как б[ы] кросс
xiao © Кто он? Никто — теперь; всё, чем он был, отобрано у него и растоптано в пыль; он не достоин больше называться воином, но крылатый бог зовёт его так, словно видит его былую тень. У него нет ничего теперь, кроме имени; силясь найти в себе голос, он медлит, собирая осколки растерянных звуков. Он мог бы атаковать, ему надо бежать — но вместо этого он упрямо, но почти стыдливо удерживает маску у лица, когда её теребит лёгкий, но настойчивый ветер. ....читать дальше

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intruder alert

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1

intruder alert
albedo & xiao
https://forumupload.ru/uploads/001b/8a/62/17/549685.png
friend or foe?

+6

2

Liyue was beautiful — even the marsh, which currently laid in front of and around Albedo. Long bushy Horsetails were swaying silently in the gentle wind, their purple ends sticking out in the yellow sedge among the shallow pools and tricky soft banks. Brightly colored green-necked ducks, so different to their white counterparts in Mondstadt, occasionally took flight, splashing the water and making the grass bend lower, flapping their wings with all their might in order to escape a silently hunting fox. Frogs of all colours sunbathed and croaked on smooth rocks, while Loaches scampered around, catching small insects, quietly buzzing around Sweet Flowers.

The nature was serene and teetering with life at the same time, and steadily falling sun provided warm lighting and ambience — absolutely perfect for a sketch. Albedo simply couldn’t resist: he gently pulled the reigns, making his horse step away from the main road into the grass, and fearlessly swung his leg around its side, reaching for his sketchbook and a pencil, quickly making first few strokes. He was not planning on staying for long and finishing the drawing: rather, he intended to make an outline of the finished product, marking the place for the later addition of the finer details. That was his go-to strategy for the paintings, which he couldn’t finish then and there. Luckily, he had an exceptional memory.

“Have we arrived yet, Cretaceus?” a hissy voice is heard from his bag, and a small black head of an unmistakable shape poked out. The hatchling paused, blinking, taking in the scenery and its noises and smells with obvious glee and child-like wonder. His slit nostrils fluttered, as it turned up to look at Albedo once more.

“Patience, Humus, we are almost there,” his younger brother answered, gently rubbing Durin’s little stubby horns. “Let me just make a quick sketch of the surroundings first.”
“How come you have never visited this land with mother? You said that you traveled alongside her for almost two hundred years,” the small (for now) dragon yields to the warm touch, letting out a little affectionate chirp. He was unsurprisingly noisy when he could: after being chained to one place in pieces for centuries letting the world know about himself held as much thrill for Durin as experiencing it firsthand. Or firstpaw.

Albedo felt poisoning sadness seeping into him, as he contemplated the answer to the other crowned child’s question. He did travel with master for a long time, but the majority of that time was spent underground and in various dungeons: sneaking past monsters or fending them off, seeking artifacts and food, studying and experimenting under the weakly, but steadily glowing Irminsul branches. He and Rhinedottir rarely emerged from the snake-like tunnels underground, and whenever they did, they were almost always flanked by his Alfisol brothers of varying size and maturity. Speaking of which, this is how a small pack of them happened to come to Mondstadt all the way from Inazuma, where they inadvertently entered into a territorial dispute with Andrius’s wolves.

“She didn’t feel that it was safe for us to traverse Teyvat openly, Durin. A lot of people and creatures hate our mother because she hurt them,” gently explained Kreideprinz, putting away his sketchbook and assuming his normal riding position, holding the reigns once more. The horse agitatedly neighed, when the dragon climbed under Albedo’s cloak, poking his head from his loose collar, and the homunculus calmly patted the mare on the neck, before sending it forward, towards the already looming Wangshu Inn.

Durin tensed up, but didn’t answer. Albedo knew that Rhinedottir was a touchy subject, however, he refused to dress up the truth about their creator. This gentle child will learn sooner or later — and best be it through his neutral words, rather than hate-filled wails of the cursed sinners, or callous and cold songs of the bard, masked with joy.

