Published Feb 12, 2023
Word Count 2,986


Lumine does her best not to think that she may have inadvertently gotten another person killed.

Chapter 12: It’s Funkytown In Here

Dearest Mama,

How are you all doing? I hope you’re all doing well. Has little Teucer joined elementary school yet? He was only an adorable little baby when I left; I’m sure he is growing up to be a handsome boy, just like his big brother (me). Make sure Anthon and Tonia are looking after him, okay? And as for Alexei and Natasha, I hope they’re getting along much better now. The debt has long been paid, (I know because I took care of it, and no, don’t worry about it Ma), so I'm sure Natasha’s anger must have mollified by now. If not, feel free to slap some sense into her. And Telamon... I wish him well. Give them all my love.

As for me... I am doing quite well. I am currently stationed in Liyue, taking care of business as I usually do. I know you’re worried about me, Mama. But I assure you, I’m all grown up now and I can handle myself. I should be the one worrying about you all. I hope what I send you every month is enough for you all to live comfortably. You don’t know it’s from me, of course, but nevertheless, please use it and take care of yourselves. I worry about you all every day. I truly wish I could be there, Mama. I wish I could have grown up in your arms, taking care of me like you did with Anthon, Tonia, and Teucer. But alas, life does not work that way.

I miss you. I miss all of you.


Childe hesitates. The pen in his hand quivers as he struggles to write his name, his real name, on the paper. He signs it—Ajax—and neatly folds the paper in three. Childe inserts the letter into the envelope and does not seal it. He takes the envelope and stashes it into a drawer, along with all the letters he has written but never sent.

He puts a hand to his face, massaging his temples. The phone—Lumine’s phone—rests on the table, silent and undisturbed. Another message written but unsent: Where are you? I thought you’d have come and found me by now.

His previous message—Hey, girlie, because what else can he say?—was sent and delivered, but he received no reply. Had he expected her to? Childe is not unfamiliar with how friendships are supposed to work; however, this line of work did not afford him any such opportunities or even any reciprocity from his fellow colleagues. Childe doesn’t expect much from them, he supposes, but the utter lack of reply from Lumine leaves an empty feeling sinking in his chest.

Childe’s finger hovers over the Send button. What would this accomplish? She won’t reply, he knows, not unless something big changes. She must still be mad at him for trying to kill her best friend. To be fair, he was only doing his job.

Not that he’s any good at it now. Apparently, he has been messing up too often, even failing to achieve the most basic task he has to do: find Kaeya Alberich and kill him.

Childe slides the phone aside and pulls a folder containing Kaeya’s, and his adoptive brother’s—Diluc Ragnvindr—files. He peruses them, flipping the papers one by one. None of these information help him particularly; if it didn’t help him complete his mission the first time, then it wouldn’t help him the second time or third or whatever.


Childe immediately grabs the phone, his heart pounding at the sound of the text notification. His heart drops when he sees a text from the wrong person: Albedo. Probably one of Lumine’s friends. He unlocks the phone and checks the message: Lu, how are you doing? I haven’t heard from you in days. The messaging app isn’t one he has seen before; when Childe attempts to scroll up and read the text history, he finds nothing. Soon after he has read the message, it disintegrates, leaving no trace.

Interesting. This could be a lead, he thinks, but whether it is or not doesn’t matter when it comes to Lumine.

He sends a reply: All good. What's up? Need anything? A safe reply, yes, until he finds out who this Albedo is. Quickly, he searches through Lumine’s contacts and messages, hoping to glean any useful information from it. He finds one from a few weeks ago, but nothing else; it is a mention from Kaeya's messaging thread: Albedo and I are coming over.

So, it is a lead. Even better, then. Whoever this Albedo is, he knows Kaeya, and if they know each other, Kaeya is as good as dead.

Albedo replies: It’s funkytown in here.

What the hell does that mean? Childe furrows his brow, confused at the message. It could be some sort of code, but with no context, it is nigh impossible to find the correct response to this. He settles for the safer option still: no reply.

It seems Albedo is hell-bent on talking to Lumine, because he texts again: Where are you?

Childe replies: At home. Why?

He immediately realizes his mistake upon sending the message, even more so when Albedo replies: Great. I'm coming over.

Shit. Shit, shit, shitshitshit. This would not be a problem if Childe was not a two-hour plane ride to Mondstadt. He won’t make it in time. And if this Albedo person comes over and finds no Lumine, Childe’s mountain of problems is about to get bigger. He squeezes his fist, channeling his coworkers whenever he tries to hang out with them.

He types: I’m kinda tired tonight. Been running errands all day. Can you come over tomorrow instead?


The seconds in-between stretches to what seems like minutes, then the phone vibrates on the table, sending a jolt down Childe’s spine. It’s a reply from Albedo: Sure. I’ll be there tomorrow 10 AM. Rest well, Lu.

