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gold, when he is gone

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Nothing really changes after Aether leaves. For most, the Traveler was little more than a momentary memory in their day-to-day lives.

But, for many, it was as if a color was erased from the world. Everything was the same, yet not quite right. Every sight was a little duller.

The Traveler was always careful to leave as little mark on history as he could in each world he visited. How odd it was that he became the hero of Teyvat. Even odder how a hero with such a widespread name and reputation did not shake this world and its inhabitants to their core when he left.

 

-

 

Nothing has changed. Not really.

The walls of Mondstadt and the bridges of Liyue still stand, though Katherine's booth is no longer paid a daily visit by a Traveler of wind and stone.

The Statues of the Seven are still worshipped, though they are not tidied up so frequently nowadays. It was always a quicker ordeal for someone with Anemo abilities.

More people return to their cities having reported encounters with monsters. There is no longer a fleet-footed Traveler to rush to their aid in the wilderness.

They are minor disturbances. Aether did so much and yet his most common deeds often went undetected.

In the grand scheme of this world, as far as most were concerned, Aether was just another kind stranger.

But for all that knew that fateful Outlander more than as a helping hand, nothing will ever be the same again.

 

-

 

The Anemo Archon, Barbatos, took on Aether's form when he left. Sun-painted hair bleeding into the vibrant blue that now stained his braid.
Barbatos hated it. The blue.
He felt that it tainted Aether.
But all the same, making himself an exact replica of that dear Outlander while he lacked Aether's heart of gold would be an even greater sin.
He looks into a mirror and flinches. He tells himself that he simply isn't used to the appearance quite yet. On some days, he convinces himself that it's because of that sickening blue.
When Barbatos had taken on the form of his past friend, long before Aether, he didn't mind the blue quite so much. It didn't feel wrong like it does with Aether.
Perhaps it is because blue is too stark of a contrast. Or perhaps it is because Aether is far too gold to be anything but.

He keeps the blue. He doesn't deserve to see the pure gold of Aether once more. No one does, for how they've all failed him.

 

-

 

Diluc can no longer look at Barbatos. Can no longer call him Venti as both he and Aether once had.
Why can't Barbatos see how much pain it brings Diluc? How much pain it brings anyone who can still bear to look him in the eye?
Diluc snaps sometimes. Sometimes on nights when protecting Mondstadt seems like it would be so much easier to bear with Aether at his side once more. Sometimes in the early mornings at the Dawn Winery where Diluc used to watch Aether run by to complete a commission and Diluc would make sure he was safe while he was in the vicinity.
No matter when it happens, it is never a clean break. It's jagged and sharp and always ends in him begging Barbatos to take on another form. Any other form.

Barbatos always refuses with tears in his artificially gold eyes.

 

-

 

Diluc and Kaeya talk inside Angel's Share on quiet nights, which are a bit more common now, without a bard to draw in customers. Two men who once called each other 'brother' cry together over someone they once called a friend.
They no longer mock each other for their tears.

 

-

 

Albedo paints Aether relentlessly.
He cannot let himself forget.
He will not let himself forget.

He paints Aether's form in battle, twisted at the waist with a sword in one hand and a burst of wind in the other.
He paints Aether's brilliant smile. The smile that wasn't supposed to make Albedo feel. The Chalk Prince realized he was human enough that day. And he also noted that being human was so very warm.

Albedo assures that no one will forget the Traveler's grace in his actions, both violent and mundane, nor the beauty in his kind smile.

His hands shake uncharacteristically as he paints Aether swathed in blood and sunshine.

 

-

 

Tartaglia's desire to take over the world and challenge the gods is not swayed by Aether’s absence. Quite the opposite, in fact. He is ruthless now, rarely is there a recipient of his past good-natured grins. He still intends to become the most powerful. He intends to wipe out anyone and anything that could have aided the reason why Aether no longer visits him to battle every week in the Golden House. He doesn't know when his meetings with the Traveler became so dear to him.

Teucer sends him letters asking about Aether.
Tartaglia doesn't have the heart to tell him the truth.

 

-

 

Xiao isn't affected. He insists that he isn't. He expects everyone to turn a blind eye to how the roof of Wangshu Inn has been left untouched ever since Aether had disappeared.

Verr Goldet knows that it is a painful place for Xiao. She leaves almond tofu on the balcony railing nonetheless.
Maybe one day, Xiao will bear the pain for the sake of revisiting the fond memories tied to this place.

Xiao claims that the loss does not hurt him. But he does not dare to pretend that he did not care for Aether as fiercely as he cared for Liyue and Rex Lapis, and had sworn to guard him as such.

"This is nothing to Adepti," Xiao, with a cold gaze and steady tone, would say when Ganyu or Hu Tao would ask about how he was faring.

"This is nothing to Adepti," Xiao, with closed eyes and a shaky whisper, would say when Zhongli would sit down with him to reminisce about Aether.

Zhongli would make no comment on any tears that slipped past the Yaksha's defenses. He was only grateful that Xiao's insistence on closing his eyes meant that he would not have to witness Zhongli's occasional tears as well.

Aether shines like gold in his memories.

 

-

 

"Speak my name. I will be here when you call," Xiao had promised Aether.

And he had been there when Aether called for him.

He had been there to see the crimson-stained ground and the shadows Aether's gold lashes cast upon his bloodied cheek as he closed them one last time. He looked no less than a dying god in that moment, pale skin torn and outlined by the sun.

He had been there, albeit in a dazed state he never dreamed he could achieve, when the Traveler's twin sister screamed out a heartbroken and strangled cry that Xiao wished he could have echoed.

He was there when a claymore user with scarlet hair fell to his knees on ground scorched by dying embers.

He was there when the eleventh Harbinger buried his head in his hands and choked out a tear-drowned laugh, hugging his younger brother to his chest to shield him from the sight.

He was there to see how the Geo and Anemo Archons' eyes shone with the resigned despair of yet another cherished person lost to history.

He was there when all of Aether's treasured companions fell apart as one.

Xiao never knew heartbreak would be so painful.

 

-

 

Xiao could never hate Barbatos.
But when he catches a glimpse of a familiar face that could only be Aether, only to realize that it is Barbatos who took on the Traveler's form, he wonders how the Anemo Archon could be so cruel.

 

-

 

Though Aether will never call Xiao's name again, Xiao goes to him anyway.

The statues.

Statues were created of the dear Traveler, not unlike the statues of the Seven.
Xiao goes to the one in Liyue every day. He finds that it heals him better than anything else ever could.

When he is feeling selfish, Xiao likes to believe that the statues reflect Aether's desire to keep him safe, just like he had before.

 

-

 

Nothing really changes after Aether's death, not to the world of Teyvat as a whole.

Barbatos's new appearance and the tales of Aether's travels are enough to allow most people to continue their lives with ease.
But to others, they are only painful reminders that they asked so much of someone who asked for so little in return.

Though all memories of Aether are fond, those who had fought, talked, and traveled alongside the wind-borne Outlander will always miss the sight of his form gliding between cliffs and rooftops. Will always look at the statues of him, all of which smiling and nearly as radiant as he was in life, and feel some kind of guilt of not being able to have done more.

They wonder if his twin will have mercy on them.
Most feel that she shouldn’t.

 

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