Silver and crystalline ice. Sharp but fragile. The unsheathed blade swung with finesse, practiced and embedded with years of loathed existence. It pointed toward the raging flames.
Betrayal. Where art thou loyalty, oh child? You were not spared to play house. You were kept alive to serve a purpose. Our purpose. Fleeting times warrant you no freedom. Do not mistake your abandonment for false security. You are ours. Thou shall not be spared.
“You speak some interesting things.” The cheerful man uttered as he coated his blade with his ice, and surrounded himself with cold mist. His eyes sparkled under the moonless sky, where stars also hid behind the clouds.
The darkness settled between him and the pyro abyss herald.
You who have been given a chance, how dare you side with them. Have you gone blind? Or do you wish to lose your other eye? If punishment is what you seek, I shall gladly deliver.
The man smirked, amused that the herald even had the audacity to converse with him instead of cutting him down at that instant. “That is a notion I would gladly explore.”
Foolish child. I will bind you down.
“Indeed.” He eased a wry smile, and as much as it was directed to his enemy, he knew it was more for himself.
The breeze stopped, as if in a vacuum. Then, the release of a heavy exhale.
Blades clashed. Fire met ice.
The melting melody commenced a dance that broke the vessels. The flames raged to consume, the ice grew to encage. The elements ring with fervor will, chasing ideals on one to destroy the faulty cog and one to escape the chains of fate. The ground cried as blood spilled, of burns and frostbite, of armors breaking apart and wings being clipped out.
Minutes turned to an hour, spent and feeding off adrenaline.
The two stand.
One must fall.
The man weaved a pained smile, even as blood spilled with it, and as his hidden eye broke free from under his eyepatch, the fight decided itself.
The cavalry captain smirked at himself as he pushed the ice shard he had conjured deeper into his wound, one that slashed through his right side. It was the better option than letting the blood spurt out profusely and drain him to death as he trekked away from the cliffside boundary of Mondstadt and Liyue.
The pain seared through him despite the numbness provided by the cold and no one could blame him if he stumbled like a lame donkey as many times as he had on the hidden path.
He glanced back a few times, making sure his pursuer was nowhere to be found, but he himself knew that such actions are futile.
Habits die hard.
The pyro abyss herald had been decapitated. He was able to sneak away from the abyssal monster, but he did not account that such beings have the last minute option to explode and shatter shrapnels of abyss armor toward him.
His vision staggered him.
Using his left eye to force his abyssal power out was a last minute resort he didn’t want to do. It had been so long since he last used it, and the feel of it was out of touch to him. Foreign. His cryo vision was more familiar for him to use these days.
He survived, yes, but the fatality of his wounds do not give him reassurance. Maybe that’s how it should be. A traitor. A betrayer. A liar. One such person deserved no tears. He deserved to die alone.
The off-beaten path led north, much to his disappointment. He moved to face east. Dragonspine seemed a better place. No one can find him there. He can freely bury himself alive, he thinks.
As he took his next step, pain coursed through him like wildfire, making him slip and tumbled downhill, slamming him a few times on the rocky sides of the cliff, only able to stop as his body slammed at a tree.
Disoriented, he tried to stand, falling back immediately as the cut on his calf sniped him outbalance, making him fall to his right side, lodging the ice shard deeper. He bit his lips enough to bleed, refusing to scream out the pain subjected to his body.
He forced himself to stand again, leaning at the cliff, his blood soaked eyes trembling as his gaze moved north, across the serene lake, to the buildings lit with life.
His breath hitched, morbid thoughts encroached him, his own lies surfacing to heat his burns.
Kaeya shook his head. Not there.
Determined, he tried another path, weaving his ice to make a bridge away from the north, but he was far too late, his cryo drained him sore, and his body gave way.
Kaeya collapsed heavy on the ground, splashing the lake’s still waters, the cold liquid drifting in his wounds. He doesn’t move. His eye can only stare at the night sky where the moon felt pity over him, peeking out of the dark clouds to shine on his misery. His body quietly numbed out and left his mind in a daze, as he bled himself through the water.
What a kind evening.
Better than turning into a monster in Khaenri’ah, this was a graceful death.
With the last of his breath, he whispered to the evening breeze.
“I’m sorry, Luc, I won’t be able to make it tomorrow.”
