Short pants of air wheezed out of Lumine as she looked down at a mangled Cryo Mage. She wouldn't dare close her eyes, knowing that one blink would be all it could take for her to pass out. A small hand grasped onto her shoulder as Paimon peeked out from the safety of her pocket dimension.
"Lumi... Your arm..."
Lumine tried to say something, but was interrupted by a torrent of blood-filled coughs. She gritted her teeth and clutched at her abdomen, swallowing down the pain.
"It's... it's... okay... Let's get out of here, Paimon."
Slowly but surely, the hero of Teyvat limped her way towards the cracked waypoint.
An evergreen eye laid its sights on the plump pigeon ahead, brainlessly pecking at the dirt. The Prinzessin drew in a breath, pulling the glowing tether of her Stringless bow to the side of her jaw. With a soft exhale, her fingers released, brushing against her ear as the arrow rang true.
"An excellent shot, as always Mein Fraulein..."
With her classic flourish, Fischl stowed her bow and placed a hand on Oz's back.
"I promise, o familiar mine, this blood spilled by the illustrious kingdom of the Aeverians shall be the last of the day. Though its soul shall not be lost in vain, as its flesh shall serve as a worthy gift for the Star-Fated Traveler."
"Indeed. You're sure the Sweet Madame is her favorite dish, right Bennett?"
Bennett quickly hid the bag of Sweet Flowers behind his back, hoping to hide the mysterious tear in it from his adventuring partner.
"Uh huh! I remember when I adventured with her, Lumine was carrying a lot of them! Though, I wouldn't be surprised if they were mostly for Paimon..."
Bennett scratched the back of his head nervously. Fischl chuckled to herself before standing up from the bush they were hiding behind.
"So long as you are of utmost certainty, Ill-Fated Child. Come then, the lone beacon of the sky grows ever-close to this foreign horizon."
"Right, you're right! It's getting pretty dark, and I don't want my bad luck to summon a storm again."
In a few moments, the hunted pigeon was collected, and the two adventurers began to make their way towards the Eastern Wolvendom Waypoint... just as the first trickles of rain began to appear.
"Aw man! I knew I was gonna jinx it!"
"Fret not, Ill-Fated Child. This is but a minor blunder from today's opulent hunt. In fact, I fail to recall any mishappenings from our travels."
Bennett scratched his chin and looked up at the familiar storm cloud.
"...Huh. Guess you're right, today was pretty good! I only tripped seven times, we found the flowers and birds pretty quickly, and the rain's only started just now!"
"Indeed, perhaps the day we break your unfortunate curse will soon dawn upon us!"
Bennett gave Fischl a warm smile as the raindrops started to soak into their clothes.
"Who knows maybe the curse is already broken. I got to meet you, didn't I?"
Amy's eye narrowed, as her cheeks suddenly flushed bright read. She quickly turned away from Bennett and covered her face. The boy laughed and gave her a warm embrace, as she lightly tried to wave him off.
"Oh, stop it will you...?"
"Heh, alright fine."
Bennett gave Amy a quick peck on the cheek before letting go. She crossed her arms and pouted for a moment, before quickly entwining Bennett's hand with her own. The boy giggled and allowed himself to be led by his better half.
With a flash of purple, Oz apparated beside the two, looking ahead at the now glowing Waypoint.
"Mein Fraulein, the Waypoint is just ahead. Though, it would appear that someone is coming out of it as well."
Fischl shielded her eyes from the rain to confirm Oz's observation. Sure enough, the Waypoint was glowing white and emitting its signature whir of energy. Bennett's eyes lit up as the beacon began to rise into the air.
"Hey, maybe it's Lumine! We can give these to her early to surprise her! Oh man, it'd be so great to walk back together with her and Paimon!"
Bennett looked back at his utility belt and carefully retrieved the bag of Sweet Flowers, placing a hand around the tear to make sure nothing (more) fell out. But as he turned to look at Fischl, he noticed that she had yet to look away from the Waypoint. Her eye had narrowed, and her mouth was left slightly agape.
