kaeya’s walls are very, very carefully constructed, and to break them down like he did just now in order to snap Diluc out of his thoughts, reduces all his defences to rubble. He wants to reconstruct them, and the only way he can do that here and now is by prodding the sleeping tiger.

Unfortunately for Kaeya, the sleeping tiger is not a sleeping tiger at all, but an alert older brother who is wise to his tricks. “Kaeya. Stop it.” His tone is gentle enough that it doesn’t sound like an accusation, but still firm enough that the younger won’t think he can talk his way out of this. “Thank you–” He cuts himself off before the second half of that sentence can spill past his lips. Just because he regrets what he did on the night Crepus died, doesn’t mean that Kaeya has forgiven him for what he did — and if he were in Kaeya’s position, he would not be so quick to forgive either. The scars still trace like lightning up his arms, a difficult memory to let go of, and Diluc notices how Kaeya flinches ever so slightly every time he raises his voice in the tavern. Add to that the years of mistreatment Diluc has given him since he returned, and there’s hardly any case to forgive him. And you were too much of a coward to go see him when he was injured , the nasty voice in the back of his head whispers, as he switches to autopilot to make Kaeya’s usual drink.

“There’s no need to thank me, Master Diluc,” Kaeya says, his smile wavering as he accepts the drink. “After all, I suspect my absence the past few days may have played a part. For a heartless tycoon, you certainly are awfully sensitive.” It’s probably a barb, meant to get Diluc to snap, to set the record straight rather than continue on this off-kilter path — but he doesn’t rise to the bait. He simply turns to the next patron and reaches for a different bottle, studiously ignoring the comment. Kaeya’s not wrong, after all. While Diluc maintains a facade of anger and distance around most people, underneath that he is a rather empathetic person, and he has always been a worrier — which was never helped by Kaeya’s risk-taking behaviour as a teenager.

Little does he know, this action plants the first seeds of a thought in Kaeya’s mind. Because if Diluc will not rise to the bait, if he truly does care... perhaps it is not impossible that he may not hate Kaeya as much as he says he does.

 

///

 

While Kaeya sits in the Angel’s Share pondering the possibility of reconciliation with Diluc, the other captains of the Knights of Favonius — or at least, the two currently in Mondstadt — sit at a table in the library, speaking in hushed tones and watching the doors cautiously for the approach of anyone like the Acting Grand Master, who would almost certainly disapprove of their discussion. But it is a matter of utmost importance, evidenced by their presence in the library when there are a myriad of other things they could be doing — only a truly critical mission could draw both the Chief Alchemist and the Coordinator away from their usual tasks.

“This Harbinger,” Hertha says, “what element does he wield?”

Albedo shakes his head. “I don’t know. Another question for Master Diluc, I suppose.” He writes it on a sheet of paper already crammed with questions fitted under various subheadings, most of it illegible to anyone but Albedo.

“I’ll ask Goth if he knows about any allergies, since they’re all staying at the hotel,” she muses. “That would certainly make our job easier. If you could gather data on the-” She’s interrupted before she can finish her sentence, by the slow yet steady click of high heels on the wooden boards of the top floor.

From the mezzanine of the upper floor, Lisa gazes down on the two captains with an amused smile. “And just what are you two plotting down there?” she asks, raising one eyebrow.

“Nothing,” Albedo answers hastily, but Hertha says at the same time, “Plotting the murder of that Harbinger,” and he sighs. They really shouldn’t have done this in the library if they wanted to avoid people. But Hertha didn’t want to leave the city in case she was needed elsewhere, and anywhere else in Mondstadt carries a risk of Fatui (or uptight knights) overhearing their conversation.
But Lisa doesn’t seem displeased about their intentions — she only smiles again and makes her way down the steps, her pace unbearably slow and patient. Finally, after what feels like an eon, she reaches the table at which the two captains are seated, and leans over it, pouting. “I’m offended that you didn’t invite me to join,” she says, sounding maybe half-serious. “After all, Kaeya is one of my dearest friends.” That part sounds more serious, though Hertha seems doubtful that the Cavalry Captain is the sort of person Lisa would get along with. “And, well... if it’s murder you’re planning — I picked up a few handy tips in Sumeru. So tell me, what have you got so far?”

“We’re thinking of how to make it look like an unfortunate accident,” Albedo answers. “Thus far, our thoughts are exploiting allergies, crafting a poison, or causing an unfortunate elemental reaction.”

Lisa grins, and it becomes quite clear why she and Kaeya get along. After all, scheming has always been something he’s excelled at — and something he loves doing with others. “Quite the host of creative ideas there,” she says. “I know a few poisons that might work very well, and I believe he has a Cryo vision — one of the Fatui recruits was muttering about the Tsaritsa being the only archon insane enough to give him that sort of power. But–” she frowns. “What about his delusion?”

“Delusion?” Hertha asks, and Albedo shudders. He knows , rationally, that it’s not the same thing, he’s heard others talk about Snezhnaya’s artificial visions before, but it still reminds him awfully of the powers wielded by the abyssal beings of Khaenri’ah, the shattered Astro visions warped with darkness. Those memories surface very rarely, having been buried deep after he left his homeland, and he is not fond of the moments when they do resurface.

The other two look at him with concern, and he shakes his head. “I’m fine– just bad memories.”

Lisa gives him a look just for good measure, but Albedo is somewhat immune to those — Rhinedottir’s own glares were even more powerful, and he irked her far more often than he does Lisa. “Delusions are artificial visions,” she tells Hertha. “The Fatui use them to control additional elements, and all their Harbingers have them. So we need to take that into account as well, because he might not use his Vision as often.”

Albedo hums in contemplation. “Perhaps... if Delusions are created the way I suspect they are, we may be able to disrupt his, or even destroy it, with sufficient abyssal energy.”

“The way you suspect-?” Hertha is thoroughly confused by this conversation, with both Albedo and Lisa seemingly aware of knowledge she could never have imagined existing and neither of them realising they need to go into more detail.. “And- abyssal energy? Isn’t that what corrupted the Dragon of the East? Is that really safe to be using?”

The alchemist shrugs. “Oh, it’s perfectly safe, so long as you know how to handle it.” He seems content with that level of explanation and doesn’t begin to elaborate, but Lisa elbows him harshly and he sighs before reluctantly continuing. “It’s not quite what corrupted Dvalin, though it is similar. It’s more akin to the power that the Abyss Mages harness. And there are spells and potions that can give you the ability to handle it without harm coming to you. I have never personally used it, but I have seen others do so, and I understand the theory behind it, so I am confident I could do what needs to be done.”

Lisa stands with a smile, cutting their conversation short. “As thrilling as this all is, I do need to go check up on Jean and make sure she’s not overworking herself again, and I’m sure you both have duties to get back to — so why don’t we continue this conversation later tonight, once everyone’s headed home? And Hertha, dear, do you think you could call in at the Angel’s Share and ask Master Diluc to join us? I’m sure he’d have some very valuable knowledge to contribute, and maybe even some suggestions of alternate methods we haven’t considered yet.”

Chapter Text

i know it's been ages since i updated buuuut i just wanna let yall know i havent forgotten about this fic ,,, am probably going to rewrite it bc there are parts im rlly not happy with the quality of :/