The fatui diplomats finally left Angel’s Share and Diluc found no purchase in staying behind the counter. He excused himself from Charles, and tailed the company of men who simply returned to the Goth Hotel for the night.
He decided it would be fine. For now. These men are, as he had gathered for the past few days of monitoring, were harmless, at best. However, if they do step out of line, he will not hesitate to take action.
He made his way to the back alley, moved through the cobble streets and out of the city. As he crossed the bridge, the only thought he had was to go home.
The wine tycoon had slept at the tavern for the past two days, managing the intelligence he had gathered and having it picked up by a messenger from his network. He was also busy with checking the city perimeters and some dealings up north. Staying in the city seemed to offer the best way to save some time.
As much as his stay in his room at the tavern was enough to keep his head on a pillow and let his body rest for the night, he much preferred the comfort of the winery. No matter how he detested the wine, the scent was at least tolerable and relaxing.
It was warm.
Crossing Springvale then through the high cliffs he went, until he finally stepped foot on his land, only to find all the houses awake despite the late hour. Some of the children were peeking curiously from the windows of his staff houses and the women looked over at the mansion with horror on their faces.
He hurried off, reaching his front porch to see some of his men bathed in blood.
“What happened here?” He asked the moment he arrived. “Was there an attack?”
“No. Not that, Master Diluc…” Connor’s voice was low, and the lad kept glancing back at the door, shaking and bothered.
“Then who is hurt? What’s with the blood?”
His inquiry fell to deaf ears. No one dared answer, as if they were sworn to secrecy.
Then, as he was about to insist the answers out, he heard the all familiar voice of his head housemaid, calling out to him. “Master Diluc.”
He snapped his attention to her, who was also stained in blood, but carried eyes that bore a certain kind of protectiveness.
Rare. She only even cared for a few people. He can count those people with just one hand.
“Adelinde. What’s the meaning of this?” He calmly asked, stepping forward to meet the woman.
Her eyes narrowed as she cleared her throat, then she took a deep breath and with a steady tone, she spoke. “I made the decision myself. I know you do not want him here, but you can reprimand me later if you so desired.” With that declaration out, she spilled word after word, accounting the events of the night.
Diluc’s feet moved before she could finish and he rushed toward the guest room, pushing the door open with a loud slam, startling Elzer, who hovered over the bloodied body of the cavalry captain.
His body froze in place at the sight.
Kaeya’s arms and legs were grazed with burns and his right eye bled along with the many wounds that crawled over the tanned skin. There were lacerations all over the place, a prominent one on the right side.
His sworn brother bathed in blood, soaking the sheets with crimson.
When was the last time he saw Kaeya? A few days ago, at the tavern, drinking to his heart’s content, mocking Diluc with his usual playful tone. The smooth caramel voice seemed so far away. They’ve been getting along well, mended their differences, and have moved to even be in a relationship, albeit a secret to all of Mondstadt, at that moment.
They’ve been seeing each other more often, less bantering, more talking. Kaeya had been trying to be honest with things and he, in turn, had been trying his best to be understanding. Everything was fine. It was all going well.
So what is this before him? What happened? Who did this? Why?
Diluc doesn’t know. He doesn’t get an answer.
He realized as well, that the more he stayed still, he never will.
Instinct compelled him to move, checking the pulse only to find it fading in and out. Too weak, leaning more to the other end of life. He winced, unable to hide his composure.
No. Please. No.
He traced the right side cut, noticing an ice shard lodged inside, most likely forced in to stop the bleeding from going too far.
“We need to take this out.” He spun to Elzer. “Get your strongest men here. We need people to hold him down. I’m burning the wound close. As for the rest of the residents around the winery, gather them in the main hall. It’s easier to protect the place in one stronghold. We don’t know if Sir Kaeya has eluded his pursuers yet.”
The man ran off immediately.
Diluc stood up to unlatch his brother’s cryo vision and stuffed it in his coat pocket then pulled out a knife from his person. “Adelinde, get a cloth to stuff in his mouth or else he’ll bite his tongue. We need to keep him quiet as well, we shouldn’t scare the children.”
The woman moved quickly to obey and returned at the same time with three other men aside from Elzer. They positioned themselves around the bed, one man for each of Kaeya’s limbs.
