Published Jul 22, 2022
Word Count 3,461


Childe is in tune with his body, and he knows with acute certainty that something is different. Not wrong, not new. Different. Deep-rooted. Awake.

Chapter 4: It’s Not Her

“Lumine. Loooomeeeen.” Childe repeats her name over and over, savors the way the sound of her name rolls off his tongue. He drags out each syllable, changes pitch and tone, contorting his lips every which way to capture her in his mouth.

He hums, clicking the transfer button on his online bank account. It’s payday. He starts the chain of transfers into several accounts under different names, into his offshore account in Sumeru, into a shell company in Natlan, into a charity fund, into a school in Morepesok, and so on. It is a necessary measure, one his senior, Pantalone, taught everyone in the Twelve. He saves a small percentage in his current account for his leisure, but everything else is out there. Emergency funds. Shit is eventually going to hit the fan, he knows, and all that pile of money lets him sleep soundly at night.

Childe says Lumine’s name again, and this time, he pictures her in his head, replaying their conversation. He thinks of her, her radiant eyes, that sweet smile, short blonde hair reflecting golden light. He imagines her trying to save that man whose name he cannot remember. Trying to stop the blood flow with her hands. Blood getting all over her hands, her fingers, and under her nails. Sullying her skin and painting it red.

Childe wonders if Lumine watched the light leave that man’s eyes. Curious if it’s her first time, or one of many. If she has ever killed anyone at all.

Lumine is a witness, Childe knows, which means she is a liability. A ticking time bomb before she confesses she has seen him, his face, and that he killed them all. He should really go back and shut her pretty little mouth for good in that little apartment of hers. But it’s past 24 hours, and he hasn’t heard of him being a suspect in any crime. Nothing in the news. No cops have come to kick down his door and arrest him. Not even one of the shitty detectives in Liyue or Mondstadt has come knocking and asking questions.


“Lumine,” he repeats with a drawl.

Childe is in tune with his body, knows every nook and cranny, every action and reaction before he thinks of it. He is a well-oiled machine, like any proper, professional assassin should be. Every cog and wheel endlessly turning with one sole purpose: to be a weapon, a knife driven in between the ribs by whoever so pleases. It pleases him, too, like a lion sinking its teeth and tearing into an antelope’s neck. He enjoys the act, draws it out, and revels in it.

Childe is in tune with his body, and he does not lose control of himself. The Fair Lady, Eighth of the Twelve, may call him insane and thrill-seeking, which may be true, but before all that, he is a professional. Sniper headshots and subtlety are boring. It has no style, no flair to it. But Childe knows to deliver it all the same, because before he is a person, he is first a weapon: a gun to be aimed, a bullet to puncture a skull.

Childe is in tune with his body, and he knows with acute certainty that something is different. Not wrong, not new. Different. Deep-rooted. Awake. The more he thinks about it, the more he is convinced that it is Lumine who roused it within him, wide awake and sober. Out of his control. And for that, she will pay. He’ll make sure of it. He’ll make sure Lumine knows what she’s done to him, what she set free, and what it will do to her.

The door to his apartment opens, interrupting his thoughts. Ekaterina waltzes in, wearing a mask on her face like any other messenger does.

Childe perks up when he sees her. A personal visit means she has a message to deliver, and it’s been ages since the last one.

“Kat, what a pleasant surprise. Did you miss me?”

Ekaterina flips a middle finger at him, and sits down beside him on the couch, bringing out a letter. Childe snatches it from her hands, ripping the envelope and scanning its contents. No high-profile assignments. Stay in Liyue. Consequences of your actions in Mondstadt. Childe reads the words again and again, knows what each of them means individually, but when strung together in this exact order, he doesn’t understand.

Childe looks at Ekaterina, his brow furrowed. “Hey, uh, what the fuck does this mean?”

Ekaterina takes the letter from him, brings out a lighter, and burns it. “It means exactly what it says, Childe. You’re being relegated to low-profile targets in Liyue for the time being until you learn to follow orders.”

“And this is because of my last assignment?”

“Precisely. It was the opposite of discreet. One casualty only. Not four. Pantalone had to pay to keep it clean and hush-hush.”

“So... someone reported it to the police?” Childe asks, his voice tentative.

“Yes, but they didn’t say anything about you, or described you in detail. But that does not mean the Tsaritsa doesn’t know you fucked this one up big time.”

Huh. Lumine said nothing about him.


Very interesting.

