The camp of Treasure Hoarders is easily spotted from a distance, the bandits the only signs of humanoid life in Qingxu Pool's vicinity. Lumine exchanges a glance with Paimon, who nods as they observe the activity from the top of a tall, rugged rock protruding from the ground. It would be easy to execute an ambush from above and clear out the camp as required, undoubtedly up to no good as usual and their presence disturbing the peace in the area. She quickly scans the nearby area once again, taking note of the number of bandits walking around, and holds out her hand to prompt her sword to manifest from the ethers.
With their numbers, the commission will probably take some time to complete. Still, she must uphold her word, considering the assignment is from the Millelith.
“Let’s go,” decides Lumine.
She leaps from the summit of the rock, her wing glider spreading its extensions in the air, and she soars quietly towards the direction of the encampment. The wings retreat once Lumine looms closer, and she brandishes her blade, plummeting to strike the ground below with a herculean force. Yells fill the air as the treasure hoarders arm themselves upon the attack, and Lumine holds out her hand, the borrowed power of Geo gathering at her fingertips. A colossal meteorite emerges from the earth, knocking down a few bandits, while the remainder wields their blades and shovels as they lunge towards her direction.
Their attacks are predictable, the pattern something Lumine has grown accustomed to with past encounters of their members. A swing of her sword is more than enough to deflect their attacks, accompanied by the meteorites materializing from the ground knock them down. One swift movement summons Geo energy from below, shockwaves rippling throughout the land like the sea waves. The impact is more than enough to launch the surrounding bandits back, grunting and hollering at the force, though some return to their feet quickly and charge at her with their weapons.
Before Lumine can summon another meteorite to defend herself, a shadow appears from above, stealing her attention from the fight before her for a millisecond.
“Need a hand, princess?” The voice almost purrs.
Lumine can’t help but gape at his sudden presence. “Tartaglia?!”
A shower of arrows descends from above, striking the ground, before twin blades of water manifest in the Eleventh Harbinger’s hands. Tartaglia slashes through the incoming wave of bandits with ease, their frames collapsing on the ground as water ripples upon the impact. A confident grin is flashed her way before he rushes forward to meet the incoming wave of attacks, exasperation beginning to bud during the confusion. As much as Lumine has questions forming in her head, she decides to momentarily hold onto them and shove them into the back of her mind, her concentration returning to the battle as she summons another meteorite and parries the strikes with her sword.
It doesn’t take that long for the camp to be cleared out, the groaning and whimpering Treasure Hoarders bound by their hands and feet to be picked up by the Millelith. Tartaglia hums to himself when he finishes tying the final knot securely, clapping his hands to dust them off, before turning to Lumine with a saccharine smile.
“Why, that was fun!” he muses. “We make quite a tandem, don’t we?”
“Tartaglia,” Lumine crosses her arms over her chest, just as Paimon appears from the ethers. “Where did you come from?”
“From Snezhnaya, of course.”
The two travelers exchange unamused glances, only prompting the Harbinger to laugh. “Just hanging out in the area,” explains Tartaglia. “Nothing to worry about.”
Paimon places her hands on her sides as she glowers at him, eyes narrowing with distrust. “Says the person who is part of the Fatui.”
“Tsk tsk, Paimon. It’s not good to be suspicious of everyone, you know?”
“Paimon doesn’t need to hear that from you!”
Tartaglia laughs once more, and Lumine sighs. It is to be expected that one would not get a straightforward answer from him of all people, yet she decides to try anyway. "You didn't answer the question," Lumine comments.
The observation only earns a grin from him. “Alright, alright. I was just out for a leisurely walk. Working in the same four corners isn’t my style, and I started to cramp up, so I decided to step out for a bit."
“Working hard, aren’t you?” Paimon mutters.
“Or hardly working,” adds Lumine with a nod.
Tartaglia sighs. “You two…you guys seem to have a bad impression of me, yeah?”
Paimon crosses her arms over her chest, “well, considering your rap sheet so far…”
“Point taken, I suppose.” he agrees as he stretches out his arms. “I am a bit of a bad guy. But anyway, do you have any plans for the remainder of the day? Will you be returning to Liyue Harbor?”
Lumine raises an eyebrow as suspicion begins to bloom. As much as she holds some respect towards Tartaglia, it is difficult to forget that he is still part of the Fatui and what he is capable of. His title as one of the Harbingers is not a simple decoration; the man hiding his cunning mask under pleasant smiles and greetings, treachery a cold steel ready to strike at any moment. Her frame can’t help but shift, her arms crossing on her chest and her gaze sharp as she observes him, eyes searching for any hint of what he is hiding.