With everything in place, Diluc conjured his pyro over the knife, letting a bit of fire, and started melting the ice away inside, while at the same time, he burned through the captain’s wound, carefully closing it as his other hand held Kaeya’s waist down, just in case.
At that same moment, the captain’s body tensed and spasmed against their holds, muted whimpers erupted from his strained throat. Kaeya’s body lurched, forcibly resisting against the pain being inflicted on him, but he is held down to the point that only his fingers and toes can curl agonizingly in response to the burning sensation. He shook his head, tears streaming down with blood. Adelinde moved forward to keep him steady. The screams continued, compensating for the lack of movement available.
Everyone kept a strong constraint to keep the cavalry captain in place and under control. Then, as Diluc’s flames eased the shard to melt and fused the last of the skin, Kaeya choked a last whimper for the night, and blacked out.
Kaeya woke up to find himself under a canopy bed, tucked under thick covers and generously surrounded with an abundance of pillows. He groggily sat up, observing the wide room that was carved with ornate mouldings from the base to the ceiling, expensive furniture made of gold, and exquisite linen displayed formally across the walls. Everything was warm and welcoming, despite the abundant cool hues.
Somehow, he didn’t feel left out. He, in this place, belonged.
It felt like home.
He hopped out of the bed and went to part the window blinds, leading him to a balcony that opened to a meadow full of flowers of every kind. Everything was in bloom, and the smell of the flora filled him with pure untethered bliss.
He hasn’t felt that free and relaxed in a very long time. He wondered...why?
He moved back inside and decided to roam around, leaving the confines of the room to end up in a long hallway. He explored around without a care for the world and took a few peeks inside every door that was left unlocked.
There was a library, a study, several empty bedrooms, a family room, a game room - there was so much. He wondered how big the place was so he ran to his next destination with the excitement of a child. He later reached the grand staircase, heading down carefully to the ground floor, into a wide hall enough to fill a party with a hundred visitors. Several tapestries hung, depicting landscapes that seemed so familiar.
Then, as he explored the floor, he smelled the aroma of freshly baked bread and coffee, following the scent to a large dining hall with tall cathedral windows. Still, it called out to him, leading him to the veranda and made him cross the hedge gardens, passing through a trellised path, until he found a gazebo crowned with well-maintained overgrown plants. In the midst was a round table of solid marble where a warm breakfast waited.
“You’re awake. That’s good.” A voice behind him spoke, low but gentle, oddly familiar. He cannot put a name to the voice, not even when he looked to see the face.
His eyes simply fell to a short-haired blonde man who shared stars in his eyes. Half of the man’s face was covered in a mask.
“You must be famished. Come, Kaeya, let us go have some breakfast.” The man invited, hands extended toward him, coaxing him to enter the gazebo. “I have prepared your favorite food. I hope it is to your liking.”
He reached out without a shred of reluctance.
The men of the winery patrolled the grounds, on the lookout for enemies that might linger. Meanwhile, the women, elderly and children settled inside the mansion’s main hall, sleeping in cots, kept warm by the fireplace and protected by the younger lads who stationed themselves to watch from the windows.
Security was tight and as long as the night persisted, no rest was allowed. Safety was a priority.
In a spare bedroom of the winery house’s second floor, Kaeya slept uncomfortably. Without a healer around, there was little they could do. Adelinde and Elzer had managed to bandage up all the wounds but a fever started rising over the cavalry captain, followed by labored breaths and constant winces of pain. The blood loss also accounted to an estimate of a quarter and the paleness that crept over his skin unsettled both servants.
He’s not looking good. If they are too late, he might not make it.
They can only hope that their Master will come back in time.
The Gunnhildr mansion was within the city of Mondstadt, standing close to the northern entrance. It covered a huge plot of land and faced the church, the view of Barbatos’ statue easily discernible when one stands along the west wing..
The servants of the house were mostly retired for the night, except for the man standing guard at the main entrance.
He was quietly reading a book, casually munching some skewers for his after-midnight snack, when a horse galloped in front of him, the Ragnvindr lord climbing off with haste.
He straightened himself, stashing his things aside. “The master of the house is asleep, Master Diluc. It would be best to return in the morning.”
“It can’t wait until morning. It’s an emergency. Please wake her.”
The man recognized the desperation in the winery owner’s voice and nodded, immediately bolting back into the house.