Now confused, and becoming slightly more concerned, Bennett turned his attention back to the Waypoint, and it did not take long for a similar look of shock to take over his face.
Lumbering out from the portal, was a horrifically bloodied and mangled Lumine.
The once pristine blonde haired traveler was covered in her own blood. The lilies that once adorned her head were scorched beyond recognition. Rivers of crimson poured down from her forehead, her nose, the corners of her mouth, and a deep gash on her left cheek.
Her white dress was riddled with slashes, stabs, and arrow piercings, now permanently stained in red. She clutched a deep hole in her abdomen shut with her left hand, trying not to think about how someone could probably see through to the other side of her with it. Warm fluid seeped out from the wound, through her fingers, dripping onto the ground and mixing with the fresh rain. Broken shafts of arrowheads were poking out from her shoulders, and all over her back.
Where normally a sword would have been held, there was nothing but a fragmented stump, shattered off by Cryo at the base of her shoulder. In an ironic way, she hoped the frost would stay there a little longer so she wouldn't be bleeding out from there as well.
A deep claw mark ran through her left thigh, likely having severed major arteries. In her right leg, a sharpened icicle jutted out from her shin, the leg quivering and threatening to drop the traveler right where she stood.
Pin-prick pupils stared ahead as Lumine mustered all her strength to keep herself moving forward. Her lungs shuddered, her bones cracked with each step, her mind begging her to stop, her heart was beginning to slow. None of it mattered. She wasn't sure if anything mattered anymore.
No. Sorrow be damned. She cared too much about this world now. She had to survive. She had to.
Muffled voices met her swollen eardrums. Lumine wasn't sure whose they were, where they were coming from. They weren't annoyingly high-pitched though, which meant it wasn't another archon-forsaken mage. That was relieving.
"l...ine...! wh... ppned? ...re...ay...?"
Her eyelids were starting to shut. No, dammit, no, she was finally running out of strength. But she had to survive... There was still so much that needed to be done.
In one final act of defiance, she forced her eyes wide open and focused on who was calling out to her. Blurry shapes of black, purple, brown, and red, were rushing towards her.
Was it... Keqing and Yanfei? No, that didn't make any sense.
The shapes grew closer and more defined. Oh, it was Fischl and Bennett. So she was in Mondstadt.
As darkness encroached around her vision, Lumine took in one final gasp, hoping to warn them of the dangers that lay behind the Waypoint, then suddenly...
She was on the ground, blades of wet grass poking at her cheek. Her eyelids were half-closed now, slowly drifting downwards. The muffled voices continued to scream in terror.
As she continued to stare blankly ahead, she noticed the strands of her bloodstained hair being massaged by gentle rain drops. More rivers of red escaped from her mouth and started to dance in the puddle of water and blood forming around her.
Wow, that looks pretty... was all she could think before she fell into the void of a dreamless slumber.
The City of Freedom went silent when two desperate adventurers shrieked,
"WE NEED A HEALER!!!"
The Cavalry Captain was the first to arrive at the scene, having previously been enjoying his afternoon "pester Diluc" hour. He'd heard these screams before, usually amounting up to some poor adventurer meeting the business end of a mitachurl axe, or a Ruin Guard salvo. They happened roughly once a month for Mondstadt. He treated every one of them the same, with initial haste followed by his classic brand of smug humor of the situation.
This was not one of those incidents. This was not something he could smile and wink away, like every other time.
He spoke firmly to the two young adventurers.
"Give her to me. We're taking her to the church."
Panic had overriden the minds and hearts of the Prinzessin and the Ill-Fated Child. Tears welled up in their eyes as their voices quivered, trying to explain as much as they could remember in the shortest amount of time.
"Bennett, Fischl, I know you're scared. But listen to me."
He crouched down to be eye-level with the woefully inexperienced adventurers, as they carefully transferred Lumine from their shoulders into his arms. He pressed his thumb into the traveler's remaining wrist, and was relieved to feel an ever-so-faint pulse still beating. Archons, she was tough.