“Why do you ask?” she prompts.
Tartaglia grins. “I was thinking…”
“I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner at Liuli Pavilion tonight.”
“Liuli Pavilion?!” Paimon exclaims.
Lumine blinks at the sudden offer, any hint of response she was planning to form already melting at the tip of her tongue. It is an unexpected proposal, incredibly tempting, and she reminds herself to maintain composure. Liuli Pavilion’s Li-style cuisine is highly revered; the demand high enough that reservations had to be set in place months in advance, coin purses of patrons bursting with Mora to pay for their lavish dishes. Taking Tartaglia’s offer would be a shortcut to get into such an exclusive restaurant, yet at the risk of putting the two of them in debt in his hands.
(And Archons know how much of an excellent debt collector he is.)
Lumine sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose as Paimon turns to her excitedly. "Lumine! He said Liuli Pavilion!”
“I know,” she acknowledges. “That’s a very tempting offer, Tartaglia.”
The Harbinger throws his head back as he laughs. “Yeah? Will you take it then?”
“What if I say that it’s my treat?”
Paimon squeals at the offer, while Lumine gapes at him. “Are you serious?”
“As serious as Mr. Zhongli paying full price without haggling,” Tartaglia replies with a wink. “Dinner’s more fun with company.”
“Lumine!” Paimon almost whines, kicking her feet. “If you’re not going to answer, then I –”
“Fine,” she relents. “We’ll take you up on it.”
Paimon claps her hands delightedly while Tartaglia beams at the response. “Perfect! I’ll see you at the front of Liuli Pavilion at seven o’clock tonight, then?”
“You sure will!” Paimon assures. “See ya later, Tartaglia!”
“See you,” echoes Lumine, allowing her lips to tug into a slight smile. “And thank you.”
“My pleasure.” Tartaglia grins. “See you later then!”
He raises a hand as he saunters off, nonchalance present in his gait, and Lumine shakes her head as she rests her hands on her sides. A part of her wonders if she'd made a wrong decision, if she’d fallen for a trap of sorts, yet something tells her that it is a genuine offer. Lumine glances at Paimon, her companion twirling giddily and her eyes twinkling with anticipation, and she manages a soft laugh.
She’ll let it slide this time.
Chihu Rock is bustling with activity as always: throngs of locals and tourists navigating the busy streets, vendors calling out to potential customers with their wares, and eager foodies drawn towards the delectable aroma from the food stalls. The scene is nothing out of the ordinary as Lumine and Paimon make their way down to the central plaza, their coin purse much heavier with recently awarded Mora from Geri and Master Zhang for their efforts. Completing posted submissions on behalf of the Ministry of Civil Affairs has become part of the routine every start of the week, the tasks much easier in comparison to the commissions assigned by the Adventurers’ Guild. Still, they do take some time out of the day, and a brief glance at the sky above reminds Lumine that noon is approaching quickly.
“Let’s see,” Paimon says, counting on her fingers. “Geri…and now Master Zhang…that leaves us with one last person!”
“Yes, we just have Changchang’s request left.”
Paimon claps her hands enthusiastically as she trails along Lumine’s side. “One more before we’re done!” she chirps. “And then we can have lunch!”
“Is food the only thing in your mind?” prompts Lumine teasingly. “We had a big breakfast, you know.”
Paimon frowns, wagging a finger. “Hey! That was hours ago!” she replies.
Lumine only laughs. “Yes, yes. Now, what did we need again…three Silk Flowers, right?”
“Yup! We can get some from those bushes at Yujing Terrace and then take them to her!”
The task of picking three Silk Flowers from one of the bushes at the illustrious northwestern side of Liyue Harbor is quick, the harvested crimson blooms carefully handled by the stems in Lumine’s hands as she and Paimon head to their destination. Paimon hums giddily, and Lumine giggles to herself, an idea already sparking in her mind as to what is in her companion’s mind. It is easy to deduce what is occupying Paimon’s thoughts, her stomach the window to her mind.
“Thinking really hard about lunch, aren’t you?”
Paimon beams. “Sure am! Where should we go? Wanmin Restaurant? One of the food stalls? Or –”
The sound of her name prompts Lumine to pause in her tracks, just as Tartaglia leaps from the top of the nearby and familiar winding red staircase of Northland Bank, landing on his feet with finesse, and a grin flashed her way. His sudden presence prompts déjà vu to bloom; their past encounters continually unfolding similarly with the Harbinger appearing when one least expects it. Lumine stares up at him with her hands on her sides and an eyebrow raised, her golden-amber eyes searching his sapphire-blue gaze.
