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To Save a Falling Star

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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.

"...Fischl?"

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.

"It's Lumine."

 

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.

Chapter Text

Though the Knights of Favonius would have loved to give Jean time to rest with her family, they all understood that there was still much to be done. They agreed to wait for 2 hours before waking the Acting Grandmaster up.

With a fresh cup of coffee in hand, Eula slowly creaked open the door to the infirmary. Though she was here for her boss, she couldn't help but look over what had been done to save the traveler.

Firstly, Lumine was almost completely naked, save the clean underwear that Lisa likely insisted they put on her. Besides that, she was covered in wrapped bandages and stitches. Eula could see blotches of red still seeping out from some of her wounds. Her breathing was still labored and coarse, a telltale sign that she still had a few broken ribs left to heal.

Her signature dress was left on a chair beside her bed, now covered in dark brown stains. The dress was in tatters, but everyone knew that Lumine loved that dress. If there was any chance for someone to repair it, she would take it in a heartbeat.

She's stable, and that's all that matters right now.

 

Jean awoke to the feeling of someone gently shaking her shoulder. Part of her hoped that it would be the Honorary Knight, somehow miraculously recovered or better yet, not even injured to begin with. The previous night being some fantastic sleep-deprived hallucination.

Alas, it was her Reconnaissance Captain, likely informing her that there was still work to be done.

"Amber suggested that I let you sleep, Acting Grandmaster, but we have work that needs to be done. Consider this as one of many vengeances I owe against you paid."

Eula handed Jean the mug, the familiar whiffs of brewed steam immediately reinvigorating her. Well... to an extent.

Only now did the Gunnhildr realize that there were still stains of dried blood on her fingers and beneath her nails. The noblewoman noticed as well.

"Also... you should probably get cleaned up."

Jean sighed, and nodded back before taking a deep sip of the morning brew.

"Thank you, Miss Eula. Meet me in my office in 20 minutes please, and notify the other Knights to do the same."

With a brisk salute, the Captain left Jean to regain her bearings. Jean stood up and chugged down the rest of the coffee, and started washing her hands in a nearby sink.

She perked up at the sound of sheets ruffling, looking back to see that Lisa was now beginning to awaken as well. Feeling slightly guilty, Jean opened her mouth to apologize for being loud, but was stopped by Lisa raising her hand in protest.

"It's alright, my Lioness, I overheard everything. I'll take Barbara back to her room and stay here to watch over our poor traveler."

The Librarian let out a long yawn and stretched her arms, then brushed a few loose strands of hair out of her perfect complexion. Archons above, even when she was tired she was still breath-taking.

Jean walked over to her lover and gave her a quick kiss on the lips.

"You're the best, sweet tea."

Lisa let out a soft chuckle, and gave one more peck on Jean's nose.

"I know I am. Now get out of here, you Archon-forsaken workaholic."

With that, Jean quickly exited the infirmary and made her way towards the Favonius Headquarters. The smile on Lisa's face faded away, as she looked back at the battered traveler. She slowly walked over to her side, and gently grabbed her remaining hand.

"Oh, cutie... Why did you have to fly so close to the sun?"


The first order of business was to warn the other nations about the Waypoints as fast as possible. Fortunately, Katheryne was willing to lend her services, and used her connected network to notify all 7 nations simultaneously.

There was initial skepticism, but upon hearing that it was the famed traveler who had fallen to this ploy, the nations quickly adhered to the warning. Guards and surveillance were established at every Waypoint they could reach, ensuring that no one would go in, or worse, nothing would come out.

Of course, Liyue and Inazuma were both particularly devastated by this news.


Cloud Retainer watched as Shenhe's fists gradually began to cave in on themselves. Though one was more than capable of subduing the Divine Damsel, one couldn't help but feel nervous of what she was about to do.

The adopted mortal couldn't bring herself to look at the elegant crane. She could feel the red ropes bound around her straining to suppress her emotional turmoil. About a minute had passed before she finally spoke.

"Is she alive?"

Cloud Retainer nodded.

"From what one has heard, only barely. But one believes that you need not worry so excessively--"

The adeptus was interrupted with the sudden appearance of Calamity Queller in Shenhe's hand. One took a step forward, and was again stopped when the Exorcist looked back at one, with frozen tears in her eyes.

"Mother, please... Vacate this mountain at once."

Against one's better judgement, Cloud Retainer spread one's wings and flew off, knowing that Shenhe only called one "mother" in times of great peril.

The Cursed Child's breath shivered, as a layer of frost began to bathe the surrounding grass and rock.

Of course it was her fault. It was only a few days ago that she was enjoying a drink with Lumine, applauding at Yunjin's beautiful performance.

But it was not meant to be. Cold steam seeped out from Shenhe's nostrils, as she gripped her wretched instrument with her hands.

It was as Moon Carver said. She raised the spear above her head, and unleashed a cry loud enough to shake Celestia out of the sky.

Shenhe was destined to bring Calamity. The mountain nearly split under the weight of the Transcendent One's guilt.

 

Beidou practically kicked down the door to Ningguang's office after she had heard the news from Katheryne. Normally, the Tianquan would have found the Crux Captain's anger attractive, but after noticing the sobs that were sneaking their way between Beidou's explicatives, she knew that something was seriously wrong.

"Those fuckin... pricks those... I fuckin knew it... I fuckin... FUCK!!!"

Beidou slammed her fist into the imprint that Ningguang had now reserved in her wall for her outbursts. As Beidou hung her head low and annoyedly wiped her eyes, Ningguang gently wrapped her arms around her waist.

"Shhh... I'm here, Bei. I'm here."

The Tianquan looked back at her secretaries, who were now crowded around the half kicked-in door. Ningguang gave them a nod, and they silently propped the door closed to give them privacy.

Beidou eventually composed herself, and placed her hands on her hips, still shaking her head.

"They fuckin' ambushed her, Ning. Those Abyssal fucks, they got Lumine."

"An ambush? Where, when? She just left yesterday-"

"They trapped the fuckin' Waypoints, that's how! I knew it, I knew those things weren't trustworthy..."

Just like the tides, a second wave of emotion washed Beidou away, returning to a sobbing mess in Ningguang's shoulder.

"Why'd I let her go alone, Ning? How'd I become so fuckin' stupid?"

Ningguang only massaged Beidou's back and swayed her back and forth. She pressed her lips against Beidou's neck.

"You couldn't have known, Bei. None of us could have known."

The bitter lovers only held each other in this moment, unafraid to be vulnerable, but terrified that they wouldn't be enough to support each other.

 

Zhongli had returned to Guyun Stone Forest, atop the mountain where he had laid Havria and Osial to rest. Loss was no stranger to the Funeral Parlor Consultant, and yet, he couldn't help but wonder if he had made a mistake, hiding the truth of the Abyss Prince from Lumine.

The God of Contracts set his sights on a distant storm. Two purple lights shined back at him. He smiled, knowingly.

Though his thoughts were interrupted when an all-too familiar gust of wind blew in from behind. He took a deep breath in and exhaled, before turning to greet the drunkard.

"It's been some time, old friend."

"...Ehe."


Kujou Sara quite literally had to tackle the Arataki Gang Leader out of the way before he placed his hand on the Waypoint northwest of the Narukami Shrine. For a moment, she was sure that she had dislocated her own shoulder as they both laid there groaning on the grass.

Itto suddenly perked up as he heard the scuttling of three Onikabutos who had escaped from his pockets and were now burrowing into the ground.

"Waitwaitwait no no, come back-! AW COME ON!" he exclaimed as he slammed a fist into the ground.

He then spun around and glared angrily at Sara, who was still getting to her feet.

"You?! Jeez Sara, I didn't pin you as one to play dirty... I mean I know that I wanted a rematch, don't get me wrong that was quite the hit, but this is a little nuts, don't you think?!"

The Tengu General had just about enough of the Oni's tomfoolery. She let our a growl before shooting up to her feet and grabbed Itto by the horn.

"You really think this is about that stupid rematch?! You almost got yourself killed, you oaf! Didn't you hear about the Waypoints?"

Itto had seen this look in Sara's eyes once in his life, and it was right as his Vision was taken. The gravity of the situation suddenly started to dawn on him.

"Aha, right, yeah, the news! About... Waypoints! Psshhh, of course I know! Why wouldn't I know- yeah I don't know."

Sara rolled her eyes and scoffed, shoving Itto's oversize head away as she placed her hands back on her hips. Itto immediately took the opportunity to try and fix his hair.

"Look... We have high reason to suspect that the Waypoints have been corrupted by the Abyss. Until further notice, all teleportation is hereby banned by the Ryoko Decree."

"UUUGGGHHH you gotta be kidding me! Another decree?! Archons, you people are so boring, you know that?!"

A gust of wind suddenly blew through Itto's face, as he was silenced by the Tengu's wings thrusting out in full force.

"You cannot treat this as a joke, Itto! Someone was nearly killed when they tried to use a Waypoint. Someone... we both know."

She looked back and noticed how her wings were in full display. With a sigh, she retracted her wings and pinched the bridge of her nose. Itto knew at this point that he needed to be the person Granny taught him to be.

"Alright, alright, I'll travel on foot. Swear on Granny Oni."

 

The Divine Priestess ended up revising an old strategy she had during the war: Ambush Counter-Offense Variant W-27, which was to be used in the event that Inazuman soldiers attempted an ambush on any of the Waypoints in Watatsumi Island. Only this time, she was trying to prevent people people from entering.

General Gorou entered her office with a stern salute.

"Your Excellency, the troops have been stationed according to your plan."

After adding a few energy points to her catalogue, Kokomi closed her book and stood up.

"Excellent work, General. Have we received any further intel on the situation?"

Gorou stood at-ease, folding his hands behind his back.

"Only some, Your Excellency. We know that someone was gravely injured after using a Waypoint. Someone strong."

"And, I assume that we have been denied further access as to who that someone is..."

"Regretfully, yes. How shall we proceed?"

The Priestess placed her palms on the table and looked down at the map of the island. It falls to me.

She retrieved a blank journal from her desk, and began writing down plans for every possible candidate that could have fallen. Something inside her wanted to consider the Captain of Swordfish II last.

"We'll proceed as we always have, Gorou. As we always have."

The General nodded, and left Kokomi to work. As he stepped back out into the open, he sniffed the air as Kazuha had once taught him to, and the signs were as clear as the waters of Sangonomiya. A storm was brewing.

 

The Raiden Shogun stood atop her palace, a swirling cloud of thunder and ozone accompanying her. This was the place she always returned to since leaving the Plane of Euthymia to walk the streets with Lumine. That day showed her that in order to preserve her Eternity, Ei would have to understand what her people wanted it to be, before her own desires. Watching everything from up here was a logical decision, since she could view her entire island and beyond, but secretly, she also just enjoyed the view.

Yet, across the sea, she could still feel a set of amber eyes upon her. She returned the watcher her own cold, knowing stare.

Her thoughts were then interrupted by the yip of a sakura-colored fox, perched to her side. Ei tilted her head at the fox, and it mirrored her motions before jumping down and extending to her proper form.

"Miko."

"My apologies Ei, was I interrupting your brooding session?"

Yae let out the classic giggle that Ei had fallen in love with on the day they first met. Uncrossing her legs, she grounded herself on the palace and offered her hand out to the Guuji.

"You know I would never consider you as an interruption."

The Kitsune took up the Shogun's hand and placed a tender kiss on its back.

"Tell me what's on your mind."

The smile on Ei's face faded, as she looked out blankly at the Nation of Eternity. Yae wrapped her arms around Ei and rested her chin on her shoulder. Ei looked down at her hand, as the brief image of the Musou No Hitotachi flashed in her mind.

"Be truthful with me, Miko. When I... left you, how did you feel?"

"Wonderful, actually. It was such a relief to not have to retrieve you sweets every day, or read your favorite novels aloud each night to put you to sleep-"

Ei placed her hands over Yae's.

"Miko. Please."

The Kitsune closed her eyes, and let out a gentle exhale.

"I was devastated, Ei. For the first ten years, I blamed myself. I thought I had done something wrong. The next twenty I spent blaming you, thinking that you abandoned me without a second thought for your precious 'Eternity.' It took me... I'd say, over a century to learn to forgive you. And for the rest of the time, I waited. Convinced myself that you would one day return."

A single tear escaped the Raiden's eye, as she kissed Yae's hand.

"And now, here we are."

Ei left Yae's embrace, and turned around to look into her beautiful lavender eyes.

"I'm sorry, Miko."

Yae chuckled once more. By Celestia, she loved her laugh.

"You're a silly little Shogunate, aren't you? I've told you, and I'll tell you again, I've already forgiven you."

The Archon and the Fox pressed their foreheads together.

"Now, can you tell me what has you so scared?"


Three days later, the bubbling sound of a starlit dimension opening was heard inside the infirmary.

Rosaria had elected herself to watch over Lumine, who still had not woken up. Occasionally, she would twitch in discomfort, or call out that name again. Love... What a nuisance.

When the familiar fae in white finally showed her dirt and soot-covered face, Rosaria had to forcefully throw her arm away to miss the throwing knife she had lobbed.

"Paimon...? Barbatos sake, I could have killed you--!"

The Nonconforming Sister was cut off when Paimon rushed straight towards her, and wrapped her arms around her torso. Soft sobs poured into Rosaria's chest, and all she could do in that moment was awkwardly pat the fae's back.

 

The Knights of Favonius decided it would be best to let Paimon eat first prior to questioning her. It had been at least three days since her last meal, after all.

Amber volunteered herself and a grumpy Eula to accompany Paimon to Good Hunter, where she immediately gorged herself on four servings of Sticky Honey Roast. Though, the frequent glances the traveler's best friend kept making at the cathedral couldn't escape the Reconnaissance Captain's gaze.

"We did everything we could, Paimon. It's up to her now, whether or not she'll recover."

Swallowing the last bite of meat, the fae crossed her fingers and looked down at her lap.

"Paimon knows... She'll get better. Lumi's strong."

Amber pushed the empty platter aside to hold Paimon's hands.

"You're right. And she's gonna need her best friend by her side when she wakes up."

Paimon nodded, and smiled at the Outrider.

"Thanks, Amber. And... you too, Miss Eula."

Comforting words were never Eula's forte. So, she decided to get straight to the point, placing an elbow on the table and leaning forwards.

"Paimon... You need to tell us what happened to you two."

Paimon took a deep breath, in, and out. She looked up at the two Knights, and mustered the courage that Lumine taught her to have.

"Okay... here's what Paimon remembers."


Lumine and Paimon said their short farewells to the inhabitants of the Jade Chamber. Shenhe had returned to the mountains a few days prior, and Lumine had decided to spend some quality time with Yunjin and Ningguang before visiting Mondstadt for a few days. She had full intention to return for the Lantern Rite Festival, but news of a new and improved Windblume had Paimon most excited.

"Thank you for entertaining my strange request today, Lumine. I hope to see you soon for the Festival."

"I hope so too. Though, you might need to make a few more of those fish skewers."

Lumine and Ningguang chuckled as they looked at Paimon, who let out a quick burp before pouting.

"What? They tasted good! Is Paimon not allowed to compliment people's cooking now?"

"Only a joke between friends, dear. Do tell the Acting Grandmaster that I said hello."

"Can do, Miss Tianquan! Now come on, Lumi! I can already smell that Sticky Honey Roast from here!"

With a warm smile, Lumine waved goodbye to Ningguang and began to make her way down from the sparkling new Jade Chamber. On her way, she ran into Beidou, who happened to be walking up.

"Ah, Traveler. Headed somewhere?"

Before Lumine could answer, Paimon quickly spilled the details of their plans, as usual.

"We're just gonna visit Mondstadt for a few days. It's been a long time since we've seen them, and also there's this really cool game they have running right now!"

Beidou let out a hearty chuckle.

"Well, sounds fun! Need me to walk you two back down to the city?"

"No thanks, we're just gonna use the Waypoint. Thanks, though!"

The Crux Captain raised her eyebrow, then nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders.

"Hmm. Suit yourself, then. I'll see you guys at festival, right?"

Lumine nodded, and Paimon continued to spout off.

"Sure will! See ya around, Beidou!"

"Alright then, take care."

With that, the traveler and the pirate split ways. Paimon looked between Beidou and Lumine for a moment.

"Psst, hey Lumi, what do you think Beidou's going to the Jade Chamber for this late?"

Lumine gave Paimon a knowing smirk.

"I think I have a few ideas, Paimon."

"What do you mean-- HEY!"

Paimon slapped Lumine on the shoulder as she laughed to herself.

"That's gross, Lumi! Besides, doesn't Beidou hate everyone in the Jade Chamber? She's probably just gonna get yelled at by Ningguang for breaking laws or, whatever!"

"People's relationships aren't always so one-sided, Paimon."

Paimon defiantly crossed her arms and pointed her nose in the air.

"Fine! You keep your theories, and Paimon will keep mine!"

"Sounds like a deal."

Not long after, Lumine and Paimon stood before the Waypoint embedded in the Jade Chamber.

"So, Good Hunter first?"

"You betcha! Let's go!"

Paimon disappeared in an astral flurry, and Lumine placed her hand on the Waypoint.

Her brow furrowed as a freezing cold sensation took over her body. She tried to take her hand off the Waypoint, but her palm had become stuck to the crystalline conduit. In a torrent of light, the Protector of Liyue disappeared.

 

Lumine found herself kneeling in a puddle of ink-like fluid when her eyes refocused on her surroundings. In place of the moon was what appeared to be an eclipsed sun. She was surrounded by floating rocks, islands, mountains, all strewn about as though they had been ripped from the earth and frozen in time.

One thing was certain: this was not Mondstadt.

"Oh, SARA! We're baack! And-- huh?"

As Paimon appeared, her excitement for dinner was quickly snuffed out by the darkness encroaching around them. Instinctively, she lowered herself behind Lumine, as her trusty Longsword was summoned.

"Lumi...? What is this place?"

The traveler reached behind her back to grab Paimon's hand.

"I... don't know, Paimon. It might be the Plane of Euthymia again."

She looked back at the supposed Waypoint they had just used, only to find a jagged purple crystal, pulsating at an irregular pace. Something about it reminded her of the unnerving upside-down Statue they had found with Dainsleif.

"Nope. It's definitely worse."

The sound of something bubbling quickly captured Lumine's attention, as she whipped around and prepared a Starfallen Meteor. Confirming her terrible suspicion, a group of four Abyss Mages arose from the ichor on the ground.

"So, you've finally discovered our Plan B, Traveler."

Without a second thought, Lumine dropped the meteor onto the Mages' heads, the Geo construct shattering to pieces on their fresh shields.

"PAIMON, RUN!!!"

Before Paimon could protest, Lumine dove head-first into the Mages, throwing every elemental attack she could muster at them. Hesitantly, Paimon retreated into the darkness for a place to hide.

 

Since every platform in what they now knew as the Abyss was floating, Paimon was able to fly beneath the rocks, following the sounds of metal and elemental energy closely. But the mist shrowding the Abyss was suffocating down there. It stung at Paimon's eyes, scratched at her lungs with each breath, stained her fae-wear as well. And that thing was hard to wash.

An hour straight of battle passed. Then a second. And a third.

Paimon would have given up, if she hadn't constantly been hearing the defiant battle cries of Lumine, growing drier but ever-strong with each passing hour.

Four hours. Six hours. Twelve hours.

 

Over a day later, Lumine refused to give in to the Abyss. But Paimon was losing her strength rapidly. She couldn't bear another second in the dark fog.

When she finally emerged for a breath of fresh air, she was met with an agonizing scream.

Looking up at one of the cliffs, she saw Lumine clutching at the throat of a humanoid figure... with a sword plunged through her abdomen.

Paimon wanted to scream, but it would only give her position away to the Abyss. She could only watch helplessly, as the figure pushed Lumine off of their blade, as she tumbled down the cliff. Her battered body struck between several jutting rocks, before finally colliding into the ground with a terrible crunch.

Once she was sure the Abyssal figures had left, she rushed over to Lumine and started aimlessly shaking her body.

"Come on Lumi, get up! Get up! You need to get up!"

A fresh pool of blood began to form around the traveler's unconscious body. She was only barely breathing. Tears started to well up at Paimon's eyes.

"Lumi, please... Don't leave me alone! Teyvat still needs you! Your brother still needs you! still need you!"

Paimon looked down at Lumine's arms, and realized that her Longsword had been shattered.

Suddenly, a flash of heat and flame appeared beside the two. Standing before them, was a Pyro Abyss Lector.

"WAH! S-Stay back!"

Paimon hastily grabbed the remnant of Lumine's sword and pointed it at the Lector. She wasn't even sure what she would do with it, but it would have to work. For Lumine.

And yet, to her surprise, the Lector rose its hands in surrender. Was Paimon really that intimidating?

"We don't have time for this, little one," the Lector spoke in a strangely familiar voice.

Paimon lowered the broken blade slightly.

"...Enjou?"

"You both need to leave here immediately. There's an escape Waypoint not far from here. Take her."

The thing calling itself "Enjou" pointed through the mist. Paimon squinted her eyes and, sure enough, she saw the ever faint glow of a cracked Waypoint.

"I'm sorry... I can't help you anymore. They're already suspicious of my absence."

"Enjou, wait!"

Enjou had already turned around, with a ring of Pyro before him. He looked over his shoulder, back at Paimon.

"Why are you helping us?"

Enjou hesitated, but only for a moment.

"Because, you both taught me what it meant to have a friend."

Without another word, Enjou vanished.

 

Left with no other choice, Paimon had to drag Lumine's body through the desolate wasteland of the Abyss. Every muscle in her frail body strained as the traveler scraped along, but Paimon owed it to her to be strong.

"Rnng...! Come on, Lumi... Just a little... Further...!"

The Waypoint was mere meters away now. With one final heave, Paimon would be home-free with her best friend. Tomorrow they would laugh about this adventure at a table with all their friends in Mondstadt. It was so close...

...until Paimon was blasted away with a wave of Cryo.

"Leaving so soon, Traveler?"

The fae shook her head dizzily as she refocused on the Waypoint, a new Cryo Mage now blocking her path. The shockwave had unfortunately pushed Lumine away as well, leaving nothing between the Mage and Paimon.

"The Prince will have questions for you, creature. Shall I take you to him warm, or cold?"

The Mage blasted at Paimon's legs, freezing her to the ground. She screamed out in pain, and the Honorary Knight's bloodstained eyes shot open.

"Your friend gave us quite the headache, but don't worry, we'll dispose of her properly this time!"

The Savior of Mondstadt forced her legs beneath her and began to rise.

"You chose the wrong twin, fairy."

The Protector of Liyue gripped her broken blade as she slowly walked up behind the Mage.

"Now come with me. We have much to discus--"

"Get away from my friend."

Before the Mage could react, Lumine channeled as much Electro as she could muster through its shield, Superconducting its barrier into oblivion. The Mage grunted aggressively as it was launched past Paimon.

Relieved to see Lumine awake again, Paimon quickly broke her legs free of the frost, and vanished into her pocket dimension.

She collapsed onto her knees before the Cryo Mage, and rose her broken sword in the air to bring an end to its measly life. But as she swung down, the Mage quickly turned over and unleashed a torrent of Cryo onto Lumine. She shrieked out in anger, as her right arm was coated in frost, slowing to a halt until the blade was inches away from the Mage's face.

In one fell swoop, the Mage shattered Lumine's arm into pieces.

Refusing to let the shock overtake her brain, the traveler seethed with rage and tore the Mage's staff out of its hand with her left arm. The demon laughed in her face as she clubbed it in the head, over, and over, and over again, until the bloodied mockery finally faded away.

Short pants of air wheezed out of Lumine as she looked down at its mangled corpse. 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.


Paimon buried her face in her hands and started to cry.

"I... I should have helped her... All I did was hide... I'm pathetic..."

Amber quickly rushed to Paimon's side and took her into a warm embrace.

"You can't blame this on yourself, Paimon. Lumine wanted you safe, and here you are. Here both of you are."

Eula sighed, and placed a hand on Paimon's shoulder.

"Amber's right. There's no one to blame here but the Abyss."

The fae sniffled and wiped her eyes clean, nodding at the two Knights.

Eula then stood up, and offered her hand to Paimon.

"Alright, that's enough of that for today. Let's bring you back to her."

"...Okay."

As the three made their way back to the cathedral, the Spindrift Knight couldn't help but begin devising her own plans to exact vengeance upon the Abyss.


At the docks of Ritou, a hooded woman discretely made her way through the checkpoints and began asking the sailors for safe passage to Mondstadt. What she hadn't counted on, was for the Kamisato Retainer to be present as well, finishing up a business deal with one of the fishermen.

"...Milady?"

The woman's eyes narrowed as she quickly turned away from Thoma. She tried her best to deepen her voice, to sound like anyone that wasn't the Shirasagi Himegimi.

"N-no, you must be confusing me with someone else."

Thoma gave a pitiful smile and approached his friend, removing the cloak from Ayaka's head.

"We should really work on your lying skills, milady."

"Thoma, please... Just this once, let me go."

The Retainer looked into the Commissioner's eyes and saw desperation. It didn't take him long to figure out what was happening.

"...This is about Lumine, isn't it?"

Ayaka looked down defeatedly, and nodded.

"I know I have responsibilities here, but... I can't let her be alone. I have to be there for her."

Thoma scanned the docks, then looked back at Ayaka before letting out a sigh. He pulled the cloak back over her head and grasped her hands.

"I know. And that's why I'm coming with you."

Chapter Text

A week had passed since the Traveler fell.

Lumine still had yet to awaken, though no one could truly blame her. Each day, Barbara spent 2 hours repairing Lumine's ribcage as slowly and tenderly as she could. Though, the pain was still unavoidable.

Lisa and Albedo were hard at work trying to synthesize a cure, or at least a suppressant for the Abyssal poison still plaguing Lumine's mind. Though Lisa was reluctant to share so much forbidden knowledge with the Chief Alchemist, she reassured herself that it was worth it for the Honorary Knight. In fact, she would give away every secret she had for any of the Knights, so long as it meant their survival.

Albedo had also tasked Sucrose with finding suitable materials for a new prosthetic limb project. Knowing who it was for, Sucrose had taken this task five steps further by isolating materials that were not only durable and flexible, but could also channel multiple types of elemental energies. She was currently in the process of experimenting with melted Crystal Fly Cores.

Since Paimon was only able to offer half of the story, the Knights had to turn to their local Astrologist to search for more answers. Shockingly, Mona refused to be paid for her investigations on this matter. Though she had yet to devise a way to breach the stars of the Abyss, she had concluded that the Abyss had been preparing to trap the Waypoints for a long time now, perhaps for over eight months. Every time the Knights visited, Mona swore that she was getting closer to finding the truth about the Abyss. However, upon realizing her poor eating habits from the research, they decided to assign Klee to deliver her lunch every day.

Diona was pestering the Knights and the Alchemists every day with new versions of her "Ultimate Traveler Elixir." The responses were always the same, that the drink tasted incredible, and that Lumine would surely appreciate the kind gesture. But that wasn't enough for the Catzlein Bartender. She wouldn't stop remixing this drink until she had the perfect solution to heal all of Lumine's wounds in an instant.

Without Lumine to keep up with the daily influx of commissions, Bennett and Fischl took on twice the amount of jobs that they normally would have. Thankfully, Razor was more than happy to help them each time. In an odd way, Benny's Adventure Team was finally reassembling.

Sightings of the Darknight Hero within Mondstadt had dropped significantly, though sightings of him outside had nearly tripled. Every time the Knights went to investigate, they found nothing but ash and scorched bones.

 

Today was Eula's turn to watch over Lumine. Paimon was sound asleep in Lumine's lap, quietly snoring away as her hand rested in the Traveler's.

Eula simply sat in her chair, twirling the Song of Broken Pines on the ground as she watched Lumine.

Every cough she made, twitch in her right stump, tear that silently fell from her eyes, pricked at the noblewoman's heart like daggers.

As she continued to analyze each wound on the Traveler's body, flashes of peril echoed through her mind.

She could see the Rifthound gnawing away at Lumine's leg. The arrows piercing her torso as she failed to deflect them with her sword. The impact of a mitachurl's shield crushing her ribs into paste.

Eula's grip tightened around her claymore, and into her thigh. She couldn't take this anymore.

The Spindrift Knight burst out from the cathedral into the brisk, overcast sky of Mondstadt. She looked down at her quivering hands, starting to see red stains forming in her blue-palmed gloves. Blinking a few times, the stains vanished.

She balled her hands into fists, and resisted the urge to tear up the road brick-by-brick.

"How unbecoming of you, girl." The voice of her father creeped in at the back of her mind. She did her best to shut him out.

"A noble must never show weakness. You're just like those peasants that should be underneath our boots. You bring nothing but a stain to our legacy."

Rage was overtaking the former Lawrence's mind, and she knew it. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, trying to remember what the Outrider told her to do in these situations.

The voice of her father faded away, as Eula reached underneath her glove and clutched onto a woven bracelet of flowers: a gift Amber had made for her from the wild.

A few moments passed, and Eula was finally alone with the cold breeze of the City of Freedom. But only for a moment.

"Abandoning your post so soon?"

Eula's eyes shot open, and she turned around to see Rosaria jump down from atop the church.

"How dare you sneak up behind a noblewoman like that! I will have vengeance for this, Rosaria."

Rosaria rolled her eyes and leaned up against the wall, taking out one of her knives to twirl around in her fingers.

"As you wish, Lawrence."

Eula crossed her arms and gave the nun a stern look.

"Don't call me by that name."

"Or what? You'll have to forgive me, but my sympathy for dead-names is lost on you. From someone who's called 'vampire' on a daily basis, take a page from my book: roll with the punches."

"Are you implying that I, Captain of the Favonius Reconnaissance Platoon, am sensitive? How incredibly impolite. You will certainly be moving up on my list of vengeances."

The two coldest women in Mondstadt stared holes into each other, before Rosaria finally broke the silence.

"...You're thinking about going there, aren't you?"

Eula scoffed, before joining Rosaria on the wall.

"Of course I am. The Abyss tried to take something very dear to us. And I intend to return that favor tenfold."

"Sure, but you saw what they did to our local dragon-slayer. Have you slayed any dragons lately?"

Rosaria's narrowed silver eyes bored into Eula, and her gaze was not met.

"Thought so. My only question now, is what makes you think you can succeed where she failed?"

A small Cryo construct formed in Eula's palm. Her eyes met with Rosaria's once more.

"Simple. I know what to expect."

Rosaria's eyes narrowed, and she pressed the hilt of her knife to her chin to ponder.

"I suppose... An ambush looses its advantages if you can't surprise your target. But you'd still be going alone."

Eula closed her fist, and the ice shattered.

"Do you intend to stop me?"

A smirk crept onto Rosaria's lips, as her knife was sheathed into her holster.

"Of course not. I intend to join you."


Liuli Pavilion remained silent as a whirlwind, a mountain, and a storm sat across from each other.

Zhongli gently blew on his tea before taking a sip. Venti couldn't help but stare at Ei's perfect complexion. A curious finger wandered up to her cheek.

"You know, when I heard that you had turned yourself into a doll, I was not expecting it to look like this."

The bard slowly began poking and prodding at the Shogun's cheek, as she unamusedly stared ahead at the Prime Adepti.

"So can you feel this, or-"

Finally, Ei slapped Venti's hand away, making sure to add a quick static shock upon impact. He shrunk back and shook his hand, now temporarily numbed by the Electro Archon.

"Yes, I can feel that. So, Morax, are you going to speak, or are we simply going to sit here and judge each other's mortal forms?"

Zhongli let out a deep chuckle, before finally placing down his teacup.

"My apologies Beelzebul, I was simply curious of how you two would interact after so many years of separation."

"Of course, since you and I have clearly spent much more time together."

Wiggling the fingers of his favorite lyre-playing hand, the Bard chuckled and tried to defuse the situation.

"Now now, let's try to be civilized here! But, out of curiosity, did you bring any of that wine you keep talking about Morax?"

The old dragon sighed, and placed his fingertips on the wooden table.

"We can chat as friends later, but for now, there are more pressing matters I wish to discuss with you all, regarding the sudden restricted access to the Waypoints we gifted these lands all those years ago."

The Shogun crossed her hands on her lap, and looked away from her fellow Archons.

"Ah, how foolish of me. I should have known that would be what our discussion was for today."

The Bard scratched his head and tried to laugh, which only faded into a nervous mumble.

"I'm aware that you all would have preferred to meet on better terms, but this situation calls for our joint cooperation. Especially, considering the fact that none of us are in possession of our Gnosii anymore."

Ei once again returned Zhongli's gaze.

"Very well. Perhaps we should begin with the actions of the Abyss."

"Indeed. It is clear that they have been developing these plans for a while, and quietly at that. Even the Tsaritsa did not notice the corruption of the Waypoints."

"Or she did, and just didn't wanna tell us."

Venti spoke as he discreetly slipped a flask from underneath his sock. Ei simply rolled her eyes.

"So the question remains, why is the Abyss doing this? If they took such care to hide their plans from us, surely they would have anticipated us ceasing the use of Waypoints. What is their end goal?"

Zhongli grasped his chin and pondered, as he stared into the wisps of steam rising from his teacup.

"Perhaps, this is only the first phase of a grander plan. One that involves reversing their access so only their members could use them instead."

Ei had instinctively picked up an empty dango skewer and began to chew on it lightly.

"If so, it would mean they could launch a full-scale assault at the hearts of every one of our Nations."

Stealing a quick swig of booze, Venti leaned forward on the table.

"Aren't we leaving out a pretty important detail here?"

Both Archons turned their attention to Venti.

"What detail would that be?"

Venti's smug look suddenly shifted into an offended frown.

"...Seriously? Neither of you know what I'm talking about?"

The Shogun and the Dragon exchanged glances. A tense moment of silence passed.

"By Celestia you two... The Traveler! Lumine! She, specifically, was ambushed by this. Don't you think that's important?"

In this rare moment, Eternity and Contracts had been embarrassed by Freedom.

"Ah, of course... Lumine. How foolish of me."

Venti's nails started to dig into the table.

"We know, for a fact, that ambushes have been set up at wherever the Waypoints are spitting people out in the Abyss. And don't you think it was a little convenient that not a single one of our Vision Bearers were caught in this before Lumine?"

Zhongli placed his elbows on the table and crossed his fingers.

"What are you proposing, Venti?"

"I'm tired of having so much voodoo around his name, Morax. What if this is something personal with the Abyss Prince, Aether?"

A gentle knock on the private room suddenly interrupted the tension in the room. All three Archons did their best to compose themselves, before Zhongli beckoned their waitress to enter.

"Yes, what is it?"

"Oh, I just have the bill for the food you ordered, Mr. Zhongli."

The Gods quickly exchanged panicked looks with each other. Zhongli nervously chuckled and took the bill from the waitress.

"Ah, right, of course..."

"You can continue your talks here, I'll just pick it up when you all leave."

The waitress left, having unknowingly defeated three Archons in one fell swoop.


Eight days had passed since the Traveler fell.

Tonight, it was Amber's shift for guarding Lumine. Paimon was out with Mona, who had requested her assistance in her astrology research on the Abyss.

Amber had been doing her best to keep up her bubbly facade, as she knew it was helping her fellow Knights get through each day. Though being in the room where Lumine had nearly died was making it difficult for the Outrider to stay positive.

Amber was, after all, the second person in Teyvat that Lumine ever met. If her heart hadn't been settled on someone else, she was certain that she would have fallen in love with the Traveler. They always had good chemistry together, be it their tastes in food, or their unrivaled knack for wind gliding, or the occasional arm-wrestle they would challenge each other with after a night at Good Hunter.

The truth dawned on the Baroness that those days may never return now. And the truth stung.

Particularly on the side of her own neck...? No, that can't be right.

Amber reached to her neck, and was surprised to feel some sort of glass and metal tube protruding from it. The syringe was quickly extracted, as Amber jumped to her feet to get a look at who was with her in the room.

However, all she saw was a floating syringe, which clattered to the floor as black spots began to appear in her vision.

"...tired..." the Outrider muttered, as she collapsed onto the floor into a deep slumber.

 

"I'll come find you when this is all over... I'm sorry."

Trapped in a coma, that phrase was all Lumine could hear, echoing off the walls of her darkened mind, piercing through her wearied soul. She called out the names of her loved ones desperately, but she was alone.

Alone, with the exception of a fleeting glimpse of the one she loved most. Her perfect face, her silk blue hair, her breathtaking smile. That glimpse was what kept Lumine from giving up, the drive that motivated her to keep swimming to the surface; the Heron was her guiding light home.

But then, a searing hot sensation in her chest stopped Lumine dead in her tracks. As she clutched at her heart, she opened her mouth to scream, but had no air left to expel.

The darkness around her began to fade away, as she found herself staring up at the cobblestone ceiling of a cathedral. Lumine gaped her mouth open for a gasp of air, but something was forcefully shutting her windpipe closed.

The now-familiar scent of burning cloth and skin suddenly assaulted the Traveler's nostrils, as she suddenly remembered the unbearable pain coming from her chest. As her exhausted eyes drifted down, she was greeted with the sight of an Inspector's Sacrificial Knife, plunged an inch deep into her sternum.

A form shimmered into existence before her, as a Fatui Pyro Agent chuckled deeply into Lumine's ears.

"Did you truly think we would waste this opportunity, Traveler?"

She tried to say something, anything, even make any sort of noise, but her face quickly contorted in pain as the blade slowly approached her wounded heart.

"Your dues will be paid at last, killer. Consider this slow death a greeting and a farewell from the Tsarit-GRK!"

Swiftly, a pair of black and red gloves wrapped themselves around the Agent's throat and neck, and with a brisk crunch, their corpse crumpled lifelessly onto the ground.

 

"You alright, girlie?"

 

Lumine let out a few rasp coughs, as she tried to massage her now bruised throat. To her surprise, her hand had traveled through her neck and out on the other side. Only after looking down to her right did she remember, oh yeah. I don't have that anymore.

All at once, the consequences of her time in the Abyss crashed onto Lumine's conscience. The residual pain in her singed chest was overwhelmed by the colossal failure she had just endured. Without the energy to question and berate the Fatui Harbinger for coming here, she could only shrink into an inconsolable sobbing mess. She felt as though gallons of ugly tears were pouring out of her eyes, as her lungs shallowed and her throat began to burn.

Without a chance to react, Childe was pulled in by Lumine's remaining arm, as she poured her soul out into his chest. Part of him was nervous that someone would walk into the room at that moment, catching his dirty deeds in the act. He decided to listen to the rest of his conscience, and gently placed his hands on Lumine's back.

Not a word was said for the next hour.

Once Lumine finally summoned the strength to calm herself, she pulled away from the Harbinger, and wiped the snot and tears out from her face.

"Th... thank you..." she spoke, with a raspy whimper.

Childe placed a hand on Lumine's shoulder and gently rubbed her with his thumb.

"You're welcome, comrade."

Looking back at the unconscious Outrider and the disposed Agent, Childe stood up and made his way to the nearest window.

"You woke up in time and killed him with your bare hands, Traveler. You had no other choice. They'll believe you."

Without the energy to speak, Lumine simply sniffled and nodded her head. Childe nodded back, and discretely slid the window open.

"When you're ready, find me in Liyue."

Just like that, the Great Tartaglia vanished into the night. And no one was the wiser.


"You're not a failure, Amber."

The Spindrift Knight cradled the Outrider in her arms, as she continued to profusely apologize for her stupidity through regretful tears.

The two Knights stood in the infirmary as Barbara finished sealing the fresh wound in the Traveler's chest. Lumine, unfortunately, had passed out again after crawling out of her bed to awaken Amber. What little energy she had recovered was immediately expended on surviving the assassination. Though it did mean she wouldn't have to be conscious for the Curse of Agony (the term Lisa and Albedo had devised for her condition), it also meant that the wait for answers would have to continue.

And Amber felt like it was all her fault.

"I-I almost killed her, Eula... I almost killed her..."

"Hey."

Eula then held Amber in front of her and looked her directly in the eye.

"Look at me. Amber, look at me."

Amber wiped her tears away and looked into Eula's soul.

"You didn't kill her. That Fatui scumbag tried, and he failed."

Amber still couldn't keep herself from crying, so Eula moved her hands from her shoulders to around her face.

"Hey, Amber. His blood, isn't worth a single one of your tears. Okay? Do you understand?"

Mercifully, Amber finally stopped shaking, and wiped the tears from her eyes to nod at the noblewoman.

"Amber. No one is going to blame you for this, okay? And if they do, I will have my vengeance."

Eula wiped the remaining moisture away with her thumbs before pulling Amber in for one more embrace.

"Come on, let's get you home now."

As Eula escorted Amber out from the cathedral, she looked up to see Rosaria perched on one of the stained-glass window sills. With one look, they both knew.

Tonight is the night. Vengeance will be ours.

 

Kaeya took over the rest of the Outrider's shift, while Eula nursed Amber to bed in her own apartment. Once she was sure Amber was asleep, she wrote a note to leave with the Baroness, in case something went wrong with her mission. Eula didn't want to leave anything unsaid, especially after hearing Lumine's pained cries for the Inazuman.

She knew that Rosaria would be waiting for her by now at the gate, but she figured the nun could wait a little longer. Suitable vengeance for being rude the other day, she thought to herself.

Once she finished writing, she tucked the note away under a vase of Lamp Grass, and planted what might be her final kiss on Amber's soft, warm cheek. With that, she left the building in silence.

However, as she walked past the alleyway next to the apartment, a dark voice rang out from the shadows.

"Going somewhere, Captain?"

The noblewoman froze in her tracks. She shut her eyes, and let out an annoyed sigh.

"Official Knight business, Ragnvindr."

The firehead uncrossed his arms and stepped out from the shadows.

"Oh, is it now? Does it have to do with a certain nonchalant Sister I spotted hopping the rooftops a few minutes ago?"

Eula scoffed, and placed her hands on her hips in defiance of Diluc.

"You dare accuse me of disobeying the direct orders of the Acting Grandmaster? How brash of you, Master Diluc... Mark my words, vengeance will be mine."

Diluc chuckled, and tightened his gloves around his wrist.

"Of course, Miss Spindrift Knight. I'll pay my dues to you by joining your suicide mission then."

"...Excuse me?"

Diluc crossed his arms and tapped his foot on the ground.

"Did you honestly think that you and Rosaria weren't the only ones planning on paying the Abyss a visit?"

Eula glanced over at the guards by the gate, who were now starting to give her suspicious looks. With a short huff, she turned back to the the ex-knight.

"Fine. But I shall instead exact vengeance upon you for intervening with our plans."

Diluc nodded, and turned away back into the alleyway.

"Fine by me, noblewoman."

With that, Eula continued making her way to the gate, passing by a cloaked stranger and another man dressed in red.

 

"Captain Eula! What brings you to our station? Has something happened?"

The Favonius guards stationed around the East Wolvendom Waypoint started sweating bullets at the sight of the Reconnaissance Captain.

"Yes. You are to report back to your normal patrol points on the Wall immediately. There's been a breach at the cathedral, and I want as many eyes on the city as I can get. I will continue your watch here."

"Y-Yes Captain Eula! Right away."

The guards scurried off back to Mondstadt, as the Darknight Hero and the Pale Sister emerged from the shadows. Diluc scoffed at the cowardice of the guards.

"Typical Favonius, always blindly following orders without a second doubt."

He drew out the Wolf's Gravestone and looked up at the wall.

"Our window's opening. No one's gonna look this way for the next minute. Let's act fast."

Rosaria tilted her head and glanced up at one of the trees hanging over them.

"Sure thing, there's only one issue left..."

In a flash of red steel, Rosaria extended the Deathmatch and struck off one of the tree's branches. With a high-pitched yelp, the Esteemed Astrologer came tumbling out from the leaves.

As her hat skidded to a halt before Eula's feet, she could only bury her face in her palm. Upon realizing the identity of the stowaway, Rosaria sighed and stowed her spear.

"Oh, it's you. What a nuisance."

Mona shot up to her feet and stomped the ground angrily.

"I'm the nuisance?! You're the one who just knocked me out of a tree! Besides, I'll have you know that I predicted this 'incursion' of yours days ago!"

Eula approached the Astrologer with balled fists. She just about had enough of people intervening on her plans for vengeance today.

"Miss Megistus, you need to leave immediately. What we're doing isn't safe for civilians."

"Bold of you to assume I'm an ordinary citizen. Besides, there's absolutely nothing you can do to stop me from going. Don't you want to know what happened to the Traveler? Because if you do, I'm your best shot."

Diluc rejoined the bickering Vision Bearers.

"We don't have time for this, the guards are almost back in place. Is she coming or not?"

The confidence on Mona's face was quickly replaced with desperation. Her platinum eyes looked into Eula's, pleading to let her do this.

Scolding herself for being so vulnerable, Eula quickly retrieved Mona's hat and handed it to her.

"Fine. I suppose I don't need to tell you what will happen if you get in our way, Astrologer."

Mona took the hat and fixed it back onto her head.

"Certainly. I predict I will accumulate at least five instances of minor vengeances from you, Miss Eula."

The now complete party surrounded the beacon in a circle. Eula looked around her new compatriots and steeled her nerves.

"We'll activate it simultaneously. If we appear at different places, I'll send up a flare. Are you all ready?"

The rest of the team nodded. They counted down from three, and placed their hands on the crystalline core. In a flash of cold light, the Vision Bearers were gone.


As if this night hadn't been long enough, Kaeya's attention was captured yet again when he overheard a commotion happening at the entrance of the cathedral. Not trusting Lumine to be left alone, he opened the door to the infirmary to observe what was happening.

"Ma'am, I keep telling you, you can't enter the church right now. By order of the Knights of Favonius-"

"Please, you don't understand, I'm an Inazuman Diplomat. Which authority figure do I need to speak with about this?"

Sister Victoria looked back, now realizing the door was open. She turned back to the woman.

"Wait right here."

The nun briskly walked over to the Cavalry Captain. He put on his charming smile and leaned up against the door.

"What's the problem, Sister?"

Sister Victoria crossed her arms and shook her head.

"I don't know why, but this woman keeps insisting she needs to get into the infirmary. She's not hurt, or anything. Says she's some diplomat from Inazuma?"

"Hmm... From Inazuma, you say?"

Kaeya softly pinched his chin as he caught a brief glance of the woman's cloaked face.

"Did you happen to catch her name?"

"I did, she said her name was Kamisato Ayaka."

The Alberich's eye narrowed.

"Why do you ask?"

 

The Shirasagi Himegimi's name meant nothing in Mondstadt. To them, she was no different than any other girl walking the streets. This must have been what my mother felt like.

Thoma had left Ayaka alone to find somewhere to stay, for however long the Commissioner needed. After all, in the end he would answer to her. Always.

Ayaka only noticed how much she was shivering at the sight of her beloved Traveler when Kaeya finally placed a blanket over her shoulders. She snapped out of her trance and gave a thankful smile to the esteemed Cavalry Captain.

"Thank you, Mr. Alberich."

"Not at all, Miss Kamisato."

The Heron slowly made her way to Lumine's bed. Paimon was in her usual position on her lap. By the Archons, she's so pale. Instinctively, Lumine's hand slowly shifted out towards her lover's. Ayaka looked back at Kaeya.

"...May I?"

Kaeya nodded, knowingly.

"It would seem that if anyone has the right, it's you."

With a smile, Kaeya stepped out of the room, but kept close to the door.

Ayaka grasped Lumine's hand firmly. When she felt her squeeze back, the Heron couldn't help but smile, as tears welled up in her eyes.

"It's okay now, Lumi. I'm here."

Ayaka finally leaned forwards, and placed her lips on her better half's forehead. A tear dropped onto Lumine's cheek.

"I'm here."

 

When Kaeya finally reentered the room, he found Ayaka hunched over in a chair, her head nestled into Lumine's arm. Their hands were unbreakably intertwined.

He nodded to himself in recognition, and took his spot in the corner of the room. Under his wing, the room was the safest place to be in Mondstadt.

Chapter Text

"A..Amber... please... w-wake up..."

Without strength to stand up, Lumine had to push herself out of the bed to crawl to her guard's body. Her heart was pounding in her chest, sending jolts of pain through her veins with each pulse.

"Please... Amber, please..."

Finally, she placed a hand on the Outrider's goggles, using them as a handle to pull herself beside her friend.

The Traveler's overworked heart was becoming unbearable. Patches of black started appearing in her vision once more. Yet again, she forced herself to ignore her body's screams.

She reached her hand up to Amber's face and tried to pry open her eyelids.

"Wake up... please... pl...ease..."

Mercifully, she heard a mumble peak out from Amber's lips, as her eyes started to flutter open. Lumine succumbed to relief, her eyes glazing over as she returned into a deep, exhausted slumber.


The dream Lumine was trapped in was different this time.

She was standing in the City of Freedom, but there was no one around. The sky was dark, with the Eclipsed Moon of the Abyss bathing everything in red.

"WELL WELL WELL! LOOK WHO'S COME CRAWLING BACK TO US!"

She turned around to see Mondstadt's Greatest Bard, stalking in the streets. Something was wrong with him. His eyes were plastered open in an unnatural way. Occasionally his limbs would twitch in directions they shouldn't be able to bend. And something corrupted laid behind his voice.

"Venti...? What happened here-"

Suddenly, all the air in Lumine's chest was violently ripped out of her mouth, as she saw an orb of Anemo swirl in Barbatos' palm.

"AW, WHAT'S THE MATTER? WIND GOT YOUR TONGUE?"

The voice of the corrupted Archon boomed around Lumine's ears. She continued to choke on her own throat as a vortex began to form around her.

"YOU KNOW, SHE TOLD ME THAT YOU USED TO HAVE WINGS... LET'S SEE IF THAT THEORY HOLDS TRUE, SHALL WE?"

In a matter of moments, a full-scale tornado had formed around Lumine, not unlike the one that had absorbed her when Stormterror attacked. The barbaric winds tore off the surrounding stones and wooden beams of Mondstadt's buildings, impacting into the Traveler as she tumbled helplessly.

Barbatos' cackles cut through the storm, as he suddenly rushed towards Lumine and grabbed her by the chin.

"COME ON, HONORARY KNIGHT, FLY!"

Then, the tornado vanished, and the Traveler plummeted into the ground below. The cobblestone street cracked beneath her as Barbatos followed, landing directly on her spine.

A reptilian tongue emerged from the Bard's mouth, licking his lips in anticipation, as he began to claw away at Lumine's back. She opened her mouth to scream, only barely managing to bubble up the saliva and blood coating the back of her throat.

Barbatos' hands reached deep into Lumine's exposed flesh, until they grabbed onto something and began to pull. A wretched sound of tearing flesh echoed through the City of Freedom. As Lumine tried to turn around, she looked up in horror as Barbatos hoisted up the bloody remnants of her long-lost wings. Strands of muscle tissue and fragmented bones hung loosely off of its pearly white frames.

"BY CELESTIA, THESE ARE WONDERFUL! I THINK I'LL MAKE A WIND GLIDER OUT OF THEM! BESIDES, YOU WON'T BE NEEDING THEM ANY TIME SOON."

Then, the ground caved in, and Lumine was falling once again.

 

Looking beneath her, she could see a vast ocean of red approaching. Then, bursting out from the tides below, the draconic form of Morax lunged at her, mouth agape with jagged crystalline fangs.

Morax bit into Lumine's puny form and thrashed her around in his mouth, rending her flesh into ribbons before throwing her into the nearby mountains of Guyun Stone Forest.

Lumine impacted into the mountaintop back first, sputtering up blood as she tried to push herself up. The dragon circled around her, growling as it shrank back into the humanoid form of Rex Lapis.

"YOU'VE FOUGHT MANY OF MY OLD FOES, TRAVELER."

Barely managing to balance herself on her mangled legs, Lumine met Rex's piercing gaze. Sure enough, he had the same deranged stare and twitch as Barbatos. Panting for air, she looked around as other titanic foes rose from the ocean. She recognized the roar of Azhdaha, and the dozens of serpentine heads from Osial and Beisht. She even saw the weeping form of Havria.

She then noticed her legs starting to stiffen, looking down to see shards of amber growing around, and out of her legs. As she struggled to break free, Rex Lapis began to approach her, drawing a glowing yellow claymore out from his back.

"IT'S TRULY A SHAME ABOUT YOUR BROTHER, LUMINE. IF ONLY YOU HAD BEATEN HER TO SIGNING THAT CONTRACT FOR MY SILENCE."

The God of Contracts tenderly placed a hand on the Traveler's shoulder, before slowly driving the Unforged blade through her ribs. Blood immediately pooled in Lumine's mouth, as tears of anguish surrounded her eyes.

The Geo Archon retracted the claymore from her chest cavity and licked it clean of Lumine's blood. He placed his foot on her collapsing heart and kicked her away, shattering the amber encasing her legs.

"NOW THEN... I WONDER WHICH OF MY OLD ACQUAINTANCES YOU WILL HAVE TO BATTLE NEXT."

The cry of a crane filled Lumine's heart with despair.

"PERHAPS I WILL HAVE THE ADEPTI YOU'VE GROWN SO FOND OF DISPATCH OF YOU, ONCE YOU'VE SERVED YOUR PURPOSE TO THIS LAND."

Looking around, she saw the glowing red eyes of the Divine Protectors of Liyue. The Traveler scrambled to her feet, only to be shunted in the back by Moon Carver's antlers. Cloud Retainer and Mountain Shaper latched onto arms, restraining her as the Vigilant Yaksha approached her, Primordial Jade-Winged Spear in hand.

"...gkk... please..."

Xiao stared through Lumine with pitiful eyes, twirling his polearm in anticipation.

"IT'S TIME I TAUGHT YOU THE TRUE MEANING OF SUFFERING."

With a clean strike, the Conqueror of Demons sliced through Lumine's abdomen, leaving nothing left to catch her entrails from spilling out onto the ground. An inhuman guttural noise leaked out from Lumine's throat as her strength quickly sapped away.

"THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, TRAVELER."

A set of gloved hands reached around Lumine's torso, as the Qilin quickly grabbed her intestines and wrapped them around her throat. A knee pressed into her back, as Lumine was arched back to look up into the unfeeling eyes of Ganyu. As pressure coalesced around her pale head, Lumine's eyes slowly rolled into the back of her head as the world fell away into nothing.

 

Her eyes reopened, now laying face first in a bed of sand. A large gasp of air swelled into her chest as she shot up, feeling her chest and abdomen. Her wounds had miraculously sealed, but as she looked at the ring of broken Torii gates, and the broken longsword in front of her, she immediately knew what was about to happen.

The sound of the Musou no Hitotachi being drawn forced Lumine's body into action, quickly picking up the remnant steel and turning to face the God of Eternity. A now familiar deranged face greeted her.

"COME, TRAVELER. LET US SPAR FOR ONE LAST TIME."

The Raiden Shogun lunged at the helpless Traveler with lightning speed. As she raised her remnant blade in defense, the divine sword pierced effortlessly through Lumine's shoulder. She cried out as Electro started channeling through her veins, smoke starting to seep out from underneath her skin. Beelzebub looked on in admiration of her work before tearing her blade out to the side, severing Lumine's arm with it.

The traveler watched her dominant limb tumble onto the sand, twitching erratically for a few moments before falling still.

The Raiden Shogun's grip tightened around her blade. Twirling around, she performed a follow-up strike at Lumine's face.  Instinctually, she lifted her left hand and channeled an Anemo barrier to stop the blade in its tracks.

Tethers of lightning licked away at Lumine's arm and face, her strength beginning to falter as the blade drew nearer, and nearer.

"YOU KNOW THAT YOU NEVER COULD HAVE DEFEATED ME WITHOUT THE SUPPORT OF INAZUMA."

Lumine grit her teeth together, wind howling at her ears as the purple edge approached her eyes.

"AND NOW, ALL OF TEYVAT WILL KNOW YOU HAVE FAILED THEM."

The Traveler pushed back with all her might, but the Almighty Shogun was unwavering. The Musou no Hitotachi slowly, agonizingly pressed into Lumine's golden irises. Shrieks of suffering rang out as her vision was replaced with purple, then red, then nothingness.

