Actions

Work Header

A Study In Geo

Chapter Text

A/N: Short snippets that explore Zhongli’s daily life now that he’s but a mere mortal. Just to get this out of the way, I’m basing my characterisation on the original Chinese VA directing, as I prefer it to the Japanese/English.

 

P.S Still trying to learn all I can about the world and its characters whilst balancing my schoolwork, so I apologise for any OOC. 

 

P.P.S. If you notice differences from official English translations, it's probably because I disagree with the translations.

 

Inspired by the video “钟离手书” on bilibili and reddit user archonanqi’s “flos” animatic.


A Study in Geo: Ganyu

 

As he walked the streets of Liyue with his hands behind his back, Zhongli couldn’t help but notice how much the city of commerce had changed, and how much more stayed yet the same. The hustle and bustle of the markets grew as shop owners touted their wares and customers haggled for better deals. Several children ran past him playing a game of catch while Millelith soldiers watched and ensured their safety.

 

Just as the sun always rose from the east, the people shall always move forward. The passing of the Lord of Geo had become old news. The very citizens who mourned him were now focused on conducting business as usual. 

 

Zhongli paused in his steps to watch as the morning sun draped the city in golden hues. The corners of his lips tugged upwards in a smile. Three thousand seven hundred years ago, the first contract of Liyue was made. Now that the contract has been fulfilled, so too have Morax’s duties as a God ended.

 

If he were to live another six thousand years as a mortal, would the lifetimes be enough to finally understand what it truly means to live amongst the people?

 

"Mister Zhongli?" he was broken out of his musings by a soft voice. It was Ganyu who called out to him, the half-qilin approaching him with one hand held to her chest. "Ah, so it is you. Have you come to enjoy the morning sun as well?"

 

“Yes,” he said with a contented sigh, “it is a truly beautiful sight to behold.”

 

Ganyu turned her head towards the rising sun and hummed. “Mornings in Liyue have always been breathtaking.” she hesitated, brows furrowing as she spoke with a careful tone. “I... I had a dream, Mister Zhongli, of Rex Lapis wishing us well in a new Liyue. One without him.”

 

“The time of Rex Lapis has passed Ganyu,” he answered, “and please, just Zhongli is fine.”

 

“I see.” she said with a small smile. “Have you had breakfast yet, Zhongli? I would like to treat you to a meal at Wanmin restaurant.”

 

“Oh? To what do I owe the pleasure?” 

 

“Perhaps we could discuss the happenings of the city now that the Qixing are to be the new governing body of Liyue.”

 

“Ah,” Zhongli raised an eyebrow in amusement, “I’m afraid my experience as a humble funeral parlour’s consultant won’t be of much use there.”

 

Ganyu giggled, the sound melodious and light. “That is quite alright. Truth be told, it’s been so long since I’ve had a friend to converse with over breakfast that I’ve begun to forget what it’s like.”

 

“In that case, I would not mind at all.” Zhongli chuckled as Ganyu practically skipped ahead, gesturing for him to follow. As he clasped his hands behind his back, he said, “Hmm. I wonder if Xiangling is cooking today?”

 

“Oh, I hope so! Her cooking is simply delicious, and she always gives me extra portions- Ah, but I have to watch my figure, so maybe it’s best if she’s not in today...”

 

As Zhongli walked beside the ever faithful half-qilin, he wondered if to be mortal meant to enjoy every meal with friends, for you never knew when it would be the last. 

 

Maybe this lifetime, osmanthus wine would taste differently. [1]


A/N: I have a few more planned to scratch at my Genshin writing itch, namely Keqing, Ningguang, and Lumine. (Female Traveller) I haven’t come up with any ideas for other characters yet, so if you have some in mind, feel free to suggest them in a review.


[1]: A reference to one of Zhongli's lines, a chinese poem about how of the original seven gods, only he (and Barbatos) remain to share the memory of osmanthus wine.