It worked. Childe sighs in relief. It’s just enough time for him to fly over to Mondstadt, scout the area, and prepare for an ambush. He heads over to his closet, taking his assassin essentials: his disassembled sniper rifle, a dagger, and some snacks. Sting ops always makes him snacky. He stuffs it all in his duffel bag and slings it over his shoulder, making his way out the door. Before he leaves, he spies Ekaterina in the corner of his eye, lounging on the sofa. He stops in his tracks, staring at her.

“What are you doing here? Don’t you have work to do? If you’re going to stay here, I’m going to need you to pay rent.” Childe says, his tone incredulous.

Ekaterina turns to him, sitting up. “And where are you going? Going to get beaten up again?”

He makes a disgusted face. “I’m off to do some work, unlike you. Actually, you know what? You should take the week off. Get out of here.”

“You do know you’re not my boss, right?” she says, but she stands up to leave anyway. “And you do know the Tsaritsa pays your rent, right?”

“I don’t care. After you,” Childe gestures at the door. “And leave your keys, please. I don’t want you messing up my place while I’m gone.”

Ekaterina rolls her eyes and fishes the keys out of her coat pocket. “I hope to the gods that you know what you’re doing, Harbinger.”

Childe grins at her as she leaves, dropping the keys on his open palm. “Take care.”

The funeral parlour is cold. Lumine does her best not to shiver, wrapping her coat tightly around her. The office is bright and sterile, as it should be. A gurney lays before her, empty but clean. She imagines the people laying on it, silent and peaceful as their internal organs get siphoned out of their bodies and stuffed full of chemicals. She imagines herself on it and wonders if she would still shiver when she’s dead.

Yelan sits beside her, waiting. She, too, has been silent, all the while tapping her pen impatiently on her little notebook. Lumine takes a glance on it and fails to decipher her writing when she realizes it is written in Liyuen. Of course. And that is why Yelan is here, and why Lumine is here. All of the things that had happened to her has led her to this very moment, because she could not speak another language.

Lumine grips her phone tightly. It is not her phone, but Tartaglia slash Ajax slash asshole’s, but at this point it might as well be hers. She squeezes the device tight beneath her fingers, making it some sort of shitty security blanket. It has not received any notification at all, not even from his friends, not even a double text from him. She pushes the worry down, instead thinking it is nothing, this is as it should be, for Kaeya’s sake.

The funeral director arrives at last, and she is entirely not what Lumine had expected. The director looks like she could pass for a young lady in university—what with her long brown hair in pigtails and cute butterfly motifs on her dress—not someone who manages dead bodies and burns them to ashes. In fact, if it weren’t for the nametag on her chest—Hi there, I’m HU TAO—Lumine would have thought the young lady got lost and entered the wrong door.

Hu Tao smiles, so uncharacteristically cheerful for someone who works at a morgue, Lumine notes. She speaks, and of course, of course, it is Liyuen, and Lumine turns to Yelan for her translation. “She says sorry for making us wait and that they have a Buy One Take One coupon if you’re interested.”

“Uh... no, not at the moment,” says Lumine. “Can we get on to the interview now?”

“Of course,” Yelan replies. She turns back to Hu Tao, talking in their native language. Slowly, Hu Tao’s grin fades from her face, and without her cheer, she looks older, more weary. Hu Tao nods, grabbing a chair.

Yelan turns back to Lumine. “Go ahead.”

It’s time. Lumine opens the phone, turning down the screen’s brightness to deter any wandering eyes—mainly Yelan’s. She navigates to the Recorder app, all the while pretending to read her questions for the interview. Lumine taps on the big red button and the phone records away. Satisfied, she puts the phone down square on her lap, still gripping it tightly.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Ms. Hu Tao. I know his passing is still very recent, but I hope you can shed some light and help us. Can you please tell us how you met Mr. Zhongli?”

Yelan asks the question and as Hu Tao answers, she translates, “Thank you, I really appreciate it. Mr. Zhongli is my uncle’s friend so I’ve known him since I was a child. He was supposed to succeed my uncle with this business but he gave it to me instead.

“I see. And why do you think he gave it to you?”

Hu Tao knits her brows together at the question. She and Yelan briefly go back and forth, possibly asking clarifying questions, and finally, Hu Tao answers, “My uncle died without any children. I was the closest to a daughter he had, I suppose. Mr. Zhongli didn’t mind that he wasn’t the successor; in fact, he preferred to just be a consultant.

Lumine purses her lips. Something isn’t quite right. It’s only the second question but she is already feeling grateful to herself for recording the conversation. Still, she soldiers on, pretending that nothing is wrong.

“Why did he decide to quit and become a palace groundskeeper instead?”

Mr. Zhongli’s funeral consultant position was only temporary. He wanted to support me since I was new to being a funeral director, but after that, he told me he wanted to directly serve Rex Lapis.

“What did he do before he was a funeral consultant?”

