The day starts normally for the God of Death.
The Light Realm is still silent. It’s no secret that most of them still won’t acknowledge Beidou as their kin, moreso as their Sovereign, but they begrudgingly acknowledge her prowess that ended Haishan’s life. Though Beidou can’t keep an eye on all of them, at least she’s confident that the Tempestra Vishaps won’t do anything stupid. Sangonomiya has also agreed to keep their truce, so Beidou doesn’t have to worry too much about the Bathysmals. The other ones … not so much. Azhdaha’s soul has been sealed many millennia ago, but the suspiciously low activity of the Geovishaps is rather concerning, to say the least. It’s not that she can really do anything about, seeing Morax so relaxed in their cloud palace.
Beidou huffs. Her old friend can be very … disregarding sometimes.
The Human Realm possesses the least threat as of now. Beidou does not like speaking ill of others, but more often than not humans are forgetful and short lived, and they love maintaining the cycle of hatred they always preach to admonish. A slight peek into the Human Realm and Beidou already know they’re still fighting amongst each other and exploit the weak. Beidou may think Morax is a tad bit irritating whether or not they will themself to be, but she’s thankful that they haven’t sent her to the Human Realm to clean up the mess created by the greedy mortals these past few months, especially what with has been told to her about a shady organized group whose influence has spread across the continent. Beidou has had enough hearing their wails as they try to escape the Door of Judgement. It’s entertaining to see Hu Tao tossing them back into the queue with just a flick of her fingers.
(Hu Tao complained about it one time. “It’d just be a Wangsheng Funeral Milellith,” she said as she sighed dramatically and put on a show of moping around her little wooden boat. “Dead People Gatekeeper. Wait, no, that’s you. Dead People Flicker. Ha! What use is this boat if I can just catapult them across the River Styx to the Irminsul Sap Maker and burn it down to ashes.”
Beidou admits that this is a fault on her part. She should ask Muzhen to design a fence. Humans are known for their impatience, after all. The stories born from lost souls wandering around the Dark Sea can be surprisingly amusing, but Beidou would like it if she has a good reputation as the God of Death.)
The Abyss Order has sent more of their little mages to try to reach the border. It’s nothing Beidou can’t handle alone, though Sea Drake and Furong insisted on coming along. Luckily they met some Seelies wandering near the Ancient Ruins on their way to the border, who sang and danced for them, and wished them a safe trip. Beidou caught the longing look Sea Drake threw to the distance of the Ancient Ruins, and gave him a pat on the shoulders when they couldn't spot the fair maiden.
(“Maybe next time,” Beidou said reassuringly, and Sea Drake shrugged her away more dismissively than the airy joke he used to deflect.)
Unsurprisingly, the Abyss Mages attacks are uncoordinated, and their increasing number has kept Beidou away from her abode for quite some time now, even though she doesn’t like to admit that (and, truthfully, the reason why her communication with the Celestial Palace has been more limited). She can still hear the prayers and offerings from the people of the Human Realm echoing in her skull, but she has to push them into the deepest part of her mind to stay focused at dealing and locating all of the Abyss Order camps that she’s encountered so far.
The Abyss Mages appear in random spots across the Dark Sea; usually they’re in a group of two, but some of them bring old, aggressive hillichurls that are more prone to succumb to the wicked runes of the Abyssal curse. The floaty freaks of Lectors are, thankfully, nowhere to be seen. Beidou would rather not deal with them and their headache-inducing preaches.
The wasteland around the Ancient Ruins has some caves for a good hiding spot. Though, the Abyss Order dares not to come too close to the domain of the Seelie, and keep vigilant outside the area where the spirits’ dim lights cannot reach. By the time Beidou, Furong, and Sea Drake reach the deeper part of the wasteland, the blood of Mages and hillichurls have coated their body, and they have destroyed more Abyssal runes than they can count.
“I swear they have an Abyss Mage factory or something. They can’t stop spawning,” Sea Drake swings his sword to get the blood off. “Dajietou, you said you’ll be fine alone … you’ve been cleaning these Abyss hatchlings for some weeks now, and they keep appearing. I think it’s time you station some of us out here.”
“Besides, we’re bored of pacing around,” Furong complains. “I don’t understand why that old dragon won’t let us deal with some of the pesky people. Then you told us to stay put. My blade is getting rusty!”
