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The Musings of Two Archons

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“NO-”

Venti jumped, breathing heavily. Hesitantly, he looked around his surroundings. He was still lying under the big tree at Windrise. He could still feel the cool summer breeze, he could still see the stars and celestia in the night sky, and he still-

The boy quickly grabbed one of his braids, staring at the part where it changed from black to green. He sighed a breath of relief.

Yes, he was still himself. Not himself, really, but he was still Venti. 

The young archon hesitantly sat up, gently brushing his hand over the grass as he tried to control his breathing. He knew that it wasn’t real, it was just a dream, but even then, he couldn’t help but be worried. They were so detailed, so personal-

They were so real.

Venti tensed slightly as his hand slipped slightly and touched the cold dirt. Eyes widening, he realized who could help him with his problem. He couldn’t help but half-hope the man was having the same problem.

~~

Zhongli was incredibly happy to have a night to himself for once. Yes, he loved sweet Hu Tao and her antics, but she was probably more of a handful than Xiao and Ganyu put together, which is saying something, since they’re literally adepti. All in all, he was incredibly happy he managed to get her to sleep early for once instead of staying up until god knows when writing poetry.

Zhongli should be sleeping too, he realized, but the sky was clear and the current running through Liyue was too warm and relaxing to let it go to waste. He poured himself another cup of tea, staring at the stars from the balcony of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlour. The balcony didn’t actually belong to the Funeral Parlour, of course, but Hu Tao’s house was above the parlour and he decided to stay there for the night to make sure the girl would sleep.

He sighed softly when he heard a subtle ‘whoosh’ sound from behind him, patting the pillow next to him as an invitation.

“Barbatos.”

“Morax. Listen, I need to-”

“Talk, I presume?” The older archon took the silence as a ‘yes’. “Sit down. I’ll pour you a cup of tea.”

“You know I’ve never really been a fan of the stuff…” Barbatos mumbled, retracting his wings and sitting down like Morax asked. If Morax heard the boy he simply ignored him, pouring him a cup and adding much more sugar than necessary, just how the other liked it.

“What happened? You don’t ask to speak as gods often.” Morax asked softly, glancing at Barbatos for a moment before returning his gaze to the sky.

“It’s- The Traveller. I- I keep having nightmares about her,” Barbatos admitted, sighing and taking a stick to stir the sugar and tea together, “It’s been happening for maybe a month now? I’m not sure. It started happening when you told me she left for Inazuma.”

Morax stayed silent. Barbatos took that as an invitation to continue.

“It always starts the same. It’s after she’s visited all seven of our nations and has all her power restored. Then- It changes from there, but the outcome is always the same. She realizes what we’ve done. You know, to her brother.”

Barbatos watched Morax’s resting frown become oh so slightly bigger. “Then she gets all mad at us, and- Okay, she doesn’t get mad at all of us. She only gets mad at us two and Beelzebul, but only because Beelzebul looks like Baal. She’s always so furious, Morax, and it’s so real . It’s like I’m watching the future unfold. And- She’s powerful, too! It’s like she’s one of us! Every time I have the dream she throws this tantrum, and she does so with such force it moves the very ground, just like you did in the war.” Barbatos felt his breathing get faster as he continued, “Then at the end, she always releases all her newly regained power at us. And she always wins, always in the same order. First she reunites Beelzebul with Baal, then she goes after you, and then… and then I wake up.”

Morax nodded solemnly, taking another sip of his tea. “I see. So you’re guilty about Khaenri’ah, finally.”

Barbatos felt himself raise an eyebrow, shaking his head, “What? No, what- What we did then was right, you know it was. This is about Lumine, not what happened to Aether.”

“They’re twins, Barbatos, just like Baal and Beelzebul. Whatever affects one affects the other. The sudden realization we personally hurt Aether by taking him away from her is going to affect her badly.”

“No, it can’t be! I didn’t feel like this when we destroyed Khaenri’ah, I didn’t care about Aether! It was his own fault for going against us, he should’ve known better!”

“But Lumine couldn’t have known better,” Morax sighed gravely, looking at Barbatos finally, “She doesn’t remember anything about Khaenri’ah, you and I are well aware of that. You’re guilty because she’s innocent, while Aether wasn’t.”

Barbatos went silent, sighing shakily, “But- No, It can’t be, Morax. They- Why do I feel so bad about it suddenly? I tried forgetting about it, I came back to Mondstadt to be a better god, I even let La Signora take my gnosis away from me, for Celestia’s sake! Nobody remembered what we did and nobody cares anymore! So why do I feel like a monster for something so pointless?! For something I wanted to do!?”

Morax lightly snorted, setting down his finished cup of tea and looking up at Celestia. “You really are still young, Barbatos.”

“What does that have to do with anything? We’re the last remaining of the original Seven, I’m not young in the slightest!”

“To most, no. But to me, you are. I can’t give you an explanation to what you’re asking me, Barbatos. However, the answers will come with time, I promise. Just give it time.”

Silence fell between them. Barbatos looked from his tea to Celestia as well.

“Are you still upset about it? What we did to those people? ...To Aether and Lumine?”

“In short, no. As Morax, I feel no remorse for performing my duty as an archon and as one of The Seven.”

“But as Zhongli...?”

Morax hesitated before answering, “Yes. More than I can say. Spending time with Master Hu and her little friends, the Liyue Qixing, learning about the people of Liyue in this day and age… It all reminds me of how precious life really is, and how mercilessly I destroyed it for flourishing in a way I disapproved of. I despise how I cannot ever apologize for what I did or make it right.”

“Oh.” was all Barbatos could say, frowning.

There was more silence, though Barbatos couldn’t tell whether it was comfortable or not. He turned to the elder, about to say something, but Morax beat him to it.

“-But we can try and start over. We gave away our Gnoses for a reason, did we not? We can be there for Liyue and Mondstadt now, in a new way. The other 5 will learn with time the Age of Archons will fall soon.”

“What then? What does that make of us?”

“Why, that makes us what we’ve been pretending to be for centuries. We’re truly just Zhongli and Venti now. We don’t have to pretend anymore.” Barbatos nodded slowly, seeing Morax smile just a fraction out of the corner of his eye.

“Does that make you feel better, Venti?”

“Actually, it does… Thanks, Zhongli. I needed that.” Venti finally said, finishing the rest of his tea and returning the smile. The other man nodded, standing up and stretching.

“I’m happy I could help. It’s getting far too late, much too late to fly home. You should stay here tonight, I could use some help babysitting Master Hu Tao in the morning. Besides, she loves playing with you.”

“Hey! Just because we’re really Venti and Zhongli now doesn’t mean you can baby me!” Venti retorted, crossing his arms dramatically.

“Why not? I’m well over 30 and you’re 14, it’s only fair for me to treat you accordingly.”

“You really suck, you know that, old man?”

“You can tell me about it in the morning. Come on, let’s go get the couch ready for you.”