Ning stood on Yujing Terrace for the first time in a month. She was scanning the skies overhead, apparently wondering over something.
"Lady Ning! Oh, your parasol! Please be careful!" Baishi's voice made an attempt to cut into her inner monologue.
Ning didn't grasp for the umbrella that was pushed on her. Instead saying, "I prefer to be in the light, thank you."
"Oh... Okay, yes, if that's what you want."
"Shi, are you bothering Lady Ning again?" Baixiao asked.
"I am not, Xiao! I'm just being a secretary, like Wen is doing with all her papers!" Baishi huffed and adjusted her glasses. Then more sheepishly turned to Ning. "R-right?"
"Exactly so, Baishi. I expect nothing less from the woman who makes me so presentable each morning."
Baishi stuck her tongue out at her sister, who huffed and shrugged as a result. Baixiao turned and began a question.
"What are you thinking about, Lady Ning?"
"I am thinking about how I can achieve a vision I've had lately. Those floating islands near the mountains, what are they made of?"
Baiwen stepped forward. "A mineral called plaustrite, Lady Ning."
"How much would it cost?"
"Plaustrite baubles tend to be in the range of five to-"
"Ton!? Ahem. I mean, per ton? I am unaware. It is not a common building material outside of the Lantern Rite Festival. I can have estimates done in two days' time and check them against festival records."
"Lady Ning, are you trying to build a really big lantern? Or floating house?" Baishi asked.
"I have an idea to do so. It's fitting, is it not? The rich in Liyue live as near to the clouds as the adepti do. Each merchant competes to earn the highest seat. How fitting would it be, what a show it is, to win out over them all in the position highest to the sun?"
To take that spot and put everyone else into the shadows?
Baixiao spoke up. "Lady Ning, you have a lofty goal, don't you? How can we accomplish it?"
"The first step is to earn a spot at a higher stakes table. Can any of you girls tell me the very first part of achieving that?"
Baiwen and Baixiao looked to one another. Then looked at their sister in shock when she was the one to answer.
"A showy name! All of the noble types have fancy names, it's the first impression you'll ever make on them!"
"My thoughts exactly, Baishi."
"Then, I can help you with spelling and finding something."
"No need, I've already thought of it. It is the name I will be using going forward. The day I took back the light. That character, I will add it to my own name.
"Ningguang. Is this amenable to you three?"
The other three made a short bow. "Lady Ningguang."
"Will you continue to go forward with me? Your assistance since our freedom has been most agreeable. I would not have made it this far without you."
The triplets performed their habit, where they looked to one another to decide which would speak. This time it was Baishi.
"Of course, Lady Ningguang! You can always count on us."
"Hmm, these are all fine choices. I would prefer, however, something with a higher slit." Ningguang puzzled over the various articles laid out over the bed. She had been a shadow investor for long enough, it was getting closer to her time to debut, as it were.
"A higher slit? I have a few, of course. Do you need a shawl piece to keep your leg hidden? It's a surprising look! Just knowing the slit is there is enough to make some people swoon."
"Hehe... I am sure. I have no intention of keeping my leg hidden, though. Quite the opposite, I wish to show it to the world."
Baishi's response was stammering that would eventually find its way to the words, "I- I- I-! Um... Showing... You see, I understand but, with the history of..."
"You are concerned about me showing off the mark of a criminal."
"I'm sorry, Lady Ningguang. I know you must have some reason, but I don't see it yet."
"Then allow me. This mark could have only only been ordered by the previous Tianquan. A disgraced man's mark only serves to show anyone in the know a portion of what we have endured. Whether they know the full extent of his activities or not."
"Then, shall I take the gloves as well?"
"No, those may stay a part of the outfit. I agree with what you said about the clawed fingers. Besides, the marks on them, while they tell the same story, don't do so in the same way." Ningguang decided against mentioning that it was also because she noticed that the triplets would get a sad, distant look when they saw them.
