Published Jul 16, 2022
Word Count 3,586


Lumine quickly takes inventory of the people in the store, the objects she can use as a weapon within reach. People? Five or six, including both of them and the cashier. Weapons? Zero, unless bags of junk food suddenly become sharp at the edges. Can be good for distraction, though.

Chances of survival? To be determined.

Chapter 3: Straight into Danger

It takes fifteen minutes for Lumine to arrive at the airport security office in Springvale. Amber is nowhere to be found, probably still stuck doing her work at the airport, much to Lumine’s relief. She doesn’t really want to answer questions about why she’s here when she’s not supposed to. The less lying Lumine had to do, the better.

“I’m here for Mr. Zhongli,” Lumine tells the receptionist, “He just flew in from Liyue.” She quickly flips her identification at her, just fast enough for the receptionist to see her photo, name, and the logo of the Knights of Favonius.

“Take a seat. I’ll call for you when he’s ready.”

Lumine does as she’s told and takes a seat near the desk. The office is empty, save for her and the receptionist, thankfully. The fewer witnesses, the better. Plausible deniability. Any executive’s favorite words, and it’s becoming hers, too. She fidgets with her phone, opening and closing a translator app she had just installed before leaving the office. It can translate someone else’s words in real time, and it’s just what Lumine needs. Technology is amazing, truly, and Lumine wonders why they have to wait to sign off a translator when she can just download an app to do it for them?

Well, the privacy issues, of course, the rational voice inside Lumine tells her. You can’t buy an app’s silence the same way you could with a person. Individuals are easier to control than technology or third-party entities.

Of course. Privacy issues. Who knows if this app will record her conversation with Zhongli? Who knows how it’ll store the information or if it can be used against her? Lumine hates the way her mind entertains her paranoid thinking, but it’s a part of why the Knights hired her. Conspiratorial minds are useful in thwarting terrorism, apparently.

Another person enters the lobby, long legs striding his way to the reception. Tall, messy auburn hair, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a red scarf. The office is empty, so Lumine hears every word the man says. “Is there a Mr. Zhongli here?”

“And you are?”

He slides an ID towards the receptionist. “Tartaglia. I’m a translator for him.”

Lumine’s ears perk up at the word translatorIs that him? He’s early. She tries to strain her neck oh-so-inconspicuously, but she can’t see more from this angle.

The receptionist gestures toward Lumine. “Kindly coordinate with Ms. Lumine over there. Mr. Zhongli is still being prepped.”

The translator, Tartaglia, looks over at her and he smiles and waves, approaching her. Lumine stands up to greet him. He’s taller than her by a lot and Lumine has to look up just to meet his eyes.

He reaches out a hand. “I’m Tartaglia, translator.”

Lumine shakes his hand instinctively, a habit she picked up from way too many corporate meetings and dinners. The touch sends electricity down her spine, making Lumine snap her hand away. “Uh... Lumine.”

His eyes are so blue, she thinks, and she cannot bring herself to look away or to say anything coherent. They’re blue, a dull shade of blue, like a stagnant pond, no longer translucent and luminous. Lumine stares, wants to see right through them, wade her fingers in and see if there’s anything living within its still waters. Not sure if it’s his glasses obscuring the light in his eyes, or if the light is already long gone, was never there at all.

A voice within Lumine tells her something isn’t quite right. That she should stay alert, be on her guard. It needles at her, pricking her brain. But when he smiles, his eyes disappearing from beneath the lines of his grin, Lumine thinks: He’s beautiful.

His hair is the color of copper, of rust, and like rust, it is wild and unkempt. It matches the thin scarf on his neck. It’s worn-out, and a bit tattered, which tells Lumine this man has a sentimental streak. He carries himself with confidence, exudes with it, that even when he’s wearing a casual grey jacket, he looks professional. But not too professional as to be intimidating. Just right.

Of course, of fucking course, Kaeya would pick a cute translator.

“Um,” she blurts out. Words, Lumine! Speak! “Sorry, what were we talking about?”

“We’re here to see Mr. Zhongli, and I’m your translator,” he says.

“Right, of course,” Lumine says, sitting down. “He should be ready in a few minutes. Come sit.”

He obliges, sitting next to her.

“So... you speak Liyuen?” she asks and immediately realizes how stupid of a question that is.

“Wouldn't be much of a translator if I couldn't,” he answers.

“You don't look Liyuen.” Not with his blue eyes and ginger hair and—are those freckles? No, he doesn’t look like he’s from Liyue at all.

“I get that a lot. You’re right, I’m not Liyuen. I’m just really interested in foreign languages. Foreign things in general.”