“Fancy seein’ you here,” Tartaglia muses. “Nice to see you too, Paimon.”
Paimon scowls at him. “I’m glad you recognized me!”
Tartaglia laughs. “Of course! Who do you think I am?”
The travelers exchange glances, though they decide to not humor him and the redundant question. “Anyways,” says Lumine. “What do you need?”
Tartaglia’s lips pucker into a pout. “Is it wrong for me to say hi to my two comrades?”
Lumine sighs. “Well, we’re busy; we have a request to finish.”
“Is that right?” The Harbinger grins. “Can I come with you?”
Paimon peers at him. “Don’t you have work to do?”
“All work and no play makes Tartaglia a dull boy,” he recites in a nonchalant tone. “And I deserve a break for working hard all morning.”
“Probably up to no good,” the levitating companion mutters under her breath.
“Well,” Lumine pauses. It wouldn’t be too bothersome for him to accompany them and deliver the three Silk Flowers to Changchang, the task simple that there was no reason that he couldn’t come along. “Sure, you can come along.”
Tartaglia’s eyes light up at the answer. “Awesome! Let’s get going, shall we?”
“Hey!” Paimon calls out to him, stomping her feet in the air. “Who made you the boss?!”
Tartaglia only laughs as Lumine leads the way down to Liyue Harbor's entrance, his pace leisurely yet also matching hers. She can’t help but glance at him from the corner of her eyes, a bud of wariness preparing to sprout. As much as they are acquaintances to a certain degree, Tartaglia is still a Harbinger, one of the dangerous members of the Fatui with a capacity for danger and havoc. He maintains a nonchalant face, his hands in his pockets with his eyes focused ahead, though the façade only breaks when his gaze meets her own and his lips quirk into a grin.
“Got your attention, princess?” Tartaglia teases, flashing a wink. “I don’t charge Mora for looking, don’t worry.”
Lumine looks away. “I was only double-checking to see if you had anything up your sleeve.”
“Hey, I only save the tricks for our sparring matches. Ah, speaking of –”
She already knows where the conversation is about to head, and the answer comes instantly. “We’re not sparring today.”
Tartaglia pouts. “But –”
Paimon shakes her head at him. “We have things to do!”
He deflates at the answer, and Lumine can't help but chuckle to herself at the childish expression. It is admittedly endearing to see such a mundane and childlike reaction for someone whose presence is a deadly weapon itself. It contrasts with his usual mask of confidence and shrewdness, and Tartaglia continues to sulk even as they arrive at the entrance of Liyue Harbor and provide Changchang her requested Silk Flowers. His expression only eases into a smile when the child profusely thanks the travelers and hurries on her way, the reward for their efforts weighing in their coin purse.
“That’s real nice of you to help her out with her request,” comments Tartaglia.
“Can’t say no to anyone that needs help!” Paimon answers as-a-matter-of-factly.
He chuckles. “How noble of you – no wonder you received the title of Honorary Knight from the Knights of Favonius.”
Lumine peers at him, hands resting on her sides. “Why does it sound like you’re mocking us?”
Tartaglia waves his hands in front of him defensively. “I’m not, I promise,” he says, a chuckle escaping him. “Anyways, it’s time for lunch, yeah?”
“Why does this seem like a scene that happened before?” she muses.
“Hey, skipping meals isn’t good, you know!”
Paimon nods. “Paimon hates to say it but he’s right. It’s time for lunch!”
“See, even Paimon agrees.”
Lumine sighs, shaking her head. “Of course, your stomach would agree.”
“Paimon is just telling the truth!”
The exchange prompts Tartaglia to laugh. “Well then, are you up for Chef Mao’s cooking? I’m feeling peckish for some Black-Back Perch Stew myself.”
Paimon seems to deflate. “Not Liuli Pavilion? Or Xinyue Kiosk?”
“I crave the simpler yet fine cooking sometimes,” answers Tartaglia. “Besides, I think you have grown used to the idea of me treating you two at luxurious restaurants.”
"You didn't even deny it," Lumine observes. “Let's go before Paimon decides to eat the nearest bush.”