Chapter Text

A Study In Geo: Keqing

 

Zhongli regarded the bottle of Dandelion Wine in his hands with disdain. Attached to it was a note that read ‘To times long past. Paid for by the Traveller’ , written in two distinct handwritings.

 

“Tsk. Should I be grateful for, or disgusted by the sentiment?” 

 

He gently placed the bottle on the countertop with an exasperated sigh. He had always regarded that drunkard of a bard as a disgrace, even during the age of the original seven. Barbatos was too carefree, too lax in his duties as a God to his people. 

 

Even so, they were allies. They along with the rest of the seven had spent many nights together in Liyue, drinking and feasting to their hearts’ content as they shared tales of their respective cities under the moonlight.

 

Perhaps one day he would find it in himself to visit Mondstadt and share memories of fonder times with the bard. Until such time came however, he had other matters to attend to. 

 

Zhongli reached into his pockets and pulled out an envelope marked with the stamp of the Qixing. Ganyu had given it to him during their previous breakfast together with an apology for the trouble it would cause him. Her reason for saying such would become clear once he read the letter within.

 

“To the esteemed Mister Zhongli,

 

Lady Ningguang has contracted your services from Wangsheng Funeral Parlour. She believes that your profound knowledge of Liyue’s cultures will assist us in our endeavour to build a new Liyue. One of the people rather than the Gods.

 

Unfortunately, the Lady is at present occupied with her duties. I have taken it upon myself to go in her stead, as it has always been my ambition to create a Liyue unburdened by the old-fashioned traditions of Rex Lapis.

 

Please contact me at your earliest convenience so that I may schedule a meeting. I look forward to a productive afternoon.

 

Regards, Keqing

Yuheng of the Liyue Qixing”

 

Apparently, Hutao didn’t think it necessary to inform him of the transaction, leaving him to find out about it at the last minute. If he had to guess, the irony of the Qixing consulting him on how best to build a new Liyue probably amused her. 

 

Nevertheless, the contract had been made, and it was Zhongli’s responsibility to uphold it. He had agreed to meet Keqing today and discuss their ideas over a business lunch at Wanmin restaurant. Zhongli wondered if she preferred dining there because they weren’t limited to Li or Yue cuisine, unlike Liuli Pavilion and Xinyue Kiosk. 

 

Or maybe she simply enjoyed Xiangling’s cooking. She did seem like the type to be all for the young chef’s more modern style. [1] Zhongli shook his head with a chuckle. He checked that he had a bag of Mora on his person - he really should get accustomed to the idea of an allowance - before exiting the parlour. 

 

The afternoon sun beat down on him as he strolled down the street. The ends of his coat billowed as hot wind blew past, bringing with it the salty scent of the ocean. A wry smirk formed as he remembered the battle as though it happened yesterday. From the mountains he had watched, ready to defend the harbour once more if needed. But he wasn’t.

 

A part of him regretted the thought of leaving behind his people, but were they really his people? The city around him was not the same as it was three thousand and seven hundred years ago. 

 

For as much as he disagreed with Barbatos’ methods… perhaps there had been some merit to his words. The people were free to create their own era now.

 

As he approached Wanmin restaurant, he was greeted by the sight of Liyue’s citizens merrily dining and drinking away. Xiangling was busy serving a table of Millelith soldiers, who were focused on the oldest of their number as he described the battle against Osial. She beamed when she caught sight of him and waved. He smiled and returned her greeting with a nod.

 

Indeed, it is their time now.

 

Zhongli moved towards where Chef Mao had set aside private tables for certain guests. Keqing was already seated at one, the young woman regarding a menu with a frown. She was dressed in her usual attire, although a few strands of her hair were out of place. He found it oddly amusing.

 

“Miss Keqing. I apologise for keeping you waiting.”

 

“Ah-! Oh, Mister Zhongli.” Keqing coughed into her hand to try and hide the fact she lost her composure. “There is no need; it is I who was early. You’re right on time.”

