It’s been the same dream for a while now.
Or perhaps, it isn’t a dream at all? It’s hard to tell once she’s entered it; all Lumine knows is that she’s the happiest she’s been in a long time.
Part of her wonders why this is. Nothing seems particularly special about the occasion- it’s the usual gate in front of her, a familiar person at her side, and yet something about it all makes her heart so full. Maybe the normalcy was what she wanted to preserve, but it’s not like she won’t ever experience this moment again. There are still many worlds to be visited.
Everything shifts and suddenly Lumine is flying through the sky, closely followed by trails of dark cubes that shoot after her in menacing arcs. She twists and turns alongside the bright flashes of light that her attacks cause, desperately looking for an escape.
It is then that she catches sight of another person, and although she’s never seen them before— or has she?— she is consumed by the idea that this will all end once they are struck down. If she can reach the mysterious figure, the cubes will be gone and her brother will be back.
When had he gone?
She redoubles her efforts, wings straining as she makes a sharp turn, sword growing brighter with each millisecond. Just a little faster, a little further, until she catches them-
But they catch her first.
Lumine wakes violently with an outstretched hand and a racing heart. The night is still dark and for a moment she thinks that she’s still trapped in those cubes, but a frantic sweep of her surroundings shows the vague outlines of the camp she set up earlier that day. She takes a few deep breaths, pressing a hand to her chest until her heartbeat calms and she slips back into a thankfully dreamless sleep.
When she wakes again, there is only a lingering sense of unease and a wetness in the corner of her eyes she cannot explain.
It’s been the same dream for a while now, but she doesn’t know that.
When Lumine finds herself in Liyue with spare time on her hands, she usually goes to visit Zhongli at the funeral parlor. Interestingly, it seems that he also has a lot of excess time, as he never turns her away and instead indulges her with stories of Liyue’s history. Sometimes another possibility as to why he always accommodates her flits through her mind, but she tries her best to push those thoughts down. Maybe it works a little too well, because when she wants to call them up later she finds she cannot.
Zhongli has learned many things over the years, and she is often envious of his extensive knowledge. She catches herself thinking this again as he tells her about the blooming conditions of glaze lilies. He’s very good at remembering things, save for when it comes to money. She understands, somewhat. For so long, money was of no concern to him, and she wonders if there’s even any room for it to become one now considering all the information he already has stored away in his mind.
She wonders if she, too, will someday be but a memory to him.
Glaze lilies have something to do with memories, don’t they? She swears Zhongli was just saying something about that, but there was something besides the lilies that was important, something else that she must know…
Someone is trying to call her attention, and distantly she realizes it’s the man in front of her.
“Are you alright, Traveller?”
She blinks and shakes her head a little to try and clear the fog in her mind. “My apologies,” she says, giving him a soft and hopefully reassuring smile. “I was trying to think of exactly how many more glaze lilies I needed to collect.”
Judging from the slight pursing of his lips, Zhongli looks like he doesn’t believe her, but he also doesn’t press further, and she’s grateful for it.
There’s something nudging insistently at the corner of her thoughts, but Lumine tells herself it will come back and lets it slip away as Zhongli starts a new conversation about proper violetgrass care.
She doesn’t notice the way he occasionally looks at her.
Sometimes there’s a look on Paimon’s face that she doesn’t like.
It’s too quiet, too muted, but she especially dislikes it because she knows it’s been on her own several times. It’s the expression she has when she finds herself too deep in her thoughts, and she suspects it’s the same one that Zhongli had seen on her during his talk on glaze lilies.
It’s present on Paimon’s face now, the small fairy-like being uncharacteristically silent even as she sets a plate of Sticky Honey Roast in front of her.
“The food’s ready, Paimon,” she calls gently, and it looks like her companion is pulled back to their surroundings.
“Thanks, Traveller!” Paimon says cheerfully, and she almost believes that the previous mood had been in her imagination if her grin hadn’t looked a little too wide to be normal. “Paimon was already eating Sticky Honey Roast in Paimon’s mind so Paimon didn’t even notice when the real thing arrived!”
That’s another thing she’d been wondering about Paimon for a while.