“Do you hate her too, brother?” the hatchling finally spoke up. Thankfully, this question was not so difficult to answer as the previous one.
“No. How could I? She made me — and not just in the literal sense. She gave me a purpose, she gave me freedom and, in a sense, provided with resources to pursue knowledge,” Albedo felt that the dragon’s body grew a bit warmer as he spoke. Apparently, Humus was pleased with his answer, but this was short-lived. “However, I do not like that she aims to hurt others and disagree with her on several aspects of research, but I think this is normal. She did not expect us both to be her subservient puppets, Durin: she expected us to be individuals.”

Kreideprinz made a pause, the dragon ducking into his purple cape, as the cargo cart harnessed by two working horses lumbered past them along the road. Two riders exchanged polite nods, as Albedo directed the horse away from the merchant and his goods, giving him space.

“It is normal that you love her, Durin, even if so many hate her. Do not feel ashamed — for all intents and purposes, she is your mother,” Albedo quietly finished his thought, pulling his spacious hood on his head, allowing Durin to take a peek at the cart. Since he arrived in Liyue on private business, honoring the invitation send to him by Zhenyu, he changed into more comfortable clothes, which did not bear the insignia of Ordo Favonius and allowed him to safely hide Durin in his cape.

Humus sighed, his warm breath tickling Albedo’s neck. “Thank you, brother.”
“Anytime. I am here to help you, after all,” the alchemist felt a small smile creeping onto his lips. “Are you comfortable?”
“Yes. I want to talk more, but I smell a lot of people.”
“Yes, I see them. Do not worry, I will check in and then we can talk.”

The dragon huffed in approval and fully disappeared under the cloak, holding on to Kreideprinz’s thin purple shirt. His weight felt somehow reassuring: Albedo suddenly realized, that he felt quite lonely before that. Now, with Nigredo finally coming around and Durin by his side, he finally felt like he belonged in this world. Make no mistake — Klee was his sister and he loved her deeply, but the connection he felt to other projects of Gold was completely different somehow. He was not proficient enough with emotions to explain it in words, but he knew that his alchemical brothers felt the same, even if they vehemently tried to deny it.

The check-in to the Wangshu Inn was smooth and quick: Albedo carried his painting supplies, a Mora poach, a few examples of the illustrations for the latest “Legend of Sword”, a change of clothes and some provisions, so there was not a lot to declare. Of course, he produced his Cinnabar Spindle on request, but bearing a Vision and, as a result, an access to the dimensional pocket for his weapon, he was not asked to put the sword away for other patrons’ comfort. Moreover, he will only spend here one night before departing to Liyue Harbour, so it was not like he would be here long enough to fight someone.

He handed over his horse to the attendant and went up to his room, locking it behind himself and finally pulling the cape off: it was getting a bit too warm for his liking. Durin spread out his small wings and flew to the table, landing and sniffing the air and everything around him, not too different from a cat.

“Are you hungry? I asked the kitchen for some lightly roasted meat dishes for dinner, so you can have those. I also still have that half of a roasted chicken you couldn’t eat whole…”
“Were you always this sarcastic, Albedo?” the dragon scoffed. His brother smiled, carefully folding his cape and smoothing out his long black leggings. Even this quite light attire could not save him from the damp heat of the swamp around the inn. “What are you smelling?”
“I sense… danger. Darkness. Not Abyss, but still danger, right here.”
“Let’s check the hotel then, brother. Come on,” Albedo tensed up, looking around, and once again threw the cape on his shoulders, letting the little dragon swoop under it and hide. Durin was quite sensitive to these things, but where in the name of Khemia should this danger be in the inn?

Отредактировано Albedo (2022-09-06 00:22:07)

+7

3

Xiao returns to the inn like he always does: unannounced, unnoticed, tired. Liyue, majestic and vast, lies before him in all its afternoon glory, and he stops on his way to admire it yet again, to catch a glimpse of the setting sun through the rustling leaves of centuries-old trees, listen to the murmur of the wind, and feel the fleeting warmth of the all-too-familiar stone beneath his feet. He remembers so much about this place; he remembers a time when the mighty tree was but a sapling, and he remembers the cliffs untouched by winds and storms that chew at them, slowly yet unrelentingly, with each passing year. He will remember this day, too, among so many others already committed to his memory, as another day he got to live against all odds.