"Ah, I see what you mean. Then, perhaps with the golden- Oh no! I haven't brushed your hair yet! Hold on, I'll start right away."
"We have plenty of time." Ningguang stated calmly.
"Plenty of time for what?" There was a new voice in the room. The source was Beidou, who was fussing and tugging at her own elegant red qipao.
"Hey! Quit messing with that, it's super expensive!" Baishi shouted.
"I can't help it! This is weird!"
"Typical. Should I get you a formal suit instead? Maybe a gold and auburn piece?"
"No not the dress, I'm used to wearing a dress. I mean having my shoulders so bare. Usually have to cover them out on the deck of a ship."
"Ugh! Fine, there's a shawl with fur trim in the closet, second box from the bottom, third from the left. It should match."
Ningguang smiled as she heard the ruffling sounds from the closet, and held it as Beidou adjusted her new cape and gave a grin of approval within sight.
"Thank you again for attending to me tonight, Beidou. Your appearance at my side is certain to be beneficial to the both of us. Everyone will make note."
"Eh, if you say so. I don't really care about all this appearance stuff. Honestly I'd rather be back at Chihu Rock, drinking with my crew."
"All the more reason for my gratitude, then."
"Bah... You asked me, after all. What else am I supposed to do?" Beidou sat on the bed and crossed her legs.
Beidou's huff and fluster only served to make Ningguang giggle.
"So what's the big idea? You're really rich now, you don't need to play with all these stuffed shirts."
"It is because I have a desire to win the game."
"Game?" Beidou shifted uneasily.
"Yes. All of Liyue's mercantile dealings... If you step back, does it not resemble a giant board game? Where the biggest players trod upon others?"
"I wouldn't know, all I do is keep my eyes on my crew and keep them from getting stepped on. That's good enough for me."
"Hmm." Ningguang dropped the topic. She kept the next line within, wondering if the captain saw her as "crew".
Legends were in the air over the course of the next six years, since the debut of Lady Ningguang and her escort, Captain Beidou herself. They would both quickly skyrocket in fame. Beidou's exploits at sea and the swaths of treasure that the Alcor and the Crux Fleet brought in made her a commonly spoken name on the docks. Not only for her treasures, but for the way she bumped shoulders with everyday people, and doled out second chances to lost souls, giving them a shot at a new life in her crew. She was a true folk hero in every respect.
Ningguang quickly obtained a host of competing, terrifying rumors. She wasn't simple and jovial like Beidou. She became a symbol of ruthless business, letting nothing escape her claws. It was quickly spread that her small Jade Chamber in the skies above Liyue was enchanted in such a way that every whisper in the land made its way up to it. With every business that was brought low by her hand, the floating island's shadow grew that much larger. The growth never seemed to stop, plaustrite bought in entire tons didn't even scratch her wallet. More than that, though, the Millelith's provisional leader, Ganyu, was beginning to approach her for advice more and more. A meteoric rise that began whispers about dark activities in the shadows.
Ningguang had no such intentions. Ruining her name with criminal dealings was off the table, but the rumors could only help her. The nobles would all wonder what lucrative business she was in, when the answers were all at once more complicated and more simple.
First, she was beautiful, and wealthy. Suitors from high-ranking families from all across Teyvat would come to try and woo her to their side. All of them would only get as close as the length of her arm, however. The perfect place to glean their intentions, and she wouldn't have any call for them after that. Keeping the final bit of distance was simple for her when it came to the men, after all. She had no taste for them.
Second, her three famed confidants. The only ones who she would take when mulling over a change in business. They weren't only powerful in the Jade Chamber, however. Their private business dealings were nearly as harsh as the lady herself. Baixiao could spot a lie from a mile away, cleaving through diplomatic sweet talk. Baiwen had an organized and complete picture of facts and figures. She was brutally fair in her dealings. Baishi was never seen as often, but her work spoke the loudest, cultivating an image and a legend around Ningguang that was flawless. The group of four quickly became unassailable.