The bustle in Chihu Rock continues upon their return to the vicinity, the air infused with the delicious aroma of spices, prompting Lumine’s stomach to twinge with hunger as they finish ascending the prominent wooden steps leading to the heart of Liyue Harbor. Paimon immediately begins to make a beeline towards Wanmin Restaurant's direction, and Lumine prepares herself to hurry after her companion. However, she pauses at the sight that catches the corner of her eye: Tartaglia remains at a nearby stall, and Lumine walks over to his direction, curiosity alight in her eyes.
“Tartaglia?” she prompts.
“Hm?” Tartaglia turns to his left after noticing Lumine’s presence, lips quirking into a lopsided smile. “Oh, I thought you went ahead already.”
“I was going to, but I was wondering why you stopped.”
“Concerned about me, comrade?”
Lumine only casts him an unamused look, earning a chuckle from the Harbinger before he returns his attention to the stall in front of him. There are various hairpins and headbands on display, accompanied by ornate and unique designs made of fabric and faux gemstones. A soft gasp of awe escapes Lumine as she can’t help but admire the pieces, incredibly detailed and handled with care, and the urge to purchase one for herself begins to sprout.
“Pretty, aren’t they?” asks Tartaglia with a grin.
“You have an excellent eye, sir!” The merchant beams. “For the two of you, I’ll give you a twenty-percent discount.”
Lumine gapes. “Really?”
Tartaglia hums, brows furrowing pensively as his eyes scan the variety of hair accessories. “Let’s see…” He points out a gloved finger towards a hairpin with a flower made of amber-colored fabric laced with gold details and accompanied with deep orange decorative stones. “This one. And this one too.”
The second hairpin he gestures towards resembles a flower – a Qingxin, Lumine recognizes, one of the famous blooms that grow up on the peaks of stone forests in the region. Its delicate petals are made of pristine white fabric with a glimmering yellow gem in its center, accented by leaves made of silver and embedded with crystals. The design is simple yet elegant and eye-catching and attracts her attention. She observes the merchant wrap both purchases in separate wrapping papers and hands them to Tartaglia in exchange for the payment.
“Why, that was a nice stall!” The Harbinger muses as they make their way to Wanmin Restaurant. “The discount wasn’t that bad too.”
“I agree,” Lumine says. “I think I’ll come back and get something later.”
“Yeah?” Tartaglia pauses in his tracks, his easygoing smile back on his face. “You don’t have to.”
A question is about to form, halting when Tartaglia unwraps one of the bundles to reveal the Qingxin hairpin, and he holds it towards her direction. Lumine blinks, staring at the accessory in his palm before raising her eyes to meet his. “For me?”
Tartaglia grins. “Of course.”
“Oh.” A blush begins to bloom at the realization, accompanying the smile breaks out across her face. “Thank you.”
“May I?” he asks, holding out the pin near the side of her head, and Lumine nods. Her breath hitches in her throat as his blue eyes gaze into her own, his touch gentle when he securely affixes the hairpin into her hair. Tartaglia’s gloved fingers slip through her locks easily, and something within her twinges, his eyes curving into crescent moons, and his bright grin returns.
Tartaglia murmurs, “there you go. It looks pretty on you – but not as pretty as you.”
Lumine stares before the words sink in, her lips immediately forming an unimpressed line, and he flashes her a teasing wink. She looks away, heat creeping up the back of her neck, and she whirls around hastily. “C’mon, Paimon’s probably waiting for us.”
“Ah! Lumine, wait for me!”
Lumine’s pace is hurried while she disregards Tartaglia’s words, the embarrassment burning the shell of her ear and spilling across her cheeks. There is a foreign tingling sensation spreading down to her fingertips that accompany the heat, and she bites down the smile that threatens to form at the prickling she feels. It is different, which Lumine has never felt before, and it continues to bud and bloom within.
It is all new to her, yet a part of her thinks she doesn’t mind.
Liyue Harbor is truly the hub of trade and commerce, attracting many merchants from all over Teyvat. Vendors line the ocean view, attracting visitors and residents to their stalls and endorsing their goods. The hubbub pulls Lumine’s attention everywhere, curiosity sparking within her as she examines the merchandise on display. There are various products to look at, all unique from one another and catching her interest: fabrics of different colors and patterns; brightly colored handmade jewelry; specialty snacks and sweets from other regions of the continent; handmade housewares and trinkets.
It takes great self-control to not pull out the coin purse at every item that strikes her fancy.
It also takes a considerable amount of energy to keep up with a curious Paimon, and Lumine sighs as she sits on an unoccupied bench. She can’t help but wish for the similar ability to levitate; surely, it would be less taxing than walking and would perhaps grant her an advantage in battle. As tired as she feels, Lumine smiles to herself as she observes Paimon busily flit about from stall to stall, enthusiasm alight in her eyes when she strikes up a friendly conversation with the vendors. She’ll just wait for her companion here in the meantime –
“Oh? There you are, princess.”
