Sumeru Academia, Sumeru, 1754
She’s been caught.
Lisa keeps the bright smile on her face when she says, “Oh, hello, Professor Cyrus. What brings you to the library?”
“I should be asking you that.” The older man frowns, unimpressed. “Students are not allowed in the Restricted Section.”
“Oh?” Lisa makes a show of looking around her. “Is that where I am? Oh, dear. No wonder I didn’t understand anything.”
Cyrus crosses his arms.
“Well! Then I really should be leaving, right? So, I’ll just—”
“Alright, alright. I’m sorry.”
“This is good enough cause for disciplinary action, Miss Minci.”
“Aw, no more ‘Lisa’?” When Cyrus frowns, Lisa sighs. “I understand, Professor.”
Surprisingly, Cyrus only drops his head with a rueful smile.
“You were always too curious for your own good. And smart enough to back it up, too.”
He seats himself at the table Lisa had been occupying earlier. The table — smaller than the grand desks that litter Sumeru Academia’s library — is covered with forbidden texts she had been reading before being so rudely interrupted.
He reaches for the closest one and reads off the cover, “ Necro-Transmutation And Alteration of Essence .” A dry chuckle. “You children. So predictable.”
Lisa sits beside him carefully.
“So...you’re not mad?”
“Oh, I am. Partly because you broke the rules, and partly because you’ve gone for the popular choice in your study materials.” Cyrus grins. “I expect you to be brilliantly different, Miss Minci, as you are in my classes.”
Lisa mirrors his smile. “I need to satiate my basic curiosities first, Professor, before moving onto bigger and better things. You remember the dough slimes, of course.”
Cyrus’ bark of laughter echoes through the cramped, dimly-lit shelves of the Restricted Section.
“You are destined for great things, Miss Minci,” he says once his laughter settles. “I don’t think Sumeru Academia has seen a witch of your caliber in at least 200 years.”
Before Lisa can preen, he pins her with an amused half-frown.
“But that doesn’t mean you forget yourself. You’re still not allowed in here, because the magic that these books contain are far beyond any one mage’s magical capacity.”
“But we’re two mages, right? So maybe you could help me out.”
“Miss Minci,” sighs her professor, helplessly fond and weakly chastising.
“‘Knowledge is power, knowledge is wealth’, right?” Lisa parrots the famous Sumerian saying. “So why shouldn’t I learn a little bit more?”
And that’s why she’s at Sumeru Academia in the first place — to arm herself with the wealth of information on any topic, to fill the coffers of her mind with golden words of analysis and dissemination, to entice the electricity that crackles at her fingertips with parchment and literature.
She’s one of the few scholars at Sumeru Academy with a Vision, after all. Her magical power draws from the shining orb hooked at her belt, and she intends on feeding it one word at a time.
Cyrus sighs, long-drawn and resigned, and says, “Alright.”
Lisa bites back her gleeful grin.
“But,” and he pins her with a stern glare, “you must remember the rule. Magic—”
“—demands an equal sacrifice, so do not ask for something you cannot pay for.”
Every pressed-clay brick that constitutes the prestigious academy has the words carved into it, a repetitive reminder until it rings at the back of her head like a mantra.
“Now, can we get to it?”
“Silly girl.” Cyrus smiles nevertheless. “Alright. Now, necro-transmutation, in theory, is not a difficult thing. What makes it tough is the magical load that it—”
With her foot, Lisa pushes the stolen diary further into her book bag, before leaning in and listening intently.
Sea of Thundering Sorrow, Inazuma, 1768
The gentle knock on her cabin door stops her reminiscing.
No rest for the weary. Rising, Lisa ignores her screaming muscles and aching joints and opens the wooden door to swaths of lovely brown hair and a somber expression.
“You okay, there?” asks Beidou, eye surveying her before she can respond.
“Turns out the seafaring life isn’t for me. What a shame,” and Lisa musters a wink from somewhere, “because the pirates are so charming.”
And Beidou is a smart woman, smart enough to see through what Lisa is doing, but her infinite kindness wins in the end, as Lisa had hoped.
Face crinkling into a roguish smile, she says, “Pirates do return to shore, you know. You can always meet me halfway.”
“Ooh, I’ll take you up on that offer next time, Captain.”
Crossing her burly arms, Beidou grins, leans on the doorframe. The Alcor rocks with the ebb and flow of the raging sea, and Lisa isn’t sure how she’s still standing upright. Beidou, on the other hand, looks like she’s right at home in these unsteady waters.
“Came to tell you that we’ve almost arrived. Another twenty, thirty minutes, tops.”
Her gaze drifts into the cabin, and Lisa has to resist the urge to close the door behind her.
“About, uh— Will she, um—”
“It’s—” Lisa must stay composed. “She’s fine.”
“Okay.” Swimming in a sea of red is pure, genuine concern. Lisa wants to cry. “Let me know if you need something.”
Distantly, they hear a crackle of thunder, a warning for anyone coming too close.
When the roar settles, she whispers, “Thank you, Beidou. For all of this.”
“It’s my civic duty to help out a lovely lady like yourself,” she says with a wink.