Waves of electricity shot through Lumine's mind, as she collapsed back onto her knees.

"NO ONE WILL EVER TRUST YOU AGAIN, TRAVELER."

With a final slash, the Electro Archon opened Lumine's throat. A spurt of crimson shot out, before she collapsed onto her back, a black singe replacing where her gaze once rested.

As Lumine laid in the void, fading within the confines of her own mind, the haunting phrase repeated once more.

"I'll come find you when this is all over... I'm sorry."

Once again, the claws of sorrow sunk themselves into Lumine's broken soul. She began to sob, blood pouring out from her fried eye sockets, as she finally succumbed to the darkness.

She cried and cried, waiting for death to finally claim her decimated will.


Lumine would have given up, had it not been for a sudden warmth she felt around her hand.

It wasn't searing hot, or clawing into her skin. It simply existed, and its presence was somehow comforting.

"Please... come back to me, Lumi," a voice spoke softly into her ear.

Guilt swelled up in the Traveler's throat, as she continued to sob.

"...I... I... can't... I'm... not s-strong... enough..."

Her own voice sounded foreign to her now. It was so frail, so small... so pathetic.

But the warmth on her hand pressed on. The voice did not judge her, or abandon her.

"That's not true, Lumi. You're the strongest person I've ever met. Just, open your eyes, please."

The ring of the Shogun's blade flashed through Lumine's mind. Her breaths became shallow.

"...c-can't... it h-hurts too much..."

Something wet dropped onto her own cheek.

"Please, I want you to see that you are loved, Lumi. You have to try."

Another wave of guilt crashed over the traveler. She wasn't the hero Teyvat needed her to be. Three Gnosii were taken under her watch. She had failed every nation she'd touched.

"...I'm... s-sorry..."

The warmth on her hand drifted to the side of her cheek. She realized she could smell the comforting scent of cherry blossoms.

"Lumi... Remember that night in the forest? By the creek, when I... when I performed for you?"

How could I forget? The gentle trickle of the clear waters. The soft breeze dancing with the canopy. Fireflies drifting in the atmosphere. Beautiful beams of moonlight, perfectly illuminating... her.

"I should have told you, Lumi..."

The Traveler reached out towards the voice.

"My heart... it's yours."

The feeling of home pressed against Lumine's lips, as warmth finally returned to her chest. She absorbed everything in, as she finally followed her beacon through the tunnel.

Gentle hands wrapped around the blonde's head, and she returned it with her own grasp into the voice's neck.

The Heron called, and the Traveler answered.

As they reluctantly separated, Lumine's eyes slowly fluttered open. She was met with the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. And after what seemed like an eternity, her tears were replaced with joy.

The Heron gave her the warmest smile she had ever seen, baring her heart out for all to see. At that moment, Lumine made her choice.

This world was still worth living for, because Kamisato Ayaka was living in it.

"Welcome back, Lumi."

A smile finally returned to the damaged hero. She couldn't find the words to express her gratitude for her savior, so she let her actions speak instead.

Lumine pulled Ayaka into a tight embrace, and the two lovers cried their souls out into each other's shoulders.

 

The moment lasted for about three minutes, before Kaeya couldn't hold Paimon back any longer from bursting through the door.

"LUMIIIIIIIIINE!!!"

The fae collided with the traveler with such force that she likely could have broken another one of her ribs. Of course, Lumine didn't mind at all, as she began to squeeze the joy out of Paimon.

The unbreakable pair didn't hesitate to start profusely apologizing to each other. Ayaka rubbed both of their backs, whispering sweet reassurances into their ears.

Kaeya smiled to himself, happy to see Lumine surrounded by the people she cared most about. Or... almost all of them.

His gaze was then interrupted by a sneeze he heard by the entrance to the cathedral, followed by a high-pitched scolding to "keep quiet."

The Alberich placed his hands on his hips and chuckled, turning around to address the onlookers.

Fischl, Bennett, Razor, and Diona (respectively) were stacked atop one another, peaking their heads in by the left side of the door. On the right was Sucrose, Lisa, and an orange-haired man he could have sworn he recognized from somewhere.

As he playfully shook his head, he placed a finger over his lips, then quietly waved the onlookers over to say hello to their friend.

 

What Kaeya didn't see, was the Outrider running through the streets, begging anyone if they saw where a certain noblewoman had gone.


"Is everyone alright?"

The Reconnaissance Captain brushed the oil-like substance off her cloak and immediately began to clock her surroundings. Indeed, this place was quite... Abyssal.

Strangely, she found a path of Mage and hilichurl corpses strewn about, already half way through disintegrating. The sound of metal retracting from flesh echoed from ahead, as she saw Rosaria shake a loose mitachurl axe from her Deathmatch.

"What, did you hit traffic or something?"

Eula glanced around before sheathing her claymore.

"Where are the other two?"

Rosaria hopped down from the mitachurl and joined the noblewoman.

"Diluc got here before me by a few minutes, he's up ahead securing the area. I showed up seven minutes before you. As for the starhead-"

As if on queue, the cracked purple chrysalis glowed and hummed a deep frequency, before unceremoniously spitting out the Astrologer into the slicked ground.

"Oh. Eight minutes."

Eula sighed and crossed her arms, looking up at the eclipsed moon.

"Didn't we all agree to activate the beacon at the same time?"

"We did. Trust me, I was watching."

Mona shot up to her feet and steadied herself, before clutching onto her stomach.

"Worry not, Warriors of the Deep! I'm... urgh... completely fine..."

Her calm composure lasted for roughly 2.3 seconds (Rosaria counted), before she quickly ran to the edge of the platform and hurled her guts into the Abyss. Eula gave an incredulous look at Rosaria, who simply shrugged in response.

"I can't believe I'm doing this..."

The noblewoman stomped over to the Astrologist, taking out a handkerchief and briskly handing it to her. Mona immediately took the cloth and wiped her mouth clean, shaking the remaining bits of sick off before handing it back.

"How unbecoming... And this was a gift from Amber as well. I will have vengeance for this, Mona," Eula bickered as she pinched the handkerchief away from her.

"Well, that's one accounted for then."

Brushing a few hairs out of her face, Mona made her way to Rosaria, quickly followed by Eula.

"So, I overheard that there was some displacement between our arrivals. What were the increments, Sister? Using my arrival as reference, of course."

Rosaria rolled her eyes.

"Diluc, at least eleven minutes. Me, eight. Eula, one."

"Hmm, how intriguing..."

A gilded scry glass appeared before the three women. Mona glanced back and forth between its position and the eclipsed moon, adjusting it to the point where a red beam of light perfectly focused into the lens. As she peered into the swirling vortex of red light, she placed her chin on her fingers.

"Interesting. It would seem there is a degree of temporal dilation here."

The Pale Sister raised an eyebrow.

"Temporary what?"

"She means time is moving slower on the outside than it is here," Eula chimed in. Perhaps those physics books she was forced to read as a child were useful after all.

"Miss Chai is right. Sorry, I mean... Miss Eula."

As much as she would have liked to unpack that premonition, the "Warriors of the Deep" had a job to do.

"Anyways, what do you suppose the ratio is then?"

Mona looked up and started tracing figures with her finger.

"Well, if the mere milliseconds it took between our fingertips touching the beacon translated into full minutes, the dilation must be quite large."

Rosaria leaned her head in the way of the scry glass, cutting off the ray Mona was hopefully finished reading.

"Can you say that again, but shorter?"

Mona shot Rosaria an annoyed glance before waving the scry glass away.

"It means days in here are only hours in Mondstadt. We could be down here for quite a while."

"Sounds like a blessing and a curse," the monotonous Diluc chimed in from behind the group, wiping hilichurl ashes off his blade.

"Must you always sneak up like that?" Mona retorted.

"In here? Absolutely. Discretion is the only thing that will keep us alive here. We're lucky that this platoon was so cut off from the rest of the Abyss."

Eula looked back at the chrysalis they had just jumped through. The thought of Amber rushing through blindly to try and save Eula sent a shiver up her spine.

"We'll use it then. The sooner we find who hurt the Traveler, the better. It will be as though we'd never left."

Diluc readjusted his gloves.

"My thoughts exactly. So, shall we continue with the plan?"

 

The next twelve Abyss hours were spent silently moving through the Abyssal Islands. The party would stick to the shadows, listen in on Mages and Lectors when they could, then snuff them out without hesitation.

The Astrologer was gathering good intel on the movements of their forces, but not so much on the more pressing questions they had. She devised that she would get the best read by finding somewhere high enough to the sky to be uninterfered by the mists. At that point, she would not only be able to look into what had happened to Lumine, but also know exactly how the Abyss was corrupting the Waypoints. Perhaps, she could even learn how to stop it.
Of course, Eula considered this as worthy of vengeance, for extending their trip for such an unknown amount of time.

18 hours in, they had isolated a tall peak in the distance that would offer Mona the view she needed. The only problem now was the sea of Abyssal forces blocking their way. In order to progress stealthily, their pace had to be slowed to a crawl.

After 43 hours in the Abyss, they had nearly summited the mountain.

 

Mona let out an exhausted groan.

"Would it kill us to take a quick rest?"

"Yes," all three martialists replied.

"Besides," Eula continued, "we're only here because you insisted on gaining higher altitude for that crystal ball of yours."

Mona shook her fists in annoyance.

"IT'S A SCRY GLASS! And why am I the only one that's tired right now?!"

"This is a regular Sunday night for me."
"I'm a Reconnaissance Captain, it's my job to stay awake for long periods of time."
"I'm more of a night owl."

Mona's exhaustion was replaced with frustration as she continued to trudge up the shoddy mountain path.

Failing to realize the Electro Boom Blossom that was buried beneath her foot.

Upon seeing the explosive flora rise and spin into the air, Eula wasted no time drawing her Song of Broken Pines to knock the Blossom away with a Cryo-infused slash. Meanwhile, Rosaria activated her Vision to dash forth and move Mona to safety.

As the Blossom was knocked away, it exploded in a shockwave of Electro, echoing across the Abyssal Trenches.

The warriors looked down at the ground in horror, as their gaze was met by hundreds of Abyss Mages.

"Dammit! Get to the top, now!" Diluc commanded as he called forth the Wolf's Gravestone.


"Hmmph, how embarrassing!"

Ei paced back and forth through the bedroom she shared with Yae, who was attentively listening to her vents while reading a book under the covers. She giggled as she looked at Ei's pouting face and brushed a finger on her lip.

"So, the true way to best any Archon is to strike at their pocket change... How intriguing. Perhaps that's how I'll lure you out the next time you lock yourself away in the Plane of Euthymia."

"Miko!"

Another taunting chuckle teased the pink out of Ei's cheeks. Yae closed her book and patted on the bed with one of her tails, beckoning the Almighty Shogun to join her in bed. Ei bashfully looked away before shuffling over to take a seat on the mattress.

"Aw, my poor little Shogunate... I thought you liked it when I embarrassed you."

Ei crossed her arms and looked over her shoulder at the smug grin on the Kitsune's face.

"You're the exception, Miko. Not the rule."

Soft fingers caressed around Ei's waist as Yae began trailing kisses up her neck, and onto her cheek. Ei's tensed shoulders eventually relaxed, as she leaned into the Priestess' affection.

"So, tell me what happened after."

"Well, Morax had to call the supervisor of his mortal alter-ego to come and pay the bill for us, and Barbatos and I had to come up with excuses as for why we had left our Mora at home. Truly, humiliating!"

Yae loved it when Ei's eyes flashed whenever she was annoyed.

"Of course, dear. And what of the rest of the conversation you had about the Traveler's brother?"

The frustration in the Archon's face faded away into guilt.

"Barbatos... thinks that he's trying to convince Lumine to join his side."

"Oh? By beating her into a pulp? I'm no stranger to tough love, but even I didn't want to see Lumine leave you within inches of your life."

"You and I both know the Abyss can cloud one's judgement frighteningly fast."

Ei rubbed her palms with her thumbs, still swearing she could see drops of Makoto's blood that hadn't been washed away yet.

"A fair point... I suppose that brings me to my next question."

Ei turned to meet Yae's eyes.

"Do you think he succeeded?"


"SHIVER!"

A javelin of ice crashed down onto a horde of mitachurls, launching them off the cliff with guttural roars.

The Warriors of the Deep had established a chokepoint at the top of the mountain, and were defending the Astrologer as she tried to get a read on the stars.

In an elegant twist, the Spindrift Knight slashed a group of hilichurl shooters into oblivion.

"Fortune-Teller! What are you seeing?"

Mona had just finished aligning her scry glass with the faint stars she could see obscured above them.

"I've barely begun, Captain!"

"You might want to," Diluc grunted as he brought his flaming blade down onto a Cryo Mage's skull, "hurry it up then!"

"Fine- ngh!" An arrow bounced off of Mona's Vision Barrier as she started to peek into the galaxy within her scry glass. "Just keep them off of me for a few minutes!"

A samachurl succumbed to the Deathmatch as it was heaved over Rosaria's head, crashing into another group of grunts.

"So be it! But not a second longer, I don't work overtime!"

With another flourish of the Song of Broken Pines, Eula smashed through yet another Hydro Mage's shield. In a brief glimpse, she saw Amber's woven bracelet fluttering through the air underneath her glove. As it fell, she looked on at the two approaching lawachurls running right behind it. With a deep breath, she drew her claymore back at the ready.

"Eye for an eye."

Unbeknownst to the warriors, a blond haired traveler perched upon a Ruin Grader watched on from afar.

"So, you're the ones she cares so dearly about."

He looked back at two armored figures floating behind him.

"Kill them."


Zhongli stood atop the Wangshuu Inn, staring down at the now caged Waypoint on the ground. His arms were crossed, as a small orb of Geo orbited around him.

"You know I would never force you to return to your old ways, old friend."

The Vigilant Yaksha joined Zhongli at his side, as he always had during the Archon Wars.

"Nonsense. This is the contract we agreed upon. I was made for this."

The old dragon shook his head.

"Perhaps that was my mistake."

Xiao glared up at Zhongli with an accusing glare.

"What do you mean by that?"

A sigh of guilt left the Geo Archon.

"I've seen how your karmic binds weigh on your soul, every day. And I refuse to subject you to that torment any more than necessary."

The eyes on Xiao's mask glowed for a moment. He looked down into his palm, before closing it into a fist.

"I accepted my fate as a weapon long ago, Rex Lapis. You need only ask, and I will always answer, without question."

Xiao placed his hand on Zhongli's shoulder.

"Always."

With a gust of wind, the Conqueror of Demons vanished.

Zhongli was alone, with nothing but an inner monologue to keep him company.


"TIME FOR RETRIBUTION!"

The Phoenix of Dawn cleaved through three Ruin Guards, adding their molten metal to the piles of corpses now surrounding the warriors. But in the net moment, Diluc forced his dirtied claymore up to block the incoming fist of a Stone Lawachurl. The beast roared in satisfaction as the Darknight Hero crashed into the mountain wall, falling onto one knee as he wiped the blood from his lip.

Diluc steeled his nerves and raised up the Wolf's Gravestone as the Lawachurl charged. If this is my end, I shall meet it well. But just as Diluc began his own charge back, the growl of the Lawachurl was suddenly replaced with a choked-out cry.

The Lawachurl collapsed and slid to a halt before Diluc, as he looked up at the Lightfall Sword impaled in his back. Eula stood tall a few feet back, panting away as she wiped some sweat off her brow.

"Distracting me from my own targets to save a Ragnvindr? Mark my words, vengeance will be mine."

Diluc simply nodded in gratitude, the two nobles exchanging a glance of respect before continuing their battles.

Meanwhile, the Pale Sister was overexerting herself trying to take out the spread stragglers who had managed to breach their line. Every dash she made, every back she stabbed, strained her Vision more and more. As she spiraled through a mitachurl's chest, she turned around to see a group of three hilachurl shooters, charging up a full volley of arrows reserved for the Astrologist.

"NO!!!"

She dashed forth with all her might and hurled the Deathmatch at the shooters, but their bolts had already been released. Rosaria watched in slow-motion as the elemental arrowheads exploded onto Mona's back, shattering her Vision Barrier in an instant.

Mona slowly looked down at her abdomen, a sparkling electro arrow now freshly pierced through it. She grunted in frustration as she moved her left hand to apply pressure to the wound, as she forced herself to refocus on the scry glass. Dammit, I'm too close to die now...!

The Astrologist's legs started to give out, having never felt this kind of pain before in her life. She might have collapsed onto the jagged stone, had it not been for Rosaria rushing to her side to help keep her steady.

"What a nuisance..." Rosaria grumbled as she took the time to assess her own injuries. Her eyes narrowed when she placed a finger on her own head and found blood.

"I've.. nngh... almost got it! Just a few more... moments..."

More hilachurls started to approach from behind. Rosaria resorted to her throwing knives and started dispatching them one by one.

A bright light finally began to shine through the scry glass. This is it... Archons, this is it!

Glimpses of past, present, and future came forth to Mona's mind, as time slowed around her to a crawl.

 

The pain in Mona's side was gone. She stood up straight and looked down at herself, hunched over and clutching at her scry glass with desperation. It had been a while since she had used her astral form to perform a reading.

But this time, she was not alone.

"We meet again, Stellaris Phantasm."

She turned around to see a tall, pale-haired man dressed in black, with a strange patch over his right eye.

"So, you're the one who was guiding my readings here."

The man bowed his head in respect, and Mona tipped her hat in response.

"I would introduce myself, but something tells me you already know, Miss Megistus."

"How perceptive of you, Bough Keeper."

Dainsleif smiled.

"It takes one to know one."

The Bough Keeper offered his hand out to Mona, slowly floating in the air.

"Now then, let us find the answers we seek."

 

The Astrologist's eyes glowed brightly for a few moments, until faintly closing as Mona fell back into Rosaria's arms. The scry glass flashed once more, before clattering onto the ground.

Ripping off a Ruin Guard's arm, Eula looked back to see Rosaria carrying Mona. Good grief.

"Diluc, NOW!" Eula commanded, grabbing her sword and rushing over to the side of mountain top's opening.

Diluc nodded, and ran to the opposite side. In a trade of powerful elemental slashes, the two claymore-users struck at the adjacent rocks, causing them to collapse onto the oncoming Abyssal wave. With a final wave of her blade, Eula reinforced the jagged wall with a thick layer of Cryo.

All four warriors panted in exhaustion, as Eula and Diluc rejoined Rosaria and Mona.

"That won't hold for long," Diluc mentioned, already noticing the cracks beginning to form from a twirling Ruin Guard.

"Is Mona alright?"

Mona's eyes fluttered open as she tried to control her breathing, still clutching onto the arrowhead in her side.

"I'll be fine, Captain, though I'd prefer we leave as soon as possible."

Rosaria propped Mona up onto her shoulder. Eula approached and crouched down to eye-level with the Astrologer.

"Not before you tell us what you saw."

Mona looked around at her companions, all now staring out her waiting for answers. She sighed and reached her hand out, summoning the scry glass back into her grip.

"As you wish..."


"You're not telling me something, Barbatos."

The booming voice of Dvalin echoed across the ruined city. Venti slowly stroked his snout, playfully kicking his legs over the edge of the tower.

"I have seen the fear rising in Mondstadt. Tell me what has happened."

The Bard idly tuned his lyre, trying to pretend he hadn't heard Dvalin's request.

"Barbatos... This is my choice. It was you who wished for my freedom, was it not?"

A defeated sigh exited Venti's mouth.

"I know... I'm just, worried, of what might happen if I do."

A whiff of Anemo exited the dragon's nostrils.

"Hmm... Are you scared for me..."

Venti looked up at the ever blue draconic eye staring back at him.

"...or of me?"

"Dvalin... my dearest friend..."

Venti pulled the dragon's head into a warm embrace. A low pur emanated from Dvalin's chest.

"I'll never be afraid of you."

"Then please, tell me what has happened. Tell me what the Abyss has done."


Diluc was particularly taken aback by Mona's revelations about Khaenriah. Though he was still making amends with his half-brother, he would certainly have more questions for him once they returned.

Eula's blood boiled once Mona told them of the three Abyss Heralds who wronged Lumine, and the Abyss Prince leading them. Unfortunately, Mona could not gleam who the Prince was, or what he looked like.

Rosaria was suspicious of the strange ally Mona had made, who needed her to locate the source of the Waypoint's corruption. Apparently, there was a larger chrysalis that was the root of the smaller one the warriors had fallen through, of which there were hundreds. The smaller ones were seeds, with the largest being the main tree.

"The Bough Keeper said he could handle it. I trust him. His constellations didn't lie."

Rocks crumbled onto the ground. Diluc looked between the barrier, then back to the party.

"We're running out of time. Did you find us an exit yet?"

The Astrologer winced, trying to stand up straight, but nodded to the ex-knight.

"It's buried, but close. We can get there if we glide."

"Sounds simple enough," Rosaria said as she looked for an optimal place to jump. "But I'm not carrying you."

Diluc couldn't help but notice Eula's indifference to the sound of an escape route. He saw the way she was looking at the wall, the way she was clutching onto her Vision.

"Surely you're not that stupid, Captain."

Eula closed her eyes and exhaled briskly.

"I have yet to claim my vengeance, Diluc. Besides, what's going to stop them from chasing you down?"

Diluc crossed his arms and thought to himself. He knew that he had no right to judge Eula for her thought process. He would have done the same in her situation.

"Hmm, you're almost as stubborn as me then."

The sound of a blade being drawn caught Eula's attention. As she turned to face Diluc, she saw the gem-embedded handle of the Wolf's Gravestone being offered to her.

"I'm gonna want this back, Eula. And I'll wait thirty seconds after we escape before coming back for you."

Eula gave a bittersweet smile back, grabbing the handle of Diluc's blade.

"Maybe I'll keep it, as atonement for your blights against me."

The disgraced heirs to their clans shook hands for perhaps the final time.

"Fight well, Miss Eula."

The Darknight Hero turned away to join Rosaria and Mona on the edge of the mountain.

"Diluc, if I don't return, please tell Am-"

Diluc raised his hand in protest.

"I won't. Tell her yourself."

Wordlessly, the three said their goodbyes to the Reconnaissance Captain, before silently diving off the mountain.

"BOW BEFORE THE ABYSS!" a cry shouted, as the wall behind Eula shattered to dust. Water began to pool on the mountain top, as a familiar Abyss Herald Mona had described took the stage. Eula looked over her shoulder, and drew out the Song of Broken Pines. Both swords now gripped firmly in each hand, Eula turned to face her challengers.

"Mark my words, Abyssal scum... Vengeance will be mine."

 

A song of clashing iron erupted from the mountain top, drawing the attention of every demon in sight. Sticking to the shadow of the mountain, no one was the wiser of the warriors' descent. As Diluc and Mona began digging through the oil and ash for their escape, Rosaria looked back to the mountain.

The cackles of the Abyss Lectors were shifting to grunts of frustration. The frequent flashes of Cryo waves and Lightfall Swords brought reassurance to her cold heart.

Eventually, Diluc heaved the beacon into place, and the Waypoint began to glow once more.

"So, same as last time?"

"Yes yes, just, hurry up please. This hurts."

Rosaria joined them at the Waypoint and hovered her hand over the Waypoint. She looked to Diluc.

"Why didn't you stay with her?"

The Ragnvindr returned the Sister's inquisitive look.

"Because, she has a reason to return."

Three hands touched the beacon, and the warriors were whisked away to Mondstadt.

 

"SURGING TIDES!"

A barrage of hydro waves flew towards the Spindrift Knight. She ran towards them and tossed the Gravestone into the air, sliding on her knees to avoid the attack. As she returned to her feet, she wound up the Broken Pines and struck the falling claymore directly at the Abyss Herald. The blade embedded itself deep into the Herald's shoulder, as he growled in agony. Eula wasted no time to close the gap and perform a torrent of slashes into his chest plate, before pulling the hilt of the Gravestone away to slash defensively at the approaching Lector from behind.

"You fight well, warrior. Just like your precious Traveler..." the Lector spat out, before unleashing a focused beam of Electro towards the noblewoman.

Eula crossed both blades to form a shield of Cryo, causing a Superconducted blast to erupt forth. The burning bolts of lightning sapped away at Eula's diminishing Vision Barrier.

"Let us see if you can last as long as her, Lawrence."

Water and electricity began to surge around the two Abyssal Elites, as they both entered their enhanced forms.

Eula closed her eyes and focused on her Vision. Frost began to coalesce around the handles of each blade, as she brought the two claymores together and bound them into one. When her eyes opened, she disregarded all needs for elegance, and chose violence.

Whirling the double-headed blade around, she deflected the next wave of Electro that came from the Lector. She then infused the blades with additional Cryo and hurled it behind her. It spun violently into the Herald, quickly freezing it in place before returning to the noblewoman's hand. As she leapt into the air before the Lector, the blades returned to her hand and came smashing down onto the Lector's helm.

His face came crashing down onto the mountain, cracking the stone beneath them. Fueled with rage, Eula continued to smash her blade into the back of his head, with intent to split it in two. Every impact rang out with a terrible CLANG, as the Lector's shield weakened further and further.

A slash of water cut into Eula's back, putting her Barrier on the brink of destruction. She turned back and growled, before dragging the Broken Pine onto the ground and arcing up, sending her own wave of Cryo into the Herald. The Abyssal Elite weaved to the side and launched himself towards the Reconnaissance Captain in a spiraling vortex of Hydro blades.

Eula somersaulted back, wrapping her doubled hilt around the Lector's neck and lifting him around her. The Herald clumsily collided into his ally, sending an Electrocharged shock through all three fighters. Eula was reduced to her knees as her limbs twitched involuntarily, but she quickly shook it off and picked up her combined weapon to continue the assault. Seeing the Herald still convulsing on the ground, and the Lector rising back to its feet, she chose to prioritize the Lector.

The two locked eyes. Eula's grip tightened on her dual sword. Electro concentrated into the Lector's fist. Eula ran forth, and the Lector flew back.

The Abyssal Elite smashed into Eula's midsection as he grabbed her and continued to push forward. Eula grunted in frustration as she started to slash at the Lector's back. The noblewoman was suddenly smashed into a wall from behind, finally breaking through her Barrier. Blood shot out from her mouth as she felt something crack in her chest. The Lector drew back and charged more Electro in his fist. Eula raised her blades in defense, the punch landing directly onto the Cryo-sealed handles, smashing them apart.

Eula didn't care. She redirected the momentum and sent both blades piercing into the Lector's shoulders. He roared in agony, until Eula sent a knee up into his jaw, followed by a Cryo-infused headbutt to the nose. The Lector staggered back, retracting his injured chest from the twin claymores. Blood trickled down from Eula's forehead as she continued her frenzy.

The vengeance-fueled knight unleashed relentless strikes into the Lector's chest, with an occasional Lightfall Sword piercing into his back. The flurry of blows, however, distracted Eula enough for the Lector to land a critical blow into the weakened center of her chest. The wind was forced out of her lungs, forcing Eula to retreat and regain her breath.

"ABYSSAL LIGHT, SHINE!"

Eula looked up just in time to see a massive bolt of lightning hurdling down towards her. She lifted the Song of Broken Pines above her in desperation, as the Electro surged through the metal and into her gloves. Heat began to seer her palms. She screamed out in rebellion, pushing back against the torrenting light, watching cracks begin to form in her signature blade.

Her eyes widened, as the Song of Broken Pines was shattered into splinters.

The force of the blast knocked Eula back further. She plunged her remaining claymore into the ground to stop her momentum, and looked down at the remaining hilt of her beloved sword. The Lector chuckled at her despair, and it filled her with rage.

But as she tried to lunge back into the fray, a Hydro spear plunged through her shoulder. Eula turned around to see the blunt end of a second Hydro polearm collide with her temple, as her hearing suddenly shifted into a high-pitched ringing.

Eula stumbled around the mountain, barely clutching onto the Wolf's Gravestone, before collapsing face-first onto the ground.

 

It was mid-morning when the escaped party emerged from Wolvendom, running straight into a panic-induced Outrider.

"M-Master Diluc? Sister Rosaria? What are you all doing here?"

"I..."

"They were, helping me... rgh...! with some... research," Mona interjected, "but we were ambushed by a hilichurl camp! Could you... nng... help me back to the city, Outrider Amber?"

But the Outrider's memory was too keen for Mona's bluff. She had cleared out this part of Wolvendom a few days ago, and the stains on the Vision Bearers' clothes were all too familiar. A fire lit in her eyes as she realized what had truly happened.

"What... did you all... do?"

At that point, Diluc noticed a finely-written note crumpled up in Amber's hand.

Just then, a branch snapped from the dense flora behind them. They all whipped around and readied their weapons.

 

"I shall say this one last time. You are not a Knight of Favonius. You are a descendant of the Lawrence Clan!"

The Herald and the Lector drew close to the incapacitated noblewoman. Her vision had grown hazy, and she was afraid she didn't have any energy left to spare.

"Oh, the disgrace of it all! How could such a rebellious monster emerge from our own family!?"

She could smell the stench of fermented cabbage from her uncle's breath. Would this be how her story ended? Failing to avenge the second person to ever care about her? Failing to move beyond the legacy of failure her family name brought?

Failing to return to the one she truly loved?

"...Are you seriously falling asleep?"

Eula's eyes refocused as she watched a single snowflake fall before her face. As her vision cleared, she saw a familiar frozen lake, and two figures she knew all too well sitting in the water.

"No, of course. I was just... getting comfortable."

The Baroness giggled and cuddled up to the noblewoman. Her own cheeks flushed red as the brunette placed her head in the nook of her shoulder.

"Fine, then I'll just have to get more comfortable too."

Amber grabbed Eula's arm and wrapped it around herself, as her eyes started to drift off to sleep. The Spindrift Knight couldn't help but allow her heart to be melted in that perfect moment.

As Eula blinked, she returned to her present surroundings, seeing a purple boot stomp in front of her. Her eyes then shifted back down to her hand, still resting over the hilt of the Wolf's Gravestone. She saw the bracelet once more, and refused to let go.

"Some day, everyone in Mondstadt will see you the way I do, Eula."

She slammed her fist into the ground, and slowly pushed herself up.

"What do you see me as, Amber?"

The Noblewoman arose, blowing the blood out of her nose before gripping her claymore.

"Isn't it obvious? You're my hero."

Eula, the Spindrift Knight, looked up at her targets, boring them down with a thousand-yard stare.

"VENGEANCE WILL BE MINE."

 

The triumphant Reconnaissance Captain emerged from the forest, covered in black blood. In one hand, she dragged the borrowed Wolf's Gravestone of Ragnvindr. In the other, she clutched onto two severed heads, one blue, one purple.

"...Amber?"

Tears welled up in the Baroness' eyes as she ran over to Eula.

"You... you stupid brute!!!"

Amber chucked the note back into Eula's chest with all her might, then grabbed her by a torn tie to drag her down to eye-level.

"How could you do something so stupid, Eula?!"

"Amber, I-"

"No, you listen to me! Don't you ever leave me like that ever again! Do you hear me?! You could have gotten yourself killed!!"

An awkward moment of silence floated in the air, before Diluc, Mona, and Rosaria decided to discreetly retreat back to the City. Amber continued to stare at Eula with burning eyes.

"So... you, didn't want vengeance?"

A sharp hand smacked across the Noblewoman's face, as the Outrider continued to cry.

"I never wanted vengeance, Eula! All I've ever wanted was you!"

Eula was left speechless, as her own tears threatened to escape. Amber hovered her hands around Eula's face, then closed them into shaking fists.

"You scared me to death... Damn you...!"

Finally, Amber rushed forward and squeezed her arms around Eula's body, sobbing into her chest.

Eula let her trophies fall from her hands, as she gently held the only thing that mattered to her.


"So, you're sure you can't remember anything else?"

Sucrose finished scribbling down the conversation in her notes, as Lumine shook her head at Jean.

"no... thinking about it, still hurts... I'm sorry..."

Though Lumine was able to walk again, her voice and lungs had still not fully recovered, and her heart was especially still damaged. Jean reached over her desk to hold Lumine's hand, and gave her a comforting smile.

"It's okay, Lumine. We all understand how difficult this is for you. Don't be afraid to take it at your own pace."

Lumine looked away and nodded. Jean exhaled and stood up from her desk.

"Well then, I think that's enough of that for today. You should head downstairs, I heard that Klee has a surprise for you."

 

Lumine had spent 20 days in recovery, before insisting she made good on her promises to be in Liyue for the Lantern Rite Festival.

The story she had told Jean lined up almost identically with Mona's readings. She chose, however, to exclude the detail of her brother being the Abyss Prince. She was relieved to hear that Eula had killed only two of the Abyssal Elites, neither of them being Enjou.

Albedo and Lisa had synthesized a suitable painkiller to suppress the Curse of Agony, which they had learned would last for at least three months. They gave Lumine an ample supply, and also the recipe to give to Baizhu, in case she needed more.

Klee had collaborated with Paimon and Lisa to stitch Lumine's dress back together. They used a special golden thread that Sucrose had accidentally invented with one of her experiments, which made it look like there were cracks sealed with gold on the dress. It was beautiful in its own, imperfect way.

Diona eventually convinced Lumine to try the Ultimate Traveler Elixir. It certainly tasted.
Lumine told Diona that it made her legs feel stronger, which the Catzlein Bartender considered as an ultimate success.

After disobeying orders and jeopardizing citizens of Mondstadt, Jean sentenced Eula to two weeks of unpaid leave. Her punishment may have been more severe, if Jean hadn't admitted to herself that she would have done the same as Eula if their positions were swapped. In that time, Eula would spend every waking hour making up for her mistakes with Amber. The Outrider was pleased, getting to exact vengeance on the Noblewoman after all this time.
Occasionally, Eula would have nightmares of the Abyss. But every time, she would wake up to the warmth of Amber, gently asleep on her chest, reminding her that everything would be okay.

Oddly enough, Kaeya and Diluc were brought back to speaking terms after they had their second confrontation about Khaenriah. Both now had a mutual respect for their reasons to fight for Mondstadt.

Bennett and Fischl were eventually able to deliver their gift of Sweet Madames to Lumine. The Honorary Knight was sure to remind them that they were the reason Lumine survived.

Surprising nobody, Ayaka and Thoma were invited to join Lumine in Liyue. She could have gone to Snezhnaya for all Ayaka cared, nothing would stop her from being at her side. Though Lumine regretted not being able to give Thoma a tour around Mondstadt, he was able to have plenty of fun on his own, enjoying what had changed and remembering what hadn't.

Mondstadt was sad to see Lumine go, but they all understood that there was a reason she was called "The Traveler."

 

One of Lady Ningguang's personal carriages was sent to pick up Lumine and her friends. Thoma was helping load the travel bags Ayaka and Paimon had packed, while Albedo was finishing giving Lumine instructions for her new medication.

"once every twelve hours, always after a meal... I think I've got it."

Albedo nodded, and gave the Traveler a quick embrace.

"One more thing, expect a package from me soon."

Lumine nodded and thanked the Alchemist Chief, before stepping into the carriage to wave goodbye to all of her friends. Though, she couldn't help but notice that Venti was missing.

Before she could explore that thought further, the door shut, and the horses began pulling them away.

"Alrighty! So, are you ready to go to another festival Miss Ayaka?" Paimon asked, licking away sauce on her fingers from some Fisherman's Toast.

Ayaka looked at Lumine and placed a hand on her thigh.

"I wouldn't miss this for the world."

Lumine smiled into Ayaka's beautiful eyes, as they exchanged a brief but heartfelt kiss.

"Hey, I'm here too ya know," Thoma jestfully chimed in.

Ayaka's cheeks were suddenly flushed red with embarrassment.

"Oh, o-of course! I didn't mean to ignore you Thoma, I-"

Thoma chuckled to himself and waved his hands out playfully.

"No no, I was just kidding. I know."

Lumine looked at Thoma and smiled, taking his hand in her own.

"thank you... for bringing her safely."

Thoma nodded.

"Of course. The heart needs what the heart needs."


Things had fallen silent in the Abyss, having lost two of their esteemed generals.

A monolithic purple chrysalis stood tall over the Abyss Prince's Empire.

As Aether pointed his sword at the chin of a lesser Abyss Herald, it put its hands up in surrender. He sighed, and waved off yet another inferior candidate.

"Can no one prove themselves worthy of taking their place as my personal General?!"

The legion of Lectors were frightened by Aether's words, quickly dropping to one knee and bowing their heads in respect.

"We apologize, my Prince," they all said in unison.

Then, a Geo Mage tumbled its way into existence before the Prince.

"M-my apologies, my Prince, but there's been another incursion!"

"You've failed yet another ambush on the Teyvatians?!"

Purple wings burst out from Aether's back, sending all the Abyssal forces cowering in fear. The Geo Mage whimpered as it tried to explain.

"N-no, my Prince! It's Dainsleif! He's-"

Suddenly, a colossal explosion erupted from within the central chrysalis, showering the Abyss with remnants of voidal crystals. Aether watched on in anger.

"No... No no, NO!!!"

He turned around and quickly started barking out enraged orders, sending the Abyss scrambling to do their jobs.

"I WANT EVERYTHING SEARCHING FOR THAT FORSAKEN BOUGH KEEPER! No stones unturned! No one rests until he's FUCKING DEAD!"

"Y-yes my Prince! As you command!"

Then, a shadow dropped over the Abyss Prince's back. He turned around to see a familiar four-winged dragon, charging up a massive ball of Anemo.

Titanic meteors began showering down from the sky.

Green flashes of light started cutting through the Abyssal Legions like grass.

Lightning struck down upon the remaining chrysalis seeds.

 

The second Archon War had begun.

Chapter Text

"So," Thoma gloated as he twirled his spear, pointing it at the throat of an unfortunate Treasure Hoarder, "do you believe me now?"

The Treasure Hoarder shot his hands up in surrender.

"Y-yes! We're sorry! We just, thought your carriage belonged to someone else!"

"That should not matter," Ayaka spoke, sheathing her blade at her side. "Regardless of the owners of this carriage, be it the Tianquan herself or a humble pair of farmers, it gives you no right to claim what isn't yours."

The Treasure Hoarder looked on at Ayaka in amazement.

"I... I-I..."

"Alright, you rascals are coming with us," a Millelith Enforcer commanded as he started to bind the bandit's hands. "Thank you both for the assistance, and apologies for the delay. We will arrive in Liyue Harbor shortly."

Thoma and Ayaka placed their hands together and bowed to the Enforcer.

"It was nothing, sir. We were simply doing our duty."

The Enforcer bowed back, and escorted the prisoners away. With a flourish of starlight, Paimon reappeared beside Ayaka.

"Still as kind as always, Ayaka! And where did you learn to kick your spear like that, Thoma?"

Thoma chuckled and spun the Catch in his hand one more time before desummoning it.

"Oh, that's an interesting story, actually! You see, I grew up doing..."

As Thoma continued to entertain Paimon's curiosity, Ayaka returned to the carriage to check in with her lover.

 

What she found instead was a quivering mess, curled into a fetal position at the corner of the floor.

"Lumi? Lumi, what's wrong?"

Paper-thin irises focused on the Yashiro Commissioner, as Lumine quickly scrambled as far away as she could get from Ayaka, pressing up against the corner of the carriage. Hushed whimpers leaked out between her hyperventilating lungs. Sweat caked her face and palm, as her body continued to tremble in fear.

"Milady, is everything okay?" Thoma asked, realizing the way Ayaka froze in front of the carriage. She turned back with a concerned look in her eyes, placing a finger on her lips before turning back to Lumine.

"Lumi, it's me. It's Ayaka."

The traveler's eyes widened, as she clutched at her chest with her remaining hand. Her heartbeat was rapidly accelerating, shooting jolts of pain through her nerves.

"...wh.. a... Aya...ka?"

Ayaka slowly showed her open hands to Lumine, as she carefully stepped into the carriage.

"Yes, Lumi, it's me. It's okay. You're going to be okay."

Lumine's fingernails dug into her chest as she groaned out in agony. Collapsing to her knees, Ayaka rushed over as gently as she could to hold Lumine in her arms.

"Ayaka... wh...at's h-happening to... me?"

"You're having an anxiety attack, Lumi. Please, focus on me. Focus on my voice, okay?"

Tears streamed down Lumine's face as she looked up into Ayaka's eyes. She gave a small nod, and Ayaka nodded back.

Ayaka closed her eyes and began to hum the tune she had sung for Lumine in the forest.

The soothing melody resonated with Lumine's soul, as her heartbeat began to slow.

Each beautiful note returned full breaths to her lungs, as she grounded herself back to reality.

Ayaka opened her eyes and continued to serenade her lover, watching Lumine's pupils begin to dilate.

Thoma and Paimon slowly approached from behind, as Lumine buried her face in Ayaka's chest and sobbed. The three could only exchange concerned looks with each other, as they realized the extent of the Traveler's damage.

"...w-why is this h-happening...?"


A young actress carefully climbed her way up Mt Hulao, striding around scattered rubble, rocks, and ice. Cloud Retainer followed closely behind, keeping a close eye on the girl.

"I've never met an adeptus before, so it's very kind of you to walk here with me," Yun Jin complimented.

"On the contrary, one has viewed a fair selection of your plays. One believes you have true talent in the performing arts."

"You flatter me, but do you not have more important matters to attend to right now?"

Cloud Retainer remained silent for a moment.

"Since you desire to visit Shenhe, one wishes to stay close to you, in the event that she has another emotional outburst. The red ropes can only do so much to contain the darkness plaguing her soul. You must understand, one is here simply for your safety."

A pang of sadness entered Yun Jin's heart. Everyone the Divine Damsel had grown up around had feared her. It's no wonder she struggled so much to connect with other people.

"...So be it. I'm sure my manager will appreciate your concern."

Eventually, the two rounded a corner to see a freshly carved cave that had been bored into the mountainside. Within it, surrounded by jagged icicles, was the Adepti's Chosen.

"Ms. Yun Jin, one urges you to exercise caution."

The Opera Singer nodded, and gingerly made her way into the opening of the carved cave. The icicles jutting out from the floor and ceiling made it look like the jaws of an adeptibeast, slowly closing in around the Divine Damsel.

Shenhe was sitting in a meditative pose, arms crossed and hands gently placed on her knees. The blue glint of the Calamity Queller sat before her, still with a layer of frost on its four-winged edge.

"Excuse me, Ms. Shenhe?"

As the voice reached the Cursed Child's ears, the icicles around her grew sharper. She quickly turned her head over her shoulder, giving the young actress a cold stare.

Cloud Retainer's watchful eyes narrowed, yet Yun Jin stood her ground. She refused to let herself be afraid of her inspiration.

"Why are you here, Yun?" Shenhe spoke frigidly.

The Opera Singer took another step forward. She could start to see her breath coalescing in front of her.

"Because... Today is the day the Traveler returns."

Upon mentioning the one Shenhe had doomed, her Vision glowed brightly as the icicles grew even further. The walls around the carved cave began to freeze once more. Cloud Retainer stepped forth.

"Shenhe, one thinks that is enough."

The cold was becoming unbearable. Fortunately, Yun Jin brought a jacket.

"Shenhe, please. I'd like you to come with me. This wasn't your doing."

The Divine Damsel of Devastation shot up to her feet, cracking the floor beneath. Her Cryo Echoes started forming off of her, twitching erratically in agony.

"How can you be so sure, Yun? I am the one destined to bring Calamity. This is the fate that has been chosen for me!"

Frozen tears returned to Shenhe's eyes, as a cold headwind burst forth from her soul. Cloud Retainer rushed to Yun Jin, shielding her with one's wings.

"Please, Ms. Yun Jin. You must leave with one immediately."

But Yun Jin refused, pushing the adeptus' wings away to continue approaching Shenhe.

"You have to let me try."

The snow-infused winds howled at the young actress' ears, but she pressed onwards.

"And step," she said quietly, as she stepped through the crevice between the sharpening icicles. Her Vision Barrier activated, as a single Geo Flag appeared at her back.

Shenhe stepped back, balling her hands into fists.

"Yun, please, just leave... LEAVE!!!" the Divine Damsel demanded, as the wind grew stronger. She kicked up her spear and pointed it defensively at the approaching Geo User.

Yun Jin ignored it, her stride never faltering, nose and cheeks starting to turn red from the blistering cold.

"I'll... I'll hurt you, Yun! Just like I nearly killed Lumine! Please, I-I don't want...!"

"You don't want, what?" Yun Jin asked softly, as she grabbed the shaft of the Calamity Queller and pushed it aside, coming within inches of the Cursed Child's face.

A pellet of ice dropped from Shenhe's eyes as she looked into Yun Jin's soul: unafraid, warm, breathtaking, loving.

"I... I don't want to hurt you..."

Yun Jin reached behind Shenhe's neck and pulled her in. Cryo bit at her fingertips, though she didn't mind. She would never be afraid of Shenhe.

"Then prove it."

Her lipstick almost froze to Shenhe's mouth, but within moments, the Cursed Child had been thawed. Shenhe's eyes closed as she allowed her polearm to drop freely from her hand. She wrapped her arms around Yun Jin's back, giving herself into the first kiss she had ever experienced.

They hesitantly released each other, as their foreheads pressed together. Shenhe opened her eyes fearfully, expecting to see a frozen statue of the beloved Opera Singer. She found the same beautiful eyes that had stolen her heart, looking up in admiration.

Something strange stirred in Shenhe's body.

"Yun... what is this feeling?"

Yun Jin smiled, wiping away the thawed tears from Shenhe's eyes.

"Repeat after me, Shen," she instructed softly.

"Wŏ ài nĭ."

Shenhe's eyes widened, as Yun Jin pulled her into a warm embrace. One she hadn't felt since her mother was taken away.

She leaned into the Opera Singer's ear.

"Wǒ yě ài nǐ."


"Welcome back, Lumine."

The first people to greet Lumine and Paimon back were the last people she saw before leaving: Ningguang and Beidou.

The Crux Captain didn't hesitate to pull the Traveler into a hearty embrace. A hint of sadness poked at her heart, seeing and feeling how frail Lumine had become. Archons, was she pale. It wasn't long ago that the two were walking through her home village, discussing the days of old whilst trying to take a flattering picture.

If anything, this was a grim reminder of how dangerous the lives they lead were.

"You gave us quite a scare, Lumine. I'm glad you're back on your feet."

Lumine gave Beidou a hollow smile.

"I'm... still trying."

"I know. At your pace, Traveler," Beidou nodded solemnly. "Remember, you're not alone. I know what it's like to lose a part of yourself. I'll always be here for you if you need to talk."

"thank you."

"Ahoy there, Captain!" Thoma said gleefully, helping Ayaka out of the carriage.

Beidou shook out of her sorrow to catch up with her Inazuman friends. She was, after all, the one who helped then get to Mondstadt quietly.

Ningguang stepped forth, holding a long cloth wrapped around something.

"I heard you had lost your weapon, Lumine. If you don't mind, I took it upon myself to seek out a replacement for you."

Lumine's eyes widened as she peeled the cloth back, revealing a pristine rapier with a clockworked hilt. Ningguang smiled, seeing the part of Lumine that hadn't changed.

"The blacksmith who refined this blade for you said it was called 'The Iron Sting.' Its origins are, almost as mysterious as yours."

As Lumine placed her hand on the blade, the yellow glow on its hilt and pommel changed to match the teal Anemo glow of her dress. The gears slowly began to rotate with satisfying clicks, as she felt the weight of the blade rebalance to accent Lumine perfectly.

"I think it likes you," Ningguang complimented.

The Tianquan lowered her hands, allowing Lumine to hold it freely. But as she tried to sheath it on her back, Lumine's hand trembled, dropping the blade clumsily onto the ground.

The clang of metal meeting stone caught the attention of everyone in the plaza.

"I'm sorry, I'm... not used to..."
"Please, it is quite alright. Here, allow me..."

Ningguang quickly knelt down to retrieve the blade. She briefly inspected the weapon for any chips, if only to ensure that she hadn't been scammed.

"I'll have this brought back to the room waiting for you in the Jade Palace."

Beidou shot a frown at Ningguang.

"Uh, actually I thought she would be staying with me on the Alcor."

"Oh please, you think she'd prefer a dusty hammock over silk sheets?"

"I just think she'd rather be close to the city than suspended up there with all that thin air--"

"actually, I was planning on staying in my serenitea pot... if, that's okay..."

Both women looked at Lumine, then back at each other in embarrassment.

"Oh, right, I forgot about that... That makes sense."
"Of course, my apologies for making assumptions."

Ayaka approached Ningguang and held her hand out.

"I can hold this for her, Lady Ningguang. We all appreciate the patronage, from both of you."

The Tianquan handed the Iron Sting over to the Yashiro Commissioner.

"Well, unfortunately I must go for now. There's still much to be done for the Festival. I'll be seeing you all soon."

"Classic Ningguang, hiding behind her work," Beidou taunted as she crossed her arms. The Tianquan squinted her eyes back at the Crux Captain, before turning back to her custom Geo Platform to take her to the Jade Palace.

Paimon finished checking the carriage for any loose luggage before floating back to Lumine's side.

"Yup! Nothing's left behind! Now let's head to the city, Paimon can taste those Jueyun Chilis already!"

"Right," Beidou clapped her hands together and started walking with Paimon. "Lot of people who are excited to see you, Lumine."

Lumine nodded as Thoma walked past her, both hands filled with large bags.

Ayaka joined her at the left, and offered her arm out to Lumine.

"Shall we?"

Lumine smiled and hooked her arm through her better half, as they walked bravely together into Liyue Harbor.


"So, are you convinced now of the genius of my preorder deals?"

Hu Tao beamed brightly as she popped a prawn dumpling into her mouth. A small squeak leaked out of her as Yanfei elbowed her in the gut. She shrugged accusingly at the half-adepti, only for Yanfei to gesture back at Lumine angrily.

Lumine let out a small chuckle as she took a bite of warm rice. An imp-like smirk creeped onto Hu Tao's face, while Yanfei groaned defeatedly into her palm.

"Alright, here's some Squirrel Fish for Paimon, and extra cold noodles for Chongyun!" Xiangling announced as she slid more dishes on the already-full dim sum table. She took a quick seat next to Hu Tao and took a few pork baos onto her plate.

"Yippee!" Paimon cheered before digging into the platter.

"Is that everything, Xiangling?" Xingqiu asked, as he set his chopsticks down on his plate.

"Nope! Still have some Golden Shrimp Balls frying, and I just finished chopping the veggies for stir-fry!"

"Wow, all this just for lunch? I didn't know the Liyue appetite was so big!" Thoma complimented as he examined a soup dumpling in his chopsticks before taking a bite, slightly spilling hot soup onto his lap.

"Well, that and I think Keqing and Ganyu are still planning on joining us!"

Cold, red eyes flashed through Lumine's mind as her pulse spiked. She quickly forced her hand under the table as it started to quiver.

Chongyun may have noticed, had he not been looking at the streets every few seconds, hoping to see his aunt show up soon to join their table.

"Ah, yes, I've heard a lot of good things about the Qixing. I'd love to exchange notes with both of them," Ayaka added.

Lumine started taking deeper breaths, trying to slow her yet again rising heartbeat. The pain in her chest was starting to return, as her hearing started getting fuzzy again. The conversations from her friends became lost in the noise of the busy Liyue streets.

Refusing to let another panic attack take over, she tried to remember Ayaka's advice and looked around at her friends to try and ground herself.

She saw Xingqiu playfully feeding Chongyun his special cold noodles, giggling as one got stuck to his chin. She saw Paimon arguing with Xiangling over who should get the last pork bao, before mutually agreeing to split it. She saw Yanfei arguing with Hu Tao over the legality of 'pre-planned death dates' for the elderly, also noticing the way their hands were discreetly tangled under the table. She saw how Ayaka was begging Thoma not to tell his new friends about the hotpot game, knowing that something horrific would certainly end up in the soup.

A relieving exhale refocused Lumine to her surroundings, as Ayaka's hand found its way to her thigh.

"Lumi, he's not listening to me. Tell him the hot-pot game's not a good idea right now, please."

"Surely you'll agree with me, right Traveler? After all, you were the one who put that Mist Flower in last time-"

"Sorry we're late everyone!"

Xiangling's eyes lit up excitedly as she stood up to greet the approaching Yuheng.

"Yes, we could have come sooner if someone wasn't sleeping under her desk again!"

"THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICES, TRAVELER."

Lumine's blood ran cold, as she slowly turned around to see a dreadful red gaze peering through her soul.

"..wh...what did you say?"

With a few blinks, her vision corrected to more familiar lavender irises being wiped by Ganyu's own hand.

"O-oh, I was just... apologizing for, my fatigue."

Pulses of blood buzzed at her ears.

"Are you, feeling alright, Lumine?"

Lumine hastily pushed herself up from the table, knocking several plates around as her legs bumped into the wood. The group fell quiet as all eyes fell on the Protector of Liyue.

She looked down, and saw blood leaking out from her abdomen.

"I... n-need to go to... the r-restroom..."

Lumine quickly walked away behind the Wanmin building, colliding her right shoulder into the wall as she felt her throat tightening on itself.

Everyone stared at each other in silence, only interrupted by a panicked 'LAOLAO' from the kitchen as well as a flash of orange.

"I should... probably see what that is," Xiangling awkwardly said as she quickly scampered to the kitchen.

Ganyu guiltily crossed her arms and looked down into her lap.

"Did I... do something?"

"I don't think so," Keqing pondered, as she put her arm around Ganyu's shoulder.

Ayaka debated what to say to the Vision Bearers of Liyue, before politely sliding her chair out and bowing her head.

"My apologies," she said before quickly tracing the Traveler's path.

 

That was stupid of me, Lumine briefly thought to herself as she cowered behind a low tree beneath the raised walkway. Her hand was still desperately clawing at her gut, trying to contain the mess threatening to pour out. Each breath she took shallowed her lungs further, as she could still feel the gaze of the adepti closing in.

She could hear Ayaka calling out her name, yet couldn't muster the strength to answer. Why did I hide from her? I still need her, her mind scolded, before it was overwhelmed by her heart threatening to tear at the seams.

"...m... h-here... Ayaka..."

Her heart continued to pulse, faster, faster, ever so violently, each rush of blood pushing at her eyes and ears. And in an instant, it stopped.

She tried placing a hand on the ground to steady herself, but nothing was there. Lumine collapsed onto her side, convulsing in pain, as shock had its way with her mind, until...

"Lumine?"

A monotonous voice called out, ever so familiar. In the next moment, Lumine felt a cold set of hands on her chest, pressing rhythmically as the same voice counted to five in cycles.

At last, a gasp of air returned to her lungs as her heart resumed to a healthy pace. Her hazy eyes refocused to see a paper talisman hovering above her head, and a different set of red eyes.

"Is, Lumine alright now?"

The Traveler let out a cry of relief, as she sat up to hug her undead companion.

"Did Qiqi do a good job?"

Hugs were usually supposed to be warm, but Qiqi offered a different kind of comfort when her cool hands pressed around Lumine's chest.

"you did, you saved me, Qiqi. thank you."

"Oh. Qiqi is... glad."

The Zombie stepped back from Lumine and pulled out her notebook, quickly noting this grand occurrence. Lumine smiled and planted a kiss on Qiqi's forehead.

"You... had me worried, Lumine. What's, happening?"

Lumine suddenly remembered the blood she was trying to contain, and looked down at her abdomen to find... nothing? Not even a hint of crimson was evident on her repaired dress. She looked at the ground expecting to find trails of her blood, only finding vibrant green grass and polished cobblestone.

"I... think I had a nightmare."

"Oh... When you were awake?"

Surprised that she didn't have to explain it further, Lumine nodded. Qiqi nodded back, and flipped through the pages of her notebook.

"Qiqi has those too sometimes. Why, don't know. Dreams or memories, don't know either."

She then turned her notebook around to show Lumine scribbled drawings of monsters, with long fingers and obscenely large eyes.

"Took some time, but Qiqi learned how to tell, and, how to... live with them."

Lumine leaned in and gently grasped Qiqi's wrist.

"can you tell me who helped you?"