Lumine pauses at the sound of his voice, a flittering sensation awakening within her as Tartaglia’s beaming face comes into view, his leisurely saunter coming to a stop before her. His hands are behind him, prompting her to raise an eyebrow as she looks up at him.
“What are you doing here?” asks Lumine.
Tartaglia’s grin grows. “I was looking for you.”
She blinks at his admission before raising an eyebrow. “Really?”
Tartaglia brings forward his hands from his backside and reveals two broad, flat boxes stacked on top of each other with a red ribbon holding them together in place. Tucked underneath the knot is a blue-colored envelope with a snowflake print, a visible “Big Sister Lumine” written in a childish scrawl and black ink. Lumine slowly reaches out to take the parcel in her hands, her gaze shifting from the envelope to look up at Tartaglia’s eyes for an answer.
“It’s from Teucer,” Tartaglia explains. “Go on and open it.”
“Yeah. A boat from Snezhnaya arrived yesterday.”
Lumine’s movements are careful as she unravels the ribbon and pries open one of the boxes, and a soft gasp escapes her at the sight within. Inside the box are small squares of sweets arranged neatly, topped with elaborate shapes and patterns formed out of chocolate, such as snowflakes, flowers, and an adorably tiny whale. It is all too beautiful to eat, more meant to be on display and admired, and she stares at Tartaglia with wide eyes.
Tartaglia explains, “these are specialty chocolates from Snezhnaya; they’re very popular back home. They each have a different filling or a little bonus inside.”
“Oh, wow…they’re so beautiful.”
“Aren’t they?” Tartaglia beams with pride. “They sell out fast during special occasions – they make great gifts.”
“I’m not surprised,” Lumine nods. “They look like they shouldn’t be eaten.”
He laughs. “They’ll melt if you don’t, and Teucer would be sad if you didn't eat them. He was very excited to send them over to you.”
Lumine giggles. “He would. Is there any way for me to say thank you?”
“If you’d like, you can write a letter, and I'll make sure it gets included with the things I send to my family,” he offers. “I send things home pretty regularly.”
“I’ll do that. Should I drop it off at Northland Bank when I’m finished?”
“You can. Or…”
Tartaglia winks. “Just think of me real hard to summon me and I’ll show up.”
Lumine snorts, earning another laugh from the Harbinger. “Sure.”
“C’mon, just play along with me here.”
“That’s exactly what you want.”
“That's true, but seeing your smile has been the greatest reward of all.”
The fluttering sensation returns, warmth creeping across Lumine’s cheeks, and she looks away. “You’re ridiculous.”
“Just stating the truth, Lumine,” he says with another smile. “Well then, my mission has been accomplished, so I shall get going.”
Tartaglia turns around with a wave of his hand, the fabric of his red banner pinned to his chest and billowing in the breeze. He barely takes more than two steps away when the traveler calls out to him, the mention of his name prompting the Harbinger to pause in his tracks and cast her a look over his shoulder. A bud of warmth blooms within, her fingers gripping the boxes tightly, and Lumine smiles at him.
“Thank you,” she offers.
The grin that breaks out across Tartaglia’s face is one that is brighter than what she has seen before, and her breath hitches in her throat. “Any time, Lumine.”
Liyue Harbor at night is a warm palette of orange, amber, and yellow against the dark skies. Despite the evening's arrival, the streets are busy with citizens enjoying a leisurely stroll, joining the fray of the night market, or partaking in local cuisine at the food stalls. It is here that Lumine and Paimon find themselves joined by Ganyu herself, the three of them enjoying frozen delicacies made from Sunsettias and Valberries as they observe the lazy rolling of the ocean waves. The cold dessert is a welcome contrast to the temperate breeze, and Lumine emits a joyful noise as the fruity flavor melts in her mouth after a lick.
"Mmm, these popsicles are delicious!" Paimon remarks. “Thanks for the treat, Ganyu!”
Ganyu smiles amiably. “It’s my pleasure. I’m glad you seem to enjoy them; I admit they are my favorite desserts to enjoy after a long day at work.”
Lumine adds, “they’re also perfect for how warm it is tonight.”