And that makes Lisa laugh, a genuine, sincere laugh, the one that hurts your chest and rattles between your ribs and leaves you a little breathless. Beidou chuckles with her, like they’re just two women travelling to a seaside port, like she will kiss the Captain as thanks when she disembarks, like she will wait at the harbour until the ship vanishes into the horizon.
For a minute, Lisa lets herself believe it.
So it’s easy to say, “My, my. A pirate with a sense of civic duty? You’re a rare find, my dear Captain.”
“That I am, ma’am.” Beidou tips an imaginary hat, all charming grins and robust eyes, before sombering slightly. “It’s just a favour, Lisa. It’s not a big deal.”
“Perhaps it isn’t, to you.”
Lisa allows herself to reach for the captain, to thumb the scar along her chin. A result — or in Beidou’s eyes, a reward — for defeating some sea creature or the other, a mark of power to be proudly worn.
She leans forward to press a kiss against raised flesh.
“Some things are not given so freely.”
Rosalyne’s Diary, dated December 21st, 1250
Oh, Barbatos, have you sent your winds to trick me?
I can still hardly believe it. Is he really real?
Perhaps you sent him to me as a mirage, as a spirit, to fool a maiden that had gone to something as shameful as a dance.
But what a gorgeous phantom Rostam had been, dressed in blue and wearing a silver flower at his lapel. A flower that he sent me thereafter, by some miracle, and is still pressed between these pages.
We danced, for hours and hours, until the sun came up and my feet blistered.
I want to preserve that moment in time forever, in page and memory and pressed flowers, in as many forms as possible, so I can be reminded in all my years to come.
I had thought that freedom and happiness weren’t things I could have together, that I’d have to trade one for the other eventually. But then Rostam happened, and with him, the promise of both, and oh, I’ve not smiled so much in a long time.
He loves me, he says. Me! What do I have to offer him that hundreds of other women could? He told me it was my smile, and then my voice, and then my company, and really, he can be too much sometimes.
His letters are never enough. I want him beside me again, spinning under the dim lights, until everything else blurs away except for his smile and his arms. I want to hear him talk again, about the grand things that soldiers do on the frontlines, until it’s far too late and I am asleep on his lap.
Every minute apart is agony — I’ve told him this, and, his heart being as gentle as it is, he sent me a timepiece to measure our time apart. Just another year, he says, and then we can be together again, dancing into the night for as long as we please.
I feel like a butterfly that’s hatched out of its cocoon and realised that I can fly, and that the winds will hold me up.
Will they, O Barbatos? Please, none of your sweet tricks. My heart is too far gone, singing and drinking into the night, to be cajoled back into bed again.
Angel’s Share, Mondstadt, 1767
“My, my,” Lisa drawls, feeling drunk on wine and dangerous under the orange lights, “what brings you to the Angel’s Share, Madame Ambassador?”
La Signora does not look up from her drink, a rich, golden liquid in a shallow glass.
“Does the City of Freedom prohibit diplomats from indulging themselves?”
“Not at all,” she smiles, “unless said diplomat is alone. Indulgences are better in company, after all.”
Signora looks up then, intent in her frosty eyes sending a shiver down Lisa’s spine.
Wordlessly, she gestures to the seat beside her, and Lisa slips into it with a happy sigh.
She’s always been drawn to power — and it is no surprise that this penchant follows into her love life. Be it Jean’s commanding voice or Eula’s strong arms, Lisa has always wanted to be surrounded by it. On the days when she is starving, she is not averse to kneeling at Rosaria’s feet. She just wants to be close, close enough to feel it on her skin, but never to hold it for too long.
“Tell me, sweetheart, why are you drinking alone? Was Jean too firm with you today?”
“Hah. Your acting Grand Master is too soft to be anything of the sort.”
“Is that so?” she drawls. “But if I recall correctly, the meeting minutes spoke of no clear conclusion being reached to your trade demands.”
La Signora glares at her, and Lisa keeps the innocent smile on her face, taunting, teasing, begging her to reach over and break it off her lips.
“And how would you have access to those documents?”
“I’m a humble librarian. I must keep a good record of the Knight of Favonius’ affairs.”
La Signora scoffs, reaching for her drink. Lisa darts forward then, placing her hand over the rim, right where her dark lipstick has smudged.
“I’m also a teacher.”
There are people, Lisa knows. But like this — when Signora’s cold gaze strays across her chest lazily before meeting her eyes — none of it matters. It’s just them, the orange lights, the golden booze.
“So I can coach you on how to sway the acting Grand Master to your demands.”
“And you would tell me so easily, is it?”
“Perhaps it really is that simple.”
With an amused smirk, La Signora covers Lisa’s hand with her own. Tilts her head in acquiescence, and something swoops with joy in her stomach.
“Come here,” she breathes, curling a finger. The taller woman leans in, and Lisa is awash with the smell of dark, husky cedar. “All you need to do is get her a tortoise grooming kit, and she’ll do whatever you please.”
Signora scowls at her, unimpressed, but doesn’t pull away. She stays close, close enough for Lisa to smell the sheer power radiating from the woman.