He chuckles softly to himself, a mix of exhaustion and relief. He cherishes these memories like he cherishes Liyue itself; to him, the bustling land of trade and contracts is a dear companion more than an obligation, and love ties him to it more than duty. That, too, of course, but when he looks at its plains and rivers and stone pillars he does so with admiration for their resilience, taking comfort in the thought that they all have been here long before him and will stand strong even after he’s gone.

And the inn – ah, the inn. The latest addition to the landscape, the inn stands guard at the very entrance to Liyue, both welcoming and vigilant, a landmark as much as a picket.

He has grown distant from the troubles and losses of the past; he has grown fond of the scenery around him and even the people who are there to help him, in a way. Xiao is no fool; despite being vastly uninterested in the dealings of mortals, he knows that this inn was built for him – he never so much as acknowledged it, but his gratitude is there, for the thought, for a place to return to, and more than anything, for a sense of normalcy it gives him.

He indulges in his fondness of this place with a dash of guilt, diluted as it may be by years upon years of rumination and grieving as much as just life, the entirety of it with brisk early mornings and the scorching summer sun and nights busier than they should be, and most of all the pale moonlight that falls gently on the marsh in the wee hours, caressing, soothing, kind. He feels guilty receiving this kindness, too, as if he hasn’t earned it, hasn’t done enough – but nothing he does will ever be enough, not because he is lacking but because of how this world insists on running its course. It’s something he’s learned the hard way; what’s left now is to unlearn the remorse and regret and shame and move on, except there’s no such thing as moving on, truly, there isn’t. The only thing that moves on is time, while he remains there with his anger and regret and ruin all balled up, demanding, useless; time does not heal, nor does it care, marching by as memories fade to become mere history, a colorless husk to honor and write textbooks about. Life is, after all, for the living, or so they say, and step by step, Xiao makes space for the present in his tortured, bruised heart, and that space turns out to be just enough for some music, and silent acceptance, and a certain inn built around a certain tree in a certain nation that values contracts above all else.

There, he finds refuge and he finds a home, and he lets it anchor him in a way that surprises even himself. If it’s a gift, it’s the kind that comes with strings attached, and while their warm weight is all but comforting at times, this particular night they tug violently at him, giving birth to an alien, uneasy feeling he can’t quite place. It’s the utter wrongness of it that jolts him awake; alert again, in his usual spot on the roof away from the chaos downstairs, he closes his eyes and blocks out the persistent buzz of the inn to feel for the source, a faint echo that lingers just enough for him to grasp. When he opens his eyes again, his sharp features rearranged unkindly by a frown, he can still see it shimmering ever so slightly in the air like impossible dust.

He knows it, or thinks he does; he has seen it before in the capital, on various trinkets and wares and gems, the same traces of the ancient art that should have remained dormant but was still tapped into by humans, not so much in the level-headed Liyue as in the free-spirited Mondstadt. But not – not like this. Not on this scale, not this dense, not this close. The little things brought in by merchants are just that, little things that lose their alchemical luster by the time they reach the border, but this – this thing, whatever it is – it’s different. Concentrated, pulsating, a bundle of energy and sheer potential hiding somewhere in these walls, up to him to track and investigate.

Although there isn’t much to investigate. It must be quick, and most importantly, the inn must go about its business undisturbed – he owes it this much, at least.

There is no thrill to this little chase, no excitement, only smooth precision as he dismisses one door after another along with utterly unremarkable, regular human beings behind them in this small inn that shouldn’t be able to house so many people and have so many doors. There is no pleasure when he finally finds the one he’s looking for either; the man has his back to him, a cape draped around his narrow shoulders, but Xiao is not someone to judge people by their appearance. There is nothing for him to judge yet but the possible threat the guest – is he even a guest? he should be – might pose, and he is still to see that for himself.