Kaeya stretched his hands up after partaking his breakfast, casually standing and leaning at the balusters of the gazebo to gaze at the garden that seemed to span far. Curious, he reached out for a rose to pick it, but he got pricked, and his hand immediately retreated. He watched his blood trickle down the small wound.
The lack of pain seemed to bother him.
Pale hands reached out to hold his, and a wet tongue licked the blood away, sucking it until nothing flowed out anymore. The blonde man’s gaze held him steady.
The cavalry captain felt heat race in his cheeks, surprised by the gesture, his eyes not leaving his companion. “You...need not do such a thing, don’t you?” He uttered in a shaky voice.
“That might be true. Even so, I wanted to.” The blonde man moved toward him, pinning him at the gazebo’s column, keeping Kaeya in place. “All I want is to keep you safe, free from all the pain of the world. You deserve to live life free.”
Kaeya doesn’t anticipate the next act, but he willingly melted as their lips joined together, his companion keeping a secure hold of his arms, leading them over shoulders, drawing closer to him.
When the kiss broke, the man smiled at him, endearing. “Stay here with me, Kaeya. You’ll be safe here. I will never cast you away or leave you to fend for yourself.”
The words flowed out, full with meaning and genuine honesty. It resonated inside him, as if he had waited for someone to say it to him for so long. He craved such acceptance that it was enough to bring him to tears.
Then, as he started to sob, he heard another voice scream from the back of his mind, distant but close.
“Leave! You liar! All this time, after all this time you’ve been lying to father! To Adelinde! To the people in the winery! To Mondstadt! TO ME! KAEYA! YOU LIED TO ME!”
He flinched on reflex and pushed the stranger away. An uneasy feeling boiled inside him but he doesn’t understand a thing. Whose voice was that? He doesn’t know nor does it ring any kind of semblance. Yet the pain in his heart grew, as if he were being stabbed repeatedly.
“Kaeya? Are you okay?” Dainsleif returned to his side, cupping his face, kneading gently at his quaking hands. The concern overwhelmed him.
“Who?” He muttered under his breath, staring pleadingly at his caretaker. “Who are you again?”
“Oh, Kaeya, it’s me, Dainsleif, your lover. Don’t you remember?” The man kissed the back of his hand. “Now then, really, we should get you back inside the house. You need to rest, and I am worried for your health.”
He shuddered, unable to piece out the confusion in his mind.
Remember? What is he supposed to remember? His core being rattled. A thought began to disrupt the scales.
He doesn’t know this ‘Dainsleif’ person. He also notes that he doesn’t know this place.
It was around two in the morning when Diluc and Jean arrived back at the winery, the men on guard immediately opening the door for them as they disembarked. They weaved through the hall, running up the second floor where Adelinde stood outside Kaeya’s room, shaking and terrified all the same. She looked hopeless, begging and praying there, unable to stay inside the room itself.
Diluc nodded at her, squeezing her shoulder as he and Jean entered the room..
“Oh, archons...is that really Kaeya?” Jean almost stumbled in shock, but Elzer caught her in time to keep her steady. She thanked the man and gathered herself back before she approached the bed. Her hands moved like clockwork. She tried for his pulse and pursed her lips in panic.
She raised her gaze to Diluc, who sat on one side of the bed, cradling Kaeya’s face, his pained expression saying more than words ever could.
She took a deep inhale, pulling in all her determination, and stood up. She held onto her vision and called upon her Dandelion Breeze, all the while praying for Barbatos to save Kaeya’s life.
Kaeya obediently followed Dainsleif back into the manor while the latter prattled on about stories he had no interest in. It was something the cavalry captain barely understood. His mind was racing the other way. Something is definitely wrong, his gut feeling could not rest.
While they were passing in the hallway, his vision blurred once again and instead of the blonde man, he saw a redhead leading him out the house, through a grape vineyard under the veil of a starry night sky.
“Don’t tell Adelinde or father that we went out, okay? I’ll get scolded. Surely. Anyway, I’m gonna show you my special place. It’s just up ahead. Don’t tell anyone. It’s our secret now. Promise me, Kae.”
He blinked once, and the strange sight disappeared, only realizing that he was back in the room he woke up in. The blonde man led him back under the sheets and they stayed there. He got pulled to an embrace, warmth pooling between their bodies.
