For such a reclusive pair of twins, Aether and Lumine coming to the Kreideprinz’s ball was shocking to the attendees.
They were Travelers. They didn’t stick to one place for a long time, and Mondstadt was no exception. Rumour had it that Prince Albedo had invited them themselves, a show of gratitude for what they had done for the kingdom and its people during the Stormterror crisis.
Still, no matter how hard the gossip mills worked, the rumour was incomparable to seeing them in person.
Aether was the older twin, warmer and more open than his sister. If Lumine wanted to keep to herself, then he would speak for both of them and she would let him. That didn’t mean she shone any less brighter than him, because both of them carried a celestial aura no one wanted to question.
To hear Lumine speak was to hear the sound of twinkling stars, soft and high and yet it held a sense of authority. A reminder that she was just as important as her brother. They were more powerful together, after all.
However, all Aether could hear now was silence even when Albedo came into view.
“So, that’s the guy who requested we come personally to the ball for his 21st birthday,” he said, tugging at Lumine’s elbow when she refused to move from the long table of food. “Come on, or else I’m calling dibs on him.”
“I don’t think Albedo was the one who made these baumkuchen,” she said, still uninterested and deadpan. A crowd was starting to form around the stage Albedo was on, and her brother’s pulling started to get more insistent. “Okay, okay! Geez, let me finish this.”
“I knew you were going to stuff your face all night,” he scowled at her, watching her fit the rest of the pastry into her mouth before she finally looked dignified again. His sister was truly a different person around food. “Let’s listen in.”
Lumine made a muffled noise, covering her mouth as she let Aether navigate through the crowd with her in tow. He made sure they were close to the Prince, because Archons forbid his sister losing interest mid-speech and walking away.
That seemed unnecessary now, though, because Albedo had caught sight of them and gave them a small wave.
“Everyone, I would like to introduce the Travelers,” he said. Lumine felt blood rush up to her cheeks as the crowd started to murmur. She started to feel a little too exposed. “Aether, Lumine. It’s an honor to have you here.”
“Of course. It would be a waste not to come at your behest,” Aether answered before subtly elbowing his sister in the side. He lowered his voice to a whisper before hissing, “Lumi, you gotta act interested at least!”
She huffed. Never had she met this man, because her brother had always been the one to coordinate with the leaders of places they’ve travelled to. It wasn’t that she minded, but right now, this guy was practically just some stranger who wanted her to celebrate his birthday.
At least she would give him the courtesy of looking at him.
Whatever previous irritation had melted away when she saw the most brilliant shade of teal she had ever encountered. Then she noticed his other features, and she became confused as to how someone could be so—
“Beautiful,” Lumine whispered to herself. The color drained from her face when she realized that people were staring at her, and she took a minute to compose herself. “I mean, erm, my apologies. Thank you for having us here.”
Albedo smiled at her. She swore her heart skipped a beat.
Whatever the Prince was saying faded into the background. She was too enamoured with how… perfect he seemed. This was supposed to be unnerving, and yet it was like all her defenses were down.
She caught Aether’s wrist in a tight grasp. “We have to leave.”
“Wait, what?” he frowned at her and remained rooted to his position. “Is there something wrong?”
“He’s a witch, isn’t he? That’s why he’s so beautiful. Don’t tell me you’ve been caught under his spell, too. He’s—he’s an alchemist, right?”
He stared at her, then at Albedo, then back to her. The exchange continued for a moment more before a single grin appeared on his face, reminding Lumine of a cat who had caught its prey. His shoulders began to shake, trying to stifle a laugh as she tried to follow his train of thought.
“Oh gods,” he muttered, just soft enough for only her to hear. “Ah, bless the Seven Archons. You’ve—hah—you’ve never seen him before, have you?”
“No,” she responded. “Jean, the Acting Grandmaster, was the one who awarded us. I have never met this man before in my life, Aether, so please stop laughing at me and tell me what’s wrong!”
Her little outburst had earned a dirty look from a nearby noblewoman, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. Albedo was still talking, unaware of what was transpiring between the two siblings.
“You think he’s so beautiful so he must be a witch, yes?” Aether said, linking his arm with hers as he nudged his head to the Prince’s direction. “Look. He’s just Albedo, and his speech is ending, so you should go talk to him.”