To be honest, Beidou doesn’t really know why Morax lets some of them stationed—well, more than necessary anyway. Almost two-thirds of her fleet for surveillance duty is too much. Her old friend hasn’t told her anything, hasn’t informed her of anything strange happening in the Human Realm (other than one recent occasion of lunatics trying to bring back the Lord of the Vortex), though it probably has got something to do with how they haven’t really talked to each other for … quite some time. Everything Morax needs Beidou to know they’ll send one of the Adepti or Hu Tao, and everything Beidou needs Morax to know she’ll send Liushi, or sometimes Juza. It’s not that they have grudges—they’re amicable , is probably the most appropriate word to use, but ever since …
Beidou doesn’t let her mind wander there.
However, she can guess why Morax does what they do. Beidou is certainly less knowledgeable about every happenings in the Human Realm, but she’s not completely clueless. As far as she knows, the shady group that Morax has under their direct surveillance have been recruiting more people while laying on the low, with a goal that’s ranging from questionable to despicable (Beidou still thinks the attempt at waking up Osial is absurd), but some of them haven’t tried anything that needs further investigation by the Celestial Palace. Morax is only trying to play it safe, surely, especially with so many begrudging gods and vengeful souls wandering in the Dark Sea, trying to take advantage of every little crack they can find.
Beidou suspects the rising attacks of the border from the Abyss side has something to do with those suspicious groups, but she hasn’t had any concrete proof yet to take actions against it. Furthermore, their activities are spread across the Seven Nations, and most likely beyond as well, and it’s not a wonder that Morax has difficulties keeping tabs of things that happen outside of their dominion. After all, they’re a deity that watches over a limited area, unlike her who guides all souls, or the windborne bard who knows all songs.
“Each one of your posts is crucial to our defense,” Beidou says. “There is something moving under the radar, but I can’t figure out yet where they come from. Worst case scenario, we’d just have to deal with the Nightmoth—”
Beidou stops herself. She grips her claymore and looks to the distance of the never ending darkness, where the horizon shows no limit of the wasteland they end up in. It’s dim here, like the moment before a bleak dawn, starless and moonless, a common occurrence of the Dark Sea—they have no day, and so the only semblance of light they can have in this evermoving space of nothingness are the warm light of the Seelie, which now is nowhere to be found as they’re very far from the Ancient Ruins, and the soft crackle of electricity accumulating on Beidou’s horns.
Which is why every one of their senses are adapted to such an environment. They can feel it: the soft shake of the ground, barely noticeable. One, two, three … twenty . There are twenty, and they have reached so close without being heard.
“Speaking of the devil,” Beidou drawls as a grin slowly spreads across her face, showing a row of pointy teeth and two pairs of fangs. “Her precious babies are here. This is going to be fun.”
Her claws meet a joint of neck as one of the creatures pounces from the shadows. At the death of their kind, the others begin to zoom around in an attempt to confuse their prey, bat-like wings fluttering quietly; and in the midst of their disorganized pattern, some of them surge forward to attack. Beidou’s Electro pierces through their hardened oily obsidian black skin and heart, and the few that manage to dodge soon find their skull blasted by Furong’s fists or their head bisected by Sea Drake’s blade.
In no time, bodies are strewn across the ground, limbs decapitated.
Furong groans and kicks a faceless head with inverted horns. “What is their business here?”
Well, the day is not so normal now.
Beidou cocks an eyebrow. What in Marchosius’ burnt pans are the Nightgaunts doing here? Abyss Orders are common in the breach between the Three Realms, but for the children of the Nightmother themselves to show up outside of the Abyss …
“You guys are right. I need to dispatch some of you here.” Beidou sighs, recalling the map of the Dark Sea she’s been trying to stitch together over the millennia. This place is everchanging, always constantly shifting from one biome to another, but there’s a pattern. Surely there must be—no, she’s certain of it. “We need to know where else these freaks are showing up. Sea Drake, inform Juza. Tell him to dispatch Yuheng and Tianxuan to scout the area around the Ancient Ruins and the wasteland. If the adjacent area changes to the Land of Muspell or Enkanomiya, stay put and report back regularly. Any sightings of the Beast of Irmin is to be notified to me immediately.”