 

As he took a seat opposite her, he couldn’t help but notice the way she eyed a certain portion of the menu. “Are you having trouble deciding what to order?”

 

“N-No, I was actually trying to figure out what a man of your… particular tastes would enjoy.” Zhongli raised an eyebrow. “That is, it would not do for me to offend you. After all, I am a representative of the Qixing.” 

 

Zhongli chuckled. “When Xiangling is cooking, it is better to ask her directly, rather than pick from the menu. Do not worry, she knows of my preferences.”

 

All of the Qixing knew too now, just how and why he was so particular. That was why Keqing was being more careful with her words than before. If he didn’t know any better, he might have even said she felt ashamed because of the times she has spoken bad about Rex Lapis in Zhongli’s presence.

 

His eyes creased with fond amusement. It reminded him of how he had once caught Ganyu snacking on Qingxin flowers when she was young, and how the half-qilin tiptoed around him for a week afterwards in embarrassment.

 

“I see.” Keqing breathed deeply before raising her hand to call Xiangling over.

 

“Miss Keqing, Mister Zhongli.” the young chef greeted them as she approached with a notepad. “Have you both decided on what to order?”

 

“I was advised by Mister Zhongli to ask you for your recommendations.” Keqing said.

 

“Oh! I was experimenting with a new method of preparing Adeptus’ Temptation with Jueyun Chillies. Letting it simmer with the chilli seeds gives it a kick that really whets the appetite! I’ve also made variations to the recipe for Tianshu Meat and Jade Parcels that include ingredients from Mondstadt to enhance the flavour. Would you like to try them?”

 

Zhongli could tell that Xiangling’s passion impressed Keqing, despite the latter looking uncomfortable around the young chef’s boundless energy. “We’ll have all of those then, and a pot of sweetened Qingxin tea.” [2]

 

“Right away! How about you Miss Keqing? I could make you a batch of Golden Shrimp Balls if you’d like.”

 

The Yuheng’s eyes seemed to sparkle for a moment before she composed herself. So even one as strict as Keqing had her own indulgences. Zhongli could understand.  “Ahem. Yes, a plate of those as well. That’s all.” 

 

Xiangling nodded before skipping away with their orders. Keqing visibly relaxed once the young chef was gone, although her shoulders tensed again when her eyes met his.

 

“I suppose we can begin discussing business while the food is being prepared. Would that be fine with you, Mister Zhongli?” The consultant of Wangsheng Funeral Parlour smiled as Keqing addressed him with a formality so obviously forced that it almost made him break out in a chuckle. 

 

“Just Zhongli is fine.” he closed his eyes and hummed. “Actually, I was hoping you could tell me why the Qixing wanted to consult me in the first place.”

 

“Ah. Did I not make it clear in my letter to you?”

 

“I know that you procured my services for my excellent memory.” the knowledge was not his, for it was Guizhong who gifted him the knowledge. And thus, it was his duty to spread the memory of it. “What I do not know is why the Qixing thought I would be of use in building a new Liyue. I believe your words were ‘One of the people, rather than the gods’?”

 

The tips of Keqing’s ears turned red, and the faintest of blushes dotted her cheeks. 

 

“Miss Keqing.” he opened his eyes once more, amber orbs glowing softly. “You once told me that you believed the traditions of old, and the ways of Rex Lapis, were outdated. I admire your conviction, truly. So pray tell, why did the Qixing hire me, an old fashioned funeral consultant? Why did you decide to meet with me?”

 

The Yuheng bit her bottom lip, her brow furrowing in thought. She took a minute to compose her thoughts before she spoke.

 

“I still believe that the old ways must be left behind.” her eyes met his determinedly, glowing with a light of their own. “However, that does not mean we must forget our heritage, or the laws that have allowed us to prosper. Liyue will change for the better, but I believe that means respecting the old as well as embracing the new.