The corridor feels crowded with the two of them in it, so summoning his spear seems excessive if not outright pointless, but his voice is equal parts ice and effortless menace when he asks, “Who are you and what is your business here?”

+5

4

Albedo only managed two steps outside his room when he felt a presence behind him. At the same time Durin’s claws dug into his shirt, almost reaching chalk-white skin, and the alchemist knew: the unknown danger found them before they could even begin the search. And, apparently, this danger had been actively seeking for them specifically, seeing as the icy voice stopped the brothers in the middle of the corridor lined with rooms, most of which were occupied. Well, now. Despite the interest that this little fact sparked in Albedo, he was worried for Durin. While he was quite confident in his ability to protect himself even in the narrow corridor of the inn, his cape could lift in a fight, exposing the reptile, or the latter’s instinct to protect him could simply overrule his logic and composure and force him to jump into the fight, thus blowing his cover.

Albedo carefully spun around, presenting his bare hands to the frowning stranger. If he could avoid fighting at all, that would be best, therefore he tried to appear as non-threatening as possible. Obviously, that would be easier was he not dressed up like some sort of a smuggler, trying to hide his body — well, technically, he was. Nevertheless, he could only show his very much bare hands and let a stranger steal a glimpse of his attire beneath a cloak while crossing his arms on his chest.

“Good evening. I am Albedo. I am traveling to Liyue Harbour to visit a friend”, he gave a curt, albeit polite, answer. “I am simply staying the night here to let my horse rest before resuming my ride. I apologize if I disturbed you. Can I ask for your name and what this is about? Anything I can help you with?”

The alchemist felt the weight on his back shift. Durin was clearly curious and wary of the young man in front of them, but tried to stay put in the cloak and not loose his clawed footing on the shirt’s fabric. Albedo could only hope that the stretch of the collar and cape was minimal enough not to be seen in the somewhat dim corridor, and that the dragon would keep his tail tucked in — or at least behind the leg of his younger brother.

In spite of worrying, he managed to pick up a few interesting things about his sudden interlocutor. While he appeared young, his eyes were not. It was hard to explain, but Albedo has seen the expression some old creatures held in their gaze. It was akin to weariness with a twinge of pain and fear and full of shadows of the days past, as if they were constantly recalling how things were and how they work from first-hand experience. The older the creature — the heavier the look. And Albedo could vouch that the one questioning him with such a harsh tone was not only ancient, but did not belong to the human race either, what’s with his elongated pointy ears and clearly avian pupils and what not.

Not that Kreideprinz held any sort of contempt towards non-humans, mind. He wasn’t one, neither were his brothers and sister. But he knew enough about Liyue to understand that if you run into a non-human entity in the Land of Contracts, that is not connected to the Abyss, chances are that would be an adeptus — a member of much revered demigod group. Basically a step between gods and mortals. Immortal protectors of Liyue, bound by contract and oath to serve Rex Lapis himself.

Whichever way you spun it, for him and Durin it meant the same: avoid the illuminated beasts at all costs. Yet here they were, face to face with an already disgruntled adeptus, in the narrow corridor of the inn, where fleeing would be nigh impossible. As for fight instead of flight… while his rather compact sword could be wielded in this space without much difficulty, after his observations and quick deductions Chalk Prince rationally doubted his ability to protect even himself from someone so much older and experienced in battle. A demigod, even.

As a final brushstroke Albedo noticed an Anemo Vision on the gauntlet of the supposed adeptus. Great. Anemo and Geo did not react to each other much, so he could forget at least enjoying the safety of an Elemental shield. Things just did not look good for him and Durin, should it come to the worst outcome.

Therefore, it was up to the Captain of the Investigation Team to ensure that it did not come to this. If only his social skills and knowledge of Liyue’s customs regarding adepti were not so severely lacking. Also, how could someone like this be the danger and darkness that Durin sensed?

He really needed more data.

Отредактировано Albedo (2022-09-29 07:32:52)

+3


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