Ganyu and Paimon both nod in agreement as they continue to savor their popsicles under the clear night sky speckled by countless stars. It is a rare moment of camaraderie between the two travelers and the perpetually busy emissary of the Liyue Qixing, catching up on events that have unfolded as of late. There is much laughter and smiles shared as Lumine shares an incident where Whopperflowers sprouted from the ground while collecting Sweet Flowers and the resulting chaos, while Ganyu talks about a friendly dog she has recently become acquainted with at the bridge near Chihu Rock.
“And this doggie –”
“Pardon the intrusion, but may I speak to Miss Lumine?”
Ganyu’s story comes to a halt as the three of them turn their heads, finding a young girl with a bundle wrapped in brown paper and accentuated with a deep blue ribbon. “Hello,” she says. “I’m from the Shao Yao Flower Shop in Feiyun Slope.”
“Hello,” Lumine echoes. “How can I help you?”
She holds out the package in Lumine's direction. "I am here to deliver these for you."
Lumine exchanges a glance with Paimon, who seems to be just as perplexed as she is. “Um…I don’t recall ordering flowers.”
“Oh, yes, but someone bought them to address to you. There is a card inside that the sender included.”
“Ah, thank you.”
The girl departs once Lumine takes the bundle in her hands and a gentle gasp instantly escapes her at the discovery of its contents. Inside are beautiful, fully bloomed Glaze Lilies, carefully arranged into a bouquet with greenery and white flowers. The fragrance is soft and delicate, just lightly tickling her nose, and her lips automatically curve into a smile as the tip of her index finger traces the outline of one of the flowers.
“Flowers! That’s a first,” muses Paimon. “Hm…I wonder who it’s from.”
Ganyu nods. “There’s a card inside, I believe. Maybe they wrote down who it is.”
Paimon plucks the deep blue envelope from in between the blossoms and pries it open to reveal a small note card. “‘To the fairest of them all,’” she recites. “They didn’t write their name.”
Suspicion sparks within Lumine, a telltale flutter beginning to stir in the pit of her stomach as she leans to read the message written. The words ‘to the fairest of them all’ is written in neat lettering, as if the sender took their time to carefully write each letter before enclosing the note into the envelope. There is nothing much remaining to identify the mysterious sender aside from a small, familiar insignia of the Hydro element, inscribed at the end as a makeshift signature.
Still, it is more than enough for a blush to burst and bloom across her cheeks, spreading to the tips of her ears as a realization begins to form, and a familiar face comes to mind.
(It can only be him.)
“Oh my,” Ganyu claps her hands delightedly. “You have a secret admirer!”
Paimon wriggles her brows and grins slyly. “‘Secret’ admirer indeed,” she echoes. “Paimon has an idea who this person is.”
Horror and panic set in as Lumine shakes her head profusely. “Paimon!”
Paimon giggles. “Just kidding!”
Lumine frowns, reaching out to pull on her companion’s cheek, earning a yelp at the gesture. “Owie, Lumine!”
Ganyu lets out a gentle laugh at the exchange before her. “That’s exciting! It seems like this person really admires you, Lumine.”
“Who wouldn’t admire Lumine?” Paimon puffs up her chest as she nods sagely. “Lumine’s an excellent fighter; she's beaten up Tartaglia many times and all those Fatui! She also saved Mondstadt and Liyue from two scary monsters! She's also beautiful and very kind!"
Embarrassment creeps at the surge of compliments, and Lumine shakes her head again. "I'm just trying to find my brother.”
“Yeah, but you’re doing so many things and helping so many people while you’re at it,” says Paimon. “Paimon won’t be surprised if you caught someone’s attention.”
“That’s true…” Ganyu nods. “Maybe they will gain the courage to come forward one of these days.”
That would be nice, she thinks, as Paimon and Ganyu continue to discuss the topic of Lumine’s great deeds, the traveler’s gaze shifting down to the bundle of exquisite flowers in her hands. Lumine smiles at the sight of them, the warm bud of happiness blooming within her as she murmurs barely audible words of gratitude into the dark night sky. He may not be here to hear them, but she has a feeling that it will get to him somehow.
Thank you, Tartaglia.
Liyue Harbor blooms like a flower when night falls, bright flecks of amber and gold lighting up instantly and glittering against the inky darkness of the sky. A soft gasp of awe escapes Lumine at the presence of warm light speckled throughout the city when she emerges from the inn, the sight that greets her incredibly scenic yet more wondrous than a painting. The harbor's palette is more saturated, enhanced by the glow of the lights from establishments and stalls, and resplendent in the evening. The landscape is more than enough to distract her as she descends the spiraling staircase, only returning her to the present at the sound of a familiar voice.