Time has stood still for her once before, and she hated it. Now, however, things are different.
“You are a fickle one, Lisa Minci,” she murmurs, eyes trained on her lips. “How did the straight-laced knights take you in?”
And perhaps it’s because her fingers curl around her jaw, or maybe because a cold thumb presses against her lips, but Lisa feels something within her break, desperate and aching for more.
So she breathes, “Why don’t you find out, darling?”
And that’s how Lisa finds herself thrown against soft sheets bearing the insignia of the Goth Grand Hotel, cold hands drawing red lines on her back and colder fingers drawing wet, depraved sounds from her lips.
Signora fucks her as cruelly as she speaks, too rough when Lisa wants her to go slow, too teasing when Lisa needs her the most, sharp and cutting and cold, so deliciously, domineeringly cold.
Mercilessly demanding in her bedside manner and breathtakingly gorgeous when nude, Lisa laps up the sweat and the shine and the strength that kisses every inch of Signora’s pale skin, insatiable hunger finally finding a meal that fulfills every touch, taste, smell and sound.
And when it’s all done, when Lisa’s left sprawled on the sheets and panting in a pool of her and Signora’s fluids, she turns to the icy triangle of the woman’s back, perched at the side of the bed and fiddling with her clothes.
“Well? Did that answer your question?”
Signora chuckles. “It did.”
Lisa smiles, lazy and languid and too fucked out for anything more.
“And now, I suppose, you get to ask me what you’ve wanted to ask me?” says Signora, voice cutting through the freezing air.
She drags a limp hand along the perfect sculpture of Signora’s back, a misshapen loop that ends at the swell of her waist and leaves goosebumps on pale skin.
“Think of it as a request, darling. From the beautiful, charming, very satisfied woman in your bed.”
Signora chuckles, tilts her head to give Lisa permission.
“Try to contain whatever it is that you and your Fatui henchmen are planning for Mondstadt, will you?”
Cold eyes meet hers when Signora turns, graceful and slow like trickling snowfall, and Lisa forces herself to meet her gaze.
“I don’t want to work overtime this month,” she yawns.
Signora’s barking laughter echoes through the room.
“As you wish, my Rose.”
Jamiah’s Hookah Spot, Sumeru, 1756
“Are you sure about this?” hums Lisa.
“Oh, relax,” giggles Prathiba. “Don’t be so nervous. Besides, we’re celebrating tonight!”
“Well,” muses Lisa, lips curving from the brown-haired girl’s enthusiasm. “You are right.”
In the dingy little hookah bar tucked away in a tiny side-street, they’ve the unfortunate honour of being seated indoors, where the scented smoke collects a hundredfold. And even though Prathiba had assured her of their safety, the bar still has a few dodgy-looking customers that hide away from the large, orange-golden open lamps and into the loud conversations and smell of dark, rich coffee.
But then again, they are here to celebrate.
Lisa’s thesis defense had just been completed, and with shining colours. For a Sumerian scholar to not only complete her advanced education but also her defense in a mere span of two years was a feat that the Academia had seen only once before, according to Cyrus.
She has a lot to be grateful for — her teachers, her own hard work, the support of her friends, even Rosalyne and her adorably besotted diary entries — for helping her through an otherwise brutal process, but most of all, it’s her Vision that brought her this far in such a short time.
Because while Electro does react with other elements, it does not bear the intensity of Pyro or Cryo nor the binding strength of Anemo or Geo. No, just like lightning itself, Electro stands solitary, and thus derives strength from it’s own raw power.
And every place is prone to thunderstorms, so it’s easy for her to draw forth spells that others cannot. The cost of everything, after all, is power, and Lisa has plenty to spare thanks to the trinket hooked to her belt.
So she picks up the hookah pipe with giddy, shaking fingers, and giggles, “I don’t know how to do this properly, you know.”
“Oh, come on. You’ve never?”
“No.” Lisa bumps the girl’s nose with the wooden mouthpiece. “If you spent more time studying and not at shady hookah bars, you’d be able to graduate early, too.”
Prathiba pouts, good-natured and faux-upset, before taking the pipe from Lisa’s hands.
“It’s easy, see. First, inhale.”
She brings the wooden mouthpiece to her lips and takes a long drag. The coals resting atop of the hookah flicker blindingly before quickly disintegrating into ash.
“Then,” she continues, voice strangled, “hold it for a second.”
Little wisps of smoke try to escape from her pressed lips. Prathiba listens, and lets it go with a deep exhale.
It only adds to the claustrophobic air around them, and the smoke smells of the strange fruit that grows in Sumeru’s dark foliage — a result of their Archon’s power, of course, to see fruit-bearing trees in a desert. The container above the hookah’s water-vase is packed with the dried version, possibly to mitigate the dry, rough-tasting tobacco.
“You know,” she muses once Prathiba reappears amid the smoke, “they say a cigarette takes away 11 minutes of your life. A hookah must take away more.”
“Oh, stop it,” groans Prathiba, rolling her eyes. “Can’t we have some fun, for once?”
“I’m just telling you a statistic, darling.”
“Well, statistics are meant to be used in context,” counters the girl, grinning cheekily. “And what’s 11 minutes in the context of a full life?”