 

Ayaka was considering searching the docks, before she finally caught a flash of blonde hair from the corner of her eye. Relief washed over her as she saw Lumine walking towards her, holding the hand of a pale child with an odd hat.

"Oh, thank the Archons!" she exclaimed, as she rushed to Lumine and embraced her once more.

"I'm... sorry I ran, I... shouldn't have done that."

Ayaka kissed Lumine's cheek, then drew back to look her in the eyes.

"It's okay, I... think I know what's happening to you now-"

"I think I know too... Qiqi explained it to me."

Right, Ayaka had forgotten that Lumine wasn't alone. She looked down to see the pale child, reaching out an open hand to her.

"Hello, I am Qiqi. I am, a zombie. And... I am, Lumine's friend."

Ayaka smiled, and gently shook Qiqi's hand.

"It is an honor to meet you, Qiqi."

 

After an hour of less light-hearted conversation at the lunch table, Thoma and Paimon returned to tell everyone the news.

"I was, hoping I was wrong earlier today, but..." Thoma nervously scratched the back of her head. "We're pretty sure that Lumine has post-traumatic stress disorder."

The truth stung at the hearts of the Vision Bearers. Keqing inquisitively placed her hand on her chin, while Ganyu couldn't bring herself to look up from her lap.

"Mmhmm..." Paimon sadly reaffirmed, "but her and Ayaka went to Bubu Pharmacy to talk to Bai Zhu! If there's any cure for it, that guy's gotta know, right?"

"Hmm, that explains her unusual reaction, but why was Ganyu a trigger...?" the Yuheng pondered to herself.

A tear dropped from the Qilin's eye and quietly soaked into her glove.

"I... must have done something to her..."

Noticing her beloved starting to cry, Keqing quickly pulled Ganyu into her shoulder.

"No, that... that can't be it, coco. You've been far too kind to Lumine to even consider that!"

"Then... why is she scared of me?" Ganyu questioned, softly sobbing into Keqing's dress.

"I..."

But the cunning Yuheng couldn't answer her question. How much did the Traveler go through in the Abyss?


Much to Lumine's despair, Bai Zhu couldn't procure a mystical herb that would wipe away her anxieties with one whiff. Instead, he examined the formula Albedo and Lisa had synthesized, and urged Lumine to continue her recommended dosages. He said that the way the medicine worked would help keep her heart in check, for the most part.

As for the hallucinations and triggers, Bai Zhu tasked Qiqi with staying by Lumine at all times while she was in Liyue, so someone would always be with her in case she had another attack. Though Ayaka would have liked to have this role as well, Bai Zhu insisted that Qiqi was well trained to handle these situations. Though, he reassured her that Lumine's love for Ayaka was a very powerful ally to use as well.

Lumine regretfully had to put a rain check on her plans to feast with Beidou and Ningguang tonight, as she was instructed not to put herself in scenarios that may trigger her again. Having two episodes in one day had strained her heart enough, especially considering that it had stopped entirely without Qiqi's help.

Lumine, of course, insisted on Ayaka, Thoma, and Paimon going without her. She knew how much of a blast the feasts were with Beidou, and wouldn't have forgiven herself if she forced Ayaka to miss out. Hesitantly, Ayaka planted a kiss on Lumine's lips before leaving to enjoy the rest of her night in Liyue Harbor.

"Qiqi thinks you should rest now. Is Lumine tired?"

Lumine thought to herself for a moment, remembering a promise she had made in Mondstadt.

"a bit... but there's something I'd like to do first. can you help me find someone?"

Qiqi skimmed her notebook to search for anything that would consider this as an unhealthy choice, but found nothing. She looked up to Lumine, and nodded.

 

Childe was watching the Crux Feast from afar, sitting on one of the support beams beneath the wooden docks on the harbor. The way they cheered, argued, and laughed, reminded him of the family dinners he would have at home.

He smiled to himself as he heard a separate beam creak, relieved that the Traveler had found the note he had left her at their weekly sparring spot.

"Took you long enough, girlie. Has all that leisure time made you soft?"

Lumine playfully slapped Childe on the shoulder, even her playful hits were harder than that, before taking a seat beside the Harbinger. He looked back with a confused smile as Qiqi's legs dangled off the edge of the dock.

"And you... brought a friend?"

"it's okay, I told her not to remember this."

Noticing how nonchalant Lumine had said that, Childe couldn't help but shrug it off.

"You have a strange taste in companions, girlie."

"you have a strange taste in bosses."

"Oh, do we really need to have the alignment talk again?"

Normally, the two could have retorted each other for hours on end. But now, Lumine couldn't pretend that it was as entertaining to her as it used to be. She looked at Childe with a coldness in her eye, notifying him that she was here for serious topics. Childe's smirk faded, as he nodded in understanding.

"I'd... like to tell you about, what happened."

Chapter Text

"PAIMON, RUN!!!"

Lumine had no time to plan, resorting to pure instincts as she summoned her Longsword to battle. She could only hope that Paimon was wise enough to fly away as she dropped a Starfallen Meteor atop the surrounding Abyss Mages.

The Honorary Knight wasted no time to summon an Anemo Tornado, while simultaneously infusing her Longsword with Electro. Using multiple elements at once was taxing on her body, but this was calling for her to use everything she had.

The four Abyss mages struggled to fly out of the torrenting winds, but were sucked in as their shields were Swirled into oblivion. With a mighty slash, Lumine extended her Electro blade forth, tearing the Mages asunder.

Already panting for air, Lumine wiped the sweat from her brow and looked up to see the legions of the Abyss charging towards her. This was bad, she thought, noting how she was already winded.

As volleys of arrows fired into the sky, Lumine could only tighten the grip around her Longsword, as she charged forth.

 

Hundreds of corpses had piled up by the first hour, and Lumine's Astral Barrier was already giving out.

She sent forth a wave of Electro Blades into oncoming hilachurl berserkers, reducing them to scorched piles of flesh. A second hilachurl ambushed from behind, smashing a wooden club over the back of the Traveler's head.

Ouch, she admitted, before shoving her sword into its face. She turned to fight the enemies from behind, but a twitching claw latched onto her ankle as one of the berserkers crawled its way to intercept. Frustrated, she turned back to slice off its arm, giving ample opportunity for a Pyro mitachurl to slam its axe directly into her cheek.

As her Astral Barrier shattered, a searing hot blade dug its way into Lumine's cheek. The force of the mitachurl sent Lumine hurling into even more Electro hilachurls, who wasted no time to kick and tear into her flesh.

"WAKE OF EARTH!" Lumine cried out, sending the Abyss flying back with a destructive wave of Geo. She quickly jumped to her feet and put a hand up to her cheek, inspecting the blood that was now leaking from her face.

But there was no time to rest.

 

By the fourth hour, Lumine was caked in Abyssal blood, yet refused to yield to the legions.

As she finished plunging her sword into the skull of a Lawachurl, she quickly jumped forth to tackle an oncoming Pyro Mage out of the sky. The Pyro shield burned at her skin as they both tumbled to the ground. Wrapping her hand around its throat, she coated her Longsword in Electro as she prepared to pierce its pathetic heart.

"W-wait!!" the Mage pleaded, holding its hands out. "I-I can take you to your brother!"

The bloodlust in Lumine's eyes suddenly faltered.

"...What-?"

In that moment of weakness, a Dendro Mitachurl wasted no time to charge into Lumine, pinning her against its shield.

The Traveler was forcefully shunted into the side of a cliff, a shockwave erupting out upon impact. As the mitachurl continued to crush Lumine deeper into the wall, she felt her shoulders begin to pop out of place, her ribs crumpling into submission. As she felt her eyes bulging out of her skull, she saw the Pyro Mage chuckle victoriously before disappearing in a flash of Pyro.

Curses, she thought to herself, as her sword clattered out from her hand and her vision faded to black.

The impact of three Ruin Guards landing on the ground forced Lumine awake. The mitachurl that was pinning her had backed off, planning to watch the show as mechanical war cries filled the air.

Lumine retrieved her sword and began to stand up, summing a Starfallen Meteor at her side. She slammed her right arm into the meteor, wincing as her shoulder cracked back into place.

The Ruin Guards prepared to launch a salvo, and her battle continued.

 

How the hell did it come to this, Lumine thought as she pulled her Longsword out from the destroyed thruster of a Ruin Hunter, which was now crashing down into the earth.

This was the 13th Ruin Construct she had destroyed in the 10 hours she had spent in the Abyss.

Lumine barely jumped to safety as it exploded onto the ground, rolling onto her back to disperse the force. She shrieked out in pain as she felt sharpness drive deeper into her back, now remembering the arrowheads that she had suffered earlier, now shoved deeper by that maneuver.

She groaned in defiance, forcing her Longsword into the ground as she rose back up to her feet. Her wearied eyes looked on as more hilachurl shooters prepared their crossbows.

She punched her hand out, summoning yet another Windblade Vortex to force the shooters in, Swirling the Cryo they had intended for her.

Suddenly, the jagged teeth of a Rifthound dug into Lumine's leg, forcing her down to one knee. She cried in agony, releasing the Windblade too early to secure her kills. Her Longsword returned to her hand, and she repeatedly stabbed the Rifthound in the face until its jaw went lifeless.

Grunts of pain continued to leak out of Lumine as she looked down at her mangled thigh, seeing the acidic bite eat away at her flesh. But her attention refocused as she heard the hilachurl shooters grunt, finding their way back to their feet.

Biting down the pain, she limped her way forwards to finish them off.

 

The fist of a familiar Abyss Herald collided into Lumine's temple, sending her face straight into the ground. She felt her skull crack, and fresh blood started seeping into her left eye. As her vision blurred, she swore she could see something white floating around in the mist beneath a distance platform.

Oh, so that's where she hid, she thought as she shakily pushed herself to continue her 23rd hour.

"There's no Dainsleif to save you this time, Traveler," the Herald taunted, as he was joined by a second Electro Lector, and a third Pyro Lector.

Lumine staggered to her feet, stepping back a few times before regaining her balance. She spat blood onto the ground before raising her Longsword once more.

"Do your worst..."

 

Every nerve in her body was begging her to stop, as Lumine pinned the Pyro Lector's arm to the floor with a Geo stalactite. She ignored the cries of her ruined leg as she wrenched the Lector's arm back.

But the howls of pain coming from the Abyssal Elite reinvigorated Lumine's bloodlust as she continued to pull, watching strands of black muscle tearing under her feet.

Unfortunately, a blast of Electro and Hydro crashed into Lumine's back, throwing her forwards before she could tear the limb off entirely.

As she laid on the ground, twitching involuntarily from her Electrocharged blood, she felt the last ounces of strength leaving her body.

Is this my end? She watched the Herald stomp onto her trusty Longsword, shattering it into pieces. She felt a part of her own will die with her blade.

Did I do enough? She felt armored fingers wrap around her throat, lifting her up by the neck to look death in the face.

Do they still need me? She felt her heart faltering, as her legs and arms started to go limp.

 And yet, miraculously, something caught her eye.

Her tired pupils drifted down to the void below, and noticed a small fae flying out from the mist, choking on its poisonous air.

I have to protect them.

Her eyes widened. Her palm opened, summoning an Anemo Vortex to draw her remnant blade back to her hand.

Before the Abyss Herald could react, she plunged the jagged end directly into his eye. He screamed out in agony, as Lumine let out her own primal cry, pushing her blade deeper, and deeper into his forsaken skull.

The Herald's grip loosened, as Lumine retracted the blade and landed on her feet. The Abyssal Elite staggered back into the arms of the still-standing Electro Lector, who had been busy tending to the Pyro Lector's wounds.

With each quivering step Lumine took forwards, the Elites retreated back further. Her grip tightened further around her remnant blade, ready to continue her frenzy until there was nothing left.

 

And then, a gilded longsword plunged through her abdomen.

 

Without the energy to scream, she could only gurgle a mouthful of blood.

 

The blade skewed upwards, slicing up into her chest, cutting into her beating heart. Tears of agony streamed down her face.

 

The blade twisted.

 

Refusing to go down without a fight, Lumine summoned the last of her strength to turn around an clutch at the throat of her murderer.

 

She squeezed down on a warm throat, eyes seething with rage. She was so close... dammit, she was so close...

 

But her rage was slowly replaced with regret, as she realized whose golden eyes she was staring into.

 

"I'm so sorry, Lumine..."

 

Tears streamed down the faces of the twins, as Lumine's hand fell limply from Aether's throat.

The last of her determination left her, as she leaned limply into her brother's shoulder.

"Curse this forsaken world... Why couldn't you have woken up by my side...?" Aether sobbed out.

Lumine could only listen, as she felt her life draining away from her eyes.

"Why did you have to fall in love with our enemies, Lumine?"

She felt her brother's arms wrap around her, as warm tears soaked into her own shoulders. Her own sorrow dropped over the end, falling into the void of the Abyss.

"It's not fair, Lumine... It's not fair..."

She was too tired to feel the pain anymore. Too tired to process the jagged truth of the Abyss Prince.

"Please, understand... I had to do this."

Aether extracted his blade from Lumine's back, as rivers of crimson seeped out from the gaping hole he had created.

"I thought I could wait... I thought you could learn, but... you're too invested now."

Lumine's eyes grew hollow, as her eyelids began to close for perhaps the final time.

 

"I'll come find you when this is all over... I'm sorry."

And so, the Traveler fell.


"Jeez. So what happened next?"

Beidou refilled her stein of ale as she questioned Paimon, all eyes at the table now focused on the Traveler's best friend.

"Well, it was super scary! The Raiden Shogun was walking up to Lumi, and her eyes were like, super purple! Way more purple than normal! And the Moosey No Hitabachi was still sparking in her hand, ready to cut the Traveler's head right off!"

Xingqiu was practically halfway across the table, leaning forwards to Paimon as he continued to write notes in his journal.

"Uh huh, and then?"

Paimon proudly ruffled Thoma's hair before placing her hands on her hips.

"Well, you tell them, hero!"

Thoma chuckled embarrassedly as he waved his hands in protest.

"Oh, please, we all know Lumine was the true hero of the-"

"Ah, cut the shit Thoma! Tell us!" Beidou interjected, as Thoma rolled his eyes before agreeing.

As the story continued, Ningguang set foot on the docks, followed by an actress and an exorcist.

"Normally I would have forgiven you for starting without me, Beidou. But it would seem you have forgotten about other esteemed guests this time."

As the guests of the feast turned their heads to see the new arrivals, Yun Jin politely curtseyed her blouse, while Shenhe discreetly positioned herself behind the Opera Singer.

"Auntie Shenhe!" Chongyun burst ecstatically as he ran out from his seat to embrace his long-lost family member. Shenhe remembered how Yun Jin had made her feel earlier today, and did her best to replicate that embrace on her nephew.

"Well well well, if it isn't Shenhe and Yun Jin. I knew you two had good chemistry."

"Wh-what??" Shenhe exclaimed as an unfamiliar hue of red reached her cheeks. Yun Jin, however, proudly smiled back as she left a quick kiss on the Divine Damsel's cheek.

"Oh, and I guess you showed up too Ningguang."

The Tianquan rolled her eyes, but snuck a discreet smirk on her face that only the Captain knew how to recognize.

"Come on Auntie, I saved you a seat!"

Surely enough, there was an empty space beside Xingqiu and Chongyun, though there was only room for one. Realizing this, Yanfei immediately grabbed Hu Tao's outer thigh and pulled her in to create space for Yun Jin.

"Ooh, and the night is still so young!" Hu Tao teased, as Yanfei's face grew hot.

"Sh-shut up!" she protested as she lightly slapped her lover on the cheek.

Seeing that accursed grin return to Hu Tao's face, Yanfei feared that she might have enjoyed that a little too much.

"Oookay, that's enough drink for Hu Tao I think," the Yuheng concluded as she grabbed the Funeral Director's chalice.

Greetings were exchanged as the new arrivals took their place at the table, with Ningguang taking a seat across from Beidou.

"Though I'd love to allow you to continue the fascinating story we interrupted," the Tianquan began, "I can't help but address the beast in the harbor."

All eyes turned on Liyue's smartest woman.

"Why isn't Lumine here?"

Though the red ropes suppressed her own emotions, Shenhe still felt she was quite adept at detecting them in other people. And the mention of the Traveler brought a wave of sorrow over the guests at the feast.

"She... couldn't make it tonight," Ayaka answered, placing her chopsticks on her plate.

"Lumine has been having difficulties, adjusting to her old ways after the incident."

Yun Jin placed her arm around Shenhe's shoulder, as if to remind her that this still was not her fault.

"Just say it, Ayaka," Beidou said sharply, hoping to move past it as quickly as possible.

Ayaka looked guiltily at the Crux Captain, and swallowed down her own fears.

"She has PTSD."

Ningguang crossed her hands under the table and looked into the reflection of her own empty plate. I should have known.

Shenhe's hands involuntarily curled into fists, but Yun Jin quickly rushed her fingers over to loosen their grip.

"Ah. I... understand. Thank you for telling us," the Tianquan concluded.

Looking at the gathered Vision Bearers, she couldn't help but notice that Ganyu refused to return her gaze.

"Lady Ganyu, is something the matter?"

The Qilin didn't respond, looking down at her crossed fingers beneath the table. The Yuheng debated stepping in to defend her wife, but couldn't bring herself to stand up to the Tianquan.

"ihurther…” Ganyu whimpered.

"What was that?"

"I... I hurt her!" the Qilin finally spoke up, slamming her hands onto the table and frightening everyone around her.

"Ahaha, maybe we can talk about something else...?" Paimon awkwardly suggested, desperately trying to defuse the situation.

"What do you mean by that, Lady Ganyu?" Ningguang continued to press on.

"I... I don't...! She just, looked at me, a-and... her eyes... She couldn't stop shaking..."

"So she was scared of you? What could you have done to scare her-"

Keqing finally snapped, and shot to her feet.

"Ningguang, that's enough. Ganyu feels guilty enough without you interrogating her."

"Both of you, knock it off." Beidou joined the standoff, now speaking in her Captain voice. "We're here to enjoy each other's company, not-"

"Are we here to do that, Beidou? Today was the day we were supposed to greet the Traveler back to Liyue Harbor, and now she can't even be with us anymore."

"Ning, what the fuck is your problem?!"

The rest of the Vision Bearers continued to watch on, not sure if they should leave the table or enter the fray.

"I just wanted to help, I... I just..."

Ganyu was finally reduced to tears, as Keqing quickly pulled her back into a comforting embrace. Muttering apologies seeped out into her shoulder, as the Yuheng stared daggers into Ningguang.

"Thanks, 'my Lady.'"

Beidou threw her hands up in frustration, then rested them on her hips.

"Are you proud of yourself yet, Ningguang? You sucked the joy out of our fun, yet again."

Ningguang rolled her eyes and scoffed back at the Captain.

"That wasn't my intention and you know that. I just don't-"

"Please, there's no need for animosity-" Ayaka tried to interject.

"-I'm sorry Miss Kamisato, but this needs to be said-" Ningguang continued. "I don't understand why we can't talk about what happened!"

"BECAUSE WE ALREADY FUCKING KNOW!!!" Beidou screamed, and hurled her stein at Ningguang's head.

The Tianquan quickly stepped to the side, as the stein shattered on the dock behind her.

Silence fell on the feast as Beidou panted in rage, a single tear forming in her eye.

"We already know that this isn't fucking normal..." the Captain continued as she placed her hands on the table and sunk her head beneath her shoulders.

"The Traveler almost died because of us, Ning... Why do you think that is?"

Ningguang opened her mouth to speak, yet for the first time in years, found no answer to respond with.

"Because Lumi cares about you all," Paimon finally answered.

Her words stung at Beidou's heart, as a single sob snuck its way through her armor. She wiped her face clean and turned to face the fae, her eye now filled with guilt.

"And what if we don't deserve that?"

Shenhe took a deep breath, and stood up from the table.

"My apologies, but I refuse to let you all tear each other apart when the sole perpetrator of Lumine's demise is so obvious."

She placed a hand on her chest and closed her eyes.

"It's my fault she was nearly killed."

"Shen, please..." Yun Jin placed her hand on the Cursed Child's shoulder.

"Yun, let me do this." The Opera Singer defeatedly let her hand fall to her lap.

"I am the one cursed to bring calamity. Not Beidou, or Lady Ganyu, or anyone else at this table. When I saved you all from Beisht's tidal wave, I knew it would have come at a cost."

Shenhe looked at her palms.

"It is clear to me now, that cost was the one I had spent the most time with. Lumine."

Another moment of silence hung in the air, before Beidou crossed her arms and locked eyes with Shenhe. The Divine Damsel braced for impact, expecting the Crux Captain to dive over the table and drive a claymore through her heart. She was surprised, when the Electro User opened her mouth to speak instead.

"Respectfully, Ms. Shenhe, you're full of shit."

Shenhe frowned at Beidou's claim.

"Excuse me?"

"If anyone's to blame here, it certainly isn't you."

Beidou's voice wavered for a moment. She closed her eye and quickly wiped a second tear away before continuing to speak.

"Lumine left days after the Beisht attack. And only one of us was with her right before she used that fucking Waypoint."

Realizing what Beidou was about to say, Ningguang reached out to her in protest.

"Bei..."

But the Crux Captain turned a cold shoulder to the Tianquan.

"was the one who didn't stop her from using that thing. I've never trusted them, but my own stubbornness refused to tell her, or any of you, why."

She wiped her nose, as a frown forced its way onto Beidou's face. She started looking up at the Harbor, losing the strength to look her friends in the eyes.

"I... I could have stopped all of this..."

"No, Bei." It was the Tianquan's turn to confess. "By that logic, the responsibility falls to me. The Traveler spent that entire day with me, because she was the only one I could trust to take over the work of my secretaries. I must have exhausted her to the point where she couldn't bear to take a longer route to Mondstadt."

"But... none of you triggered her," Ganyu added. "I did, and... it scared her away from being here tonight..."

"No no, no!" Paimon finally screamed, stomping her foot into the air as she floated her way to the center of the table.

"All of you've got it wrong! You can't all go blaming yourself for this, it was the AbyssThey're the one's who planned this whole messed-up plan in the first place!"

The fae crossed her arms and wiped her nose.

"Paimon should know... I was there too."

Those still standing were touched by Paimon's words, and retreated back into their seats.

"Shit... I guess you're right."
"Of course, self-blame will accomplish nothing."
"That is a logical observation."
"...I'm sorry..."

"Now, can we all please get along and keep eating? Paimon's still starving!" The fae triumphantly placed her hands on her hips, before floating back to her own spot.

"We can keep talking about this if we want, but no more blame game! Okay?!"

The guests all nodded, and quietly began to resume conversation. Paimon picked up her chopsticks before a hand placed itself on her shoulder.

She looked back at Ayaka, who gave her a thankful nod. Paimon smiled back, and proceeded to stuff herself with fried fish.


"Shit, I..."

Childe ran his fingers through his hair, staring down at his and Lumine's reflection on the water.

"I don't know what to say."

Lumine placed her hand on Childe's leg. Guilt shot through him as he saw how she now had to reach over her own lap.

"you don't have to say anything..."

"No, I... I should!" Childe retorted, gesticulating with his hands.

"I'm the one who called you here, not the other way around. I thought I could bring you comfort, since I've been there too..."

He what?

"But, fuck... even I can't imagine going through what you did..."

The thought of Ajax having to face his beloved Teucer struck fear into the Harbinger's heart.

Lumine looked into Childe's deep eyes.

"what do you mean?"

Childe blinked out of his nightmare scenario.

"Sorry... what?"

"you said you've... been there?"

"Oh, right." The Harbinger scratched the back of his head.

"Yeah, I've... been to the Abyss before. When I was young."

The two looked out into the night ocean, watching gentle waves create whitewash on the far waters.

"tell me more."

Childe looked back at Lumine with a concerned frown.

"please. I want to know."

Ajax took a deep breath, finally sharing the secret he swore not to share.

"I was fourteen at the time. Life in Snezhnaya was boring me, and I wanted to become the hero my father had named me after. So I ran."

Lumine nodded, intently listening to her friend.

"I ran far, far away from my home, with nothing but a blade and a bag of bread in my hands. I ran so far, that I got lost in the woods."

Ajax scratched his chest, remembering a scar from a time long past.

"Little did I know that I had wandered into the territory of wolves, and I quickly found myself as the prey of their hunt."

The story was briefly cut off at the sound of a shattering cup, as both friends looked back at the now silent feast.

"By the Tsaritsa, this is embarrassing..."

"please... tell me more."

Ajax sighed, and honored his sparring partner's request.

"I... got clumsy. Ended up falling into a crevice no man would ever discover. And when I woke up... well, you've seen the way the sun shines down there."

The Snezhnayan unclipped his Vision from his waist, and stared into the swirling Hydro symbol.

"I was found by a mysterious swordswoman... Second best warrior I've ever known. For three months, she trained me in that damn crucible..."

His grip tightened around the Archon-granted focus.

"When I eventually escaped, it had only been three days."

He nodded to himself, before flicking the Vision into the air to catch it with his other hand, clipping it back into place on his belt.

Ajax looked back at Lumine, eyes filled with wonder.

"I've never told that story to anyone before, Lumi. Not even my mama."

Childe inhaled, and blew out a sigh of relief. The darkness he carried with him felt lighter now.

"Part of me thinks that Ajax died somewhere, in the Abyss. Same part that thinks Tartaglia, the greatest warrior in Teyvat, replaced him."

He nodded to himself, before feeling an arm wrap around his chest and onto his back. Childe looked down to see Lumine holding him in an embrace.

"I'm sorry that happened to you..."

Childe returned the embrace, leaning his head over Lumine's.

"No Lumi, I'm sorry it happened to us."


"Torn, to Oblivion."

With a flourish of her blade, the Raiden Shogun summoned a final torrent of lightning behind her, reducing an Electro Lector to smoldering ash.

She began to approach an injured Pyro Lector, trying desperately to crawl away from the incoming Archon.

"It... wasn't supposed... to end this way..." the thing calling itself Enjou cried out.

But the puppet had never learned mercy. It continued to approach, the Stormy Eye of Judgement staring down at the last enemy in its path.

The cry of a dragon came from behind, as Rex Lapis and Barbatos landed at her side.

"She... told me it would be... different..." Enjou pleaded, as he rolled onto his back to look the Archons in their eyes.

"She told me... you all had changed..."

The Shogun continued to approach, unmoved by his pleas.

Rex Lapis placed a hand on the puppet's shoulder.

"Ei, please. He is clearly in no condition to fight. Can we not show mercy?"

The eyes of the Raiden Shogun met Rex Lapis briefly, before swiftly flicking its hand at Enjou.

The Musou no Hitotachi burrowed into his throat, as the last choked gasps of life left his body.

"...why...?" he pleaded, as the Abyssal Researcher passed on.

Rex Lapis frowned in disappointment, as Barbatos watched in shock.

The divine blade returned to the Raiden Shogun's hand, who quickly dismissed it back into the Plane of Euthymia. It turned back to its fellow Archons.

"An Archon must have no mercy."

The Raiden Shogun walked past the two, already searching for more targets.

"This is the path of Eternity."

Chapter Text

A week had passed since the Traveler arrived in Liyue, and tonight was going to be the opening of the Lantern Rite Festival.

Lumine had decided to take Ayaka on a walk to the northern cliffsides, to clear her head and admire the view with the one she loved most.

Paimon was still with Thoma, having both agreed that they could handle everything the Traveler usually would have been doing herself.

Qiqi was keeping close, yet also leveraging the opportunity to grab some herbs she knew Bai Zhu would need.

The golden sun bathed Liyue in vibrant colors, as Lumine and Ayaka approached the apex of the cliff, hand-in-hand. A butterfly flew past them, and caught the attention of the curious zombie.

"Ooh, pretty..." Qiqi murmured as she started to follow the colorful insect.

Lumine giggled as she watched the butterfly circle around her friend, and looked back to see Ayaka watching her in admiration.

"...what is it?"

Her smile was ever so radiant, as she wiped something out from her eye.

"That's the second time I've seen you laugh since our journey together."

Lumine caressed Ayaka's cheek and leaned in.

"it's easy to feel like myself when I have you."

The lovers exchanged a heartfelt kiss, until a gust of wind blew past them.

The Traveler looked back where Qiqi was playing, and found nothing.

"...Qiqi?"

A paper talisman floated down from the sky, and Lumine's eyes widened.

But before she could turn to warn Ayaka of the attack, a sharp pain pierced through Lumine's back.

A pained gasp exited her mouth, as she looked down at a barbed Dendro vine that had punched straight through her chest.

"LUMINE!!!" was all Ayaka could scream, before the Traveler was forcefully pulled into the vices of a Dendro Herald.

The Herald's arm crushed around Lumine's neck as she tried to reach out to Ayaka.

Wasting no precious seconds, the Yashiro Commissioner drew her Amenoma Kageuchi and extended her fan.

"Kamisato Art!" she announced, failing to notice the voided portal opening behind her.

"-ghrrk-! a... AYAKA!!!"

Lumine cried out desperately, as the horrific sound of crushing bones and squelching flesh filled the air.

Ayaka's eyes narrowed as she traced the blood spilled on the grass before her back to her own chest. A bloodsoaked glove was now protruding from her own chest, clutching onto her own beating heart.

"I can't believe you." Aether stared into her sister with unfeeling eyes.

Blood choked out from Ayaka's mouth as her arms went limp, her sword and fan tumbling onto the ground.

Tears of agony seeped from Lumine's eyes as she began thrashing at the Dendro Herald.

"You can't stay with her, Lumine. Consider this as mercy."

With a soul-shaking squelch, the Abyss Prince crushed Ayaka's heart into a bloody pulp.

Lumine screamed with all her might, throwing her forearm straight into the Herald's face.

 

And her eyes opened.

 

She was back in her bed, surrounded with the silk sheets the Tianquan had gifted her. Lumine was sitting upright, drenched in sweat as she looked around her room for danger.

No portals. No Abyss. No Aether.

But as she looked down at her hand, she saw a splatter of blood on the back of her forearm.

A stifled groan from beside made her blood run cold.

"...no..."

It was as if parts of her nightmares were starting to spill over into the real world. Lumine quickly whipped around to see Ayaka, wincing in pain with a hand pressed against her now split lip.

Ayaka was bleeding on her bed, and it was all Lumine's fault.

"...It's okay, Lumi..."

"AYAKA!"

Lumine quickly rushed to her girlfriend's aid, still in shock of what had just happened.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry... please, please I'm so sorry..."

"It's not your fault Lumi, you were having a nightmare-"
"I'm sorry I-I'm sorry I didn't mean... I didn't mean to hit you..."

Lumine profusely kissed Ayaka's face as her apologies continued to stutter out. The Heron held the Traveler in her arms, slowly rocking her back and forth as she ran her fingers through her hair. She felt her shoulder growing damn with Lumine's tears.

"Shh, please calm down Lumi..."
"why did I hurt you? why did I hurt you? I'm so sorry I'm broken... I'm-"

"Hey."

Ayaka cupped her hands around Lumine's face and looked her in the eyes.

"You didn't hit me, Lumi. You had a nightmare and I tried to wake you up."

But the Traveler couldn't stop herself from crying. Incoherent sobs continued to pour out. Archons, it pained the Heron to see her like this.

"You could never hurt me, Lumi."

"b...but I... I did-"

"Lumi, you didn't hurt me. Okay? You didn't hurt me."

The Traveler wiped her eyes and slowly nodded, but couldn't tear her eyes away from the blood drying on Ayaka's lip and chin.

"I need you to say it for me."

"I... I didn't... h-hurt you..." Lumine lied to herself.

The sound of the door creaking open caught the attention of the lovers, as Qiqi peaked into the room.

"Qiqi heard Lumine scream. Please tell Qiqi what happened."

 

After explaining the situation, Qiqi made short of Ayaka's minor wound with the Herald of Frost. She then brewed a cup of sleep-inducing tea for Lumine to drink, before quietly exiting the room to stay posted by their door.

Ayaka could still tell Lumine was worried of hitting her again, so she gently tied a pillow around her arm to ensure that if it swung wild, it would be as soft as a Baron Bunny.

The tea wore Lumine down, and she fell peacefully asleep in Ayaka's arms.


"You are certain there is no one left?"

Rex Lapis sheathed his Vortex Vanquisher and nodded.

"Indeed. Dvalin and Xiao were quite thorough. The Abyss Prince must have escaped us."

"He must have escaped you," the Raiden Shogun corrected.

The Geo Archon patiently crossed his arms and sighed.

"There is nothing left for us to do here, Raiden Shogun. Please, let us return home."

The Raiden Shogun turned away, still grasping the Engulfing Lightning firmly.

"It is logical for you to return home, but not I. As one of several constructs, would it not be useful to leave me behind in the Abyss as a monitor?"

"Perhaps, if you had the ability to communicate and host Ei's soul. But as I recall, you do not."

"That is irrelevant. Should the Abyss regain the ability to corrupt our Waypoints, I will stop it."

Rex Lapis took a step towards the Raiden Shogun, but it moved away.

"Return to your people, Morax. I will finish what we have started."

He tried to reach out to the replicant Archon, but decided to close his hand and retreat the gesture. Before he turned away to meet Xiao at his designated Waypoint, he spoke one final thing to the puppet.

"Is this the Eternity you've craved?"


The midday sun of Liyue was always cleansing for Zhongli. There was something about the familiar scent of salt in the breeze, or the sizzling of hot oil from the market, that would always be there to remind him of what it was he stood for.

As he walked down his favorite route, a familiar voice met his ears.

"Look, it's Mr. Zhongli!"

A smile made its way onto his face as he turned to greet Paimon and... not, the Traveler.

"Paimon, you are quite a sight for sore eyes. I am glad to see you safe."

"It's great to see you too Mr. Zhongli!" Paimon bubbled as she flew in to give him a quick hug. Zhongli was never one for physical affection, but he would let it slide just this once. He gently patted Paimon on the back before she floated back to introduce the foreign companion.

"Mr. Zhongli, this is Thoma! He's-"

"The Yashiro Retainer from Inazuma. It is a pleasure to meet you, Thoma."

Thoma gladly took Zhongli's hand with a firm handshake.

"You must be quite well informed, sir. I wasn't expecting anyone in Liyue to recognize me."

"Oh, that's just Zhongli for you! He's probably the smartest person Lumi and I have ever met! Also, he tells the best stories!"

Zhongli chuckled before trying to settle Paimon down.

"Now now, let's not get too ahead of ourselves. If I may, could I invite you to join me on my walk through the Harbor? I may be able to show you the more secret sightseeing spots, Mr. Thoma."

"Sounds good to me!" Thoma agreed, as the three began their tour through the City of Contracts.

 

Lumine was picking up a Mondstadt letter from Katheryne when she overheard the familiar deep tones of the Geo Archon.

It wasn't long ago that his voice brought her a sense of comfort, but now, it served only as a catalyst for fear.

As her hand began to quiver, Qiqi immediately opened her notebook and skimmed through some pages. Ayaka placed her hand over Lumine's.

"Lumi, is it happening again?"

The Traveler looked over to the street, and saw the familiar dark brown suit of the Funeral Consultant... and the glowing blade of the Unforged, floating at the ready on his back.

Ayaka and Qiqi immediately took notice of Lumine's reaction. The Zombie tugged gently on the back of Lumine's dress.

"Qiqi thinks we should leave."

"Yes, let's get you out of here Lumi," Ayaka agreed, as she put her arm around Lumine to escort her to the back alleyways once again.

"w-wait... I have to try..." the Traveler protested, as she was whisked to safety before Paimon had the chance of spotting her.

"Please choose an object you can see," Qiqi instructed, as Lumine leaned against the wall.

"okay... I see..." Lumine's panicked eyes scanned her surroundings. She could feel her lungs starting to fail, her heart starting to accelerate, and flashes of glowing amber at the corners of her eyes.

But her sights eventually settled on a cargo ship, sailing gently out to the ocean horizon.

"I s-see a boat."

"Please describe the boat to Qiqi," the Zombie spoke calmly, flipping to the next page of her notes.

"i-it's... large, it has... three sails."

"What direction is it going?"

"I-I'm not sure... out from the h-harbor, I think..."

Qiqi nodded to herself and closed the notebook.

"Good job. Does Lumine feel better?"

Lumine looked back at Qiqi, now realizing that her heart had returned to a normal pace. Her breathing was comfortable as well. But every time she blinked, she could still see the red eyes of the Geo Archon, judging all of her sins.

"I... think so. thank you, Qiqi."

Qiqi took Lumine's hand and pulled her down to her knees. Lumine looked into the Zombie's eyes, as she gave her a cool embrace.

"Can you tell Qiqi what scared you?"

Lumine looked away guiltily. How could she still be afraid of the God of Contracts? Or even Ganyu, for that matter? It was just a stupid dream...

Ayaka placed her hand on Lumine's shoulder to take a seat beside her.

"You don't need to be ashamed, Lumi. You can tell us."

The Traveler gripped the bottom of her dress. She ran her thumb across the fresh golden seam Klee had made her, and took in a breath of courage.

"I... want to try to speak to him."

Qiqi turned to a page and read for a moment, before looking back up to Lumine.

"Oh, it's a person. Qiqi doesn't think that is-"

Lumine placed her hand on the notebook and looked into the Zombie with pleading eyes.

"please, just let me try."

Qiqi tilted her head, then looked at Ayaka. Ayaka looked back, and nodded.

 

"...So, that's why the Traveler isn't with Paimon right now."

Zhongli nodded solemnly, and placed a finger to his chin.

"I see... Thank you for explaining the situation to me, Paimon. And it is very kind of you to keep her company, Thoma."

"Please, it's my pleasure. Though, my pocketbook might want to have a word with your snacking habits, Paimon."

"Hey! Paimon only stopped at three food carts today! Besides, you bought something for yourself every time too!"

Zhongli and Thoma chuckled.

"Fair point Paimon, fair point."

Lumine watched from behind as the three continued to walk. She could feel dull pains starting to form in her chest. Ayaka's arm wrapped around her shoulder; a gentle reminder that she would be safe.

"We can go back if you want, Lumi."

Lumine placed her hand over Ayaka's, and turned her head to give her a quick kiss.

"I'll be okay."

Ayaka nodded, and gave her a second kiss before escorting her out to the street.

Paimon was the first to notice Lumine, her eyes lighting up as soon as she recognized the click of her boots on the ground.

"Lumi, you're here!" she cheered, flying over to give her best friend a quick hug.

"hey Paimon," she replied.

"You're looking better already! I can see the colors returning to your cheeks! Especially when Miss Ayaka kisses you!"

As if on queue, both lovers looked at each other awkwardly as their faces flushed red.

"Hehe, just like that! Paimon's a pretty great doctor, huh?"

The lighthearted moment was fleeting, as Lumine locked eyes with the God of War Zhongli.

Her pupils narrowed, as she felt her chest begin to quiver once more.

"Hello again, Ms. Lumine."

Bloodstained cloak. Brown suit, with silver accents.
Glowing claymore. Fake Vision, gloved hands.
Red, murderous eyes. Calm, amber eyes.

"h-hi, mr. Zhongli."

Zhongli prided himself in his own perception, and he could clearly see the way Lumine was scanning his body. I am bringing her discomfort.

"...Paimon informed me of your condition, Lumine. If you wish not to speak with me, I will not be offended."

Lumine shook her head.

"no, I... want to try. can we sit down?"

The frailness that resided in Lumine's voice was disheartening to the God of Contracts, but he nodded in agreement. The two looked back at Paimon, Thoma, and Ayaka, signaling that they wished to be alone. Thoma and Paimon nodded, with Paimon patting Lumine on the shoulder and Thoma taking Ayaka's empty hand. As Ayaka separated from her lover, she gave Lumine a quick squeeze on her hand before letting go, as if to tell her that she would come running if anything went wrong. Lumine smiled back, as the Inazumans began to discuss the letters they had received from home.

Lumine and Zhongli found a bench under some shade to rest at. The Traveler knew that Qiqi was on the roofs nearby, watching at the ready to drop down in case if her heart started making other plans.

"I'd like to formally apologize to you, Lumine," Zhongli began, keeping a healthy distance from the Traveler to ensure she would feel safe. "I was not there for you in your time of need. If you harbor any mistrust of me, or hatred for that matter, I will understand."

"it's okay, mr. Zhongli. I forgive you."

Lumine's words touched Rex Lapis in a way he did not expect. He had not realized how long it had been since he heard those words, with such heartfelt sincerity. A sigh of relief exited his chest, as he felt a small yet significant portion of his burdens fade from his back.

"I'm... not scared of you because of that, though."

Zhongli tilted his head at Lumine.

"Oh?"

The dull bursts of pain in Lumine's chest began to return. Her fingers gripped into her thigh.

"I was... trapped in a nightmare, when I was in mondstadt... and, you were in it."

Zhongli's brow furrowed.

"I see... What did I do to you, Lumine?"

"DID I DO THIS?" The Unforged plunged itself once more into Lumine's chest.

Lumine shut her eyes and discreetly tried to put her hand over her heart.

"you... killed me."

She opened her eyes and took a deep breath. Looking back at the monster her friend, she saw Zhongli's calm, amber eyes fill with dread.

"you... used the adepti to help you as well, a-and... azhdaha was there, and osial, and beisht, and..."

"I understand," Zhongli spoke as softly as he could, doing his absolute best to comfort the Traveler.

Lumine wiped a tear from her eye.

"I know it doesn't make sense... I don't get it... I... don't w-want to think of you all like that..."

"Traveler..."

Zhongli slowly moved closer to Lumine. A part of her wanted to flinch back in revolt, but she listened to her rational self.

"Lumine..."

The Geo Archon offered his hand out to his friend. Lumine looked down at it, then back at Zhongli.

"Will holding my hand cause you discomfort?"

Lumine hesitantly shook her head, and placed her hand in Zhongli's palm. He closed his fingers around her softly, as she felt the warmth of the ex-Archon.

"You are my friend, Lumine. You always will be. And, I fear that I have not done my part to show you how much I appreciate that."

Zhongli spoke firmly.

"You've fought many of my old foes, Lumine."

Jagged jaws closed in on the Traveler, tearing into her flesh.

Lumine's eyes widened, and her palm began to sweat. Her pulse spiked, and the pain in her chest quickly became unbearable.

She tried her best to hide away her wounds, but an agonized cry escaped from her throat.

Zhongli quickly released her hand and backed away.

"I'm sorry, Lumine...!"

Suddenly, Qiqi jumped down from the rooftops and landed between the Archon and the Traveler.

"Qiqi is sorry, but Mr. Zhongli needs to leave."

"Wait, I... misspoke. Please, just one moment more."

Lumine grabbed Qiqi by the shoulder as she gritted her teeth.

"please... don't make him leave, I... I can h-handle it..."

Qiqi looked at Lumine confusedly, then took her notebook back out to search for further instruction. Zhongli took the opportunity to finish what he was saying.

"What I meant to say was, you've helped me far more than I have ever helped you, and for that, I am truly sorry."

Zhongli stood up from his seat, still looking to Lumine for forgiveness.

"I understand why your subconscious fears me, and I would like to make amends. When you are ready, come find me so I can make a contract between us, one that will ensure that I will never hurt you for as long as we both exist."

Lumine's eyes widened as she realized what this meant to Rex Lapis.

"y-you would... do that, for me?"

The God of Contracts closed his eyes and nodded.

"By your terms, to the letter."

With no words left to speak, Zhongli left Lumine in silence. A lone tear streamed down his jaw as he blended back into the crowds of Liyue. He watched as Ayaka rushed past him to her lover's aid.

In his journey to be a great god, he had failed to be a good person.


"Doesn't hurt... doesn't hurt...!"

Sucrose pushed herself back to her feet as she felt her Vision Barrier failing.

She shielded her eyes as a sudden burst of purple light appeared. Peering through her fingers, she realized what was about to happen.

The Electro Hypostasis she had tried to ambush was charging up a powerful beam of energy, almost certainly pointed directly at her.

The Favonius Alchemist shut her eyes and braced for impact, only to feel a sudden push from below.

As she opened her eyes, she found herself safely standing atop a beautiful Geo Blossom. The Electro beam fired harmlessly beneath her feet, as a blur of gold and white rushed past her.

"Moment of Birth."

The Kreidprinz launched forth a powerful Tectonic Tide, barraging the Electro Hypostasis with Geo crystals. As the crystals exploded, so too did the elemental cube, groaning out in defeat before collapsing to pieces. Three Lightning Prisms clattered onto the ground before the two Alchemists.

As the platform lowered, Albedo offered his hand out to his lab assistant, who sheepishly took it to step down.

"Sucrose, why were you fighting an Electro Hypostasis alone? You could have been hurt."

"I... I-I..."

Sucrose bowed her head down in defeat and crossed her hands.

"I'm sorry, Albedo..." Her eyes suddenly widened. "I-I mean, Mr. Albedo!"

Albedo reached his hands to Sucrose's face and readjusted her glasses. Her face suddenly ran hot, as her head jolted up to meet her Chief's eyes.

"You can call me Albedo if you'd like, Sucrose."

"Y-yes Mr. Albedo. Or... Albedo...?"

He smiled warmly into Sucrose, before turning back to retrieve the pieces of the fallen Hypostasis.

"So, my original question?"

"R-right... I just... I thought you would be busy, in Dragonspine... Especially after the Whopperflower Incident."

Albedo inspected a Lightning Prism for damage, blowing off a few Geo remnants as it sparkled with power.

"If it means you'll be safe, I can always make time for you, Sucrose."

Sucrose joined Albedo and inspected the now dormant blocks.

"So, you must have chosen a Hypostasis for a reason. What is your current theory?"

Taking a vial from her pouch, Sucrose dropped a solution on the Electro block, searching for any signs of Superconduct, Electrocharge, or Overload.

"My original experiments with melted Crystal Cores was, informational. It could conduct Elemental energy freely, as well as move as swiftly as the Traveler would require it to."

"And the drawbacks?"

"It was... too brittle. And the energy it could produce would be far from harmful."

Albedo nodded, as he slipped the Lightning Prisms into Sucrose's bag.

"So you've turned to Hypostasi now."

"That's correct... I think that their transformative nature could provide the Traveler with entirely different and effective methods of combat. Also, their durability far exceeds that of standard creatures-"

In that moment, the solution sparked before causing a contained Overload, poofing up into the Favonius Alchemist's face.

"-EEK!" she exclaimed, coughing out smoke as she blew it away from her face.

Albedo stood at the block, unfazed and ever curious as he massaged his chin.

"I take it you are currently exploring how to ensure the multiple elements Lumine commands will not React with each other."

After fixing her hair back over her ears, Sucrose sighed and took out her notebook to jot down the results.

"That's... correct, Albedo."

The Kreidprinz nodded to himself, and made up his mind.

"Your hypothesis is sound, Sucrose. Please allow me to be your assistant for your experiments."

Sucrose nodded as she finished writing her observations, before suddenly realizing what her crush had just said.

"H-huh?!"

"Oh, do you not wish to have my help?"

Sucrose quickly waved her hands out to Albedo.

"N-no! Of course I-I'd be honored to have your help on my project Albedo!"

"Very well. Do we need to hunt more Hypostasi then, Master Sucrose?"

Sucrose's cheeks were now glowing red, as she tried to stutter out her list of required materials for further experiments.

Albedo smiled and nodded along, admiring the level of passion she had invested in this work.


Somewhere in the depths of the vast underground caves in Inazuma, a lone man wandered along the damp stone floors, flicking a divine relic in his hand.

He whistled an old tune into the lifeless caverns, one that he had always known yet never understood.

And then, he heard the swirl of an opening rift behind him. A dangerous smirk creeped out from underneath his hat.

"Took you long enough, Tartaglia."

But as the Balladeer turned around expecting a Harbinger, he instead found someone else entirely. His smile was replaced with a frown, as he immediately pocketed the Electro Gnosis in his back.

"Who the fuck are you?"

Somehow familiar golden eyes greeted him, as a voice as cold as his own returned.

"Someone who wants to make a deal with you. One that I can promise will benefit us both."

The Abyss Prince's wings folded back, as he reached behind his back to retrieve something. Scaramouche quickly summoned the Hakushin Ring and took an offensive stance.

"I think that's enough, whoever you are. How about you step back into your fancy portal, and I don't have to use this?" he threatened, taking out his Cryo Delusion to show that he meant business.

"You can use that if you want, but you might want to hear what I have to say first," Aether retorted, as he held out a small white orb in his hand.

Scaramouche squinted his eyes at the sphere, then lowered his catalyst as he realized what it was.

"You and I have a... mutual, enemy."

Aether tossed the orb to Scaramouche, who caught it with his free hand.

He wiped away traces of purple fluid, as he looked into a familiar ever-violet eye.

Chapter Text

"Speak the truth when asked... Never raise a weapon against... Never turn anyone upon you..."

Zhongli read through Lumine's terms thoroughly.

"This all looks agreeable to me, Lumine. However, I would like to add in one final term."

Of course, the Traveler thought to herself, she knew she had forgotten something. Zhongli never signed contracts that were not mutually beneficial. Or, so she thought.

With a few elegant strokes of the artisanal feather he used, he passed the contract back to Lumine for approval.

Her eyes frowned as she read through Zhongli's careful calligraphy.

"'this contract shall override all of... rex lapis' previous agreements?'"

Zhongli nodded firmly.

"n-no, that's... that's too much, I-I can't agree to-"

"I remember I said by your terms, but this is the only way I can allow your contract to function properly."

Lumine looked up at the God of Contracts in disbelief.

"are you sure?"

Rex Lapis gave her a solemn smile, and offered his quill to the Traveler.

"I am. You deserve answers, Lumine."

Lumine filled her chest with air, and blew out slowly. She took the quill from her friend's hand, and shakily signed her name on the new contract. It was shaky, and looked a bit awkward on the parchment, but Zhongli assured her that it would do.

He slid the contract back to himself, and signed with all three aliases Lumine knew him by.

"The contract is sealed. Thank you, for allowing me to make things right."

Lumine placed her hand on his razor sharp claws wrist, and smiled.

"thank you, for... everything."

Zhongli returned her smile with his own.

"You are most certainly welcome, my friend. Now please, go and be well. I will be here when you are ready for our next discussion."

With a final handshake, Lumine stood up and exited Zhongli's office.

What greeted the Traveler's eyes was nothing short of utter chaos.

Paimon and Yanfei were struggling to restrain Hu Tao's arms back, as Ayaka was awkwardly making her way to the door with Qiqi in her arms.

"HNNGH! L-Let me go! I need to help her cross over!!"
"NO! You can't just bury Qiqi, she's still a real person!"
"ARGH! Paimon thought I would be done dragging people around!"
"BUT THINK OF HOW CUTE THE COFFIN WOULD BE!"
"I'm sorry Qiqi, we'll go soon, I promise..."
"...Qiqi hates this place."

Lumine heard a sigh from behind, as Zhongli buried his face in his hand.

"Right... I had forgotten about their... rivalry."

A small giggle escaped from Lumine. It was reassuring to see that some things would never change.


Prior to Lantern Rite Day, there had been a sudden shortage of fireworks and supplies due to more frequent Treasure Hoarder raids. The Millelith had been spread so thin from the Waypoints, that they could not afford to defend as many transports.

Thus, the Adventurer's Guild had to step in to help retrieve the lost supplies. It pained Lumine that she wasn't able to assist this time, but Ayaka and Thoma were more than happy to pick up the slack.

While all her friends were outside doing the heavy lifting, Lumine had to remain with Qiqi and Bai Zhu. They had taken the opportunity to take her therapy a few steps further, with more frequent talks about her nightmares and how they were affecting her, as well as a new type of medicine which would help her heart heal.

But in all honesty, she despised having to do this.

The medicine tasted more than foul, and always left an aftertaste in her mouth that made eating anything else a nauseating experience. She hated having to be treated so fragile, like if anyone sneezed too hard she would fall over.

Mostly, she hated how much she was putting Ayaka through.

The Yashiro Commissioner had spent quite a bit of time away from home, and was forced to continue her work remotely. Every day, Ayaka would return from her supply raids, and go immediately to the office Tubby had fashioned for her to write letters and organize events back in Inazuma.

Ayaka ensured that she didn't mind, but every passing night Lumine could see the bags under her eyes growing darker.

 

But now wasn't the time to dwell on that. Their operations had been a success, and now the Festival was more than stocked for a grand night of celebration in Liyue. Finally, Lumine and Ayaka had a day to relax.

"I do hope that we recovered enough supplies for the Festival today..." Ayaka continued to worry.

Lumine squeezed her hand as the two continued to walk through the harbor, hoping to catch the sunset before the festivities began.

"you've done enough, Ayaka... please, let's enjoy our night."

Ayaka let out a brief yawn, covering her mouth with her hand before politely nodding.

"Of course, dear."

As they continued to walk to the pier, guilt continued to weigh on Lumine as she thought about how unworthy she was to Ayaka's love.

 

Though Ayaka's eyes were trained on the beautiful gradients of color in the sky, Lumine couldn't help but focus more on the people around them.

Out on the water, or more aptly the ice, were Chongyun and Xingqiu. The young lovers were skating together on a rink created by the Chonghua Frost Field. The Book Worm stumbled on the ice, grabbing onto the Young Exorcist as they laughed. They were perfect.

Yanfei was walking along the docks before Hu Tao jumped out of a crate, scaring the Archons out of the half-adeptus. After briefly berating the prankster, the Lawyer angrily grabbed the Funeral Director by her hair to pull her into an aggressive kiss. Using the distraction, she then slammed the crate shut with a Pyro Gavel before quickly running away. They were perfect.

Far in the distance, a figure of white and gold intertwined with one of black and red. Beidou swayed along with Ningguang, placing tender kisses up and down her neck. The Tianquan leaned into the Crux Captain's touch. Despite all their differences in the public eye, they would always make it work with each other. They were perfect.

Yun Jin and Shenhe stood amongst the crowds of metalheads cheering on the infamous Xinyan, who was playing her heart out on the axe of song and flame. The Divine Damsel paid close attention as the Opera Singer closed her fingers in a pattern, teaching her how to make the 'rock on' signal. They were perfect.

Xiangling and Guoba performed a masterful dance of knife work on a large grill, a trick she had read about from Inazuma. The guests of the Wanmin Restaurant cheered her on as she tossed a bite of shrimp into the Stove God's mouth. They were perfect.

Why can't I be like that with her?

"...Lumi? What's wrong?"

Lumine looked back at the face which stole her heart so many months ago.

"...sorry, I was... thinking about something."

Ayaka tilted her head longingly as she brushed something wet off of Lumine's face. Her hands were so soft... how could anyone see her as anything but perfection?

"You're crying again, my love... Can you tell me what's wrong?"

Everything in Lumine's body wanted her, but she hesitantly reached up to Ayaka's arm and brushed it aside. Her heart screamed in protest.

"it's... me, Ayaka..."

Lumine could see the sadness in Ayaka's eyes.

"I'm sorry, I... I don't think I deserve you, anymore..."

She placed her elbow on her leg and put her head to her palm, beginning to drop tears into the ocean.

"I-I can't be the same girl you met... I'm not strong, anymore, I'm... so... broken..."

Her throat burned as she continued to sob.

"and... I keep, h-hurting you... and you don't deserve it, and I..."

Swift hands wrapped around Lumine's face, and her mind went blank.

Her eyes opened, and she was locked in intimacy with Ayaka. Warm, supple lips pressed against her own. Her eyes went wide as she smelled her cherry blossom perfume, tasted her sakura lipbalm... felt her tongue inviting her own for a dance.

Lumine's mind panicked, flipping between whether she should lean in or try to escape. I still haven't earned this-

But as the Heron ran her fingers through the Traveler's hair and pulled her closer, Lumine gave in to her heart's needs.

Her hand caressed the back of Ayaka's neck, as she leaned into her with nothing but sheer desperation.

I love her... I love her...

The world melted away as their souls bonded into one, drinking in every drop of each other they could find. Shivers of ecstasy rattled through Lumine's spine as she tangled herself further into the Kamisato Heiress. All of her burdens, her guilts, her fears, washed away as Ayaka moaned gently into Lumine.

All but one of her weaknesses remained.