"You both did the right thing. We can talk about what happened later."
Kaeya gave them a different smile than his usual. In place of his arrogance, he wanted only to offer comfort to the teens, before quickly turning around to rush towards the church.
As he passed by the Favonius Headquarters, he looked up to the window at the Acting Grandmaster's Office. Jean and Lisa looked back with a grave frown. He gave them a quick nod towards the church and pressed on, as the two women rushed out from their room to join.
As Jean and Lisa rushed out into the hallways, they both nearly ran through the blissfully unaware Spark Knight, chasing Dodoco across the marble floor. They managed to stop inches away from Klee before having another issue on their hands.
"Master Jean, Miss Lisa? Who was screaming outside?"
Lisa looked at Jean with an inquiring glance, searching her facial expression for an answer of what to do. Jean looked between Klee and Lisa, quickly making a judgement call.
"Lisa, go. I'll be with you in a minute."
The Librarian nodded and took off through the doors. Jean knelt down to Klee and grabbed her gently by the shoulders.
"Someone's been hurt, Klee. I need you to find your big brother and tell him to meet us by the church."
Klee nodded furiously, her eyes widening as she realized how scared Jean looked right now.
"Okay... I'll find him really fast, Master Jean. You can count on me!"
Jean smiled and planted a kiss on her forehead.
"I know I can, Miss Spark Knight."
The Acting Grandmaster stood up and made her way towards the pouring rain outside, but was stopped one more time by Klee calling out her name.
"...Is it someone we know, Master Jean?"
Refusing to let herself falter, Jean swallowed her anxieties and looked Klee in the eyes.
"It is. So you have to hurry."
The Deaconess had been in the middle of writing a new song, one that was more personal to her and someone she cared about, before Sister Victoria barged into her room claiming that there was an emergency she had to attend to. Sister Victoria always knocked, even when someone was injured, so Barbara immediately knew something was different this time.
She nearly fainted when she laid her eyes upon the Honorary Knight, who looked like she had been tortured beyond recognition by one of the Snezhnayan prisons she had read about before. But the Vision glowing on her hip reminded her that she had to be strong in this time. The church was quickly evacuated of anyone who wasn't a nun or a Knight, as the Librarian and the Acting Grandmaster soon entered.
As Kaeya laid Lumine down on the infirmary bed, drops of her blood immediately stained the white sheets of the mattress. In fact, a large portion of Kaeya's torso and arms were red too. The thought of how much blood Lumine had lost horrified the Idol of Mondstadt.
"I'll go out and talk to Bennett and Am-- er, Fischl. They said Lumine said something before she passed out."
Jean nodded at Kaeya and gave him a few more orders before allowing him to leave the room. Meanwhile, Barbara's hands floated idly over the Honorary Knight's body. She could feel her hands betraying her, locking in place from the fear. She didn't even know where to start. Which wound was the most fatal right now? Was it the sword wound in her gut? The head trauma on her skull? The broken ribs piercing her lungs? Archons, her arm was missin--
"Sweetie? Your hands are shaking. Are you sure you can do this?"
A violet glove gently wrapped around Barbara's wrist. She looked up at her now sister-in-law, with trembling eyes on the verge of tears.
"Lisa, I-I don't know... I don't know if I can do this... Why can't I do this?"
The Librarian sighed and grabbed the Deaconess' other hand. She rubbed Barbara's palms reassuringly.
"You won't have to, Barbara. We'll do it together."
Right, Barbara thought to herself. Together.
Eula was on wall-patrol for the northwestern wall when she heard the scream. She told one of the guards to watch for her post as she descended the wall, meeting up with Amber along the way. By the time they arrived to the church, a small crowd was gathered around the door as Kaeya was attempting to disperse the crowd.
"I assure you, everything is going to be okay. Until further notice, the church will be off-limits. Please, return to your homes. Your clothes are getting soaked in the rain, aren't they?"