Lisa can’t argue with that, so she just laughs and accepts the pipe.
Seirai Island, Inazuma, 1768
Beidou watches, jaw firm and eyes tight, as a massive, cryo-wielding Fatui soldier carries Signora out of The Alcor and onto the shores of Seirai Island.
And Lisa only has the Captain’s infinite kindness to thank when all she does is turn and pin her with a look that screams, What are you doing?!
She wants to tell her that she knows the Cryo Fatui soldier smiles a little too lecherously for her comfort. She wants to tell the fellow Electro-user that she also feels the death and despair that crackles in the charged air. She wants to reassure her that this is only a temporary alliance borne out of their loyalty to Signora and not to her.
Lisa says none of those things. Only smiles, a little too weakly.
Then spares the pirate not another look as she follows the Fatui member’s footsteps and onto the purple shores.
A carriage has been prepared, and the Cryo soldier steps out of it, empty-handed. When he sees her, his face splits into another foul grin, a steam of cold air escaping his misfigured lips. Lisa ignores his stare and waits until he steps away, to fall in line with a Pryo gun-wielding soldier behind the carriage. An Electro-wielding Fatui member sits at the driver’s seat, just in front of Lisa. The air around them shimmers; there must be a Mirror Maiden with them, too.
So much security, and for what?
The carriage begins to rock sharply on purple grass. To distract herself from the horrible decay in the electrified air, Lisa turns her gaze to the scenery — or lack thereof. This island has been deserted for many moons now, perhaps having once proudly borne a civilisation, if the tattered stone ruins they pass are any indication. But now, nothing but the ruins remain, on an island whose Electro energy is too volatile for even historians to brave.
The only things that grow gladly are the strange pink fruits hidden under blue leaves.
A strike of a match, and the scent of tobacco — the Electro Fatui member helming the carriage-horses has a lit cigarette between his lips. Lisa wonders, as she inhales the arid tobacco scent, if he feels the unstable electric energy all around them, if he knows that the elemental resonance between his Delusion and the land makes him stronger, if he cares for what he is ferrying to the unknown depths of a desolate, destroyed land.
Leaning forward, Lisa asks, “Would you have a spare?”
“Yeah.” Awkwardly, so as to not relinquish his grip on the reins, he passes the carton and matches.
Her hands shake too much to light the first match.
The second time, she’s able to light the cigarette.
Eleven minutes is precious time she doesn’t have to spare.
Lisa takes a long drag.
Unsent Letter, Rosalyne’s Diary, dated March 3rd, 1251
My dearest Rostam,
There are so many things I want to talk to you about. Not the meaningless things I fill my letters with so your burdens feel lighter, but deeper things, more important things.
I want to ask you if we’re ever going to see an end to this war. I know you cannot tell me, for this battle is at the will of the Gods, but I want to know when I can stop worrying. You fight too valiantly and too chivalrously and too close to the front lines, and every time I receive a letter, I hold my breath until I see your handwriting.
I want to tell you about my research. You kept laughing at me for keeping so many — what did you call them? Critters? But I will have you know that my buggy escapades have finally borne fruit. With the help of the Chief Alchemist, we’ve been able to draw out the concentrated elemental magic within my crytalfies and fuse it with resin. It’s created a thicker, stronger compound that’s twice as powerful, but of course, costs twice as much base material. Such is the way of magic, I suppose.
But the war is ruining Teyvat’s ley lines, and we humans need to tend to it lest it decay altogether. With my work, we may be able to restore the land’s vitality and bring forth some much-needed stability, quickly.
Then there are the letters from my parents. I am a young woman at the end of my education, and there are suitors waiting for me in Mondstadt. Men who aren’t as brave as you or kind as you or lovely as you, but they are not soldiers and at risk of dying every day. How do I tell them that my heart is with you, and can be with no one else? How do I tell them that if you were not with me, I would be left barren, and empty husk not dissimilar to my crystalflies? Did you know, my love, that those that survive are no longer shining butterflies, but broken, horrendous moths?
So I don’t tell you these things. This letter will stay here, with my fears and my worries, and I’ll write something silly and lighthearted. Some meaningless words that you can keep folded in your jacket and read on lonely, cold nights, and perhaps you will smile, and we’ll be happier for it.
I want to dance with you again.
Knight of Favonius Alchemy Workshop, Mondstadt, 1761
“I-I-I’m so s-sorry!” squeaks Sucrose. “I was— I was conducting an experiment, and now the— Oh, I’m so, so sorry—”
Of course, Lisa should be upset that the Alchemy Workshop is in absolute ruin, but the girl is just so cute and so apologetic that she can’t find it within her to be mad. Albedo, on the other hand, displays a fraction more emotion than he usually does, going so far as to place a hand on the currently-hyperventilating researcher’s shoulder.
“Sucrose,” he says, and she squeaks into silence. “There’s nothing to worry about. Are you alright?”
And as he makes sure his cute assistant is alright, Lisa surveys the damage. Yes, a window has shattered, the alchemical table is on the floor, and her prized cauldron is burnt along the sides, but it’s the things scattered on the floor that are more interesting.