 

“I meant no disrespect to you, or to Rex Lapis. The new Liyue I dream of has a place for the old fashioned as well. After all, to move forward is to learn from the past. If we ignored the past, then… would it be a new Liyue in our future, or just a shadow that failed to break free?”

 

Zhongli hummed as he processed her words. Respecting the old and embracing the new? Was that the vision the Qixing had for the new Liyue?

 

“Interesting. I look forward to seeing you succeed then.”

 

With his curiosity sated, he began to answer some of Keqing’s questions. By the time they were enjoying their meal, their conversation had steered away from business matters as the Yuheng asked him about history as old and even older than the city itself. 

 

As Zhongli shared his memories of Guizhong’s knowledge, he wondered if to be mortal meant to be passionate about their beliefs, but still have the flexibility to adapt. After all, the concept of immortality was foreign to a mortal, and thus, so was the concept of unwavering conviction to one train of thought.

 

Maybe in this lifetime, he would forge new convictions.


A/N: You know, the actual city in the game is rather confusing with which building is which. I tried to use Zhongli’s promotional video to figure out where Wanmin restaurant’s seats actually are, but based on the green banners I can make out during him and Childe’s scene, they’re seated at Third-Round knockout’s tables?!

 

Screw it, because the ingame building for Wanmin is tiny as hell with no actual seats, I’m just gonna guess that one of the nearby buildings is connected. 


[1]: One of Keqing’s voicelines is about how she wanted to hire Xiangling for a banquet due to her reputation, but the slime and lizard tails in Xiangling’s sample dishes caused her to change her mind. 

[2]: We don’t actually get any specifics on the types of tea available (as far as I can tell), so I just made my own assumptions. Qingxin flowers look like white chrysanthemums, which are actually edible in raw form. It depends, but chrysanthemums can taste bitter, much like Qingxin flowers. Thus, where there is sweetened chrysanthemum tea, Teyvat has sweetened Qingxin tea.

Chapter Text

A Study In Geo: Ningguang

 

Although Zhongli enjoyed the occasional stroll through Liyue, he wasn’t quite in the mood for one today. In fact, he had intended to spend the day in the funeral parlour looking over the inventory. But then Hutao waltzed through the doors, took one look at him, and ordered him to take the day off with a playful grin.

 

“You’re not dead enough for my coffins, old man. Get out of here!”

 

Really, that child was rather difficult to deal with sometimes. Even though the inventories didn’t need checking for another two weeks, was it not prudent to finish some of the work sooner? It was unlikely that there’d be a funeral in those two weeks that would negate any checks done today.

 

Or maybe she had a point, and you should’ve put more thought into your post-retirement plans,  

 

A faint silhouette beamed at him with kindness and warmth before fading to dust. Zhongli closed his eyes and shook his head. For as much as he treasured Guizhong’s memories, he hadn’t yet gotten used to the pain it brought. He had to admit though, it was just like her to lecture him over this.

 

What he wouldn’t give to have her company again.

 

Nowadays, with life in Liyue returning to normal, the days seemed to mock him for his immortality - Gnosis notwithstanding - by dragging on longer than necessary. At least with Childe and the Traveller, he had someone to share fascinating tidbits with.

 

In hindsight, he should’ve built more friendships with the people, rather than just professional relationships. It was strange how he seemed to keep a distance between himself and the mortals even while he walked among them.

 

But he was working on that now. That was what mattered.

 

Zhongli considered his options for the day as he neared the harbour where the two fishmongers would no doubt be up to their barely-legal tricks. As he was about to head back to the funeral parlour however, a strange sight caught his attention.

 

Everyone knew about Little Lulu, Little Meng, and Little Feo. The trio played pirates on one of the ships docked almost every morning. It was hardly surprising that they’d be there today. What was surprising was the regal woman next to them.

 

Ningguang hid a smile behind one hand as she watched over the children. The Tianquan drew the curious gaze of onlookers, only to chase them away with a quick glance in their direction. 

