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The World Crumbling Before My Eyes

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"So, this is it...? This really is the end, huh...?" Diluc, who was laying down greatly injured besides me, said in a weakened, crumbled tone. We were up against one of the most powerful witches I've ever found in decades, one with the name of Kreinderprinz. It's rough force was something I had yet to see since Azhdaha or the Walpurgisnacht. We somehow managed to beat it, yet... "Li... Your soul gem..."

I looked down to that diamond-shaped jewel placed on my belt's left side, it's amber center now tainted with a dark reddish mist. Then I looked at his originally crimson brooch holding his cape, now darkened in purple. "Do... Do you have any grief seeds left?" I asked, coughing a bit as I said that. It's been so long since I used so much of my power and it was clearly backfiring, and I'm sure Diluc had it way worse.

"I'm sorry... I think I've lost my pack of grief seeds when we were trying to flee." He said, putting on a melancholic, bittersweet smile. "So, we'll now become witches, right?" I smiled back, trying to hold my tears.

"It... It would seem the case, yeah." I tried to reach out for his hand, yet my body felt so sore and I struggled to do so. "Would... Would you like to destroy the world with me as witches then?" We both tried to laugh it off, this would be our last time together after all.

"It would be a pleasure, Lili." He then also reached for my hand, and so we intertwined our fingers for what would be the only time left for both of us to bear our conscience, before we lost control and destroyed everything in our path. "You know... I've always thought that becoming a witch would be one of the most painful experiences someone would ever feel... Yet somehow my mind feels so... Light...? I don't really know how to put it into words."

"Yeah... I feel like that too... Perhaps it's because it'll be the end of our eternal suffering...? Or is it because I'm by your side?" He laughed it off, looking at me with that expression I knew so well, that 'you're so stupid and cheesy, Zhongli' type of look he always gave me when I complimented him.

Suddenly, he looked down, reaching to the pocket of his pants, looking for something.

"Can I tell you a secret?" He asked rhetorically, and quickly took out a black capsule as he placed it over my pin, purifying like that my dirty soul gem. "I lied." And so he smiled tenderly. Finally my tears ran down my cheeks as I realized what was going on: he had just one, and he decided to use it on me of all people, an incubator, one of the real antagonists for the magical girls. "I think... You deserve this more than I do..." No... it was happening again. After all these millennia of fighting and surviving, I still wasn't able to protect other colleagues from their doom, and now I had to see one of the few people I had loved during all my life pass away again. I felt my tears finally running down my cheeks as I looked at the redhead puzzled by his decision. I didn't deserve that sacrifice at all.

"No... No, no, no, no, please Diluc what are you-?" My mind was rambling incoherent thoughts, and all of them were full of hurt and confusion. "Lulu... Why...? Why have you done this?"

I wanted to go back in time, to change my actions so I could prevent the outcome of this tragic ending. I should be the one in his place. After all, I'm just a filthy incubator that has done billions of contracts knowing the consequences of them, I should have been the one becoming a witch. Like that, there would be lesser Kyubeys and I would finally atone for all the atrocities I've done during my whole life. Besides… someone as gentle, someone as kind hearted as him didn't deserve to go through all that pain.

"It wouldn't be good to have two super powerful witches, right?" He said as tears formed in those shining rubies. "I just... Please I beg you... If you ever feel your soul gem getting dirty again, kill me. Use my grief seed without hesitation." I was baffled by what he was saying. How could he expect me to kill someone like him, even as a witch? Not even the cruel and mighty Morax of the past would be able to do that, and the human Zhongli was more than incapable.

"My Phoenix..." Those were the last words I managed to say as I bursted out in tears. His tears also started running down his face as he tried to wipe out mine, caressing my cheeks with his shaky hands. "... I'm sorry... For everything." The redhead looked at me as his smile widened, so tender and soft.

"Why are you apologizing? I... I should be the one thanking you..." He said, his soul now starting to shatter. "... Thank you for existing, my gentle incubator... For letting me meet you. And sorry, sorry for hurting you like this." I tried to reach out for him once again in vain, as his gem finally shattered, that dark energy of despair enveloping all over him and creating a giant flow of energy. That'd be the last time I'd see my beautiful Phoenix as I once knew him; the calm and collected yet charmful hero of the Midnight, the one who, after years of hardening my soul, managed to gain a place into my heart. But now, all of it is gone… forever.

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I wandered around the city again, trying to find that one labyrinth, the one with grape fields and the burning house. As I entered it, I looked for the witch controlling it. Crossfire, an eagle-like monster with no eyeballs, sharp teeth in its beak and huge claws and hidden spikes on its wings.

As I saw that beast approaching me I sighed in relief. Thank god, other magical girls didn't notice him. The witch then tried to make me out of that labyrinth as per usual and so I fled before I angered him more than I wanted to.

As I failed to protect him before, I would try to shelter him as much as I can before he becomes a target for Magical groups such as Magius or the Fatui, or even the Favonius group. That was something I'd promised myself after that terrible day.

I won't let myself fail you again, my Phoenix.