She recognises the large, waxy leaves of Calla Lilies instantly. This explains the horribly dry smoke that’s flooding the room and constricting her throat, but not the strange chill in the air. That must be from a Mist Flower — and she’s right on the money, because she spots a wilted petal in Sucrose’s hair. But what about the thick, gooey, golden liquid that’s all over the carpet and sticking to their precious books?
“M-Miss Lisa, I…”
“Oh, cutie.” Lisa saunters over and plucks the Mist Flower out of her hair. “You’ve got something in your hair.”
Sucrose is silent, looking up at her with wobbly, apologetic eyes.
“You know,” she hums, thumbing the petal slowly and feeling it’s chill against her fingertips, “no matter how many times I take medicine with Calla Lilies in it, it always tastes horrible.”
Amber eyes widen, ears perking in time.
“I used to think that having a spoonful of sugar would help the situation,” hums Lisa, carefully avoiding the Sweet Flower concentrate that’s spreading across the floor. “But shall I tell you a secret, cutie?”
How adorable. “You also need something citric to negate the astringency.”
“Something citric… In addition to the sweetness...” Sucrose hums, and Lisa watches the cogs turn in her clever head. “That… That might work.”
And Albedo, the insufferably observant prick, chimes in with, “An excellent idea, Lisa.”
So she tilts her head back and titters, “Idea? I’m just telling you an old wives tale for bitter medicine, darlings. You alchemists and your obsession with discovery.”
Albedo doesn’t seem convinced, but he says, “Sucrose, why don’t you go get cleaned up, and then bring Noelle to help us with this.”
And Sucrose ducks away, clinging her burnt hat to her chest and whispering one last apology. That leaves just Albedo and her in the room, air now thicker with something else.
“You are a remarkably learned woman, Lisa,” he muses, carefully and slowly.
“Well, sitting in a library all day means you read a lot.” Lisa shoots him a wink. “Perhaps you should visit me more, Albedo. A girl gets lonely in a large, empty library.”
Albedo hums, flirt flying above his head. Lisa bites back a growl.
“Well then, it looks like you have a lot of cleaning to do, and I’ve—”
“I have always wondered,” he hums, “why birds allow themselves to be restrained in cages.”
He pins her with a sharp gaze.
“After all, the whole sky is theirs, and they are glorious at their pinnacle.”
Lisa wants to shove the bastard into the cauldron and tell him to mind his own business. She considers zapping his cute face — not so much to damage it, because it really is so pretty. Maybe just enough to leave a scar as a warning.
Or she could tell him that mankind’s oldest story is one of a boy who flew too close to the sun despite repeated warnings, and that she, despite the thousand warnings engraved into Sumeru Academia’s walls, did the same thing. A moment of foolhardy recklessness, of youthful arrogance, of scholarly curiosity. And, as with all powerful magic, a hefty price.
She doesn’t say any of those things.
“My, Albedo. I never put you as a pet person. I would think your cute puppy assistant was enough.”
Finally, Albedo steps down, with an embarrassed blush and awkward cough, so she takes the win. Glides out of the room with a wink, turns the corner to rush to the safety of her library, and slams the doors closed.
As the story goes, the boy had fallen into the sea and drowned.
Lisa is left the awful knowledge that she must force herself to remain still. That she cannot go chasing after magic and power any more, no matter how drawn she is to it, no matter how lovely it feels crackling against her fingertips.
All she can do is warn others about the dangers that a Vision and magic bear. Speak in riddles and labyrinths to steer them away from the path she so recklessly traversed. Because the price —
Lisa would have preferred drowning.
Windrise, Mondstadt, 1767
The winds are mellow today.
But they are naughty, as always, and try to sneak into Rosalyne’s hair and muss the careful cascade of blonde falling down her shoulders. Lying down on her lap, the strands tickle Lisa’s nose, but Rosalyne thumbs them away so sweetly.
So sweetly that it makes Lisa’s heart want , so ferociously and fiercely, that she murmurs, “Rosalyne?”
“Will you sing for me?”
Wide-eyed, Rosalyne huffs crossly, insecurity flickering in cold blue eyes.
“Do I look like a tavern bard?”
“No.” Lisa smiles, love-struck and loose-tongued. “You look like something out of this world.”
A tickle of pink across pale cheeks, and Lisa could swear the woman is pouting.
“Are you making fun of my complexion?”
“Oh, darling, don’t be like that.”
Lisa rises, stays half on Rosalyne’s lap and half on the prickly grass. Gathers up her chilly lover in her arms, resting her chin on her breastbone.
“Please, won’t you sing for me?”
Rosalyne refuses to look at Lisa, opting instead to stare across the grassy plains and into the distance. Now Lisa is the one pouting, humming and huffing in a way that really, they’re too old for.
Finally, Rosalyne whispers, “It… It has been a long time.”
“That’s okay,” breathes Lisa, pressing her ear to the dip between her breasts. “I just want to hear you.”
And for all her coldness and cruelty, Rosalyne sings as sweetly as a young maiden skipping through the cobbled streets of Mondstadt — shy and soft and spaced with shaking breathing. Lisa can feel the way each shaky breath melts into a melody, and smiles against the honeyed vibrations radiating from her chest.