“Paimon, why do you always speak in the third person like that?” It’s clearly the wrong thing to say and she tries her best to backtrack as Paimon’s eyes go wide and her fork stops halfway to her mouth. “Actually, I’m very sorry about that, please forget I even asked.”
The fork is now completely back on the table and she’s desperately trying to think of a different topic when Paimon speaks.
“It’s fine,” she starts out quietly. “We’ve been together for so long Paimon thinks it’s okay to tell you.” The silence stretches out a little longer, and she takes the time to study Paimon’s face, ready to talk about anything else at the first sign of changing her mind.
“Paimon thinks it’s… habit.” The words are still soft but gradually get back to her normal speaking volume as she continues. “For a while before you came along, there was nobody to call Paimon, Paimon, so Paimon did it instead.”
Her volume drops again and so does Lumine’s heart as she looks down and finishes even quieter than she had begun, “That way, Paimon could remember who Paimon was.”
She struggles for something encouraging to say, but it seems the moment has already passed as Paimon looks to be back to her usual self and digs into her meal with gusto.
She orders dessert for Paimon instead, and quietly promises to herself that she’d never call her Emergency Food again.
It’s while she’s searching for Philanemo mushrooms that she comes across a missing person poster on the side of a windmill.
“Looking for a missing young male,” it reads. “Has blond hair, wears exotic clothes.” That’s all there is for the description. She looks at it curiously a bit longer before it occurs to her what seems off about it.
Had she never told Amber her brother’s name? Laughing a little to herself, she starts making her way down the windmill. She’s already met quite a number of people with blond hair and odd clothing, and she thinks it’s not unlikely that she would meet more in the future. How were people supposed to know if they had the right person if they didn’t know what to call him?
She’s halfway to where she thinks Amber might be when she stops cold. What was her brother’s name?
There was that nickname she vaguely remembered from when they were younger, but that didn’t seem appropriate to put on a missing person poster, nor was she certain that it was actually something that people used to call him. As they grew older, moments where she actually had to refer to him by name grew fewer, and she had become so accustomed to calling him “Brother,” or avoiding the need for a title at all that it slipped from her memory. She thinks the last time she had said his name out loud was when they were separated, but she has been in Teyvat for so long already that it seems like a faraway dream she had once.
Exactly how long has she been here?
Her breath starts to quicken and her vision blurs. How could she have forgotten the reason for her journey in the first place? Why is she still here, spending her days collecting plants or running errands for people?
Can she even remember what he used to look like? The thought seizes her heart suddenly and she takes a step forward to find a mirror, or a pond, or any sort of reflective surface from which she might be able to jog her memory when her knees buckle and she slumps onto the ground instead.
It’s in the same place, hours later, that Albedo finds her. Or more accurately, kicks her leg mid-stride while he was reading some papers, only seeing her there after his foot had not gone through the air as smoothly as expected. He explains quite unnecessarily that he actually hadn’t been looking for her, but had come across her while on his way to his laboratory in Mondstadt for some additional resources. He lights up as he properly processes exactly who it is he’s run into.
“Traveller! What a pleasant occasion!” It seems that he hasn’t yet noticed her red-rimmed eyes, or even questioned why she would be sitting in the middle of the path like this. She’s not really in the mood to entertain him as a test subject or assistant. While trying to explain this to him, some strange part of her brain makes the realization that he could fit the parameters of the missing person poster, and she breaks down again into a slightly deranged sounding combination of laughs and sobs.
It must have been such an unexpected sound even to Albedo that it stops him in the middle of his sentence and causes him to peer more closely at her face.
“Why, Traveller, are you feeling alright?”
She looks up at him blearily, mentally begging him to draw his own conclusions. To her dismay, it appears that he is waiting for her verbal confirmation.
“Yes, fantastic,” she sighs. “Now, if you would excuse me.”
She somehow finds the strength to push herself off the ground and is about to head in the direction of her lodging when she recalls something about him.
“Say, Albedo,” she says. He’s a little flustered at seeing her perk up so quickly as her eyes light up with newfound energy. “Do you think you could draw something for me?”
“Sorry?” He’s clearly caught off guard at her request but makes an admirable recovery. “I can certainly try. What would you like a drawing of?”