“Yeah, whatever,” he says, standing up and making his way to the fridge. “Want some food? I have—”

“Takeout? No, thanks.”

He shrugs, taking out day-old fried rice in a box and a spoon, and starts eating. “Suit yourself. Is that all? Any messages from the others?”

Ekaterina brings out another envelope—a postcard. “Ever been to the Tea Capital of Liyue?”

Childe takes the postcard. Qiaoying City, it reads. He flips it around and reads the details. “My next target is an old lady? Come on, this is bullshit. Is there anything else? Literally anyone else but an old lady.”

Ekaterina laughs. “Why? Does she remind you of your dear old nan back in Morepesok?”

Childe scowls. “No. My dear old nan is much more beautiful than this. My point is, killing an old lady is literally so easy. I don’t want it. It’s insulting to me and my talents.”

“Pfft, okay then,” Ekaterina says, standing up and taking out her phone.

“Wait, really?”

“No, not really. I’m calling the Doctor to schedule you an appointment with him.”

Childe lunges at her, grabbing the phone out of her hands and dangling it over her. “Learn to take a joke, Ekaterina. Of course I’ll take the assignment.”

Ekaterina offers her palm, gestures for the phone. “And you’ll be a good boy this time?”

“Shut up,” he says, giving the phone back to her. “Are you done?”

Ekaterina nods. “Any messages for the others?”

Childe pauses for a beat, then says, “Tell Scaramouche he can go suck my dick.”

“And is that an offer? An invitation?”

“Oh, fuck off, Kat.”

Ekaterina laughs and waves him goodbye. “Good luck, Childe. Have fun with your dear old lady.”

Childe studies the old lady, Madame Fang, and her daily routine. From the five days he’s been following her, he finds out she’s the head honcho of an opium manufacturing and distribution in the city. In the morning she visits their remote warehouse, likely where the drugs are being produced, goes for afternoon tea in the same teahouse every day, attends business meetings in the afternoon in different locations with different people. Fang is not without her bodyguards, always, even at night when she slept. Childe knows—even from his binoculars, he can see her mansion is crawling with guards.

Low-profile target, my ass.

The teahouse is his entry point. But when Childe tries to pay a visit and be a customer, he’s met with a refusal.

“The teahouse is closed,” the server tells him.

Childe points to the lit lanterns and servers shuffling inside. “What’re they doing, then?”

“We’re closed.”

From this angle, Childe can’t see much, but he suspects Madame Fang pays to have the teahouse all to herself every day at this hour. He concedes and comes back when Fang and her minions leave.

When he returns, the same server greets him with an all too cheerful smile. “Welcome. For one?”

He nods, and she ushers him inside. The interior is not that fancy, really. Childe has visited his fair share of high-end teahouses and restaurants in Liyue and from the furniture design he can already tell this is a mid-range teahouse. Nothing special to look at, really.

The server, a different one this time, hands him the menu. Childe doesn’t look at it and instead asks him, “What’s your bestseller?”

“Honey violetgrass tea. Would you like one?”

Childe hums. “What did the old lady order? I’d like one of whatever that was.”

He gives him a thin smile. “Old lady? Sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course. Honey violetgrass tea will do, then.”

This assignment is testing him. Sniper shot is out of the question; Childe can’t get a glimpse of her in her mansion, in the warehouse, or in the teahouse. Always obscured, just out of view. Fang has too many guards for an ambush to work. He’s great in close combat; he knows he can take them all down, but he needs to behave, be discreet. Childe hates it, prefers going in headfirst, but Ekaterina lovingly threatened an appointment with the Doctor if he doesn’t comply. He’d much prefer going back to prison in Snezhnaya where he came from, than be alone in a room with the Doctor.

The tea arrives. It is called honey violetgrass tea but there is not a single flavor of honey or violetgrass in it when Childe takes a sip. It is all bitter and none of the sweetness and Childe has to wonder: is this incompetency or is this really what their supposed bestseller is? Is there another secret lurking in this place? A façade, a mask waiting to be stripped away?

That’s none of his business, of course. Childe is here to kill. Nothing more, nothing less.

Childe scans the area. There’s two exits: the main entrance, and one at the back. He spies a few workers emerging from below, which means there’s a basement of sorts. It’s another one of those cartel operations, no doubt. Childe examines the customers. There is a mix of actual paying customers and others making deals under the table. No one seems to mind the shitty food. The Tea Capital of Liyue is very underwhelming.