What flows along the rustling grass is an old song about a woman yearning to rest on her lover’s lap. What better place than Windrise, sings Rosalyne, for the wings will carry her soaring heart. And then, when night falls, they can entwine their bodies and keep away the evening chill.
Rosalyne’s voice quivers and breaks, and Lisa looks up to find cold fear in frozen eyes.
“Lisa,” breathes Rosalyne, voice harsh and broken and unlike the honey that slipped from her lips earlier, “you must be careful.”
And Lisa has to bite back a smile, because is that all this is? “I’m not afraid of falling, my darling.”
“No,” chokes Rosalyne. “No, you— You know. You know about— You must be careful. If I give— Lisa, you must be careful.”
Tears well up in Lisa’s eyes.
“Of my heart or yours, my love?”
A choked sob, and Rosalyne bows her head, broken breaths mingling together. Lisa closes her eyes, heart longing to behold something so fiercely protected, so vehemently locked away from the rest of the world, so hurt and twisted that it chose to wear a coat of thorns rather than have the petals crushed again.
“I’m not afraid of falling.” She shakily wipes away her tears. “But if it’s you, I’ll always be careful.”
Rosalyne sobs harder, pulling her in for a kiss.
Rosalyne’s Diary, dated February 26th, 1253
I will let everything burn.
This world took you away from me, so there is no reason to spare it. To the creatures that prayed on your goodwill, your kind heart — I will never let them prosper ever again. And to those Gods who allowed this to happen — if they perish in my path, then so be it.
Something fuels this fire within me. It makes it stronger, more potent, horribly addictive. I can ruin vast stretches of land with a single snap of my fingers. I have power now, unfettered, unquenchable power, and everyone knows it.
They call me a witch.
They lock their doors when I walk past. They fear me enough to acquiesce to my every demand. And my mask. They beg that I do not remove it.
Mother and Father, they don’t recognise me anymore. My dear friends, your dear friends. The old librarian at the Knights of Favonius Headquarters who smiled every time I visited. Nobody sees me anymore.
Rostam, they call me a witch.
I was better with you. I was kinder. I was happy with happiness.
Now, I want everyone to feel the agony that immolates my soul every second. I want them to see how I have been left barren, without the person who made me bloom. You told me that you were happy with me as I was — Would you have me still, like this? A monster too afraid to see her reflection?
You promised me a wedding, church bells ringing on a windy day. You promised me a life of happiness. You promised me dancing, every single day until our feet hurt.
How dare you go back on your word? How dare you leave me behind, to yearn for sweet promises that have now turned bitter? How dare you make my soul ache at the sound of sweet music? How dare you take half my heart? How dare you, how dare you, how dare you, how DARE..,.,
Koseki Beach, Seirai Island, 1768
“This is as far as we can go,” says the Electro Fatui member, sounding sorry. “My apologies, ma’am. The Electro in the water—”
“I understand,” says Lisa.
To her right, a massive cliff. To her left, water. Pieces of the land hang suspended in the air — for how long, Lisa does not know. What she does know is that there is an inhumane, broken power that lies beyond her, which colours the sky purple and electrifies the water.
Signs, blockades, measures that tell her she must not go any further.
“Would you have a boat?”
Lisa takes advantage of the Fatui members’ absence to stretch her legs. The carriage had rattled and bumped across every possible blue-hued stone on the thin, pink path to this sandy shore.
The signs of life are few. A strange grave underneath the cliff. Ruined homes that seem to have been evacuated in a hurry. And most importantly—
Two crystalflies dance and spin around each other, joyously unaware of what was happening, what was to come.
She only looks away at the sound of returning footsteps.
It is the Electro Fatui member who holds the boat steady, because the electrified water does little to his skin. She accepts his hand as she wades through stinging water and clambers onto the quickly-dampening wood.
As the Cryo agent approaches with Signora in his arms, she says, “Wait.”
Shifting to the bow, Lisa creates a magical lantern with a flick of her wrist. Within it is a single, purple rose — kept alive only through electrical energy, so Lisa stops feeding it. It looks for the next best option, and begins to drink the electricity from the waves around them.
When the flower begins to glow, bright and blinding, she says, “Come.”
After placing Signora by the bow, the Cryo soldier produces a pillow. A rush of tears clogs Lisa’s throat. She fusses over the blanket around Signora until the moment passes and the Cryo soldier has made his way to the stern.
With a mighty push, they are set out into the water.
They rock along the waves, not yet balanced, until Lisa rearranges things. It’s just her, and she does not have the vitality that Amber shines with or the strength that Kaeya has honed, but eventually they float calmly along the charged waves.
Purple light catches against the sharp angle of Signora’s jaw. Purple skies, purple waves, purple grass, purple butterflies, purple rose. If Lisa were any more tired, she would not be able to tell when one ends and the other begins.
She kisses her cold cheek, lingering.
Then forces herself to take the oars and row.
Mondstadt City, 1767
“Is this all we are?”
Signora turns to her, eyes cold and cruel.