Third, and not the least important, she listened. Not just to the business advisors, either. As a matter of fact, she often outright dismissed their advice. Instead, stories that Beidou told her from her crew, and the goings-on of passerby that the triplets collected found their way to her ears. Rumors were mercilessly tracked down to their truths and leveraged in contracts. Ningguang would even walk in disguise out on Feiyun Slope, gathering for herself and winning over new assets.
It was in this manner that she would come to the conversation that was laid out before her now.
Ningguang was sitting by a drawn window, letting the smoke from her pipe drift down to Liyue. The Jade Chamber had expanded from the modest single room over the years, to a small-scale palace. Some rooms served as meeting for the Qixing, when privacy was requested, and others were given as a tour to impress a particularly immovable or agreeable business associate. But this room had only been seen by five people. The triplets, Ningguang herself, and the woman who was lying naked on the silken sheets of a large bed. Naked enough to even leave her eye uncovered.
"You look really far away, am I that good or something? Haha!" Beidou gave off her rarer-than-usual laugh, usually reserved for nights like these.
"Hehe... Always." She paused to let out another then stream of smoke, to create room to change the topic. "Ganyu has requested that I make a bid to become the new Tianquan."
Beidou sat up in bed. "Wow... Tianquan, huh? Do you really think you can do it?"
"Ganyu is a trifle airheaded at times, but she is meticulous. If she says for me to make a bid then I must have a high chance of success."
"I mean, do you want that office? You already got enough money to do anything you've a mind to. You don't need any fancy words on top of it, 'specially not that one."
"It is the highest seat on a mountain of mora, I would be a fool to turn it down."
"That's not quite what I meant, Ning." Beidou was the only person alive who would call her that name to her face, and only in the sanctity of this room. "Don't get me wrong, I think you'd make a great one and all, but that title carries an awful bunch of memories. You don't have to, you can just be Lady Ningguang, businesswoman extraordinaire." When her lover didn't answer, she shook her head and left the sheets, picking up a jug from among her scattered possessions. Beidou laid herself alongside Ningguang and offered the jug, which she accepted with a polite sip, compared to the other's hearty swig. "Just think about if you really want it, yourself."
"That position is everything to my plans."
"You worry me a bit when you say things like that, Ning."
"Mn? How do you mean?"
"Your plans sound a bit more important than, well yourself. You're a person too, doesn't it hurt?"
"That is immaterial to my goals."
Beidou sighed and took another drink. It was clear that Ningguang would follow through, all the sailor could hope at this point was that it meant a little favoritism in docking fees. A long shot but better than nothing. She reached and absentmindedly massaged the tattoo on Ningguang's leg.
She wondered what the world around her would be like if she had just stormed the castle herself all those years ago. If she had a Vision in the first place.
If she was the daughter of a noble that the Qixing would listen to.
A pale figure approached the cold, dark cell. Inside was a single broken, old man.
Tonight, he would be visited by a ghost. A memory caught in the only ray of moonlight, a golden, shining jewel in her hand. She tossed it to herself lightly.
"It has been awhile, has it not?"
The man gave a hacking wheeze.
"Did you ever wonder why I was so resolute in all the years you tortured me? It was all for this exact moment. Ever since you took everything from me, I have only ever held one goal in my mind. Crushing you utterly. Not in the childish admonishing of my business partners, I truly mean everything."
The man blankly wheezed again.
"The girls you stole, I gave them better lives. Your wealth, I have surpassed it. Now your title has been stripped from you and given to me. Even your Vision... it is in my possession now. Every single rancid mark you have left upon Liyue has been painted over in gold."
"Even your own mind, it seems. Go on, dog, speak to the true Tianquan of the Liyue Qixing!"
The words echoed up and down the hall. Ningguang grit her teeth and banged loudly on the bars.
Dry, decrepit heaving.
"Everything! Even the light! I have won!!"
More heaving. Or was it laughter?