Sea Drakes nods and his form changes—his spine elongates and his skin gray, and the next moment he’s a whale. He whips his wide tail and sways away into the distance.
“We’re pretty far from my place. This is about one hundred gallops away from your post, yeah, Furong?”
“And four,” Furong corrects. Beidou sniffles in disdain.
This is when both of them hear a low howl, almost like a rumble, and find Liushi leaping toward her in his whale form, marginally smaller than Sea Drake with dark blue skin, anxiety written in his little black eyes and bumpy chin.
“Liushi-gege!” Furong says, just as surprised as Beidou to see Liushi out of his post.
“Liushi, what are you doing here?” Beidou asks as Liushi’s massive whale form shrinks into a normal human, face pale with something more than exhaustion.
“Furong. Dajietou,” he says, his gaze pinned to Beidou’s, uneasy. It’s contagious, for the sole reason that Liushi is very rarely restless. “Your presence is needed in the Celestial Palace. Now.”
First the Nightgaunts and now this. Morax never summons her to the Celestial Palace again. “Did something bad happen that they need me there?”
“Not bad per se … not by their standard anyways. But I don’t think you’d like it. Anyhow, you should be there immediately.”
Beidou is still not sure of what’s going on, but the cloud dwellers are pesky people, and even if most of them are agreeable in normal circumstances, they can be very hard to deal with if something just ever so slightly wastes their precious time. She nods to Liushi and turns to Furong with an apologetic look. “It seems like I have to trust the cleaning up to you.”
“I’d rather be here than be up there,” Furong scoffs good-naturedly with a hopeless smile.
“I know you don’t really like the idea of going to the Human Realm,” Beidou says to Liushi. “But I need you to inform the 16th Brigade of the Eremites. I still can’t get in touch with the Lady of the Grass, but they should know that there’s a danger so close to their port.”
Liushi’s frown turns deeper, but he nods. “Consider it done, Dajietou.”
“Thank you, both of you.”
So with that, Beidou’s bones melts and grows; scales spread from her backbone to her ribs, hands, all over her body. Fins pierce her skin as her tail stretches. Now fully dragon, Beidou puffs from her nose as a goodbye, and swims to the surface of the Dark Sea, to the border of the Human Realm.
She would be lying if she said coming to the Celestial Palace after all these years doesn’t make her a little bit apprehensive. Unlike the Dark Sea, with no lights and warmth, located under the surface of the continent and its four corners, the Celestial Palace is a place of clear sky and misty clouds, place of the clearest springs and freshest morning dew. But even with its welcoming air and regular cycle of day and night, Beidou doesn’t like what it can hide.
Beidou lets out a sigh she didn’t know she’s holding as she spots four familiar figures by the gates: Fushe’s muscular figure is visible from a considerable distance, with his four hands waving over, and as Beidou gets closer, she can see Marchosius jumping excitedly behind Xiangling’s legs. Beidou’s figure swivels and shrinks, and she steps a foot gently onto the ground in her human form, in which Fushe and Xiangling immediately rushes up to her and envelop her in a bone-crushing hug.
“If this isn’t my favorite little hatchling!” Fushe exclaims jovially.
Xiangling’s face emerges with teary eyes from where she buried it into Beidou’s clothes. “You’re finally here, Jiejie! It’s been such a long time!”
Marchosius babbled his agreement enthusiastically.
Beidou laughs weakly. “I hope you guys have been well?”
Xiangling nods. “But it’s different without you around!”
Not far from them, the God of Literature, Xingqiu, closes the book in his hands and walks over towards the huddling group of people, a soft smile on his youthful face. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, my Lord.”
Beidou rolls her eyes. “I’ve told you to cut that out already.”
“You have to try harder than that, then.”
“How have you been, Little Beidou?” Fushe asks as he and Xiangling finally release Beidou from their embrace. Marchosius takes the opportunity to hop forward and steals a head pat from the God of Death. “These babies have been missing you, you know. The little birds are also asking where you are! Yingda is very worried.”
“Lady Xiangling and Lord Marchosius even tried to bribe Lady Hu Tao to take them to yo—”
“Xingqiu!” Xiangling exclaims and Marchosius jabbers indignantly.