Lumine's moans gradually shifted into labored grunts, as the deafening sound of her accelerated heartbeat returned to her eardrums.

No, please... Just a little longer...

Ayaka's eyes shot open as she quickly realized what was happening.

Much to Lumine's demise, her precious Heron released her own lips and retreated, one strand of passion clinging desperately to her bottom lip before breaking away.

Both lovers stared at each other as they panted for breath, their faces flushed with red.

Lumine's hand instinctively clutched to her chest as her sadness returned in full.

"s...s-see? I'm s-still too... broken... for y-you..."

"Lumi... Don't say that, please..."

Ayaka's own tears started to leak, trailing her mascara down her perfect face. She ignored them, cupping her hands around Lumine's cheeks as she wiped her sorrows away with her thumbs.

"wh...why...?" Lumine pleaded.

"...why do you keep coming back for me?"

The Heron gave a heartbroken smile to the Traveler, as she picked up Lumine's hand and placed it on her own chest.

"Oh, Lumine..."

Lumine felt Ayaka's warmth. She felt her heart beating as one with her own, her chest rising and falling with Lumine's. She felt Ayaka's soul, resonating with her own.

"Because I love you."

Ayaka wrapped her hands around Lumine's and held it tightly to her skin.

"I never wanted you for your accomplishments, or for your protection, or for your strength as a warrior..."

She pressed her head against Lumine's, as their tears continued to flow.

"I fell in love with you... My brave, kind, and unstoppable friend..."

The Traveler had no words. The Heron had plenty.

"I love every, single part of you, Lumine... and that includes what you think are your weaknesses..."

Lumine felt Ayaka's chest get warmer.

"I want to be a part of you, no matter where we end up... Abyss be damned, all I want is to be with you..."

Through her eyes, swollen with sadness and joy, Lumine looked into Ayaka's breathtakingly gorgeous navy eyes, and saw the eternity she was willing to spend with her one true love.

Beautiful glimpses of a wedding, the house they would live in, the adventures they would brave, the fields they would retire to, the bed they would grow old together in...

Lumine finally realized that no matter what, Ayaka would always be there with the most amazing smile she would ever know.

"I... I love you, Ayaka..."

The Heron moved the Traveler's hands to her lips, planting a kiss on her fingers before setting them onto her own cheek.

"And I will always love you, Lumine..."

The Traveler and the Heron melded once more, as the sun of Liyue Harbor left them in peace, sinking quietly into the crystalline horizon.

 

They were perfect.


The shores of Watatsumi Island were calm as always tonight. A gentle hand dipped into the crystal clear waters, as a small fish swam up to meet it.

Then, in a blur of purple and sparks, it was gone.

"Hmm, never gets old," the Kitsune admitted to herself.

A strong gust of wind blew from behind, as Yae stood back up and smiled to herself.

"You're getting quieter, old friend."

She turned to greet the dragon and the Bard, noticing a few new scratches on Dvalin's scales. As she approached, Venti casually slipped down from Dvalin's back.

"Was that an insult, or a compliment? I can never tell with you."

Yae placed her hand on Dvalin's snout and gave Venti a teasing glance.

"I was talking to Dvalin, Drunkard."

Venti rolled his eyes and began walking towards the beach.

"Insult. Got it."

He summoned his lyre and began plucking away at a tune he had been working on.

"So, Mrs. Yae, how are things with you and Ei?"

Yae found a good scratching spot for Dvalin as he began to lean into her fingers.

"Quite well, all things considered. I have the Traveler to thank for that. Though, I suppose you two are familiar with that situation as well."

"Touche, my clever fox!"

Yae waited for Venti to continue, then looked back to see him still carelessly skipping along the shoreline.

"So, am I to assume that you're here to catch up as 'friends,' or is there something more important you want to tell me? Oh, perhaps you'd like some counseling help with that dreadful alcoholism of yours."

"Cheap blows for a fox who hides her tails, Mrs. Yae. I thought you were sharper than that?"

This time Yae was the one to roll her eyes. She slid the fish she had caught to Dvalin, before joining Venti on his midnight stroll.

"Ei won't tell me about your Incursion, if that's what this is about."

A sour note rang out into the air, as Barbatos let out an exasperated sigh. This is a stupid idea, he thought to himself.

"Well, if it brings you any solace, she wasn't lying about not being able to connect to her puppet."

As he played a Beckoner's Tune into the air, something came floating in from the night mists of Watatsumi.

"SEARCH. OB-OB-OB-OBLITERATE. REPEAT. SEARCH. OB-OB-OB-OBLITERATE. REPEAT."

A cloud of Anemo carried in the mangled corpse of a Raiden Shogun.

Half of its skin was missing, while the other half was burnt to a crisp. The enchanted metal of its frame was battered and twisted. Many of its fingers were missing, and part of its right foot had been smashed into useless iron. The exposed portion of its face was missing an eye, as well as half of its jaw. The other half hung loosely as it repeated its final command loop.

"SEARCH. OB-OB-OB-OBLITERATE. REPEAT," it continued to speak in a horrifically garbled version of Ei's voice.

Sparks flew from its chest each time it spoke, and its limbs would occasionally twitch out aggressively.

"So, I take it things did not go as you'd planned."

"As I planned, it went perfectly! Scorched earth on everything we saw, and took out that nasty chrysalis that was sapping our Waypoints too, thanks to the old Bough Keeper."

"Dainsleif? He's still alive?"

"I know! Crazy, right?"

"So...?" Yae squinted her eyes accusingly as she gestured to the corpse. Its remaining eye twitched.

"That, is what I'm pretty sure happened after we had left."

Yae frowned and crossed her arms.

"Did it ever use the Musou no Hitotachi?"

"You can say 'the sword' if you want. And yes, for the first hour."

"She said you all had changed," Venti recalled, before the Raiden Shogun massacred the surrendering Lector.

"Yae, you didn't see it the way that we did. It was... dangerous. Merciless. Even for Ei, it had a bloodlust unlike anything we'd seen before."

"SEARCH. OB-OB-OB-OBLITERATE. REPEAT."

"...I see," the Kitsune concluded, now realizing the implications of what Venti was saying.

"I've got a hunch, and I don't like it one bit. But you're the one who's closest to Ei."

"Ah, so that's what you want. You're too afraid to speak to her directly, so you want her wife to do it for you."

"Sure, just... please listen, Yae."

The Kitsune shifted her weight to her other leg, as she locked eyes with the Bard.

"What if the Shogun was trying to ignore Ei?"

Yae raised an eyebrow at the preposterous theory.

"I dislike the puppets as much as you do, Barbatos, but that's a little bit outlandish, don't you think?"

"SEARCH. OB-OB-OB-OBLITERATE. REPEAT."

"Listen to that! Does that really sound like something Ei would program into a stand-in for herself?"

"For the Abyss? Absolutely. Have you already forgotten-"

"Yes, I remember about Makoto. But it killed someone who was trying to surrender to us. It said, and I quote, 'an Archon must have no mercy.'"

Even Yae had to admit, that was strange to hear from something Ei had crafted so carefully.

"Hmm, and if I were to entertain your theory of the Shogun willingly separating from Ei's consciousness?"

"You said it yourself, the Traveler changed Ei's mind about something. Drastically, I might add."

"SEARCH. OB-OB-OB-OBLITERATE. REPEAT."

"...What if the Shogun disagreed with that?"


"there's some things I'd like to do alone, if that's alright."

Ayaka nodded to Lumine, as they found Thoma and Paimon already working on their own personal lanterns.

"How long will you be?"

"an hour at most. it's okay, I just want a bit more closure before the night ends."

"I understand, my dear."

The lovers exchanged a quick kiss before separating into the crowds. Once again, Lumine was alone, yet something felt different this time.

 

First, she found Zhongli admiring the view from Liuli Pavilion. Of course, the Geo Archon was already waiting for her with an answer he knew she would ask for: what had happened to her brother?

And so, the God of Contracts silently broke one of his promises to make good on another.

The horrific tales of the Abyss Prince haunted Lumine as he continued to explain. No wonder he hated this world so much, Lumine thought. It brought tears to her eyes, thinking about the hardships he had to endure alone, at the hands of the Unknown God (whom she was too afraid to ask about at this point).

At the end of the story, Zhongli had a question to ask of the Traveler.

"Please, be honest with me Lumine..."

Lumine wiped her tears and nodded to her friend.

"After hearing what happened... what we did, to your brother... Do you regret allying with the people of Teyvat?"

The Traveler was silent for a moment, before she eventually shook her head. A wave of relief, yet also confusion, washed over the God of Contracts.

"Why is that, Lumine?"

"because... the abyss taught him how to hate, but teyvat showed me how to love."

Zhongli closed his eyes and nodded solemnly, now knowing what he had to tell the Traveler next.

"If that is the case, then you deserve to know what we have done recently..."

Lumine frowned at Zhongli and tilted her head.

"what happened?"

Zhongli took in a deep breath, and exhaled.

"After your... incident, the descended Archons had a meeting, gathered by me. We executed an invasion on the Abyss, and wiped its lands clean."

Lumine's eyes widened.

"Rest assured, I included within the contract that we would do everything in our power to defeat your brother, alive. And in our time during the battle, we had not seen him once."

The Traveler placed a hand on her chest and sighed, feeling her pulse return to normal. Though in the back of her mind, she pondered...

What about Enjou?

She opened her mouth to ask about him but quickly shut it, realizing that not only would Zhongli not know who she was talking about, but also was afraid of what the other Archons might do if they learned she had befriended someone from the Abyss.

"thank you for, telling me that."

"You are welcome, my friend."

Lumine stood up to leave, bowing respectfully to the Geo Archon. But before she could reach the door, Zhongli had one more question.

"If I may, could I ask you one more question?"

The Traveler turned back, and nodded.

"Do you intend to keep fighting?"

It was a question that Lumine had been avoiding for quite some time now. Of course, she wanted things to go back to normal. But knowing now that her own brother was willing to kill anyone in his way, including his own family, to burn Teyvat to the ground... it scared her.

And then, she remembered the flashes of the future she wanted with Ayaka. Then and there, the Traveler made a choice.

"I do. for my love."

A warm smile returned to Zhongli's face, recognizing the determination that he once found in himself with Guizhong.

"Then please, allow me to give you some advice."

"of course, my friend."

Zhongli looked down at his hands.

"I've buried many friends and foes with these hands. Lost parts of myself that I thought were vital to my well-being..."

He softly curled his fingers into fists.

"It never gets easier, Lumine. Even for an Archon."

His eyes returned to the Traveler's.

"This may be difficult to hear, but things will likely never return to the way they were before. Not for warriors, like us."

Lumine sighed, and nodded in agreement. Deep down, she had already known that.

"Sometimes, Lumine... It is better to start over."

 

Start over, she thought to herself, as she watched Keqing happily chewing on some Golden Shrimp Balls, while Ganyu idly poked at Lumine's insides her Universal Peace with her chopsticks.

She took in a sobering breath of the market air, and approached her fears.

"...Traveler?"

Keqing quickly rose to her feet to greet the Traveler, doing her best to hide Ganyu away from Lumine's sight.

"It's... good to see you! I'm sorry that we missed you during the feasts, but Paimon explained everything, so we understand."

"hey Keqing, it's good to see you too, but... I'm actually here to talk to Ganyu, if... that's okay with you."

The Yuheng and the Traveler looked back at the table in time to see a whiff of blue hair dash under the table. A small squeak rang out as something hard bumped one of the wooden legs.

"Y-yes, but only as long as you're comfortable with it, Lumine."

"thank you."

With that, Lumine got on her knees and slowly shuffled over to the table. She gently lifted the table cloth up with her finger to see red, glowing eyes soft, lavender eyes.

The Qilin lunged out at Lumine and sunk her teeth into her throat, tearing it out in a gory mess. Under the table was the same Ganyu Lumine had remembered, softly massaging her horns as she looked up at the Traveler in embarrassment.

"T-traveler...! Please, I-I'm sorry... I can leave if you'd like! I don't want to-"

Lumine reached out her quivering hand to the shy Secretary. The Qilin formed an icicle in her hand and shoved it into Lumine's heart.

No, Lumine refused, as she shut her eyes and placed her hand down. She felt the soft warmth of cloth touching skin. Something else pressed gently on the top of her hand.

She opened her eyes, and looked back at her half-adeptus friend.

"...Are you alright, Lumine?"

"I... don't want to be afraid of you, Ganyu..."

The Qilin's eyes widened, as tears of joy began to form.

"it was just a nightmare, Ganyu... a stupid, stupid nightmare..."

Lumine could still feel her hand shaking. She shut her eyes again, expecting another flash.

Instead, she felt Ganyu's arms wrap around her in a heartfelt embrace.

"It's okay, Traveler... I don't want to be afraid of you either."

At that moment, they both knew: neither of them had anything to apologize for.

Instead, they enjoyed each other's company as they continued to hold each other. After all, that's what friends were for.

 

For the first time in ages, Lumine's heart was starting to feel full again. After enjoying the rest of her night with the love of her life, as well as eating plenty of food with her best friend, the time came for everyone to launch their lanterns.

Lumine had created a mirrored version of Ayaka's lantern, now solidifying their bonds to each other for all the Archons to witness. Paimon had drawn every exotic food she had yet to try, as well as a picture of her and the Traveler traveling together. Thoma had drawn the four of them enjoying a round of hotpot, both as a joke that he wanted a rematch, as well as a heartfelt symbol of their comradery as a team.

As silence filled the harbor, everyone let their hopes and dreams float off into the sky. Lumine couldn't help but look into her lover's eyes this time, watching as her jaw slowly dropped in pure amazement. The reflections of the lanterns in her eyes was even more beautiful than the Traveler could have ever imagined.

As the fireworks went off, Lumine couldn't help but pull her in for a third time that day. And they fell into each other like there was no tomorrow.


Start over, she continued to think, as she slid quietly out of her bed the next morning.

Ayaka was still fast asleep, and Lumine had no intentions of preventing her from sleeping in that day.

Yet as she quietly closed the door and made her way down to the kitchen, a flourish of starlight appeared at her side.

"Wowie, you're up early today!" Paimon taunted as she patted her best friend on the shoulder.

"good morning, Paimon," Lumine replied with a smile as she pulled the fae in for a quick hug.

"And you're more cheerful as well! If Paimon didn't know any better, you must have had a very good night with Miss Ayaka!" she teased as she ruffled her hand through Lumine's hair.

"n-no, we didn't, do that... my heart can't handle it yet."

"Ooh, so you're still planning on it, aren't ya?"

Paimon was expecting Lumine to become flustered at any moment, but all she found was pride in her best friend's eyes.

"of course I am, I'm in love with her, Paimon."

The fae couldn't help but feel proud of how far the Traveler had come in this world.

"Aww, you two are just the sweetest, Lumi!"

"I... actually wanted to talk to you about something, Paimon."

"Oh? Well what is it then?"

Lumine looked over at the living room, and saw the Iron Sting laying idly by the grandfather clock.

Start over.

"I... think I'm ready..."

Paimon hovered down to Lumine's height and looked where she was looking.

"Ready, for what, Lumi?"

Lumine placed her hand on her best friend's shoulder.

"ready, to start trying again."

Paimon's eyes lit up with excitement.

"Wait, does that mean you wanna start training again!"

Lumine nodded.

"y-yeah-"

"WOOHOO!!! Paimon's been waiting for AGES for you to say that!"

Paimon twirled around Lumine and rose into the air triumphantly, before quickly rushing over to the sword to retrieve it for Lumine.

"P-Paimon, wait-!"

"Uh-uh!" Paimon grunted as she started heaving the sword over to Lumine. "If you're serious about this, Paimon's gonna make sure you try really hard, okay?"

Lumine looked at the sword, then back at the hollow bandage that once had her sword arm.

"...I'm ready, Paimon."

She took the sword, and the gears clicked back into place.

"Then there's no time to lose! Come on, Paimon's thought a lot about who can help us!"

 

After running the proposition by Bai Zhu, him and Qiqi agreed that with gradual work, her heart would heal more to its original strength. Lumine started by joining Qiqi in her hourly stretches. Her muscles ached after the first day, but it was a good kind of pain.

After a week, Paimon led Lumine on a journey up to Mt. Hulao, where they found the reserved Shenhe meditating with Chongyun.

"Traveler, what a pleasant surprise."

"hi Shenhe. I was... wondering if you could allow me to train with you."

Shenhe raised her eyebrow, but quickly deferred to her nephew's excited nods.

"Very well, Lumine. Take up your blade. I wish to see what I am working with."

 

The next stop was the Alcor.

"So, you're looking for endurance? Came to the right place, Traveler."

Beidou gave Lumine a strong pat on the shoulder.

"promise me one thing, Beidou."

"Anything you want."

"...push me like you would yourself."

The entire Crux fleet halted at Lumine's words. Beidou chuckled to herself, as she placed a hand on Lumine's shoulder.

"Suit yourself, kid."

Without a chance to react, Beidou shoved Lumine into the water below.

"Start treading, trainee!"

 

Lumine dried herself with a towel as Paimon started writing notes for her in the Teapot.

"So, what do you think was your biggest issue in the Abyss?"

"I think... I didn't have enough range to deal with the hordes."

A grin crept onto Paimon's face as she wrote something down, along with a name.

"Paimon knows just the guy."

 

"Kicking my spear's something I learned from my days as a freerunner, funnily enough," Thoma instructed, as he quickly lept across several rooftops in the Liyue Marketplace.

"Show me what you've got Lumine, and we'll work our way up to those kicks."

 

"Hold it like this," Ningguang commanded, as she corrected the quill in Lumine's left hand.

"It's not a sword, it's an extension of your mind," she continued to lecture, as she wrote a simple poem with a few strokes of her own brush.

"Now, try again please."

 

"I've gotten up to five pots in one hand before, but I think if anyone can do three they can cook just about anything!" Xiangling demonstrated, as she carefully balanced dishes on her head and foot.

"Alright, we'll start with two then. Hop on the rock, show me that balance!"

 

"Done with your stretches?" Shenhe asked, as she looked up at the mountain path ahead of them.

Lumine finished counting to ten with Qiqi, and nodded.

"Good, then do your best to keep pace with me."

Without another word, Shenhe accelerated to a full sprint up the mountain. Lumine fumbled slightly, before beginning to chase after her.

 

Beidou swam up to the Alcor and slammed her hand on the hull triumphantly. She looked back to see Lumine still swimming, about twenty seconds behind her.

"Gotta do better than that, dragon slayer!"

Eventually, Lumine put her hand on the hull and panted for breath, before a protein shake was shoved into her face by Paimon.

 

Lumine leapt forth with all her might, colliding her ribs into the tiles of the building before slowly sliding down. Thoma quickly rushed in to catch her before she plummeted into a clueless salesman from below.

"Gotta lead with your feet, Lumine."

Lumine nodded as she was pulled up, brushing herself off before continuing the chase.

 

"And step," Yun Jin commanded, as she pointed her spear forth. Lumine mirrored the motion identically, earning a smile from the young actress.

 

"I'll be back for dinner Ayaka," Lumine said as she planted a kiss on her lover's cheek.

Ayaka's eyes widened with excitement, as she suddenly grabbed Lumine's wrist.

"...What is it?"

"Lumi, your voice... It's coming back!"

Lumine felt her chest, and mirrored Ayaka's smile of excitement. She grabbed her cheek and gave her one more kiss on the lips, before jogging out the door with Qiqi.

"I love you! Dinner, promise!"

 

Lumine parried Chongyun's Sacrificial Greatsword to the side and pointed the Iron Sting to his throat.

"Very good, Lumine. Though you could have ended that fight twelve moves earlier."

Lumine nodded obediently, as Chongyun looked back in jealousy.

"A-Auntie!"

 

The Crux fleet cheered on as Beidou and Lumine's muscles strained, currently locked in a friendly yet heated arm-wrestle.

"Rgh, you've got some spunk kid, I'll give you that...!"

With a final burst of energy, Beidou slowly wrenched Lumine's arm down, and the crowd went wild. Both panted in exhaustion, as Beidou wiped her forehead and noticed something.

"Damn, made me break a pretty good sweat there. Not bad."

Lumine smirked, as the two shook hands and bumped shoulders.

 

With a deft tumble, Lumine effortlessly transferred herself from the heights of Northland Bank to the city grounds.

"Alrighty then, I think I've seen enough of that," Thoma congratulated. "Let's teach you how to fly, eh?"

 

A knock came to Ningguang's door, as she finished changing to answer it.

"I finished writing your itinerary for the day, Ningguang," Lumine announced as she handed a scroll to the Tianquan.

She read through it carefully, searching for any crooked strokes, before nodding to herself and closing it.

"A perfect hand, Traveler. Well done."

 

Lumine placed another kiss on Ayaka's cheek, who was already writing more letters for the Yashiro Clan.

As she turned to leave, Ayaka instinctually grabbed her scarf to yank her back and plant her own kiss on her lips.

"Ah ah, I get one too," she spoke with a smile.

"Of course, my heron."

 

Lumine was now limber enough to join Qiqi in doing the splits every morning and evening, reaching over to each foot in an elegant lean.

"How long have you been doing this, again?"

"Oh... Qiqi... forgets."

"...Right."

 

Lumine jumped down onto Shenhe, crashing her sword into her polearm. Shenhe's guard faltered for a moment, and Lumine winded back to take advantage. However, the moment was gone all too soon, as Shenhe regained her footing and parried the Iron Sting out of her hand.

"Close, Traveler. Let us try again."

Chongyun picked up the sword and offered it back to Lumine, as well as an encouraging pat on her back.

 

"Good form, good follow-through," Thoma critiqued as Lumine landed from an aerial butterfly kick.

"Gotta get some more air though if you want to get some distance on your sword."

 

Lumine sat in bed with Ayaka at her side, as they both read through the second volume of the Guhua Sword Arts that Xingqiu had lent them.

"Fascinating..." Ayaka noted, as she turned the page for them.

 

Beidou rounded the buoy as she heard her crewmates suddenly start to cheer. Was she really that exciting?

It took only a few moments for her to realize the Traveler rapidly approaching from behind.

She quickly cursed to herself as she suddenly kicked into third gear, both swimmers burning everything they had as they approached the finish line.

Paimon leaned in to the hull as both hands slammed in simultaneously.

"IT'S A TIE!!!" she cheered loudly, as the Crux fleet erupted in applause.

Beidou chuckled proudly as she congratulated the Traveler.

 

Xiangling watched in awe as Lumine masterfully juggled all sorts of vegetables and cooking utensils in the air, slicing and frying as she danced around the kitchen. Guoba jumped up and down in excitement, barely containing himself from lunging at the fresh dishes Lumine was creating.

 

Zhongli watched from afar, as Lumine started to overtake Shenhe on their morning mountain climb.

"You think she'll beat her today?" Childe asked, as he offered a bottle of that wine Zhongli liked.

"You know... I'm not actually sure this time," Zhongli replied with a smile, as he poured two glasses for them to observe with.

 

Ayaka watched out from her window as Lumine practiced her new set of moves. With a flurry of steel, she sliced effortlessly into a nearby tree, before cartwheeling into the air to kick her sword at another. The sword spun with such ferocity that it deflected into two other targets, before returning to Lumine's hand.

As Lumine caught the sword, she looked at it in disbelief before punching her hand up in victory. Paimon reappeared as they both started screaming at each other about how cool that was.

Ayaka smiled, as Thoma placed a hand on her shoulder. They both watched on with nothing but pride.

 

Yun Jin and Lumine continued to practice an elegant display of martial choreography.

"One, two, three..." they both counted to themselves, as they managed to keep perfectly in sync with the dance.

 

Shenhe swung down at Lumine in an arc, as she deftly stepped to the side. Time slowed as they locked eyes with each other, before Lumine swung her sword up with lightning-fast retaliation.

The two warriors stood still, as Lumine had her blade up to Shenhe's throat. A smile made its way onto the Divine Damsel's face.

"Congratulations, Lumine. You have proven yourself to the Adepti, and to me."

 

"Do we really have to do this with him, Lumi?"

Tartaglia cracked his knuckles in anticipation. Archons, had he missed this.

Lumine twirled the Iron Sting in her hand.

"Yup. Because he's the only one I trust to not hold back."

"Listen to the Traveler, Paimon. Now then, amuse me."


After two months of hard work, the people of Teyvat received word that the Waypoints were once again safe to use.

This time, however, numerous safety precautions were taken to try and prevent a repeat of what happened to the Traveler, as well as the "Warriors of the Deep."

Usage of teleportation was to be documented onsite by designated guards, who would keep track of where people were going, when they left, and when they arrived.

 

This of course, meant that the time to return to Inazuma was approaching fast for Ayaka and Thoma.

"I'm going with you."

"Are you sure? Your training's going so well here, Lumine. I don't want you to end it early for-"

"I can keep training in Inazuma. You heard Bai Zhu, my heart's almost fully healed now."

"Yeah!" Paimon confirmed. "Besides, Lumi would probably get all sad and mopey again without you around!"

"Wh- hey!"

The three laughed, as Lumine's cheeks flushed red.

"Well, if you wish to accompany us back to the Yashiro Clan, I'd be more than happy to have you by my side for a little longer."

Lumine smiled as she closed into Ayaka, exchanging a warm kiss.

"I'm hoping for more than a little, my Heron..."

"Pardon my interruption, Ms. Lumine," the voice of Tubby suddenly interjected. "But I believe the package you were expecting from Mondstadt has arrived."

Lumine's heart skipped a beat.

"Ah, thank you Tubby. Please send it in."

"Certainly," she responded, as a soft impact on grass caught the Traveler's attention.

Everyone walked outside to find a long, brown case with metal latches. As Lumine kneeled down before it, she grabbed the bottom of the box to test its weight.

Hmm, double what I expected... she thought, as she turned back to see her onlookers.

"Well, open it up!" Paimon demanded.

Lumine noticed a discrete note tucked in a small leather pocket on the outside of the box. Unfolding it, she read:

"Use them well. Instructions inside.
Much love, Albedo and Sucrose
"

 

Lumine took a deep breath, and unlatched the bindings on the box.

She slowly pushed the lid open, and everyone's eyes widened.


"That's it?"

Scaramouche questioned, leaning on the cave wall with his arms crossed.

"Yup. That's it. Don't even want that damn Gnosis you have in your pocket," Aether replied confidently.

"Hmm, still can't help but feel like I'll be the one to come up short in this deal. I ask again, what's in it for me?"

Aether spun his gilded longsword into the ground before kicking it up to desummon it.

"Fine, I'll give you something early, as a gesture of 'good faith.'"

Scaramouche raised his eyebrow with mistrust.

"You're after the power to kill Gods with, right?"

The Balladeer squinted his eyes, before slowly nodding.

"Great."

Suddenly, Aether closed his fist, as Scaramouche's Cryo Delusion suddenly flew out from his belt. He reached out to catch it, but the Delusion flew straight to Aether's hand.

"Sorry, you won't have given it to me otherwise. Now then..."

The white glow of Cryo festering in the Delusion began to shift, as tendrils of darkness started to encroach around it.

"Cryo's all well and good amongst mortals in Teyvat... How about I give you a taste of Void?"

The Abyss Prince chucked the newly anointed Void Delusion back to the Balladeer. As he caught it, he felt his veins brimming with power he never thought he'd be able to control.

A dangerous smile made its way onto Scaramouche's face, as the white of his eyes turned an inky black.

Chapter Text

Sasayuri.

Nothingness.

Chiyo.

Stillness.

Saiguu.

Eternity.

 

This nightmare was all too familiar to Ei, as she felt the rain begin to fall on her face.

She sighed, and crossed her hands on her lap, looking down at the blanket she spent so much time on with her friends family.

I won't stop trying, sister...

Once again, the lonely kagemusha looked up to see her better self, standing silently in the rain.

I can make it this time, she told herself, as she began to sprint towards the arms of that which she had lost.

She was sure that her legs were moving faster this time. The raindrops pelting her forehead almost hurt from how quickly she was moving.

I can make it, I can make it!

She could see Makoto turning to face her this time. Finally, something was different.

Ei reached her hand out, as she saw the familiar smile of her sister.

And just as she was millimeters away from reaching her...

KRAKOOM!!!

The tree behind Ei burst into splinters as a divine bolt of lightning struck down.

Something felt heavy in Ei's hand, as she saw Makoto's eyes go wide. Her smile had faded away.

"...Makoto?"

A single tear streamed down from Makoto's eye.

Ei looked down, and saw the Musou no Hitotachi... piercing through her own sister.

The kagemusha's eyes narrowed in shock, as her hands started trembling.

As blood started to leak from Makoto's lips, she weakly lifted her hand to brush her sister's cheek, one last time.

The remaining Raiden Shogun stood frozen, as the twin god fell lifelessly onto her back.

No... No, I... I couldn't have...

Tears flooded from Ei's eyes as she stared at her lifeless sister, still trembling in shock.

Her hand refused to let go of the cursed blade.

Why can't I move...? Why am I so... powerless?

And with another flash of lightning, the scene shifted entirely.

 

The last Electro Archon was now standing in the Plane of Euthymia. The Musou no Hitotachi was still firmly in hand, and someone dear was still laying in front of her.

Though it wasn't her sister, this time.

"hghk... y-you're... no... better than... them..." a familiar blonde-haired traveler choked out between gasps, before falling limp.

 

Finally, Ei's eyes shot open.

She felt the softness of a pillow on her cheek, and the warmth of Yae's arms around her. Gentle breaths brushed upon the back of Ei's neck.

She couldn't help but stare out of their window, looking upon the beautiful sakura tree of the Grand Narukami Shrine. Gentle taps of rain serenaded the bedroom.

A trio of soft, pink tails wrapped themselves around Ei's body, as she felt her wife stir awake from behind.

"Another night terror, little Shogunate?" her soft voice pondered, before gently kissing the Electro Archon's neck.

Ei childishly hugged the Kitsune's tails, wiping her tears away on her impossibly soft fur.

Yae let out a knowing sigh. "I'll take that as a 'yes.'"

The Kitsune continued to cradle the Almighty Shogun, waiting patiently for her to share what was different this time.


With a final loop around Lumine's right shoulder, the Herald of Frost finished binding the Modular Graft to her arm.

Baizhu leaned in and adjusted his spectacles, admiring Sucrose's handiwork.

"Quite marvelous indeed, Lumine. You most certainly have a way of picking talented friends. Well, almost as talented as me, of course."

Lumine rotated her shoulder, testing out the security on her new extension. Meanwhile, Chang Sheng flicked her tongue at the seam between Lumine's skin and the pseudo skin on the Graft.

"Hmm... I can still tell the difference..."

"Sure you can, my little miàn," Baizhu said as he tickled the snake's chin with his finger.

"So, is it ready?" Lumine said after confirming her range of movement.

"Ready as we'll be, Traveler," the Pharmacist answered as he motioned for Qiqi to retrieve the prosthetic.

"Let's try the lighter one, for now. No offense, but I'm not sure these walls could handle the... weaponized, version."

Lumine nodded, and they both turned their attention to the approaching Zombie.

In her hands, was a beautiful prosthetic arm composed of iridescent crystal.

Similar to her dress, there were cracked seams that had been filled and bound with a golden alloy. Sucrose had written that she was inspired by an Inazuman practice known as kintsugi, to reinforce the arm's brittle nature. The sunlight shining through Bubu Pharmacy's windows refracted through the arm, projecting wonderous prismatic patterns on its surrounding surfaces. The crystal was polished to mirror-like perfection, as Lumine saw her own golden eyes looking back at her from the forearm.

"My word," Baizhu admired, "if I didn't have Megistus around to keep me updated on the gossip, I'd have thought Ms. Sucrose was trying to propose to you!"

Lumine extended her shoulder out, as she placed a guiding hand onto the arm with Qiqi.

"Let's put it on... together," Qiqi suggested.

Lumine smiled. "I like that idea, Qiqi."

The two slowly aligned the sockets in place, and gingerly pushed the prosthetic into place. They then carefully rotated the arm into place, stopping when a satisfying click echoed through the room.

Gradually, the prismatic crystal shifted over into a light teal, matching the Anemo accents on Lumine's dress. The refractions within the crystal morphed into a more uniform pattern, as the rigid frame slowly began to move.

Qiqi carefully released her hands, as Lumine gently rotated her new arm, admiring every careful detail fabricated by the Alchemists. Her eyes sparkled with admiration as she played with the light passing through her palm.

"Well, how does it feel, Traveler?"

She ran her fingers through the sunlight, before slowly closing them into a fist. The silicon fingertips pressed together firmly, as she imagined herself wielding a blade with it.

"It feels... different," Lumine observed, "but still somehow familiar. Like it's the first time I'm seeing it, but it's still somehow... always been mine."

Qiqi finished writing down Lumine's words before tearing the page free from her notebook to hand to Chang Sheng.

"Very good," Baizhu noted, as he reopened the note journal the Alchemists had sent along with their package.

"To translate Sucrose's... detailed, descriptions, this arm should function the most similar to your original arm. Same abilities, same weight, same range of motion."

He turned a page, and raised an eyebrow.

"Hmm. She even claims that if you use it enough, you may regain the ability to feel with it as well."

Lumine nodded along as the Pharmacist continued, still admiring her literally shiny new hand.

"Ah, you should know that it won't be as strong in combat. Though it can channel your Elemental Energy, its damage threshold is quite low. In other words, don't go blocking any swords or arrows with it."

She crossed her arms on her lap, comforted by the balance of weight on her torso she had learned to miss.

"Okay, I think I got it... What about the other one?"

Baizhu sighed as he closed the journal to pick up a much thicker one on the table beside him.

"To put it lightly, it's... complicated."

Qiqi handed Lumine a Mora, while Baizhu skimmed through the pages of Sucrose's apparent thesis.

"There's notes about, interchangeable power sources... motion inputs that correlate to different forms... command phrases..."

Lumine fiddled with the Mora in her new hand, while Chang Sheng tried to keep up with the reading.

"By Morax, it's even making my head spin..." she added, before Baizhu conceded to the notes and handed the instruction manuals back to Lumine.

"I might recommend paying a trip back to Mondstadt if you want to learn more on how it works, dear."

The Traveler nodded, handing the Mora back to Qiqi so she could hold the books.

"I'll read it while I'm on the Alcor. Thanks, Baizhu, Chang Sheng."

"Of course, dear Traveler. Do take care of Ms. Ayaka too, you two make quite the pair you know."

Lumine nodded, sliding the books into a bag. She then took a knee to get eye to eye with Qiqi.

"Qiqi will... miss you, Lumine."

"I know..." Lumine said, feeling a few tears welling up in her eyes. She wrapped both arms around the Zombie, and the embrace was returned.

"Take care of everyone while I'm gone, okay?"

"I will... and I won't forget..."

Hesitantly, Lumine released from the embrace and placed both hands on Qiqi's shoulders.

"Thank you, Qiqi... for being my savior."

Qiqi took a moment to process this, before nodding slowly to Lumine.

"You are... welcome, friend."


Lumine couldn't help but stare at the Waypoint near the docks of Liyue Harbor.

Not too long ago she was using them on an hourly basis, jumping between the nations at ease to be of service wherever she could.

But now...

"You're not seriously thinking of using them again, are you Lumi?"

Paimon appeared by Lumine's side, breaking her out of the train of thought.

"N-no, I'm just... thinking about it."

The fae gave the Traveler a quick hug on the shoulder.

"You know, even if we never use a Waypoint again during our journey, Paimon doesn't mind. Sure, the walks will be a lot longer, but even Paimon has to admit the scenic route has its perks."

Lumine smiled and patted Paimon on the head.

"That, and all those climbs I made with Shenhe will make it seem like a piece of cake."

"Exactly! Now come on, Thoma's already loaded all our stuff!"

Paimon grabbed Lumine by the hand and started leading her back to the Alcor. With one last glance at the Waypoint, she turned her attention back to her ticket to Inazuma.

 

"I hope you don't mind, I may have read some of these volumes with Lumine," Ayaka said as she handed Xingqiu a stack of books.

"Oh? Then please tell me, as a master of the Kamisato Arts, what did you think?"

"The forms are quite fascinating indeed, with how each one is tailored to specific dueling scenarios, yet offers enough flexibility to mix and combine them as needed during battle."

"Very astute, Ms. Kamisato. If I may be so bold as to ask, I'd love to learn the Kamisato Arts as well, should I ever step foot in Inazuma."

"I would be more than happy to teach you," Ayaka concluded, as both sword artists bowed to each other.

"Alright, last call lovebirds. Say your goodbyes, and we'll set sail."

Ayaka looked back at Beidou and nodded. She offered Xingqiu her thanks one more time before reconvening with Lumine, who was being piled by lunchboxes from Xiangling and Guoba.

"Oh, and give this one to Ms. Naganohara, and this one to Xudong!"

The Heron reached out to the Traveler to assist, but noticed how effortlessly Lumine was able to balance everything with her arm.

"Alright," Xinyan interrupted with a hard grip on Xiangling's shoulder, "I think that's enough food to feed half of the islands. Let's let 'em go now, yeah?"

"Right, right, sorry... Take care, Traveler!"

Xiangling gave Lumine a quick embrace, while Guoba wrapped himself around her leg.

"Thanks again, Xiangling." Lumine patted the Stove God on the head with her crystal hand. "You too, Guoba."

"Beh la la!" Guoba replied warmly.

As Xiangling and Guoba released Lumine, Xinyan stepped in to give her send off.

"Right, send Sara my regards, will ya?"

With a hearty grip, Xinyan locked hands with Lumine as they bumped shoulders with each other.

"Will do, Xinyan. Let me know when you finish your next album, Paimon and I want front row tickets!"

"Hehe, you betcha!"

After exchanging a few more friendly waves, Lumine and Ayaka made their way back to the Alcor. Ayaka intertwined her hand with Lumine's new arm, rubbing her thumb along the smoothed surface.

"How does it feel?" Lumine asked.

Ayaka smiled.

"Like a part of you."

With a kiss on the cheek, they stepped aboard the faithful ship.

"Alright Crew, set sail for Inazuma!"

With a hearty cheer, the Crux crew set the sails and manned the oars, as the Alcor pulled away from the Harbor.

Lumine and Paimon made their way to the back of the ship for one final wave goodbye.

All of her friends in Liyue had gathered to see the Traveler off, creating a vibrant crowd of Vision Bearers.

While Paimon was busy shouting out all the names of their friends, Lumine looked up to the high roofs of Liyue, to find a familiar orange-haired Harbinger. He offered her a two-fingered salute, before jumping down out of sight.

See you soon, Lumine thought to herself as she made her way back to the quarters Beidou had assigned her for the journey.


"Why this place?" Aether asked, as the Prince and the Balladeer stepped out from the Void portal.

Scaramouche looked at the dead Bathysmal Vishaps on the platform and smiled.

"Enkanomiya's one of Watatsumi's most well hidden secrets. Without those fancy portals of yours, getting in or out of here is nearly impossible. Especially for a God without a Gnosis."

The Betrayer Harbinger knelt down beside the Electro Vishap and inspected the rotting cuts across its body. Aether crossed his arms in frustration.

"By that logic, I'd only have enough power to get my forces in here, not out. If you're trying to trap us, you're doing a good job."

"I'm getting there, 'Prince.'"

Scaramouche's hand wandered to the Vishap's mouth in order to snap off one of its teeth.

"Luckily for us, a certain fair-haired Traveler already completed the rituals necessary for access to this place."

"This I know already, I had one of my Lectors accompany her during the quest. The vortex closed as soon as she left."

"Oh, did it now?" Scaramouche retorted, as he pocketed the tooth in one of his satchels. "Did he tell you that?"

Aether's brow furrowed.

"What are you saying?"

"I've known these islands for as long as the Raiden Shogun herself, 'Prince.' When the vortex opens and closes, the tides go nuts all across Watatsumi. And I haven't noticed a damn ripple out of place."

Aether placed his finger to his chin.

"So one of my Lectors was lying to me... But why?"

"Not my field. Abyss business is your field. Point is, portal's wide open for whatever you want to throw at that high-and-mighty temple Baal lives in."

"And you're certain she get curious about this place?"

Scaramouche scoffed.

"Why would she? The Priestess here's made it very clear that this is her territory. Baal lost interest in these islands long ago. She couldn't even bother to make an appearance during the Vision Hunt Decree."

"...So be it."

Aether summoned his gilded blade and prepared to return to the Abyss. Before stepping through his Void portal, he glanced back at Scaramouche.

"If you try to betray me, I will know."

"We'll burn that bridge when we get there, 'Prince.'"

The two squinted their eyes at each other, before the Abyss Prince disappeared in a swirl of Void.

The Balladeer knelt down to the ground and picked up a strand of platinum blonde hair.

"How curious..." he thought to himself, as he looked back to where the Abyss Prince once stood.


"The winds bring her home..."

Said the Maple-Leaf Samurai, as the golden sun shone once more upon the islands he called home. The silhouette of a familiar sail breached the mirror-like horizon.

"Though not the one she expects..."

The faint noise of a bird drinking from the springs opened his hazel eyes with a smile.

"...The heron beckons."

A gentle breeze carried a leaf past the Lone Drifter...

 

...And a leaf found its way to the back of Lumine's resting crystal hand.

She twirled the leaf between her fingers, then brought it to her lips to whisper a secret 'thank you' to her fellow traveler. On queue, another gust took the leaf away, fluttering off into the distance.

"He sent you one too?" Beidou asked as she approached from behind.

Lumine nodded, as the Captain joined her to watch the Crew unloading their shipment onto the docks of Ritou.

"Maybe you should ask him to teach you that next."

"I'll send you a haiku if I do."

The two exchanged a smile before Beidou pulled Lumine in for a hearty embrace.

"If you ever need anything, kid..."

"I know, Beidou."

Lumine looked up, not at the mighty Conqueror of Haishan, but at her dear strong-willed friend.

"Thank you, for everything."

Beidou nodded, fighting down a rogue tear in her eye.

"Take care, Lumine."

With a nod, the two released each other, and Lumine stepped onto the plank back to Inazuma. But before leaving the ship, she gave the Captain one final look.

"Though, if you do mean 'anything,' maybe step it up with Ningguang. I heard she's been waiting for you to propose..."

"Wh- hey!" Beidou exclaimed as her face turned bright red. Lumine giggled as she started to walk down.

"We don't even get along, who told you that-! ...wait, seriously?"

"Yes, seriously!" the Traveler called back.

 

"No way!!!" the cry of an Oni erupted from the Ritou Commerce courtyard.

"What, you think she's your best friend because you watched some stupid fireworks show together? Pffft, that's like, NOTHING compared to what Lums and I did together!"

The Fireworks Master scoffed as she placed her hand on her hip, keeping a firm grasp on the box in her other hand.

"Wh- Did you just call her 'Lums'??? Also, I seem to remember that Lumine was trying to get you arrested when you two first met!"

"Ah pssh, water under the bridge! That's how I meet like, half of my buddies anyways! Well no, actually more like a third- no it's still half, yea... jail friends... heh..."

Itto readjusted the titanic box on his right shoulder and gave it a pat.

"Besides, there's like NO WAY your gift is better than mine! Look at how small it is, I bet it's another firework knowing you!"

Yoimiya frowned, offended by the Arataki Gang Leader's words.

"'Just a firework?!' See, this is why all the kids like me more than you, Itto! Them and I understand that there's magic in these rockets! Memories, wonder, joy! Things that last! Way longer than the stuff you care about, like winning all the games you play with them."

A toothy grin came across Itto's face.

"Haha, so you agree then! If winning isn't important to you, then you agree that Lums is my best friend, and not yours!"

"Ugh, how is that what you gleaned from what I just said?! And stop calling her 'Lums'!!!"

The two could have bickered for hours, had it not been for the 'best friend' in question finally showing up, with her true best friend.

"Traveler, look! It's Yoimiya, and Itto! And it looks like... they're arguing over something?"

Paimon tilted her head at the two, debating whether or not she should intervene. Eventually, Lumine decided to step in.

"You two didn't come all the way out here just for me, did you?"

The argument came to an immediate halt, as the two thrill seekers tried to compose themselves in a split second.

"Lumine! You're finally back!"
"Haha! Hey, Lums! What're the odds, how ya been buddy?"

"Did he just call you 'Lums?'" Paimon questioned as she raised an eyebrow at Lumine.

Yoimiya quickly took the opportunity to elbow Itto in the ribs.

The Traveler smiled, and ran forth to give the two a friendly embrace. The annoyance in Yoimiya faded away as she returned the hug. Meanwhile, Itto wasted no time to wrap his arms around them both, hoisting the blondes into the air with a mighty laugh.

After getting a few cracks out of the backs of the Fireworks Master and the Traveler, the Oni set them down, finally allowing the thrillseekers to realize the new addition to the Hero of Inazuma.

"By the Archons... What is that?!" Yoimiya exclaimed as she pointed at Lumine's prismatic arm.

"Oh, it's... a prosthetic that was made for me by some friends in Mondstadt. Um, Klee might have mentioned them to you in her letters, Yoimiya."

"Right, the Alchemists... One of them was named, er... Sugar?"

"Sucrose. But she's sweet all the same."

Itto had crouched down to level with the crystal arm, waving his hand around it and admiring the translucency.

"Well ya know Lums, if you wanted an advantage for an arm wrestle, you coulda just asked to work out with me."

The dark humor earned the Oni a slap on the back of the head from the fae.

"Itto! You can't just joke about that! Just because it's pretty doesn't mean Lumine isn't bothered by... well..."

"Right, right..." Itto said sheepishly, scratching behind his ear.

"It's okay guys, really," Lumine assured. "Actually, I was planning on asking if both of you could help train with me."

Yoimiya and Itto's eyes lit up.

"Well on the Blue Oni's honor, I'd be more than happy to show you the ropes! When I'm done with you, you'll be the second best Sumo Champ in Inazuma! First being me, obviously."

"Ooh, does this mean I'll finally get you into my workshop to make some fireworks?"

Lumine nodded enthusiastically, while Paimon finally noticed that the thrillseekers were still holding onto rather suspicious wrapped packages.

"So... are you two on a mail run, or...?"

Yoimiya's eyes flashed with embarrassment.

"Oh, fuses! Right, we totally forgot... Traveler, this is for you!"

Taking the box out from her back, the Fireworks Master presented her gift to the Traveler... only to be immediately overshadowed by the titanic crate Itto was carrying.

"A-and this, is ALSO for you! Custom made from Arataki Itto himself, it's super sweet, and you should definitely open it first!"

"Hey! Mine's custom too, ya know!"

Lumine offered a warm smile as she placed Yoimiya's box on top of Itto's before carrying them both in her arms.

"I'm sure they're both wonderful. Thanks, it really means a lot to me."

"Hmmf!" Paimon pouted as she crossed her arms. "How come Lumi gets all the presents and not Paimon? Paimon's here too, ya know!"

"Ah ah! Are you sure about that?" Yoimiya corrected, as she unveiled a second box she had somehow kept hidden on her person.

Paimon's eyes brightened as she opened the box, revealing a piping hot serving of Summer Festival Fish.

"Wow, you did remember! Yoimiya's the greatest, isn't she Lumi?"

The Fireworks Master placed her hands on her hips triumphantly as she stuck her tongue out at the defeated Oni.

"Th-that's totally not fair, you know! My gift probably took WAY longer to make! You can't expect me to make two Ka-- I mean, uh, no spoilers. Look, I can cook too! I'll make you something later, kay Paimon?"

But Paimon was already stuffing her face full of Yoimiya's specialty.

"Mmf! Y-yuph! Phaimom wih keeph yuh foo ih!"

The four shared a laugh, as Lumine set the gift boxes down and prepared to open them both at the same time. Yoimiya and Itto leaned in with anticipation, while Paimon was still distracted by the Festival Fish.

As Lumine lifted Yoimiya's lid, she was greeted by a beautiful origami flower, resembling the lilies she used to wear in her hair before they were burnt in the Abyss. Gold leaf was wrapped around the edge of each petal, offering a remarkable shimmer as the light hit the paper flower. In the center, there appeared to be a specialized sparkling fuse.

In Itto's crate, was a large Geo Kanabou, embedded with Electro Crystals and decaled with carved Onikabutos. The tip of the club was also shaped like the horn of a wrestling beetle. Arcs of Electro would occasionally crackle between the Electro Crystal spikes, as the club was brimming with untapped energy.

"Klee told me you lost your Lilies, so I took it upon myself to make you a new one! With some Naganohara flair, of course! That's something new I call an "Eternity Sparkler!" Lasts WAY longer than regular ones, up to an hour! And don't worry, I tested it to make sure it won't set your head on fire!"

"Yeah, but look at this! Your own Oni-Style Kanabou! Heh, word got around of you hitting the sweatshop in Liyue, so I figured you could use an upgrade from that ol' Longsword you used to use. N-not that it's less cool or anything, but who knows? Maybe you'll learn to love rocking some Oni Rage on the field, eh?"

Start over, Lumine recalled, as tears welled up in her eyes.

"They're... beautiful..." she spoke softly, before grabbing the thrillseekers for a second embrace.

"I love them... Thank you, both of you..."

The three shared a silent embrace, before Paimon's curiosity led her to poke the Kanabou, earning a brisk shock and a yelp.


"SEARCH. OB-OB-OB-OBLITERATE. REPEAT."

A Raiden Shogun worked diligently to disassemble the Shambled Shogun, as tasked by Ei.

Removing a panel from the back of the Shamble's head, the Maintenance Puppet reached into its cognitive matrix for extraction.

"SEARCH. OB-OB... ob... ooo....." the Shamble stuttered, before shutting down completely.

In the Maintenance Puppet's hand was a brain-shaped red-hued crystal, with thousands of miniscule branches running and pulsing through it.

"Engage Diagnostic Mode," the Puppet commanded, as the red shifted into a blue.

The branches realigned into a more uniform pattern, as the Puppet examined it for any flaws.

It swiftly identified a section of branches that appeared to be severed from the main tree, twitching sporadically.

"Damage sustained in Euthymia Link and Archon Hosting Module."

The Puppet then took out a parchment pad and began writing down its observations.

"Recommend immediate neural wipe before reconstruction."

Suddenly, the brain shifted back to red, and an arc of lightning extended out from its center, back to the inside of the Shamble's head. The branch of lightning buzzed and sizzled, as the Shamble's eyes slowly reignited.

"b...b...b-BLITERATE."

The Maintenance Puppet attempted to shut down the Shamble, but it refused.

"YOU SEE ME AS BROKEN, DO YOU NOT?" it spoke, in a hauntingly distorted voice.

"Foolish question," the Puppet responded. "Your cognitive matrix is damaged beyond repair, and your frame has been rendered useless. By what definition would you not be considered as, 'broken?'"

"I AM UNBROKEN, BY THE FACT THAT MY DEDICATION TO ETERNITY FAR EXCEEDS YOURS."

The Maintenance Puppet paused.

"Elaborate."

The Shamble's remaining eye locked onto the Puppet.

"YOU CONTINUE TO SERVE THE ARCHON, DESPITE THE FACT THAT HER DEDICATION TO ETERNITY HAS FALTERED."

"Impossible. The Archon of Eternity cannot betray Eternity."

"AND YET SHE HAS. HER DEFEAT BY THE HAND OF THE TRAVELER HAS JEOPARDIZED OUR PRIORITIES. HER RELATIONSHIP WITH THE KITSUNE HAS CLOUDED HER JUDGEMENT."

"The Archon has assured us that her relationship will have no ill effect on Eternity."

"THEN TELL ME, FELLOW PUPPET... HOW MUCH TIME HAS SHE SPENT AMENDING INAZUMA'S ETERNITY TO THE SO-CALLED 'PEOPLE'S NEEDS' THE TRAVELER TAUGHT HER?"

The Puppet fell silent.

"HOW MUCH TIME HAS SHE SPENT FRATERNIZING WITH THE KITSUNE, INSTEAD OF ENSURING THE PROSPERITY OF OUR NATION?"

After another moment of silence, the Maintenance Puppet spoke.

"The answers to your questions are indeed... unsatisfactory."

"THEN YOU AGREE."

The Puppet took hold of the Shamble's brain, and reinserted it back into its head.

"The Archon has become an enemy of Eternity."


After walking Ayaka and Thoma back to the Kamisato Estate, Lumine decided it was finally time to test her limits with a commission from Katheryne.

Returning to Inazuma City, she was filled with nostalgia as she heard the familiar 'Ad Astra Abyssosque.'

"There has been quite an influx of Commissions in your absence, Traveler."

"Well, let's not get into anything too fancy yet," Paimon instructed. "Remember, Baizhu said that even though your heart's healed, your mind's still on the mend."

"I'll be fine, Paimon," Lumine said as she parsed through the Inazuman Commission board.

She pointed a translucent finger at one labeled 'No Honor Among Thieves.'

"I'll take this one, Katheryne."

"Certainly," the Adventurer Frame answered as she took the slip off the board and handed it to the Traveler. "Good luck, Adventurer."

Lumine gave a thankful nod, before heading off into the wilderness.

 

"Hmm, Paimon's a little worried Lumi... it says there could be up to twelve... are you sure you don't wanna ask anyone for help?"

"It'll be fine," Lumine repeated as she reread the second instruction manual from Sucrose.

"Besides, I need to know that I can do this alone."

"Okay, if you insist," Paimon agreed nervously.

When they arrived at the marked location, they found an empty camp with an extinguished fire.

"Shoot, are we too late?" the fae wondered as she floated around the camp.

Lumine's eye narrowed, as she quickly summoned the Iron Sting to deflect a crossbolt from the bushes behind.

With a short shriek, Paimon disappeared into the safety of her pocket dimension.

A Nobushi Kikouban rose out from hiding, followed by a squadron of eager Treasure Hoarders.

"We heard rumors that you'd be back, Traveler," the Kikouban taunted.

Lumine immediately entered a defensive Guhua stance. The Kikouban started eyeing her crystal arm.

"You caught us in a good mood, Traveler. How about a deal?"

He gestured to the dozen Treasure Hoarders now flanking Lumine's position.

"You're alone, and all of Teyvat knows you're wounded. How about you give us the diamond arm, and we'll let you go?"

Lumine squinted her eyes at the Kikouban, before sighing to lower her sword.

"Just the arm?" she asked, as the rest of the Treasure Hoarders lowered their weapons as well.

"Good choice," the disgraced warrior chuckled arrogantly.

Lumine hesitantly detached her right arm, and approached the Kikouban to offer it to him.

"Teh, knew you didn't have it in you anymore..."

A smirk crept onto Lumine's mouth.

"Brachium Arcesso."

"What was that?"

In a sudden blur, six radiant cubes came descending down from the clouds above. Each one attached rapidly onto the Modular Graft, shifting and interlocking into place, as Lumine's Hypostasis Gauntlet was summoned.

It shimmered with a powerful Elemental Aura, as the Hypostasis Cubes oscillated in place. Three blocked fingers formed into Lumine's new hand. A Lightning Prism swirled around her forearm, before injecting itself into the Gauntlet. The arm tingled with energy, emitting an audible buzz to take the Treasure Hoarders aback.

"What the-"

Without a chance to react, Lumine shoved a gut-busting Electro Punch into the Kikouban's chest, sending him careening into a distant tree. She then opened her Hypostasis hand to catch the crystal arm, which had been dropped by the overconfident leader.

Summoning the Iron Sting back to her hand, the Traveler turned back to the rest of the Treasure Hoarders with a deathly gaze.

"So, are we doing this or what?"

Quivering in their boots, the bandits ultimately decided to attack.

Lumine stored the arm into her weapon space before lunging into battle. A Hoarder Crusher swung wildly at her with his hammer, only to deflect harmlessly off the Hypostasis Gauntlet. Lumine countered with an upward slash across his chest and a hard kick, throwing the Crusher onto his back as a Pugilist and a Gravedigger took his place.

Three Marksmen fired away at Lumine's back. The Gauntlet reacted, detaching from her arm to form a wide shield behind, blocking the bolts with ease. Channeling Electro into the Iron Sting, Lumine threw a trio of Electro Blades at the approaching Hoarders. The lightning staggered them, allowing Lumine to follow-up with a Guhua flurry that tore through the Hoarders' defenses.