Ningguang collected herself. "Fine. Fade away into the dark, just like you would have of your victims. But know that I shall keep your misbegotten jewel near me at all times. I will relish the day that its glow dies out forever." She turned with a sweep of white hair and golden dress, squeezing the Vision in her clawed glove.
Beidou stood on the observation deck of the Jade Chamber awhile before she would go inside. Memories came back from when it was smaller, but more importantly, when Ningguang would be standing and tending to flowers, watching the clouds roll by. She always used to be somewhere outside on the plaustrite island. Now she was only ever inside, mulling over paperwork and scanning data.
To Beidou it began to look less like a floating island and more like birdcage.
She swallowed the image and entered the inner sanctum, waved in with a bow by Baixiao.
"She's not happy, Captain..." She warned under her breath.
"Yeah, I ain't either."
Beidou went downstairs, before the grand desk of of the Tianquan, strewn with papers.
"...Captain." She really must be mad.
"Can you explain why the Crux Fleet has offloaded goods without sale to workers on the wharf?"
"Yeah, easily. We had the goods and they needed them. It's all salted fish and clean water."
"Salted fish and clean water paid under contract by the Qixing. That's stealing, Captain, you know that you have to reimburse their full amount."
"Then just send me a fine, I'll write you a fancy check and everything."
Ningguang drummed her fingers on the desk.
"Then next, you deviated from course. An entire shipment of fruit was ruined as a result, now the markets are thrown in an entirely different directions."
"Had to, there was a sea monster."
"In your way?"
"In the way of another ship. They would've been sunk if we didn't interfere."
"Then finally, here. You bequeathed so much wealth to dockworkers and the like upon your return. All of that was projected to have been spent on a new ship of the same specifications of one of your cutters. You just costed Liyue shipbuilders millions if I don't find a buyer."
"What can you do about it? I don't need another cutter."
"I told you-"
"I'm the one who's out there."
"I told you, if you just stick to my plans, then you would be bringing Liyue three times the wealth you currently are."
"All due respect, Ningguang, but I have a crew that needs looking after. They got families to look after beyond that. My responsibility is to making sure they're safe and fed, first and foremost."
"Clearly your responsibilities extend to the entirety of Chihu Rock. You cost almost as much mora as you make, sometimes, I swear."
"I got plenty, and not everyone does but they need some, don't they? More and more opportunities are evaporating, all due to nobles amassing their mora, holding it tighter than ever!"
"They're only holding it because they are cowards who are afraid to lose."
"Damn it, this isn't some game!"
"Certainly, it is. It's all a game to all of Liyue that the elites play. They will play it until the end of time. It is only right there should be a winner of it all, don't you think?"
Beidou deflated. "I'm not just going to do whatever. Not when there are lives on the line."
"You'd go against the Qixing?"
"You know what? I would!"
"What will you do then, become a pirate?"
"If that's what it takes, then I'll be one!"
Beidou shifted from one foot to the other, clearly frustrated. "What happened to you, Ning?"
"Don't call me that."
"Why not? You've been saying things like this more and more. It's starting to look like you're just after the next coin. I can't deal in money alone. I gotta deal with real people."
"Just pay them and they will be yours."
"It's not like that. My crew don't stick with me because I make them rich. If that was the case I'd never have killed Haishan."
Ningguang shuffled papers on the desk. "They wanted to gain wealth by whatever means necessary, obviously. Wealth is everything in Liyue."
"It's... It's not."
"Oh? Then we will see how many of the Crux stay with you when you are declared a pirate and lose your current tax rights. The answer is none in the face of mora. Perhaps then you will heed my advice, and begin to listen to me."
"Never. Not if you're like this." Beidou turned heel, but stopped. She tore her hairpin free and dropped it to the floor with a clatter. "I don't want to have anything more to do with you, Tianquan Ningguang."
Ningguang would hear the doors upstairs slam before rubbing her brow and returning to her quarters. She would storm back and forth for awhile. The past two years had been the most difficult, the accumulation of wealth had slowed to a trickle, and Beidou seemed incapable of causing anything but chaos in the markets, always citing her crew. Not only that, but she often worked in direct opposition according to her whims at the moment. She was utterly impossible. Fines never deterred her, the promise of becoming wildly rich never seemed to sway her. All for the sake of people who would stab her in the back for a few hundred mora more than she gave them.