He doesn’t think he’s ever seen her with quite this much excitement or enthusiasm as she launches into a description of her twin brother to the best of her ability, and he does his best as well to match her words after hastily rummaging through his belongings for something to draw with. He uses the back of one of his notes but deems it a worthy sacrifice for her current state. Her eyes are sparkling, perhaps from the remnants of her tears, but she looks so alive, and he wonders if she’s usually like this when her brother is around.
Later, as she’s getting ready for bed, she catches sight again of the drawing of her brother and smiles to herself. Some things look slightly off, and she wishes she could identify exactly what, but it’s similar enough to what she remembers him to look like and it fills her with hope that they will meet again.
It’s in the moments right before sleep that she has some foggy thought about a sky, but she’s so tired that she lets it drift out of her head.
The dream is different that night, not that she really knows that. It’s filled with nothing but light feelings, sunset-colored memories with her brother. She still wakes with a wet face and no recollection of why, but the heaviness in her heart is absent for once.
Today, she decides, she’ll put together a proper group and set out to find her brother, for real this time. A team with at least one other, perhaps three at most. She wonders if Zhongli would be willing to join her, and decides it couldn’t hurt to ask.
On her way to Liyue, the sky has streaks of such a striking golden color that she has to take a break to admire it, and maybe it’s the residue of her dream that makes her breathe out her brother’s name. She’s silent for a few seconds and then shrieks in joy when she realizes that she’s finally remembered. Paimon yelps in surprise but she pays no mind as she digs through her inventory for a writing utensil and her brain for the language that she used to know.
She writes what she’s pretty sure to be his name on his drawing, and then again, slightly neater this time, and then on anything she can for good measure. She skips down the rest of the way to Liyue, throwing open the doors of Zhongli’s study and greeting him with a lively grin.
To her further delight, he expresses his pleasure at her invitation, and only requests one thing from her before they depart.
She finds it a little funny that his strong attachment to contracts applies even in his self-imposed retirement, but she does her best to suppress her amusement. This is the first time she thinks she’s ever seen him put one on paper, not that she can really read what was being written. He’s not the type to put in benefits for himself unknown to her, but why this needed to be a physical document piques her interest and she resolves to ask Paimon to read it to her later, realizing a little belatedly that even while writing he’s saying something to her.
“What name should I use on the contract? I have a great many names, though when on leave I tend to go by Zhongli.” She blinks in surprise. She did suppose he had many names, although the one she associated him with the most was Zhongli, and she told him as such.
He nods, as if expecting her answer, then asks a little more carefully, “And you, Traveller? What name will you be signing on this contract?”
She almost responds with the name that’s been on her mind the whole day, but that wasn’t her name, was it?
“Traveller?” he prompts her again gently. Traveller. That’s what everyone has been calling her from the beginning. She had been focusing so intently on her brother and his name that she can’t remember the last time someone had called her by her own.
She hadn’t minded at first. It helps with not forming attachments, so when it came time to leave she wouldn’t be so heartbroken. And yet, there’s something so attractive about having a name, and it seems that even without one she’s grown rather fond of some of the people here.
Her lips part and her brother’s name almost escapes from them again but she stops herself at the last moment. This one is not hers to claim.
“Traveller is fine,” she manages to get out.
Zhongli looks at her again with that unnameable expression, not that she notices this time either, and writes her reply wordlessly onto the page.
“What are your plans moving forward?” he asks instead, and she gives a slight shrug.
“See who else was available, maybe update those missing person posters before we leave,” she replies. He nods and brings a hand up thoughtfully to his chin.
“I can get started on updating the posters in Liyue Harbor right now, if you tell me what’s needed.”
She’s a little reluctant to part with her drawing, but she trusts that he will bring it back as soon as he’s finished and entrusts it to him. His eyes widen a little upon seeing the symbols covering most of the page, but he understands what they mean, and their importance to her. With her permission, he writes out the name in Liyuen as well as the common language in what remaining space he can find, and is soon on his way.
After watching him leave, she turns her attention back to the paper she’s plucked off the desk, lightly running her fingers over the characters in the area for her name before tucking it safely away in her bag.
Exiting the funeral parlor, she sees how the last traces of gold are disappearing over the horizon. Traveller’s lips briefly quirk up in a smile. Perhaps when she returns her brother’s name to him, he’ll have hers waiting for her as well.