Watching Kaeya almost run out of the Cathedral made them wonder just how bad this situation really is.
“Fucking idiot,” Diluc hissed, wincing as he twisted and pulled on a wound.
“Can you blame him for being worried?” Jean shot him a glare, slightly satisfied he was in pain at that moment.
“Of course not,” he admitted. “But running off on his own, right after telling us someone is watching us?” and his deadpan look made her deflate a bit. “He’s being a reckless idiot.”
“Reminds me of someone else I know,” the anemo muttered, avoiding his look.
He didn’t answer, instead looking down at his bandaged hands: “How long have you been here?”
Sighing, she sat back down: “Since you were brought in? Hours at least.”
“And Kaeya?” Jean tilted her head in confusion.
“We got here together and never left your side.”
Diluc froze, eyes defocusing for a moment. Kaeya was here for hours, waiting for him to wake up.
Why? Why would he bother? Diluc didn’t deserve that sort of concern. And it’s not like it was the first time he had been exploded and burned.
Ah, he probably wanted information. Had to be it. The cryo was likely doing his own thing, as usual, and wondered if his own accident was somehow connected. Maybe the stalker was just an excuse for him to leave after being told there are people in the city.
“You’re thinking really loudly over there,” Jean’s voice brought him back to his sorry state.
“Nothing, just chiding myself for being careless.” He waved her off. “If Kaeya wants to go off and get himself killed, he can be my guest.”
The Grand Master gave him a very unimpressed look, her arms crossing: “I never pegged you for a liar, Diluc.”
He looked away, frowning. She didn’t even need to try and catch his lie. It was taking all his willpower not to go rushing off after the Captain.
“…Why are you like that?” and she sounded sad, eyes softening. “Acting like you hate him, pushing him away every chance you get?”
The temperature suddenly flared, his eyes turned to her and she could feel sweat collecting on her brow.
“Why?” and the word was hiss out, teeth bared. “Because it’s the only way I can keep him safe.”
She tried to speak, but the redhead pushed ahead: “Because I destroy everything I touch! Because I’m nothing more than a weapon to be aimed and used! He has every right to hate and be disgusted by me and I’ll never put him into a position where he would have to pretend otherwise!”
The air was stuffy and suffocating, Jean’s eyes wide in horror and shock. Sitting there, shell shocked, she couldn’t stop the pyro from throwing the covers off, grabbing his things – including the letter – and leaving.
“I’ll see you later,” he said coolly, the temperature slowly lowering, and left the room.
Jean sat there, staring at where he had been, before lowering her head into her hands and trying to calm her breathing.
There was a pounding in his ears, his body feeling cold and numb, breath coming out in soft, white puffs.
The man in front of him was still smiling, eyes boring down into him with such intensity it almost made his head spin. Those same eyes he saw in his nightmares and fear when he would see them again. He could hardly even see the other two strangers, the world fuzzy past the figure in front of him.
There was a voice, screaming in his mind, that he should run and hide and fight and scream . But he couldn’t get his voice to speak aloud, too tight with fear.
“Nothing to say to me?” and he sounded so smug, self-satisfied that Kaeya clenched his fists.
“ You abandoned me!” he wanted to yell.
“ Left me alone, with strangers in a strange land! ” the accusation burned in his mind.
“You don’t get to walk back into my life, pretending nothing happened!”
But none of that made it past his thoughts, as he shakily managed to speak: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
It took all his focus to keep his voice from shaking, but the delivery was cold and hard, and he was aware he was digging his nails into his palm.
And he laughed. The bastard had the audacity to laugh, head thrown back. The two other people seemed confused, yet did nothing.
“I see,” he spoke again when he regained himself, amused. “This area is crowded indeed,” and he glanced back, to where the knights were eying them a bit suspiciously.
The cryo was grateful for that – it kept him from a bigger outburst. It made him keep himself in check – can’t have his fellow knights see him break down, could he?