“Kaeya?” The man spoke, worry laced in his voice. “Is something bothering you? You can tell me anything. I’ll listen.”
Despite the proposal, he hesitated to speak.
Seeing as he doesn’t seem eager to share his thoughts, Dainsleif pulled him closer instead, planting a soft peck on his forehead, then after their eyes met, their tongues joined, lovingly taking his breath away. It was gentle, forgiving, encasing him with a certain protectiveness that lures him to rely in the man.
Then, abruptly, another flash of memory came.
“I’m sorry, Kaeya. I was mad at that time, I...I didn’t know what to do or feel. Everything was a mess. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have turned you away. I should have listened back then, but, I’m here now. I’ll listen to you. Please.”
The scene shifted again.
The man with porcelain face and crowned in messy red locks cried, tears welling up as he kissed him back. A warm smile that radiated dawn. A faint laugh that made his heart ache with want. A kiss that burned with resolute passion and desire.
“Let me hold you, Kae. I promise to treasure you more.”
The memory snapped him back, his senses heightened, and he moved away from the blonde man, shock overtaking him. His memories remained hazy still, but his instincts screamed at him. He slowly backed away from the bed, his breath hitching mad, his heart rebelling in his chest.
“Who...who are you?” He asked, even though somehow, at the back of his mind, the reply won’t answer anything.
“As I have said before, I’m your lover. It’s just me. Now, please, come here, back to my side, you need to rest.” The tone was in pain, crying out to him like a child. “Come back. You only need rest.”
“NO!” His throat ached at the scream. “This is...wrong? Something’s wrong. It doesn’t add up at all.”
Dainsleif’s face twisted hurt and crawled off the bed, standing a few feet away from where he was. “Whatever do you mean? This isn’t like you at all. I’m just worried for you. It might only be the lack of sleep. Come, Kaeya. I’ll help you with it. Let’s get through this together.”
“No…I can’t. I won’t.” A headache brewed in his mind.
“Please, don’t be unreasonable like this.” The man stepped forward, wary, his hands extended toward him.
Kaeya warranted himself a step back.
“Kae…are you okay? Am I going too fast? Tell me if it hurts, I’ll slow down. Just tell me.”
“Stop right there.” He shrieked, his eyes darted all over the place, dizzy. “Something...this isn’t real…I...you’re not...”
“Kae...so good. I love you. Let’s stay together from now on. Let’s protect Mond together.”
“A dream? No. What is this?” He raised his hands to his head, clawing at the shards of memories that seemed intent to remind him of something.
“You’re not. This is your reality, Kaeya.” Dainsleif spoke with finality as he moved closer to him but the words started to blur.
“Leave your schedule open on the 30th, Kae. We’ll celebrate your birthday. Don’t forget.”
“It’s not. It’s not.” His back laid flat on the wall and he froze. “You’re not real. This is a dream. I’m alive. I need to wake up. I need to go. Not here. This place...isn’t...it’s not...”
The blonde man stopped with a drilling gaze. “Are you...alive?”
Kaeya mirrored the question. “Am...I?”
“Come back, Kaeya. Stay here. You’ll be safe in this place.” Dainsleif extended his hand again, offering him an understanding smile.
Everything around him distorted, the colors molding muddy behind Dainsleif, melting like metal under intense flames. The voice shifted range. Cold. Mechanical.
“Let’s meet at the place I brought you before. I’ll bring the food and wine. You only need to bring yourself.”
Out of panic, Kaeya inched closer to the open balcony, backing away, until he bumped at the railings, his eyes shifting from the blonde man to the garden below. He desperately tried to remember, knocking at his brain, while his body strained to keep himself from quaking in place, but his headache worsened and his balance shook.
Disoriented, he accidentally slipped his hand from the railing and he felt his weight fall off the edge.
His hands extended to the empty sky above that swirled into darkness in one swift motion. There were no beds of flowers in a meadow below him.
It was an eternal drop.
The Dandelion Breeze ended and Jean collapsed, down to her knees, her energy depleted off. She was able to heal the light wounds and ease the other injuries, yet Kaeya doesn’t seem too good still. He’s sweating profusely, his breath struggled and his slow pulse turned erratic.
“Kaeya?” Diluc’s voice broke, his eyes darting to Jean. “What’s happening to him?”