The Poison of Liyue. Every single dealing she had since the day she had taken the title only served to reveal a more complete picture. Each noble family had some darkness to it, when they couldn't surpass Ningguang's worth, they would inevitably offer barter of whatever foul pit they had hands in. They only ever offered them because Ningguang was a desireable business associate and financier. If she only had a platter of seashells, they wouldn't hesitate to crush her underfoot. Nothing about her was of use but her mora, and that clearly went for every citizen.
The captain seemed to have difficulty understanding that she had a larger role she could play. That together, the pair of them could rise above everything here. Every meeting over the course of many months would end much the same way between the two. Ningguang would send out a summons, be harsh to the letter of the law, impose large fines on the pirate, and each and every time it would roll off the woman's back. She was unshakeable in every respect. More than unshakeable, she became like a magnet. Not a soul in Liyue would speak ill of her, even Ganyu would sneak out to eat alongside the woman, and shopkeepers bucked her control if it meant covering the pirate. It must surely be from all the mora from her activities, buying out people from under her.
It was a year of this that would lead to yet another heated argument between the two over an excursion to Inazuma for the Qixing. Beidou declined, she was short-handed due to a battle with the Fatui at sea. Both parties, frustrated in every which way, left the audience room. Ningguang attending to her private chamber. But not before catching a glimpse of a look between Baishi and Beidou. Ningguang bared her teeth from the privacy of her room, trying to ward off a headache by rubbing her temple.
There was a soft knock on the door. Baishi's glasses caught the light when she peeked inside.
"Lady Ningguang? I came to check on you, I hope you don't... um... mind."
"I'm fine, Baishi. That captain just has not grasped the nature of Liyue yet and keeps bucking my vision for her. So she will have to learn the hard way that mora is everything."
"...Is mora really everything?"
Her too. Why did they insist on this?
"Everyone has a price."
"I don't..." Baishi muttered under her breath.
"Oh? Do you really not?" Frustration welled in the pale woman. She knew the reason her confidants were confidants. Because she paid them well enough.
"I... I don't!"
"Really? Are you sure you cannot name a price I can give you to go to Liyue and kill for me?"
"What!? Lady Ningguang, I- I- I- couldn't! Why would you ask such a thing?"
"True, you do not have those skills." She noticed that Baishi was looking away. She had to make her eyes meet her own. She took up the woman by the chin. "Still, how much, Baishi? Two million? Two-hundred million? How much are you?"
"I... I don't understand at all." Baishi attempted to step backwards, but hit the bed, falling onto it. She flustered for a moment before noticing that Ningguang was over her.
"Then another example. I will give you two-hundred million mora for you to remove your clothes. As simple as that, and you will be wealthy enough to buy a home on Yujing Terrace. It should be easy, you have seen mine often enough. Or do you want more for your bod-" Ningguang was stopped as a hand struck her face. She looked back down to see tears streaming down Baishi's face.
"I don't want your stupid money!! I never wanted it! I followed you because you were an amazing woman, you helped save my life, you sacrificed as much as you could for me..." Baishi sniffled. "You had me already... but now I'm just some... transaction?"
Ningguang removed herself from over the crying woman, rubbing her temples over what she had just done. She looked all around, only to find that glowing Vision staring at her from its place on her desk. Looking on, and waiting. Bile welled up. She had to get out of the room. She had nearly...
The woman was crying too harshly to even hear her.
She plucked the Vision. She was going to the docks.
Ningguang, for the first time in several years, made her way to Chihu Rock. Businesses tended to meet on Feiyun Slope or Yujing Terrace for their opulent airs. Of course, that would only merely mean that Ningguang was never led to Chihu. She had outright avoided it because of other reasons. Namely the lonely remains of a two-story shack, with a sunsettia tree in the front. It seemed no one would ever buy it. The current Yuheng even moved to have it torn down several times, but at Ningguang's insistence. It had remained.
