The sound of birds chirping outside the Tenshukaku State signalled a new dawn and Sara knew it was her time to rise from her slumber.
Fluttering her golden eyes open at exactly 5:05 AM, she noticed the dim light covering most of the room. A single weak ray of sun was illuminating her excellency's figurines, standing proud atop of a shelf on the corner of the room.
The tengu frowned thoughtfully at the sight of the goddess statuettes, bringing back memories she would rather forget about. She exhaled heavily, flashbacks of the past events reminding her of her current dilemma.
Everything she had ever known had changed in the span of one single month.
Turns out that the Archon she had revered her whole life had been nothing more than a puppet while the real god -or rather, her consciousness- had been residing in ‘The Plane of Euthymia’, a place where no soul could step in.
The cherry on top being that her own clan had betrayed not only the Shogunate, but also Sara in the process. How could she not have seen the threat laying right in front of her?
A tired sigh escaped her lips as the tengu reopened her eyes, fatigue painting her expression as she scolded herself for her own foolishness.
Had it all been a farce? Had she done any actual good to Inazuma?
Shooing away those messy thoughts that would only worsen her performance, she sat up and finally got out of bed. After all, a long day was awaiting her.
Changing into her usual combat attire and grabbing her trusty bow, she took the red tengu mask resting on the bedside table and fixed it in front of the mirror.
She looked at herself in the mirror, wondering if she was a puppet as well, being pulled by some invisible strings.
The doors finally opened as the General emerged from them, her stance elegant with her back straight and her chin up, mentally revising the schedule for the day.
She went to the training grounds exactly at 5:45, gratified to find all her soldiers there and not having to send someone to wake up the others. She did the usual: sparring, teaching a new close combat technique she learnt from the traveller, giving them the usual pep talk and then left them practising another efficient combat routine.
The General headed straight to the eternal city of Inazuma, removing with a little more force than necessary the persistent bulletins of the man whom she had taken his vision from during the infamous vision hunt decree. Really, the Oni had been pestering her for over a month and didn't even have the audacity to challenge her face to face.
Throwing the bulletin to the nearest rubbish bin, the tengu continued on her way to check on the guards patrolling and finally went to the forest to do what she had intended since that morning.
The General had been informed that there were some treasure hoarders harassing anybody who went near Chinju forest, so she decided to have a little chat with them.
After a futile diplomatic argument, many clashes of swords and a few arrows shot here and there, three samurais and two treasure hoarders were shot down.
Swiftly taking the sweat off her forehead with a gloved hand, Sara departed from the area and ordered the nearest guards to send those men to jail.
The warrior shook her head, calmly walking down the path of the forest that led to the city of Inazuma. After a short boat ride, she was finally going up the steps that led to the city’s heart when a rather chubby bird appeared in her view, one that was atop of a sakura tree branch seemingly trying to get some sleep.
She stopped on her tracks, analysing the scene unfolding before her. Somehow the bird reminded her of the Raiden Shogun, or rather Ei -it still felt weird to call the Archon like that- whom she had caught caressing a similar bird two days ago.
It was a part of her excellency that she had never caught a glimpse of before, puzzling her for a second. She remembered the affectionate smile and those expressive eyes that used to be so cold before, as a delicate hand caressed the tiny bird’s head while the other held its body close to hers.
For a moment, Sara had been envious of that small bird, lucky enough to be in close contact with the Shogun. She closed her eyes, letting herself go for a moment and wondered what her excellency would smell like, to be that close to her body to the point she could scent her perfume.
Would she smell like sakura blooms, or maybe as sweet as amakumo fruits, or perhaps as… -she sniffed the air- perhaps she would have the delightful fragrance of…
Snapping her eyes open, she took yet another sniff.
Confirming her suspicions, her nose definitely smelt smoke.
Taking a glance to her right, the city was lacking the usual amount of citizens wandering around. The General only shrugged, it was Sunday after all. A glance to her left and she found out that the smoke was not coming from a passerby, but from her excellency’s home.