 

Feeling his eyes on her, Ningguang turned her head in his direction, crimson eyes widening for but a moment as they met amber ones. Her surprise in seeing him disappeared quickly with a sharp nod. 

 

“Miss Ningguang,” he greeted her, “I did not expect to see you here.”

 

“There is no need to be so formal with me, Zhongli.” she said. “The contract I signed with Miss Hutao said you were to be an equal, not a subordinate.”

 

He chuckled. “So it did. Might I ask what you’re doing here on such a fine day, Ningguang?”

 

The woman looked back to the ship where the children played, her eyes crinkling as she formed her reply. “I suppose I am acquainting myself with the common folk.”

 

“And unofficially?”

 

“I am bidding farewell to an old friend.” Ningguang hummed. “You know better than most what it feels like, don’t you? To let go of something you laboured over for so long?”

 

The Jade Chamber... Yes, he could see how it would be a massive loss for her. Not just financially, but emotionally as well. He considered offering her his sympathies, but with what little he knew of her, he was certain she wouldn’t appreciate it.

 

“It must’ve been a difficult decision to make.” he said instead. “I respect the strength you must have to be able to.”

 

“Hm. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it felt like a part of myself was ripped from me. But, I suppose I’ve come to terms with it.” 

 

Zhongli raised an eyebrow. “Oh?” 

 

“The Qixing’s hold over Liyue has only strengthened with the passing of Rex Lapis.” Ningguang said with an amused glint in her eyes. “This… I consider it an opportunity to be acted upon, rather than something to be grieved. Mora lost can be regained, and plans to rebuild the Jade Chamber grander than ever before are already in place.”

 

She spoke with such determination that Zhongli was convinced he’d see the Jade Chamber in Liyue’s skies in half the time it first took the Tianquan. For a moment, he saw the child who walked from Yaoguang Shoal to the south wharf barefooted as she worked to defy her poverty. It impressed him to this day how much she had grown.

 

“I wish you good luck then.”

 

“I do not believe in luck, ” Ningguang smirked, “but I appreciate the sentiment. Thank you.”

A comfortable silence descended upon them as Ningguang resumed her pondering, staring out into the open sea. Zhongli noticed how her eyes drifted towards the children, and the melancholy in her eyes were replaced with a gentleness he didn’t realise she had. 

 

"With your brawn and my brains, this city would surely become a great one."

 

He blinked and shook his head, willing away the image of Guizhong watching their people with a smile. 

 

“Is something wrong, Zhongli?” Ningguang asked, having noticed his actions.

 

“I’m fine, I was simply reminded of an old friend. Your words have made me sentimental.”

 

“An old friend, you say.” the woman commented dryly. “Well, I must be returning to my work soon, so I’ll leave you to reminisce.”

 

Saying thus, Ningguang walked up to the children, offering them sweets and earning wide smiles in return. They looked sad when she told them she had to leave, just like how the children of Guili Plains looked whenever Guizhong told them it was bedtime.

 

Ningguang was not Guizhong however. Zhongli knew that. [1]

 

“You miss her, don’t you?” Ningguang said as she approached him.

 

“I do. I was a different person back then. I did not appreciate our bond as much as I should’ve.”

 

“Well then, I’m sure you won’t make the same mistake again. All the best, Zhongli.” she said as she sauntered past him. “Perhaps with time, our contract will lead to a relationship of mutual respect, hm?”

 

“Perhaps.” he said to himself.

 

It was true that he had never been knowledgeable in regards to matters of the heart. Only recently did he realise that Guizhong’s death had saddened him, but not because he had lost a friend. Rather, it was because he hadn’t learnt to love her yet. It was a strange thing to realise that he could say the same thing about all those he had lost.

 

Had Rex Lapis really been such a distant God, who didn’t know how to love in the ways that mattered?

 

Maybe in this lifetime, he would learn to love at last.