Beidou sighs fondly and ruffles Xiangling’s hair. “I’m sorry for making you guys worried. The situation on the border is getting more and more complicated. I’ll visit you if I can, and you can also visit me if you want. Just be friendly with the Seelies that come by and don’t try to cook them.”
Marchosius snivels dramatically and buries his face into Beidou’s trousers.
“That’s great,” Xingqiu says. “I’ve been wanting to borrow your maps and nautical charts. Exploring your library is always an unforgettable experience.”
“That’s just because you like books too much,” Fushe comments.
“The Lord is mistaken,” Xingqiu shakes his head solemnly. “Lord Beidou’s library deserves the highest praise! It contains endless treasures of knowledge and things that cannot simply be replicated.”
“Oh, don’t start rambling about that,” Xiangling wails, shoulders dropping.
Before the two young Gods can bicker amongst themselves, Fushe grabs them by the shoulders with his four arms and clears his throat. “Kids, we have more pressing matters than a library.”
The mirth in both young Gods’ faces is almost completely gone, replaced by uneasiness. Xingqiu coughs into his fist. “I shall announce Lord Beidou’s arrival.”
“Alright … What is this about?” Beidou says as she watches Xingqiu walk away, his robes fluttering behind him like ocean waves.
Xiangling shuffles on her feet; Marchosius scratches his head with his round paws.
“Something you won’t like,” Fushe says.
“That’s what Liushi also told me.”
A sigh. “Let’s go inside. See it for yourself.”
And so the little group walks further inside the cloud palace directly into the throne room. Though Beidou hasn’t been here in such a long time … it’s still the same. Almost bared of any luxurious furniture, everything is of clouds of dawn. She still remembers the second turn of the corridor, or the sixth door on the southwest that leads to the garden. The turtle sculpted from dust on the fourth turn.
They arrive at the throne room before her mind can wander. It’s just as ordinary as the rest of the palace is; well, it’s actually not a throne room at all, more of a front hall where the Gods and Adepti usually gather. It only becomes a “throne room” because that’s what the mortals call it.
And everyone inside is still the same.
Morax stands at the center of the room, hands behind their back. Coily golden horns, long brown hair, melancholic amber eyes, and dark brown tail, resting from their back on the floor. They don’t wear the armor Beidou usually sees them in: only layered robes with the same color as their scales.
“Beidou,” Morax greets with a solemn nod, and Beidou replies with a nod of her own (not really because she’s afraid her voice would crack if she dares greet back her old friend. Beidou holds herself from closing her eyes, lest an image of someone no longer among them appear at the back of her mind. She almost does. Beidou ignores the strange clog between her heart and her lungs).
The Adepti are all here, standing on both sides of the hall—Moon Carver, Cloud Retainer, and Mountain Shaper on one side and the Five Yakshas on the other, except for Fushe who's standing behind her. Well, almost all of them are here—Ganyu and Madam Ping are still in the Human Realm, Beidou supposes. And then there’s Hu Tao, standing not too far from Morax, as she always does as if it’s her favorite playground, who waves her hand as Beidou spots her. Beidou acknowledges the ghostly girl with another nod and a faint smile.
Xiangling and Marchosius join the other Gods by Morax’s side. They stand between Xingqiu and Xinyan, whose eyebrows are raised so high it’s hidden behind her bangs as she sees Beidou, before the biggest grin spreads across her face. Still spunky, that child. Beidou is glad to see that grin again. Shenhe, who stands next to Xingqiu, only bows at her with an expressionless face.
“The Dragon Lord of the Seven Seas has graced us with her presence this time,” Moon Carver said. “What a pleasant surprise.”
“One is honest to think the Lord would never come back to the Palace,” Cloud Retainer sighs pitifully. “And now that you’re here, my Lord, you have to deal with such grave moral depravity of the humankind—”
“Cloud Retainer, please,” Minu cuts her off from across the room, his expression unchanging with his hands clasped behind his back. Could Retainer huffs, but she doesn’t say anything.
Not that Beidou cares—she’s not even paying attention to anything … except for the stranger that has caught her attention the moment she stepped into the throne room.
The stranger stares back at her with an almost expressionless pool of wine. Beidou has never seen someone like her: long hair that almost touches the floor, as white as the cloud, clear complexion of a pearl, face as lovely as the moon, and tall, slender figure in a hanfu embellished by golden gingko leaves and skyscraping branches. Beidou wonders if Fate has ascended a new deity … surely not. She hopes not .