She rushed forward, feeling his fever drop more than it should.
The tanned skin paled.
Kaeya gasped for air and sat up straight away, chasing his breath. He turned to look around him, only to find himself in a cold shallow pool of water in the midst of darkness. He can barely see anything, his eyes unable to adjust.
After a long while, he proceeded to stand, but his effort struck him down, sending him in a fit of pain, as if he were being stabbed repeatedly in every inch of his skin. The agony endured, twisting him into frustration, all the while flashing memory after memory, piecing together the bitter truth as he fell back to the floor, curling as he shattered with the pain.
A pyro abyss herald. The cliff near Liyue. A fight broke out. An explosion. Fatal injuries. A slash near his right hip. Near Dawn Winery. Blood loss. River. Moon. Dead.
He believed so.
Then, where is he exactly?
He rolled himself flat on the ground and like a madman, laughed himself hoarse.
As he lost his voice, he murmured to himself. “I’m dead.”
“It would have been better for you to stay at the place I prepared for you.” The voice echoed, cold and ethereal, but also real and unreal. The footsteps closed in, then stopped near his head.
He tilted his head to face the speaker, a crazed smile taking over him. “Dainsleif, hello.”
“Is this your will?” The blonde man moved to him, kneeling to grab his chin forward so their faces would meet. “Why would you choose to suffer? Haven’t you had enough?”
Despite the struggle to breathe, Kaeya replied, wry. “That was some interesting hallucination. You actually thought you could keep me in there, bough keeper. Also, never knew you took a part-time job as an angel of death. Delivering people over to the afterlife doesn’t fit you, that is, in my honest opinion.”
“No. Apparently it wasn’t enough, was it? Also, you talk way too much for a man in his deathbed” The blonde man released him from the hold. “Do you seriously want to go back, Kaeya Alberich?”
Kaeya muffled his laugh. If he did not, he would have broken his voice. Instead, he muttered low. “...because I need to. I have a promise to keep.”
“Are you really sure?”
“Hah...are you still hellbent on convincing me?”
Dainsleif looked away, disappointed. “You humans…”
“Yes, yes. Humans are are unreasonably stupid at times…” The cavalry captain stood up and approached the bough keeper. “...but that’s what makes it all the more interesting.”
The blonde man darted his eyes at Kaeya’s. “Foolish.”
Jean was curled up near the bedside table, unable to comprehend how her healing failed to affect Kaeya fully. She tried, again and again, desperate, only to lose all her energy and collapse in place. She couldn’t do it. Something is stopping her.
Hope lingered in her as she was left to pray for mercy to Barbatos, fatigue sending her to sleep after a while.
Meanwhile, Diluc held his sworn brother close, breathless, mumbling empty words, chanting promises and spouting apologies nonstop. He allowed his pyro to share some warmth at the cold body, tracing the wounds gently. Begging.
“Kae, please. Don’t leave like this. Come back, please.”
Diluc stilled, staring at Kaeya whose breathing suddenly evened out, the cold fading away, returning warmth. The single starry eye gazing back at him, tired. “Kae?”
“Yes, we’ve established that.” He tried to move, only to lose against the ache of his broken body. “Hah...now this is refreshing.”
“It is not! Look at yourself! What happened to you? Who did this? I will burn them down to a crisp if I have to!”
“Later. Not now. You shouting is just giving me a headache.”
“Ah, sorry...I’m, I’m just…”
“It’s okay.” Kaeya leaned closer to Diluc, nuzzling between them. “Just stay here, don’t move.”
Diluc cradled his face, the pyro user’s tears falling on his cheeks. “I thought...I would lose you…”
Kaeya remained quiet, contemplating what had happened for the past hours, while his sworn brother kept him in a warm embrace. He felt relieved, despite the searing pain coursing through him all over the place. Minor inconveniences, he thought. He survived is what’s important.
He looked around the room, slightly, picking up the certain familiarity.
It was his old room in the winery.
He could almost laugh, if not for the soreness of his throat.
“Happy birthday.” Diluc mumbled at him awkwardly.
Kaeya huffed a little, curling more into the embrace. Indeed, he received another chance at life. He got away that day. He wondered if there would be a next time. Either way, he needed to prepare more contingencies. He jotted a mental note to himself, and added another, until he drifted back to sleep.