A/N: I had a bit of a nerd-out with some of the people I hang with who also play Genshin, and now I’m stuck trying to decide if I want this series to have some kind of plot, or keep it as a SoL snippets series without anything dramatic. Maybe a mix of both? I’ll figure it out sometime down the line.

 

I have to say, it’s been a while since I’ve wanted to write about something as much as A Study in Geo. Last time was… well, my very first story, which in hindsight was terribly written in the spur of a moment by younger me. I’m looking forward to seeing more of what people think as the chapter count increases. Thanks for the support thus far.


[1]: Whilst I am all for having headcanons that make the fiction more interesting, the whole “Ningguang is Guizhong reincarnated” thing spits on so many things that… I can’t genuinely support people who subscribe to it. I’ll just have to agree to disagree in that regard.

Nerd rant: If one really wanted to write a ZhongliXGuizhong fic, then write about Guizhong before she died, or bring her back in the form of a spirit for maximum fluff without angst. Don’t just desecrate her memory damn it!

Chapter Text

A Study in Geo: Hu Tao

Two hands slammed down on the wooden desk, the pressure causing the ornate piece of furniture to crack. The sound reverberated throughout the funeral parlour and shook its very walls. The Ferrylady winced, Meng jumped out of his skin, and nearby citizens regarded the building with barely-concealed concern. So sudden the sound was that every person in a kilometer radius was surprised by it.

Every person except Zhongli, who looked up from the letter he was writing to regard his boss with an inquiring gaze.

"Yes, Director Hu?"

Director Hu, or as she preferred it, Hu Tao, grinned from ear to ear. The short girl raised her arm and pointed a finger at Zhongli, almost poking him between the eyes.

"My dear consultant," she said, "isn't it about time for you to start your journey?"

Zhongli blinked. "I don't understand."

Hu Tao jumped back from the table with a dramatic sigh. "Zhongli, Zhongli. I know you're practically an old man in a young body, but surely you haven't gone senile on me."

"Director Hu-"

"Your afterlife, you big dummy." Hu Tao giggled and stuck her tongue out. "Shouldn't you be getting on with it?"

Zhongli wasn't the type who was easily shocked, but at that very moment he felt his shoulders stiffen, his breathing pause, and his posture straighten.

"I mean, you weren't exactly subtle about it." Hu Tao continued with a hum. "Gotta admit though, your little stunt was magnificent. Who taught you such theatre?"

The archon sucked in a breath. "How long have you known?"

"Heehee. That doesn't really matter, does it? Right now, all that matters is that I help you with your journey in the afterlife, as is my duty as the 77th director of Wangsheng Funeral Parlour!"

Slowly, Zhongli pushed himself off his seat. Clearing his throat as he adjusted his collar, he addressed Hu Tao with a stern gaze. "Director Hu, while I admire your determination in upholding your responsibilities, I'm afraid I cannot allow you to act this time."

"And why is that?"

The wisdom Guizhong gifted him from a life long past, the promise he made to her that he'd yet to uphold. The lessons he had learnt in recent times, and the realisation that there was still much for him to learn. Zhongli crossed his arms and sighed.

"... I have yet to live the rest of my human life."

Hu Tao tilted her head and looked at him as though wondering if he was being serious.

"Duh. What did you think I meant?" The girl laughed in the face of his apparent confusion. "This is your 'after life', isn't it? Like everyone else who enters it, you'll need a guide to make sure you don't get lost along the way."

Hu Tao stuck a hand out towards Zhongli, a cheshire cat grin on her face.

"I'm offering you my services as a guide in your 'after life'. The package includes numerous benefits, but there's only one you need to pay attention to, which is that I will be your companion throughout."

Zhongli looked at Hu Tao and really, truly considered her. She was a strange one, which was really saying something given that he'd seen plenty of strange individuals in six thousand years. Despite her eccentricities however, Zhongli could admit that she was wise in her own way. Perhaps it had to do with the responsibilities she had to shoulder at such a young age. Perhaps presiding over death and beyond gave her a different perspective.