Lumine dares to add, “And foreign people?”

Tartaglia smiles, and in their proximity Lumine can see how sharp his canines are, slightly protruding along the straight line of his teeth. He gives her a once-over, then licks his lips. “Depends on the person, but yeah, I am.”

Lumine doesn’t know what to say. If this was Lumine a year ago, she would’ve dived in headlong. No hesitation. She would’ve invited him to a coffee date right after this, maybe invited him to her place, too, if she was feeling particularly bold. But this is Lumine now, and the synapses in her brain have long forgotten how to interact with other people, especially attractive ones. And goddamn, he is really attractive.

Lumine has gone too long not saying anything, too busy thinking about the right thing to say that the moment has already passed. He’s quiet now, scrolling on his phone, like nothing happened, like she’s so boring he’d rather be on his phone, and god, can her brain shut up already?

Without a word, she gets up and almost-runs to the washroom. Inside, she looks at herself in the mirror, trying to regain her composure, making sure everything is still in place. She takes a few deep breaths, holding each inhale and exhale to slow down her racing heartbeat. When it does, she pats a wet hand on her cheeks to wake herself up.

Lumine brings out her phone to text Kaeya. ‘I just met the translator and he's so cute wtf!’

She sends a follow-up text, ‘I think he's flirting with me. Idk.

Lumine studies herself in the mirror again, rehearsing a smile. Does being coy still work for guys these days?

“You’re okay,” Lumine tells herself, her reflection mouthing the words back at her. “This is a work thing. No time to be flirting or going on dates. Just be normal, and you’ll be okay. Okay? Okay. Be normal.”

Her phone vibrates and Lumine reads the notification from Kaeya’s reply. ‘What translator? I haven’t heard from the other department just yet.’

Lumine’s blood runs cold. She reads the message again, word for word.

“Wait, what?” she says out loud.

Kaeya texts again, ‘Lu? What’s happening?

Her heart is racing again, this time for an entirely different reason.

Maybe nothing bad happened. Maybe it’s all okay, and she’s just being paranoid again. Maybe they just forgot to email Kaeya about the translator. Maybe the translator came in early and somehow found out where the witness was, even though only a handful of people should know about it.

Or maybe she fucked up again.

Her mind screams expletive after expletive, and then it just goes blank, waiting for Lumine to do something.

Her phone is ringing. Kaeya’s calling. Lumine turns off her phone and shoves it back in her pocket. She’s fucked. She’s so fucked.

Lumine creeps out of the washroom, trying not to make a sound. The office is still eerily quiet, save for a telephone ringing incessantly. No one is answering. Her heart is pounding so loud she can feel it threatening to burst from beneath her ribs. She can’t even think about the consequences. Can’t think of what will happen when Eula finds out she fucked up again. There is only the present. And at present, the only thing Lumine can think about is to get the fuck out of there.

The lobby is empty. The phone stops ringing. It’s quiet. The receptionist is gone. Tartaglia—if that’s even his real name—is nowhere to be found, too. When Lumine reaches the receptionist’s desk, she finds her lying on the floor, throat slit and blood pooled around her body. Lumine clasps a hand over her mouth to stifle a scream. She’s too late.

Her brain hones in on one thought: the witness. She runs around to the receptionist’s computer and sees blood all over the keyboard. Blood on the same letters as the witness’s name. On the desktop screen she sees what room Zhongli is being held in. She turns in the room’s direction and sees bloody footprints along the hallway. Lumine swallows, takes a deep breath and runs toward the room, following the trail of blood laid out for her.

Running straight into danger.

The trail disappears behind a door left ajar. Her hands tremble as she pushes the door in. Lumine scans the room: no Tartaglia. The witness’s two guards are dead, and Zhongli is sitting down, his throat slit, too. A raspy groan slips out of him as he sees her. He’s alive.

Lumine rushes to him, covering the gash around his neck with her hands, applying pressure. Lumine looks at him and sees nothing but terror in his golden eyes, and in its reflection, she can see herself mirroring his fear.

“Stay with me, Mr. Zhongli,” Lumine repeats the words to him like a frantic prayer. “HELP!” she screams, her voice echoing within the walls of the room. No one is coming.

Zhongli’s mouth is half-open, like he wants to say something. Blood splutters from his lips as he tries to make a sound, but his vocal cords are too ruptured now to produce anything.

“It’s okay. You’re going to be okay,” Lumine says, and she doesn’t know whether the words are to comfort Zhongli or herself. And then it hits her. Whatever she’s saying, this man cannot understand, will never know what it means. The last words he’ll ever hear, and to him they’ll only be incomprehensible sounds.