“Where would you wish to talk, then?” he continued on as if he couldn’t read the Knight in front of him.
Maybe he really couldn’t. Not like he knew the first thing about him.
“I know a lovely tavern, down near the market district.”
As soon as the fresh night air hit him, Diluc felt himself calming down. The anger and self-hate he usually keeps deep down manifested itself so quickly, he feared he would have lit something on fire.
Exhaling deeply, he walked to the edge of the wall, eyes closed, just… breathing. He will have to apologize to Jean later. It’s been… years since he raised his voice, against anyone, especially like that.
Rubbing his face, the pyro inhaled the cold air, feeling it burn slightly, exhaled, his breath a slight puff. He needed something to get his mind off whatever happened…
There was a crinkle as the letter he had stuffed into a pocket let itself be known. Frowning, Diluc figured he might as well.
Hello hot redhead
Annnnnd he already hated where this was likely going.
Hello hot redhead
I really hope you wake up and read this because if not, I might’ve accidentally killed one of the most gorgeous people I’ve ever seen.
Wanted to apologize for that by the way. I didn’t know those… whatever they were had exploding barrels. Who taught them alchemy?
Either way, thanks for saving my ass – I hope to be able to… repay you properly *wink wink*
Not sure when I’m gonna be in the city next, but I’m sure I’d notice your pretty head in the crowd, so if a handsome, charming fellow walks up to you and asks you out, don’t punch
him in the face – thanks.
Hope you feel better soon
Rolling his eyes, Diluc looked at the piece of paper as if he could convey how unimpressed he was to the one who wrote it. If he were lucky, he wouldn’t run into them again.
When was the last time someone called you gorgeous?
Gritting his teeth against the voice in his head, he crushed the letter and stuffed it back into his pocket. He could deal with his own personal issues later when he was alone.
But that came after his meeting with Kaeya and Jean, and then the apology he owed the latter. The sooner he finished here, the sooner he could go back to his isolation.
Turning towards the Headquarters he walked slowly, wanting more time between seeing Kaeya again and having to see Jean’s face. But as he neared the end, he saw a group – more like three facing one.
His vision reacted in an instant, and he was grateful he wasn’t holding anything flammable as walked closer.
Still hardly able to form words, Kaeya wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. Not as much as he should.
But these people were.
Suddenly, all the amusement faded from- … from his father’s face, replaced by a falsely kind mask.
“Ah, Master Ragnvindr,” he called and Kaeya felt a whole new wave of coldness engulf him. “What a surprise seeing you here.”
How did his father know Diluc? When had that happened? How much did either of them know?
His mind spinning, the Captain barely remembered the redhead’s earlier words – about how he knew there were dangerous people about. Was he talking about this group? How did they meet then?
“Ihtald,” Diluc’s voice was hard, yet polite. And the name sounded wrong coming from his tongue. “I see you found your way back safely.”
He still stood there, frozen, just barely able to turn his head to see the pyro walking up to the group, displeased. It put his father into his blind spot, but given how cold he felt, he imagined the ice would react before he could.
“And you seem to have run into some trouble?” Ihtald raised an amused eyebrow, and the green-haired woman snorted into her hand.
Diluc took it all in stride: “Standard thing – have to keep my winery safe.” And then his eyes turned to the cryo. “And Mondstadt.”
A whole-body shiver ran down his spine at the words, because the tone was the same as back then. The same coldness that was worse than whatever powers he could inflict.
“I had no idea you were such a… protector,” it came out as an insult almost, he and the green-haired one amused.
“Someone has to,” and the distaste in the redhead’s voice was clearly meant for the Knights.
“Well, then we should let you go on your way,” Ihtald gave a mocking bow of his head. “Good night gentlemen,” and with a meaningful look thrown Kaeya’s way, he left.
The woman shot them both a smirk and went after, while the last member – still hooded, didn’t even glance in their direction, simply walking with their companions. They were the only one of the trio fully tensed however and didn’t seem to want to involve themselves in the verbal exchange.