“Control yourself,” she hisses. “We are in public.”
“You just fucked me in public,” bites back Lisa. “But feelings are where you draw the line?”
They’re alone, hidden between the Tavern’s massive barrels of wine. Lisa’s hair is mussed and skirt rides up her thigh, hair wild and heart beating wilder, so she lets static furiously crackle through the air.
“Be honest, Signora. Am I just a plaything to you?”
“Yes. You are.”
“Bullshit,” spits Lisa, grabbing the taller woman’s wrist and pulling her close. “Don’t lie to me.”
Signora stays cool, but her eyes rage with warning. “I cannot convince you to believe the truth.”
“Which plaything of yours has held you through your nightmares?” she snarls, nails digging into Signora’s cold skin. “Are there others who get to see you without your mask? Do you let Jean tend to your burns? Or Rosaria?”
Signora slams her against the wooden wall of the tavern, and Lisa sees stars.
“Quiet,” she snarls. “I could crush you for your insolence.”
“Do it, then,” pants Lisa, blinking away the pin-pricks of pain tickling her neck. “I would prefer that over this. This— This uncertainty.”
“Did you really expect things to be so simple, my sweet Rose?” growls Signora, lips stretched into a cruel smirk. “Does your naivety know no bounds?”
“Neither does your cynicism, it seems.”
“I do not love you.”
“Signora,” and she’s grabbing the woman’s fur collar, desperate to keep her close, “you hate the world now. I understand. But you can love again. You’re allowed to, and you deserve to be loved again. No cruel fate can take me from you, my darling, not like it did Ros—”
“ Enough! ”
Ravens flutter away at her shriek.
Signora’s head is bowed, but Lisa feels every drip of venom from her lips.
“Do not fool me with your lies, witch.”
“I’m— I’m not, I—”
“An equal sacrifice,” hisses Signora, meeting her eyes. There is a crazed, inhumane look in her eyes. “Magic demands an equal sacrifice, and Love is no different.”
The orange street lamp lights up only half of her perfect face, but Signora has never looked more monstrous. Broken and barren and beautiful, yes, but equal measures mad and insane and gorgeous.
“You will never use your magic again, because you cannot pay the price,” she pants, lips curved cruelly. “I will never love again, because I cannot pay the sacrifice.”
“Love is— It’s not—”
“Love is no different ,” she hisses. “Your library has stuffed you full with ideas of love healing all wounds. It does not. It takes, and takes, and takes, and I have no more to give.”
Signora’s throat shakes. Lisa’s wet cheeks smart in the evening chill.
“He left me as half a person,” she breathes. “I will not let you leave me as less.”
And then Signora shoves her against the wood once more, walking away and leaving Lisa to kneel in the dirt.
Tenshukaku, Inazuma, 1768
Lisa fears Rosalyne’s flames.
Kaeya’s ice melts too soon to cause any impact, Xiangling’s flaming tornado does not hold the same sheer power, and Amber’s flaming arrows are useless. Even Barbara’s watery bubbles fizzle out into the air, leaving behind an unbearable humidity.
Only the Traveller, with their newly-discovered Electro powers, can match Rosalyne’s burning retribution. They send electric insignias at each fiery burst, creating an Overloaded reaction that explodes in Rosalyne’s sweet face. She is knocked back long enough for a few strikes, before the process repeats.
That is not why she fears them.
She does not know who controls those vengeful flames.
Is it Signora who summons flaming tornadoes to swallow them whole? Is it Rosalyne who directs piercing ice towards them? Who cracks the whip, who cries out in agony?
Most importantly, which one would listen to reason? Which one can Lisa placate with soft pleas?
She doesn’t dare use her magic against her. She cannot. So she waits, watches.
Watches, as the Traveller delivers the final blow and Rosalyne melts away. Watches, as Signora falls to her knees, coughing up blood and curses. Watches, for cold blue eyes to temper themselves to reason.
And now, Lisa can—
Footsteps. The shiver of a drawn blade. The Traveller gasps.
The duel has been lost, and the Raiden Shogun approaches Signora to deliver the final blow.
Archons are, in a clinical sense, the manifestation of unbelievable power. So what makes them different from the beating wings of crystalflies or silly antics of slimes, interestingly, is how their bodies decay after death.
“Please!” she screams.
They had seen the aftermath of Orobaxi, the slain God of the Ocean Depths. It had not been an Archon, just a divine beast with great power, and yet its corpse and regret had scorched the earth and destroyed the skies for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
At her cry, the Raiden stills — momentarily so.
But the other difference, perhaps not so scientific, is that Archons have wills. Wills that bend to no human.
So it is fitting, when the Raiden brings down her blade, that the wooden floors of Tenshukaku are also left scorched and destroyed.
Northland Suites, Liyue Harbour, 1768
“Are you leaving?”
Signora’s hand stills on her coat.
Lisa pushes herself up to sit, uncaring if the sheets slide off her naked body.
“Are you leaving?” she repeats, hating how weak her voice sounds.
“Yes,” breathes Signora.
Rosalyne freezes, back turned to Lisa. So she scrambles forward and wraps her arms around her waist, hugging her tightly.