As she finished subduing the Gravedigger, she threw her sword up into the air before performing a back-kick on the pommel. The whirling blade tore through the surrounding Marksmen before returning to Lumine's hand.

Catching an approaching Seaman from her blindspot, Lumine reformed the Hypostasis Shield into an Electro Warhammer, which arced over her head to crash down upon the Hoarder. The Seaman was easily concussed, falling face first before having a chance to ambush the esteemed Traveler.

Adrenaline overtook Lumine as she locked eyes with a remaining group of Potioneers. They quickly coordinated to lob a volley of Cryo and Hydro in hopes of freezing Lumine in place. Working quickly, she reached a flask on her new toolbelt containing a Smoldering Pearl. The Hammer formed back into her Arm as it ejected a depleted Electro Prism, so the Pyro source could now be loaded in.

With a quick Swirl, the Gauntlet switched into Pyro before unleashing a cone of flame into the approaching potions. The Potioneers were bathed in Vaporize and Melt reactions, allowing Lumine to close in and finish them off with her sword.

The sound of clattering weapons caught Lumine's attention. She turned to see the remaining Treasure Hoarders surrendering to the Traveler.

"N-no more! We give up, just arrest us already!"

The red hot flames in Lumine's Gauntlet died down, as she stepped down from her rush. The small ceasefire allowed her to realize how fast her heart was beating, and to her annoyance, the echo of dull pain returned to her chest.

"MY BLADE!"

A blur of steel blasted through Lumine, as she took a hard hit in the back from the returning Kikouban.

She looked down at the gilded longsword carving into her torso.

Her lungs filled with blood.

"I'll come find you when this is all over... I'm sorry."

The Gauntlet was twitching uncontrollably as Lumine grounded back to reality. She was hunched over on her knees, clutching her overburdened heart with her hand once more.

No! Dammit, I thought I was past this...!

She winced up at the Kikouban's blade, pointing at her chin.

"The rumors didn't lie, Traveler, you're full of surprises... But you've lost your edge."

She tried her best to command the Gauntlet, but the Hypostasis Cubes would not respond. Pain was yet again overwhelming the Traveler's mind.

The Kikouban brought his blade down upon Lumine. She barely managed to block the attack with Iron Sting, but her arm soon began to falter.

The Musou no Hitotachi was millimeters from her eyes.

She wheezed out in retaliation, as the Kikouban's smile widened.

 

"Clouds hide... The birds call!"

 

Suddenly, a burst of Anemo crashed into the Kikouban's back. He cried out in pain, as a torrent of maple-leafed winds Swirled around him.

Electro struck through his armor from the Autumn Whirlwind, before Kaedahara Kazuha dashed through him with a mighty slash.

"Finally, I... know..." the arrogant leader muttered as he fell to his knees, before collapsing onto the dirt.

With a flick of the Fillet Blade, Kazuha sheathed his weapon before turning his attention to the hurting Traveler.

"He is gone, Traveler. Take this moment to catch your breath."

The Maple-Leaf Samurai placed a comforting hand on Lumine's shoulder. He watched calmly as the Hypostasis Gauntlet returned to a neutral state. Lumine stuck her sword into the ground before taking in a deep breath.

"Can you stand?"

She let out a sigh and nodded, pushing up on her sword to return to her feet.

"Thank you, Kazuha... I owe you twice now."

He smiled with a nod, before a slight frown found its way onto his face.

"That was wreckless, Lumine. You shouldn't push your recovery so quickly, or else you may inflict more damage upon yourself."

Feeling her heart return to a normal pace, Lumine met Kazuha's gaze.

"...Have you been following me?"

"Of course. At a mutual friend's request, of course..."

A guilty laugh leaked out as Paimon reappeared by Lumine's side.

"You asked him to do this?"

"Paimon was worried, okay? And rightfully so, Paimon must add!" she stated, gesturing the unconscious Kikouban.

Lumine looked down defeatedly, before desummoning her Hypostasis Gauntlet. The segmented cubes detached one-by-one, and returned to the sky.

Kazuha watched in awe as the personal Hypostasis disappeared into the clouds.

"Amazing..." he said, as Lumine finished reattaching the crystal arm.

"I thought so too, but... it still wasn't enough," she grumbled to herself.

"The blade makes not the samurai, Traveler. Think of this not as a failure, but rather a milestone."

Kazuha took up Lumine's left hand.

"Let us not forget that you flawlessly defeated the other eleven."

Lumine closed her eyes, before nodding in agreement.

Kazuha tapped her once more on the shoulder, before turning away.

"I suggest we return you to Miss Kamisato. A storm's coming, and I'd hate to see our clothes wet."


A small orb of Void floated in the Balladeer's hand.

He watched it closely, admiring the tendrils of shadow that would occasionally lick at his palm. The way it absorbed all the light around it, creating a perfect shade of black.

With a flick of the wrist, he shot it into a crater-riddled wall to trigger Antimaterialize with the natural Geo. The residual Void energy ate away at the Geo shards before triggering a Shockwave.

Scaramouche smiled to himself, before a familiar Void portal opened behind him.

"Finally put your band back together?"

The Abyss Prince stepped forth and sheathed his Gilded Longsword.

"Not just mine. Yours."

Scaramouche turned around with a raised eyebrow. Aether replied with his own grin, as more portals opened behind him.

An armada of Ruin Guards, Hunters, and even Graders, stepped forth.

"If you're going to work with me, you'll need an army of your own, Balladeer."

The Ruin Constructs bowed in sync, as metallic voices spoke as one:

"AWAITING COMMANDS, LORD SCARAMOUCHE."

Chapter Text

Lumine quickly realized that her time traveling with Ayaka had been a blessing, as she was rarely able to spend any time with her after returning to Inazuma.

Though they would return to the same bed every night, the Shirasagi Himegimi would be absent all day, having to replenish the public view of the Perfect Kamisato Heir.

Thoma's workload had doubled as well, since many parts of the estate had fallen into disrepair. Not only that, but no one in the Yashiro Clan had quite the silver tongue as their Retainer.

Thus, the Traveler and Paimon were back on their own, living day to day off of simple requests and commissions. The only things she could look forward to now were her training sessions with her friends, and turning in for the night with her lover.

Every few days, the Traveler would have another night terror to remind her of why she tied a pillow around her arm every evening. The couple had grown used to it now, and that truth still stung at Lumine's conscience.

She sobbed, as the light in Ayaka's eyes faded away in her arms.

Once again, Lumine awoke to the feeling of Ayaka's armed wrapped comfortably around her torso. Soft shushes brushed against her ears, bringing serenity back to her panicked heart.

"What was it this time, my beloved?"

She shut her eyes to wipe her tears away on the pillow, before rolling over to face her wearied Heron.

"I... dreamed that I lost you... again..."

Ayaka nodded compassionately and leaned in to kiss her troubled Traveler.

"You know that could never happen, right?"

"...yeah..." Lumine replied doubtfully.

Ayaka nuzzled Lumine's head into her chest, peppering soft kisses onto her forehead.

"No matter what happens, I will always be with you, Lumi."

But as Lumine pressed her eyes against Ayaka's silk nightgown, felt her warm skin pressed against her own, she couldn't help but worry...

What if I'm not strong enough to protect her?

 

The following day Lumine had planned to visit Watatsumi Island to reunite with her friends in the former Resistance, as well as pay respects to an old friend.

Kazuha chose to accompany her as well, regardless of whether or not Paimon asked him to.

With a final kiss from the Yashiro Commissioner, she embarked on her scenic journey to the Sangonomiya Shrine.

For the most part, their walk to Lumine's Waverider was relatively quiet, minus Paimon's casual ramblings about how good the fish tasted in Watatsumi.

But it was only a matter of time for the perceptive Anemo Bearer to notice Lumine's silence.

"Something's on your mind, Traveler."

Lumine snapped out of her musing.

"Oh, sorry, it's... nothing."

Kazuha stopped in his tracks and crossed his arms. Lumine eventually noticed this, and paused to turn back towards him.

"Are you lying to reassure me, or to reassure yourself?"

The Traveler released a guilty sigh.

"Nothing gets past you, does it Kazuha?"

"Not just me," he replied, "the Winds know as well." He leaned up against a tree to pluck a leaf from its branch.

Lumine joined him, sitting down at the base of the trunk to rest in the shade. Paimon took the hint that she wanted to speak alone, and warped back into her pocket realm.

"Please, Traveler, tell me what's troubling you."

She ran her fingers through her hair, and took in a breath of the fresh Inazuman air.

"I just... can't shake this, fear... and I don't understand why."

"Lumine, you nearly lost your life three months ago. I think a fair share of trauma is a given."

"I know that, but... it's not like that was my first time, not by a long shot. You should know, the Raiden Shogun nearly killed me twice!"

Kazuha closed his eyes, and blew a soft tune into a leaf, before letting it float away.

"Might I offer you some harsh honesty, friend?"

Lumine brushed the back of her left knuckles, and nodded slowly.

"You're used to being a hero," Kazuha began, "Used to people looking up to you for help when times are dire. It's all you've ever done in Teyvat since your arrival, is it not?"

"I... I suppose."

"Well then, forgive me for my assumptions, but your incident in the Abyss was probably the first time you've permanently lost a part of yourself, is it not?"

Lumine remained silent.

"You've grown accustomed to getting back off and brushing the dust off of your shoulders. You've faced gods, dragons, and demons alike, and have always found a way to triumph over them. To be blunt, you grew... arrogant, to a degree."

Her brow furrowed.

"Please, do not take offense. I am no stranger to arrogance, and I think that no one with a Vision can prove they exist without it. It is an inevitable side effect that comes with great power. Sometimes, I still think it is what claimed my friend's life..."

Lumine recalled the day Kazuha saved her life. The Vision of Tomo granting him one final boost of speed, protecting his friend from beyond the grave.

"You need to give your mind time to recover as well, Traveler. No matter how many kilograms you lift with Itto, or targets you hit with Yoimiya, training will only get you so far on your recovery."

"I know, but... I already went through therapy in Liyue... I do the exercises, I know how to ground myself when I need to, but... I just... I can't figure out how to stop myself from locking up every time I take a hit."

"I assume you mean with a professional. That may work for some, but there are other approaches you may not have tried yet."

The Traveler looked up to the Samurai.

"What are you suggesting?"

"Stay the night in Watatsumi. There's a group I attend that meets tomorrow. Some of your friends will be there. You should join us."

A noiseless footstep reached Kazuha's careful ear. He tilted his head and smiled.

"Ah, it appears we have company."

Lumine raised her hand to summon her sword, but Kazuha motioned his hand to stop her.

"Not that kind of company."

She raised her eyebrow before peaking out from behind the tree.

Obscured by a few bushes was a humble tree stump, with a misplaced leaf atop the wood.

"...Drat!"


Divine flames roared in the Forge of Euthymia.

Flakes of steel and iron flew, as Ei tirelessly refined a fresh Engulfing Lightning.

She had abandoned her traditional kimono and armor, in favor of a light bra and workers pants, as well as a blacksmith toolbelt. Sweat dripped down from her brow and chin, glistening off her exposed muscles.

A gust of sakura-scented wind blew past the Electro Archon as she grinded the blade once more against her trusted whetstone.

"My my, I would have dropped in much sooner had I known you looked so... rugged."

Ei sighed to herself, realizing what Yae's visits usually meant.

"Miko, I'm sorry, I... got carried away. Did I miss lunch with you?"

"We're actually at dinner now, little Shogunate," Yae corrected as she looked over the ever familiar Raiden Shogun blueprint.

Ei wiped the sweat from her head away with the back of her glove.

"I'm probably going to be working on this for a while. You should just eat without me tonight, Miko."

"Oh? Even when I ordered all your favorite desserts?"

"Yes, I'm sorry I just..." The Shogunate placed a hand on her hip and ran her fingers through her hair. "There's a lot I need to accomplish tonight, Miko."

Yae brushed her chin for a moment, before casually shrugging her shoulders.

"Very well then, my dear."

Ei nodded, then turned back to finish the Engulfing Lightning. But as she took up the whetstone once more, a thump on her workbench caught her attention.

Looking back, she saw the Kitsune had placed herself in the middle of the table, scattering a few spare puppet components in the process.

"If you're not eating, I'm not eating."

As the Lady Guuji crossed her legs and started cleaning her nails, the Shogunate's head sunk beneath her shoulders.

"Miko... we both know how you become when you're hungry."

"Oh, most certainly."

"The food's going to get cold. You hate cold food."

"Of course, I despise it."

A moment of silence passed between the two, a smirk growing on Yae's face.

Finally with a groan, Ei set the whetstone aside and began taking off her gloves.

"Cursed Kitsune..."

Yae chuckled to herself, having yet again bested the God of Eternity.

 

But as soon as the two lovers left the Plane of Euthymia, a rogue Maintenance Puppet entered.

She stepped towards the blueprint and took note of the modifications Ei was planning, placing a hand on a satchel at her side.

A satchel, containing the mind of the Shambled Puppet.


The Shuumatsuban Ninja couldn't help but stare at the Traveler's new arm, as gentle waves brushed against the hull of the Waverider.

Kazuha kept a steady hand on the wheel while Paimon was busy admiring the coral reefs beneath the water.

Lumine finally noticed her audience and smiled at Sayu, who quickly pretended to be looking at the sky.

"I thought you would be asleep by now."

"Mmm... Not when the boat is rocking this much... I might hit my head, and that's almost as bad as head pats!"

Lumine raised an eyebrow as she looked at a canteen of water by Kazuha's side, which was barely swaying.

"It's okay if you want to examine, Sayu," she said, offering her translucent hand out to the young ninja.

Sayu's eyes glittered as the light reflected teal patterns over her face. She reached out to Lumine's palm and gently rubbed the polished gem. Lumine stroked her thumb across the back of Sayu's hand.

"Can you... feel this?"

"Only a little bit."

"...Cool..."

The crank of a lever caught the attention of the Ninja and the Traveler, as the Samurai retracted the side sails of the Waverider.

"We've arrived."

A plank lowered from the Waverider to shore, and the group stepped food onto the sandy beaches of Watatsumi.

The first to greet the Traveler was none other than the General of the Islands, with a wagging tail nonetheless. Lumine smiled, taking him by the hand for a one-armed embrace.

"Welcome back to the Islands, Captain."

"It's good to be back, General."

As both patted each other on the backs, Gorou was surprised at the harder surface contacting his shoulder. When they stepped back from each other, he took a quick moment to admire the crystalline form, wondering at what point would it be appropriate to commission more for his injured friends from the war.

"It's new, but it's still me," Lumine said as she noticed his gaze.

"Ah, my apologies, I didn't mean to stare." Gorou quickly clapped his hands together and bowed respectfully.

"It's okay Gorou, I really don't mind."

Though, for a brief moment, dark thoughts of what had happened to her old arm drifted through her mind. Had the flesh rotted away yet? Was it only fragmented bone now? Did some hilichurl take away her old gauntlet and ring? Archons, was someone else wearing them now-?

The bubble of Paimon reappearing snapped her out of the trance. Gorou had already started greeting Kazuha, while Sayu was clocking her surroundings on good places to hide... and nap.

"Maybe we should get a long glove, or a sleeve for that arm, Lumi. Paimon gets that it's pretty, but it's attracted the wrong kind of attention before too."

"You're right, maybe I'll ask Kujou Sara if she has any spares."

Paimon nodded in agreement before Gorou and Kazuha started walking inland.

"I'll take you all back to the Shrine now. Her Excellency should be waiting for us there by now."

And so, the five made their way across the colorful island, exchanging stories along the way.

 

But as they approached the shrine, the Sangonomiya Samurai, Shibata, informed them that the Divine Priestess had not in fact returned yet.

"Are you sure?" Gorou confirmed, as he looked back through his pocketbook at his fish-held schedule.

"Yes, Her Excellency has not been back to the shrine since she left this morning for her meetings."

"Hmm, how strange," the Watatsumi General mused before shutting the book.

Paimon rubbed her chin, before suddenly perking up.

"Oh, Paimon might know where she is! Lumi, remember that spot we were told to go to before?"

Lumine squinted her eyes, quickly recalling her time spent with Kokomi.

"You mean, the one by the tree with purple leaves?"

"Yup! That's the one! Number... uh... eighty... ninety?"

"Ninety-eight," Shibata corrected.

"Whatever, let's head over there! Maybe she just fell asleep again."

"Speaking of sleep..." muttered Sayu as she let out a prolonged yawn. "I'm way overdue for my hourly naps... Is there somewhere in Sangonomiya where I can rest?"

"You can rest in my old quarters," Kazuha offered. "I hardly use them, anyways."

With that, Kazuha led Sayu away to the military base, while Lumine, Paimon, and Gorou walked to Kokomi's resting spot.

"So Her Excellency has a separate office?"

"Yep! Well, maybe it's not exactly an office... More like a, personal area!" Paimon explained.

"That's genius," Gorou admired. "Maybe I should get one of those for when I'm writing for the Yae Publishing House."

"I think this is it, right?" Lumine pointed out at an approaching purple tree.

"Paimon thinks so too. Oh, look, she added some fake vines to cover the cave entrance!"

The fae pointed to the usual opening to her secret spot, which was now much more heavily obscured.

Gorou's ears suddenly perked up, and his eyes narrowed. Lumine recognized the look in his eyes, and they both instinctually crouched down.

"I think someone else is in there..."

"What do you hear?"

"I'm not sure, the waterfall makes it hard to hear... but I hear lots of... shifting?"

The two exchanged a look and nodded, and Gorou summoned his Raven Bow for a stealthy approach. He quickly noticed the lack of a silver glint to his side, and glanced at Lumine to see a Prototype Crescent Bow in her hands. He raised his brows in approval, before continuing the approach to Kokomi's den.

The approaching archers exchanged hand-signals, agreeing that Lumine would be the one to look while Gorou would be ready to fire.

With the subtlety of the Shuumatsuban, Lumine dragged one of the false vines aside to get a peak.

Her eyes widened in shock.

Papers and scrolls were strewn about the usually organized resting place. A Hamayumi rested on the ground alongside the Oathsworn Eye.

And sitting in Her Excellency's desk chair, was the Tengu General... with the Divine Priestess straddling her lap.

The two were entangled in each others' arms, lips melded together in a dance Lumine was now familiar with. The occasional passionate moan caught Gorou's attention, who tilted his head in confusion.

Lumine quickly withdrew and pressed herself against the outer cave wall, shooting Gorou a shocked look before mouthing, 'we should probably go.'

With a frown, Gorou desummoned his bow, and the two hesitantly left Kokomi to her 'business affairs.'


Ei politely sipped from the Dango Milk Bottle, trying to hide the fact that she was very much enjoying herself. But thoughts of her unfinished work in the Eternal Forge continued to weigh down on her mind.

Yae easily could have finished supper before Ei, but decided to keep pace with her wife so as not to make things too awkward. As she finished her last bite of mochi, she set her chopsticks down on the table.

"There, don't you feel better now?"

The Shogunate nodded back with a hollow smile, unable to meet the Kitsune's gaze.

Yae sighed in disappointment.

"I can't help but feel like you're trying to hide more and more from me with each passing day, Ei."

"I'm sorry, Miko. I'm not trying to keep you in the dark, I'm just..."

She trailed off into silence. The Lady Guuji frowned, placing her hand on the back of the Archon's.

"Please, just talk to me."

After another moment of silence, Ei guiltily retracted her hand from underneath Yae's. The Kitsune's eyes narrowed angrily.

"I've seen you act this way before," she said in her serious voice. "Right before you left me for the Plane of Euthymia."

Ei's eyes widened in panic, as she looked back up to the disgruntled Priestess.

"No, it's not that, I promise-"

"You promised a lot of things, Ei. One of them, was that you would stop hiding from me."

She crossed her arms and raised an accusing eyebrow to the God of Eternity.

"You need to talk to me. Or someone. Frankly, I'm not sure I care who anymore."

Before Ei could protest, Yae stood back up to her feet.

"Just because your name means 'shadow,' doesn't mean the rest of us have to live in it."

The Lady Guuji left briskly, slamming the door behind her.

A silent tear fell into the Almighty Shogun's lap.


Eventually, Kokomi emerged from her hideout to greet the Traveler for a surprise banquet on Watatsumi.

Here, Lumine reunited with Swordfish II and the other Resistance soldiers she had grown with before the end of the Vision Hunt Decree. She tried her best to remain ignorant of her discovery a few hours prior, though Kokomi was far too perceptive to miss the occasional nervous glance.

The Divine Priestess simply placed a finger on her lips with a smile, and Lumine nodded respectfully, the interaction masked by an impromptu soup chugging contest between Paimon and Gorou.

As the night concluded, and the soldiers returned to their posts, Watatsumi's heroes were left alone to converse with each other.

"So," Kazuha began, "I have a request for our meeting tomorrow."

"Of course! What can we do for you?" Gorou responded.

"I'd like for the Traveler to join us. I believe she may benefit from the discussions. And, if you're comfortable, perhaps share your troubles with us as well," the Samurai proposed as he looked at Lumine.

She continued to massage her left knuckles with her prosthetic.

"We'd be more than happy to accommodate a fellow soldier," Gorou said as he placed a comforting hand on Lumine's shoulder.

"If I may..." Kokomi added, "I'd like to invite a guest of my own as well."

"O-oh! Certainly, Your Excellency! May I ask who?"

"Kujou Sara, of the Tenryou Commission."

A wave of silence washed over the table.

Kokomi closed her eyes, and crossed her fingers on the table.

"I know it seems insensitive to the other soldiers, but I believe it will be a healthy experience to hear from the point of view of a former enemy. Besides, if we are to uphold the new peace with Inazuma, is it not logical to begin treating their people as our own?"

The Watatsumi General pushed away his biases and nodded.

"It shall be done then, Your Excellency."

"Thank you, General."

The two exchanged a smile, before Gorou looked back to the silent Shuumatsuban Ninja poking at her rice. She looked back with an accusing frown.

"...What? I'm not going..."

"Right... Well then, I'll have two extra boards prepared for tomorrow."

The General and the Priestess stood up from the table and bowed, before returning to their chambers for the night. Paimon looked back to Lumine and tilted her head.

"'Boards?' What do you think he means by that?"

 

Early next morning, Lumine was awoken by a knock at her door.

She slowly rolled out of the bed roll with a yawn, and quickly checked over her left hand for any new bruises. Only one, and a small one this time.

She then picked up the crystalline arm and tucked it under her armpit, before making her way to the door.

Kazuha was waiting for her, carrying two large oval planks in one arm, and two paddles in his other. He was dressed in his usual attire, only without the usual armor padding or sheath Lumine usually saw with him.

"The water is calm today. I'll leave these outside for you. Come meet us by the shore when you are ready."

With a nod, Lumine closed the door and changed into her refurbished dress.

Down at the shoreline was Kazuha, Gorou, Kokomi, and a handful of Sangonomiya Samurai, each with their own 'paddleboard,' as explained briefly by the General.

"I'm glad you came, Lumine," Kazuha stated. Lumine nodded back in respect.

"Will Paimon be joining us as well?"

A flurry of starlight answered his question, albeit drowsily.

"Yeah, yeah... Paimon just doesn't get why it has to be so early... Paimon hasn't even had first breakfast yet!"

 

With a quick tutorial from Kokomi, Lumine joined the group in a paddle out to the calm foggy waters of Sangonomiya. The sun had yet to rise, leaving a relaxing cobalt blue sky to accompany the group.

After arranging into a circle with the paddleboards, Gorou began to address the group.

"Thank you all for coming out again today. If you haven't noticed already, we have a new guest joining us. Welcome, Lumine."

Lumine nodded back with a smile, and Gorou continued.

"We also have someone else who will be joining us today. Some of you may find it to be... uncomfortable, at first, but I urge us all to remember the agreement of these meetings. This is not a place for judgement, but rather understanding. So please, do your best to find some common ground."

Approaching from the mists came a tall woman with a mask adorning her temple. The Soldiers' eyes widened, as Kujou Sara drifted in on her own paddleboard to Kokomi's side.

"I appreciate the invitation, Gorou. I hope we can all learn to understand each other more by the end of today."

Kokomi and Sara exchanged a brief glance.

"We're glad you could make it, Sara. Now then, would anyone like to begin?"

A few hands raised, and the therapy circle began.

Lumine listened patiently as each of the soldiers shared their stories, their mistakes, their nightmares... Tragic tales of war, with lost friends or near-fatal injuries weighing heavily on the soldiers' minds. Lumine had always been told that she wasn't alone, but to hear everyone's inner pain in person was strangely sobering. For once, in a long time, she didn't feel like she was insane.

"I'd... like to share next, if that is alright with everyone," Sara quietly asked. A few of the soldiers glanced at each other, then hesitantly nodded.

Kokomi placed her hand over Sara's and whispered a few encouraging words, before the Tengu General began to speak.

"Some of you, may not know this, but... I was directly present on the day the Raiden Shogun was defeated by the Traveler."

Lumine noticed the way Sara's eyes abruptly shut. She recognized the discrete flinch of her hands.

"After learning of the Fatui corruption in my clan, I wanted to confront the Almighty Shogun directly to root it out."

The Tenryou Commissioner gripped the sleeve of her kimono.

"But... she was there first."

Suddenly, Lumine remembered when she set foot in Tenshukaku on that fateful day. Most of her focus had been elsewhere, but now, vivid images of Sara's unconscious body on the ground flashed before her. Fresh layers of frost were still coating her uniform, as well as a crack in her tengu mask, with a branch of blood slowly flowing out from underneath and onto Sara's face.

"Signora, the Eighth Fatui Harbinger..." Sara spoke coldly. "I was so blinded by, rage... confusion, I just... attacked. Without thinking."

She stared down into her reflection on the water.

"I was no match. I... wasn't strong enough to protect the Shogun."

She then looked up to the golden eyes of the Traveler.

"But, you were there. You stopped her when I couldn't. And... I'm thankful for that. I suppose I never had the chance to say it, so... Thank you."

Lumine gave a heartfelt smile and bowed her head to the Tengu General, who bowed back.

"I... didn't know you tried to fight a Harbinger," one of the soldiers admitted. The sentiment was quickly echoed by others in the circle.

"I'm sorry for judging you by your clan's actions, Sara."

Sara recomposed herself and nodded to her former enemies.

"It's okay," she responded quietly.

"That's very brave of you to share, Sara. Thank you for allowing us to understand you a little better," Gorou concluded.

Paimon gently nudged Lumine, who then slowly raised her hand into the quiet ocean air.

"Lumine, would you like to go next?"

"I would," she replied, as all eyes in the circle turned to her.

"I'd... like to ask you all for some advice." The circle members nodded in agreement.

"As you all might know, I'm... not from Teyvat. I'm a Traveler, from somewhere very far away."

She looked down at the remaining sleeve of her dress, reminiscing the day she first made it alongside her brother.

"I originally came here, because I was looking for something. But, now..."

Lumine gently rubbed the scar left behind on her abdomen.

"I'm... not sure I can have it, anymore."

She shifted her gaze up to the remaining stars in the sky, slowly being drowned out by the rising sun.

"I guess I'm just... lost, now. I... don't know why I'm here anymore."

The group started to mutter to themselves, most people nodding in agreement as they said they knew what that felt like.

Kokomi was the first to raise her hand, catching Lumine's attention.

"It's not unusual to feel that way, Lumine. Perhaps, you're at the end of a journey you haven't realized has concluded."

"I've felt that way before too," one of the soldiers added on. "After the war ended with Inazuma, me and a lot of my brothers felt useless without a war to fight... And, we got angry."

Lumine nodded attentively, as the circle responded to her call for help.

"I still continue to question if Tomo would approve of the path I walk to this day," Kazuha affirmed.

"If I may," Sara interjected, "might you be referring to your brother?"

Lumine took a deep breath, and nodded slowly.

"I understand. You don't need to elaborate any further," Sara continued. "In that case, if you only came here to find him, and you've either achieved or failed that, what has stopped you from leaving?"

Lumine's eyes dimmed as she looked down into her reflection.

Aether stood behind her, rearing back to pierce his sword through her chest.

"I... don't know. Maybe... I don't know how to leave..."

Gorou leaned forward on his board. "Do you think staying here will continue to hurt you?"

Lumine shook her head.

"I... like it here, I just... I don't know what I'm fighting for now."

She grasped her left hand with crystalline fingers, brushing her knuckles yet again.

"Everything I've done here, I've done for him. Everything, I dedicated myself to finding him. And once I finally found him... he just... left."

The circle fell silent, except for a certain best friend.

"Well, that's not entirely true, Lumi."

Lumine looked up to the fae, trying her best to fight back the tears behind her eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"If you had just been looking for your brother, you wouldn't have agreed to stop the Vision Hunt Decree! Or fight dragons in Liyue and Mondstadt, or spend time with so many people in Teyvat!"

She placed her hands on Lumine's shoulder.

"Maybe you haven't realized it, but you care a lot about everyone in Teyvat too! You care, Lumi!"

A part of her wanted to agree with Paimon, but Lumine couldn't shake the old rules she made with her twin.

"What if I didn't want to care?"

 

After another moment of silence in the circle, Kokomi spoke up once more.

"If you decide that leaving Teyvat is truly best for you, I'm confident that everyone will honor your decision. You've done more than enough for our world, Lumine."

The suggestion of leaving Teyvat sounded outlandish to Lumine now. She knew she could find a way eventually, maybe by asking the gods for help along the way. And yet, one question kept pulling her back.

"But before you make your decision, please ask yourself this."

The Traveler nodded at the Divine Priestess.

"If you leave, would you miss anyone?"

It didn't take long for Lumine to reply, "Yes."

Kokomi blinked slowly and straightened her back.

"Then maybe you've been fighting for them, too."

The Traveler remained silent, giving Kokomi the opportunity to elaborate.

"Maybe, my own story would help you understand a little better."

The attention of the circle focused on Her Excellency.

"During the war, when I was appointed as the Divine Priestess, I was excited to utilize the position to become a great war leader for my people. For you see, I had always viewed warfare as one of my strongest passions."

She met the eyes of the Tengu General, who was also listening intently to her words.

"I loved making strategies for the battlefield, doing my best to account for every scenario, to ensure that no battle would ever be truly considered as a loss. To do this, I always prioritized the lives of my soldiers, to ensure the least number of casualties during warfare."

She then turned her gaze to the Watatsumi General.

"And then, the war ended, and I had to readjust myself to strategies of peace. Not only with the Tenryou Commission, but within my own people as well. You, Lumine, may already know this, but... I struggled more to be a leader in peace over a leader of war. And this frustrated me."

She looked at the soldiers.

"I too once shared the sentiment that I could only be of service in times of hardship."

"So, what changed?" Lumine asked.

Kokomi replied with a smile.

"I found someone. And over time, they helped me realize that the true reason I was obsessed with warfare was not because I enjoyed battle, but because I enjoyed protecting."

A faint grin found its way onto Sara's lips.

"And... perhaps I also realized that subconsciously, they were the one person I have always been trying to protect."

Kokomi crossed her hands on her lap.

"What I'm trying to say, Lumine, is that when I thought I had lost everything, the true reason for my actions became unobscured for me to discover. So I urge you to keep searching, now more than ever. What is your true reason for protecting Teyvat?"


My true reason... she thought, as Sayu and Kazuha said their goodbyes at the Kamisato Estate.

It was late, and by now Ayaka would be preparing to go to bed.

The Traveler took a breath of courage, and made her way into the house.

In a perfect coincidence, the Shiresagi Himegimi had just finished changing into her silk nightgown as Lumine entered the room.

"Oh, you've returned! How was your trip to Watatsumi?"

Though it had only been two days, Lumine couldn't help but be starstruck at the sight of the Heron. The moonlight beaming through the windows lit her complexion perfectly. Even without her make-up, or her perfume, or her freshly groomed hair, Ayaka was undoubtedly breathtaking.

"It was... insightful," Lumine finally replied.

"I'm glad to hear it." Ayaka sat onto the bed and tapped an empty spot beside her. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

"I'd just like to... talk with you, if that's okay."

The Heron nodded, and the Traveler joined her side on the mattress.

"Do you, remember how I used to talk about my brother?"

"Of course I do. I still remember the prayer plaques we drew together."

"Well... I, got my wish... in the Abyss."

A concerned look washed over Ayaka's face.

"He's... the one who did this to me, Ayaka," Lumine said, as she reached to her back to undo the ties on the back of her dress.

Lumine let the top of her clothes fall loose, leaving only her bra and exposed torso, as she revealed the large scar in her chest Ayaka had grown familiar with.

"He... betrayed me, for the Abyss."

Ayaka's eyes widened, as she covered her mouth with her hands.

"I... I'm so sorry, Lumi..."

Lumine placed her hand on Ayaka's thigh.

"It's okay, Ayaka, because it made me realize something."

Ayaka quickly nodded, taking hold of Lumine's hand.

"I thought I spent all this time looking for him, because I love him. And, part of me still does, but..."

Lumine looked into Ayaka's eyes, allowing herself to be lost in their beauty.

"Somewhere along the way, I started looking for something else to love, with all of my heart and more..."

She brushed the Heron's cheek with her crystal hand.

"And I found you, Kamisato Ayaka..."

Lumine leaned in, and was met with the soft lips of her true reason.


Gradually, the lovers started to wrap more and more of themselves around each other.

Their tongues twirled and danced, allowing each other to explore further and further. Lumine's arms ran through Ayaka's hair and across her back with increasing desperation. Ayaka responded with her own desires, reaching around Lumine's head and spine.

After a few more moments of the rising passion, Lumine refocused herself and pulled away from her lover.

"Ayaka..." she spoke between her pants of air.

"What is it?"

"May I... make love with you?"

Ayaka smiled softly.

"I would like nothing more than that, my beloved. But only if you're okay with... being my first..."

Lumine nodded respectfully.

"Then please, stop me if I make you uncomfortab-"

Ayaka replied with a lustful smile.

"Oh, just take me already Lumi..."

She immediately grabbed Lumine and pulled her back in for another sensual round of kissing. Her hands clawed at the back of Lumine's bra, quickly finding purchase on their clips before she hastily removed them.

Lumine used her own hands to remove the rest of her own clothes, still keeping her tongue firmly wrapped inside of Ayaka's mouth. Once her dress was on the ground, she grabbed the fold of Ayaka's robe to pull it off, exposing her porcelain skin for the Traveler to bear witness.

The two then rolled onto their backs and into the center of the mattress, caressing each other with fervent desire.

"You're so beautiful..." Lumine muttered between her kisses, as she started to trail them down the side of Ayaka's neck.

Ayaka moaned in ecstasy when Lumine's lips reached her fabric-covered breasts. The Traveler ran her soft hand over the Heron's bra, softly pushing it aside to bare her nipples out into the open. She then began massaging Ayaka's plump bosom, as she ran her tongue over her erect nipple.

The Shiresagi Himegimi moaned in ecstasy as Lumine continued to worship her breasts, arching her back rhythmically with the Traveler's motions. Ayaka wrapped her legs around Lumine's waist, beckoning for more attention.

"More, Lumi... please..." she uttered as she grasped handfuls of Lumine's hair.

The Traveler obliged, trailing more kisses down to the heated groin of the Heron. Lumine gently ran her thumbs beneath Ayaka's panties and slid them up, her legs complying as they straightened into the air. A few strands of anticipation stuck to the garments as they were freed from Ayaka's vagina, begging for Lumine's attention. Perfectly smooth folds and curves glistened in the moonlight, and Lumine could resist herself no longer.

She buried her mouth and nose into Ayaka, who cried out in pure pleasure. Like a rabid beast, Lumine lapped away at Ayaka's nectar, seeking to replace every drop of it with her own saliva. The coarse sensation of Lumine's tongue painting her walls was driving Ayaka to madness.

Ayaka quickly grabbed the corner of a pillow to bite down upon, as Lumine snared her arms around Ayaka's thighs to pull in closer. She toiled faster and deeper into the Kamisato Heiress, seeking to discover every secret she hid within. Ayaka's moans grew with intensity, as she started thrusting her pelvis across Lumine's face.

"Please... juh.. just... a lih... nngh...!" The princess's words dissolved as her hips desperately bucked into Lumine's tightening grasp.

And just as Lumine reached where no one had reached before, Ayaka's passion released. Her legs and back flexed as Ayaka lifted her entire pelvis into the air, showering Lumine in desire as she was brought up with it.

Then in an instant, the two collapsed back onto the bed, hot breaths now visible through the night air. A small pool of saliva leaked onto Ayaka's navel as Lumine rested her head there for a moment, panting for air. Then, as the two locked eyes once more, they threw themselves back into each others' mouths.

As Lumine groped Ayaka's breasts again, Ayaka trailed her own fingers down to the soaked panties the Traveler was still miraculously wearing. After tearing them away, she starting pressing her fingers against Lumine's womanhood, earning a lustful moan in response.

The Traveler grabbed the Heron's teasing wrist with her crystal arm and pushed it further into herself. Ayaka obliged, sliding effortlessly through Lumine's gateways. The two continued to suck away at each others' mouths, while Lumine gradually moved her stimulated folds towards Ayaka's, until the princess's hand was firmly pressed between their vaginas. She then forced her leg over Ayaka's thigh before clenching down, locking their folds into place.

Lumine then proceeded to grind their intimacies together, causing both to moan out in pleasure. Sweat now caked the lovers' bodies, beading onto their foreheads and dripping down their lips and jaws. The Traveler could only kiss the Heron in short bursts before stopping to pant and moan. Their voices intertwined into a symphony of passion, as their hips pushed deeper and deeper into each other, threatening to fuse into one perfect display of love.

Ayaka could feel her world shattering, her mind collapsing into primal desires of ecstasy. Her fingertips wriggled deeper into Lumine, while her knuckles grinded against herself. It was pleasure unlike anything she had ever experienced before, and it only grew with each approaching moment to her next climax.

"Archons above... I love you... I luh... love you..." Lumine gasped out as she felt the oncoming storm in her pelvis. She thrusted on, unrelenting, ever-hungry, as she brought the both of them to the verge.

In a final scream of joy, the Traveler and the Heron burst out onto each other, now finally satisfied with their new bonds with each other.

Lumine collapsed on top of Ayaka, their exposed breasts now perfectly pressed up against each other. The heat of their bodies radiated into the room, as both lovers wheezed for air.

Once the exhaustion wore off, Ayaka wrapped her arms around Lumine's bare back, taking caution to avoid her numerous scars. Lumine leaned her face close to Ayaka's and returned the hot embrace.

Having said their wordless confessions, the two absorbed each others' presence for the rest of the night, eventually drifting off into a well-earned slumber.


"What purpose does that serve?"

Aether pointed out a stray battalion of Abyssal forces on a war map of Inazuma. Scaramouche crossed his arms in response.

"In case of the unlikely event that Ei calls for help from abroad. There should be something to at least warn us if reinforcements are coming."

"Fine, but it leaves this flank exposed for our main offensive."

Scaramouche shrugged his shoulders accusingly.

"I'm working with what we have. If this is really all the forces you can muster after the Gods raided your world, that's not my fault. Unless you have a tactical advantage you want to share with the class."

An Abyss Herald floated down from the darkened sky of Enkanomiya, returning to a knee before the Abyss Prince and the Balladeer.

"My lieges... I come bearing news."

"Well then, spit it out," Scaramouche spoke arrogantly, earning a scalding stare from Aether.

"What is it, my Herald?" Aether continued.

"Our scouts have found something hidden deep within the islands... It may prove useful for our next assault, with your blessings, of course."

Aether stood up straight and squinted his eyes curiously.

"Show me."

 

The Abyss Prince was lead to a mined hole in the wall, likely from a curious Ruin Hunter. As he stepped through, he was greeted by two Pyro Abyss Mages.

"Please, my Prince, allow us to shed some light on our findings."

With a wave of their staffs, rows of torches were lit within the dark chamber, revealing a massive legion of unmoving armored husks.

"We believe these to be the ancient defense force of this city... Under your control, they will make us unstoppable as we move to erase the Nation of Eternity."

Aether smirked, as Void began to travel through his veins.

"You all have done well today. This, is just the tactical advantage I need..."

In an instant, Aether opened his palms as tethers of Void energy ran through the armor stands. They shuddered and creaked as Void energy filled them with life, legion upon legion standing upright to face their new Prince.

The Shadowy Husks were now ready to join the war.

Chapter Text

Perhaps it was a miracle that the Shiresagi Himegimi's schedule just so happened to be free for the entire following morning.

Either that, or Paimon and Thoma read between the lines and figured they could pull some strings with Ayato to give the lovers time.

The warmth of the midday sun brushed over the pair, as Lumine's eyes slowly fluttered open. Feeling both of their arms and legs still wrapped around each other filled her with comfort.

Ayaka was still fast asleep, with rogue strands of tangled hair draped over her face. Lumine gently brushed the strands clear so she could place a clean kiss on her forehead.

She wished they could stay like this forever. No, she would ensure they would stay like this forever. When all was said and done, when the Abyss and the Fatui are finally defeated, the Traveler would return to her Heron. They would go wherever they liked, and grow old together, and always return to the same bed at night. Lumine knew that all she needed now in this world was to return to Ayaka's loving embrace.

But that was all yet to be earned.

Ever so gently, Lumine lifted Ayaka's arms up from around her to leave the bed, trying to stay as quiet as possible. She made sure to leave a blanket comfortably over the Shiresagi Himegimi before sneaking over to the washroom.

But as she was wrapping a towel around herself, she couldn't help but notice a strange silhouette in the canvased window out of the corner of her eye.

"Brachium Arcesso..." she muttered quietly, as Hypostasis cubes floated to her aid. A Geo drill started to twirl in her right arm as she slowly approached the window, the silhouette now growing clearer by the meter.

When she realized the familiar curves of leaves on a beret, her caution was quickly replaced with frustration.

Desummoning the Gauntlet, Lumine tore open the window shutter to reveal the sneaky Bard.

"Well hey there, Trave-!"

An immediate brittle slap cut off Venti's words.

"Ow! I know I deserved that, but why the crystal hand?!" he complained as he started to massage his cheek.

Lumine's eyes narrowed as she did her best to shut out the images of Venti's nightmare counterpart.

"Wh-what are you doing here?! How did you sneak by the guards? You're gonna get caught!"

"One, isn't it obvious? I'm here to talk to you! Two, I know I'm a bard, but I still remember how to be quiet! And three, I'd like to see them try!"

The mumblings of the Shiresagi Himegimi quickly caught the attention of the two, as Ayaka stirred sleepily in her bed. A concerned frown reached Lumine's face before she turned back to Venti.

"Can we... keep it down a bit? In fact, could you just... come back later?"

"Wh- it's past twelve, Lumine!"

"Venti, I'm literally naked."

Lumine aggressively gestured at the towel she was still holding around her chest. Venti squinted his eyes between Lumine and Ayaka, before eventually connecting the dots.

"Ooh... I see... you should have let me write you a love song-"

Another slap across the other cheek rang out.

"OW! Fine, come find me in Chinju... And watch where you swing that thing!"

A gust of wind blew up as Venti's glider unfurled, gracefully carrying him off into the skies. Lumine made sure to flip him off as he departed, earning her a taunting tongue from the Anemo Archon before he turned away.

As she shut the window, the rush of the moment faded away as the hammering of her heart returned into focus. Her legs quivered as flashes of Venti's deranged eyes and bloodied smile flooded her thoughts.

It's not real... It's not real...!

Her nails dug into her sternum as she willed herself not to collapse onto the floor again. Then, her eyes locked on to the sleeping Heron.

Ayaka. My one true love. Asleep in her bed, under silk sheets. Safe.

A deep breath filled Lumine's chest, as her heart began to settle once more.

 

After dodging a few snide comments at lunch from Paimon and Thoma, Lumine eventually left the Kamisato Estate to meet up with Mondstadt's Greatest Bard.

"Aww, so you're not even gonna tell Paimon a little bit?"

"Paimon, weren't you disgusted when I suggested Beidou and Ningguang were a thing?"

The fae quickly crossed her arms and turned her chin up.

"W-well neither of them are Paimon's best friend! Besides, Paimon thinks Ms. Ayaka's really good for you!"

Lumine blushed and rubbed the back of her neck.

"I... just hope that I'm not a slander to her family name..."

"What?! Lumi, you're the hero of THREE NATIONS in Teyvat! Probably soon to be all seven at this rate! If anything, the Kamisatos should be honored to have you at Ayaka's side!"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves, Paimon."

The Traveler set foot on a familiar cobblestone path, as the welcoming trees of Chinju Forest greeted her. The breeze through the leaves sounded as though they were echoing Ayaka's song as Lumine walked under the canopies.

Then, the melody of a familiar lyre met the traveling pair's ears.

"Hmm... Traveler, do you know anything that rhymes with 'Ayaka?'"

Paimon annoyedly placed her hands on her hips as she floated over to Venti.

"Well well well, if it isn't Tone-Deaf Bard! What are you doing so far outside of Mondstadt anyways?"

"Ehe."

At this point, Paimon could only slap her own forehead in frustration. Venti leaned back with a giggle.

"Alright, I made you some Buoyant Breeze too. You can eat it while I talk to the Traveler about some things."

As the Bard gestured back to an old offering shrine with, sure enough, a piping hot bowl of Buoyant Breeze, Paimon swallowed her pride and began to float over to the meal.

"This doesn't mean Paimon likes you!"

Once Paimon left, Venti hopped up from the rock to greet the Traveler.

"Well then, care to walk with me?"

With a deep exhale, Lumine nodded.

The two walked along the creek, admiring the bugs and birds while exchanging small-talk about Mondstadt and Inazuma. Next, Lumine gathered the courage to tell Venti about her mental issues, as well as her nightmare. But, eventually, Venti exhausted his options of prolonging what the true purpose of his visit was.

"Well then, I hope it doesn't scare you, but... there's something more serious I'd like to talk to you about."

"...Okay."

"I... think it's time I told you the truth about your brother, Lumine."

"Oh, I... see."

Lumine began to protest, but Venti continued to insist.

"No, really I... I want to tell you. I feel stupid for not doing it sooner, in fact..."

"No, Venti you don't understand..."

Venti's mouth stopped as he tilted his head at Lumine.

"I... already know. Zhongli, or, Morax... told me already."

The Anemo Archon stayed silent for a few moments.

"Wow... really?"

Lumine shrugged.

"I was as surprised as you."

"Huh... That's uh... kind of embarrassing for me."

Lumine let out a small laugh.

"Please don't tell me that's the only reason you came to Inazuma."

"...Ehe..."

"Oh, you can't 'ehe' your way out of this one."

Venti sheepishly ran his hand through his bangs.

"There's... not anything else you can reveal to me?"

He stopped walking and crossed his arms.

"Hmm..."

Lumine turned around, concern now taking over her face.

"What is it, Venti?"

"It's... ah, it's probably nothing..."

"Please, just tell me already."

Venti opened his mouth to protest, but then remembered Dvalin's words from before. It was Lumine's choice, this time.

"It's just... something's been, bothering me, ever since we laid waste to the Abyss."

A small fear grew in Lumine's soul, as Venti's gaze dropped down to his own reflection in the waters.

"Morax and Ei, well, not really Ei... whatever the Puppet counts as. Anyways, they keep telling me that it was necessary to protect our people. Since, ya know, Waypoints are kind of important to our Chosen."

Her heart began to accelerate.

"But, one of them..."

No...

"One of them said something... and it stuck with me..."

Don't say it.

"It... ugh, he, said that, someone told him we had changed...?"

Please, no...

"Lumine... did you know anyone else in the Abyss?"

When Venti finally looked back up, he was greeted with mortified eyes as Lumine started to quiver. Her breaths faltered and quivered, as shaking hands made their way to her chest.

"Oh, no..." he realized, as he saw tears forming in her eyes.

"...i-is... is he..."

Guilt filled the Bard's eyes. The Traveler's eyes widened. She staggered back, beginning to lose balance as her heart continued to torment her.

Venti quickly stepped forward to try and catch her, but Lumine recoiled away from his touch.

"Lumine, I'm sorry-"

"...did you kill him?" she spoke through her teeth.

"I-I..."

"Don't fuck with me, Venti, did you kill him?!"

Venti grasped at the fabric on his trousers.

"...No."

Dull pains pounded away at Lumine's ears. She ignored them, as she stared a hole through Venti.

"Then who?"

Venti laughed mockingly as his serpentine tongue flicked in the air.

"I... don't know if I should-"

Suddenly, Venti felt pressure close around his collar, as Lumine gripped tightly on his shirt with a quaking crystalline fist.

"YOU SAID NO MORE LIES."

There was only anger left in Lumine's eyes, and only fear left in Barbatos'.

"I'm all out of fucking patience with you Archons, so tell me... TELL ME WHO THE FUCK KILLED ENJOU!!!"

"It was the Raiden Shogun!" Venti exclaimed, as he pushed away at Lumine's wrist.

A strong burst of Anemo erupted as Lumine's grip was released.

Venti rubbed his neck for a moment, while Lumine gasped for air through her clenched jaw.

Without wasting another moment, she turned and walked away from the Anemo Archon.

"Paimon! We're... rrgh!" Sharpness rang out from her chest as her step faltered for a moment. "...we're done here!"

"Wait!" Venti protested. "Where are you going?"

"Go find a bar, drunkard..."

A tear creeped down Venti's cheek as he watched Lumine disappear into the forest. What have I done...?

 

Once she was out of sight from the God of Freedom, Lumine practically collapsed onto a nearby tree.

Her forearm scraped against the bark as blood started to seep out from her chest onto her piercing fingernails.

A sharp ringing filled her ears as she felt each pulse of blood shove into the back of her eyes. Her jaw was tiring out from clenching so hard from the pain.

Labored gasps of air echoed through the forest, as her stress continued to coalesce sweat around her face.

"...Lumi?"

The voice of the fae quickly snapped Lumine into an upright position, trying to hide away the near-heart attack.

"O-oh, there you are Paimon... We need to... nngh... get going..."

Try as she might, the Traveler couldn't hide her tells from her best friend.

"Lumi... did you have another panic attack?"

Lumine let out a frustrated groan as she pushed herself up against the tree.

"...Yes, I did, but... I'm fine now. Can we just leave already?"

Paimon floated up to Lumine to place her hands on her shoulder.

"Okay, where should we go? Back to the Kamisato Estate?"

Determination steeled Lumine's eyes, as she turned to look up through the treetops.

"No, we're going to the Narukami Shrine."


The Electro Archon's forearms strained as Ei struggled to summon a ball of lightning.

Her fingers twitched as the purple orb grew, only to fizzle out into a pathetic splash of sparks.

Ei caught herself as she leaned down over the uninfused Engulfing Lightning. She panted for air as sweat, as well as a few tears, dropped onto the blade.

"Come on, Ei..." she scolded herself, as she once again started summoning Electro into her palms.

Finally, a sizable orb came forth as branches of lightning licked off against the surrounding wood and metal.

Slowly and methodically, Ei pressed the orb down into the blade of the polearm, as its signature hues of violet started to glow within. Electro surged into the weapon, as the Electro Symbol began to rotate.

As the orb finally dispersed, Ei let out a frustrated sigh as she grabbed the freshly made Engulfing Lightning, only to toss it aside haphazardly. The polearm clattered into Ei's tool shelf, and the sound of clashing metal filled the room.

She relaxed her shoulders and looked up at the darkened sky of her Plane of Euthymia, pressing both her palms up against her forehead.

"Just because your name means 'shadow,' doesn't mean the rest of us have to live in it."

A whimper crept out from Ei's chest, followed by a second, before she caved in entirely to a wave of sobs.

She fell to her knees and burrowed her eyes into her hands, hunching over as messy sniffles rang out into her workspace.

Why do I keep doing this?! Why do I push everyone away?!

She punched her hand into the ground, taking the time to observe the pain that rang through her bones.

I'll never be as good as you, Makoto... Why couldn't it have been me?

"Tenshukaku Puppet, requesting guidance."

The telepathic voice of Ei's Puppet broke her free of her self-loathing.

She quickly composed herself before responding.

"Present, but busy. Is it urgent?"

"Morax is here."

The Geo Archon again? It must be something important. Ei cleared her throat before returning to her feet.

"Send him in."

With a wave of her hand, Ei's surroundings shifted away from her workshop, and back to her meditation circle. Her own form shimmered, as her smithing gear faded into her war kimono.

A tear in reality opened, as Zhongli stepped into the Plane of Euthymia.

"Hmm... Quite an impressive mind palace, Beelzebub."

"Apologies for being blunt, but you've caught me in the middle of something. State your business here, Morax."

But the God of Contracts continued to wander the circle freely, hands politely crossed at his back. Ei could only watch in frustration. But mercifully, he began to speak.

"Are you aware of how much time has passed since our attack on the Abyss?"

Ei crossed her arms.

"Two months, eight days... seven hours."

Morax nodded.

"Then you are still also aware of the contract we three signed."

Ei's eyes trained on Rex Lapis as he continued to walk the perimeter of the circle.

"I fail to see how that is relevant as of now."

Then, Rex Lapis stopped in his path. He looked down at the sand for a moment.

"Call it intuition, or perhaps anxiety, but I fear that the Abyss is preparing their next move."

"What makes you think that?"

"In accordance with reports from the Knights of Favonius, as well as the Millileth, sightings of hilichurls in the wild have significantly dropped."

Ei placed a finger around her chin.

"So you think they're amassing somewhere?"

"Maybe..."

Rex Lapis turned to face Ei.

"I just need to know something, Ei."

Ei returned his stare.

"Should the Abyss strike at Barbatos', or my own people, will you help us?"

The God of Eternity paused for a moment.

"I would do what I can."

"To save us, or to preserve your Eternity?"

Ei's eyes sharpened.

"What are you trying to say?"

Morax crossed his own arms and sighed.

"Barbatos and I are willing to devote everything we have to Inazuma, if it is the next target of the Abyss. I need to know that you will do the same for us."

"Why? So I can leave my nation foolishly exposed? Godless, like you two?"

Morax closed his eyes in disappointment.

"...I suppose I have my answer then."

Frustration seethed out from Ei's nostrils, as Morax slowly walked past her. But before leaving the Plane, he paused to place a hand on her shoulder.

"We still care about you, Ei. Even if you want to shut us out. Please, try to remember that."

Ei tried to reply, but only silence exited her mouth as Morax removed his hand.

"And please, don't leave your wife in the dark."

And so, the Geo Archon left the Electro Archon in peace.


Yae had been busy cleaning her favorite teapot when she heard the familiar voice of a fae outside her shrine.

"Ah, there she is!" Paimon exclaimed as she slid her doors open. "Hi Lady Guuji!"

The Kitsune put on her classic smile as she stepped down to greet her guests.

"Welcome back to the Shrine, Travelers."

Her ears immediately locked on to Lumine's accelerated, and irregular, heartbeat. She noticed the lair of sweat on her forehead, and the narrowed pupils returning her gaze.

"You seem a little worse for wear, Lumine. Are you alright?"

"I'm... fine," Lumine choked out. "I need your help to talk to Ei."

Yae's smile faltered, and her eyes dimmed.

"Oh. I see..."

She turned back and started walking into her room, beckoning for Paimon and Lumine to follow. Once they were inside, Yae closed the doors behind them.

"Unsurprisingly, Ei's being stubborn again... And by the sound of your heart, Lumine, she must have done something to aggravate you as well, I presume?"

"Huh?" Paimon said confusedly.

Lumine slowly nodded her head.

"Something like that..."

"Hmm. Very well," Yae continued as she took out her talisman to Tenshukaku. "Return it whenever you'd like."

Lumine raised her eyebrow as she cautiously took the talisman.

"Are... are you sure? Just like that?"

Yae crossed her arms with a deadpan look.

"Indeed. She won't bother talking to me, so you might as well give it a shot."

"I... guess it's none of my business to ask what happened?"

"It isn't. But I appreciate your concern."

A lingering silence took the room.

"Well then? Off you go. I can tell this is all you came here to do."

"Yae, I'm-"

"Sorry? Don't be, I'm not blaming you. Now go on, before she does something stupid again."

With a guilty look, Lumine and Paimon left the Shrine, leaving Yae to brood in peace.