Hu Tao was strange, but Zhongli didn't find her company unwelcome. As annoying as she could be at times, she provided something new and refreshing.

His boss waved her hand that was still outstretched. "Well?"

As Rex Lapis, he needed the guiding hand of Guizhong to show him compassion. Through her lessons, he learnt that there was more to life than war. That making connections which brought him down to Teyvat were just as important as destroying those who sought to rip it away from him.

Would it be so different then, that as Zhongli, he'd need the guiding hand of mortals to show him how to be human? Tartaglia, the Traveller, and recently even the Qixing. There was so much to learn from the people. Wouldn't he be lost if he tried to go at it alone?

Zhongli nodded. "I see. Before I agree, I must know, what am I to offer such that this contract is an equal trade?"

Once again, Hu Tao looked at him as though she was trying to discern if he was being serious or not. Suddenly, she threw her head back with laughter.

"Haha! My dear consultant, don't you know what a friend is?" she said as she wiped a tear from her eye. "Friends don't need incentive to do things for each other, dummy."

"Ah." That was something Guizhong tried to teach him, wasn't it? Friends helped each other. Not because they were allies in a war, not because they didn't want to become enemies, and not because of a binding contract, but simply because they were friends. "I see."

"Great!" Hu Tao apparently got tired of waiting, because she had her ghostly… pet, pull his arm towards hers so that she could shake it. "Now there's some things you need to keep in mind. When it comes to the funeral parlour's business, I'm still your boss. Outside of that, I'm your friend, so feel free to ask me about anything your godly mind can't understand, 'kay?"

"I understand."

"Also, even though friends hang out, I can't just let you or myself take leave whenever. We still have a business to take care of, funerals to conduct."

"Of course."

Hu Tao grinned. "One more thing. Sometimes, I might ask for your help as a friend. Don't leave me hanging, alright?"

"Of-" Zhongli paused, considered the request properly, and rectified his answer. "It would depend on what you need my help with, Director Hu."

"Nothing too ghastly, I swear!" Hu Tao said whilst giggling, instantly making Zhongli wary. "Oh, and for archon's sake, call me Hu Tao outside of business you stuffy old man-dragon!"

With her final words, Hu Tao bounded out of the room, all the while humming some silly tune. Zhongli shook his head with an exasperated sigh. It reminded him of when he had to deal with one of Barbatos' more unusual pranks. It was… it was…

Oddly pleasant.

To be annoyed by those he called friends, yet still consider their company pleasant. Something so contradictory was considered normal for mortals, wasn't it?

Zhongli hummed as he sat back down, returning to the letter he had been writing. Suddenly, the idea that he'd learn what it meant to be human in this lifetime didn't feel so out of reach.


A/N: There are rumours that Zhongli will be getting a second story quest in an upcoming update. if it's true, I'm hoping it either delves further into the archon war (more specifically, his relationship with Guizhong), or updates us on how he's been getting on as a mortal.

Either way, that's assuming it's true. If not, I'll just settle for a rerun of his banner. Been considering trying for C2. I mean, it's either that or save for both Eula and Ayaka, but do I really need two more Cryo Queens when I already have Ganyu?

I'll probably figure it out by the time this story reaches its third main arc or something.

Oh and in case it wasn't obvious enough, yes, Hu Tao will be joining Zhongli in future chapters. I like their Funny man and Straight man dynamic.

Chapter Text

A Study Interlude: A Bard & A Bartender

 

Angel’s Share was often filled to the brim with Mondstadt’s citizens. Whether they wanted to end the day with a relaxing drink with friends, or to drown their sorrows as they mourned a long-lost friend, it was not the place of the employees to judge their clientele. So long as they didn’t stir up any trouble and paid their bill, Angel’s Share was open to anyone.

 

The Bard was an exception.