His eyes catch a glimpse of short blonde hair on a different table. His heartbeat quickens. The person has their back to him and Childe can’t see much from his seat. Not sure if it’s her, but the mere possibility already has him electric, buzzing like a live wire. He moves, angles himself just right and—

It’s not her.

Childe inhales sharply, smoothing down his composure. He sips his tea, swallows the repulsive taste, feels the heat in his throat. It’s not her.

Childe gestures at the server for the payment. He gives him a once-over. He has short black hair, long slender legs, a plain-looking face. Childe’s eyes trail down to his nametag: Haoran.

Change of plan. Haoran will now be Childe’s entry point.

“So, what time does your shift end?”

Childe swipes the brush against his cheeks, the powder expertly concealing his freckles. He is in his room in a roadside motel, painting his face to become another person: Haoran the server, who now has his mouth gagged and hands tied, sitting naked on the floor next to his bed.

He pencils in his eyebrows, making it darker, smudging it around to match the sparse eyebrows of his new identity. It’s an art, Childe thinks, to wear another person’s skin so perfectly, to become new and different. He enjoys it, the thrill of pretending, of fooling, of them not knowing what hit them until he’s done. It’s wholly different from just killing close quarters, which is his favorite, of course. Nothing can compare to listening to a person’s heart pump away furiously, slowly and steadily weakening, until it is only a mere echo, and then nothing.

Childe brings out his set of eye contacts and pulls out a pair of black contacts. Not his favorite, to conceal his dull blue eyes, but he needs to blend in. It is too jarring sometimes, to other people, when they see it. He remembers the way Lumine stared at him, curious and wide-eyed, not horrified or repelled by the dullness in his eyes like others usually do. He wonders what she saw in them. Did she see anything beneath the muted surface? Did she see what he sees in the mirror? Did she see a void, an abyss... or did she see something alive?

He puts on the contacts and blinks twice, the black eclipsing his blue as it slots into place.

Finally, he prepares his hair for the wig. Combs it back, taming the wild fire down into a flat plain, pins them down with hair clips. Hairnet, then the wig. Short black hair, emulating the server, whose face is now messy with tears and saliva.

Childe stares back at his reflection. He mimics the way Haoran’s face is contorted, crying and sobbing, and it is a perfect carbon copy. Childe’s face breaks into a smile, his wide cheshire grin, and for a moment he can see himself break through his disguise. Uncanny.

Childe steps away from the vanity and approaches the server, who is now shaking his head furiously, trying to scream, but the gag muffles the sound. Again with the fear. He has not even done anything to him yet. But then again, if a doppelgänger approached him while he’s gagged and tied, Childe supposes he’d feel afraid, too. No, scratch that. That is definitely not what he would feel.

He steps behind Haoran and puts him into a chokehold. “Shh,” he whispers against the shell of his ear. “Resisting will make it hurt.” Haoran shakes violently, then stops, gives up like he did when Childe captured him as he left the teahouse, his shift done for the day. It was easy, luring Haoran away with Childe’s words, sweet and tempting. Childe almost felt sorry for how easy it was, like an anglerfish dangling a white light, only to be devoured by him. He remembers how it happened: he shoved Haoran against the wall and whispered obscene promises in his ear. Haoran’s knees buckled readily under his touch. Haoran agreed so eagerly to come with him, it was honestly kind of pathetic. His mouth watered with want, and so Childe gave it to him. He remembers how Haoran took him in fully, so well and enthusiastically. It was almost amusing.

Childe would feel regret, should be remorseful for luring him under false pretenses. But a job is a job, and Childe is no stranger to having fun while on duty. Work-life balance is very important, you know.

Childe took Haoran last night, and now it is day. Harsh sunlight suffuses through the dark curtains. It is time. He takes Haoran’s clothes strewn around the floor, and slips into them, into Haoran’s skin, and becomes him.

No one really looks at servers. As long as they do their job, they are pretty much invisible to customers. They don’t pay attention to the people servicing them, don’t care who they are, what their name is, if they’ve been kidnapped and replaced by a handsome international assassin in disguise.

Years of living in Liyue has Childe very familiar with their culture and language. It takes little effort for him to blend in, to become Haoran.

In the teahouse, before Madame Fang arrives, the workers prepare her food and tea in advance.

“You seem awfully chipper today, Haoran,” a fellow server says. Childe’s eyes flit to her nametag, which says: Ruoxi.