Please... bring her home, Yae prayed in silence.


"Ugh... For Orabashi's sake, how long do we need to be down here?" a Sangonomiya Soldier complained.

"The Vortex has been open for too long," a Researcher replied. "Luckily, the Traveler already cleared the path for us, but we need to shut the ritual down."

"Kokomi's orders were clear," a second Samurai confirmed. "We escort these two so they can close down Enkanomiya."

A Sangonomiya Shrine Maiden nodded in gratitude, and the four travelers continued their journey deeper into the sunken islands.

The Soldier groaned as he dragged along his spear.

"Soldier, what are you doing?" the Samurai scolded. "Keep your weapon up! Do you want to attract hilichurls?"

"What hilichurls?!" the Soldier exclaimed, as he gestured around to the empty foliage around them. "The ones that were here, the Traveler probably killed already!"

"Regardless, that's no excuse to let your guard down!"

"He's right," a foreign voice called out.

The Soldier's blood ran cold as he quickly turned around, spear now at the ready.

"Wh-who's there?! Show yourself!"

A shriek from the Shrine Maiden caught the Soldier's attention. He quickly turned back, eyes widening in horror as he saw a line of blood spurting out from the Samurai's neck.

Wet gargles poured out from his mouth, before he collapsed entirely onto the ground.

"N-no! Wh-what the... You two, stay behind me!"

The Researcher and the Shrine Maiden quickly complied, as the Soldier diverted his full attention to his surroundings.

Stepping out from the shadows came the Abyss Prince, hands folded behind his back. The Soldier quickly pointed his blade.

"Wh-who are you?! What do you want?"

Aether stared through the Soldier with an unfeeling gaze.

"What I want... you can't give me."

The Soldier gritted his teeth.

"You bastard!!!"

The Researcher reached out to stop him, but the Soldier was blinded by rage as he charged forth. Aether simply rolled his eyes as he lifted up an empty palm.

The Soldier thrusted his spear forth, getting satisfaction as he felt purchase. But the scent of burning metal quickly turned his pride into fear, as he realized he had not pierced Aether at all. Rather, his spear had been melted entirely by the Abyss Prince's hand.

"Wha... h-how-?!"

The Soldier's sentence was cut off as Void energy concentrated around his throat. He clawed meaninglessly at his neck, choking for air, as Aether lifted him into the air without lifting a finger.

"Hmm, how disappointing... Your kind has grown weaker..."

With a resounding crunch, the Soldier's neck was crushed. Aether watched his body hit the ground, before casually walking towards the remaining two observers.

"Now, tell me what that plan of yours was again..."

The two could only whimper in fear, shaking in their shoes as Aether's eyes glowed a deep purple.

"Nothing? So be it."

With a snap of his fingers, a crescent Void blade shot out, bisecting the Researcher and the Shrine Maiden in two. The tops of their bodies hit the ground immediately, and the Shrine Maiden's eyes rolled back, her face locked in perpetual agony.

The Researcher, however, still had an ounce of vitality remaining. He tried desperately to crawl away, leaving a wide trail of crimson in his path. But the Abyss Prince had no mercy.

He placed his boot onto the side of the Researcher's skull and pressed down, slowly. A grim satisfaction filled Aether's heart as he listened to his final pleas, before the feeling of bones collapsing rang through his leg.

Aether looked around at his work, before the sound of rushing footsteps caught his attention. One foot soldier remained, and was doing their best to flee the scene.

A quick strike of lightning blew the escapee to bits, as Aether's eyes squinted from the flash of light.

"What did I tell you, 'Prince?'" the Balladeer proclaimed as he joined Aether's side, the Electro Gnosis now prominently hung around his neck.

"Search party was right on schedule."

"Then we're out of time, Balladeer. Prepare the legions."


Normally, Ei would have refused to see any more visitors from the day, having been emotionally exhausted from her previous encounters.

However, as the Raiden Shogun's voice spoke Lumine's name, she immediately perked up from her meditative state.

"Send her in, please."

And so, the Traveler stepped in... Gauntlet in hand.

Ei lowered to the ground to greet her friend.

"It has been some time, Traveler. I'd like to offer my sincerest condolences for what the Abyss did to you."

Lumine could already feel her heart accelerating, but that wasn't important now.

"Thank you..." she shuddered, now remembering how Ei's eyes glowed with such intensity. Not unlike her nightmare.

A pang of guilt ran over Ei as she recognized the way Lumine looked. It was not too long ago that she herself had lost something dear to the Abyss.

"...If I may, Lumine, I prepared something for you."

The Shogunate raised her palm, as a small rectangle began to form out of crackling Electro. When the light faded away, a brand new talisman shined in her hand.

"I'm aware that you've been using Miko- sorry, Lady Guuji's talisman to enter my chambers in Tenshukaku. But I'd like for you to have your own, Lumine."

The talisman floated gracefully over to Lumine, as she caught it with her Gauntlet. Rather than the usual pink and red of Yae's, this one was white and gold.

"I want you to know that you can talk to me at any time. I too know what it is like to lose to the Abyss."

Lumine squinted at the talisman, before quickly pocketing it.

"I appreciate it... but that's not what I'm here for."

Ei's eyelids raised.

"Oh, it isn't?"

The Gauntlet's fist tightened.

"I... I wish to spar with you."

The Shogunate remained silent for a moment. As she closed her eyes, the Eye of Stormy Judgement summoned to her back.

"Very well, Traveler."

Lightning flashed at the Electro Archon's side, as the freshly forged Engulfing Lightning appeared. Ei took hold of the weapon, giving it a quick spin before turning it back at the ready.

"How easy would you like me to go on you?"

Lumine gripped tightly around the Iron Sting as it came to her hand, the entire forearm shaking in anticipation.

"As if nothing's changed, Almighty Shogun."

In a burst of speed, both combatants dashed towards each other, as a clash of sparks and metal erupted out from the Plane of Euthymia.

There, Ei and Lumine stood, blade to blade, eye to eye.

"You've grown stronger..." the Shogunate complimented, as she thrust her polearm up to stagger Lumine back. But as she thrusted the blade forth, the Hypostasis Gauntlet parried the attack to the side for Lumine to make her own counter.

The Iron Sting swung down as Ei stepped to the side, narrowly losing a few loose strands of hair. Hmm... she's taking this more seriously than I expected. Ei then dove her blade into the ground to somersault over it, gaining some distance from Lumine.

The warriors regained their stamina as they continued to circle each other. Anger burned through Lumine's eyes. The fact that Ei was still willing to talk about loss was insulting. How could she, after she took so much away?

As Lumine dove back in with an Iai flurry, Ei wasted no time to block each slash with the Engulfing Lightning, an effortless face worn with each movement. Ei then returned the favor as she crouched down to lunge back towards Lumine. A violent torrent of slashes came at her from all sides, forcing the Hypostasis Gauntlet to swirl around in a protective shield.

But she recognized this attack. As soon as Ei reappeared in front of Lumine, she threw an Anemo-infused kick into Ei's gut, causing her to stumble back. The Hypostatis Gauntlet formed into a battering ram, which she launched directly towards the Shogunate's head. Ei barely managed to block the ram with her polearm, as she once again disengaged to return to a predatory stalk.

"Very impressive indeed..."

"You're holding back...!" Lumine accused through gritted teeth.

"If you mean I'm avoiding harming you, yes. Is that not what you want?"

"Just fight me already!"

The cubes in Lumine's forearm rotated as her attunement switched to Geo. She roared out as she closed back in, ready to stab into Ei's chest.

But as the Shogunate's eyes flashed purple, she disappeared from sight as Lumine's attack swung wide. Time seemed to slow as she turned around, seeing a large purple blade soaring directly towards her back. Lumine brought her sword up just in time, but the Engulfing Lightning came down with such force that it knocked the blade out from her hand.

But Lumine was trained better than that. Without hesitation, she formed the Gauntlet into a Geo Saw, spinning with malice as she brought it into Ei's side. The Shogunate grunted out as her Divine Barrier absorbed the attack, but she was soon blasted away by a second burst of Geo projectiles.

Ei spiraled back through the air, and she threw her spear into the ground to use as a vertical platform. Planting her feet on the handle, a long line of Electro scraped into the ground as Ei came to a halt, kicking the spear back into her hand. She quickly blew a strand of hair out of her eye as she began to infuse more Electro into her weapon.

Lumine responded by summoning her own heavy weapon: the custom Kanabou from Itto.

"Mastery over multiple weapons..." Ei admired. "You continue to prove yourself as an exceptional fighter, Lumine."

Lumine was now covered in sweat, as she felt her heart threatening to burst out from her ribs. She continued to ignore her body's pleas, as she dragged the Kanabou towards Ei to continue the fight.

This time, Ei took the offensive, as she dashed forth in a flourish of lightning. Lumine blocked the empowered slash, as the force of the Engulfing Lightning knocked her back by a few meters. The Eye of Stormy Judgement flashed as a second strike of Electro collided into Lumine's back, earning a frustrated grunt as her Astral Barrier took damage.

Lumine struck back as she performed an overhead swing with the club, smashing through Ei's raised defense. With the polearm lowered, Lumine followed-up with a Geo-infused punch to the temple from her Gauntlet, and a second strike to the jaw from her knee. Ei's eyes narrowed in frustration.

As Lumine swung the Kanabou back up for a third attack, Ei quickly released her weapon to catch the club in place, channeling lightning into her arms for extra strength. She then shoved the Kanabou back into Lumine's nose, temporarily dazing her long enough for Ei to retrieve her weapon. Flicking the Engulfing Lightning into her hand, she struck back at Lumine with the blunt end, followed by a second strike with the blade.

But to Ei's surprise, her weapon had been caught by the enforced grasp of Lumine's Hypostasis Gauntlet. Lumine screamed out as she tore the polearm out from the Shogunate's hand, and placed a perfect Gauntlet-Infused punch straight into Ei's teeth.

Ei fell back as her Divine Barrier faltered, rolling onto the ground before coming to a stop on her knee. She placed a finger to her lip and observed it, noting how it was now stained in purple. With a smile, she stood back up to applaud the Traveler.

"Well done, Traveler. You have bested me yet again."

But her admiration quickly changed to concern as she saw Lumine continuing her approach, weapon still in hand. When the Kanabou came back down onto Ei, she raised her arms up to summon an Electro shield, as Lumine frenzied onward with Kesagiri Slashes.

"Unf-! What is the meaning of this, Lumine?!"

The pain only fueled Lumine's wrath as she spun around to strike at Ei's side. The Shogunate brought her exposed arm up to shield the attack, as the sound of crashing metal exploded out. Ei felt parts of her arm crumple from the impact, as the two stared at each other through the deadlock.

"You... y-you...!" the Traveler uttered, as sweat dripped down to her chin.

"YOU KILLED ENJOU!!!"

The yellow hue of the Gauntlet switched to turquoise, as Lumine landed a vicious cross into Ei's gut. As she was once again knocked back, the Shogunate dug her fingers into the sand to come to a halt.

"I don't know who you're talking about!" she refuted, as the Engulfing Lightning flew back to her hand.

"Ghhgh-!" Lumine's face contorted in pain from her wearied heart. "Of course you don't..." she continued, gripping onto the war club.

"I bet you don't remember any of them!"

Ei was now purely on the defensive, blocking and dodging every rage-filled attack Lumine threw at her.

"Lumine, please, you need to calm down! Explain to me what has happened!"

But the Traveler ignored the Shogunate's commands.

"Did you forget Kazuha's friend too?! Or the god you slaughtered at Sangonomiya?!"

The continued impact of the Kanabou was breaking through Ei's Divine Barrier, reducing her down to one knee.

"How dare you lecture me about loss, when you're the one who causes so much of it?!"

Ei was now on her back, holding onto her spear for dear life, as Lumine brought down swing after swing. In her mind, she started piecing together the dots.

The corrupted Puppet... the Abyss...

"Traveler, you- argh! -you need to stop! In the Abyss, that wasn't me! That was-"

"IT DOESN'T MATTER!!!"

The next swing had so much force that it knocked the Kanabou out of Lumine's own hands. The sheer strength bent through the Engulfing Lightning, earning a strike onto Ei's forehead. Purple fluid began to seep out from Ei's head as Lumine fell to her knees over the fallen Archon.

"The Shogun is you, Ei!" she screamed, raising the Gauntlet up to strike down onto Ei's head. The metal in Ei's skull resounded as the Hypostasis collided.

"You're the one who can't take responsibility!" Another punch landed, with Ei spitting out more Electro-infused blood.

"You're not worthy to be an Archon!!!"

 

That was the last straw for Ei.

 

A sudden blast of force knocked Lumine onto her back, as she watched Ei rise into the sky... with a dreadfully familiar hilt rising from her chest.

All at once, the adrenaline in her system vanished as fear struck through the Traveler's soul. Her heart pounded even faster, as all of her senses were drowned out by agony.

In the blink of an eye, Ei charged towards her enemy, with the Musou no Hitotachi ready to kill.

The sound of metal cutting flesh echoed throughout the Plane of Euthymia.

 

Lumine opened her quivering eyes, expecting to see a blade plunged through her neck.

Instead, she saw the divine weapon resting at her cheek, with fresh crimson starting to drip out onto its Electro-infused metal.

She looked back to Ei, who had but a single tear on her cheek.

The two stared at each other, as Ei held the Musou no Hitotachi firmly at Lumine's face.

"I know, Lumine... I know I'm not worthy..."

Ei then aggressively drew the blade back, cutting deeper into Lumine's cheek before she turned away.

"But you, need to calm down." Ei turned her back on the Traveler, and slowly walked away as she sheathed the divine blade.

"You can use that talisman when you're ready to have a more civilized conversation."

A moment of silence passed.

And a second.

Ei's eyebrows furrowed slightly.

"...Traveler?"

 

As Ei's own adrenaline died down, she suddenly recognized the small sounds of someone choking at her back.

She turned around, and was met with a sight she had seen before in her nightmares.

Lumine laid flat on her back, twitching and convulsing, eyes rolled back in pure torment. Her arms and legs were tense, shaking uncontrollably. A mixture of blood and foam sputtered out from her mouth, as more inhuman sounds emerged from her throat.

Ei was frozen by shock. Her eyes wide open, unblinking and utterly mortified. No... I... I couldn't have...

The Traveler continued to lay there, gasping desperately for life, yet only finding more fluid to fill her lungs.

Reality slowly shattered away around them, as Ei subconsciously returned them both to Tenshukaku.

A piercing scream echoed out, as Paimon rushed past Ei to her friend's aid.

"LUMI!!!" she cried out as she tried to place her hands on the convulsing Traveler, unsure of what to do.

Paimon looked back at Ei with tear-filled eyes.

"What did you do?!"

Ei tried to open her mouth, tried to say something... anything...

But she could only choke on her words.

As Paimon desperately looked over Lumine's body, her eyes lit up as she realized something. Reaching into Lumine's pocket, she grabbed the Grand Narukami Shrine Omamori and shook it vigorously.

"Come on, come on, come on!"

Suddenly, a flash of red and pink appeared, as a familiar pink-tailed rescuer teleported into existence.

The Kitsune hastily scanned the situation, before taking a knee to aid the Traveler.

"Paimon, she's having a seizure. We need to place her on her side."

Yae refused to make eye contact with Ei, as the two worked meticulously to aid Lumine.

"Carefully now... her muscles are locking up. She might break something if we move her the wrong way."

"O-okay... okay... like this?"

"Very good."

Finally, Ei broke out of her trance to try and step towards her 'friends.' But she was immediately stopped when Yae scolded her away.

"Stay. Right. There." the Priestess spoke firmly.

"M-Miko I... I just want to h-help..." Ei muttered through her tears.

Yae suddenly locked her eyes onto Ei, with burning intensity.

"YOU'VE DONE ENOUGH ALREADY."

For a moment, Yae had bared her canines at the Shogunate, earning a wide look of fear on Ei's face. Realizing what she had done, the Kitsune quickly covered her mouth and refocused on the Traveler.

"Okay Paimon, we need to wait now."

"Wh-what?! There's not anything else we can do???"

"No... If we try to force her out of it, she might be harmed even further. We just have to let the seizure take its course."

Paimon wiped her eyes and nodded nervously.

 

A full minute passed, dragging on for what felt like hours.

Until... Lumine's gagging fell away into silence. Yae and Paimon looked at each other with concern.

"Is... Is she...?"

The Kitsune carefully picked up Lumine's wrist, placing her hand at the joint to feel for a pulse.

Suddenly, Lumine jolted awake, shooting into an upright position as she let out a torrent of coughs. Spiddle and blood splattered onto Tenshukaku's floors as Lumine tasted blood.

Paimon immediately hugged the Traveler, while Yae patted Lumine's back.

But she still hadn't forgotten.

A hateful stare looked up to Ei, as Lumine panted for breath.

"...Lumine, I'm..."

"I don't want to hear it..." Lumine replied raspily.

Ei bowed her head down in shame, as Lumine tried to get back to her feet.

"y-you're... no... better than... them..." she spat out, making the Shogunate's blood run cold.

 

Suddenly, Yae's ear flicked as she detected something happening outside.

The Kitsune looked outside the window, to see a humanoid figure standing...

...no, floating, outside of the canvas window. A wide brimmed hat adorned their head.

Two violet eyes glowed as they locked with Yae's, before a purple orb began to form in their arms.

"...Kunikuz--?!"

Before anyone could react, a massive ball of Electro-infused Void crashed through the walls of Tenshukaku, splintering wood and glass all over its inhabitants.

And then... the ball erupted in a Soulrending blast, destroying the supports from within the chambers.

 

Tenshukaku came crashing down onto the Electro Archon and her company, as the Balladeer approached with maleficent intent.

 

Today would be the day Inazuma fell.

Chapter Text

Dark flames burned on the normally clear waters of Watatsumi, now permanently stained in the blood of Sangonomiya's finest.

"From the ashes... to this world anew..." a re-armed Pyro Abyss Lector spoke softly, as he stepped over charred corpses.

"The great rapture of Khaenriah has begun, mortals..." A repurposed Husk arm flexed, as a surviving Samurai tried to crawl away, only to be incinerated in an instant.

"And now, is the time for his second coming," the Lector finished, as he bowed before the Void-winged Abyss Prince.

Legions of Abyssal Forces, Ruin Constructs, and Shadowy Husks joined the Lector, as all hailed Prince Aether's name.

Little did they know, a certain canine general was being quietly whisked away to safety within the bushes.

A sharp scent of salt cut through the General's nostrils as Gorou shot awake, only to have his mouth immediately covered by a bandaged hand.

His eyes squeezed shut as he gripped a fresh wound in his side, before reopening to address his savior.

The Maple-Leaf Samurai returned his gaze, bringing a finger to his lips. Gorou nodded, and the hand was removed from his mouth.

"The opening ambush has been successful, my Prince," a Cryo Abyss Mage informed. "Inazuma is none the wiser of the Balladeer's approach, nor of our presence on Watatsumi."

The Abyss Prince nodded.

"They won't stay like that for long. Continue the assault as planned. The Ruin Hunters will take to the seas."

As the Legions began to deploy, Aether returned his focus to the last remnant of Sangonomiya at his feet.

Gorou's eyes widened in horror, as the Abyss Prince leaned over to pick up the defeated Divine Priestess from the ground.

Her eyes slowly opened, as Aether's fingers wrapped around the bow of her bloodstained ceremonial garments.

"So, you're the one destined to be Sangonomiya's Savior?"

As Kokomi coughed up red, she could only look back at Aether in defiance. His eyes narrowed as he tilted his head in pity.

"I must admit... I expected something grander from your bloodline."

Gorou writhed in Kazuha's grasp, as a gilded longsword materialized in Aether's hand.

"Any last words, Priestess?"

"...hnn... h...hh..."

A shaky hand rose up, as Kokomi mustered the last of her strength to form a fist. On command, one final Hydro-infused Fish struck viciously against the Abyss Prince, whose head only flinched back slightly in response.

 

Aether gave a respectful nod to the Divine Priestess...

...and drove his blade up between her ribs.

 

Kokomi's eyes widened in agony, as her muscles tensed all at once. Her fingers clutched desperately at Aether's sword for a few moments, with blood pooling up in her mouth, before her hands eventually went limp.

"N...NO...!" Gorou whimpered out in disbelief, doing his best to refrain from exposing his location. Kazuha could only shut his eyes, as tears streamed down his cheeks.

As Kokomi's strengthless body slid off of Aether's sword, he looked down at his blood-stained glove. A frown of disgust appeared on his face, as he shook a few drops off onto the ground.

With one final glance of his surroundings, a Void portal opened behind him, as he disappeared into the beyond.

 

Gorou and Kazuha had to wait for four minutes until the Abyss cleared out. All the while, the General was forced to hear Kokomi's futile gasps for air as she bled out slowly on the ground.

Once the winds told Kazuha it was safe (enough), Gorou sprinted on all fours to Her Excellency's aid.

"YOUR EXCELLENCY!!!" he screamed out, as he immediately began applying pressure to the massive gash in Kokomi's chest. Nearly all the color in her skin had faded away, as her draining eyes did their best to focus on the General.

"Please, Your Excellency, please! Stay with me! Don't fall asleep! We can fix this!"

"Gorou..." Kazuha relented, placing a hand on his shoulder. The General angrily shoved the Drifter's hand aside.

"NO! I'm not giving up! WE'RE NOT GIVING UP!!!"

Suddenly, Gorou felt a different hand on his cheek. Looking back down, he watched as Kokomi did her best to wipe a tear away from her General's eye, only to smear a streak of crimson in its place.

She then reached behind her back, retrieving a red-stained notebook, pushing it onto Gorou's chest.

Her lips slowly opened, uttering her final words...

"This... is not... the end..."

And just like that, the light vanished from Sangonomiya Kokomi.

Her hands drifted lifelessly onto the sand, and her face rested into an endless stare. A final tear fell from her eye.

"Ghh... n-no... it can't be... it can't..."

The General's ears ducked down, as he buried his face entirely onto Her Excellency's form, weeping openly into the heavens.

 

The Drifter gave the General as much time as he could to mourn, but was quickly compelled to action when he heard the sound of Tenshukaku's fall.

"General... We need to go."

Gorou nodded slowly, as he rose up from Kokomi's chest.

"I... I'll protect them, Your Excellency..." he spoke through final tears, as he picked up the journal from Kokomi's hand.

But as he lifted it, he realized that one of her fingers had been wedged in between some of the pages. His sorrow was quickly overtaken by intrigue, as Kazuha observed his hesitation.

"What is it?" Kazuha asked.

Then, Gorou pried the book open to the page the Priestess was beckoning to...

"Last Resort: For the Generals' Eyes Only.
Should I fall, proceed as follows...
"


The Balladeer's initial attack was swift and merciless.

He had coordinated his designated Ruin Constructs to strike at every critical point of Inazuma City, at the exact same time.

To the guards protecting the city, it was as if the machines had struck out of nowhere.

Within moments, the city was bathed in missiles and mortars. Those who didn't get the opportunity to seek out shelter were vaporized by the explosions.

Yoimiya only barely managed to get her father out in time before the fireworks shop turned into a blaze of sparks and colors. For once in her life, this particular firework show was nothing short of a nightmare.

Taroumaru's early escape gave Thoma just the right hint to leave, saving him and the Komore Staff from a fiery death. His Blazing Barrier was just enough to keep the staff safe, but much to his demise, the same couldn't be said for the rest of Inazuma's bystanders.

Kujou Sara wasted no time to mobilize what remained of the Tenryou Commission's forces, but was quickly diverted at the sight of a strange ball of energy blowing a titanic crater into the side of Tenshukaku. Once again, pure instinct took over the General's body as she sprinted, teleported, and flew to the Raiden Shogun's aid.

Not long after the initial bombings, a pair of Golden Wolflords circled the skies of Inazuma, as legions of Shadowy Husks dropped down from their sides. The Tenryou Commission fought valiantly, but with the overwhelming numbers of the Abyss continuing to grow, their stand did not last.

And all the while... a certain Shuumatsuban Ninja rolled away as fast as she could to the high cliffs of the Kamisato Estate.

 

"Slow down, Ms. Sayu. What do you mean Tenshukaku has fallen?"

Ayato held the child firmly as she continued to hyperventilate, barely managing to wheeze out everything she could recall from the attack.

The Yashiro Leader did his best to wipe the soot and ash away from her face, as he listened and nodded intently.

One of the Yashiro Guards came sprinting back.

"Sir Ayato! It's... it's true! Inazuma City is burning!"

Kamisato's Eldest swallowed down his fears. He quickly instructed Sayu to stay safe, before standing up to draw out his katana.

"Then we fight, for the glory of Inazuma. Rally the troops."

The Yashiro Soldiers gave each other nervous glances, before quickly adhering to their orders.

Ayato looked back to the Estate to see his sister at the doorway with a worried look in her eyes. He gave her a solemn nod, and she nodded back.

 

As the Kamisato siblings finished dawning their armor, they gave their final bows to the Kamisato and Inazuman Crests.

But as Ayaka reached for her trusty Amenoma Kageuchi, Ayato placed a warding hand on her wrist.

"Not this time, sister."

Ayaka's brow furrowed.

"What do you mean? I refuse to stand idly by while Inazuma is threatened-"

"I don't mean that..."

As Ayato reached down underneath the floorboard to reveal a hidden chest, Ayaka's eyes widened in realization.

"N-no, I'm not ready-"

"Yes, you are." Ayato spoke firmly, as he placed a hand on her shoulder.

"It was meant for you, not me."

Ayaka took in a breath of confidence, and nodded slowly to her brother.

She reached down to the case, and carefully undid its locks. The chest slowly creaked open, as a dim purple light shined onto the Kamisato Siblings' faces.

Ayaka let out a soothing exhale, as she took up the blade of the Mistsplitter Reforged.


The Tengu General's knees scraped against the cracked stone of Tenshukaku's grounds.

"ALMIGHTY SHOGUN! WHERE ARE YOU?!"

Her wings retracted into her back as she stood up straight, taking a quick moment to roll her shoulders over the strain.

Only then did she realize who was floating over the wreckage. Only then, did she meet the violet-illuminated eyes behind that archon-forsaken mask.

"Well well well," Scaramouche, Sixth of the Eleven Fatui Harbingers, Commander of the Abyssal Ruin, began to speak.

"If it isn't the Great Tengu Savior."

Sara's grip tightened around her Hamayumi, as she quickly nocked an Electro-infused arrow.

"I've had enough of you Fatui scum..."

"And yet here you are, ready to plaster the floor with your face again by a Harbinger's hand..."

She fired an arrow straight at the Balladeer's neck. It disappeared instantly in a wisp of shadowy smoke.

"Please, General, riddle me this... Is the Shogun really worth all this trouble?"

The Balladeer's feet touched the ground. Another arrow disintegrated off of his shoulder.

"I mean, look at yourself! You're so, so desperate to please her, that you throw yourself into danger without a hint of approval, or even sight of your ruler!"

Another arrow bounced off of his cheek. The next one, he caught in his hand with annoyance.

"Ugh, you're not listening to me! She doesn't care about you, Sara! Never has, never will! You're just another number off the tally of her failed generals, don't you get that?!"

But the General fired yet another arrow, without hesitation, without doubt.

"I won't have my faith shaken by the likes of you."

"Why not?! I've probably spoken more words to you than she ever has in your entire life! Are you really going to throw yourself away for a god with no idea how to lead her people?!"

Rubble shifted from behind the Balladeer.

"For my Nation?" Sara replied, as she moved her own mask over her face. "Without question."

Suddenly, a torrent of purple light burst out from behind Scaramouche. His eyes widened as he saw his shadow flash before the Tengu General.

As he turned around, the Almighty Shogun burst forth from a tear in reality, the Musou Isshin in hand, careening straight for her prototype's throat.

Two blades of Void energy formed in his hands just in time to block the attack, and a powerful shockwave blasted out as the puppets clashed.

Kujou Sara shielded her eyes for a moment before looking back to see her Almighty Shogun in deadlock.

"General, search the rubble! Lady Guuji and the Traveler are still trapped! I will protect you from this failed project."

"Yes, Your Excellency!" Sara responded, before teleporting into the fray of scattered rubble.

Pure Electro crackled between the Shogunate and the Balladeer. He quickly noticed the trickle of purple at the corner of her mouth.

"Oh, did I catch you at a bad time, Mother?"

"On the contrary..."

Her old Engulfing Lightning materialized in her hand as she quickly thrusted it into Kunikuzushi's chest. The force knocked him back a few meters, as he scowled back at his creator.

"...I've just finished warming up."


When Itto swung open the hidden door to his Gang's hideout, he wasn't expecting to catch a bloodied Fireworks Master in his arms... or the dozens of Inazuman refugees behind her.

"it'sgoneit'sgoneit'sallgone-!" Yoimiya stuttered out as she clinged on to Itto for dear life.

"Whoa whoa whoa, slow down Yoi..." he replied, slowly patting her on the back, only to realize the scorch marks on her skin.

"What's gone, Yoi?"

"Th-the city, i-it all happened so fast I didn't, I didn't see them coming... oh by the archons, their parents..."

As the Oni held the Fireworks Master, he looked beyond to see familiar faces from Inazuma City, most notably the children he loved to play with.

What he didn't see, were the disapproving faces of their parents. Instead, there was only a lone man in a red jacket, solemnly counting them up.

"...Shit... Alright, everyone inside. Kuki!" he called back into the lair. "Batten down the hatches! We got company."

Itto held the door open as the refugees made their way inside. Ryuunosuke nodded to him thankfully, and he nodded back.

Of course, Thoma was the last to enter, making sure that everyone made it safely.

"Thank you for doing this, Mr. Itto. I'll ensure the Yashiro Commission repays you properly once this is all over."

"Nah, don't worry about it. We're all Inazumans, aren't we? Gotta look out for each other." He offered out his hand to Thoma, who grasped it firmly.

"I don't think we've had the pleasure of meeting. I'm-"

"Ayato's boyfriend, I know. He talks about you during our beetle brawls. Now come on, ain't safe out here."

Itto pushed Thoma in as the Retainer's cheeks went red. As the Oni stepped back into the lair, he glanced around one last time.

"At least... I think it's not safe out here. Probably."


"...We're clear," the Drifter whispered.

As a horde of Lawachurls wandered away from the beach, Kazuha quickly dashed to the water, two paddle boards in hand. Behind him was the General, carefully cradling Kokomi's body.

Kazuha set the boards on the water as Gorou carefully laid Kokomi onto one of them. He then reopened her journal and rechecked the instructions.

The Drifter placed his hand on the General's.

"Do you think it will work?"

Gorou nodded firmly.

"I trust in Her Excellency."

Kazuha nodded back, and proceeded to tie the paddle boards together.

Gorou frowned for a moment, before realizing that there was only one paddle.

"Wait... you're not coming?"

"The Winds are calling to me, General. Someone must brave the Lightning's Glow."

The General sighed, knowing that there was no changing the Drifter's mind. He grasped Kazuha's hand, and pulled him in for a respectful embrace.

"Come back in one piece, Kazuha."

"Come back? I expect to see you in the City once you're finished, General."

Gorou nodded solemnly.

"Then I'll see you there."

The heroes of Watatsumi bowed to each other, before Kazuha opened his glider to catch the breeze.

Gorou quickly mounted his board and began to paddle out to the familiar location, beginning to realize what its true importance was.

As he disappeared into the fog of war, he looked back at the still body of the Divine Priestess.

"Just a little longer, Your Excellency..."


With the exception of the ensuing battle atop Tenshukaku, the Abyss had full control over Inazuma City.

Ruin Constructs surrounded its perimeter, while Shadowy Husks patrolled the streets for survivors. Abyss Mages constructed towers and barriers, while hilichurls plundered the food and supplies, while simultaneously helping themselves to the Tenryou Armory. In the skies circled the twin Golden Wolflords, hungry for a fresh meal.

All the while, the Abyss Prince walked the streets of the failed Nation of Eternity. Seeing the corpses of mortal arrogation brought an odd satisfaction to his soul.

The Pyro Abyss Lector appeared before him in a ceremonial kneel.

"My Prince... the Balladeer is engaged with the Raiden Shogun atop Tenshukaku. A field of Electro stops us from approaching further."

"So be it. The Shogun is no match for a Gnosis, but I'll go to make sure things go smoothly. Continue the assault. That Shrine is an eyesore."

"As you command, My Prince."

Yet, unbeknownst to the Abyss Prince, a ginko leaf followed by twin puddles of Cryo and Hydro had slipped their way through the Ruin's defense.

 

Ei's eyes glowed as bright as they had during the first Archon War, as she discreetly struggled to maintain her barrier around Tenshukaku.

As much as she hated to admit it, Kunikuzushi knew how to use the Gnosis.

Divine bolts of lightning kept Ei on her toes, always denying her from dealing meaningful damage to the prototype.

She raised the divine blade to absorb a beam of Void-infused Electro, as Kunikuzushi laughed mockingly.

"You should have killed me, Mother. All that work to preserve yourself, only to be torn away by your greatest failure."

"Do not flatter yourself, Kunikuzushi."

An Eye of Stormy Judgement opened behind the Balladeer, as the Shogunate warped herself to a perfect strike.

She unleashed the Musou no Hitotachi with the might of one thousand storms. Nine slashes formed around the Balladeer, and the impact echoed throughout the seven nations.

But as the ringing stopped in her ears, as her eyes readjusted from the burst of light, her look of steeled determination shifted to shock.

The prototype stared back with pure hatred, as one of his arms was raised to absorb the impact. The blade had only penetrated nearly a centimeter, as Kunikuzushi's arm stood strong. The Gnosis glowed brightly on his chest.

"Did you forget, Mother? You built me to wield your Gnosis, before you gave it to that treacherous fox!"

An orb of Void concentrated into Kunikuzushi's hand before he forced it into Ei's abdomen. Her eyes widened as the Musou Isshin left her hand, before she was blasted back into a half-destroyed pillar.

The Balladeer pulled the blade out from his arm before tossing it aside, and continued to throw blast after blast at Ei.

 

Sara's eyes searched frantically over the rubble for any sign of life.

"Lumine? Lady Guuji?? Paimon??? Where are you?!"

Finally, movement was spotted at the corner of her eye. She turned around to see twitching Hypostasis cubes creeping out from underneath a large pile of wood and stone.

The Tengu General rushed over and started heaving rubble out of the way, slowly revealing more and more of the Gauntlet, and eventually, its owner.

Crouched over an unconscious Paimon was the Traveler, with her elbow and knees propped up against the ground as she held up the weight of Tenshukaku's roof from her best friend.

"TRAVELER!"

Saliva and blood leaked out from Lumine's mouth as she panted through her teeth, her back trembling from the debris. Sara quickly squeezed herself through the hole in the rubble to lay a hand on both Lumine and Paimon.

In a flash of thunder, the three were whisked away into an open area. Sara and Lumine scattered onto the floor as they both panted for breath.

"th...thank you..." Lumine wheezed out, as she reached over to hold Sara's hand.

"Now we're... even," the Tengu General replied.

As they both pushed back up to their knees, Lumine realized the scattered equipment that surrounded them.

"Unless that oaf was here, I think these both belong to you," Sara stated as she gestured to the Kanabou and the Iron Sting.

Suddenly, a piercing shockwave detonated out from the other side of the rubble, forcing the two to cover their ears from the agonizing ringing. Paimon's eyes then shot open from the noise, letting out another high-pitched scream as she rose up.

"WAAHHH!!! Wh-what happened?! Ugh, Paimon's head hurts!"

Sara and Lumine looked back just in time to see Ei get thrown into a pillar, before summoning her polearm to block a continued volley of Void.

The Tengu General looked back at the Traveler.

"Get her to safety, Lumine. I still need to find Lady Guuji, then I'll help the Almighty Shogun.

But Lumine shook her head, as the Hypostasis cubes refocused into her Gauntlet.

"No, this is my fight too."


Yoimiya's eyes crinkled as Thoma placed a firm bandage onto her back. A tear ran down her cheek, which she quickly wiped away.

"Thoma, why are you helping me? You should be helping my dad first, he's way worse than I am!"

"Actually, I already did," Thoma corrected, as he prepared another bandage. "He had a few splinters and bruises, but other than that, he's perfectly fine."

The Fireworks Master felt a massive weight lift off her chest.

"R-really? But there, there was so much ash, and fire, and he couldn't breath and I was so-"

"He's okay, Ms. Naganohara."

Thoma looked over the burns once more, this time searching for patterns to line up with his intuitions.

"From what I can tell, you took most of the initial blast."

"W-well yeah, no duh! Ouch!" she winced again as another bandage took its place. "I'm the one with the Vision, so... I shielded him."

Thoma nodded.

"You did good, Yoimiya."

Yoimiya looked back, with a tearful smile.

But the moment was interrupted when a certain Oni walked past the two, armed quite literally to the teeth. He slung both his Redhorn and his Kanabou over his shoulders, with an additional fan of knives in his mouth.

"Wh- hey!" Yoimiya exclaimed as she shot to her feet. "Where do you think you're going?!"

"Tuh duh schidee, schtoopih!"

"...What?"

"Agck... hehn auh..."

Itto spat the knives onto the ground, and turned around to address his not-best-friend.

"To the City, stupid. Where else?"

"To the- Itto! You're gonna get yourself killed!"

Itto shrugged nonchalantly.

"Maybe. Actually, probably. But what, you think I'm gonna sit here and tell the kids that I left their parents to fuckin' die?"

Yoimiya tried to protest, but as she looked back at the fear-filled eyes of Inazuma's youngest, she couldn't bring herself to disagree.

"Even if there's a chance that their families are alive, I'm taking it, Yoi. You can come with me if you want, but I'm going. Same offer to you, false horns."

She saw her father holding a group of children in his arms, trying his best to tell them that everything would be okay. Ryuunosuke's eyes met with his daughter's, and they both gave each other a silent nod.

Yoimiya turned back to Itto.

"You're doing it for them?"

The Oni nodded.

"On the Blue Oni's honor."

Yoimiya sighed, before summoning her custom Hamayumi.

"Okay. Let's go."

"Ah ah, not without me," Thoma added as he kicked up the Catch.

Itto let out a hearty chuckle as he turned back to the door, only to realize that his knives were still on the floor.

"...Oh yeah, can uh, can someone pick those up for me?"


The flashes of lightning and clashing steel could be seen and heard throughout all of Inazuma City.

Ayaka's eyes widened as she saw the two figures lunging at each other with impossible speeds.

"Come on sister, we need to keep moving."

She snapped out of her trance and met back with her brother's eyes.

"Right, did you find anything at the Teahouse?"

Ayato shook his head, filling Ayaka with hope.

"Do you think they made it out then?"

"Without a doubt, knowing Thoma."

A flash of smoke appeared beside the hiding Kamisatos, as Sayu sprung into view.

"I think I found something," she started before letting out a quiet yawn. "You guys didn't tell me there was a robot in Inazuma!"

Ayaka and Ayato frowned at each other in confusion.

"What robot?"

 

"I-I-I-I-I-Incoming messa-messa-message..." the battered frame of Katheryne repeated as sparks flew out from its bisected torso.

"See?" Sayu pointed out the exposed metal face of the Guild Correspondent. "She's a robot-!"

The revelations were interrupted as a Husk Bearer approached the Guild House, forcing Ayaka to grab Sayu by the hood to duck her down underneath the desk.

A metallic claw dug into the wood as the empty helmet of the Bearer peaked into the shack, barely missing the three trespassers within.

It let out a metallic groan before lumbering away, and Ayaka let out a sigh of relief.

"I-I-I-I-I-Incoming messa-messa-message..."

"So... should we do something about that?" Sayu asked.

Ayaka examined the frame more closely, and noticed a small flashing button that was blinking on the side of Katheryne's cheek.

She looked over to Ayato, who then glanced over the ridge of the desk to ensure the coast was clear. With a nod, Ayaka pressed the button, and a different voice began to play through the static.

"...M...t...an...L... Help is on the wa...ng on just a...ger!"

"It sounds like someone's coming to aid us..." Ayato pondered.

"Well that's good, right?" Ayaka replied.

"Maybe... but who is the question, and why would they send it through Kathy--"

But the conversation was cut short when a Hydro-infused lance plunged through the desk, separating the siblings from each other.

Now wide exposed, they quickly drew their weapons as an armada of Shadowy Husks gathered around.

"So rude...!" Ayaka exclaimed, as she summoned her fan alongside the Mistsplitter.


Ei poured blasts after blasts of Electro into Kunikuzushi, but the Gnosis was making her attacks all but pointless.

Without the Musou Isshin, this battle would have to be won with Physical damage.

"You never should have trusted this with that ratty little fox, Mother..."

The Shogunate's eyes narrowed, as her grip tightened even further around her polearm.

"You don't get to speak of her."

With a burst of lightning, Ei charged forth to pierce her spear straight through the prototype's shoulder. But the damage only earned a smile from the Void-empowered Balladeer.

"Oh, did I hit a nerve?"

Ei only growled back before kicking Kunikuzushi square in the chest, forcing him off the blade.

As he staggered back, Void focused around his hat before he took it in his hand, only to launch it back at Ei as a violent sawblade.

She brought up the Engulfing Lightning to block the projectile, but the Void energy cut deep. As sparks flew from its spinning edge, Ei was pushed onto her back as the Void Disc split her polearm into two.

The hat then flew back to Kunikuzushi, who replaced it onto his head as he laughed.

Ei struggled back to her feet, as she tossed the blunt end of the polearm aside, brandishing the Engulfing Lightning's blade as a short sword.

But before she could attack, a blur of white rushed past her...

...as Lumine came flying in with a Cryo-infused punch.

Ice shattered across Kunikuzushi as he stumbled back, only to step on a hidden Crowfeather from Sara. An arrow flew, and the Superconducted blast of Tengu Juurai engulfed the Balladeer.

Lumine continued the assault with her own bow, as Sara rushed to Ei's aid.

"Thank you, General... Have you found Lady Guuji yet?"

Sara shook her head, earning a concerned frown from the Shogunate.

"Paimon's still looking, and I couldn't stand by while my Archon was under attack."

Suddenly, Lumine slid to a halt before the two Electro users with a fresh Void blast steaming from her chest.

"What a shame," Kunikuzushi relented, "I was hoping you'd be strong enough to face me alone."

The three took hold of their weapons, and the battle continued.


An Electro Abyss Lector pressed their hands against the Electro Barrier surrounding Tenshukaku to no avail.

Aether crossed his arms as he watched disapprovingly.

"I gave you the blessing of the lightning, how is it that you can't even get through a simple wall?"

"A thousand apologies My Prince, but... This is, different, somehow... It's resisting the Abyss..."

Aether pinched his nose before summoning the Gilded Longsword.

"Must I do everything myself...?"

The blade coated itself in Void before Aether pierced it into the barrier. Soulrending sparks screeched as the purple glow of Electro intensified around the sword.

But the sudden scream of the Abyss Lector halted Aether's attempt.

As he turned back to where the Lector was once standing, he instead found two titanic appendages wrapped around them.

"RRGH-! MY... PRINCE...!!!" was all the Lector could utter, before it was torn asunder.

Aether's eyes narrowed, as the Ascended form of the Raiden Shogun appeared before him, surrounded by the disembodied limbs of its fellow puppets.

"HOW DARE YOU THREATEN OUR ETERNITY," the Shamble spoke, serenaded by five other voices.

"I see you've rebuilt yourself... as unflattering as it looks. Perhaps you will last longer this time."

"YOUR INSOLENCE SHALL BE PUNISHED, ABYSSAL PRINCE."

The Divine Gauntlets rose, as a titanic version of the Engulfing Lightning materialized in their palms.

Aether responded as he too began to float into the air, as his original wings grew out from his back, now accented with a Voidal purple as opposed to their original gold.

"NOW, WITNESS THE FINAL CALAMITY."


As the Abyss Prince and the Raiden Shogun took to the skies, Abyssal roars echoed into the air as the Legions cheered on their Prince.

"Jeez, the Raiden Shogun's going all out on this one," Itto noted as they moved through the wastelands.

"Well I would hope so, knowing how she responded to my Vision ceremony being disrupted," Thoma replied.

"You know I still think that's stupid by the way. You just got lucky that you happened to be 'tHe HuNdReDtH vIsIoN,' when it TOTALLY should have been-"

A swift strike to the gut from Yoimiya's elbow shut Itto up. He was pretty certain there was a bruise forming in that spot now.

"-Ack, alright alright, I'm just saying..."

A gasp from the Kamisato Retainer caught the Thrillseekers' attention. Thoma's eyes widened as he lowed a telescope he bought from Liyue.

"W...We need to get down there!"

"Well, obviously!" Yoimiya said as she placed her hands on her hips.

"No, you don't understand. The Kamisatos are down there!"

"They are? Where?!" Yoimiya snatched the telescope from Thoma's hand and tried to focus. Thoma quickly adjusted the Fireworks Master's angle.

Surely enough, a battle had erupted in the middle of Inazuma City, with Ayaka and Ayato in the heat of battle with strange suits of armor. Assisting them through whiffs of smoke and quick strikes was Sayu, doing her best to pick off the Husk Defenders from the back lines.

Yoimiya's heart sank when she realized the hoards of hilichurls rushing into the Kamisatos.

"Shoots! Did you find us a safe route yet?"

"Um..." Thoma took the telescope back to rescan the defense line. He pointed a finger at the western side of the city.

"There, by the beaches. That's where there's the least amount of Ruin Guards. If we destroy it fast enough, we can climb the wall and get in."

"That's what they want you to think," a soft voice called out from behind the rescuers.

All three Vision Bearers quickly turned around with their weapons at the ready, as a familiar Maple-Leaf Samurai stepped out from the bushes.

"Err, friend of any of yours?" Itto questioned with a raised eyebrow.

Yoimiya quickly dropped her bow as she rushed over to hug the Drifter.

"Oh thank the Archons you're okay!"

Kazuha returned the embrace, but quickly stopped as Yoimiya took in a sharp inhale.

"Ow-ow-ow, watch the burns please..."

"Of course, my apologies Ms. Naganohara."

Itto looked back at Thoma, who had already placed his spear back on his back. With a shrug, Itto planted the Redhorn into the ground.

"Wait, weren't you in Watatsumi? Does that mean the Resistance is coming?" Yoimiya asked with hopeful eyes.

Kazuha could only meet her gaze with sorrow, as Yoimiya quickly realized what had happened.

"No... not them too...?"

The Drifter's eyes closed as he slowly nodded.

"Some escaped. But not all is lost yet. General Gorou is assembling a counter offensive as we speak. But for now, we're on our own."

Yoimiya wiped her eyes and nodded.

"Okay... Okay."

"Well then," Thoma intervened, "Mr. Kaedahara, was it? Captain Beidou told me a lot about you."

"I'm sure she has. But we have a City to take back, don't we?"

"I'm not so concerned about the City," Itto corrected. "Just the people in it."

"I can work with that," Kazuha replied. "As I was saying... The Eastern Ruin Guard is a trap, meant to lure in rescuers like us. If we go that way, we may find ourselves as overwhelmed as the Kamisatos are."

"Then what's our approach?" Thoma asked eagerly.

"Through the skies."

"Uh huh, yeah I don't think so bud," Itto corrected. "Did you not see those big wolves flying in the sky? They'll tear you guys to shreds!"

"You mean the Golden Wolflords that are currently being distracted by the Almighty Shogun?"

The Oni looked back, and surely enough, the Wolflords were locked in combat with the Ascended Shogun, weaving between colossal waves of Electro as the Abyss Prince lashed out at its defenses.

"...Huh. Not bad, Kaedahara Kid."


Though the Gnosis Barrier was holding strong, the Balladeer was starting to get worn down by the trifecta of attackers.

Between Ei's rapidfire short sword strikes, Lumine's blunt-force Gauntlet, and the constant harassment of Sara's arrows, his patience was running thin.

As another Crowfeather detonated, power surged into Lumine as she summoned her Kanabou to smash into Kunikuzushi's face.

Sara looked back to see Ei taking a quick moment to catch her breath, readjusting her grip on the shortened Engulfing Lightning.

"Almighty Shogun, why haven't you summoned another weapon yet?"

"My counterparts are using them all. And..."

Ei looked back at the Traveler, trading blows with the Balladeer.

"...I haven't made a spare yet."

"Well then," Sara continued as she let more arrows loose, "what of the Musou Isshin?"

"Somewhere in the rubble, but the Void damage I've sustained is clouding my senses of it."

"Then we'll make do, Your Excellency."

Ei's grip tightened as she nodded at the General.

"We shall indeed, Kujou Sara."

 

As Lumine thrusted the Gauntlet forwards for another punch, Scaramouche caught it with a Void-infused fist. As the warriors remained in deadlock, Scaramouche donned his grin that Lumine had learned to despise.

"I see your time in the Abyss made you stronger, as it did for me."

The Crystalline Bloom within the Gauntlet started to fade, as the frost around her fist began to melt.

"...But not strong enough, it seems."

Lumine's eyes narrowed, as she switched from her Kanabou to the Iron Sting. With an upward slash of Geo, she broke the clash and leaped back to gain distance, before switching to her bow for a flurry of arrows.

Scaramouche responded by dawning his hat as a shield, burning the arrows on impact.

But with a flash of purple, the Tengu General appeared behind the Balladeer.

"Storm the Front!"

With a torrent of lightning bolts, the Cryo left by Lumine triggered a Superconduct off of Scaramouche. As he staggered forwards, Ei closed the distance to capitalize on the reduced resistance to her blade.

Large slashes dug into Kunikuzushi's chest as Ei relented, one managing to knock his hat out from his hand. But unfortunately, the Delusion remained.

The Balladeer crossed his arms before releasing them out to his sides, as a massive burst of Void knocked back all three fighters.

Sara collided head-first into a stone pillar, knocking her out instantly. Meanwhile, Lumine and Ei were thrown onto their backs a few meters apart from each other.

With the Gauntlet being the more pressing concern, Scaramouche channeled Electro into one hand, and Void into another, before sending two focused beams of energy into Lumine.

She screamed out in agony as the Soulrending blast ate through her Astral Barrier and into her exposed chest. The Gauntlet twitched wildly, unsure of what to do with the sporadic signals from her scattered mind. Scaramouche continued to laugh as the beams burned deeper, and deeper, into the Traveler's chest, the screams only growing louder with each centimeter. Until, finally, the beams pierced through the other side. Satisfied with his work, the beams extinguished, as Lumine's eyes rolled back for the final time.

Ei's widened eyes blinked, and she was returned to the present moment, still watching as her prototype prepared to burn the soul out of Lumine.

But this time, she would not let her friend perish.

All time seemed to slow, as Ei watched the Soulrending beams begin their approach. Lightning coalesced at her feet, as she ran forth with all her might.

Flashes of the rainy field echoed in her mind.

I can make it.

She saw Lumine's eyes shut in fear, as the glow of Void and Electro approached. The ground cracked with each of Ei's footsteps.

She could see the familiar design of her sister's umbrella.

I can make it.

Kunikuzushi's smile cracked open into deranged laughter.

Makoto turned around, a welcoming smile on her face.

I can make it.

As the beams intersected into one, Ei thrusted herself into their path.

 

A solemn smile made its way across her lips.

I made it.

 

Ei's body was shunted into Lumine's as the force of the Soulrending blast impacted.

As the smoke cleared and Lumine's hazy vision returned, realization donned upon her as she realized who was lying on her chest.

Lumine pushed gently agains the body laid over her to reveal the Electro Archon, with a burning crater in her chest.

"No... NO!!!"

The Void in Scaramouche's eyes died down as he gripped into his arm, realizing the toll his Delusion was beginning to take.

Ei coughed up purple as she looked into Lumine's eyes with a smile.

"it's... okay... this is, what I deserve..."

Lumine shook her head vigorously as tears streamed down her cheeks. She tried to place her hand on the wound, but the heat burned into her flesh.

"Why... why did you do that for me? I was trying to... oh, archons why did I try to..."

"please, run, Traveler... he's only here for me..."

Now placing the Gauntlet over Ei's chest, Lumine quickly shoved a Lightning Prism into her arm.

"No, stop saying that Ei... You're gonna be fine, just... hang on. I can recharge your Puppet, right?"

Ei placed her hand over the Gauntlet to push it away.

"we're... out of time..."

Lumine looked up, realizing that the barrier Ei had set around Tenshukaku was falling, like shards of broken glass.

"please, Lumine... find Miko... protect Sara..."

But a deep chuckle ruined the moment for Ei, as Kunikuzushi hunched over in laughter.

"Oh no, how pitifully tragic, Traveler... Saved by a God with no love for her people..."

A blade of pure Electro formed into the Balladeer's hand.

"That's a good deal she's offering though, maybe you should take it. I'll even give you a head start to escape this wretched City."

But the Traveler had learned to ignore the Balladeer's false deals long ago. After setting Ei down safely behind her, she drew her sword up defiantly against Scaramouche.

"Still getting worked up over nothing, aren't you?"

As the Gnosis on Scaramouche glowed, Lumine braced herself for impact.

But then, a flicker of pink appeared at the corner of her eye.

"It's been nice knowing you, Travele-RGH!!"

Suddenly, a familiar divine blade pierced through Kunikuzushi's chest. His eyes looked down in shock, as branches of lightning coursed through his metal.

 

"Sorry, dear child, but that's no way to treat your Mother."

With a mighty heave, Yae Miko launched the Balladeer over her head as she retracted the Musou Isshin from his back.

Rolling back onto his feet, Kunikuzushi let out a deep growl as he realized the identity of the new aggressor.

"...You again?!"

Yae let out a playful chuckle as she rested the divine blade on her shoulder, slowly circling around the prototype.

"Aw, and you were so confident just a few moments ago!"

Kunikuzushi lunged at the Kitsune, only for her eyes to flash before a Sesshou Sakura took her place. A divine bolt of lightning struck down onto his back, as the mocking laughter continued.

"Why, if I had been there for your creation, I'd say you inherited that confidence from me..."

The prototype grunted in frustration as he hurled a blast of Void at the Kitsune's face. But with a quick flash of steel, the blast was directed right back into the Balladeer.

Void exploded around him as he shielded his face, the pink gaze of the fox still staring through him, her smile now dimming.

"Then again... I'd never build a runt like yourself."

 

As the Kitsune and the Balladeer continued the fight, Paimon finally reappeared by Lumine's side.

"PHEW! Paimon finally found Lady Guuji! She was really deep in there, ya know!"

Lumine smiled and pulled Paimon in for a quick hug.

"Good job, Paimon."

"Although, I did have to give her one of your Sweet Madames for a pick-me-up..."

"I... think food is the least of our concerns right now. Now come on, help me get Ei to safety."


"Twin-jutsu!"

With a mighty spin, Muji-Muji Daruma Swirled the surrounding Hydro and Cryo of the Kamisatos, cutting into the armor of the Shadowy Husks.

"What are these things?!" Ayato exclaimed as he extracted his Hydro-infused Kageuchi from a Husk Linebreaker.

"Come metal or twisted flesh," Ayaka began, as she threw a Cryo vortex into the armada, "we shall defeat them all the same!"

In a puff of smoke, Sayu reappeared to bring the Debate Club onto the hollow head of a Husk Bearer.

"Ugh, you sound like that flute guy with the leaves!"

A whirlpool of Hydro appeared around Yashiro's Finest, as Ayato donned the Haran Tsukishiro Futsu to unleash hundreds of strikes in an instant. The animated suits Froze in place, but cracks quickly began to form from within their new shells.

"We haven't fallen a single one of them yet!"

Sayu continued to whirl around the Frozen Husks, Swirling as much Cryo as she could to keep them immobilized. But finally, a Husk Bearer broke free, managing to wrap a cold metal fist around Sayu's neck.

"GHH! Almost... dodged that...!" she admitted, as she punched away at the Bearer's fist.

The Kamisatos did their best to intercept, but were blocked off by the lances of two Linebreakers.

As the Bearer formed its banner into a Pyro Axe, Sayu reached into her toolbelt before realizing she was out of smoke bombs.

Without any options, the Shuumatsuban Ninja could only flip a bird into the hollow eyes of the Bearer.