"Who's been hurt?!" A desperate citizen cried out.
The crowd was then silenced, as the former Lawrence slammed her claymore into the ground.
"That's for the Knights of Favonius to know, for now. Step aside, or I will have my vengeance."
The crowd reluctantly dispersed, murmuring to themselves about how unfair it was to have a Lawrence back in authority. At least her family name had one perk: people knew not to get in the way of it.
"Jeez, didn't need to be so mean about it Eula..." Amber protested as she hopped up the steps behind the noble.
Kaeya chuckled to himself, but the temporary amusement of Mondstadt scattering like crystal flies was fleeting. As his smile faded, Eula and Amber looked at each other, echoing the same concern. Eula looked at the lone eye.
"Who is it?"
The Cavalry Captain sighed and placed his hands on his hips, looking down at the fresh stains on his coat.
In an ironic twist of fate, Amber's blood ran cold upon hearing her friend's name, while Eula's ran searing hot, immediately deducing who would have the audacity to hurt someone so dear.
"D-did you say..."
"I did, Amber. Our Honorary Knight. Barbara and Lisa are working on her now. Klee's getting Albedo as well."
Eula's grip tightened around the Song of Broken Pines. Her nails started digging into her palms, on the brink of drawing blood through her leather gloves.
"Who. Did. This."
Kaeya sighed again and shook his head.
"We don't know, Eula. But the kids who brought her here said she told them not to use Waypoints."
He then turned to Amber, whose eyes were still wide in shock. She still couldn't believe Lumine of all people was hurt so badly. She had fought dragons, gods, and demons alike, and emerged with barely a scratch every time. So what kind of powers were strong enough to knock her down?
"Amber, did you hear me?"
She shook her head and refocused on the Captain.
"I-I'm sorry, I'm just... Sorry, what was it?"
"The Grandmaster needs you to take account of every Vision Bearer in Mondstadt. Make sure none of them are out there and planning on using a Waypoint."
The Outrider wiped her eyes clean and nodded at Kaeya. She turned to leave, but not before Eula grabbed her wrist. She looked into her swirling violet-golden eyes, seeing a tinge of vulnerability reserved only for her.
"Please... Be careful, Amber."
"I will. But you first."
Amber offered Eula a bittersweet smile before running off into the rain.
Stepping into the cathedral, the Reconnaissance Captain instinctually began analyzing her surroundings, making sure no Fatui were skulking in the shadows waiting for the opportunity to plunge a Pyro-Infused knife into the traveler's heart. Though she found no assassins, thank the Archons, she instead noticed the heavy trail of blood leading down the main isle. She knew it was bad, but wasn't expecting it to be that bad.
"You think it's the Fatui, don't you?"
Eula scoffed at her fellow Captain. What an idiotic remark.
"Of course I think it's the Fatui! The Honorary Knight has been there every time to foil their plans in the nations. Do you even read her letters? If you haven't, mark my words--"
"Barbatos-sake, not now Lawrence! Vengeance isn't going to help us with anything here."
She should have scolded him for using that disgraced name she hated, but as she heard the worried chatter behind the infirmary doors, she couldn't muster the stubbornness to. Her second only friend was dying in the city of Mondstadt, and there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it.
Seeing Eula's dejected look, Kaeya pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Right, I'm... sorry. I guess we're all just on edge right now, aren't we?"
He decided to take a seat on one of the church benches, and reached for the flask he kept in his boot. Unscrewing the top, he looked at Eula and offered it out to her.
She sighed, and took a seat next to her fellow cryo-user, and they both drank in the liquid courage for the long night ahead of them.
Lumine's back violently arched up, as blood spiked up from her mouth in a silent cry of pain.
Lisa gripped onto one of the dozen arrowheads stuck in their Honorary Knight, as she dropped it in a bowl with the others. As instructed, Jean kept applying pressure to the wound as Barbara attempted to seal it with a calming melody. But as the wound healed, Lumine's face twisted in agony, trying to turn the fluid stuck in her lungs into a plea for mercy. Seeing this, Barbara immediately stopped and looked to Lisa for guidance.