“Are you crazy?” Lumine said, though her eyes never left the man’s form. Those bright teal eyes of his met with hers for a second, and she thought she was going to die on the spot. “Yeah, no. I normally don’t care about royalty, but I’m not taking any chances.”
“Because you think he’s too perfect?” her brother quipped before abruptly applauding. She didn’t even notice that his speech was ending. “See! He’s going down the stage… oh, he’s really looking at us now and—good evening, Prince Albedo.”
“Good evening,” Albedo greeted warmly, smiling when he saw their linked arms. To Lumine, just his smile was too damn pretty. Something akin to butterflies stirred in her gut, becoming more turbulent the longer he was near them. “Are you enjoying your time here?”
“Of course,” Aether answered before not-so-gently pushing his sister in the Prince’s direction. “I don’t think you’ve met my sister before.”
She swore under her breath as she almost tripped and fell. Albedo hovered his hands over her body, seemingly unsure whether to hold her or not. Much to her chagrin, the temperature felt like it rose a hundred degrees higher and she actually prayed.
Gods, please don’t let the Prince notice her blush.
“Good evening, Prince Albedo. I wish for you to have happy and healthy years to come,” Lumine said almost robotically. A badly-hidden smile was playing on the corners of Aether’s lips as he watched her struggle. “Oh look, the orchestra is playing. May I have this dance?”
“You wish to have my first dance?” Albedo repeated, his eyebrows raised in pleasant surprise. The urge to kick herself grew even stronger when he took her hand in his, placing a chaste kiss on it. “Then I look forward to it.”
If her brother wasn’t laughing before, then he certainly was now. “I believe this is my cue to leave you two alone. Please return my sister in one piece. Though she is not fragile, I would like to see her function normally for the next few days.”
“Shut it, Aether,” she snapped at him before returning Albedo’s smile with an awkward, yet bright one. “I would like to apologize again. I didn’t mean to appear so rude in front of you.”
He laughed, gently placing a hand on her waist and intertwining the other with hers. Teal met gold, and they slowly swayed to the music. “Sibling banter is normal. I would say that it is healthy, though I have never seen one as amusing as yours.”
Lumine could feel the crowd’s eyes on her, criticizing and sharp. Nothing could truly make one’s self-esteem waver like noblewomen even for an immortal such as her. The only comfort came from Albedo, who pulled her closer to him as they fluidly moved across the smooth marble.
She swallowed, choosing to focus on his near-perfect face and staying there. “Don’t you have any siblings to banter with?”
“Given my age difference with Klee, I’m afraid it would seem more like bullying,” he said. She stared at him for a few seconds, snorting before she could catch herself in the act.
“I can’t imagine what banter with a kid would be like when you’re an adult,” Lumine laughed. It only took her a moment to remember what she had done, and her heart dropped to her stomach like a rock. “Ah, I didn’t mean to snort. Aether would call me unladylike if he were here right now.”
“But he’s not, is he?” Albedo reassured her. “Don’t worry. If I may be completely honest, I would even say that it’s cute.”
Heat flared up to her face as she tried to process his words. What’s worse was that he seemed oblivious to the effect they had on her, looking more concerned than smug. She would be, too; she was burning red, and her mouth was agape at his natural affinity for… flirting?
“I—thank you?” Lumine said, desperately wanting to break eye contact with him. There really was something about this man. She was a Traveler, and she wasn’t meant to fall apart at the slightest sign of attraction.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), the orchestra had ended their song. They paused in the middle of the room, and she pulled away with more hesitation than she anticipated.
“I must admit, that was too short of a dance to properly get to know you,” Albedo hummed, bringing her to the side as a small girl came bounding up to them. Lumine noticed her first, and he only followed. “Right. This is Klee, my little sister.”
“Big Brother! Let’s dance!” Klee exclaimed, jumping and shaking his hand until she turned her attention to the other girl. “Who are you? Big Brother looked really happy with you!”
“I’m Lumine. You might know me as one of the Travelers from a few months ago,” she said. Sadly, the introduction didn’t hold the little girl’s attention for too long. Klee giggled, swaying her small body from side to side as she looked up at Albedo.
“Is she the princess you’re going to marry, Big Brother? Since you’re turning twenty—uhh—old, you told the whooole Mondstadt that you would marry the first person you’ll dance with!”