She simply let herself stare at the sight. She could very nearly hear the shouts and cries of pirates and Millelith chasing one another around the street. Until she heard a loud voice call out.
"Hey Miss! Whatcha doin' standin' around?" It was a small girl with dusky skin and sharp eyes. Her short black hair was stuck out at weird angles, and her dress was disheveled. She seemed to have no qualms about standing wide-legged in it either. Behind her, a girl with flowing blue hair and a bandage across her nose looked on with a wary look.
"Xinyan... look, she's so pale, she must be the ghost dad told us about!"
"Eh? Really? Hey Miss, are you a ghost?" The girl asked matter-of-factly.
Ningguang tilted her head and turned more fully to the strange pair.
"Ghost?" She managed to ask.
"Yeah! Xiangling's papa told us that he used to see a ghost up on the second floor when he was our age. Are you her?"
Ningguang looked up to her old room, then again to the girls.
"Perhaps. I suppose in a lot of ways, I already am a ghost."
"Ehh? Wow, that's amazing! I've never talked to a ghost before!"
"Xinyan! You can't talk to her if she's a ghost! She'll steal your stomach!" Xiangling panicked out to her friend.
"Stomach!? Not soul?"
"Stomachs are important to ghosts, they steal them and then eat everything in the kitchen just to hear the popping sound when it explodes from eating!"
"Hey Miss Ghost, you're not gonna steal our stomachs are you?" Xinyan stood easily.
What was this strange story? Children were always strangely honest about everything.
"I have... no intention of doing so."
Xiangling pouted from her spot behind her friend. "She must be lying! Come on, let's get out of here!"
"But if we go then she'll just be stuck here! Ghosts all have some last request, don't they? Let's hear her out." Xinyan said back. "'Sides, she seems like she's tellin' the truth."
"Hahaha! Don't worry! I'll protect your stomach!" Xinyan puffed out her chest. "So Miss Ghost, got any regrets we can help with?"
"Hmm? I do not have any hidden treasures or the like to reward you with though." Ningguang said, hoping that they would simply leave without reward.
"It's just the nice thing to do ain't it? Must be awful lonely without all your friends."
Ningguang allowed herself to stand there awhile longer, somewhat dumbfounded.
The last word rang in her mind. Friends.
"Yeah? What about them?" Xinyan asked. Apparently Ningguang's perfect mask had slipped in the day's events, and she had repeated the word when she thought about it.
"I don't believe I have any. Not any longer."
"Yeah, that's why we're tryin' to get you to heaven."
"Hehe... I mean to say in life that I have done something terrible to them. I am certain they will never want to see me again. Staying here seems like a fitting punishment."
Both Ningguang and Xinyan were surprised by the voice of Xiangling.
"Have you ever said that you were sorry to them? I always do when I break one of papa's woks and he always gives me a hug after."
"Not... yet." Ningguang said.
"Hey hey, that's no good! If you know you did somethin' wrong, you should go and apologize!" Xinyan scolded her.
They were children, after all. It was simple to them.
"I cannot. They would not want to hear from me."
"Sure they will! If they're friends then they're probably waitin' for you to say sorry right now! Go on, give it a try, see if they're listenin'!"
She looked from one expectant face to the other. She had been completely outmanuevered.
"I am sorry." She stated simply.
"No, you need to really mean it!" Xiangling encouraged her.
The fines and punishments she had levied against Beidou came to mind. Not the actions herself, the way she attempted to force the woman into her plans. Then to Baishi's crying face when she had attempted to bu-
With both, she had left behind their personhood, and with a twist in her stomach, she realized. That personhood was what she had relied on the most when she was lowest.
"I really am... sorry." The road was quiet.
"Aw man... that sounded genuine and everything. Maybe you gotta say it to their faces! Do you know where they are?" Xinyan asked.