The two waited, made sure the trio was far away before either of them dared to breathe out.
Kaeya was still close to panic, still unable to move or form proper words. Diluc, however, didn’t seem to have any such qualms.
“I should have known,” he hissed, eyes burning into the cryo. “Of course you would be working with them!”
It took him a few seconds to process that, but when he did, Kaeya took a step back, eye wide and stammering: “W-What?!”
“It’s no wonder they knew where to look!” the pyro frowned. “You told them about the Delusion! You’re working with them to-,”
“Are you fucking serious right?!”
Their combined high emotions swirled around them, creating a soft wind that moved their hair and bits of dust off the ground.
“I’ve seen them! Their eyes are just like yours!” Diluc growled back, swinging his arm in a wide arc. “I would have thought you’d do better to try and keep whatever you’re doing here secret.”
“I’m not working with them!” Kaeya doesn’t remember the last time he yelled, but here he was. “I had no idea they were even here until just now! Which, surprisingly, you’ve known before!”
“They came to my home this morning! I came here to tell you as soon as I could.”
“And you’re here, accusing me of – of working with them, why? Because we share the same eyes?!”
“You admitted to me you were a spy years ago! Is it really such a stretch to think these are the people you’re spying for ? Especially after what happened to father?”
And that felt like a slap to the face because Diluc was right , but for the wrong reasons. He suddenly couldn’t breathe, back in the forest on that rainy day, feeling the same hate-
A strong wind suddenly whipped around them, knocking both of them away from each other, even knocking them on their backs. It broke whatever focus they had on each other, as they heard booted feet moving down the stone steps.
“Enough!” Jean stood there, back straight, eyes wide and mad, hair whipping wildly around her, the strong wind visibly swirling. “I’ll not have you two bicker like children in the middle of the square at this hour!”
Both of them blinked up at her, stumped, shared a look and glanced away ashamed. Slowly, they got to their feet, Diluc wincing as he still hasn’t fully healed, Kaeya taking a couple of calming breaths.
“Good,” she said, arms crossed, standing between them. “Now I believe we all have something to discuss. Inside,” and she walked past.
“Jean-,” Diluc’s words were cut short by the glare she gave him, and the redhead had the decency to look away, ashamed.
“We were-,” Kaeya tried, but was met with the same expression, a swirl of wind to the face.
“In. Side.” She repeated slowly, eyeing them both, and then walked away.
The guards in front of the HQ scrambled to stand at attention, yet the Grand Master didn’t even glance in their direction, simply walked past and through the door, leaving it open.
“So… that was him?” Egith asked on their way back.
“Yes,” Ihtald held a grin, almost proud. “He’s grown up quite well.”
“Certainly took more after his mother,” she commented, glancing at the side.
He let out a short huff, choosing to ignore her comment: “Where is Oser?”
She simply shrugged, so he turned back to their third companion.
Terwy looked up, bangs under their eyes and signed: ‘He said he would rest.’ At the confused tilt of the man’s head, they added: ‘Interesting day.’
“I swear if he’s getting drunk…” Egith sighed, rubbing her forehead.
“He did his job, I suppose, so we can let him rest,” Ihtald didn’t look at her, but saw the disgusted frown on her face.
“Why must we keep him around? He’s nothing but a hindrance.”
“He is our best scout and infiltrator.” Came the easy reply.
“I don’t like him.”
“You don’t have to,” and she got a glare for her comment. “Do your job, as he does his, and you two won’t have to interact much.”
Getting up, neither tried to help the other, just made their way towards the opened door. The guards in front didn’t dare look at them, looking wildly into every other direction.
The hallway was as bright as always, sparsely decorated, militant. As expected. There were two Knights in the hall, each by their own door – Wood and Wyratt. They also didn’t seem interested in looking at the two.
The door to Jean’s office was open, so Kaeya moved first, quickly followed by Diluc, who closed it afterwards. Jean was looking out the window behind her desk, arms crossed over her chest.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” her voice was still hard but lacked the anger from before.