“The Tsaritsa has ordered for my presence in Inazuma.”
And for all her understanding of people, Lisa is still unsure of where Signora, the cruel, ruthless general of the Cryo Archon, begins, and where Rosalyne, the sweet girl who begs for her love to be cherished, ends.
“I love you.”
Nothing, save for the sound of Signora’s harsh breathing.
“Rosalyne, I love you.”
“Lisa,” breathes Signora, pained. “Do not make this more difficult than it has to be.”
“I think we passed that a long time ago.” Lisa kisses the sliver of the shoulder within her reach. “Signora, there’s no use playing pretend anymore.”
The older woman turns to face her, eyes stormy and shaken. In the chilly wake of her gaze, Lisa wonders if Signora herself knows where she began — the woman who chose retribution — and where Rosalyne ended — the woman who sang about a love sweeter than honey.
And so Lisa does not know who summons a pale-white flower, flat and pressed and preserved between the pages of a diary. She does not know which woman tucks it behind her ear. She does not know who grabs her chin and kisses her, fierce and longing and possessive until she’s trembling.
When they part, Lisa breathes against her lips all the same, “I love you.”
“I know,” she whispers, sounding relieved and terrified all at once. “I know, my sweet Rose.”
Cold fingers cup her cheeks, and colder lips press a kiss to her forehead.
“Wait for me, will you?”
Amakumo Peak, Seirai Island, 1768
Lisa misjudges their speed, so the boat bumps into the shore with a mighty splash.
At least they don’t capsize. As Lisa hops into the electrified water to steady the boat however, she thinks that perhaps that wouldn’t have been easier. She’s always preferred the rustle of paper to swinging around a massive weapon, and it shows on her body.
Lisa loops her arms under Signora’s shoulders and tugs. The pillow has fallen into the water, the blanket comes loose, and Signora falls into the water with a dull splash. She’s heavy, and Lisa’s arms are weak.
When she drags her along the purple dirt, Lisa’s hysterical laughter echoes between pink peaks.
Rosalyne is going to be so upset when she finds out her favourite dress has been ruined.
There’s a small stone island before the electrified lake, and that’s where Lisa’s muscles begin to scream and beg for relief. So she stops, falling to her knees with breathless pants, to adjust Signora’s dress and hair, to wipe away the pink grass and brown dirt smudged on a fair, cold cheek.
Around her are the signs of Seirai’s dead civilisation — tombstones and ruins and ceremonial sites, all brought to an end from an Electro being’s divine fury.
At her feet is Signora — eyes closed and mouth lazy and clothes stained with soil, brought to an end from another Electro being’s divine fury.
The sound of thunder again, too close now.
Such is the nature of Electro — foreboding great dangers and yet posing as the most dangerous threat of all. Stubborn in its refusal to blend kindly with other elements, and quick. So very quick, to warn and vanish away, leaving everyone else breathless.
Lisa is running out of time.
Raising her hand to the electrified skies, she closes her eyes.
As she brings down her fingers in a slow, downward arc, they begin to crackle with energy. Energy that Lisa is drawing from the freshly-sparkling water before her, from the remnants of the Thunderbird’s warning. Lisa has always been a powerful Electro Vision-bearer, and the element has responded to her every beck and call.
The sky begins to open up, air crackling with heat and magic. Behind her closed eyelids, she can see the searing-white streaks of an opening sky. Two whip-cracks of thunder follow, screaming warning and woe.
It’s not enough.
So Lisa must reach for the next thing.
Amid the thunderous cacophony, the soft beat of wings. The dozens of crytalflies around the lake’s periphery cannot resist her call — more accurately, they cannot resist the surge of Electro that radiates from Lisa, for they are but the purest form of the magic spilling from her fingertips. They flutter towards her like moths to a flame.
Lisa’s eyes snap open, dyed crackling violet, and the creatures begin to fuse together in a blinding light. Lisa condenses their raw elemental power, creating the thick material Rosalyne rightly said has enough power to revitalise the very foundational roots that hold Teyvat together, melting them with a flash of white-hot lightning.
The wind roars around her ears and the earth begins to crumble at her feet, but Lisa does not stop. Her hand is still following it’s slow, arc-like descent, and she is only halfway there.
She is only halfway there, but the pure elemental energy she pours into Signora’s mouth is still not enough.
After all, magic demands and equal sacrifice, and Lisa is out of options.
It is time to pay the price.
As the land beneath her feet crumbles into dust, Lisa begins to float into the air, her beloved floating right beside her. The air pulses with thundering energy, errant gusts whipping her robes in the charged air, and the thunder has not stopped.
She paid the first price in Sumeru — half of a full life.
Lisa brings her hand down lower, and right at the penultimate position, the dark clouds over Amakumo Peak snap open. White-hot lightning zigzags through the howling air, before landing at their final destination between Lisa’s breasts.
As her back arches, silhouette lined silver from shivering lighting, Lisa is ready to pay the second price in Seirai.
Half of what Lisa has left, only half to start with.
For the half that Rosalyne begged her to safeguard.
Two lives, now left in quarters.
An equal sacrifice.