"...I do." She turned to ask a question, as an adult does to a child when they want to make them feel smart and important. Instead, a question more genuine leaked out. "Do you think they might accept the apology of an old evil spirit?"
"If not, then make it up to them some other way. Or we'll be your friends! Right, Xiangling?"
The blue-haired girl nodded. "Just don't make my stomach explode... I need it if... oh. Well..."
"Hmn?" Ningguang questioned.
"It's not important."
"Xiangling wants to be a chef! She's really good too! You wouldn't think sugar-frosted Jueyun chilis with chicken would taste good but it's like a whole explosion of flavor!"
"You say that about everything I make..."
"Cause it's the truth! Man... now I really want some of your boiled fish."
"We don't have much extra to give right now, though. Papa says all the fish prices are really really high."
Ningguang knew exactly why the prices of fish were so high at the moment. She was squeezing a fishery business in order to encourage the sales of red meat all during a crucial time for restaurants. Solely so she could pressure a restaurant on Feiyun Slope into signing to a resourcing deal.
That was what Liyue was.
"Maybe the Crux will bring a whole bunch of fish next time it comes back to port." Xinyan scratched her head. "Last time I even got a glimpse at Beidou!"
"Beidou?" Ningguang asked.
"Yeah! She's famous! Everyone knows her, don't you do too?"
"I... am a ghost, please recall."
"Oh wow.... I thought Beidou was around since forever, are you saying you don't know her at all?" The ghost shook her head no. "She always brings things back in and spreads them around here. And she's super nice to all the kids! Sometimes she'll even play pirates with us when she has the time."
The thought of the woman, who hunted sea monsters and was called undefeatable by the likes of even the most unshakeable soldier, playing at being a pirate was simply too much. She let out a small giggle. Then her gaze grew distant as several thoughts began to play out in her mind. The image of the symbol of Liyue, the balancing scales.
The image of the winds that swept down from Mount Tianheng, tumbling over Yujing Terrace, to Feiyun Slope, to the sea where it beat back the waves and sent the ships out.
The image of the waves that then defied the winds to bring goods back in, the sea spray brought all the way up to Yuehai Pavillion on the boots of sailors.
The games that the children played with stones and shells, and the games adults played with mora.
The mora paid to her, and the adoration paid to another.
The simple interludes where she pretended to be a peddler of seashells to gain information, and now the long-forgotten smiles that came with those bits of info.
Liyue, the mountain balancing the sea.
She had a lot of work to do.
Ningguang would excuse herself from the pair of friends, taking a single sunsettia from the tree.
Baishi, Baiwen, and Baixiao all stood outside Ningguang's private chambers. It had been nearly a week since the woman shut herself inside without a word. It was like her to work hard, but this was now a concerning amount. The three looked to one another, then nodded, unlocking the door.
A haggard Ningguang sat at the desk, scratching through mounds of papers. Her white hair was draped everywhere, and she had thick bags under her eyes. She coughed lightly into her hand before looking up at the intruders.
"Lady Ningguang? What's-?" Baiwen started.
"Lady Ningguang! What is all this!? How long have you been working!? Do you have a fever!?" Baishi ran up and slammed her hands on the desk, startling the other sisters.
"Shi... You're startling her." Baixiao said, then looked at the papers scattered everywhere. "But from the look of things, that might be good. what's going on in here, Lady Ningguang?"
The pale woman murmured something, averting her eyes.
Baiwen picked at a few papers. "There's data from all over Teyvat here. You're onto some very large change? Why not call us?"
"I... am onto a large, uncertain change that will affect Liyue. I do not want to waste you time on a theory."
"Instead you've worked yourself half to death! Wen, Xiao, can you go get the tea and some pillows from storage?" Baishi immediately took command of the situation. The two of them nodded and set about their task. "And you, you're going straight to bed!"
"Not done yet..."
"I don't care! Come on, up we go." Baishi hooked Ningguang's arm around her. Ningguang fought against the pull uselessly, all but spent.