“The Tenshukaku is on fire..” she muttered to herself, still not grasping the severity of the situation.
A second passed, and then it clicked her.
All the alarms in her brain went off, her eyes wide open, exasperation painting her features as she exclaimed.
“THE TENSHUKAKU IS ON FIRE!”
With adrenaline coursing through her veins, the wings before hidden quickly unfurled and took flight towards the Shogun’s residency.
The General couldn’t believe what her eyes were seeing. From above, she could gaze upon all the smoke coming from the Tenshukaku as wild flames tried to escape to the streets.
What on Teyvat had happened? Why was everything on fire?
She had never flown so fast before, feeling the stress she was putting to her wings as she fluttered them with much force in a desperate attempt to just get there already. Her brain was already coming up with the worst case scenarios,dreadful thoughts swirling around fueling her fears. But only one thought prevailed in her mind.
Was her excellency alright?
She did a quick scan of the area, watching some citizens running towards the palace with buckets of water while hydro vision wearers did all in their power to stop the huge fire that was unfurling from within the Tenshukaku. This only set Sara more on edge, landing not so gracefully in the midst of shouting guards running up and down with more and more buckets of water.
“You over there!” she yelled at a group of guards “Evacuate everybody who’s inside!”
The General made her way through the crowds of guards and maids to the entrance of the palace. Slamming the doors open, she noticed that there wasn’t much fire there but from the doors that led to the kitchen.
“Has the Shogun been evacuated?!” she shouted to some guards on the steps, all with a panicked look on their faces.
Panic spread through her like a wildfire, the beat of her heart picking up pace and her senses enhancing.
“She was in the kitchen, General!” a passing maid replied with a yell as loud as hers.
That was all Sara needed to hear before she barged head straight through the kitchen doors. Big angry red flames that reached to the ceiling greeted her, the atmosphere so thick with smoke that made her cough and her eyes water.
“Your excellency!” she called out, making her way through the flames and trying not to get burnt in the process.
She did a quick survey of the area again, and just as she was about to call for the Shogun once more, she spotted a hunched figure from the corner of her eye.
Relief washed all over her, realising that it was the goddess crouching down at a corner, her hands clutching for dear life what seemed to be a… a plate with a lid on top?
Not wasting any time, the General’s following moves were as if she were on autopilot. She quickly ran to her excellency, scooped her in her arms as if she weighed nothing and kicked the hell out of the one of the outer kitchen walls as a swift exit, sweat covering her whole body from both the fire and the scare.
The guards immediately proceeded to put out the main fire, barking out orders as hydro vision wearers blasted riptides of water into the kitchen.
The General briskly carried the Archon to the nearest bench and carefully sat her there, her hands automatically resting on the Archon’s shoulders.
It appeared as the Shogun was in a state of shock, her eyes clouded, not focusing on anything.
Sara noticed that the sleeves of her kimono were burnt, a soot line was adorning the ivory skin of her left cheek as her hair was all disheveled.
“Your excellency, what happened?!” she asked her, distraught.
Her brain racked with all sort of possibe scenearios, perhaps a treasure hoarder had tossed a fire bomb through the window, or maybe there was a new uprising against the Shogun?
“Oh my god, I should have known better” her head fell down, knitting her eyebrows together as anger seeped through her veins.
“General…” her Archon’s calm voice called out for her, but she wasn't having it.
“I should have known that there would be a new uprising even though the decree has ended” the General lamented, already punishing herself for it.
“Of course they would try to hurt the Shogun after the dust has settled!” the General continued her monologue, already making plans to hunt for the criminals who had dared to harm the Electro Archon.
“I swear to you, your excellency, that the criminals responsible for this atrocity will not see a ray of sun for the rest of their lives!” she exclaimed as she kneeled in front of the archon in a bow.