“Who’s this?” Beidou asks, not taking her gaze off of the stranger. The room falls silent with her question.
“Beidou, let me introduce you to Lady Ningguang … the late chair of the Tianquan,” Morax says as they step forward. The stranger, Ningguang, bowed her head in respect.
The Tianquan … Beidou is not really up to date with human’s political turmoil, but she always remembers the Seats of the Seven that were named after her naval ships. Coupled by the fact that she’s been busy maintaining balance between the Three Realms, it’s probably not too far that Beidou has missed 2 generations of the Qixing. She certainly hasn’t seen this woman anywhere … Wait. What did Morax say? Late ?
Beidou oversees the souls of the dead. She sees everyone coming towards the Door of Judgement, even if she’s not personally there. Does that mean this lady …
Morax closes their eyes, and the others shift uncomfortably in their place. When the Lord of Geo opens their amber eyes again, Beidou can see sympathy in them. They gesture with their hand as an invitation for Ningguang. The lady bows again with two hands in front of her in a salute.
“This lowly one is Ningguang, Tianquan of the Qixing.” Her voice is akin to silk and linen, smooth as the wisp of clouds of a clear sky, assertive and somber that Beidou hasn’t heard from anyone else. Her long, pale lashes fan across her cheeks. “This lowly one is here as an offering that the people of Liyue Harbor choose for you, my Lord.”
Beidou’s mind stops for a moment.
The clouds of the Celestial Palace darken, and a storm begins to brew over the once-clear sky. The foundation of the Palace shakes and the pillars rattles as the temperature of the atmosphere rises slowly but surely, turning the spring-warmth of the Celestial Palace into the uncomfortable torridity of an awakening volcano. Beidou cares not for how the Adepti change their stances, nor for how the Yakshas summon their weapon into their hands in alert—she’s not even aware of how her eyes glow and her fangs enlarged, and in her rage, coldness that burns the skin, she steps closer toward the mortal soul with bared claws.
“The people betrayed a living soul in my name?” Beidou demands with a growl that deafens the hall. It almost passes her mind at how the mortal flinches.
Before she can step closer, Morax stands between her and the late Tianquan, their gaze a little bit shorter than the Dragon King herself, especially with growing bones and covering scales, but they are unwavering, even with Beidou’s face right before their own.
“Calm down, Beidou,” Morax says. Beidou finds her old friend’s untroubled expression to be infuriating, but she keeps both of her hands on her sides. “We need to discuss this with clear minds.”
“You expect me to be calm when they have used my name for blood, Morax? ” Beidou snarls. “ Have the people of Liyue turned into barbarians ?”
The Dragon King completely towers over the Lord of Geo, but both parties are unflinching. The Adepti have casted a protective barrier around themselves to protect them from the untamable fostering Electro energy in the throne room, while Morax has erected a stone wall of Geo for the Tianquan.
One that returns her clarity is the comforting touch on her shoulder. She doesn’t have to turn around to know that it’s Fushe with a worried frown and a pair of materialized palms out of Electro half as big as himself.
“Easy, easy, little one,” whispers him softly. “The people have wronged an innocent soul, but Lord Rex Lapis is right. We should hear from the Lady herself of what happened.”
She understands now why Fushe was the one greeting her by the gates and stays close to her: they knew what happened, and he’s the only one who can hold her down if it gets ugly, aside from Morax.
Beidou wonders if the marble floor of the Celestial Palace spins. She catches the lady’s stare, then, impassive and calculating, seemingly having caught herself and schools back her trepidation of the sudden outburst of the God of Death. But Beidou recognizes that look everywhere: the underlying fear, with how Beidou can almost hear the prayers of “ please, have mercy, please don’t take my life away ”. Dragon is a mighty creature, but no one dares to mess with Death.
Beidou exhales slowly through her nose. This isn’t about her; her anger can wait … the problem is certainly bigger than what was told. The boiling anger is suppressed back into the deepest part of her ribs, though her muscles are still tense. Fushe taps her shoulder twice, comforting, and says, “That’s it. Easy.”
Those scums that betrayed their own people are lucky that she has more pressing matters to attend to. Now the problem is right in front of her.