“Over here, Lumine.”
Lumine turns her head to her right, finding Tartaglia leaning against one of the bright red pillars associated with Feiyun Slope. His usual smile is back on his face as he approaches with easy strides, and she nods at him in acknowledgement. Lumine is about to offer a greeting, her lips parting, yet her words dissipate instantly at the sound of Paimon’s voice.
“Tartaglia!” Paimon announces from the balcony of their room. “Make sure to bring Lumine back by midnight, alright?! You promised! If she’s not back, then Paimon will call the Millelith, the Qixing, and Zhongli on you!”
Lumine sighs exasperatedly while Tartaglia laughs and waves up at her. “Yes, yes. You have my word, Paimon!”
The Harbinger turns to Lumine, eyes crinkling into crescent moons. “Let’s go?”
“Sure,” she agrees.
The two of them depart from Feiyun Slope, their footsteps in sync and rhythmic on the stone. “I can’t believe Paimon said she’ll tell Mr. Zhongli,” mutters Lumine with a shake of her head. “It’s not like he’s my father or anything.”
“Judging by the way he acts sometimes and how old he really is, he’s more of a grandfather.”
“That’s true…but I don’t think it would be polite to say to him.”
He lets out another laugh. “Well, he is still quite powerful, Gnosis or not,” Tartaglia comments.
She raises an eyebrow. “Are you still embarrassed that Mr. Zhongli played you like a fiddle?"
The hint of the memory prompts Tartaglia to pout childishly, the sight encouraging Lumine to smile. “Let’s not bring that up, princess. It’s not even related to anything at all.”
“Of course,” she allows. “Now, care to explain why you asked me to go out with you this late?”
Tartaglia hums, shifting his posture to move his hands into his pants pockets. “Well, I do enjoy your company,” he begins. “And I heard it’s a full moon tonight. They said everyone will get a clear view of the moon and the stars this evening.”
A recognizable warmth flutters in Lumine’s chest upon his words, though she decides to maintain composure as she nods in acknowledgment. “That’s very nice of you.”
He flashes her a wink. “Of course,” the Harbinger grins. “Only for you.”
Lumine can’t help but roll her eyes, ignoring the way a blush blooms on her cheeks, and she finds herself thanking the darkness of the night for the concealment it grants. “It’s not nice to say things like that carelessly, you know,” she mutters.
There is a silence that punctuates Lumine’s statement, dragging on as they make their ascent to the hill overlooking Liyue Harbor’s port and the expanse of the sea. It is only when they sit down on the grass that Tartaglia finally says something, his voice quiet and almost pensive.
“Do you think I say things like that to everyone, Lumine?”
Lumine shifts in her seat, choosing to stare at the spherical and bright moon hanging above in the skies. “I didn’t say that.”
Tartaglia manages a tiny hmph. “Well, I’ll have you know that I only say stuff like that to pretty and strong girls.”
She turns to him with a brow raised and lips pursed into a tight line, ignoring the soft flickering of warmth that begins to stir, though he seems to feign ignorance, pointing a gloved hand at the stars dotting the sky above the harbor. “Ah, look, the stars are starting to come out,” comments Tartaglia.
“I don’t think it’s nice to change the topic like that.”
“Let me change the topic some more then.”
“Tartaglia…” she warns with a frown.
The Harbinger only laughs. “Hear me out, alright?”
Lumine sighs. “Fine, since I’m already here and wide awake at this hour.”
Tartaglia exhales, his fingers curling into the grass when he speaks. “There’s someone I have come to look at…in a positive light, if we can put it at way,” he begins. “Someone who is very strong in combat.”
“Stronger than me?” she quips with a slightly teasing tone, though he only chuckles.
“This person is someone who has bested me numerous times. I still find it incredible that they possess that much strength and skill, but I admit that they encourage me to grow stronger every time our blades cross. I always look forward to sparring with them, even though they seem to be declining me as of late.”
Embarrassment creeps up Lumine, just as suspicion flickers, and she mutters a faint “huh” in acknowledgment.
“But they're not just interesting whenever we’re sparring. I can’t stop thinking about them or looking for them whenever they’re in Liyue Harbor. I’ve never met someone so friendly before; it's easy for them to approach new people and get to know them. They’re very kind and help anyone in need, no matter if it’s a big or small request and regardless of its significance. I enjoy being in their company – they're so interesting, and their interactions are entertaining, even though they seem to get mad at me sometimes.”