The two moved at the same time, Kaeya moving to the right, leaning against the table, while Diluc went to the left, sitting down on the slightly raised platform between the railings.
It lasted a minute, the pyro looking down between his feet, the cryo’s head tilted towards the map hanging on the wall. Neither spoke or looked at the other, up until the Grand Master turned, hands on her desk.
“We best be quick,” her voice was quiet, but her eyes were steady. “What do we know about these strangers?”
It was clear she wasn’t about to try and get them to explain what had happened, something they were grateful for.
“They came to Mondstadt yesterday,” Kaeya spoke up, glad to have something more official to focus on than his own emotions. “There were four of them, from what Lawrence explained, although it’s possible they’re not all together.”
“Do we know where they came from?” Jean looked between them, saw them tense and readied herself for an answer she wouldn’t like.
The redhead looked up at the Captain, and there was a look in his eyes, almost worry, but it was ignored when Kaeya said: “Khaenri'ah.”
A tense silence settled over them – Diluc looking away, the Grand Master’s eyes widening. But there was no more elaboration, and the cryo himself was as tense as a bowstring.
“…I see…” she gave a nod, filing that away for later. “Do we know their names?”
A shared look, the redhead clearing his throat before speaking again: “Their leader, I believe, is Ihtald. The green-haired woman is named Egith. And the final companion, purple-haired from what I saw, is Terwy. Whether or not those are their true names, I cannot say, but that’s how they introduced themselves.”
Nodding, Jean quickly scribbled that down before motioning with her hand for him to continue.
“The three of them arrived at the winery this morning,” Diluc picked up, gaze still down. “They were looking for my father.”
A pause, the room a strange mix of coldness and heat, but it was cleared quickly by an almost invisible breeze.
“Why?” the anemo asked, clearly confused. “He’s… dead.” She hesitated to say it, and neither of the two gave a reaction but she knew better.
Sighing, he looked up, and seemed exhausted: “He had something that they wanted back. Asked me about it, but didn’t explain so I couldn’t tell them anything other than his things were lost.”
Jean nodded, adding another piece to this strange puzzle. She was just about to speak again when the Captain beat her to it.
“They’re after me.” His voice was so small, whispered and slightly shaky, that neither of the other two was sure they heard him.
“No,” the pyro shook his head, making Kaeya look up in surprise. “No, they couldn’t. Ihtald said he was looking for something that my father had. Something that belonged to him. He wouldn’t talk like that if it was a person.”
A weak and bitter chuckle escaped the cryo, making both of his friends look up in surprise. The expression on his face conveyed how wrong that line of thought was.
“Ihtald… Is my father.” The words were heavy on his tongue, his limbs suddenly feeling cold. “I’m sure he imagines he owns me.”
Another heavy silence, and then suddenly, the whole room felt like a furnace, Diluc’s vision glowing bright, his eyes wide and horrified.
“I’ll kill him.” The words were uttered with such conviction, such anger that it made the other two stand up and get ready to stop him from moving.
“Diluc,” Jean warned, already on the other side of her desk. “You can’t commit murder-“
His gaze moved to her and she felt pinned, her skin too tight and breathing stale air.
“Hey, hey!” Kaeya called, stepping closer, his own icy fear meeting the fiery anger, soothing it. “Calm down. You can’t touch him, not yet, but if we get him…” he left the option open.
The pyro looked at him, eyes clearly not seeing much, blinked and slowly the temperature of the room returned to normal. The promise of… vengeance or some twisted justice made him think more on it for the future, not the present.
Kaeya didn’t want to think about what pushed the redhead too far, he didn’t think he even wanted to know.
“What are we doing then?” Diluc asked, voice hard but seemingly placated for now.
“We need more information…” Jean sighed, rubbing her forehead. “Kaeya-,”
“I’ll give you all that I can but… it’s not going to be much,” the Captain understood instantly. “I hardly remember most of my time back in Khaenri'ah.”