Hu Tao gives a short response, to which Yelan translates: “I don’t know. We didn’t become close until my uncle died. I’ve only met him once or twice at family gatherings but I didn’t really get to know him until after.

There is no way Hu Tao said all that from a short answer, Lumine thinks. Either Liyuen is more complicated than she thought or Yelan was deliberately sabotaging the interview. To what point, Lumine does not know. She had the feeling that if she knew, she would be the next thing on that gurney.

Either way, this interview is futile. No matter what questions she asked, Lumine would not get the answers she needed. So close, yet so far.

“Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Hu Tao,” Lumine says, standing up.

Yelan follows suit, translating her message and bowing. Then, she fishes something out of her pocket and hands it to Hu Tao with both hands. Lumine’s heart drops when she sees it: her infamous tracker in the shape of a business card. She swallows the lump in her throat, still gripping the phone in her hand. Discreetly, she taps on the big red button again to stop the recording. Whatever has been recorded, this may very well be the last words Lumine will hear from Ms. Hu Tao.

They leave the premises, and Lumine does her best not to think that she may have inadvertently gotten another person killed.

Lumine is thankful for a lot of things, and at the moment she is thankful the public library is still open near midnight. She is also grateful that Yanfei had agreed to see her at such a late hour, but time is of the essence. Lumine just had to know; her brain would not let her sleep in peace unless she knew what had transpired during the interview. And if it is what she thinks it is, she will need Yanfei’s help to save Hu Tao.

There’s a half-hour left before the library closes. It is the perfect time to be conspiring like this, Lumine thinks. Only a handful of people are left, mostly sleep-deprived university students, and even less people in the depths of the numerous rows of tall bookshelves. She found a secluded table in the midst of Liyuen history books and there she sits, waiting.

Yanfei arrives, in a very casual outfit and slightly disheveled bed hair, and sits down across Lumine.

“I’m sorry to bother you like this—”

“Show me,” Yanfei interrupts.

Lumine glances around, then takes out her phone. She presses the Play button. The conversation plays out. Yanfei leans over the table, listening intently. As the recording finishes, the blood drains from her face.

“What the f—”


Yanfei takes a deep breath and regains her composure. “This is the Boss and the funeral director, right?” she asks.

Lumine nods.

Yanfei bites her lip. “You were right to record this.”

Fuck. She was right. Lumine’s heartbeat pounds louder in her ears. “I was afraid of that.”

“It was a smart thing to do. Are you ready for this?”

“Hit me.”

Yanfei clears her throat. “Okay. Let me give you a little background context. As you already know, Rex Lapis is a hundred years old. He hasn’t made a public appearance since 40 years ago, and that’s all fine and dandy until now that he died and no one knows if he has a successor or not. Everything about their family was kept under wraps. As far as anyone knows, Rex Lapis is the last of his line.

“However, there are nutcases who think otherwise. They formed this conspiracy theory that the actual Rex Lapis had died already, specifically, 40 years ago. That’s why he has not made any public appearances. To save face, they decided not to announce it, and instead his younger brother takes his place, still under the guise of Rex Lapis.”

“Basically, the monarchy is a sham,” Lumine concludes. “But what does this have to do with the interview? It’s a far-fetched conspiracy theory. Every nation has their fair share of those.”

A beat passes. Yanfei is silent.

“It’s not true, is it? Wait, don’t tell me, is it actually true?”

Yanfei nods. “According to this interview, it seems like it. The younger brother of the first Rex Lapis is our guy, Mr. Zhongli.”

“That makes no damn sense.” Lumine pauses to consider. “Does it?”

Yanfei shrugs. “I don’t know. Here, let me translate it word for word so you can understand for yourself.”

She scrubs the recording to a certain point in time and plays it. Then, she translates, “Rex Lapis wanted to step down.

Yanfei resumes the recording. Yelan’s voice plays: “Why would you know what His Highness wants?

Lumine shakes her head. Of course, Yelan would deliberately mistranslate her question for her own agenda.

Hu Tao replies: “Because Mr. Zhongli is Rex Lapis. He wanted to step down to retire from the monarchy and help to usher in a modern democratic government. He told me himself.

Yanfei skips to the next part, with Yelan supposedly translating Lumine’s question. “She also didn’t translate this part correctly. You asked why Zhongli became a groundskeeper, but Yelan actually asked, ‘Say the conspiracy is true. If he wanted to step down, how come there was news of Rex Lapis’s death?’”

Hu Tao answers: “Because Zhongli had received intel that he—himself as Rex Lapis—was going to be assassinated.

Again, Yelan deliberately mistranslates the answer. Yanfei scrubs the recording again.

Yelan’s voice: “How did he find out? And why you?” Definitely a far cry from Lumine’s actual question: What did he do before he was a funeral consultant?

And Hu Tao’s actual reply: “I don’t know. He asked me to fake his death so he can flee the country. In the end, none of it mattered.

Lumine hears her voice thanking Hu Tao, then the recording goes dead.

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