"Why is it still hurting her?! A-am I doing something wrong?"
The Librarian frowned, wiping sweat and a few drops of blood away from her forehead. She looked at the fresh bandage on Lumine's right leg, recalling the icicle Bennett had mentioned seeing before it melted. She looked back at the tears streaming down Lumine's bloodied face.
"...had to have been the Abyss..."
Overhearing that dreaded name, Jean perked up and glared at Lisa.
"What did you say?"
"She... must have fought the Abyss."
Jean frowned at Lisa, before looking back at Barbara and commanding her to continue.
"What do you mean by that, Lisa? We've seen wounds from Abyss Mages and Lecters before, what's different this time?"
Lumine's hand gripped the stained sheets as more tears escaped her tired eyes. Barbara could only apologize as she continued to seal her wounds. Lisa looked on, with somehow more worry in her eyes than before.
"...The ones in the Abyss have stronger magic... A lingering effect that deters their enemies from healing."
Jean's eyes widened, begging to find any sense of falsehood in Lisa's face. But the truth cared not for mercy.
"No, NO, NO!!! I'm losing her!!"
As Jean and Lisa snapped out of their theories, they looked back to see Barbara desperately clutching Lumine's wrist, which was growing limper by the second. The wound in her abdomen was half-closed now, but the pain had gotten the better of the traveler's wearied heart.
Lumine's lips parted for what she though would be the last time, as the three women in the room heard,
"A... Ay... aka..."
Ayaka? As in, Yashiro Commissioner Ayaka? It didn't matter, Lisa wouldn't allow her friend to die today.
"Step back," she commanded, as Electro energy gathered into her palms. Barbara backed away into the arms of her older sister, as Lisa readied her hands above the Honorary Knight's dormant heart.
"Try not to enjoy this too much."
Several hours had passed. The City of Mondstadt was quiet tonight, as rumors spread about how they may be about to lose the Great Savior of Mondstadt. Amber had accounted for every Vision Bearer in the city, all except for Venti and Razor, whom she predictably found strumming his lyre at Windrise, and sleeping under a tree in Wolvendom.
Kaeya decided that it would be best to allow all the Vision Bearers into the church, as they all needed to be informed of the Waypoints, and conveniently, they all were friends of Lumine's as well.
Albedo eventually arrived and immediately made his way towards the infirmary, holding a long box and some measuring tape.
Sucrose wasn't far behind, who decided to keep Mona company in the cathedral, though she couldn't stop herself from quaking at the thought of Waypoints being a danger to them all. Mona, meanwhile, was cursing out her scry-glass, which was impeded by the rain upon them.
Tired from gathering all the Vision Bearers, as well as an extra trip in the rain, Amber had fallen asleep on Eula's shoulder. Eula kept a vigilant watch on every possible entrance and exit to the Cathedral, still convinced that the Fatui would take advantage of this opportunity.
Bennett couldn't help but blame himself for Lumine's situation. He was convinced that all his bad luck had somehow condensed onto Lumine. Amy didn't have the heart to continue as Fischl for the rest of the day, and instead elected to console Bennett in any way she could. Razor could smell that both of them were hurting, and cuddled up around them to keep warm.
Diluc somehow had already figured out the traveler was hurt before Amber arrived. However, the news of the Waypoints was concerning to him, given that he had used them frequently to move undetected as the Darknight Hero. After discussing the situation with Kaeya, he decided to busy himself by finally acquainting with the mixer, Diona, who was working on a cocktail to help Lumine recover.
Rosaria only came down from her usual perch atop the cathedral long enough to hear about the waypoints before returning to keep her watch over the city.
Klee returned to the cathedral with a fresh set of clothes for Kaeya, having noticed how dirty it was when she was running to Dragonspine. After changing, Klee fell asleep in Kaeya's arms after being reassured that Auntie Lumine would be fine by morning.