The storm slowly dissipates, and the clouds turn clear once more.
Beidou huffs and closes her eyes. “Apologies. I’ve let my anger get the better of me.” She looks at the late Tianquan but soon avoids her gaze as an ugly emotion eats away at the base of her heart. “If the Lady wills, please, tell me—tell us, what happened? How did the mortals do something so despicable towards one of their leaders?” One of their kin?
There’s a moment of silence that befall as the mortal soul mulls over her words with a troubled expression. “It’s because of the attempt at the resurrection of the Overlord of the Vortex,” she says. “We … I and some members of the Qixing have investigated the source of the problem, which led to an organized group by the name of ‘Fatui’ that originated from a foreign land up north of snow and blizzards.”
The Tianquan is interrupted as Beidou turns toward Morax. “You said you’ve dealt with Osial.”
Morax doesn’t flinch at the Overlord of the Vortex’s true name … a name that once was dear to both of them. “And I did indeed. Not personally, but the Adepti descended. It was thanks to Ping and Little Ganyu that we’re able to be there on time. Unfortunately, not for what happened afterwards.”
Morax nods to Ningguang as a gesture for her to continue.
“It is as the Lord says. But the Fatui are adept in manipulation, and so the general populace believed that the resurrection was caused because Your Grace the Dragon Lord of the Seven Seas was dissatisfied.”
“Me? Dissatisfied?” Beidou says, almost a snarl, but she schools herself back. “Now I sure am. Disappointingly so.”
“Please pay her no heed, Lady Tianquan,” Morax says.
Ningguang nods, her head still bowed in respect, not daring to look any of the gods directly in the eyes. “A part of the government that has been dissatisfied with my policies took advantage of the situation and enabled a group from the Court of Celestial Entertainment who claimed to be your loyal followers to remove me from the seat. They … they had threatened to harm the children if I ever so slightly resisted.”
Beidou is sure her claws against her scaled palm have begun to draw blood, if they hadn’t already. The Court of Celestial Entertainment, the body of the Ministry of Civil Affairs who’s responsible for sacrifices and offerings for the deities and Adepti. Beidou takes note of that name and stores it into the back of her head.
“I was too late to do anything but surrender,” the pale-haired lady continued. “I can only hope my allies can finish what we had started, and bring light to the corruption in the Court.”
Only then does Beidou feel like she’s really looking at the mortal soul, her sorrow is visible right under the self-composed mask of hardened eyes and barely visible frown. Beidou has met thousands upon thousands of souls; greed is humanity’s most prominent characteristics. There are not many that mourn the ill-fate that befall others in their deaths. Now that her anger has subsided, Beidou can hear, at the back of her mind right from the core essence of the soul of the pale-haired lady, a whispered prayer for the good of her people, even in her hopelessness of her death and betrayal.
Maybe Morax can hear her too, from the way they meet Beidou’s eyes in mutual understanding. Gods are not meant to meddle with the affairs of humankind . Beidou can only scratch her head frustratedly and sighs.
“Liyue will soon get a taste of their own medicine, one way or another,” Morax says, turning to the Tianquan. “For now, all we can do is to help you, my Lady, and make sure that you can stay … existing.”
“She has to link her soul, then,” Beidou says, tired.
As a sacrifice to the God, the Tianquan’s essence of being is linked to Beidou. Her physical body immediately perishes as something of the Human Realm into a property of the Dark Sea, as soon as she enters the border between the Three Realms. Though Beidou’s power can ground her being for some time, she has to link her soul that is not yet destroyed by the water of the River Styx if she wants to survive as something that is not quite alive and not yet dead.
Beidou is not unfamiliar to the methods of soul-linking. Yet she has never really condoned such a method. “But you know I don’t do blood pacts, Morax.”
“Oh? But how could you forget, my old friend?” Morax says with their head turned towards Beidou, and she swears in the name of Istaroth’s blessed waters that there is mischievousness in their smile.
Beidou gulps. “What do you suggest, then?”
Morax ponders for a while, but when they look back up at her, with a thin, inconspicuous smile across their lips, Beidou braces herself. “There’s another way to connect your soul, yes? Moon Carver will have the red strings and the necessary preparations ready.”
Beidou finds her voice dies in her throat.