 

The employees at Angel’s Share never understood why Master Diluc allowed Mondstadt’s favourite carefree bard to drink at the bar for free. Nor could they understand why he usually showed up past closing time, and why Master Diluc sent everyone else home before serving him.

 

But of course, since it was Master Diluc, no one thought much of it. Perhaps the young man had found a confidante in the bard. Perhaps they were something more.

 

Venti was particularly tickled by that rumour the first time he heard it from the winds’ whispers.

 

“Eheh~”

 

“Something the matter, bard?”

 

Venti opened his eyes to the ever-stoic face of Diluc. Only the subtlest raising of an eyebrow confirmed that the redhead did in fact speak up, and that Venti wasn’t imagining things in a drunken stupor.

 

“Nothing to worry about Master Diluc, just a funny rumour I heard once.”

 

Diluc huffed. “Considering the rumours I’m accustomed to, I find it’s best to be cautious.” he stopped wiping the glass in his hand to check it, before putting it away with a nod. “We wouldn’t want another impossible assassination to cause unnecessary grief, would we?”

 

He placed another glass of wine before Venti, his actions slow and deliberate.

 

“Of course not.” Venti sipped on the sweet liquor gratefully. 

 

The thought of him losing his friend and becoming the last of the original seven caused a sharp pain not unlike when Signora tore his Gnosis from him. It was an unfathomable agony that would’ve brought him to his knees and clutching at his chest, had he not learnt from Lumine that Morax still lived.

 

Now, he instead felt a different kind of pain. The unmistakable tinge of sorrow that the blockhead hadn’t thought to let him know that he wasn’t about to be left behind, sympathy for his old friend, and disappointment in himself for not noticing Morax’s troubles before.

 

An interesting concoction, though it certainly wasn’t to his liking.

 

Diluc observed the bard with furrowed eyebrows, trying to discern what emotions he was going through. Pain was not new to him of course. After his father’s death, and the trials he faced before returning to the city of Winds, it was practically an old friend. However, what was his pain when compared to that of an Archon who had lived for millennia?

 

He once wondered if the Archons even experienced pain the same way humans did, or if their existence differed so much that to empathise with them was a foolish notion. Regardless, it was difficult to look at the bard before him and not feel some sort of pity.

 

The look on Venti’s face was unbefitting of him. If the bard wouldn’t do anything to lift his own spirits, and Lumine wasn’t here to do it for him, then who else was there? Besides, Diluc could only waive his bill so many more times.

 

A heavy sigh escaped the redhead’s lips.

 

“Why not pay your friend a visit?” 

 

Venti looked up from his drink, a small smile painted on his lips.

 

“Our friendship is... complicated. I can’t be sure that he wouldn’t blow me back to Mondstadt the moment we lay eyes on each other.”

 

Diluc rolled his eyes. In other words, they were in a similar situation to him and K- no. He wasn’t going there.

 

“From what I know of him,” he knew very little from folktales and Venti’s drunken rants, “so long as you don’t make a fool of yourself, you’ll be fine. Besides, it’d probably do you some good.”

 

“I dunno…”

 

“Perhaps if you went with some company, he’d be less likely to chase you out. Call it a vacation of sorts.”

 

“Oh? Are you offering, Master Diluc?”

 

Diluc scoffed. “I have business here to tend to. I was thinking more along the lines of Lumine and her companion.”

 

Venti hummed. “You know what, you’re right I’ll pay that old blockhead a visit and give him a piece of my mind.” a playful grin sprung onto his face. “I’ll need some of your finest dandelion wine for the trip.”

 

The next day, citizens of Mondstadt would tell their friends that they witnessed the infamous bard giggling as Master Diluc threw him out of Angel’s Share with twitching eyebrows in the wee hours of the night, and yet another rumour would be born.


A/N: I have two more projects to rush out in two weeks. After that, a month or so break before my third year and internship. After that, I have to deal with two years of National Service! Woe is me, I shouldn’t have started writing in this period of my life.

 

Jokes aside, that’s why updates will be slow for a bit.