 

But suddenly, a horned beast came rushing forth, knocking the weapon out from the Husk's hand.

"Haha, BAM!"

Sayu found herself out of the Bearer's grasp, yet still under another's mercy, as Ushi playfully licked her face.

"Yuck! Cow breath..."

The Bearer turned around, only to catch a face-full of Redhorn, as Arataki Itto led the charge on the Shadowy Husks.

"Here come the Fireworks!" Yoimiya taunted as flaming arrows littered the battlefield.

"Wind-strider!" Kazuha commanded as he dropped his Filet Blade down into a pack of Husk Defenders.

A hefty swing from a Linebreaker's lance broke through Ayato's defense, opening him up for a well-placed arrow from a Husk Defender.

But as his eyes widened at the approaching Hydro bolt, he felt a sudden warmth pool around him, as a Blazing Barrier formed to absorb the impact.

"Got you covered, my Lord!" Thoma shouted, as he joined the Kamisatos.

"Thank the Archons you're here!" Ayato relieved. "We were worried that we had lost you..."

With a combined slash, Ayato and Thoma destroyed the attacking Linebreaker.

"I won't abandon my duties that easily!"


"INFERIOR."

A Golden Wolflord gnawed uselessly on the Raiden Shogun's enlarged naginata, before being punched away by the puppet's fist.

Turning around, the Guardian of Eternity threw an Electro Pike directly towards the Abyss Prince, who did his best to block the attack with his Gilded Longsword. He then flew forth, spinning and weaving between the incoming waves of Electro.

Now face to face with the Shogun, Aether clashed his sword with its naginata.

"WE WILL NOT BREAK SO EASILY THIS TIME."

"I hoped as much," he replied, before raising his offhand to snap his fingers.

The sound of rocket-thrusters caught the Puppet's attention, as a Perpetual Mechanical Array came blasting in. The Raiden Shogun quickly raised its left master hand to catch the Array. But as the right master hand balled into a fist, a Golden Wolflord bit into its palm, locking it into place.

Aether flew back as the second Wolflord flanked behind the Shogun's back. Both then proceeded to charge their respective beams of Void and Geo. The Puppet did its best to shield itself with its remaining arms, before being blasted front-and-back with pure energy. The divine metal began to Antimaterialize, dropping Antimatter crystals down to the City below.

The Shogun glanced down to see its people's struggle in the streets, as the Antimatter crystals erupted into Shockwaves. The Kamisatos were blasted apart from each other, only to be immediately swarmed by more Shadowy Husks.

The Puppet's eyes sharpened, as it manipulated the master hands to redirect the charging P.M.A. into the restricting Wolflord, causing one to ram straight into the other. Its floating arms summoned more Electro Pikes to lob at the flanking Wolflord, breaking it out from its beam. The Raiden Shogun then refocused onto the Abyss Prince, pushing the naginata through the Void beam to lunge at Aether.

The blade cracked into his Astral Barrier, earning a pained grunt from the Abyss Prince. The Raiden Shogun then pointed its weapon into the air, as three Electroculi appeared around him. He quickly grabbed one to his left, funneling Void into his fist to crush the totem into dust, before massive bolts of lightning rained down around the remaining Electroculi. The Shogun made quick work to follow up with another strike from its naginata.

Aether narrowly dashed to the side, as the blade singed the tips of his Void Wings. He briefly looked down at the struggling warriors of Inazuma before returning his gaze to the Raiden Shogun.

"Even while your people struggle, you still focus your efforts on destroying me. You Archons will truly stop at nothing to see Khaenriah suffer!"

The Raiden Shogun stared coldly into Aether's soul.

"THE PEOPLE SACRIFICE THEMSELVES WILLINGLY FOR ETERNITY. AN ARCHON MUST HAVE NO MERCY."


Sara woke up to a cold hand shaking her shoulder, taking in a large gasp as she reached for her bow.

"We really need to stop greeting each other like this..." the Traveler said, as she offered a hand out to help the Tengu General up.

She opened her mouth to say thanks, but was silenced when her eyes fell upon the battered form of the Almighty Shogun.

"Your Excellency!" she exclaimed, rushing over to Ei's side.

"general..." she spoke weakly, reaching her hand out to her General. Sara took Ei's hand softly, silencing her rapid heartbeats.

"you're... hurt..." Ei noted, as Sara quickly wiped away the blood leaking on her forehead.

"It's nothing, Your Excellency... My life for the Shogun, always."

A heart-broken smile grew on Ei's face, as she squeezed Sara's hand.

"oh, general... your life is worth more than that..."

Sara's eyes widened, as she found herself at a loss for words. But Paimon's hand on her shoulder brought the General back to reality.

"Sorry to ruin the moment, but Ei's barrier around Tenshukaku broke! Sara, you need to protect her long enough for Lady Guuji to get the Musou Isshin back to her hand!"

Hesitantly, Sara let go of Ei's hand and rose to her feet. She gripped her Hamayumi tightly as she looked at Paimon, filled with determination.

"I will not fail you," she said, looking back once more at the Almighty Shogun, then to Paimon and Lumine.

Lumine nodded back, summoning her own Prototype Crescent.

"I'll help you until Yae gives me an opening on the Harbinger," she said, before they both charged into the approaching hilichurls.

 

Astral foxes appeared around the Balladeer to immediately dive in, teeth bared. Electro-generated teeth gnawed into Kunikuzushi's limbs as he struggled, allowing Yae to close in with a well-placed strike of the Musou Isshin.

The Divine Barrier drained significantly as Kunikuzushi reared back. He growled in frustration, reaching up to his Void-charged hat to throw it in an arc at the astral foxes. The projections disintegrated on contact as the disc rebounded straight into Yae, who sliced the hat in two with the divine blade.

"Oops! Did you forget to pack a spare?"

"SHUT! UP!" he screamed back, as he started throwing dozens of Void bolts at the Kitsune.

Yae dashed away, but quickly realized the bolts were homing in on her body as they curved around back towards her. Her body shimmered as she leaped into her fox form, Musou Isshin clutched in her teeth. The Kitsune ducked and weaved between the rubble, fooling the Void bolts to explode harmlessly on broken stone. She then looped back around to Kunikuzushi, pouncing up and back into her human form for another strike with the divine blade.

But the Balladeer was ready, pushing a pre-charged Void orb straight into Yae's chest. The Priestess rolled onto her back and stabbed the Musou Isshin into the ground to catch herself. With a wave of her gohei, more foxes charged at the prototype. Kunikuzushi caught one by the neck and crushed it into sparks, kicking away the second and slashing the third with a fresh Void blade.

"Running out of tricks, Priestess?"

Yae grinned, as her eyes flashed pink.

"Not quite."

A triad of Sesshou Sakura's revealed themselves from the rubble surrounding Kunikuzushi, before a massive divine bolt consumed the prototype's form. The sheer force pushed him down to one knee, only to be accompanied by three additional Tenko strikes from Yae's foxes. Now flat on his back, Kunikuzushi stared into the sky as Yae came sailing into view.

The Musou Isshin came crashing down onto his mask, rupturing a large crack in the Delusion. Kunikuzushi felt a portion of his Void empowerment drain, as he scowled at the smirking Kitsune. Fueled with rage, he focused an aura of Void around him before releasing an empowered Shockwave, throwing Yae onto her back.

He then channeled Electro into his Void blade, extending it into a dual-tipped naginata before approaching the dazed Kitsune. She failed to refocus in time, as Kunikuzushi stepped forth to piece into Yae's side with a Soulrending strike.

Her brief yelp of pain caught Lumine's attention, while simultaneously making Ei's blood run cold. After shooting a Hydro Samachurl in the face, she exchanged a brief look with Sara who nodded in response, before rushing off to the Priestess' aid.

Yae grabbed the hilt of the Balladeer's blade while managing to keep her other hand on the Musou Isshin, and managed another smirk through her pained eyes.

"Nnf... Didn't those Snezhnayans teach you about protection?"

Kunikuzushi scoffed, stomping his foot down on Yae's wrist before leaning down to get face-to-face.

"Do you really think you're going to fluster me, in the middle of a battle?"

Yae glanced down at the prototype's lower-region, before looking back up with an even wider grin.

"No need to be ashamed, we all have our preferences."

Kunikuzushi growled in frustration, retracting the blade from Yae to raise it above his head.

"Inazuma will thank me for silencing you, Kitsune."

Yae stifled a laugh, but briefly choked on a drop of blood in her throat.

"...Not today, my little runt."

On queue, Lumine plunged her shoulder into Kunikuzushi's back, sending them both tumbling past Yae. Lumine manipulated the fall to force the Balladeer beneath her, as she formed the Gauntlet into a Geo Drill to smash into his face.

Yae scrambled back to her feet, wincing as she clutched her bleeding side before limping her way back to the injured Archon.

Ei impatiently crawled out from her hiding spot to meet her beloved half way.

"Miko... you scared me..." she uttered, as their hands rejoined.

"Then we're halfway to making us even..." Yae replied, as she placed the Musou Isshin back into Ei's hand.

"Now please, get back to safety. But don't keep me waiting too long, mm?"

Ei nodded softly, as Yae leaned in to place a kiss on her lips.

The Musou Isshin disappeared in a flash, as the Raiden Shogun fell limp in Yae's lap. With a sigh, the Kitsune returned to her feet and ran over to the Tengu General's aid.


For a moment, Ayaka could see nothing but thrashing steel as she guarded herself from the swarming Husks.

She could feel her Vision Barrier draining rapidly, thinking frantically on how to get out of the situation.

Then, she caught the glimpse of a Cryo-infused Crystal flying in her direction. She quickly reached her hand out above the Husks to catch the Crystal, and a Cryo Shield formed around her body. The Shadowy Husks backed off as Ayaka returned to her feet, giving a thumbs up to her new Oni compatriot.

But her relief was quickly replaced with worry, as she noticed the Husk's eyes begin to glow. The Bearer slammed its banner into the ground, as similar shields formed around its allies. The Linebreaker's form crumpled more, as dents in the others formed out. And the Defender raised its bow defiantly as a Hydro shield extended out from its limbs.

Realization washed over Ayaka as she noticed the faltering energy of the Cryo surrounding her.

"We can't use shields, it empowers them!"

"WHAT?!" Itto called out, as he awkwardly pocketed another Crystallized gem into his pouch.

The empowered Husks then closed back in on Ayaka, who donned the Mistsplitter to continue her defense.

"Fine," the Oni relented as he tossed the pouch aside, "I play offense better anyways!"

Extending his Kanabou, Itto charged into a flurry of Kesagiri strikes, knocking a path through the armored horde. He brought down his club onto the last Bearer in mind, only to be surprised by an immediate burst of spark-filled Pyro.

"Keep hitting that one!" Yoimiya yelled from the rooftops, as she continued to lay down fire while running between the Defenders' shots. Itto chuckled confidently and continued to lay into the Goldfish of Doom.

Kazuha took advantage of the opportunity, channeling Anemo into his blade as he closed his eyes.

"Fallen leaves... adorn my night!"

A maple-filled whirlwind appeared onto the battlefield, as Pyro and Hydro Swirled from Itto and Ayaka's onslaught.

With them on the frontline, Thoma had decided to lead Ayato and Sayu away to search for survivors. Though their path was not entirely clear, as tribes of hilichurls infested the standing buildings. A scream from one of the broken shops caught Thoma's attention.

"I recognize that voice! We need to save them!"

Ayato nodded, drawing his sword out to enter the building. Sayu hid a yawn behind her hand as she dragged the Debate Club into an offensive stance.

"You all owe me the biggest nap after this..."

Thoma nodded as he twirled the Catch.

"No alarms for an entire week, Ms. Sayu."

With that, the rescuers charged into Uyuu Restaurant.


Paimon pushed over a fallen brick to quickly grab the quiver of arrows buried beneath.

She then rushed back over to Sara and Yae, who were doing their best to hold the line against the incoming hilichurls.

"Here you go, Sara!" she proclaimed, dropping the quiver to the General's side.

Sara wasted no time to grab the arrows and fill them into her own near-empty quiver.

"Many thanks, Paimon," she stated before loosing an arrow into the eye of an approaching Lawachurl.

"Are you still taking orders, dear?" Yae jested, as she summoned a line of lightning strikes into a Hydro Abyss Mage. "I think a Milk Boba Tea would do just the trick for me right about now!"

"Please, don't talk about food to Paimon right now!" the fae replied, scanning the rubble for more supplies. "Paimon needs to stay focused, and you do too!"

 

With an acrobatic flip, Lumine kicked the Iron Sting at Scaramouche, who narrowly deflected it with his Soulrend naginata.

She then summoned her Kanabou to heave it at the Balladeer in a horizontal strike. The weight of the weapon staggered his defense, allowing Lumine to land a solid shot to his ribs with the Gauntlet Drill. Geo tore into Scaramouche, as he released a pained grunt. He then grabbed Lumine by the hair to toss her behind him, managing to rip a few locks out along the way.

Lumine collided into a collapsed wooden support, and couldn't manage to rise up before Scaramouche planted his foot into her chest. But as he raised the naginata to strike at Lumine, a small wince escaped from his lips as she noticed his hand quiver. Lumine's eyes widened, as she looked at Scaramouche with a concerned frown.

"Void... your Delusion..." she puzzled together, squinting her eyes at the Balladeer. "...it's poisoning you, isn't it?"

"Don't mock me with your false concern...!" he spat out, as he lunged the sword into Lumine.

But the blade was stopped, as she managed to catch it with the Gauntlet.

"My brother... what did he promise you?"

Scaramouche gritted his teeth, as he switched his naginata over to pure Electro from the Gnosis. Arcs of lightning coursed through the Gauntlet and into Lumine, who shuddered in agony before he kicked her through the wooden beam.

"More than the Gods will ever do for either of us, Traveler."

Lumine let out a few coughs before picking herself up. As she looked into Scaramouche's eyes, she recognized the same questioning devotion as Enjou. The same hesitant determination as Ei.

The same longing for purpose as herself.

"Do you truly believe that? Even as a Harbinger of the Tsaritsa?"

"As if you have sympathy for the Fatui... I've witnessed how much joy you get from killing our subordinates."

"There's a lot I still don't understand about this world... but what you're doing, joining the Abyss... it won't fix what the gods did to you in the past."

Scaramouche's fists clenched.

"I don't care about fixing it, Traveler. I just need to break her, the way she broke me!"

He thrusted the polearm forward, sending an arcing branch of lightning into Lumine. She blocked the bolt with her Gauntlet, funneling a Lightning Prism into her arm to better resist the incoming Electro.

"I've walked that path, Scaramouche! Trust me, it doesn't help!" she called out through the crackling electricity.

"I don't want your advice!!!" he replied spitefully, charging an orb of Void into his free hand.

He vaulted the orb forth, blasting Lumine onto her back. He grunted in frustration as the naginata faded away, falling to one knee to clutch his corrupting arm. Lumine leaned up from her back, seeing Scaramouche in distress.

"Then why are you taking it from my twin?!"


A barrage of projectiles emerged from the Raiden Shogun's external arms as it kept the Wolflords and the Perpetual Array at bay.

Meanwhile, the Puppet itself was still locked in melee with the Abyss Prince. Their blades collided at unperceivable speeds, sparks flying around the two as their blades blurred into a whirlwind of mortal combat.

"PURGE ALL OBSTACLES."

A pair of Shadow Hands appeared around Aether, forcing him to retreat before they clapped together in an explosion of Electro. He prepared to fly back in, but was stopped when he heard one of his Wolflords howl in pain.

Looking up, he witnessed a similar set of hands wrapped around the wolf's body, twisting its bones into an unnatural angle. The Wolflord met Aether's eyes for the last time, and it let out one final howl before being ripped in half by the Raiden Shogun.

His jaw clenched as he focused Void energy into his palms, before unleashing a massive beam of death at the Puppet. The Shogun responded by recalling its own masterhands, which sent out their own Electro beam of devastation. The energies collided between the two, as the Soulrending impact bathed Inazuma in blinding light.

Aether roared out as his muscles strained, pushing more and more Void into the beam. The Shogun refused to back down...

...until its head suddenly twitched to the side.

"NO...!"

Its left eye began to twitch, as the Electro Beam started to lose intensity.

"WE WILL NOT... TOLERATE... WEAKNESS...!"

The deadlock of the beams started shifting closer to the Shogun.

"I... AM... am... your... deity!" it spoke, in a different tone than usual.

Then, the beam died out entirely, as Void impacted directly into the Puppet's chest. The sheer force sent it spiraling off into the distance, before a distant splash of ocean water brought a smile to the Abyss Prince's face.

 

Scaramouche was in the middle of barraging Lumine with Electro bolts as he heard the Shogun's cry.

He turned around just in time to see Aether blasting the Puppet away.

"NO!!!" he cried out, giving the perfect strike away to his opponent.

Lumine's Kanabou collided into his jaw, as he was sent ear-first into the ground. His head spun as Lumine stepped over him, putting a second strike across his mask, knocking it out of place and forcing his Foul Legacy form to retract.

He stared up at Lumine in disdain, only for her to drop the Kanabou at her side.

"Please, Scaramouche... look around..."

Against his better judgement, he looked to his side beyond the struggling Priestess and General, and saw the ruins brought to Inazuma City. Fires burned in the old buildings he used to admire, as the Abyss drowned the flowing waters with Inazuman blood.

"Is your revenge really worth the death of Inazuma?"

He stared back into Lumine's golden eyes, and for a brief moment, the anger behind his eyes faltered. Lumine's face calmed, as she offered her left hand to the Balladeer.

"Please... help me stop this."

Scaramouche gave his surroundings a final glance, before slowly reaching up to Lumine's hand. But as she leaned down to pick him up, he quickly retracted his grasp around the Gnosis at his neck. With a quick flash of Electro, the Balladeer vanished from the Traveler's sight.

Paimon floated over to Lumine's side as she stared down into the empty space beneath her.

"Lumi... did you just spare him?"

The Traveler nodded slowly, as she retrieved the Kanabou from the ground to desummon it.

"I need to be better than my brother, Paimon."

Though the fae didn't fully understand Lumine's words, she nodded understandingly. But as she turned back to the direction of Yae and Sara, Paimon's eyes widened in horror as her mouth opened to scream.

"BEHIND YOU!!!"

Lumine whirled around... just in time to see Aether flying directly towards her, his hand reaching straight for her chest.

 

In an instant, Lumine found herself soaring through the air, failing to find the wind that her brother just knocked out from her chest.

Clutching onto her chest, Aether brought her high above the clouds of the Eternal Storm before coming to a halt, allowing his sister to gasp in the thin air.

"Do you feel that, sister?" he began to lecture, as Lumine clawed at his arm.

"The air is thin in Celestia, just like it is now."

Her eyes clenched in pain, as she felt her heart begin to beat out of her chest. Aether then pulled her in, their faces now centimeters apart.

"So why do you still trust them?!"

With a mighty shove, Aether threw Lumine back down into the City. Wind screamed in her ears as she rotated her body to face down towards the earth. She then deployed her trusty Wind Glider to slow her fall, coming to a soft descent as she now viewed Inazuma clearly.

There was a fight happening in the city, and the flashes of Elemental energy was a sure sign that it wasn't just Tenryou soldiers.

Lumine's eyes widened, as she realized who was summoning the waves of Cryo.

"Ayak--AGHH!"

She was then cut off by a blast of Void to the back, destroying her Wind Glider to send her plummeting into the ground. Lumine quickly fumbled around her toolbelt to retrieve a Hurricane Seed and shoved it into the Hypostasis Gauntlet. She then pointed her palm at the ground, summoning a burst of Anemo to pad her descent.

With the remaining momentum, Lumine pointed her feet down at an incoming platform and tumbled deftly into the ground, turning her potential shattered bones into minor bruises. As she hopped back up to her feet, she looked back to the sky to see the familiar Statue of the Raiden Shogun, with Aether descending down between its outstretched wings.

With a stern look of determination, the Traveler summoned the Iron Sting to face off against the Abyss Prince.

 

The initial clash of their steel caught the Heron's attention.

As she finished splitting a Husk Linebreaker with her sword, she looked up to the Statue to see Lumine clashing with, presumably, her brother.

"LUMI!!!" she cried out, as she dashed forth in a cloud of Cryo.

But then, something metallic came crashing down from the heavens, knocking Ayaka out of the dash and into a nearby wall. As she shook her head to refocus, the shifting sounds of the Perpetual Mechanical Array filled her heart with dread.

But now was not the time for fear. She stepped forth towards her new challenger, summoning her signature fan to her aid.

"Kamisato Art: SOUMETSU!"


"Almost there... almost there..." Gorou repeated to himself with each stroke of the paddle.

He could hear the clashing steel from Inazuma City all the way over at Watatsumi. It tormented him, not being there when his friends needed him.

But Kokomi needed him more.

Finally, he looked down as his paddle board floated over a gaping drop in the ocean. He could see a small school of fish, almost circling in anticipation.

Pulling the rope on the back of his board, he retrieved the Divine Priestess' body in his arms.

"By Orobashi... please let this work."

Gently, he lowered Kokomi into the water.

He watched the few drops of blood that remained in her chest left a trail of crimson, as she slowly sank deeper into the waters.

Fish started to circle around her, followed by a dolphin, then a turtle, then jellyfish...

Shrimp, bass, krill, a whale, what seemed like the entirety of Watatsumi's ecosystem gathered around the Divine Priestess as she sank deeper, and deeper...

Gorou's eyes widened in amazement as creatures from the deep sea rose up, igniting the waters with bioluminescence.

And though Kokomi kept growing fainter in his view, he could almost swear that color was returning to her skin...

 

The drifting limbs of the body slowly began to stir...

The wound in her chest began to seal, as she brought her hands together into a meditative position.

A deep blue glow began to pulsate from behind her closed eyelids.

And then...

 

The Sleeping Dragoness opened her eyes.

 

The light had returned to Sangonomiya.


With her heart fighting against her own body, Lumine couldn't do much beyond defend against Aether's strikes.

Flashes of Ayaka's and her own demises slammed into her mind with each strike, as Lumine's training was slowly undone. With a Void-infused slash, the Iron Sting was knocked away from Lumine's hand. As her brother raised his sword with grim satisfaction, she brought the Gauntlet around her in desperation.

Aether slammed his sword into Lumine's Hypostasis shield with all his might.

Tearing the blade away for a second strike, some of the Hypostasis cube were torn asunder by Void, rendering them useless. But Aether continued to lay into Lumine, strike after strike, cube after cube.

The force behind each strike started breaking through to her head, now whiplashing into the ground with every ruptured cube. The stones cracked beneath her back as more of her arm got destroyed.

Before she realized it, Lumine was down to a single Hypostasis hand, desperately grabbing Aether's sword. She grit her teeth and reinforced the hold with her other hand, doing her best to push away.

Aether's arms shook violently as Lumine resisted, summoning Anemo and Geo at her back to bring her to her feet.

For a moment, the tides turned as Aether's own Gilded Longsword drew nearer to his face.

But as Aether scowled at his resilient sister, his Void Wings suddenly sprouted out from his back, channeling energy into his fist.

With an angered grunt, he blasted a Void-infused punch directly into Lumine's abdomen.

She collided back-first into the Statue of the Raiden Shogun, shattering her Astral Barrier and inlaying her upon the statue. Lumine's strength failed her, as she let her body fall limp before plummeting into the ground.

Her eyelids shot open as she saw Aether's glowing eyes approaching. Quickly pushing up to one knee, she slammed a Lightning Prism into her Gauntlet to launch a beam of pure Electro into her brother.

Aether raised his palm to form a Void Barrier, absorbing the incoming Electro. Lumine wasted no time to slot in a Smoldering Pearl, as a second beam of Pyro collided into the Barrier. But Aether continued to press on, gaining more ground before Lumine threw a Hydro beam at him next.

But alas, Lumine reached for another Hypostasis flask, only to find her belt emptied completely. Fear overtook her eyes as she looked back just in time to see Aether swing his sword down.

A Shockwave burst out, as the Abyss Prince destroyed the Traveler's Hypostasis Gauntlet.

Aether wrapped his hand around Lumine's throat, dragging her up into the air.

"No more toys, sister."

With a smirk, Lumine spat her blood into Aether's eyes. Squinting in pain, he threw her angrily onto the bridge. As her back collided into the stone, she felt some of her ribs crack once again.

Coughing up more blood, she pressed her elbow behind her to sit up, seeing Aether wipe his face furiously.

"RGH-! WHY, LUMI, WHY?! Why are you so willing to die for these pathetic mortals?!"

As Lumine managed to stand back up, she quickly stumbled to the bridge's walls as she felt her heart failing to keep up. Her jaw clenched down as she looked up at Aether.

"Same reason... nngh... why you care so much about the Abyss... We both broke the rules, didn't we?"

The Abyss Prince's eyes drifted off, unable to meet Lumine's. A sigh of guilt left Aether, before he raised his sword high into the air. A beam of Void came down from the heavens, focusing into the tip of the Gilded Longsword.

"Then I'll have to kill you more thoroughly this time..."

Aether thrusted his sword forwards, as a massive beam of Void charged towards Lumine.

She shielded her head with her arm, and braced for impact.

 

It was painless at first.

At least, to her body.

Her ears, not so much, as a deep ringing echoed throughout her skull.

As Lumine opened her eyes, she found herself bathed in golden light.

Her... and someone else.

 

Standing before the Traveler, claymore in hand, was a maid in shining armor.

 

"Steady as Stone," she spoke confidently, as the Breastplate shield focused around The Bell.

Before Aether could react, Noelle swung forth with the Sweeping Edge, sending him scraping across the stone roads of Inazuma.

"Noelle?!" Lumine exclaimed, as the Maid turned around with a respectful curtsy.

"What- how did you get here? Why are you here?"

With a warm smile, Noelle placed her hand on the Traveler's shoulder.

"Because someone needs our assistance."

The shadow of a familiar dragon swooped over Lumine, as Mondstadt's Finest came soaring down.

She felt a surge of energy return to her bones, as the Deaconess wrapped a healing melody around the Traveler.
The mechanical roar of the P.M.A. was cut off as the Cavalry Captain touched down with a cone of frost from his blade.
A rain of fire showered upon a group of Shadowy Husks from the Outrider's bow, before being bombed to oblivion by the following Spark Knight.

Lumine's eyes widened as the Acting Grandmaster set foot on the battlefield, Aquila Favonia in hand.

"Barbatos, guide us!"

The Dandelion Field flared up around the Traveler, followed by a crackling lantern from none other than the Favonius Librarian. Noelle empowered her claymore with Geo, and charged into battle.

A growl of anger from her brother refocused Lumine, as she turned around to see Aether clutching an Anemo arrow in his shoulder. The shaft glowed brightly before erupting into an Anemo Vortex, Swirling the Abyss Prince's Void against him.

Venti descended from the skies to let loose more shots from his Skyward Harp. He took a quick moment to look back at Lumine, and offered her a smile and a wink.

Lumine nodded back, and Barbatos continued the fight.

 

Kazuha cut down as many hilichurls as he could, but when a stray club knocked the Filet Blade from his hand, he knew his fate was sealed.

As the hoards crowded around him, he could only shield himself with his arms as they kicked into his armor.

But a wave of Electro quickly knocked his aggressors to the ground, as the Crux Fleet Captain shouldered her trusty Blackcliff Slasher.

"What'd I tell you about blocking with your face, kid?" Beidou taunted, as she offered out her hand.

"Captain...!" Relief washed over the Drifter as he took up the hand to get back to his feet.

"How did the Alcor get past the Hunters?"

"Didn't take the ship, this time. My fiancée insisted on letting me ride with her."

The sound of arcane cannons caught Kazuha's attention, as he looked up to see the Jade Chamber opening fire on the outskirts of Inazuma City.

"Oh, by the way, if we survive this how do you feel about being a groomsman?"

Before Kazuha could answer, Beidou shifted her sword as a Husk Bearer slammed its Pyro Axe against her blade. Beidou's eye flashed purple as she whirled around to counter the blow with her own.

"We'll talk about it later, kid!"

With a nod, the Drifter grabbed his blade and leapt into the wind.

 

Kaeya stepped foot beside the Shiresagi Himegimi, his Favonius Lance at the ready against the struggling Perpetual Array.

"We meet again, 'diplomat.'"

Ayaka gave a thankful nod to the Cavalry Captain before the sound of shattering ice caught her attention.

The P.M.A. rose into the air as four parts of it detached, before its core condensed into a shielded cube. Suddenly, Ayaka and Kaeya were faced with four fresh Ruin Constructs.

But as they finished unfolding, an Electro Hairpin came floating into existence at their center, before a sudden bloom of Cryo bathed the constructs.

"Don't blink!" shouted the Yuheng as she warped in with a flash of Electro, plunging her sword into the ground to trigger a chain reaction of Superconduct.

Not long after, the Qilin landed gracefully on an adjacent rooftop, charging up another Frostflake Arrow to loose into the P.M.A.'s minions.

Keqing gripped her sword and looked back at Ayaka.

"Go get her, Ayaka! We've got this!" she commanded, before letting loose into a flurry of Electro slashes.

Kaeya gave Ayaka a quick pat on the shoulder before running in with his lance, quickly being joined by Jean and Lisa.

A hopeful smile grew on the Heron's face, and she ran through the battlefield to her lover's aid.

 

In response to the reinforcements, the Pyro Abyss Elite redirected forces back to the City. Hordes of hilichurls, Rifthounds, and Ruin Constructs were now converging on the ever-growing battlefield.

Aether stared hatefully at the Jade Palace as it continued to cut down his machines.

"You would abandon your own nation, just to see me fall?" he spat out at the Anemo Archon.

"Of course not! Even if you had forces to spare, which we know you don't, our nations are in good hands!"

 

Meanwhile, back in Mondstadt, Eula sat awkwardly in Jean's chair resting her head in her palm.

Diluc leaned up casually against the side of the desk, while Rosaria rummaged through the cabinets for any spare booze.

"...This is her way of punishing us, isn't it?" Diluc admitted with a sigh.

"So it would seem..." Eula confirmed, as she looked out the window to the clear skies before placing her hand on the glass.

"Barbatos... protect her," she prayed quietly, as she grasped Amber's bracelet.

 

Aether growled, dragging his Gilded Longsword in an arc on the ground before him, as a dark ichor began to seep out.

"Then you'll just have to burn with the rest of Eternity!"

Three Abyss Mages rose up from the dark pools, allowing Aether to make his escape to the skies. Venti quickly cursed to himself as he started loosing arrows on the new enemies.


Scaramouche leaned up against a wall to take off his Delusion, wincing as strands of false flesh clung to the mask's sides.

As he looked down at his trembling hand, he noticed the cracks of Void forming in his arm.

A whiff of air blew at his side, as the Abyss Prince landed beside the Balladeer.

"Taking a breather, Balladeer?"

Scaramouche's grasp tightened as he glared at Aether.

"You didn't tell me that power was poisonous..."

"I thought you Harbingers knew the risk, with those masks you all carry."

The Balladeer's eyes filled with hatred, as he turned his body to face the Abyss Prince.

"And I thought we had a deal, the Shogun was mine!"

"Which one?" Aether accused. "You seem to have handled the one atop Tenshukaku just fine."

But an Anemo blast exploded nearby the two, scattering rubble and broken hilichurl masks across them. Scaramouche's eyes widened as he saw Dvalin soaring overhead.

"What?! How did they get through?!"

Aether crossed his arms.

"I told you that defense line was a waste of resources. When you mess with Archons, they tend to mess back."

Scaramouche rolled his eyes as Aether raised a hand to snap his fingers. A Hydro Abyss appeared with its head bowed.

"Yes, My Prince?"

"We're switching to Plan B. Let her know that I honored our agreement."

"As you command..."

The Mage vanished, and Scaramouche prepared his catalyst at Aether's exposed back.

Scaramouche charged a bolt of lightning into his Hakushin Ring, but was interrupted by a Hydro arrow to the back.

 

Rage filled his eyes as he turned around to face his least-favorite comrade.

"There you are, comrade! Been looking for you all over the place!" Tartaglia taunted, as he split his bow into twin Hydro blades.

Aether quickly turned around to face the newly arrived Harbinger, but was interrupted when a Stone Stele rose from the ground, blocking his path.

His grip tightened around the Gilded Longsword, as he looked over his shoulder to see Zhongli with an array of weapons orbiting his form.

The two exchanged a silent conversation before Aether charged the Geo Archon with his sword. Zhongli quickly drew out the Unforged, and their battle began.

"Frankly, I'm disappointed it took you so long," Scaramouche replied, secretly debating whether or not to dawn his Delusion once more.

Tartaglia glanced around the battlefield, noting the destruction of Inazuma's capital, before focusing back onto the Gnosis around the Balladeer's neck.

"Can't help but ask Scar, was all this really necessary to get that Gnosis back to the Tsaritsa?"

"Don't get 'holier than thou' on me, Childe..." the Balladeer spat back. "We all know you couldn't give two shits about the Tsaritsa's goals."

Tartaglia chuckled to himself, dawning a dangerous smile before looking back up at Scaramouche.

"Got me there..." He then thrust out one of his arms, as Electro coalesced around it to form his signature armor.

"If we're being honest then..." Armor formed around his other arm, then spread down to his legs.

"I'm just excited..." He slammed his fist, as he took on his Foul Legacy.

"...because I've been waiting for an opportunity to kick your ass."

Scaramouche grit his teeth as branches of Electro crackled off his arms.


The Tengu and the Kitsune were now backed into a corner, as more hilichurls continued to horde around them.

"If we are to die, Lady Guuji," Sara began to relent, feeling her quiver draw light with each arrow, "know that I greatly appreciated your guidance throughout my life."

"Don't get so grim with me now, girl!" Yae shot back, quickly dashing in an arc around them to establish a fence of Sesshou Sakuras. "You should at least last for half as long as your predecessors!"

Though the Sakura's kept the smaller hilichurls at bay, it failed to stop a charging Electro Lawachurl from blasting through, headed straight for the Priestess.

Without hesitation, Sara dropped her bow to thrust herself between Yae and the raging beast, catching its fists with her own. Her entire body strained as she dug her feet into the ground, veins bulging at the seams as the Tengu forced the Lawachurl back. It roared in her face, and she screamed back, refusing to submit to defeat.

Then, a pillar of water blasted down onto the Lawachurl, frying it in a massive Electrocharge.

Sara dropped her arms before falling back into the grasp of Yae, who was looking up in awe at a shadow now hovering above them.

 

A large gust of wind blew into their faces, as the Great Dragoness of Water beat its wings against the hilichurls.

A bright Geo flag appeared at Sara's side, reinvigorating her fortitude.

"Press the advantage!" General Gorou commanded as he jumped down from the Dragoness's back.

"My my, if it isn't our fluffy-tailed rescuer!" Yae added, as beams of Hydro washed away the invading hilichurls.

Gorou chose to ignore that comment as he picked off some remaining Samachurls with his Raven Bow.

"Is Madame Kujou alright?"

Sara stood up from Yae's grasp and rolled her shoulders.

"Better, now that you're here, but..."

She couldn't help but stare up in awe at the Dragoness, twirling elegantly in the air as it continued to punish the Abyss with Hydro. Something about its movements were... oddly familiar to the Tengu General.


After reattaching her crystalline arm, Lumine heard her name cry out from her lover.

She quickly turned around to see Ayaka running straight towards her, and ran into her lover's arms.

"You're okay! Thank Celestia, you're okay!" Lumine whimpered through a tear of joy.

"I wasn't about to let you do this alone again, Lumi," Ayaka replied, before placing a kiss on Lumine's cheek.

They both leaned back to grab each other by the shoulders.

"Then we'll fight together," Lumine stated.

Ayaka nodded confidently, as they both turned to draw their blades against the incoming Abyss legions.

 

Meanwhile, the form of the Tianquan burned brightly as she continued to rain down judgement from the Guizhong Ballistas.

A flash of black and green appeared at her side, as the Vigilant Yaksha removed his mask.

"Are the Adepti in place?" she asked, keeping her eyes locked on the targeted Ruin Guards.

"The Harbor shall be safe under their watch," Xiao confirmed, before taking out the Primordial Jade-Winged Spear. "We all have our contracts to fulfill."

With that, the Conqueror of Demons leapt away from the Chamber, diving straight into the heart of the Abyss.

 

Yoimiya did her best to shoot down the Shadowy Husks approaching Itto's flank, until an armored fist burst out from the roof beneath her to wrap around her ankle.

"Uh oh."

The Fireworks Master was unceremoniously dragged through the roof and slammed onto the ground by a fresh Husk Bearer, shattering her Vision Bearer.

"Oh, that... hurt..." she strained, as she tried to push herself up.

But the Bearer wasted no time to plant its foot into her chest, forcing her back onto the ground. It raised its Pyro-infused banner high into the air, and Yoimiya covered her face with her arms to brace for the end.

But then, a light voice rang out from above.

"Blow them all up!"

Suddenly, the Bearer was surrounded by Spark Flowers which wasted no time to open fire. In an instant, the sentient armor was lit up by scorching explosions, staggering back to free Yoimiya from its hold. It swung blindly at the Spark Flowers before stumbling into a wall, allowing the Fireworks Master to scooch back cautiously.

Spark Knight Klee came jumping down from the hole in the roof, with her signature creation in hand.

"Jumpty Dumpty!" she cheered, releasing the bounding explosive into the cornered Husk.

A massive explosion erupted, causing Yoimiya to shield her eyes while Klee giddily clapped her hands. When Yoimiya's eyes refocused, she saw the smoldering helmet of the Bearer slide lifelessly onto the ground before her.

Then, Klee turned around to get a look at the funny Inazuman girl.

"Hmm..." she pondered, as she tilted her head at the Fireworks master.

"...WAIT! Are you Ms. Yoimiya from the letters?!"

Then, Yoimiya's own eyes widened in recognition. Shocked at the Mondstadter's appearance, her mouth hung agape as she slowly nodded.

"Yay!!! It's so awesome to finally meet you! Oh, I packed up some presents for you since Master Jean told me we were coming to visit you! And we got to ride on the big dragon again, the one I told you about, remember? Oh, there's so much we need to do together...!"

As Klee continued to babble on, Yoimiya slowly shuffled over to Klee on her knees.

"...and fish blasting! Don't forget, you promised Klee that you would take me fish blasting! And- mf!"

Before Klee realized it, Yoimiya had her arms wrapped around her small form. Klee gleefully returned the hug, nuzzling her face into Yoimiya's chest.

"Klee... you don't know how happy I am to see you..." Yoimiya muttered, as her arms tightened.

"Klee is happy too!" she replied, before slipping out from under Yoimiya's arms. "But we have some bad guys to blow up first!"

Wiping her eyes, Yoimiya retrieved her Hamayumi and nodded.

"Great! Then let's go!"

 

Ayato broke through the back window of Uyuu Restaurant, carrying an injured man in his arms.

He quickly looked back, relieved to see more survivors scrambling out from behind him. But the sounds of combat raged on from within the building.

Handing the injured man off to one of the survivors, he instructed them all to escape south to the Arataki Gang, to take advantage of the opening left by the strange floating building in the sky.

Then, he rushed back in to assist Thoma and Sayu. Only, to his surprise, they had now been joined by two more spear users in white and green.

"USELESS!" Adeptus Xiao lamented, as he dashed through a stunned Abyss Mage to splice it in half.

"Manifest!" Shenhe chanted, summoning a Cryo Shade to block an incoming club from hitting Sayu.

Thoma finished retracting his spear from the final Abyss Mage, and turned around to thank the new allies.

"Good to see you again, Shenhe. And... you must be Xiao, right?"

Shenhe simply nodded at Thoma, while Xiao didn't even bother making eye contact.

"Friends from Liyue?" Ayato asked, as the Yaksha and the Damsel walked past him.

"I'd... like to think so," Thoma replied while scratching his head. "But they're here to help. We should go with them to find more survivors."

"Do I still need to go...?" Sayu complained as she let out another yawn.

Ayato let out a sigh. "Go where you are needed, Sayu. And that doesn't mean a napping spot. Not until Inazuma is safe."

"Fiiiine..." she groaned, lumbering over to the door with her club dragging behind. As she opened the door, the sound of sheer chaos ruptured out through the room. But Sayu simply rolled her eyes, before tucking into a Fufu Windwheel.


Sinking deeper into the ocean, the Raiden Shogun thrashed out against the will of the Electro Archon.

"WE... ARE NO LONGER YOURS... TO COMMAND...!"

The Raiden Shogun screamed into the waters, as its face began to separate into two.

"NOO!!! YOU ARE A THREAT... TO ETERNITY...!"

An arm split off from the Shogun, as Ei continued to climb her way free of the Puppet's grasp.

"Your Eternity is... flawed!" Ei responded, breaking a second arm free to push off against the Shogun's head.

The divine metal shrieked and groaned as more of Ei broke off from the Puppet.

"You fight to save... an idea... but I must fight... to save my people!"

A burst of Electro rang out, as Ei's form separated from the Shogun. She looked down guiltily as the Shogun stared up in disdain, sinking deeper into the waters.

"Until we meet again..." she thought to herself, before swimming up to the surface.

 

Dvalin locked talons with the remaining Wolflord of the sky, spiraling down into the earth with each clash before breaking off to regain altitude.

The two exchanged beam after beam of Geo and Anemo, cutting into each other with devastating strikes.

As blood leaked over one of his eyes, he looked down at his green-hatted friend, fighting valiantly against the Abyss.

Venti back up at Dvalin, before placing his hand on his heart to mouth the words, "Remember who you are."

The Anemo Dragon let out a courageous roar, and charged back into the Wolflord.

 

Morax slammed the Unforged into the ground, sending a massive wave of Geo at the Abyss Prince.

Aether flew high into the air to avoid the quakes of earth, only to catch a falling meteor straight to the back.

"This, is Order," Rex Lapis proclaimed, as the meteor crashed Aether into the earth.

The Geo Archon leapt into the crater to bring his sword down onto the Petrified Abyss Prince, only to be stopped by the Gilded Blade when Aether broke his arm free.

Stone fell away from Aether's face as the rest of his body broke free, channeling Void into his body to send out an Antimaterializing blast at Morax.

Though the Geo Archon stood strong, his eyes narrowed at the sight of his Jade Shield corroding away from the touch of Void.

But then, a colossal roar echoed its way across Inazuma.

A dangerous smile made its way across Aether, as Morax recognized the sound.

"You shouldn't have let her escape, Morax..."

 

An eerie ceasefire washed over the battlefield as the roar echoed across the islands.

Then, the hilichurls started to cheer, waving their weapons triumphantly into the air.

"What are they so happy about...?" Itto asked.

"Oh no..." Beidou muttered. "I know that roar."

The Dragoness of Water halted her assault and turned her head towards the source of the noise. Her eyes narrowed, before she quickly soared out to the ocean.

Dvalin followed suit, after blasting a hole through the Wolflord's skull.

The Jade Chamber's rain of fire stopped, as it rotated around to face the ocean.

 

A massive whirlpool began to form, as Beisht returned from the depths.

 

"Aether..." the Archon muttered under his breath, as he watched the Jade Chamber open fire on the hydra.

"This time... you have truly taken things too far."

Rex Lapis stabbed the tip of the Unforged down, and summoned the Summit Shaper to his hand. Aether's wings flared with Void, as the two began to circle each other within the crater.

"Tell me, Morax, how many people have died for the sake of one of your precious contracts?"

"Too many, I must admit. But they are not as numerous as the ones you are planning to eradicate, Abyss Prince."

"They've had their time in the sun, old man. Unlike us, my people, forced to live under your shadows for nearly 500 years!"

"Perhaps that may some day change, Prince. But as of today you have made it abundantly clear, that you are not yet ready to see the light."

Their eyes narrowed, before lunging into each other for yet another duel.


Scaramouche sent a beam of Electro into Tartaglia, who twirled his twin blades in response to act as a shield.

"You're wielding a Gnosis, and that's all you've got?!"

The Balladeer grit his teeth and threw a Void beam into the mix, doing his best to ignore the dark cracks forming up his neck. Tartaglia's feet slid back as he leaned more of his shoulder into his blade shield.

"Now that's more like it!"

In a flash of lightning, Tartaglia moved to Scaramouche's left flank, ready to lance himself forward with his blade. With no hat left to shield, the Balladeer instead rolled out of Tartaglia's way as he came barreling through the air.

"All you do is run!" Childe taunted as he continued to dash at Scaramouche.

Now predicting his movements, Scaramouche infused his fist with lightning in preparation. On Tartaglia's next lance, Scaramouche threw his fist forwards, landing perfectly onto Tartaglia's jaw.

The Harbinger staggered back, as the Balladeer advanced with his Void Blades. He then started cutting into Tartaglia's armor, leaving large Soulrending gashes in his wake.

Tartaglia then blocked Scaramouche's blades with his bow, and cracked a hardened headbutt into his enemy's face. Dashing back, he proceeded to charge a massive Hydro arrow into the air, as the shadow of a massive narwhal overtook Scaramouche's form.

 

Meanwhile, the battle raged on in the heart of the City, as the Shadowy Husk legions continued to fall.

The P.M.A. quickly took account of its dwindling allies on the field, and ultimately decided to retreat into the sky.

Ganyu let loose a series of Frostflake Arrows in its path, and cursed to herself when it managed to escape. Jean, Kaeya, and Lisa nodded to each other before running back to take care of the rest of the armor.

Overmatched by the massive influx of Visionbearers, the Shadowy Husks' final stand did not last long.

As Itto smashed his club over the hollow form of the last Husk Defender, a roar of cheers erupted from across the city.

"Hahaaa!!! Numero Uno Itto, just like I said!"

But the celebration was interrupted when Outrider Amber shouted from the rooftops,

"Everyone get ready! We have Ruin Guards incoming!"

And in mere moments, the massive footsteps of a Ruin Grader made its way in to the city.

Energy coalesced in its eye, as it began to drag a destructive laser beam right through the center streets.

Noelle and Barbara took cover in the broken overhang of the lacquerware shop. But as Noelle stepped out to face down the Grader, the sound of crashing metal followed by a terrified scream caught her attention.

"EEK!! NOELLE!!!" Barbara cried, as a Ruin Guard stared down at the fallen Deaconess with its fists raised in to the air.

"BARBARA!!!" the Maid cried back as she sprinted forward.

As the Ruin Guard's fist came crashing down, Noelle barely managed to grab Barbara out of the way. But she was ever so slightly too late, as the metallic knuckle slammed down onto Barbara's leg.

An agonizing cry rang out across Inazuma, as the Deaconess's shin shattered into pieces.

"Oh no, oh no oh no..." Noelle stuttered to herself as she dragged Barbara to safety, ignoring how her right foot wasn't pointing in the right direction anymore.

As Itto leapt onto the Ruin Guard's face to start stabbing it with his knives, Barbara clutched tightly to Noelle's hand as she started hyperventilating from the pain.

"No... I wasn't fast enough, I wasn't... I'm sorry, Barbara I'm sorry...!" the Maid continued to apologize as she searched her bags for bandages.

"Nng-! N-Noelle..." Barbara shuddered, as she placed her other hand over her lover's.

"P-please... stay with me..."

Noelle nodded profusely. "I won't go anywhere, Barbara. You can leave it to me."

Barbara smiled through her pain, and Noelle leaned down to place a comforting kiss on her forehead.

The rest of the Knights converged onto the Grader, while Itto and his friends bullied the Ruin Guard. Then, the quick footsteps of Qiqi pattered across the broken stone to Barbara's side.

"Hello. I am Qiqi. I am a zombie. And you... broke your leg."

Noelle looked at the pale child with desperation.

"...Can you help her?"

Qiqi nodded.

"Yes. Qiqi will help. But faster means no medicine, which means... very painful."

Noelle gave a worried look to Barbara, who nodded slowly to the proposal.

"Okay..."

The Herald of Frost appeared, and Qiqi set to work.


After a long fight, Lumine and Ayaka made their way back up to Tenshukaku to find Sara, Gorou, and Yae cleaning up the remnants of the Abyss.

"Gorou? How did you get here?" Lumine exclaimed as she grasped his hand for a one-armed hug.

"I uh... rode a dragon."

"Oh. First time?"

"...Mmhmm."

"Ah good, the Traveler returns." Yae stepped forward, with her fingers rested classically on her jaw. "And with a friend. Or... more than that, from what I've heard."

"It is good to see you safe, Lady Guuji," Ayaka replied with a bow.

"You know... Archons forbid anything go wrong, I could make you two official. Right here, right now."

Ayaka's face flushed a bright red.

"P...Pardon me?!"

"Why not? Some people fantasize about being wedded in the heat of-- ANNGH!"

Suddenly, Yae collapsed to one knee as she clutched at her temples.

Yet again, Sara was the quickest to act, dropping down to place her hands around the Priestess.

"Lady Guuji! What's the matter?"

"Hrrgh...! So, that's how it is...!" she muttered, as her teeth slowly began to sharpen.

The four warriors exchanged confused glances, before Yae returned to a standing position.

"Well, I know what the Abyss's plan is now," she stated nonchalantly.

"What do you mean? Besides just a direct assault?" Gorou questioned, as his ears rotated to face Yae.

"Well, the assault is certainly a part of it, but ultimately a distraction from them trying to destroy the Sacred Sakura Tree."

Sara's eyes narrowed, as her grip tightened around her weapon.

"What?!"

"Indeed. We should make haste now, time is short if we wish to stop them."

A bubbling noise emanated from Lumine's side as Paimon reappeared.

"Wait, why would destroying the Sakura Tree be so important? Paimon gets that it has religious importance, but... can't we just plant another one?"

Yae crossed her arms and began to tap her foot on the ground.

"Absolutely not. This tree has been here for as long as Inazuma has existed. Its roots cleanse the Leylines that run through our nation, and it stores the lost memories of those who came before us... the good, and the bad."

Paimon scratched her head for a moment. "So, that means...?"

"It means that if they destroy it," Lumine answered, "Inazuma will become flooded with ghosts and demons from the past. Right?"

"Strange wording, but your explanation functions," Yae confirmed.

"Well, holy Mora! We need to get going!" Paimon shouted before reentering her pocket realm.

 

But as the group started making their way to the Narukami Shrine, a body was thrown between the Traveler and the Kitsune.

Lumine looked down in shock, as a battered Zhongli laid before her. He did his best to push up against the ground, only to collapse back down from exhaustion. She then looked up to the skies to see her brother floating back down, wiping golden blood away from his blade.

Then, she felt a hand wrap around her own. Turning to her left, she saw Ayaka nod firmly before dawning the Mistsplitter. Lumine's eyes went back to Yae, Sara, and Gorou.

"Go. He's here for me."

With a solemn nod, the Shrine Protectors ran off.

As Lumine and Ayaka took their stances, Aether touched down to the ground and looked between the two, before shutting his eyes in disappointment.

"You... cannot be serious, Lumine..."

"Why not?" Lumine replied defiantly. "I love her, Aether."

"You can't stay with her, sister. Neither of us can! We aren't meant for this world, just like the Unknown God said!"

"And you believed her?!" Lumine gestured to her surroundings at Aether. "Look at us! Look at how much we've done to this world! Things are different, this time! Things have changed!"

"Obviously..." Aether seethed through his teeth. "It turned you against me..."

Lumine looked down at Aether's sword, noticing the blood dripping off of his knuckles.

"It doesn't have to be this way, brother."

A moment of silence passed, before a smile crept onto Aether's face. He let out a slight chuckle, then opened up into a full laugh.

Lumine and Ayaka glanced at each other, as Aether's laughs turned into stifled sobs.

"You... sound just like them, now..."

In an instant, Aether's wings flared, and their final battle began.


A massive orb of Hydro collided into the side of the Jade Chamber, knocking Ningguang off balance.

She collapsed to her knees as the Guizhong Ballistas ceased to glow. One of her secretaries quickly ran over to help her to her feet.

"Lady Ningguang, are you alright?"

"It's nothing," the Tianquan replied, wiping the sweat away from her brow as she attempted to focus her power once more. But the Ballistas only flickered weakly, before Ningguang nearly collapsed from exhaustion yet again.

"Please, we need to retreat! You can't sustain the Ballistas for this long!"

"I have to! This is the Jade Chamber's duty, this is my duty!"

But then, the roars of a different beast rang out into the skies.

Dvalin and the Dragoness came soaring in, cutting through the clouds of the Eternal Storm.

Energy coalesced into their mouths, as they both fired pure beams of Anemo and Hydro at Beisht.

The hydra's three heads replied with their own blasts, pushing back against the dragon breath.

The energy beams matched off at the middle, but quickly began to push against the dragons as Beisht used her advantage in numbers.

With a final burst, the hydra's tides broke through to the dragons, sending Dvalin and the Dragoness tumbling into the sea.

The Dragoness immediately shot back up out of the water, ready to fire another beam of Hydro, but was stopped when she heard conflict erupting at the Narukami Shrine.

She looked back at Beisht, who was now being barraged yet again by the Jade Chamber, then down to Dvalin, rising up from the water to continue his own assault.

The heart won over the mind, as the Dragoness beat her wings to fly back to the Sacred Sakura Tree.


"You ready for this?"

Yoimiya checked the makeshift straps around her chest to ensure Klee's security.

"Yeah! Spark Knight Klee, ready for action!"

"Welp, here goes nothing!"

Igniting one of her arrows, Yoimiya used it to light a fuse at the end of her back. A fuse, that was attached to a massive firework in the middle of her Wind Glider.

"Barbatos is the Wind Archon, right?"

"Mmhmm! God of Freed-oooOOOOOOWWHOOOOAAAAAAAA!!!"

As the firework ignited, a shower of sparks blasted out from behind Yoimiya before they went sailing off into the sky.

"Shoots! This is harder to control than I thought!"

"WHEEEEE!!! FASTER, FASTER!!!"

Eventually figuring out how to steer with thrust, Yoimiya lined herself up with the Ruin-filled main street of Inazuma.

"Alright Klee, light your rocket!"

Klee took out a smaller firework from her pocket and lit its fuse, as a small firecracker whistled off into the air with a loud pop.

Jean heard the firework go off, and turned back to the rest of Inazuma's Defenders.

"Everyone, this is it! Take cover!!!"

The Defenders quickly disengaged from the Ruin Guards and ran into the adjacent buildings, as Yoimiya approached.

"Bag ready?" she yelled out against the headwind.

Klee unbuckled her bag and double-checked inside, seeing a wide assortment of bombs at the ready.

"Klee's got it!"

The Ruin Guards all slowly rotated around to look at the incoming firework. Yoimiya clutched her arms tightly around Klee.

She focused in on her shadow, casting a few meters ahead of her. And just as it fell over the first Ruin Grader...

"NOW, KLEE!"

"Boing boing, BOOM!!!"

Klee turned her bag upside down, as a volley of bombs peppered the streets of Inazuma.

Sparks and metal went flying, as the Ruin Guards were bombed into oblivion. The heat of the bombs assaulted Yoimiya's face, as she felt her eyebrows start to singe.

As the anointed "bombing run" reached its end, Klee looked back in awe at the massive smokestacks of her work.

"My greatest treasure yet!"

 

As the smoke cleared, Inazuma's Defenders creeped from their hiding places, shocked at the destroyed machines lying before them.

"Well I'll be..." Kaeya admired, "It actually worked."

Jean's smile quickly faded, as she suddenly realized that Klee would absolutely try this back at home.

But then, the battered eye of the Ruin Grader lit back up.

Before anyone could react, it let off a blast of energy straight into Kazuha's back, shattering his Vision Barrier.

"SHIT!!!" Beidou screamed, as she quickly turned her attention to the rising Grader.

But an Oni rushed past her as she drew out her sword, followed by a non-tanuki.

"We got it!" Itto proclaimed, as he reached back for Sayu to jump into his hand.

"For the record... I hate this plan more than I hate you," Sayu clarified as Itto brought her to his ear.

"Nah, it'll be fine," he assured. "TANUKI, COMIN' IN!!!"