“Yes?!” the young woman abruptly got off her bowing position, staring wide eyed at the Archon in front of her, already regretting her sudden outburst.
Baal shyly accommodated herself in her seat, her gaze dropping to the plate with the lid on top and then turning to the General. A faint blush covered her cheeks, which only blew Sara even more away. She had got so used to the inexpressive puppet that seeing her with a blush was…cute to say the least.
The thought made herself blush.
“No one tried to attempt on my life, General” her voice was calm, a stark contrast from all the chaos surrounding them, the guards already barking orders to the reconstruction of the palace’s kitchen.
The words only confused the tengu even more than she already was, blinking a few times with her mouth agape.
“In fact…” Raiden pursed her lips in what seemed to be… shame? (could Archons feel shame?) as her purple eyes that reminded Sara of thunder focused on something behind her, “...I’d say it was an accident”.
The General could only stare at her, a disoriented frown settling between her eyes, “May you elaborate on the subject, please?”
The question only made the Shogun more uncomfortable, her own elegant eyebrows morphing into a sheepish frown as her eyes traded to her left, looking at the sakura trees as if they were the most interesting thing in the whole Teyvat.
Sara still couldn’t believe the range of emotions the goddess behind the puppet could display. In fact, she was a bit unnerved by it.
Ten seconds passed, the Archon reluctant to offer her an answer.
“Yes, I will elaborate on it” she blurted out as she looked down at the dish cradled between her delicate hands. A sigh escaped from her lips as she closed her eyes, preparing herself to give a proper explanation.
How could she explain that she started the fire?
After five seconds that felt like an eternity to Sara, the Archon finally granted her with the answer she had been waiting for.
“I attempted to cook…something” she trailed, her gaze locked on the dish with the lid, “and let’s say that it didn’t go the way I planned”.
The General could only stare at her dumbfounded, her brain searching for explanations of why the Shogun would even want to cook when she had the best chefs on Inazuma at her disposal.
“I apologize if this comes off a little harsh” the tengu wiped the sweat sticking to her forehead “but why would you indulge into the culinary arts when you have professional chefs to do it for you, your excellency?”
This only made the blush covering the Shogun’s deepen, but her expression remained stoic.
“Well” she began, twirling a purple lock between her fingers, “can’t an Archon cook whenever she feels like it?” she countered back.
Sara could only observe the goddess in disbelief.
“It was a joke, General. Don’t worry” she cut her off before she could reply, another sigh escaping from her plump lips. She guessed she could no longer lie.
“The truth, General, is that I wanted to cook a scrambled egg for you” her eyes fixated on the tengu’s face as she delivered her speech with formality and elegance.
Sara’s brows shot up in bewilderment, wondering why in celestia the almighty electro archon would cook something for such a lowly servant as herself.
“I have noticed that you usually eat eggs with most of your meals” she tapped the lid with the tip of her fingernails, the metallic sound soothing her, “I know it’s a good source for protein, so I wanted to cook it for you as a thank you for your everlasting loyalty, even after…” a pregnant pause, “after you learned the truth about me”.
The tengu blinked at the goddess, processing the words that had been said. She just couldn’t believe that Baal, the Electro Archon, had decided to make an egg just for her.
She felt honored that the Shogun thought her deserving of a meal prepared by herself. Sara told herself that it was her duty to eat whatever thing if her goddess wanted to do so.
Duty, nothing more and nothing less.
Nevertheless, what mostly drove her to actually try the dish was the look of a kicked puppy the Archon had.
“Almighty Shogun” Sara finally began, her eyes never leaving Baal, determined to try the heavenly made meal “May I try your dish, please?”
The Archon’s eyes suddenly glowed, a small grin forming at the corner of her lips, “Of course General” she said as she grabbed the lid, uncovering the final product.
Sara definitely wasn’t expecting to find a dark patch covering the pristine white dish. She stared at it mortified, and then back at the Archon whose eyes were shining with excitement.