Noelle distracted herself by taking over Barbara's clean-up duties for the night. She particularly dreaded mopping up Lumine's blood from the floor, but consoled herself by knowing that this would eventually be part of the job if she truly wanted to become a Knight of Favonius.
Venti was uncharacteristically non-hyperverbal. Part of him wondered if Ei had suddenly changed her mind on the Vision Hunt Decree, and struck back at Lumine when she had the chance. Another part of him wondered if Beisht was the one responsible, since he knew she was still alive, the same way he knew Morax was after the fiasco in Liyue. Most of him, thought that this was somehow his fault, that at some point in the past he was careless enough to forget to tell Lumine of a great threat, a mistake that she was unrightfully paying for tonight. All he could do, was hold onto his lyre and think of a song to express his apology if Lumine survived. Or, a song to memorialize her if she didn't.
The sun had risen by the time the healers were finished.
Jean set Lumine down on a fresh cot with cleaned sheets. Seeing her breathe steadily without blood in her throat was a calming sight. She looked back at Barbara and Lisa, who had fallen asleep on one of the empty cots in the infirmary. Barbara had wrapped herself in Lisa's arms, similar to how she would in Jean's when they were little. Jean briefly wondered what this night would have been if the infirmary wasn't empty.
She leaned against the table of dirtied equipment they had to use in place of Barbara's songs. Some of the greater wounds had to be stitched shut, as Lumine's heart would have given out again under the pain of the magic. Her recovery would be long and arduous, and Jean feared Lumine would never be the same again.
The Chief Alchemist's hand found its way to the Grandmaster's shoulder.
"You've done enough, Acting Grandmaster. Go rest. I'll tell the others."
She let out a long sigh, and gave Albedo a simple nod. All-nighters weren't new to Jean, but even she could admit that she was very, very tired. Jean made her way to the beds Lisa and Barbara had pushed together, and took a seat beside her wife. She gave the Librarian a kiss on the cheek, before falling asleep with the scent of her hair.
"Lumine will recover."
A collective sigh of relief echoed throughout the room. But Eula was the first to stand up and ask the question on everyone's mind.
"Do you know who did this yet?"
Albedo finished looking over the notes he had taken during his time in the infirmary, detailing the advanced endurance Lumine had displayed, as well as the exact measurements of her left arm. He then looked up at Eula, then the rest of the crowd, before deciding they all deserved to know the truth.
"The wounds on her indicate that this attack was carried out by the Abyss. Based on the warning she was able to give Bennett and Fischl, it may be wise of us to consider that the Waypoints have somehow been hijacked, and that using them may lead to an ambush."
"The Abyss... Those bastards, mark my words..."
"That aside, it may be best for you all to return to your homes for now. On foot, I may add. Lumine has a long recovery ahead of her, and she will need all the rest she can get. Rest assured, we will keep you informed on her condition."
The inhabitants of the cathedral muttered between themselves as they shuffled out one-by-one into the morning streets of Mondstadt. Kaeya picked up the sleeping Klee and carried her back to her room, giving Albedo a thankful nod before leaving.
Albedo then returned to the infirmary and took a seat beside Lumine. Taking out his sketchbook, he began to sketch out possible ideas for the prosthetic Lumine would undoubtedly need.
Over the turbulent seas beyond the eternal storm, a certain Yashiro Commissioner tossed and turned in her bed.
Images of Lumine in peril flashed through her head. Lumine, surrounded by hoards of Abyssal monsters. Lumine, barraged by arrows and missiles from hilachurls and Ruin Guards. Lumine, beaten to a pulp by three Abyss Lectors. Lumine, having a sword rammed through her torso before being dropped off a cliffside.
Lumine, dying in a bed, muttering Ayaka's name with her final breath.
Ayaka woke up in a cold sweat, panting for air as she felt the moisture accumulated on her forehead.
In her heart, she knew that Lumine needed her.