Tartaglia pauses to turn to Lumine, and she finds herself breathless as his lips form a slight smile and his sapphire blue eyes gleam in the moonlight. “They’re also the prettiest I’ve ever met,” he murmurs.
The warmth within Lumine’s chest is fully alight, spreading towards the shell of her ear and the tips of her fingers, almost like an electric shock that flickers beneath her skin. She swallows, trying to pull together her words into a coherent answer.
"And you're telling me this because…?"
Tartaglia musters a sigh before his lips pucker into a pout and brows furrow. “Is it not obvious yet? Don’t tell me you haven’t realized yet.”
“Realize that you’re the one who sent me the Glaze Lilies?” asks Lumine.
“Well, that’s a part of it,” he confirms, rubbing the back of his neck. Tartaglia raises his eyes to look into her own, a striking seriousness within them that is nothing like what she’s never seen before, and she finds herself unable to look away when he speaks.
“You’re special to me, Lumine.”
Tartaglia’s eyes curve into crescents when he grins, and he continues in a mellow voice, “I like you a lot.”
Bliss flowers at the declaration, and Lumine finds herself smiling, heat spreading across her cheeks. It takes a moment for her to find her words again, another to properly form a coherent response, and she exhales to calm the rapid staccato of her heartbeat before she speaks.
“I take it this is the reason for the gifts?”
“Another part of it. Also, I really just like giving gifts to people.”
Teucer’s beaming face and proud stories of his older brother immediately come into mind, prompting Lumine to murmur a soft “ah” in response. “Besides,” continues Tartaglia with a playful grin. “Giving gifts to someone you like is how we court in Snezhnaya.”
Bashfulness returns at his unabashed words, and Lumine looks away, staring at the calm ocean and the moon reflected on it, her fingers curling into the grass beneath her palm. “You…”
Tartaglia chuckles. “Well, that’s all I wanted to say. You don’t have to answer me right away, I can –”
“You’re not fair, you know that?”
He blinks at her sudden words and she whips her head to look at him, mustering her strength to look him in the eyes, and ignoring the pounding of her heart inside her chest. “You…you went out of your way to help get rid of Treasure Hoarders, take us out to dinner at Liuli Pavilion of all places, and buy gifts. You’re not being fair.”
“At least let me do something in return,” Lumine murmurs.
Tartaglia raises an eyebrow at the statement, and she takes the silence as permission. Lumine shifts her frame closer to his, their fingers brushing gently in the grass, and she angles her head before leaning in. The contact of her lips against his cheek is brief and fleeting, yet enough to stir shyness when she adjusts her posture to look at the port and the ocean once again, her cheeks burning and ears ringing with the hurried pulsing of her heart. The silence that trickles by is slow, almost agonizing, but the spell breaks when Tartaglia inhales.
“Princess, you can be more selfish if you want.”
“What are you talking about?” Lumine turns to him, an argument about to prepare itself, though it melts instantly when she is greeted with a mischievous grin plastered on his face.
“I’m just sayin’,” Tartaglia replies nonchalantly. “I'm alright if you want to be more selfish.”
“And you didn’t give me an answer.”
“Isn’t that enough for an answer?!”
“Well, if you didn’t realize how I’ve been feeling all this time until I said something…”
Lumine frowns at him, crossing her arms over her chest, and Tartaglia throws his head back as he laughs heartily. “Oh, you’re so cute when you’re mad,” he snickers.
“And you’re unbearable,” she mutters. “But fine.”
The sound of her name melts into the ethers, captured by the abrupt press of her lips against his, and Tartaglia freezes in his spot. Lumine draws away before sitting down and staring at the grass, refusing to meet his gaze. Her lips tingle tenderly despite the brief contact, a flicker of electricity prickling her skin – the sensation only growing with intensity when Tartaglia reaches out and brushes a thumb against her cheek.
“Do you have something to tell me by any chance?” he prompts in a gentle murmur, his fingers drifting down to her chin and slowly tilting her head upwards to look at him. Tartaglia’s eyes are bright with mischievousness and happiness, their glow accompanying the slight smile that appears on his face.
“Is it not obvious yet?” asks Lumine quietly.
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
Lumine rolls her eyes, her attempt to maintain her façade failing when she smiles. She’ll let this slide this time, she supposes – just like the previous times from before. Yet a part of her doesn’t mind granting Tartaglia his wish, a moment of selfishness that she is more than willing to tolerate after his priceless gestures. She raises her eyes to meet his, her lips slowly parting, and the saccharine words are conveyed in the darkness of the night.
“I like you too.”