At first she thought that the Archon was mocking her, but taking a good look at her expression was enough to realise that the Shogun had no clue that the egg was literally burnt.
It seemed that she didn’t have any other choice.
Gulping down, she carefully grabbed a piece of the burnt egg, bringing it closer to her mouth. Her breath hitched at the burnt smell, stopping her breathing for just a moment. However, it was futile since the taste of charcoal hit her full when it made contact with her tongue, the bitter taste of charcoal covering every inch of her taste buds. She repressed the gag reflex at the awful flavour of the egg, swallowing it down as she shut her eyes.
“Did you like it?” the god in front of her asked with genuine curiosity, eager to know the General’s thoughts on her dish.
If she was being honest, the egg had been straight up awful, if you could still call that dark plotch an egg. However, she wouldn’t dare to say those words to her goddess, not after all the work that she had put through to actually make it. Apart from that, she honestly did not want to hurt the Shogun’s feelings.
“It was delicious, your excellency” she lied between her teeth, trying to sound as convincing as possible.
“Oh, really?” the god sounded delighted, already moving a hand, about to catch a piece of the egg, “May I try it?”
Her eyes widened in dread, viewing in slow motion as one of the Archon’s dainty hands got closer to the burnt egg, about to take a piece for herself.
The tengu’s following actions would have been considered rude in any other situation, but she had to save not only her lie but also the tremendous disappointment Ei would have at the awful flavour of the dish.
Skillfully, she took the dish that had been residing on the Archon’s lap just before her fingertips made contact with the food, getting it away from her reach. A pregnant silence suddenly clouded the atmosphere, the Shogun staring at her appalled. Sara prayed that thunder did not strike her right then and there.
“Apologies, your excellency” the tengu grabbed the whole egg, glancing at it with trepidation, already savouring the scorchiness, “I’m afraid that I’m famished from all the training” that was not a lie.
Without hesitation, she crammed down the remaining portion of the food, gulping it down as quickly as possible to end her suffering. She couldn’t help but cough, tears forming around her eyes from the bitter after taste it left.
“Why are you crying?”
“Tears of joy, your excellency” she bowed to cover her face and wipe her tears away.
“It was exquisite, my lady” she recomposed herself, her voice husky.
Looking up from her bowing position, she found the goddess dedicating her the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. It was a small one, but radiating with such warmth that Sara had to look away for a moment to recover from the shock of beholding the Archon smiling.
“I’m delighted to hear that, General” she simpered, clasping her hands together elegantly, her purple eyes glowing with sun behind her.
Sara knew that she was probably gawking at that point.
“And I thank you for the food, almighty Shogun” she stood up from her crouching position, her stomach grumbling unhappily as she felt a few stabs of pain.
They stared at each other for a few seconds, both lost into each other’s gaze.
“Ehem” the general coughed, “I must continue my duties, my lady” she informed.
“Oh, yes!” the goddess blurted, snapping out of it “You shall continue serving Inazuma, General”
“Excuse me, your excellency”
And just like that, the General covertly got out of sight, making sure that nobody needed her or was following her steps.
She needed to recover from what she had just eaten.
Later that day…
“So that’s why your house was on fire” Guuji Yae processed the information, gently pouring tea for her old friend and her.
“I know that I probably shouldn't have cooked” Ei chuckled, raising the cup to her lips, smelling the aromatic fragrance of the tea, “but it was all worth it” she affirmed with a proud smile “after all, she said that it was delicious”
The Shrine maiden hunched her eyebrows in confusion, and then quickly did the math.
“She lied to you” she deadpanned.
“She’s probably dying somewhere in the forest or something”
Meanwhile, somewhere in Chinju forest…
An unmoving body could be seen laying on the grass. In a fetal position was the tengu General, her arms embracing her middle as she felt how her stomach twisted and untwisted, trembling with sweat covering her whole body.
“I think I want to throw up”