“Any little bit will be helpful,” the anemo offered a kind smile. “If they’re after-… After you,” she forced herself to say it. “Then we need to up security around you.”
“No, no, don’t do that!” the cryo put his hands up, eye focused. “I have a better idea.”
Two sets of eyes settled on him, and he just gave a nervous grin. “They don’t know what I’ve been doing here.”
A moment, before Diluc was hyper-focused on him again: “Absolutely fucking not!”
It took them both by surprise but he didn’t seem to care: “You’re not going to walk up to them, pretend to be a spy to see what you can figure out!”
A voice in Kaeya’s mind screamed ‘ He doesn’t think you’re really a traitor’ but he pushed it away.
“It’s our best chance to learn what we can.” He tried to explain, tried to keep his voice from shaking, from showing how much he didn’t want to do this.
“No, it’s too risky,” even Jean was shaking her head, clearly displeased. “There’s nothing stopping them from nabbing you and leaving.”
“You have such little faith in my skills?” he tried to joke but was met with two stony and unimpressed looks. “Ouch, rough crowd.”
“We’re still missing one,” the pyro spoke up. “The report said there were four. So far, we’ve only seen three.”
“Maybe Jean was right – the fourth one could be unconnected in all of this.”
“Still better to veer on the side of caution,” the Grand Master lightly shook her head. “Perhaps we’ve simply not had the pleasure of making their acquaintance.”
“Let’s hope it stays that way,” Diluc ground out, clenching and unclenching his fist.
“From now on, we should work under the assumption they’re paying attention to everything we say and do,” Jean leaned onto the desk, eyeing both of them carefully. “While the more people that know the better, this is turning into a sensitive matter. Nothing leaves this room.”
They nodded, fully understanding the weight of the situation.
“Maybe we could spy back on them?” the redhead offered.
“Can try, but I don’t think they ever communicate in such a common tongue…” Kaeya sighed, rubbing his face. “If I could-,”
“No,” the other two shot him down instantly. “We’ll work without it then.”
Rolling his eye, the cryo put his hands up in surrender: “Okay, okay, you win.”
Jean gave a nod, turning back to her notes, but he caught Diluc looking at him with a distrustful expression.
Maybe he still thinks you’re a traitor.
“You can stay here tonight,” the anemo offered, looking up at the redhead. “It’s far too late and you’re still hurt. Barbra can come and check your wounds again in the morning.”
Loath as he was to admit it, Diluc knew he was in no shape to move around for such a journey, especially when they would likely be spied on from now on.
“Thank you,” he nodded his head.
“I’ll show you to your room,” Kaeya offered before he could think better of it, taking all three by surprise.
A pause and then the pyro nodded again: “If you wish…”
The walk was silent, neither of them really knowing how to start a conversation. Not after what happened outside.
“Here you go,” Kaeya stopped by a door, giving a smile.
Diluc nodded, a small smile on his face as well before he looked at the door. There, on the doorframe, was a scratch mark, carved into the wood.
C. D. R.
Kaeya, using a small knife and carving the initials into the wood.
Diluc, laughing, trying to stop him, but not trying too hard.
Jean, keeping an eye out for any senior knights.
“Done,” he said, a self-satisfied grin on his face.
“You’re crazy!” the redhead was covering his mouth, trying to hide his laughter.
“They might not even notice,” she walked over, eyeing it.
Captain Diluc Ragnvindr
Inhaling sharply, the pyro swallowed, eyes closed and put a shaking hand on the initials. Those days… so long ago…
Kaeya hesitated, wanted to reach out and pat him on the shoulder, but decided against it. Instead, just offered a grin: “Get some rest. Barbra is going to be here tomorrow.”
As he turned and left to head to his own room – just a few doors down – the cryo heard a whisper: “Thank you.” When he turned around to check if it really happened, the door was closed softly.
“…Good night, Luc.”