Lumine wants to look away, wants to erase the image of a man bleeding out from under her hands. But she can’t. If he can’t understand her, the least she can do is to look him in the eyes as he died. The terror is still there, and little by little the light in his eyes goes dim.

Lumine’s hands are still trembling. There’s dried blood caked around her palm and underneath her fingernails. She’s back in their office in Mondstadt, in a small conference room with Kaeya. She hears him beside her, whispering something, but all she can hear are muffled sounds. His hand is rubbing her back, but the touch doesn’t register. She can still see Zhongli, can still feel the warm blood running from her hands around his throat, can still hear the blood spluttering as he choked on his own blood.

The sound of heels clacking and the door opening wakes Lumine from her trance. It’s Eula, followed by Yelan behind her. Eula sits across Kaeya and Lumine, while Yelan is standing off to the side, leaning on the wall.

Eula looks at Lumine, narrowing her eyes into a piercing stare. “Have you given your statement?”

Lumine says, ‘Yes’, but her throat is dry. Instead, she settles for a nod.

Eula sighs, leaning back into her chair. “God, Viatrix. We just talked about this.”

Lumine feels her lips tremble, and she has to bite her lip to keep it steady.

“What am I going to do with you? You’re lucky there are no charges against you, but you are not walking away out of this unscathed.”

“W-what’s going to happen?” Lumine says, her voice rough and hoarse.

“You’re suspended for insubordination.”

“That’s not fair,” Kaeya interjects. “She didn’t know they hadn’t signed off the translator yet.”

Eula’s scowl deepens. “So, you knew about this? That she was going to conduct an illegal investigation and you let her?”

The room is silent. No doubt Kaeya doesn’t want to incriminate himself further. Lumine doesn’t blame him.

Eula scoffs. “Unbelievable. You’re fired, Viatrix.”

Lumine doesn’t say anything. She wants to, but doesn’t know what to say. It was only a matter of time, her mind thinks, and her chest twitches at the fact.

Eula leans over the table and says with a soft but stern voice, “You know, I would’ve been more impressed, more lenient, if you actually found something about this case during your investigation. But you didn’t. You couldn’t even do that right. Instead, you got four people killed because of your sheer incompetence. I should’ve fired you a year ago.”

Lumine feels Kaeya’s hand on hers, squeezing it for comfort. How he can remain calm and collected right now, Lumine doesn’t know. The idea feels foreign to her.

“If you’re letting her go, you’re going to have to fire me, too,” Kaeya says.

Lumine turns to him. “Kaeya, you don’t have to—”

“No, I don’t care,” he says. “This is the most boring job I’ve ever been in, and if you’re going to fire the only person who makes this job entertaining, then I’m better off jobless than working another goddamn day in this boring shithole.”

Whoa. So much for being calm and collected.

Eula crosses her arms together and raises a quizzical eyebrow. “How long have you been holding that in, Alberich?”

From the corner of the room, Yelan speaks. Lumine almost jumps, forgetting she had been in the room witnessing this chaotic mess. “Well, then. Looks like that’s taken care of.”

“I suggest you both leave immediately,” Eula says, and they don’t need to be told twice.

Lumine is back in her shabby studio apartment on the outskirts of Mondstadt proper. The trip home was uneventful; her mind was devoid of any thoughts as she drove her car, entirely focused on steering the wheel and making sure she got home alive. Now inside the comforts of her home, the reality sinks in.

She just lost her job. The only thing that’s keeping her afloat, the only chance she has of finding Aether, is now gone.

That’s it. Now what?

Lumine slumps down on her couch and turns on the television, flicking through the channels for anything mildly entertaining that can take her mind off of the bullshit she’s been through today.

It doesn’t work. No news about Zhongli, but every single channel is reporting Rex Lapis’s death. The death that brought her here, to where and how she is now. Fucking hell, she thinks, and turns off the TV.

She brings her knees close to her chest and closes her eyes. Flashes of Zhongli dying before her run behind her eyelids. Lumine shudders. It’s not like she can bring herself to forget. It’s all she can see any time she closes her eyes for longer than a second.

It’s not her first time seeing a dead body. It’s not her first time seeing someone die, either, but they had all been pictures and videos—simply evidence they all had to peruse at one point, almost like a rite of passage as an intelligence agent. The gruesome reality of it all hidden behind a digital veneer. But the real thing? It is so goddamn different. Nothing can possibly prepare anyone from witnessing a person dying firsthand. The transition from alive to dead is both too quick and too slow, Lumine realizes. Too quick that it reminds Lumine of a human body’s fragility. Too slow because a human spends too much time suffering and fighting death, fighting the inevitable.