“I had a good time last night, Ruoxi,” Childe answers.

She raises an eyebrow. “Oh? Details later, my friend.”

Another voice, presumably their boss, booms within the teahouse. “Fang ETA: five minutes! Make sure everything is ready!”

It’s ready, all right, Childe thinks. He puts a hand in his pocket and feels the vial of liquid, rolls it around his fingers. It’s a special one, this poison, and it is not to be used irresponsibly. Childe has only ever handled five vials of these, and this is his last one; he makes a mental note to tell Ekaterina he ran out.

What makes it special is its effects: a small vial is a lethal dose, but the poison takes effect only after it has been digested. The work starts once it enters the bloodstream. By then, it will have been hours, likely dinner time, when Madame Fang will die. Assassins are given a limited quantity, possibly to avoid them relying solely on these hacks to execute their assignment. He loathes killing by this particular poison. Childe does not get to see them die, and it is just no fun. They don’t even bleed or anything. Their heart just stops. Boring.

But today, Childe will behave. He will compromise.

Childe strides over to the counter, his back on the teacup, and with a sleight of hand, trickles the contents of the vial into the cup. A thin, transparent layer forms at the top before sinking and dissolving into the tea.

Madame Fang arrives, just in time. She is alone with two bodyguards in tow. She is old, maybe in her seventies or eighties, just like in the photo Ekaterina provided. There is an air of nobility and eminence about her with her posture and opulent style. Amid an austere teahouse, Madame Fang does not fit in. Sticks like out like an elegant thumb.

Ruoxi approaches to greet her and guides her to her usual table. Fang makes a pretense of reading the menu before telling her, “The usual.” And they make a pretense of preparing it before Ruoxi brings it to her. Fang takes a sip. Childe watches.

Fang raises a quizzical eyebrow. “This... is a bit sweet.”

“Um… should we get you another cup?” Ruoxi says, her voice weak.

Fang takes another sip, longer this time. “No. I like this better.”

Because that’s what honey violetgrass tea should taste like, Childe thinks.

Ruoxi is just standing there, probably wondering what is happening. “Okay. We’ll change the recipe.”

Ruoxi steps away from the table and approaches Childe. “Haoran, what the fuck did you put in the tea?”


Ruoxi elbows him slightly. “I saw you put something.”

She saw? Childe sucks in a breath. “I just put in a little artificial sweetener.”

“Huh. Okay.”

Childe enters his flat in Liyue Harbor and he is mildly surprised to see the lights on.

“It’s rude to trespass, you know,” Childe says to Ekaterina lounging on the sofa.

Ekaterina stands up and aims a pistol at him. “Who the fuck are you?”

What the— Oh, shit. He forgot to remove his disguise. And he just remembered Haoran is still stuck in the motel room. Ah, he’s going to be fine.

Childe rips off the wig. “Kat, it’s me, you dumbass.”

Ekaterina sighs, putting the gun away. “Jeez. You’re really getting good at this disguise thing.”

Childe slumps on the couch beside her, ruffling his hair back into a wild fire. “What brings you here?”

“The Tsaritsa sends her congratulations on a job well done,” Ekaterina says.

“Cool. Am I un-grounded now?”

Ekaterina quirks her head toward him, and from beneath the mask, Childe senses a smug grin plastered on her face. “Not quite.”

“But I behaved!”

“I know, I know. But good news: you’re no longer stuck in Liyue. Your next mission is in Mondstadt. However, you will be partnering up with the Eighth.”

Childe perks up at the word ‘Mondstadt’ and willfully ignores the rest. “Mondstadt?”

Ekaterina nods. Childe’s thoughts race ahead of him. It does not matter that he has to work with Rosalyne. He is going back to Mondstadt. And going back to Mondstadt means a chance of seeing Lumine again. He thinks about Lumine as his target, the ways he can hunt and take her down. Childe grabs Ekaterina’s shoulders. “Oh, Kat. I’m so giddy I could kiss you right now.”

Ekaterina grimaces. “Please don’t.”

Childe lets go of her. “Okay, who’s the target?”

Childe looks at her expectantly. He can feel himself vibrating, all electric from his excitement. Ekaterina brings out a flyer for a tour in the Knights of Favonius headquarters. It’s another one of those puzzles. Mission details encrypted, hidden from the common eye. But to Childe, it is clear. His eyes dart toward the name for the tour guide, a.k.a. the target. He braces himself for Lumine’s name.

It is not Lumine.

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