"No... Baishi, you don't have to-"
"I do." The look of determination on her face silenced the overworked woman until she was placed firmly into bed, where Baishi arranged the covers around her. "Don't get me wrong, I'm still mad, but it's not like I want you dead."
"...I am sorry."
"You will be, doing all this!" Baishi kicked papers out of the way. "What is all of this anyway?"
"A plan... to make Liyue... more prosperous."
"More money gathering..?" Baishi's heart sank.
"No... All of Liyue..."
"All of it?"
Baishi sighed and pushed her glasses up.
"I'm going to talk to Doctor Baizhu and get some medicine. After you're better, we're gonna have a very long chat about what you've been doing lately. Got it?"
Ningguang couldn't help but give a soft, barely-there smile.
"Anything... you need."
Baishi and her sisters organized tea and pillows for their Lady.
Yes, Baishi thought. The bright light she had once followed, that had grown dim in the past week and year, showed a flicker again.
"Hey Captain, you got... a present, I guess." A burly, bearded man called into the cabin. Juza had gotten a lot older, but he still seemed to retain all his strength from his first journey.
Beidou was lying cross-ways in her chair, rubbing her temple.
"What is it?"
"Well it's.. Well here." he placed the item on her desk. Beidou had to turn her entire head to see it.
"...Who gave this to you?"
"Oh um... Some lady with glasses and a ponytail. "
"Ah I see..." Beidou considered the fruit, picking it up and turning it around in her hands. " I guess someone wants to ask me some honest questions after all this time."
Beidou tossed the fruit to herself and took a bite. "I'll be back, Juza. Gotta go visit an old friend." The pirate made to leave, but hesitated for a moment be the door, deep in thought over something. She glanced to her right and took her hairpin in hand.
Just in case her friend up in the window wanted to walk with her.
Ningguang was turning the jewel over in her hand. In the intervening months between her illness and now, it had lost its glow at some point. She would never know the exact day, she hadn't even looked at it in all that time. More pressing matters, more personally important, were handled. Not the least frustrating of which was the acknowledgement that the chaos that Beidou routinely caused had helped keep the city together as much as any action of the Qixing. Somehow the girl playing pirate had indeed lived up to her name. How vexing that it was at the cost of Ningguang's own self-image.
Well, if it was a win, then it was one for the people who lived here. The people who she disguised herself to rub shoulders with, or the children she occasionally handed out sweets to.
That left the matter of the jewel at hand. It was a useless husk now. When a Vision's owner dies, the magic inside dies with them, leaving a pretty stone. Rarely, someone could resonate with a deadened one, but the method was uncertain at best. To Ningguang, though. this was still a Geo Vision. A symbol Rex Lapis' own power in his own city. An auction would drag in a ton of mora by some noble looking to keep up appearances. It's not like anyone, not even the triplets, knew where it came from either.
But there are more Visions besides. If there was a way to collect them and redistribute them... Then there could be more than mora in the deal. It could be a business! A new cycle to add into Liyue and produce more for-
A golden glow shone over the room. Ningguang was frozen in her last position.
The Vision in her hand was glowing. It had resonated.
"Lady Ningguang! Congratulations!" The triplets had taken notice, with Baishi at the forefront.
"You've been recognized by Rex Lapis!" Baiwen added. "Your business acumen was always legendary, I'm surprised it wasn't sooner."
"Lady Ningguang? Are you annoyed?" Baixiao, as always, cut into the heart of dealings.
Ningguang definitely gave off the air of someone who was annoyed. This Vision. This last disgusting memory, brought back from the dead, almost as some kind of joke from the Geo Archon. If the triplets knew where it had come from, they would probably be expressing their sympathies instead.
Her thoughts drifted out of the window, finding Liyue. The city that had once been someone else's too, wasn't it? Now it was remodeled into something she drove her hopes into, to become better.
She let out a deep sigh, and with some small false bravado, said. "What's there to be happy about? Once broken, considered sold!"