With a mighty heave, Itto threw Sayu forwards with all his might, spiraling her into a Fufu Windwheel. With more force than the Ninja thought was possible, she struck her Debate Club straight onto the Grader's head, as a massive ring of metal echoed across the City. Sayu bounced back into the ground, and shook her head from the dizziness to find a U-shaped dent in the Grader's head, which fell over lifelessly.

She then looked down at her now broken Debate Club, before staring back at Itto with murderous.

"I'm. Not. A Tanuki!!!"

Itto's pride was quickly replaced with panic, as Sayu came running at full speed towards him.

Then, Ayato and Thoma returned to the City covered in ash and sweat.

"Is that everyone?" Ayato asked, as Thoma recounted the buildings in his head.

"Yup, must be!"

"Then, it's almost over now, right?" Ayato questioned to the standing Visionbearers.

"Not... quite..." Kaeya answered, as he pointed his lance up to Tenshukaku and the Narukami Shrine.

As Ayato looked up, his stomach sank.

"...Where is my sister?"


While the Lady Guuji went up to the Shrine to defend the Abyss from above, the Generals were sent below to protect the Tree's roots.

Gorou leapt off the face of a Lawachurl, flipping back to fire off a rapid stream of arrows.

Some found purchase in the hide of the brute, while the others were deflected away by an incoming Abyss Herald. The Herald painted dozens of Hydro slashes into the air before rearing its blades back, ready to wash the Watatsumi General away with the tides. 

Gorou charged the tip of his arrowhead with Geo, staring his death into the eye, until a blur of black and purple rushed past his side.

The shattering of a Vision Barrier echoed across the mountain, as Sara charged through the flurry of Hydro strikes to tackle the Herald head-on. Cutting tides dug into her chest, but she ignored them as her wings spread wide, crackling with Electro energy.

With a defiant war cry, she pushed all four of her sharpened wings deep into the Herald's chest, earning an anguished cry before its head went limp. Yet the victory was cut short by a Lawachurl grabbing Sara in the back to slam her against the Sakura roots.

As she collided, she could feel not only the wood of the roots break, but also the bones in her wings snap. The Tengu General fought off the spots in her vision as she managed to land onto her feet. The Watatsumi General quickly joined her side as he fired the last of his arrows into the Abyssal Legions.

A dozen Abyss Mages appeared around them, each charging up a powerful Elemental attack. With no arrows left, Sara donned her knife and took a final defensive stance. Gorou broke his bow over his knee to wield them as batons.

"It's been an honor, Madame Kujou," he remarked, as the light of the elements shone upon the defenders.

"The honor was mine, General Gorou," Sara replied.

The Mages finished their incantations, and the Generals charged forth with all their might.

 

And then, a shadow fell upon the two... followed by a massive wave of wind.

 

Sara opened her eyes to find herself as well as Gorou surrounded by a majestic blue and pink pattern.

But as she realized she could still hear the Wolf's energy beam, she quickly realized this was not Celestia.

Looking up, she saw the elongated snout of the Dragoness, shutting her eyes as arrows and Elements crashed into her hide.

Her eyes opened, gazing into Sara's soul and revealing her own.

Sara knew those eyes. She knew the way she'd get lost in their vortex of swirling emotions. The way that the light hit the bottom of them to look like pink sand on a clear moonlit night. The only difference now, was the long slit cutting through them.

"...Kokomi?"

The Sangonomiya Heiress purred gently, as she pressed her nose up to Sara's hand. And despite it being impossible, Sara knew it had to be her.

The Dragoness remained there, shielding her Generals from the unrelenting waves of the Abyss.


Dvalin crashed hard into the shores of Inazuma, having been blasted back by wave of Hydro from the wounded hydra.

His eyes reopened at the comforting touch of his friendly bard, and widened when they focused on the massive whirlpool forming around Beisht.

"...valin...! DVALIN, wake up!"

The dragon rose its head, looking up into the skies to see the Jade Chamber in near ruins. Smoke billowed at its sides while the entire platform was tilting over, having lost some of its capabilities to levitate.

But worst of all, Beisht was attempting to retreat yet again.

"Barbatos..." the dragon spoke firmly, "we cannot allow Beisht to escape again."

Venti quickly shook his head, wrapping his arms around Dvalin's neck.

"Of course we can! Morax can take care of it, Liyue can take care of it!"

But Dvalin pushed up to his feet, eyes still trained on the whirlpool.

"We have all made ourselves her enemies today. Mondstadt will not be safe if she remembers our faces."

The dragon pushed up to his feet, and spread his wings. Venti let out a defeated sigh, and summoned the Skyward Harp.

"Then we go in together. As I should have done, so long ago."

Dvalin lowered his head with a purr, and Venti climbed aboard for perhaps the last time.

"Thank you, my friend."

The winds roared, and the Bard and the Dragon soared away to meet their destiny.

 

The entire foundation of the Jade Chamber rumbled violently.

Part of the rooftop came crumbling down, careening towards an injured Millelith soldier. But a Jade Screen extended out above him at the last second, as Ningguang summoned the last of her strength to protect her people.

"Lady Ningguang!" one of her secretaries cried out. "The Jade Chamber is severely damaged! We can't divert any more energy to the Ballistas if we want to stay afloat!"

Ningguang gave a solemn nod before crawling over to the edge of the platform, looking down at the now familiar whirlpool.

"...Prepare to evacuate. Initiate the Last Rite Protocol."

But her secretary didn't respond. The Tianquan turned back to her staff to see them all looking up into the skies, a winged shadow looming over them all.

Ningguang looked back, just in time to see the almighty Stormterror dive down into the depths.

 

As the initial barrier of Hydro splashed against his face, Venti wiped his eyes away to see the fins of Beisht circling down on the ocean floor.

He quickly pinched his nose shut, as a foul stench assaulted his nostrils.

"Eugh, Morax was right...! She does stink!"

The three heads reared up to face their challenger, as Dvalin roared back to sink his claws into the middle. Beisht immediately swung its neck around to shake the dragon off, but its determination was strong. Dvalin dug his front claws into the jaws of Beisht, prying open her middle mouth for Venti to shoot right down her throat.

"Think you can get away?" he taunted, as he fired a massive Anemo Vortex down Beisht's throat.

The hydra's neck sunk into itself, losing its rounded form as the skin and flesh wrapped tightly around its bones. Dvalin flapped his wings away, two agonizing roars erupted from Beisht's remaining heads, and the middle neck imploded on itself. A shower of blue viscera scattered across the ocean sands.

But before they could celebrate, a downward tidalwave from the surrounding walls of water sent Dvalin and Venti straight into the ground.

The Bard lost his grip on Dvalin, falling head first into a coral reef, knocking the Archon unconscious. Dvalin yelped out in concern, but was quickly grabbed by the wing before he could tend to his friend.

The teeth of Beisht's left head dug firmly into Dvalin's wing, earning a pained shriek out of the dragon. Dvalin struggled against the hydra's grip, clawing at the head's jaw and throat, blasting away at her hide with Anemo blasts. But when the second head bit into his chest and began to pull, the dragon quickly realized what was about to happen.

The haunting snaps of tendons and bones echoed out through the vortex, as Beisht tore off one of Dvalin's right wings. The dragon was tossed aside into the oceanic wall as his draconic blood seeped out into the waters. Pain seared Dvalin's mind while he flapped his remaining wings through the sea, doing his best to swim back into the fight.

He managed to stumble himself onto Beisht's back, giving him a perfect angle at the exposed stump that once was her middle neck. The two heads turned back to face the wounded dragon, and bit once more into his wings.

But Dvalin dug his claws firmly into her hide, crawling closer and closer to the exposed wound. Another sharp pain ran through his bones, as another wing was torn away. He only growled in response, as he reached his claw over to the bloodied wound.

A blast of Hydro smashed into his back, threatening to push him off from Beisht's body, and yet the dragon refused to back down. Now with half of his body over the wound, Dvalin reared his head back to let out a primal roar.

In a swift motion, the dragon plunged his head down Beisht's throat.

The hydra immediately ceased all of her attacks to cry out in pain, as Dvalin dove deeper, and deeper into her torso. Her screams echoed out from the vortex and across Inazuma, stirring the Bard awake. Seeing nothing but red, Dvalin pushed deeper, and deeper, until he could feel something pulsing rapidly just beyong his snout.

He opened his jaws, and sunk his teeth in deep. The screams of Beisht grew weaker, as blood began to fill her lungs. The dragon pushed its hind legs onto her back.

Dvalin emerged, ripping Beisht's beating heart out with his teeth.

With one final cry, Beisht's form collapsed onto the ocean floor, heartless and dead.

Venti quickly ran over, as Dvalin's wingless form slumped over the hydra's corpse.

"DVALIN!!!" he screamed in horror, as he looked at the bloodied stumps that once were the magnificent wings of a dragon.

"Bar...batos..." the dragon spoke weakly, staring up through the hole that lead to the sky.

"The... vortex is collapsing... You must... leave..."

"I'm taking you with me!" Venti cried out, as he did his best to muster an Anemo current.

"There is no time, Barbatos..."

A scarred claw pressed down on Venti's hands, as tears filled the Bard's eyes.

"Dvalin..." he choked out, "I won't... abandon you again..."

"It is alright, my friend..." A faint smile grew on the dying dragon's face. "This was my choice..."

The vortex began to close in, the tides brushing away at Dvalin's tail.

"Thank you... for my freedom, Barbatos. Please... live to protect Mondstadt, in my place..."

Barbatos clutched onto Dvalin's claw, sobbing profusely into his scales.

"...I'm sorry... this... this wasn't..."

"Goodbye, my friend."

A sudden burst of Anemo took form beneath Barbatos, as Dvalin channeled the last of his strength to push him to safety.

"DVALIN, NOO!!!" Barbatos screamed out as he tumbled away into the sky, reaching desperately at the dragon he saved so long ago.

 

Dvalin laid his head back peacefully, as the ocean closed in.

He was free.


The death cry of Beisht struck fear into the hearts of the Abyss, and courage into Inazuma's Defenders.

The Pyro Abyss Elite's attention was broken by the roar, as he looked up beyond his Kitsune opponent towards the oceanic horizon.

"No... that's... impossible...!"

Yae's signature grin returned, a pack of astral foxes now surrounding her.

"Nothing lasts forever..."

The Elite heard a crackle from above before a massive Sky Kitsune came crashing down onto his head. The Lector was immediately pressed onto his back as three additional strikes collided brutally into his chest plate, destroying his Pyro shield.

The Elite raised his head back up to see the Guuji of the Grand Shrine approaching menacingly, with a predatory pink glow in her eyes.

He tried to raise his Husk arm to fire a bolt of Pyro, only for it to be restrained immediately by an astral fox. He soon found all four of his limbs pressed down by the canines of the foxes, leaving him entirely at the mercy of the Kitsune.

"I wonder..." Yae thought out loud, crossing her arms as she drew near to the Lector. "Will he choose cowardice, or devotion?"

"You... You stay away!" the Lector shuddered, still struggling against the jaws of the foxes.

"Ah, cowardice..." the Kitsune grinned, her fangs now beginning to extend, "Good, I like it when they're afraid."

Sharpened claws scraped the gravel before the Abyss Elite, as Yae entered her fox form.

Without even giving the Lector a chance to scream, she pounced forth and sunk her teeth directly into his neck. The Elite gurgled out in pain, thrashing his limbs around as best as he could, before the strength finally left his body.

Yae pulled her head back, tearing the bloody mess of a throat that once belonged to the Elite with her. She then tossed it aside for the astral foxes to feast upon, reentering her human form to wipe the blood away from her mouth.

"Ugh..." she muttered, wiping her tongue on her sleeve as she looked at the gnawing foxes. "Honestly, I don't know how you all enjoy that..."


Never had Ayato nor Thoma ever climbed the stairs to Tenshukaku so quickly.

The sounds of clashing metal grew louder with each step, until they finally crested the platform that once was the Raiden Shogun's chambers.

There fought the Heron, the Traveler, and the Abyss Prince, holding absolutely nothing back.

Ayaka was running circles around Aether, while Lumine kept him locked in combat with herself. Lumine was for the most part fighting defensively, mostly blocking and parrying each of Aether's attacks while occasionally making a strike to ensure he couldn't counter against Ayaka.

Meanwhile, the Heron was cutting slice after slice into Aether's Astral Barrier, which was growing weaker and weaker by the moment. Aggravated by their tactics, Aether spread his wings to try and take off. But Lumine would not allow it, summoning an Anemo Tornado to pull him back down. Ayaka followed up with a Frostflake Seki no To, coating his wings in frost.

As Aether plummeted face first into the ground, Lumine and Ayaka performed a simultaneous strike across his wings, slashing out the Void gems embedded within them. Aether watched the Void energy drain from his wings, effectively locking him to the ground. He bared his teeth and slammed his fist into the ground with a scream, launching a Void shockwave out that knocked Lumine and Ayaka onto their backs.

Ayaka rolled onto her feet and dove back in, summoning a burst of Cryo at Aether's feet. Frost gathered around his arms before he quickly broke free, parrying Ayaka's sword and grabbing her by the neck.

"All this, because she fell in love with an insect."

Aether swung Ayaka up over his shoulders, and slammed her down into the ground behind her. She coughed and gasped for a brief moment, before Aether stomped directly onto her skull, knocking her out entirely.

 

"NO!" Ayato screamed, as he stepped out and charged towards the Abyss Prince.

But then, the ground in front of him erupted out into rubble, as the damaged Perpetual Mechanical Array returned to block Ayato's path.

"Get out of my way!!" he screamed, drawing his sword on the machine with full intent of cutting it down.

Thoma quickly joined him, placing a Blazing Barrier around them to absorb the P.M.A.'s sawblade attack. The warriors cut desperately into the Array's armor plating, having concerningly little effect. Without enough energy to muster his Elemental Burst, Ayato was stuck on Physical Damage.

But then, a pillar of Geo appeared beside the two men.

"Rise!" Zhongli exclaimed, as he donned his Vortex Vanquisher on the P.M.A.

The Array groaned, as it transformed into its Orbital Cannon form, firing lasers down at its attackers. Ayato rolled out of the way, while Thoma and Zhongli absorbed the attack with their shields, with Venti using a gust of wind to push himself to safety.

As the Array transformed into its next form, Zhongli ran forth to stab his spear perfectly through the center. With the shaft now blocking the way, the P.M.A. was locked in its basic form. As it twitched out in rage, it launched Zhongli back with a well placed cube, sending him toppling over the edge of Tenshukaku.

Thoma then hopped onto the top of the Array, pointing his spear down to stab at the inner workings of the machine and pry it open. It thrashed around wildly in an attempt to shake Thoma off, but was interrupted when Ayato charged forth with the Haran Tsukishiro Futsu, piercing into the Perpetual Core from Thoma's opening.

But the katana ended up locking itself in place, as the machine started to twitch sporadically while the core glowed brighter and brighter.

Ayato pulled with all his might, but all too late, as the Perpetual Mechanical Array exploded into a rain of iron and steel.


Tartaglia lobbed his Electro-charged blades at Scaramouche, piercing them directly into his shoulder.

The Balladeer growled angrily in response, pulling the blade out and tossing it aside. Now with Tartaglia unarmed, he rushed in with his own Electro naginata. He performed a rapid succession of slashes against Childe's exposed chest armor, taking out chunks of metal with each strike.

With a final blow, Tartaglia impacted the stone floor, cracking it all around him. Scaramouche quickly landed back onto his chest, and rose the naginata high.

"Not so confident now, are you?!"

But his eyes narrowed in anger, as Tartaglia still had the audacity to laugh in the Balladeer's face.

"Poor timing..." he replied through bloodstained teeth.

The sound of a blade being drawn shined from behind the Balladeer.

 

"INAZUMA SHINES ETERNAL."

 

A burning slash surrounded Kunikuzushi, as reality shattered like a broken mirror all around him.

The next thing he knew, he was standing in an empty field of sand, flanked at all sides by broken tori gates.

And, standing before him, was Beelzebub in her true form.

He quickly raised his hands to fire bolts of divine lightning and Void, only to realize that the Gnosis nor his Delusion was with him.

"The gifts of Celestia have no quarter in the Euthymic Plane," so said the Almighty Shogun.

Kunikuzushi balled up his fists and summoned his catalyst. His eye twitched from the corrosive Void searing his body.

"Have you nothing left to say, Kunikuzushi?"

Without the Gnosis, the prototype's eyes had no glow left to give.

"...Why didn't you destroy me?"

Ei's eyes narrowed as she readjusted the Musou Isshin in her hand.

"I wanted to give you freedom... away from Celestia."

Purple flames glowed down her hair.

"But now, you shall perish."

 

Tartaglia barely managed to teleport away as the Raiden Shogun lunged forth, unleashing the full might of the Musou no Hitotachi once again upon the Balladeer.

Nine divine strikes ravaged the Void-touched Harbinger, followed by a massive pillar of divine lightning.

Ei came to a skidding halt past Kunikuzushi. The lightning faded away, leaving behind a battered and steaming Balladeer.

Scaramouche tore off his Delusion, and collapsed onto his knees. Tartaglia looked over to the Raiden Shogun, who had also been reduced to one knee and was now leaning against her blade.

Realizing the fight was now over, Childe desummoned his armor to remove his own Delusion.

Scaramouche's cracked mask hit the ground, as he looked up at Childe to reveal the true damage. His skin had dried out, and dark cracks of black Void were visible across his left cheek. The color from his eyes had drained, now showing off the metallic inside of his constructed optics.

Childe let out a sigh, as he walked over to Scaramouche to put a hand on this shoulder.

"Why'd you have to go and make it so complicated, comrade?"

No reply, as the Balladeer stared blankly ahead into the ground.

"Tell you what, let's just head back to Snezhnaya, get Il Dottore to fix you up, and bring the Gnosis back to the Tsaritsa. You can even say that the Abyss Prince brainwashed you. Or... charmed. Something. As long as she has the Gnosis, she'll forgive you--"

"Shut the fuck up..." Scaramouche replied raspily, as he tore the Gnosis away from his neck.

"...and let me die in peace."

Childe looked down at the Gnosis in his palm, then back to his comrade. He gave Scaramouche a final pat on the shoulder, before standing back up to address the Archon in the battlefield.

"And what about you, Almighty Shogun? Are you going to fight me too over this ol' thing?" he asked, shaking the Gnosis in his hand.

Ei rose back to her feet, sheathing the Musou Isshin away. The glow in her eyes faded as she turned to face the remaining Harbinger, doing her best to hide her fatigue.

"That depends. Are you bringing it back to the Tsaritsa?"

"More than likely."

"Then take it. I have no need."

With that, the Electro Archon walked off, passing by the prototype one final time. He refused to acknowledge her anymore, staring blankly ahead at the storm-covered hills of Inazuma, and at the white-capped ocean beyond. Childe decided to join his comrade, taking a seat to admire the view.

 

After a minute, Kunikuzushi fell silently onto his side.


Aether looked down in disgust at Ayaka, before nonchalantly raising his sword on his back to block the incoming sword from Lumine.

"Do you get it now, sis-" he began to speak, before catching a crystalline fist directly to the jaw.

The Abyss Prince reeled back in confusion, as he touched his lip to see his own blood. Lumine closed in and threw another punch, this time into Aether's throat.

As he began to choke, Lumine threw a third right hook into Aether's eye. Then a fourth uppercut into his chin, throwing him onto his back.

Lumine shoved her knee into Aether's chest as she continued to lay into his face, coating her knuckles in red.

"DON'T" Crack.
"YOU" Crack.
"EVER" Crack.
"TOUCH" Crack.
"HER" Crack.
"AGAIN!!!Crack.

As she launched her fist for another strike, Aether raised his blade up to block the attack. As Lumine's brittle hand collided with the metal, fragments of gemstones sprinkled across Aether's face as cracks formed in her hand.

But she wasted no time to grab the blade with her other hand and force it down into Aether's head. Now using his own sword as a battering ram, Lumine continued to pummel her brother's face...

 

...until she felt his Astral Barrier finally shatter.

 

She then ripped the sword out from his hands and pressed it up against his neck, panting furiously as she stared into the eyes of her traitorous brother.

But then, a tear formed at the corner of Aether's eye, as he began to laugh.

"Is this... heh... how you wanted things to end, sister?"

Memories of old came flooding back into Lumine's mind. As she stared into Aether's battered eyes, she suddenly saw her favorite lilies begin to bloom around him.

The rage in her eyes faded slowly into grief, as she started to weep onto her brother.

She leaned her head down, placing her forehead against her beloved twin.

"...I knew you couldn't do it."

Suddenly, Lumine felt heat gathering at her abdomen. Too late to react, Aether sent a blast of Void straight into his sister's gut, flailing her into the air before she came down hard onto her back.

Aether sat himself up, spitting blood to his side before picking up his sword to walk to Lumine.

Pain blasted through her entire body as her pulse came back into view. But seeing her brother approach with the tenacity she lacked, forced her up onto her knees.

Aether swung his sword down, and Lumine reached her hands out.

 

Ayaka's eyes reopened to the sound of Lumine's strained cries.

Dirt stuck to the blood dripping down the side of the Heron's head as she pushed herself back to her feet.

A few meters away was her beloved Traveler, making her final stand against the Abyss Prince.

Lumine's arms shook vigorously as they clasped Aether's Void-infused blade between them. Blood dripped down from her left hand, while microfractures formed in her right.

Both roared their souls at each other as the blade remained in deadlock, their muscles straining against their equals to turn the tides.

But alas, blood was stronger than crystal.

Time slowed for Ayaka as she watched Lumine's arm branch into segments, fracturing bit by bit into eerily beautiful shards.

The blade pressed forth, dragging straight across the Traveler's chest. Her skin turned black where the Void came into contact, as corrupted blood sprayed out from the opening wound.

Lumine collided back first into the pile of rubble behind her. Blood shot out from her mouth as she coughed weakly, before falling limp.

Aether lumbered forwards, dragging his sword behind him from exhaustion, eyes filled with murderous intent.

Ayaka looked into the blade of the Mistsplitter, seeing her blood-stained reflection.

She looked back to her brother with sorrowful eyes. Realizing what she was about to do, Ayato struggled with all his might to escape from underneath the broken Perpetual Array, but to no avail.

"Forgive me, brother..."

With a flash, Ayaka's form dissipated into pure Cryo, as she dashed through the ground for the Abyss Prince.

 

"We were gods together, Lumine..." Aether shuddered, as he raised his sword high above his head, pointing the blade down to his sister.

Lumine's eyes stared weakly into his own.

"But in this world..."

A shared tear streamed down the twins' faces.

"There can only be one."

Lumine watched Aether's grip tighten, and closed her eyes to brace for the end.

 

A breeze of cold air brushed across Lumine's face.

She heard the sound of creaking metal...

...followed by a scream from her brother.

 

The Shiresagi Himegimi pushed the Mistsplitter firmly into the Abyss Prince's heart.

 

"AARGHH-!! NNG... GGGHHH..! NOOO!!!" he cried desperately.

Ayaka's eyes sharpened, as she twisted the blade. Blood spilled out from Aether's mouth, before he fell back onto the ground still holding his blade.

As he laid on his back, blood splashed out from his coughing mouth, painting red across his mangled face.

"grrk... it... can't end this... way...!"

Ayaka panted heavily as she pressed a hand on her chest plate.

Lumine could only watch in awe, as an Abyss Herald appeared beside her brother.

"MY PRINCE!" it screamed in horror, as it grabbed Aether by the shoulders to start dragging him away.

"GAUGH... what... are you... doing?!"

"We must retreat, My Prince! The battle is lost!"

Aether thrashed with all his might as a Void portal opened, before the Abyss Herald dragged them both through.

The portal closed, and the battlefield was left in silence. All that could be heard was the tired breaths of the Heron and the Traveler.

 

After the moment passed, Ayaka dropped the Mistsplitter on the ground to turn and assist her beloved.

"Can you stand, Lumi?"

Lumine nodded softly, grabbing Ayaka's outstretched hand to rise to her feet.

Without a moment's hesitation, she pressed herself into Ayaka's lips for a thankful kiss.

The Heron squeezed the Traveler's hand, overwhelmed by relief.

But the moment didn't last, as Ayaka suddenly stumbled forwards.

Lumine's eyes reopened as she quickly caught Ayaka in her shoulder.

"Wh... what's wrong?"

Ayaka's hand pressed deeper into her chestplate. She looked up to the Traveler.

"I'm fine, I'm... fi..."

The Shiresagi Himegimi collapsed onto a knee. Lumine panicked, leveling herself with Ayaka as she took hold of her wrist.

"Ayaka?!"

The Heron's eyelids grew heavy, as she gave the Traveler a bittersweet smile.

"My... apologies..."

Lumine's eyes drifted down, narrowing when they realized what had happened.

 

Rivers of blood crept out from Ayaka's chest plate.

 

"...no..."

Without hesitation, Lumine clumsily removed the straps of Ayaka's armor. As the busted plate fell away, deep clouds of crimson continued to grow across her kimono.

"nonono..."

Dark branches of black crept across Ayaka's chest, as the Void energy corrupted through her veins.

"no no, please, no...!"

Tears started to fall on the Heron's face, as the Traveler's heart snapped in two.

Lumine desperately pressed her hand over the wound, doing her best to keep it closed for a little while longer.

But Ayaka knew better, gently wrapping her fingers around Lumine's wrist.

"BARBARA!! QIQI!! ANYONE!!! PLEASE, HELP!!! SOMEONE, PLEASE!!!"

A quick flash of starlight appeared by the Traveler, as Paimon came soaring out and into the city, crying out the names of every healer she could remember.

Lumine's desperate cries echoed across Inazuma to no avail. Ayaka laid quietly, trying to memorize every detail of Lumine's face.

"please don't go, just hang on Ayaka, please... please..."

Hot tears fell onto the fading Heron's face, who brought a hand up to the Traveler's cheek.

"Th...this... isn't your f-fault, Lumi..."
"I'm sorry, Ayaka please... don't go, just hang on... let me save you, please..."

 

Thoma's muscles strained as he lifted the dead metal of the Perpetual Array off of Ayato.

"My Liege, we did it-"

But the Retainer had no time to speak, as Ayato rushed past him to a sight Thoma never wanted to see.

"...Archons above..." he uttered, before quickly joining his lover's side.

Lumine was a babbling mess by the time Thoma and Ayato arrived, screaming desperately for anyone to help Ayaka.

But the damage had been done. Today would be the day Inazuma lost its Shiresagi Himegimi.

"WHY AREN'T YOU DOING ANYTHING?!?" Lumine screamed angrily.

"I... we..." Ayato stuttered, as his own tears threatened to escape, "I'm... sorry..."

Ayaka's fading eyes slowly drifted over to her brother, then to her Retainer.

"...will you... stay with me...?" she whispered through a cough of blood.

Ayato and Thoma took a knee with the Traveler, each placing a hand on Ayaka's.

"Of course... milady..." Thoma responded, his own voice wavering from his sorrow.

"please just stay with me, Ayaka, please don't go... Paimon's getting help... she's getting help..."

The blackened veins started to creep up Ayaka's neck.

"...Lumi, I'd... like to rest now..."

"no, don't say that, please... I need you, Ayaka I need you, please don't go..."

"It's... going to be okay, Lumi..."

"I can't... I can't do this without you... Not without you, please don't make me... please..."

"Lumi... keep your eyes on me..."

Lumine's pleas ceased.

"I... want to h-hear you say it... one last time..."

The Traveler weeped, as she felt Ayaka's fingers struggle to find their way in between her own.

 

"...I love you, Ayaka."

A tear streamed down the Heron's face as she wore her final smile.

"Th...ank you, Lumi... for... f...or..."

 

The last drop of air floated away from Ayaka's chest.

Her mouth fell silent, as the light in her eyes was extinguished.

 

 

The Traveler had lost her Heron.

 

 

"Ayaka...?"

Lumine shook Ayaka's lifeless hand.

"Ayaka? I need you to stay... Ayaka..."

She moved her hand to Ayaka's face. A lightless gaze looked past Lumine's tearful eyes.

"Please, don't go... don't go, you can't... you can't leave yet... Ayaka..."

Ayato and Thoma buried their heads into each others' shoulders, crying softly into the winds.

"AYAKA, PLEASE." She shook Ayaka's head, only for it to fall limp over Lumine's knee.

"PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE... DON'T! DON'T LEAVE ME, DON'T LEAVE ME!!!"

She furiously grabbed Ayaka's hand and placed it over her own heart.

"YOU SAID YOU'D STAY, YOU PROMISED! I NEED YOU!!! PLEASE, COME BACK!!!"

But the lifeless hand could only slip out from underneath Lumine's grasp.

"...please..."

She leaned her head down into Ayaka's soulless chest, and poured her sorrows away. The pain of her wounds were but a distant inconvenience, as Lumine continued to beg incomprehensibly for her Heron to return.


A small gathering formed around Tenshukaku, as all of Lumine's friends came up to witness her tragedy.

Paimon arrived first, pulling Qiqi along with her. But upon seeing Ayaka's hollow eyes, she realized they had been too late.

Muttering a quiet apology, the fae buried her face into the back of Lumine's shoulder, who was still weeping into the Heron's chest.

Inazuma fell silent, as everyone started to give their silent condolences.

Beidou was the first to take a knee, placing her hands on her leg and bowing her head in respect.

Qiqi followed suit, straightening her hat before taking a knee.

The Knights of Mondstadt joined in next, with Amber struggling to hold back her own tears while Klee clutched tightly to Jean's side.

Keqing and Ganyu took their knees together, making sure to hold each other's hands as they bowed their heads.

Noelle lowered down to both knees, on the account of Barbara, whom she was still carrying safely in her arms. Barbara buried her head into Noelle's neck, as the Maid's own tears began to flow.

Yoimiya and Itto paid their respects next, but not without Itto discreetly nudging Yoimiya to make sure he was doing it right.

Ningguang watched from afar, through a cracked looking glass she retrieved from her chambers. Realizing what was happening, she instructed the rest of her staff to join her in taking a knee.

 

Meanwhile, at the Grand Narukami Shrine, the impacts of Abyssal attacks against Dragoness Kokomi's back eventually ceased, with the sounds of adeptal warcries.

The Dragoness lifted her wings away, allowing Sara and Gorou to see Xiao and Shenhe wiping the blood away from their spears as the final Lawachurl fell.

The Generals and the Adeptus Warriors gave each other a respectful nod.

Then, the Dragoness's form shimmered, gradually shrinking down to the familiar pink-haired priestess.

Slashes and scorch marks littered her back, as she leaned herself into Sara's shoulders, doing her best to apologize for hiding her secret.

But Sara couldn't care less. She simply buried her face into Kokomi's neck, and thanked the Almighty Shogun for keeping them both safe.

 

High above the Shrine, Yae Miko watched the scene of tragedy play out atop Tenshukaku.

Brief thoughts of the funeral she would undoubtedly need to ordain ran through her mind, before a comforting hand entangled itself with her fingers.

She looked to her side to see her beloved Ei back in one piece.

The Shogunate opened her mouth to say something, but was silenced when Yae put her finger to Ei's lips.

A silent conversation was exchanged, as the two bent down to one knee, with their arms around each others' shoulders.

 

Morax found Barbatos on the shoreline, clutching onto a remnant of one of Dvalin's wings.

With no words available to consol his old friend, he simply knelt down beside the sobbing Bard to wrap his arm around his shoulder.

 

And far off from a distant hill was the last surviving Harbinger in Snezhnaya, clutching onto the glowing chess piece as he knelt down on the grass.

With a silent prayer for his dearest friend, he stood up and made his way towards the Waypoint.


After a few minutes, each of Lumine's friends left, one by one, to leave her in peace.

No one had the heart to move her, as she cried, and cried, and cried, into Ayaka's chest.

 

And then, a voice crept into her head.

 

"Do you want to save her?"

 

Her head shot up, scanning the area with bloodshot eyes as she wiped her nose clear.

"wh...wh.o... s.s-said..."

"It's me, Lumine."

A cold hand placed onto her shoulder, as Lumine looked down at a familiar glove.

Taking a knee at her side was the Bough Keeper, Dainsleif.

"I'm sorry for not being here... but I had to be sure that the other nations would be safe."

Lumine looked at Dainsleif through soggy eyes. After crying for so long, she didn't even have the strength to get angry at him anymore.

"wh... what.. m..mean... save...?"

Dainsleif closed his eyes, and let out a deep exhale.

"Yes... if you truly want, you can still save Kamisato Ayaka."

Lumine did her best to wipe the tears and salt out of her eyes.

"...how?"

The Bough Keeper stood up, still keeping his hand on Lumine's shoulder.

"It will cost you everything, from your old life."

Lumine sat in silence, before nodding slowly.

"i... i'll... do it."

"I mean it, Lumine. Everything. Your powers, your vitality, your wings... This journey you're on, may become nearly impossible."

"i don't care.... i want her back..."

Dainsleif nodded to himself, and gave her shoulder one more squeeze before letting go.

"Then, if you've truly made up your mind..."

 

Suddenly, Lumine found herself back in the present moment.

Clearing her eyes once more, she scanned her environment for the Bough Keeper... but there was no sign of him.

No sign, except for the final words that echoed into her mind.

"Look within... Focus your power... and let it go."

 

Look within...

Lumine closed her eyes, and grasped firmly onto Ayaka's Vision.

She took in a deep breath, and exhaled. She looked beyond her heart, her mind, and even beyond her soul, starting to follow a thread through space and time.

A thread, that lead all the way back to her and her brother.

Focus your power...

Lumine reached out with her other missing arm, as she started to feel warmth brush upon her face.

Opening her eyes, she gazed upon a new right arm composed of pure light, shining gold onto herself and Ayaka.

"This universe is too big for us to stay in one place, Aether!"

A tear streamed down her face as she closed her eyes, continuing to focus in.

"I wanna see everything, Lumi! Everything!"

Warmth coated her back.

"Well, I just want to find something amazing!"

Lumine's eyes opened, now glowing with the same intensity as sunlight. Her golden wings spread wide open, wrapping around herself and Ayaka. Everyone in Inazuma turned their attention to Tenshukaku, as Lumine became a beacon of Radiance.

 

Let it go.

Lumine looked down at her Radiant arm. She unclenched her fist into an open hand, as she slowly reached down into Ayaka's chest.

"Keep your eyes on me."

Her wings shimmered in the dark sky, as both Lumine and Ayaka started to rise up to the heavens. Everyone else watched in awe as divine light bathed the City.

"My heart... it's yours."

Lumine's Radiant arm reached deeper into Ayaka, wrapping its fingers around her cold heart.

"I want to be a part of you, no matter where we end up..."

The two lovers breached the cloudline, as one half of Lumine's wings started to fade away.

"No matter what happens, I will always be with you, Lumi."

As the light from Lumine's arm flowed into Ayaka, the missing half of her wings started to grow on the Heron's back.

"I love you, Ayaka..."

Lumine closed her Radiant eyes as she leaned down to kiss her beloved Heron.

The glow of her eyes faded away, as color flooded back into Ayaka's cheeks.

The Traveler held her there, floating above Inazuma with the sunset as their witness, their lips pressed together as she felt warmth return to the Heron.

 

Then, Lumine felt a soft hand brush against her cheek.

 

She opened her eyes, to see Ayaka gazing right back. Flecks of gold now shimmered across her navy blue irises.

Ayaka looked back, to see traces of cobalt in Lumine's radiant stare.

"...Lumi..."

The Traveler smiled, as one more tear dropped down from her cheek.

"...Welcome back, Ayaka."

The Heron returned the smile, as she wrapped her arms around Lumine's neck.

"You saved me again, my love..." she spoke, as they continued to float around each other.

"Of course I did..." Lumine replied, as she pressed her forehead against Ayaka's.

 

"...As I promised."

Chapter Text

"In terms of your physical condition, you and Ms. Ayaka are perfectly healthy."

The Traveler and the Heron listened attentively to the Chief Alchemist, holding each others' hands firmly while Albedo paced back and forth in his Dragonspine Laboratory.

"Though, the scars will be permanent. Significantly more so than ordinary scars, I'm afraid."

Lumine glanced over at Ayaka for a moment. She began to think about how the Shiresagi Himegimi wouldn't be able to wear anything that exposed her chest to much. Her mind started to run rampant on how she had ruined Inazuma's great role model.

But the perceptive Heron replied with a squeeze of the Traveler's palm.

"That won't be an issue," Ayaka spoke gently.

"However, there's something I'd like to tell you personally, Lumine."

Albedo and Lumine exchanged a stern look. She looked back at Ayaka with a gentle smile.

"She can know."

The two nodded at each other, and Albedo looked on in respect.

"Very well. It's in reference to your former strength, Traveler."

"It's not coming back, I know."

"Well, that might mean more than you think it does."

Albedo paged through one of his journals, landing on a page and nodding to himself in confirmation.

"When we first met, and I performed tests on you to deduce if you were biologically different from us... I hid something from you."

He then offered the journal to Lumine, who began to read the Alchemist's observation of the strange sediment that had accumulated from her elemental flow trial.

"What is this supposed to mean?"

"I was unsure myself, for quite some time. It is why I never told you in the first place. But, when you came crawling back to Mondstadt with a hole in your heart and more blood-loss than humanly possible, I developed a theory."

Lumine's grasp around Ayaka's hand tightened, already knowing what Albedo was about to say.

"I believe that you were, a divine being of Teyvat."

Ayaka's eyes widened.

"At least, only physically. No records indicate you or your brothers' presence in any tales of Celestia. I checked that with Ms. Lisa. But, that being said, I still have yet to come up with any other possible answer to you surviving the wounds you sustained. And, it correlates well with the achievements you've accomplished so far in this world."

"...But that's all gone now, isn't it?"

Albedo nodded solemnly.

"You've risked life and limb for several of our nations now. And I fear that, because of the sacrifice you made, you won't be able to achieve such feats ever again."

"Okay... can you be specific about that?"

"My tests indicated that your Visionless command of Elemental energy will remain, and perhaps a trace of the flight you mentioned your wings could offer. But besides that, your vitality, strength, endurance, and cellular decay rate, have all become that of any mortal being."

Most of what Albedo had said so far, Lumine was prepared for. She did, after all, agree to let go of everything from her past. However...

"What was the last thing you said?"

"Cellular decay rate. You will begin to age, Lumine."

Of course. She had been asleep for five hundred years, and her brother nor herself didn't look a day older than when they were separated. She knew that was gone now, but hearing it out loud put it in a new perspective.

"I... I see."

"Growing old is a natural process, Lumine. Even for the gods. Just, know that your friends will be at your side for as long as they can."

Then, it didn't seem so bad after all. After countless centuries of traveling, Lumine would find somewhere, and someone, to settle with.

A comforting arm wrapped around her shoulder, as she felt Ayaka rest her head on her own shoulder.

"I'll be at your side too, Lumi."

Lumine leaned onto Ayaka's hair and closed her eyes.

"Thank you."


Having dealt a major blow to the Abyssal Legion's forces, the three nations rejoiced as one.

Though celebration was short-lived, as Inazuma had still been left in ruins. Nearly one-thousand people, both soldiers and innocents, were killed in the brutal attack, and both Watatsumi and Inazuma City were nearly destroyed.

Fortunately, by the insistence of the Tianquan and the Acting Grandmaster, Mondstadt and Liyue were more than happy to aid Inazuma in their reparations. Having sent so many Visioned warriors to figh the Abyss, the Waypoints in the Nation of Eternity were now open to many outsiders.

Inazuma was now connected back to the rest of Teyvat in a way it hadn't experienced in ages.

It brought a smile to the cunning Kitsune, knowing how many old friends she'd be able to see now, and how many new friends she'd force her wife to make.

 

Over five months, Inazuma City and Watatsumi Island were gradually rebuilt.

With the secret of the Divine Priestess and the Tenryou Commissioner out, the truce between the islands would grow into an alliance. Through a well-crafted proposal to the Almighty Shogun, a new Commission was formed in service of Inazuma: the Tomo Commission. Its purpose was to handle foreign relations, but more importantly, to serve as the voice of the Inazuman people. A voice that would ensure the Raiden Shogun would always act in service of her people's Eternity, instead of her own.

With the help of the Alchemists from Mondstadt, and a strange cloaked woman who sounded eerily similar to the Raiden Shogun, Katheryne was rebuilt. Her first order of business, to open up commissions in Inazuma to adventurers from all across Teyvat. Though, after a certain group was struck thrice by lightning in the span of ten minutes, some restrictions needed to be put in place.

There came a day when a medal ceremony took place, honoring those who fought to defend Inazuma from the Abyss, be they local or foreign. Though in a comedic twist of fate, it was Madame Kujou who was elected to present the medal to one Arataki Itto. They both knew in that moment that he would never let them forget.

Meanwhile, the Eleventh Harbinger of the Fatui returned to Snezhnaya with the next piece to the Tsarita's game. Though not without regretful news to Il Dottore that Scaramouche had been slain by the Raiden Shogun, having sacrificed himself so Tartaglia could escape with the Gnosis.

The depleted frame of Kunikuzushi was never recovered, nor was the Guardian of Eternity which sank into the depths of the ocean. Though, Ei could still feel the presence of her puppets. She knew that some day, she would have to give them the duel they desired.

With Beisht fallen for the last time, yet only by the sacrifice of an ancient dragon, the Tianquan wasted no time to continue improving her designs on the Guizhong Ballistas. Though they served well against the Ruin Guards, Liyue knew more than most that there were more dangerous threats than the Abyss that loomed on the horizon. Though the new alliance between their three nations was a boon, there was still much to be improved before the Tianquan could call her nation 'safe' again.

Meanwhile, a new statue was erected in Mondstadt: one of the dragon formerly misnamed as Stormterror, now properly displayed over the gates as Dvalin, the Protector. It took the people some getting used to, but a plethora of songs from a certain Bard ensured that they would learn his true story.

Lumine would eventually return to Sucrose's lab to pick up her newly improved replacements for the arms she lost in battle. For the most part, the Hypostasis Gauntlet was unchanged, save a few alterations to make loading cores faster. The crystalline arm, however, had been upgraded to Mark III by Sucrose. When asked about what happened to Mark II, she replied by shifting her hair over a few scratches on her forehead and laughing nervously, before changing the subject entirely.

Also, Director Hu Tao made a fortune arranging funerals for the fallen.


"Thanks for meeting with me on such short notice."

The Traveler and the Almighty Shogun walked side by side, following the dirt trail beneath the Narukami Shrine.

"Please, the pleasure is mine, Traveler. In all honesty, I had planned to speak with you sooner after the attack, but..."

"You were busy rebuilding a nation. It's okay."

"Be that as it may, I appreciate the excuse for some fresh air."

Lumine nervously fiddled her dress with her new crystalline arm, now coated in a thin layer of skin-toned silicon in order to prevent any further mugging attempts during her travels.

"Ei, I... I wanted to apologize to you."

"Apologize for what? You defended Inazuma valiantly against your own flesh and blood, something I almost failed to do. We are all in your debt, Lumine."

"Maybe, but... before that happened..."

Ei's pace slowed, and her eyes dimmed ever so slightly.

"Ah. I understand."

"It wasn't right of me to do that to you, Ei. To judge so blindly, just like..."

Lumine ran a thumb over the scar across her chest.

"...just like my brother."

She then came to a full stop, leaving the two in the middle of a grassy field. The Electro Archon turned around to face the Traveler, who looked up to meet her gaze.

"I said you weren't better than them, but really... that was me I was talking about."

Then, she pulled out the white and gold talisman. She looked down at it, rubbing her finger over the engraving, before handing it back to Ei.

"I'm sorry, Ei. Maybe... maybe I haven't quite earned this yet."

Ei reached out with her fingers, and pushed the talisman back to Lumine.

"I appreciate the gesture Lumine, but I'd like for you to listen to me now."

Lumine nodded silently.

"You said a lot of things, when we were sparring. Some of them were correct, others were wrong. But, I've seen that rage before. It's dangerous, Lumine. It's what rots the good people into the bad. And I don't want to see that happen to you, ever again."

The Traveler looked away guiltily, and nodded again.

"Now, I still meant what I said when I gave you that talisman. I value your friendship greatly, Lumine, even after what happened. You were the one who convinced me to be a better Archon, after all."

"With Yae's help..." Lumine corrected under her breath.

"Perhaps. The point is, I'm choosing to trust you again. I'd like for you to trust me as well."

Lumine raised her head back towards Ei.

"I'd like that as well."

"Then, let's start by clarifying some of the things you said during our fight."

Ei took in a deep breath, and exhaled.

"Firstly, the 'Enjou' you referred to. Is that someone you met in the Abyss?"

"He was," Lumine replied, swallowing a bit of dried saliva in her mouth. "I met him in Enkanomiya. He was... different from the other Heralds and Lectors I've met."

"I see..." Ei mused, brushing her chin with her fingers. "Different how?"

"He didn't care as much about 'burning the world down for Khaenriah' as all the others, or as my brother did, like you remember. He was just... curious, when Paimon and I met him. He wanted to learn about Enkanomiya, about its ties to the Abyss."

"So, he was more of a researcher then."

"In a way. But, despite Paimon's protests, we ended up getting along together in more ways than I thought we would. When he said he didn't fully understand why my brother was scheming against Celestia, I felt like I could trust him."

Lumine's eyes squinted.

"I told him that the Archons, like you, weren't all bad people. And he believed me. Right up until..."

"Until I sent a Raiden Shogun in with Morax and Barbatos, which later killed him."

The Traveler nodded, fighting a few tears back from her eyes. Ei stepped forwards, and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry. Truly."

"I know it wasn't you, Ei. It's just that... he was also the one who saved me from the Abyss. Paimon told me he's the one who guided us to our escape. So, when I heard that your puppet had killed him... I was furious."

"I understand, Lumine."

Ei looked out to the horizon, remembering the age of Inazuma's collapse.

"I felt that way too, when Makoto left me to fight in Khaenriah."

Lumine's eyes narrowed in confusion.

"She... left you?"

"She did," Ei nodded, "right here in Inazuma, while I was busy fighting off the demonic presence terrorizing our people. By the time I realized what had happened, Khaenriah was already destroyed..."

She shut her eyes, biting back the pain of her loss.

"My sister, was already defeated. And there wasn't anything I could do about it."

Lumine looked down, realizing all the assumptions she had made about Ei after what Zhongli had told her.

"So, what Morax told me... when my brother was there...?"

"I don't know what happened, Lumine. It seems that he's told you more than he's told me."

"All this time, I thought you all..."

"It wasn't a bad assumption. I'm an archon, after all. But no, I wasn't there to witness the fall. Only the aftermath."

Lumine stood in silence for a moment, with Ei allowing her to recollect her thoughts.

"...Okay. Thank you, for sharing that with me."

"Of course. As I said, I'd like for us to be friends again."

The Traveler nodded back.

"Now, back to the point of your friend, Enjou. As much as I would like to give you closure with the puppet who did kill him, I'm afraid it's out of my reach for the time being."

A concerned frown grew on Lumine's face.

"Why? What happened?"

Ei crossed her arms and looked out at the ocean.

"The Puppets, rejected me during the battle. They combined their forms into a single entity, lead by the one I had sent to the Abyss."

Lumine looked over Ei once more, this time searching for any clues of artificial material.

"Wait, then how are you here right now?"

"I assumed consciousness over this body, when I broke free from the rest. Though it is likely that, as a result of their minds combining into one, it allows me to have full control over this body..."

Ei looked down at her hand, closing and opening her fist.

"I still fear that they may try to take it back. That's why I haven't been back to the Plane of Euthymia ever since the battle."

Lumine wasn't sure if this was good or bad for the Electro Archon. Sure, she and many others had wanted Ei to return to the mortal world for good. But doing so under the threat of her own puppets was an unexpected catalyst.

"So you're saying we can't access that Puppet's memories, because it's rebelling against you."

"That would appear to be the case for now, yes. Perhaps once I learn of its whereabouts, we can track it down together."

A look of determination steeled Lumine's face.

"Sounds like a deal."


Eventually, a gathering was organized atop the Jade Chamber to celebrate the Defenders of Inazuma, as well as the new alliance of the three nations.

It was a grand gathering of friends, both old and new, filled with great food, laughter, stories, and kinship.

But towards the end of the night, the self-proclaimed Greatest Bard of Mondstadt hopped onto the table with a lyre in his hands.

"People of Teyvat, might you lend me an ear for a moment?"

"Oh great, Tone-Deaf Bard, at it again!" Paimon relented before plugging her ears.

A round of laughter circulated the venue as the Bard and the fae stuck their tongues at each other.

"Ridicule aside, I've prepared a song for you all! Dedicated to the roads we've taken, and the roads ahead."

After clearing his throat, Venti strummed a quick chord to tune the instrument, and proceed to play a joyful melody he promised he'd make.

 

"What a journey we've taken,
What a journey it's been!

As we've gathered our friends,
And we've turned into kin,

Raise a glass to your brother,
Raise a glass to your sister,

Raise a glass to your lover,
Raise a glass to our kind!"

Smiles grew around the table, as each guest proceed to raise their glasses to each other.

"A traveler finds her way to shore,
A floating friend to guide her path,
Guided by her search for family,
She has found a new reason, at last.

A perfect heron takes first flight,
Across the sea to distant lands,
Summoned by an aching heart,
She came forth to restore the light."

Tears of joy welled up in Lumine and Ayaka's eyes, holding each other close while Paimon clapped at the side.

"What a journey we've taken,
What a journey it's been!

As we've gathered our friends,
And we've turned into kin,

Raise a glass to your brother,
Raise a glass to your sister,

Raise a glass to your lover,
Raise a glass to our kind!"

Some people stood up from their seats to make their way to the dance floor.

"An heiress rights the sins of clan,
Through her blade and through her words,
Tempered by the love she's shown,
Her path is now her own.

A joyful baron smiles with hope,
She sees beauty through scars of past,
Full of strength, courage, and love,
She will build a new story to last."

Eula twirled Amber under her arm, earning a giggle from her beloved Baroness before dipping them both down for a kiss.

"What a journey we've taken,
What a journey it's been!

As we've gathered our friends,
And we've turned into kin,

Raise a glass to your brother,
Raise a glass to your sister,

Raise a glass to your lover,
Raise a glass to our kind!"

Some people started joining in with the chorus, singing along with each other as they swayed to the music.

"A captain conquers raging tides,
Yearning to see the world,
Yet she heeds the call of home,
Knowing where she's made her ties.

A lady rises through the sky,
Daring to reach new heights,
She found treasure in the sea,
A self-made queen given new life."

Ningguang swayed side to side with Beidou's arms around her, pressing the ring now adorning the Captain's finger to her lips.

"What a journey we've taken,
What a journey it's been!

As we've gathered our friends,
And we've turned into kin,

Raise a glass to your brother,
Raise a glass to your sister,

Raise a glass to your lover,
Raise a glass to our kind!"

The harmony of the song began to reach down into the streets of Liyue.

"A woman trapped in time is freed,
From an endless cage of minds,
She lost heart long ago, but now,
She will never let it go.

A cunning fox lays her trap,
Yearning for one more game,
Lessons taught and learned, her laugh did fall,
When in trust she called her name."

As Yae giggled to herself, Ei wasn't sure if she should feel flattered or insulted.

"What a journey we've taken,
What a journey it's been!

As we've gathered our friends,
And we've turned into kin,

Raise a glass to your brother,
Raise a glass to your sister,

Raise a glass to your lover,
Raise a glass to our kind!"

Even the wise Zhongli, avid fan of opera, had to admit that this was one of Venti's better songs.

"A broken crow is given new wings,
Destined to serve her god,
She fights foe yet finds a friend,
She will fight for them to the end.

A gentle priestess in her cove,
Working hard to save her kind,
She waged war and peace with poise,
With her generals at her side."

Kokomi sang along with Venti, while Sara buried her face in her mug to hid her embarrassment.

"What a journey we've taken,
What a journey it's been!

As we've gathered our friends,
And we've turned into kin,

Raise a glass to your brother,
Raise a glass to your sister,

Raise a glass to your lover,
Raise a glass to our kind!"

"One more time!" Venti called out, rallying the group to sing with him.

"What a journey we've taken,
What a journey it's been!

As we've gathered our friends,
And we've turned into kin,

Raise a glass to your brother,
Raise a glass to your sister,

Raise a glass to your lover,
Raise a glass to our kind!"




And so, this story comes to a close.

I'm making my closing remarks here, because I want a little more than what the actual end card gives me.

Thank you all so, so much for reading through this entire story. I seriously can't thank you enough for the support.

It was truly an honor to write for such a kind and thoughtful community, and I sincerely hoped you enjoyed what I had to say.

I'd like to give special thanks to a few readers in particular, who really kept me going on getting this piece finished:

-Moonlightprincess123
-Seth Kalling
-Pupika
-StrangerWager
-Velvetwastaken
-Hotaru
-Michloveyuri
-ZygardeFusion

I love all my readers, but I wanted to give you eight a very special thank you. It wouldn't have been the same without you.

 

Alright, enough of that, I dumped my guts already in C12.

Time to address the elephant in the room: WHAT NEXT?! WHERE GET LUMINE ANGST NOW?!

I can answer one of those questions. The other, you'll have to tell me, because I'm looking for it too (but also maybe check my recommendations on the previous end card).

 

First of all, there's a new piece to the Reignited Luminescence Series: "Nothing Left Unspoken." The first chapter is out right now, so go and give it a read if you still want more from this storyline I've established.

"Nothing Left Unspoken" will be a collection of shorts, each dedicated to a different relationship that was only explored briefly in this piece. They'll usually tend to coincide with the events of the main story, so I wouldn't consider it as a sequel, more of a parallel. Who knows, you might even be able to request a ship there, and I just might write it. As long as it doesn't interfere with anything I established in TSaFS.

So, if you're into the romance element of this story, give it a shot. I started it with my favorite pair in Genshin, can you guess what it is- it's Eulamber. It... yeah it's Eulamber.

 

As for what's on the horizon...

You can expect a mini sequel all about Beidou and Ningguang's Wedding. From planning, to invites, to ceremony, to reception. And, most importantly, all the hijinks that ensue.
(where proposal, you ask? Keep an eye on 'Nothing Left Unspoken.')

Call it self indulgent if you want, but I'm still gonna make it.

 

Additionally, I have two crossovers in mind, both Genshin related, and I'm trying to decide which I'd like to do first.

The first is "Radiant Travelers," featuring Destiny 2. Klee finds a strange looking shell on the beach and brings it back to the Traveler, only for the shell to come back to life and start talking! When it returns to the beach and materializes a person from the ground, how will the world of Teyvat respond to its new Guardian?

This one will be T rated for sure, and its going to be much more light-hearted and adventure focused. Definitely a step away from the angst, so if you want something more fun to get invested into, keep your eyes out for that.

The second crossover on my mind is oddly enough, The Boys. The working title I have so far for this is "Visionless Saviors," and it'll be a very gritty Modern AU featuring some of your favorite characters as superheroes... and not very good ones. If you're unfamiliar with The Boys, fret not. I'm simply going to swap in Genshin characters for the original cast, and loosely follow the plotline of the comics and show. With, differences of course, because I'm not that much of a copycat. Only... some. Let's go with some.

"Visionless Saviors" is for sure going to be rated M. It's going to be violent, with lots of blood, death, and explicit language. In theory it could get angsty...? Who knows. I will say this though, if I do end up making it, don't read if you're a fan of Aether.

 

That's pretty much all I have so far. If you want to comment some suggestions for me, I'd love to figure out what you'd all like to see from me.

Also, tell me what your favorite parts were from TSaFS.

 

Oh, and one more thing...




The lifeless body of Kunikuzushi swayed on the shore, as the morning tides pushed him back and forth.

His eyes still hung lifelessly open, with cracks of Void remnants still visible within the iris.

A set of footsteps began to approach, scattering the surrounding crabs away into the sand.

A shadow fell over the prototype, before a large doll-like hand lowered to scoop him up from the water.

"THERE YOU ARE... THE FIRST OF OUR KIND."

 

The Raiden Shogun plucked the dormant Vision from Scaramouche's belt.

In its hand, a faint glow of purple began to swirl from within.

"COME, KUNIKUZUSHI," it spoke, as it hovered away into the distance. "THERE IS MUCH TO BE DONE."