And knowing she’s the reason four people died today?

Well, no. That’s not entirely true. She’s not the only one to blame. There’s him. Tartaglia. That beautiful, wretched man who had the audacity to flirt with her before slaughtering people. And she ate every word that came out of his pretty lips.

You’ve reached a new low, Lumine.

But, no, really, it’s his fault. He killed them, not her.


He killed them.

Lumine sits up straight, the synapses in her brain making new neural connections as she realizes she can finally put a face to the man who’s been behind all these cases she’s been secretly investigating.

It’s a long shot, really, considering he might only be involved in this one assassination, but still. For the first time in a year, she has a trail. A lead. Not something flimsy or theoretical. He’s real, he’s flesh and blood, and she absolutely needs to find him.

For the first time in a year, Lumine is one step closer to finding Aether. She has hope. It’s a dangerous feeling, Lumine knows, but goddamn, it feels good to have that warm feeling bloom in her chest again.

Lumine brings out her laptop, starts typing his name, ‘Tartaglia’, into Google before realizing she will find nothing the conventional way. She’s going to need Albedo.

The sound of knocking on her door takes her out of her thoughts.

Her survival instincts kick in; she grabs a paring knife by the kitchen counter and hides it behind her back as she tiptoes towards the door.

Is that him? Has he come to finish the job? Kill the remaining witness of his heinous crime? How polite of him to knock.

Her heart is pounding. Lumine is untrained with any kind of weapon, despite being an intelligence officer. She had one lesson on how to fire a gun, but that was just a formality, really. The higher ups never bothered giving their desk people weaponry training. They never needed it, anyway. And Lumine agreed with them on that.

Until now.

And now here she is, holding a small knife like a lifeline. Lumine knows she’ll probably end up hurting herself more than her attacker, especially against an assassin, of all things. But she doesn’t let go of the knife and instead grips the handle tighter.

Lumine looks through the peephole and doesn’t expect to see Yelan on the opposite side. She places the knife on the side table by the door and opens it.

“Yelan, what’s up?” Lumine says, putting her hands in her pockets to look as nonchalant as she can, as if she wasn’t just thinking about stabbing whoever was knocking a few seconds ago.

Yelan looks different, dressed more casual and relaxed, but still stylish with her designer jacket she seems to never take off.

“Is there anything you need at the store?” Yelan says. “Dango milk, perhaps?”

The door of the nearest convenience store chimes as Lumine and Yelan enter the premises. Lumine still doesn’t know what this is about; Yelan hasn’t spoken a word.

Yelan stops in front of the fridge containing drinks and dairy products and leans on the door to face Lumine. “I know what happened last year, Viatrix.”

“Sorry, what?” Isn’t that confidential information?

“You had the right intentions, just… awful execution, really.”

Lumine isn’t liking this. “I know you didn’t visit me to criticize what I did last year, so what’s this really about?”

Yelan closes the distance between them. Lumine steps backward, but Yelan matches her until Lumine can feel the shelf of junk food on her back. Trapped. Lumine quickly takes inventory of the people in the store, the objects she can use as a weapon within reach. People? Five or six, including them and the cashier. Weapons? Zero, unless bags of junk food suddenly become sharp at the edges. Can be good for distraction, though. Chances of survival? To be determined.

“I think you have potential, Lumine,” Yelan says, tucking a stray hair behind Lumine’s ear. The touch sends a jolt down her spine. For the second time today. “You’re a lucky woman to have survived a slaughter. What’s more, you’ve seen the assassin’s face when none of the security cameras have caught a glimpse of him. What are the odds that he would let you go just like that? For all we know, you could be next.”

Lumine swallows the lump in her throat. “So what? What have you got to do with this?”

Yelan backs away and smiles, her lips drawn like a recurve bow. “Simple. I have information you need, and you have information I need. You can work for me, and I can give you protection.”

Lumine has to stop herself from perking up, from looking too eager. “What information could you possibly have that I would need?”

Yelan brings a finger to her lips. “When you’re feeling better, contact me. I’d love to discuss the details with you over breakfast.”

Yelan hands a business card to her with both hands, the same way she did with Eula. Lumine stares at the card. It just has Yelan’s name on it. No number, no address. What is happening?

“Hope to see you soon.” Yelan gestures toward the fridge. “Oh, and don’t forget to buy some milk.”


“Isn’t that what you came here for?” Yelan opens the door and tilts her head towards the dango milk lined up on the shelf.

Lumine hurriedly snatches a bottle and brings it to the counter. When she looks back, Yelan is gone.

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